"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The best YA books I read this year, all published in 2014

Of the 30+ YA books I read this year these are my favorites. All are good but only one of them is GREAT: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. If I were making a list for students it would be at the top of the list with a line under it. All the others would be ranked below it.  That said there are some really good books on this list.  Unlike my Mock Printz list of books, not all of these rise to level of excellence in terms of literary merit but all are excellent stories and I can (and do) recommend them to teen readers (and adults who like to read YA.) All of them were published this year, 2014.

1. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

2. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
3. A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
4. The Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
5. Glory O'Brien: The History of the Future by AS King
6. Say What You Will by Connie McGovern
7. The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer
8. Cress by Marissa Meyer
9. Never Ending by Martyn Bedford
10. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki (Graphic Novel)
11. Eyes Wide Open by Paul Fleischman (nonfiction)
12. Gabi: Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
13. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming (nonfiction, biography)
14. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Book Club Favorites

2014 Book Club favorites. I am in two book clubs. It was a year of highs and lows: wonderful books and downright awful ones. Here is a list of my favorites. Keep in mind I select my favorites based not only on how much I liked the book but also on how well the book generated a discussion. I also factor in an educational aspect.  Did I learn something new by reading the book?  If so, bonus points.

1. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (2009, Harper Books)- Even though this book is a tome, weighing in at over 500 pages, everyone in the book club really liked it. And we had so much to talk about: the labor movement in the world, McCarthyism, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, WWII, The Depression, politics, Leon Trotsky, Roosevelt, friendship,and homosexuality. This book tops the list because of how much I learned about the time period and because of the spectacular writing.

2. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (2014, Viking Press)- It is pretty likely that this book actually would be in the top slot except I missed book club when this marvelous book was being discussed, so it gets second billing. But the book is marvelous and I learned so much. The book is historical fiction about actual women who lived in the U.S. in the early 1830s. The Grimke sisters were probably the first feminists and, even though their family owned slaves, they were were also abolitionists. To balance out the story a female slave character was added so that the reader could experience life from both sides of history. It is very well done. I learned so much and felt the pain of "this peculiar institution" so deeply.

3. The Round House by Louise Erdrich (2012. HarperCollins)- The first three books on this list are also some of my favorite books ever. The Round House is set on a reservation in the Midwest. A young adolescent boy tries to solve the mystery of what happened to his mother one horrifying night and in the process is forced to grow up faster than expected. The reader is introduced to several Native American rituals and confronted with the unfairness of our laws. This book is clutch-your-chest-good.

4. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (2012, Knopf)- I read this book with both book clubs and had fun discussions both times. The whole county read this book as part of a All-Pierce Reads effort by the public library in our area.  Now the nation will become fascinated by the book also as the movie made from it is in the theaters right now.

5. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (2013, Viking Press)- The crew team from University of Washington races to make history along the way readers are treated to the back stories of many of the rowers and insights in to their lives. This book generated a fabulous discussion. Even though I live in Washington State I wasn't aware of their feat until I read this book.

6. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013, Viking Press)- I loved this book. The literary themes and symbolism abound. Several of the gals in the club didn't like the book as much as I did. I listened to the book on audio-books and wonder if this experience enhanced my opinion of the book. 

7. Wonder by RJ Palacio (2012, Knopf)- The main character of this book, written for middle-grade readers, has a severe facial deformity yet he triumphs in life and friendship. You can't help but feel all warm inside as you close the book on the last page.

8. My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor (2006, Viking Press)- Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist, had a stroke at the age of 36 and survived to share her insights and other information about the brain. The book itself isn't the best, though the information is vital. We, however, had a very good discussion on the topic of strokes. Many gals in my club have had personal experiences that made the discussion lively and pertinent.

9. The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg (2013, Random House)- Fannie Flagg is an easy writer to read and this book is no exception. Set during both the World War II period and during modern times we get a peek at what the war effort at home was like during the early 1940s when women were called to do jobs usually filled by men.

10. The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (2011, Jonathan Cape)- This book wasn't actually that memorable but it did generate a good discussion about events in our lives that altered the trajectory of our lives.

My 2013 Book Club Favorites are here. Click the link.
My 2012 Book Club favorites are here. Click the link.
My 2011 Book Club Favorites are here. Click the link.
My 2010 Book Club favorites are here, if you are looking for more suggestions click the link.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Salon, December 21

Views from the Raggedy Anne tree
My Madame Alexander Raggedy Anne

My sister Grace started me on this collection of Raggedy Anne ornaments
Happy Solstice!

