Friday, February 29, 2008

February Finale

I'm remembering to do a summary for February!

Let's see. My reading has been oh-so-slow-going this month.


Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo
Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America's Favorite Addiction
On the Road (Down Girl and Sit)
Roxie and the Hooligans
Pompeii: Lost and Found
Black Ships
The Spiderwick Chronicles (yet to be reviewed)

Currently reading:

The Other Boleyn Girl (420 of 661 pages read)
The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur (starting tonight)
The Ghost's Grave (45 of 210 pages read)
Dragon Slippers (re-read, bedtime read-aloud)
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! (14 of 81 pages read)
The Subtle Knife (audiobook, listening to with Laura; approximately 1.5 hours of approximately 9 hours)
Dragonfly in Amber (audiobook; 2 parts of 5 completed)

Challenges status:

What's in a Name?: 4 categories (of 6) completed (color, plant, place, first name)
Chunkster: 0/4
A-Z: Titles completed (B, C, D, F, K, L); Authors completed (H, O)

I just realized that none of my completed titles for the A-Z Challenge were my original choices. Good thing I'm flexible!

Black Ships by Jo Graham

Based on The Aeneid, Black Ships is the story of the people of Troy, who are searching for a new home after the Trojan Wars. The story focuses on Gull, a former slave girl who now serves as the voice of the Lady of the Dead. Gull must choose which path to follow when black ships appear, led by Aeneas, prince of Troy.

As Aeneas' oracle, Gull travels with his fleet from Greece to Egypt and ultimately to the shadows of Mount Vesuvius. Along the way, she grows from a young woman resolved to be alone forever to a woman full of life and love.

Despite the fact that it took me a full month to read this book, I really loved it. It's hard to believe this is a first novel. The main characters are fully developed, and the writing grabbed me from the beginning. That said, there were times when I felt the Graham's choice of words didn't fit the rest of the writing style (unfortunately, I can't find an example right now). Those instances had more of a modern feel than the rest of the book. If I recall correctly, most of those situations occurred when there was dialog between Gull, Aeneas, and another character, Xandros.

If you are a fan of historical fiction or the retelling of ancient stories, I think you will enjoy this book! I read this as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program, but I see that the book is now available for sale (although the release date says March 10).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Texas Bluebonnet Award revisited

I posted earlier about how I think the voting for the Texas Bluebonnet Award (TBA) is flawed. I still think so to some extent, but mainly only because I think kids will read several short books at the last minute in order to get to go to the special voting breakfast, assuming something like that is a standard at other schools besides my daughter's. Actually, it just occurred to me that, as far as I know, my son's school doesn't participate in the Bluebonnet program at all (how sad).

While I was looking for TBA graphics on the Texas Library Association page today, I came across the FAQ for the program. I've never really understood that the point of the program isn't about choosing the award winner, but more about learning to choose books that appeal to you in a no-pressure situation. The list, as I mentioned previously, has a wide variety of books that naturally don't all appeal to every child. Each child is encouraged to pick at least 5 of their own choosing, and the goal is most definitely not to read the whole list (I knew this). Puts it all in a different perspective for me.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On the Road (Down Girl and Sit) by Lucy Nolan

Well, that was anticlimactic.

On the Road (Down Girl and Sit) is this year's winner of the Texas Bluebonnet Award. I've now read all but 4 of the books, and this definitely wasn't my favorite. That said, I do see why it would be the popular choice.

The book is very silly, told from the viewpoint of a dog, aka Down Girl. (Sit is her neighbor.) The book did have me chuckling often, and I think young readers would really appreciate the humor. But to me, there's a difference between a "fun" book and a "good" book. Then again, that's why the Bluebonnet Award is kids' choice award and not an adult's choice award!

The audience for this book is early readers, 2nd grade-ish. Not my favorite level.

