September 17, 2014

On Being the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

It's been a rough year for me. Not life-altering serious illnesses or anything like that, but a lot of change and a lot of adjusting. And a lot of facing the fact that I'm no longer *gulp* young. What is it George Burns always said? "You can't help growing older, but you don't have to get old?" (Or something like that.) Most days, I'm okay, but there are sometimes when I just get in a funk about the direction of my life.

Two things have helped. The first are three fantastic songs:

All of them help remind me that I am just fine the way I am, and to not listen to the inner (and outer) voices that would make me think otherwise.

The second is a decision to go back to school and get my MLS. I'm terrified of this -- my insecruities ask: who will want to hire a 46 year old librarian? -- but I am pretty sure it will help me in the long run to be doing something I should have been doing all along. I'm just applying to schools now, so I don't plan on any drastic changes just yet. But I am also excited.

So, here's to a much better year!

September 15, 2014


by Mary Roach
First sentence: "In 1968, on the Berkley campus of the University of California, six young men undertook an irregular and unprecedented act."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: One f-bomb (in the chapter about the rectum as a criminal accomplice) and a bunch of s-words (in the chapters on the colon and intestines). It's in the science section at the bookstore.

I never would have thought to pick up a book on the Alimentary system (that's your digestive system for the non-medically minded), except that this was picked for my in-person book group.

I'm so glad it was: it was fantastically fascinating.

She takes apart the digestive system, starting from the nose, working her way down. It sounds like it'd be boring, but it really isn't. Roach is not only an engrossing and accessible writer, but a hilarious one. Especially the footnotes. All her little asides and historical facts had me laughing out loud.

True, the last few chapters aren't for those who get queasy talking about bodily functions. But if you can get past that, it's an excellent book.

September 14, 2014

State of the TBR Pile: September 2014

I have no excuses for the state of my TBR pile. There's just too many books I want to read this time of year. PLUS, I've been nominating two books for each Kid's IndieNext list (the Fall one's out; I don't know why they don't have the link to that), so I need to read a couple of books that are coming out December/January. Too much to read, not enough time. But isn't that always the story?

(As an upshot, I've got a plane flight to Sacramento for KidlitCon coming up... 6 blissful reading hours with NO INTERRUPTIONS.) (Are coming too? You should! It's going to be a GREAT con!)

I probably won't get to all of these this month, but here's what I'd LIKE to read.

The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (Because the authors are awesome.
He Laughed With His Other Mouths, by M. T. Anderson (Same reason as above.)
A Beautiful Blue Death, by Charles Finch (A coworker has told me I need to read this on a number of occasions.)
Drama, by Raina Telgemeier (Should have read this ages ago.)
The Cure for Dreaming, by Cat Winters (Looks interesting.)
The Paperboy, by Kristin Levine (This was going to be one of my Indie Next pics, but they pushed up the pub date. Still: love the author.)
The Secret Sky, by Atia Abawi (Looks interesting.)
Anatomy of a Misfit, by Andrea Portes (It's an adult writer doing YA stuff. I'm wary, but want to check it out.)
Jackaby, by William Ritter (Looks interesting.)
The Burning Sky, by Sherry Thomas (I've been meaning to check this out since it was recommended LAST KidLitCon.)
Minion, by John David Anderson (Because I really liked Sidekicked.)
Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore (I've been putting it off because it's so emotionally difficult. I will get to this. I will.)

What's on your TBR list?

September 12, 2014

Graphic Novel Roundup

The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew
First sentence: "In 1911, the Ch'ing Dynasty collapsed ending two millenia of imperial rule over China."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's some violence (graphic, obviously), but that's about it. It's a higher reading level, but I wouldn't be adverse to giving this to the superhero loving 9- or 10-year-old. It's in the teen graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the 1940s, the first Asian-American, Hing, was hired by a small comic press to draw a superhero. The producers/owners wanted The Green Turtle to be white but the way Hing drew The Green Turtle, you really couldn't tell. It was a short-lived comic, and Hing never gave The Green Turtle's backstory.

Which is where The Shadow Hero comes in: Yang and Liew imagine The Green Turtle's origin story.

And what a story. Yes, this is a superhero comic: the kind of nerdy, unambitious boy who gets a super power, but not without great cost. Our hero is Hank Chu, the son of Chinese immigrants. All he really wants to do is run the grocery store in Chinatown with his father. But, Chinatown is run by the mob, people who extract "taxes" from the businesses. Hank's dad forgets a payment once, and the mob comes down on him, hard, killing him in front of Hank. That spurs Hank (kind of; his mother had been pushing him to become a superhero for a while) into action: he's going to take down the mob, going after the boss.