Weather: Grey and overcast, threatening to rain. Dark.

Cue the music. Backstory. I taught at RHS for twenty years. Every year for 20 years the school's Jazz Choir sang this song at the Winter Holidays Assembly. Both of my daughters were in the jazz choir when they were in high school so I became very familiar with this song over the years.  I had never heard this song before or since that time. My eldest daughter attended the Holiday Choir program this past week as an alumni and she reported that the select choir was still doing this song. I was happy to find this rendition, the original I think.  Enjoy. (The ending sounds a little warped, adding to its charm.)

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Christ is just four days away. At one point this past week I spent a moment of contemplating how I wasn't really in the Christmas spirit yet. Then Friday night we attended a Holiday concert put on by my cousin's daughter and her musical friends. The program was superb and I really felt lifted to a new plain, ready for Christmas in my heart. Yesterday as my daughter and I made batches of Christmas cookies we played our iTunes Holiday collection for hours upon hours of holiday songs. Music can really help bring on the holiday spirit. Like Elf says in the movie: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear!"

Book Club here: Seventeen ladies including myself attended our monthly book club this month. I was the hostess and had the house decorated special for the event. The book The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh seemed to be liked by most readers.  I think we were most touched by the thought, new to most of us, what happens to eighteen year olds who "age out" of foster care. It is really a chilling thought to think that our society pretty much just frees these kids to be on  their own when they are likely to still be in high school. The statistics for these kids aren't good either. 25% end of homeless. 60% end up having children of their own within four years with these children often ending up in foster care.  Ugh.

Pfeffernüsse debacle: Do you know these tiny little, spicy cookies? I used to make them every Christmas until my children announced that they didn't like them and their father teased me about them. Yesterday my sister-in-law posted on Facebook a photo of her Pfeffernüsse cookies ready for the oven. The thought entered my head that maybe it was time to try them again now that the children are grown. I found a recipe for them (called by another name: Peppernuts) and cajoled my daughter into helping me make them. The recipe requires heating up the corn syrup and shortening on a pot on the stove, almost like making candy. When we got to the step to stir in the flour it was a little like trying to stir flour into candy. It was not happening. When we checked the recipe we realized the reason---we forgot to add the milk, which was the only liquid. That whole batch went into the garbage can and we started again. The next time around we carefully added milk at the right time and the cookies ended up very delicious.

Christmas Checklist: With four days left I need to kick into high gear.
þ Bake cookies for neighbor gifts.
þ Mail packages to relatives
þ House decorated and lights up outside
þ Favorite holiday books, movies, and music at easy access
¨   All gifts purchased and wrapped
¨ Menu planned and food purchased
¨ Holiday cards printed and sent.

Books read this week:
  • Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh---a graphic novel I had to return because of its explicit illustrations, too much for a school library.
  • The House Without a Christmas Tree by Gail Rock---a junior book loaned me by a retired school teacher. A cute Christmas story set in the 1940s, a very different time than today.
Books currently reading:
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt---I am still working away on this tome, but it is spoiling me for wanting to read anything else. Progress: page 605 of 771, disc 21 of 26.
From the kitchen: homemade sausage/green pepper/mushroom pizza. Yum!

I hope that this holiday season finds you happy and healthy, connecting with loved ones, and with time to contemplate your spiritual side.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Quotes, Dec. 19th

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader
The Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's Voice

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading.

Book Title: The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry

Book Beginnings:
My name's Doug Barnes, and this stuff happened on Christmas Eve in my town, which is Asquont, New York. According to Mr. Purcell, who's my Social Studies teacher, Asquont is an Indian name that mean some Indian thing like "Hunting place in the Green Forest," but sometimes I think it was just a a joke by the Indians to get white people to say "Asquont."
Friday 56:
We were driving on Route 218 when Frank saw a squirrel, and he must have thought it was a really dangerous-looking squirrel because he jumped out the window to get it.
Comments: Dave Barry is a journalist who used to write a humor column for the Miami Herald newspaper. This book is so funny it is an absolute scream, yet it is also poignant and touching at the same time. The "Frank" who jumped out the window of the moving car was the family dog. The story is set in the 1960s and there are many cultural references that I recognize from my own childhood. I gave this book as gifts to everyone on my gift list a few years ago.

Progress: I have read this book something like five times but I haven't read it yet this year. I definitely will read it before Christmas, though, and most likely will read it aloud to my family.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Booklist published their end-of-the-year Editor's Picks list today

In my attempt to make lists of the best YA literature of the year, here is the list, just published, by Booklist Magazine. I've only included the YA titles on their list. For the full list and/or for short descriptions of the book listed, follow the links.

Fiction for Older Teens:
Althea & Oliver. By Cristina Moracho. Viking. Gr. 10–12. 
The Art of Secrets. By James Klise. Algonquin. Gr. 7–10.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. By Isabel Quintero. Cinco Puntos. Gr. 9–12.*
Girls like Us. By Gail Giles. Candlewick. Gr. 8–12.*
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. By A. S. King. Little, Brown. Gr. 9–12.*
Going Over. By Beth Kephart. Chronicle. Gr. 9–12.
Half Bad. By Sally Green. Viking. Gr. 9–12.*
I’ll Give You the Sun. By Jandy Nelson. Dial. Gr. 9–12. *
The Impossible Knife of Memory. By Laurie Halse Anderson. Viking. Gr. 9–12.**
The Infinite Sea. By Rick Yancey. Putnam. Gr. 9–12.
Revolution. By Deborah Wiles. illus. Scholastic. Gr. 6–9.
This One Summer. By Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. Illus. by Jillian Tamaki. First Second. Gr. 8–11.*
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim. By E. K. Johnston. Carolrhoda/Lab. Gr. 8–11.*
A Time to Dance. By Padma Venkatraman. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen. Gr. 7–12.*
The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean. By David Almond. Candlewick. Gr. 9–12.
Wildlife. By Fiona Wood. Little, Brown/Poppy. Gr. 9–12. 

Nonfiction for Older Teens
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. By Susan Kuklin. Illus. by the author. Candlewick. Gr. 7–12.
Eyes Wide Open: Going behind the Environmental Headlines. By Paul Fleischman. illus. Candlewick. Gr. 8–12.*
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. By Candace Fleming. illus. Random/Schwartz & Wade. Gr. 7–12.*
Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific. By Mary Cronk Farrell. illus. Abrams. Gr. 7–10.
A Volcano beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War against Slavery. By Albert Marrin. illus. Knopf. Gr. 8–12.

*= books on the BSD Mock Printz list
**=books on the possible Mock Printz list


Oh no. I did it, again.

Unbelievably I have done it, again. I have purchased another graphic novel not appropriate for public schools.  Last year I had to send back Habibi by Craig Thompson. Even though it had delightful illustrations I felt that the graphic nature of the rape scene was too explicit. If a regular novel has a rape scene one can imagine the details but in a graphic novel those pictures are right there.

I vowed to do better, to really do my homework before I ordered another book that needs to be returned because it is inappropriate for a school library. Apparently my admonition to myself didn't last long because earlier this month I ordered the graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Color  by Julie Maroh in an effort to enhance my LGBT selections. Apparently I didn't spend a moment looking at reviews, however. When it arrived I set it aside to read before I processed it (luckily) and within the first twenty pages I had a strong suspicion that the book was too "graphic" for us. I read on and with each page I felt that sinking feeling that comes when one becomes aware they've wasted money. As I called up the reviews, after closing the book on the last page, the first word that jumped out at me was "erotica." Oh-oh.

Don't get me wrong I am not condemning the book, I am only condemning my actions, ordering a graphic novel without reading the reviews first. Blue is the Warmest Color is the story of a girl, Clementine, who is attracted to another girl, Emma. She doesn't think of herself as gay and has a really hard time accepting herself and the attraction feelings she has toward Emma. There is a lot of anti-homosexual messages coming at Clementine from her family, friends, and society. She is very unhappy and records her thoughts in a diary. At her death Emma is given the diary to read. That is how the story begins, placing the last part first.

Blue is the Warmest Color is translated from French. It was made into an award-winning movie by the same name.
As tragic as the story is, the execution is fantastic. The illustrations are marvelous and the plot is helpful, if for no other reason than to shed a light on how devastating hatred and bigotry can be on actual lives. Occasionally I was a bit lost when the illustrations were supposed to carry to story forward and somehow I managed to loose the thread, but I was always able to find my way back to the plot. This book belongs in a public library and should be made available to the broadest clientele as possible. Unfortunately, it is just too graphic for the public schools. I will be sending it back. *Sigh.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

100 Sideways Miles...a long delayed review

A lot of things factor into the writing of a book review, as you fellow bloggers know. Immediate impressions of the writing and the themes, likeable characters, believable plots, relatability to the book, all these things factor in to my willingness to sit down and take the time to write a review. Unfortunately, the longer I put off the review, the less likely it is that I will even come back around it as the story starts to fade in my mind.