Like all of Yang's work, this is wonderfully drawn, and the story is compelling. I'm not a huge superhero comic person, but I couldn't put this one down. It's definitely a story worth reading.

Mr. Pants: It's Go Time!
by Scott McCormick and R. H. Lazzell
First sentence: "What are you laughing at, Mr. Pants?"
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It's a perfect beginning chapter graphic novel. Words are simple and large print, but the humor is abundant and the pages keep turning. It's in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

This is one that our Penguin children's rep (who has the most delightful Irish accent) RAVED about. She said, "Seriously: you just have to read it. It's hilarious!" I put it off for a while, until she came again (there's a sequel coming out), and reminded me: "You HAVE  to read this." So, I did. And she's right: you have to read it. It's hilarious.

It's the last day of summer, and Mr. Pants -- a cat with two cat sisters and a human mom. No, I don't understand, either -- wants to go play laser tag. Except his younger sisters -- Foot Foot and Grommy -- have other ideas. Foot Foot wants to play with her new toy. Grommy wants to go to the Fairy Princess Dream Factory. Mom has to go shopping. The deal is this: Mr. Pants goes along with all this stuff (he doesn't want to do, obviously), and they can go play laser tag.

Much like Babymouse, this is a gold mine for hilarity. There's also some gender-bending going on; Mr. Pants is your typical "boy", but he's also accepting of his sisters' likes. (Which, I think, is typical for a boy with sisters. Ask me, sometime, about the summer I was into Little House on the Prairie. I was Laura, and my brother was Mary.) It's everything a beginning chapter book needs to be: colorful, funny, interesting, and good.

This One Summer
by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
First sentence: "
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's a half-dozen f-bombs as well as mild swearing, and one of the minor characters gets pregnant. It's in the teen graphic novel section for those reasons.

Every summer since she was five, Rose and her family would go to their cabin by the beach. She has her best friend there, Windy, and enjoyed the days playing, exploring, hanging out. But this summer is different. Rose is 13 (I think; she seemed 13) and she and Windy are talking about growing up (boobs were a big topic). And her mother and father are fighting. Quite a bit. Rose gathers from eavesdropping that much of it surrounds their failed attempt to have another baby. Which just makes Rose feel unwanted.

Add on top of that their observance (mostly from sneaking around) of an unfolding drama in the little town where their cottages are: a boy who works at the convenience store got his girlfriend pregnant and doesn't want to accept responsibility.

It's an interesting graphic novel, one that I think I didn't like as much as I could have, solely because I was not the right age. But the 12-to 14-year old crowd, especially girls, would relate. It's about changing, and accepting the future, and figuring out friends, and understanding the world. And it's perfect for its target audience.

Just not for me.

September 10, 2014

The Witch's Boy

by Kelly Barnhill
First sentence: "Once upon a time there were two brothers, as alike to one another as you are to your own reflection."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There really isn't anything objectionable. The pacing is slow, however, which is something that might turn more reluctant readers off. It's in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Ned has been "the wrong boy" since the fateful day when he and his twin brother, Tam, tried to sail to the sea and ended up drowning in the river. Or nearly drowning, in Ned's case. See: his mother is the witch of the village, and she has been the keeper of the magic -- dangerous, unruly magic which Ned is never to touch -- for most of Ned's life. And although she couldn't save Tam, she saved Ned... by sewing Tam's soul inside of Ned.

Fast forward a few years -- ones in which Ned doesn't have much strength, where he has a stutter, and where he can't read -- to when the Bandit King comes into their lives with the intention to steal the magic for his own. This is where Ned does something remarkable: he takes the magic into himself, and sets off on an adventure. One in which he'll meet a friend -- his first since his brother died -- and change the course of the world.

It's a slow, quiet book; one that reminded me strongly of Anne Ursu's books. That's a good thing, except it's not one for people who are expecting Grand Action and Adventure. Much of the book is spent inside Ned's head (mostly because he can't talk, though I did like Barnhill's methods for portraying Ned's stutter), which doesn't lend itself to fast reading. That said, given time, this book is really a fantastic read. I loved how Barnhill portrayed the magic; it had its own personality, one that can be controlled by it's "owner", provided the person is strong enough. And I really enjoyed seeing Ned come into his own. Yes, he was pushed around by (some of) the adults in his life (I loved his mother; she's fantastic), but it's a true middle grade novel in that Ned (and his new friend, Áine) face the conflict on their own, without adult help.

Speaking of Áine: she's a remarkable character, too. Self-sufficient, yes, and strong, but she also finds it in her heart to be a friend and a true companion.

I think this is one that will stay with me for a while.