Such is the case with 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith. I liked the book but it was just weird enough that I didn't (don't) know how to write a review of it. I read the book months ago and today, finally, I make my first stab at a review of it. Should I focus on the weird way that the main character, Finn, prefers to measure time in miles? I don't even know how he does it. He has got it figured out that the Earth rotates around the sun at a rate of 20 miles per second which leads him to the conclusion that the event where a dead horse fell from the bridge, killing his mother and rendering him as an epileptic, took five seconds or 100 sideways miles. Even though the time/distance thing is weird it doesn't dominate the book. It appears more like a quirky literary device. I liked it but since I personally can't do the calculations I started ignoring the time/distance references.

Next I wondered if a better way to review the book was to hold it up next to other books by Smith and kind of do a Venn-diagram-thing by comparing and contrasting them. That idea would work except I couldn't think of many things to compare except the use of foul language and sexual messages, lots of them, and how much print space should be dedicated to these topics? Well, actually I do want to say a bit about the foul language. I am not a prude. I've been an educator for a lot of years working with teens. I know many teens often supplant actual verbs and nouns for foul words. But does every other word out of a characters mouth need to be a foul word? Sigh. The abundant use of foul language actually reduced my enjoyment of the book. All three of the books contain LOTS of foul language with this one topping the list. The sexual content actually worried me enough that I considered not placing 100 Sideways Miles and The Grasshopper Jungle on my Mock Printz reading list. I was worried what parents would think.

Actually now that I am on a comparison vein I should mention that a lot of reviewers are comparing 100 Sideways Miles to Smith's other works, especially Winger and The Grasshopper Jungle and most think that this book is a bit more complex and well-done. I honestly liked all the books but worry about them in equal measure. (See note above.) Both Grasshopper and 100 are coming-of-age tales which really explore the friendship between boys, Finn and Cade in this book/Austin and Robby in Grasshopper. These relationships are well fleshed-out whereas girlfriends in the books are just peripheral characters. Since I am always looking for books that would be attractive to male readers this is a real asset. Boys at my school get so tired of reading those "lovey-dovey" books obviously aimed at female readers. Neither of these books would be described  that way , even though Finn does experience first love and his atoms turn all sticky around Julia.

Lest you think the two books are the same story with two different covers, they are not. Soon after the coming-of-age beginning, Grasshopper Jungle veers sharply into the Science Fiction realm with big, gigantic insects eating up everything and awful happenings to the world because of the actions of the two boys, Austin and Robby. Nothing nearly so melodramatic happens in this book but the ending is tremendously satisfying and, I should mention, involves a bridge and a jump that lasted, oh let's say, probably about 100 sideways miles.


Monday, December 15, 2014

TTT: My favorite books read in 2014

Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
    Read for my SOTH book club in January.
Round House by Louise Erdrich
    Read for my RHS book club in January
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic for Gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin by Daniel Brown
    Nonfiction; also read in January (it was a month of good books) for RHS book club in February.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
    An audiobook read by the author. Very magical and imaginative.
Wonder by RJ Palacio
     A Junior book but quite wonderful and magical. Read for SOTH book club in March.
How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig
     Ever hear the phrase "The book fell open and I fell in"? This phrase aptly describes my experience with this book. I hoarded it and kept renewing it at the public library until they wouldn't let me renew it again.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
     Everyone who had read this book before me told me I would love it. They were right.
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
     This is the book I tell people to read if they can't figure out what to read.  What is not to like? A book about books and short stories!
Looking for Alaska by John Green
     My only re-read on this list. It has been a favorite YA book for a long time.
The Golem and Jinni by Helene Wecker 
     This was another audiobook selection and it took forever to finish the book in this format but I loved the experience of this book.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
     My first magical realism in a super-long time. I had to work pretty hard to appreciate this book but the work paid off and I'm pretty proud of myself for both conquering AND enjoying this book.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
     Important topics---anti-slavery AND feminism written by a favorite author.
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
     My second magical realism of the year and I was ready for it.  I see why this one ends up on a lot of "must-read" lists, but like One Hundred Years of Solitude, it is not a good selection for someone not willing to work at it.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
     An audiobook read by the author.  I LOVED this book but others in my RHS book club didn't which makes me wonder if the format (audio) was the trick.
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
     My favorite YA book of the year and the one I hope wins the Printz Award.

And lastly, I am sure this book will be on my favorites list but I am not finished with it yet:
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Goldfinch

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and Bookish.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Salon, December 14th, late edition


Weather: today was cold and clear. Mt. Rainier looked spectacular off-set by the blue sky.

Cue the music: another Christmas song by Pentatonix.

3rd Sunday of advent: the church choir made the annual trek to visit a small country church to share and afternoon of music and carols. Both of my daughters and husband sing in the choir so I go along to experience the wonder of this time of year in another setting. I always feel like I am stepping into a Currier and Ives postcard which we visit this small church. Afterwards we had a lovely dinner at our daughter and son-in-law's new home. Yum!

Our "Moose-a-muffin" project is essentially finished. September 1st we bought a new car and that decision has led to chain reaction of tasks to an effort to get space for the car to park in the garage. Step 1: new shelving in the garage; Step 2: clear a space and pour a concrete pad in the back yard; Step 3: build a garden shed on the concrete pad; Step 4: Move large items from the garage into the shed so that the car can finally be parked in the garage. Done. It only took us three months but we've been wanting to do this for eighteen years, ever since we moved to this house. 

Currently reading: I am honestly only reading and listening to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It is a very complex story but exquisitely written. When I am not reading it, I am thinking about it. Progress: page 417 of 771; that is the 14th of 26 audiodiscs.

Ha-ha: I saw something about Cat Shaped Marshmallows (see photo) on Facebook. I thought it would be a fun gift for my daughter who loves marshmallows AND cats. When I searched around on the internet where to buy them, I ran into a website selling Marshmallow Willies. Check the link (I don't want the picture on my blog, ha!) 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Snapshot Saturday...Dec.13

On September 1st we bought a new car. We decided to embark on a project to finally reclaim the third bay in our garage for parking a car instead of storage of junk. 

Step one was to buy shelving to move items off the floor. Some items (like the lawn mower) wouldn't fit so we decided that a garden shed was in order.

Step two: a concrete pad for the a shed. Poured between rain storms in early November.
Step three: build a shed for garden tools and other items stored in garage. Finished yesterday, Dec. 12th.
Step four: move items into shed; park car in garage; First time in 18 years we truly have a three-car garage
This has been what we call a Moose-a-muffin project, so named by the children's book, If You Give a Moose a Muffin. The story is how if you do one thing it leads to another and another thing. When we bought the new car (middle bay of the garage) we started a chain reaction that involved lots of work but we finally have come to the end of a lot of projects. What we think is funny is how long it took us to finally make these improvements to our house. We've been talking about them for eighteen years.

Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts

 This meme is hosted by Bookishly Boisterous.

 1. I am currently compiling a list of my favorite 50-60 books for a very bookish gift that I want for my birthday. Cheryl Sorg creates thumbprint portraits.  Oh, they are so wonderful (check out the link to see what I mean.) Anyway, after sending her a sample of my thumb print, I have to give her a list of 50-60 books to include in the "portrait". I thought it would be easy.  It is not easy, in fact it is hard to narrow the list down to 60 books. In addition each book I am putting through a mental screening process in which I try to figure out if  I will actually like this book in ten or twenty years from now.  Some books are easy:  To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, Gone with the Wind have already passed the "stood the test of time" test. But what about others that are favorites today but haven't been on the list that long?  I don't know if they will stand the test of time. What if I put them on my list and end up feeling ambivalent about the books later? Argh! I am trapped in a mental mess of my own making.

2. By the way, I thought I would add lots of young adult books to my list of 60 books but actually most haven't passed the "stood the test of time" test and so very few are on my most recent list. Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia; The Book Thief; and Where the Red Fern Grows are the only ones on the list right now. YA lit seem much more "in the moment" than their adult counterparts, for obvious reasons. Just today I was looking at the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. It was published in 1999 and has never been out-of-popularity in my library.  Some books just seem to have a universal message that can stand up to the ticking clock, but not many.

3. Our school has adopted a new English curriculum and the administration wants the teachers to teach it with fidelity. This leaves no time for them to bring their classes to the library to check out free-choice reading books. Circulation is way down this year.  Last year after four months of school we had checked out 6643 books. This year, in the same period, the number is substantially lower, 3980. Isn't that SAD?  The district wants kids to do better on the standardized tests but they are sacrificing reading for it.  And how do they expect children to develop a love of reading if they rarely encourage them to read a whole book from start to finish? SIGH***

4. Speaking of reading a book from start to finish, will I ever finish The Goldfinch? It is 770 pages long, I've been reading it for over a week pretty much whenever I have a moment of time and I only on page 300. It's a good one, though, very well done.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Geekily and greedily reading all the end-of-the-year-best-books-lists!

I kid you not. I spent hours today looking through all the the end of the year BEST of the BEST books list that have came out this past week and month. My focus is on Young Adult Literature.

Take a look at the lists for yourself and indulge your inner book geekiness, too.

School Library Journal divides up their list into four categories: Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Nonfiction. They have eighteen books on their young adult list with many of my favorites of the year making an appearance: I'll Give You the Sun; Gabi: a Girl in Pieces; Glory O'Brien's History of the Future. It also lists several books I've not even heard of.  Oh-oh more books to add to my next order.

New York Times, Notable Children's books: It also lists books in three categories: Picture Books, Middle Grades, and Young Adults. There are only six YA books listed, and I've read them all.

Kirkus Reviews, Best Teen Books. By far the most books of any of the lists. This one contains over 50 YA titles. Many of the books I have enjoyed and I liked seeing them on a "best of the year" list.

Horn Book, Fanfare! Their list doesn't isolate out the YA titles from the middle grade fiction but there are a few YA titles on the lists.

National Public Radio (NPR), Best Books of 2014. They have books in 27 categories with eleven books in the YA category. However YA books are in other lists, too. Have fun looking around.

Morris Award finalists: These are the best five books by debut authors. My favorite is The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. I deeply love this book.

Publishers Weekly: Best Books of 2014. Books in thirteen categories, young adult lit among them. This list has most of my YA favorites of the year on it.

YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalists: Five titles have made their short list. The winner will be announced on Feb. 2nd.

How do these lists affect the Printz selection? The best of the best of the best decision? I have no idea. But I know I was gratified to discover that my rather long 2015 Mock Printz list had all but two of the books listed most frequently on these lists. I think we did OK on our selection.

Monday, December 8, 2014

TTT and Sunday Salon rolled into one

Today is Monday, halfway between Sunday Salon and Top Ten Tuesday. Since I didn't get to my weekly post on Sunday I am combining the two together. TTT visitors, feel free to read the whole blog post or just read the information about authors I was introduced to in 2014, leave a comment, and head on to the next person on the list.

Weather: Gray, cloudy, and rainy. Pretty depressing weather, actually.

Top Ten Tuesday: What authors did I read for the first time in 2014? Over half of the books I read this year were written by authors I hadn't read before. Since a list of over 50 people would be pretty boring, here are ten that I particularly enjoyed:
  1. Ruth Ozeki---I just finished A Tale for the Time Being and LOVED it. You might know her from a previous book I haven't read, My Year of Meats.
  2. JoJo Moyes---I cried my way through the last half of Me Before You. I see her books everywhere. I was slow coming to the Moyes party but I have arrived now.
  3. Rudolfo Anaya---written in the 1970 his Bless Me, Ultima is a classic. the guy has written many, many books with Ultima being his most famous.
  4. Emily Carrol---lovers of graphic novels will be very familiar with Ms. Carrol. She has a large on-line presence. Through the Woods is my first of her graphic novels i've read, this one being a series of haunting/horror short sotries with very creepy illustrations.
  5. Louise Erdrich---I'm ashamed to say that Round House is my fist novel from this celebrated author. I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who will listen.
  6. Stephanie Kuehn---Ms. Kuehn is a relatively new author. I read two of her books this year, Complicit and her debut novel, Charm and Strange.
  7. Nick Hornby---one of those authors I've been meaning to read but never got around to reading until this year.
  8. Alice Munro---I read one of her short story collections while traveling in Europe this past summer. I decided it was high time after she won the Nobel Prize in Literature, for goodness sake.
  9. Helene Wecker---loved her book The Golem and the Jinni. I think (but I'm not sure) that it was her debut novel.
  10. Leslye Walton---The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. I'm sure that this is Ms. Walton's debut piece. I enjoyed it a lot. See my review below.
Second week of advent: word for the week PEACE (last week's word was HOPE.) During church yesterday we sang the lovely, old hymn Lo, How a Rose e'er Blooming. If you aren't familiar with it, it is so, so lovely and meditative.

Cue the music: This week is another holiday song, this one sung by the a cappella group, Home Free. Have a listen while you read the rest of the blog post.

Recipe of the week: Baked Brie with Kahlua/ Pecan topping. We took this as our appetizer to a holiday party on Saturday. Everyone circled around for seconds. I watched. Super easy to make.

Jigsaw puzzle: We tend to only put together jigsaw puzzles during the holidays. My daughter and I started working on one Friday afternoon and spent the better part of the week-end hunched over it.  Now all that is left are the hard bits!  Ha!

Books completed this week:
  • Blue Horses by Mary Oliver. Her newest poetry collection.
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. A thoughtful book about the quality of life.
Currently reading:
  • Half Bad by Sally Green. I'm not sure it counts since I didn't crack it open all week.
  • My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins. not sure this collection is my cup of tea, but I'm only on the third story. I'll withhold judgment until i've read a few more.
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I'm on page 130 of 778. Need I say more?
And the big news around our house: The University of Oregon Ducks are going to the College Football Play-offs as the number 2 seed. Don and I just bought tickets to fly to the Rose Bowl in California to see the game.  Yippee! We still need tickets to the game but hope they won't be that hard to come by.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

2014 will long be remembered by me as the year I was initiated into the literary genre magical realism. It started with One Hundred Years of Solitude, the quintessential novel written in the magical realism style by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, followed closely by Bless Me, Ultima. Both are classics and I highly recommend them. True confessions though, my appreciation of the style grew because of my willingness to read information about the books and the style on Shmoop and other lit-helper sites.

When The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender came along I felt well-prepared to read another book in the magical realism style. I didn't even flinch when the aunt turned into a canary...an actual bird, when ghosts of long dead family members spoke to the living, or when Ava was born with wings. Unfortunately this book doesn't have SparkNotes yet so the reader is on his/her own to figure out what all the symbolism and magical elements mean.

Ostensibly the book is an account of Ava Lavender's family history, one where she recounts how all the females in the family have trouble with love. So it shouldn't come as a shock to anyone if a girl born with wings doesn't expect anything so "grandiose as love" to come her way. Yet, the whole book is really about love, or more accurately about the many ways that love can be denied. The author Leslye Walton says it is about the "scars love's victims carry."

Ava Lavender is born with wings.  Of course she has wings BUT she cannot fly. The way I see it she cannot fly because her wings are pinioned by her family history. Don't we all have to break out of what is holding us back before we can fly?

I am a huge fan of this book. I caution readers to be patient with it and not to read it too literally. Let the story unfold. Allow the magic to seep into the pages and then you will find the multiple layers of meaning underneath the obvious one, making the reading experience very rich and fulfilling.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. Brilliance Audio, 2014, performed by Cassandra Campbell. Purchased.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Quotes on Friday, Dec. 5

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader
The Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's Voice

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading.

Book: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Book Beginnings
While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years.
Friday 56
Though I didn't understand why he [Dad] was so unhappy, it was clear to me that his unhappiness was our fault. My mother and I got on his nerves.
Comments: Everyone seems to be talking about this book. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year. So far, however, two things are pretty clear---this is not a book about a happy boy/man; and the book weighs a ton!

Progress: page 62 of 771. I just started reading it today.

If you've read the book, I'd love to hear what you thought of it. If not, what do you think about the opening line and the quote from page 56?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

When I was a young girl my parents were missionaries in West Africa. We lived in the capitol city but would occasionally take vacations "up-country". One of those vacation trips can be recalled with crystal clarity: a lizard on my sister's pillow; diving off the high-dive for the first time; eating Danish butter cookies from a blue tin; collecting butterflies with my mother; attempting to start a small fire without matches for a Camp Fire Girls badge; even drinking milk from a pyramid-shaped container. Though nothing astonishing, heroic, or dramatic happened, for some reason that vacation has stayed very vivid in my memory all these years later.

As I read This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, with illustrations by her cousin Jillian Tamaki, I had a sense that "this summer" had similar qualities to "my vivid vacation"...it was one of those time periods frozen in the memory banks forever. Mariko Tamaki says it isn't a memoir in the sense that the events in the book didn't happen to her but her family did vacation at a lake in Canada every summer which formed the basics of the setting, at least. The first page of this graphic novel sets the scene at a cabin at Awago Beach where the family has been coming "since...like...forever."

Rose Wallace and her friend Windy link up every year during the vacation days at the beach and their friendship seems to pick up where it left off last summer. This summer the girls seem to be poised right on the brink of adolescence, maybe they are twelve but more likely they are ten or eleven. They are just old enough to start thinking about "adult-ish" things and they, especially Rose, start noticing what the older kids at the resort are up to. I remember that phase in my life, don't you? I remember observing my older cousins and their comings and goings with a sense of awe.

As Rose spends part of her summer lurking around and watching adults, she discovers that her own mother is seriously depressed about a previous miscarriage that occurred earlier. She even becomes a heroine in her own story as she helps her mother emerge from her malaise.

I worried and fretted before adding this book to our Mock Printz list for the year. Since the main characters are not teenagers I wondered if my teens would relate to them. The coming-of-age theme and the "moment frozen in time" aspects of the book seem to strike a universal chord. All my readers have returned the book with good reviews. It doesn't hurt that the illustrations are fabulous and most teens enjoy reading material in the graphic novel format.

I recommend that you take a peek at the book yourself.

Monday, December 1, 2014

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson may well be the best YA novel of the year

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. ---Rumi
I believe in nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the truth of the imagination. ---John Keats
Where there is great love, there are always miracles. ---Willa Cather
It takes great courage to grow up and become who you really are. ---e.e. cummings

These are the epigraphs at the beginning of I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. Having finished the book and come back around to the beginning, I see how each is a perfect introduction to the book and its themes. The story is told in alternating chapters by fraternal twins Noah and Jude each from one side or the other of an accident that dramatically alters their lives. In a household where ART is supreme each are raised as artistic prodigies striving to get into the prestigious art school across town. Noah, who narrates the story before the accident, is especially artistically talented. He has the uncanny ability to rapidly paint the pictures that populate his every thought.

As twins, Noah and Jude each represent half of the whole. They find comfort and solace in each others presence and seem to actually have the ability to know the mind of the other. Jude is bold and courageous, Noah fearful and timid until they meet Brian and each briefly vies for his attention. "Although Nelson portrays the relationship between the twins, their oneness, as comforting, more often it is claustrophobic — perhaps contributing to the book’s tense, almost breathless feel. One of their favorite games is to divide up the world between them, choosing and bartering the sun or the trees or the oceans. There is the sense that the world is simply not big enough for both of them" ( Lauren Oliver,  author and NYT reviewer).

Each of the twins vie for the attention of one of their parents, often reflecting on the rightness or wrongness of actions or beliefs. things get downright competitive between the siblings as the date for art school application approaches. In the chapters after the accident, narrated by Jude, the story has a touch of magical realism when we find the ghost of her grandmother offering pithy advice and directions. One is never sure if it really is a ghost or if it is just the lack of ability to deal with reality. A ghost giving advice sounds corny and gimmicky but it actually works, especially considering Jude's frame of mind after the accident. Mary Oliver, my favorite poet, reminds me "what's magical, sometimes, has deeper roots than reason."

Reviewers don't agree on whether they like some of the writing techniques employed by Nelson, but I really liked them.  Noah, who always sees paintings in his head, lets the reader into his head when he tells us what portrait he would paint given a certain situation:
(SELF-PORTRAIT: The Boy Hiding Inside the Boy Hiding Inside the Boy)
(PORTRAIT: Mom and Dad with Screeching Tea Kettles for Heads)
(SELF-PORTRAIT: Boy Dives into a Lake of Light)
And Jude, who frequently reads and tries to follow the sayings in the book given to her at Grandma Sweetwine's death,  is very aware of their "truths" in her life:
A person in possession of a four-leaf clover is able to thwart all sinister influences.
To avoid serious illness, keep an onion in your pocket
If a boy gives a girl an orange, her love for him will multiply.
Like so many YA novels I'll Give You the Sun defies categorization. It is definitely a coming-of-age tale where Jude and Noah are able to grow outside their grief to a place where they are whole. It is also a mystery. What happened that caused the twins to break apart? What caused the accident? It is also a beautiful love story between Brian and Noah. The LGBT themes in this book are handled exquisitely.

Of all the YA books I've read this year (over thirty in total) I'll Give You the Sun is by far my favorite. It has depth and texture not often found in the pages of YA novels. ART is the central theme of the book, which is a theme not oft explored in literature aimed at this age group. "The book celebrates art’s capacity to heal, but it also shows us how we excavate meaning from the art we cherish, and how we find reflections of ourselves within it (NYT). It is my hope that teen readers will find themselves reflected in the pages and will be able to celebrate the unique talents they, too, have been given in life.
Even though it is a bit late in the game for a substitution, I am adding I'll Give You the Sun to my list of books being considered for the BHS Mock Printz workshop.

As e.e. cummings said it indeed does take great courage to grow up and become who you really are.

Nelson, Jandy. I'll Give You the Sun. Dial Books, September 2014.
Obtained from my school library.