My daughter and I had an interesting conversation about the Bluebonnet Award over breakfast on Saturday. I told her which book won, and she was a bit incredulous. As we talked, I realized a flaw in the voting system. At least at my daughter's school, in order to vote, kids only have to have read 5 books on the list of 20 books. The voting is done at a special breakfast, where the kids get donuts, etc. The Bluebonnet list is typically a mixture of picture books, early readers, and longer novels. If you only have to have read 5 books to get to go to this special breakfast, and you're not much of a reader, which 5 books are you going to have read? The shorter ones! So the voting is automatically skewed towards the shorter, easier books. My personal opinion is that the kids should have to read books from the list that are in their reading level. For those with lower levels, reading only the easy books would be fine, but the older/better readers should be required to read at least a couple of books more appropriate to their level. That would at least increase the chances of the lengthier novels have of winning. Thoughts?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

Weedflower begins the first week of December, 1941. Sumiko and her family are flower farmers in California when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. Naturally, their world is turned upside down. Suddenly her uncle and grandfather are arrested and held in camps run by the Department of Justice. The rest of Sumiko's family is moved to a local interment camp and then to a camp in Poston, Arizona, run by the Office of Indian Affairs. Here Sumiko is befriended by an older Japanese man (I say Japanese instead of Japanese American, because I believe he was not born in America) who helps her start a garden. She also encounters a Mohave Indian boy and faces her own prejudices towards his people, as well as his towards hers. This is a very touching story and one I highly recommend!

Weedflower is another of the Texas Bluebonnet nominees for this year, and of all the ones I've read so far (I've read 15 of the 20), this one would have gotten my vote. I know it's not the winner, though - I still haven't read the winner. I'm interested to read the winner to see what ids liked better about it!

This book fufills another of my requirements for the What's in a Name? Challenge.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Eva at A Striped Armchair bestowed upon me the Mwah! Award, the point of which is “to hand some of that love and kindness back around to those who have been so very, very, very good to me in this bloggy world. My hope is that those who receive this award will pass it on to those who have been very, very, very good to them as well. It’s a big kiss, of the chaste platonic kind, from me to you with the underlying ‘thanks’ message implied. I really do appreciate your support and your friendship and yes, your comments. … Mwah!”

Thanks, Eva! I'd like to pass it on to Debi and Amanda (The Librarian) for being my most frequent commenters and Dewey for being the first person to comment on my blog.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Roxie and the Hooligans by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Roxie and the Hooligans is a book that just begs to be read aloud.

Take, for example, this description of Roxie's ears (the source of all her problems):

"It was her ears, of course. They were round ears, pink ears, ears of the normal variety, and Roxie scrubbed them daily inside and behind. But they stuck straight out from her head like the handles of a sugar bowl, the ears on an elephant, the wings on a bat."

And this passage, that actually managed to rouse my half-asleep boy and even evoke a giggle:

"Helvetia brayed like a donkey: 'Hee-yah, hee-yah!'

Simon howled like a hyena: 'Hoo-hoo ha-ha, hoo-hoo ha-ha!'

Freddy cawed like a crow: 'Ca-haw! Ca-haw!'

And Smoky Jo squeaked like a mouse: 'Eeeka. Eeeka. Eeeka.'"

Roxie Hooligan is an average fourth grader, who is tormented by a group of bullies, Helvetia's Hooligans. She also happens to be the niece of Uncle Dangerfoot who has traveled the world with Lord Thistlebottom, the author of Lord Thistlebottom's Book of Pitfalls and How to Survive Them. Roxie has nearly memorized Lord Thistlebottom's book of survival tips, even though she is sure she will never need to use them. But of course, we can all guess that Lord Thistlebottom's wisdom will, indeed, come in handy.

I wasn't really expecting much of this book. It's one of the 2007-2008 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominees, which is why I picked it up. I'm so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed this little book!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

123 Meme

I've been wanting to play along with this for a while, but since I can't post from work and rarely read blogs at home, I haven't had a chance. (No, I don't sit wasting my time at work reading blogs, but I do a lot of literature searches and downloading of papers, so while I'm waiting for something to load, I'll switch over to Google Reader and read a post or two. I also have a hard time keeping my mind from wandering when I'm doing the same thing for hours, so I'll read a post or two to break up the time - especially when I have a list of 175+ references to browse through. It's like, look at 10 references, read 1 post...)

ANYway. Most of you (all 2 of you...) that read my blog have probably seen this by now (and it's made it's way around multiple times in the many years I've been keeping an online journal). Pick up the nearest book and turn to page 123. Find the 5th sentence, and copy down the next 3 sentences.

I have 2 nearby, so I'll use both.

From The Other Boleyn Girl:

"Suddenly, like a striking snake, she reached out and grabbed my hand in a fierce grip. At once she twisted it behind my back and held me so that I could move neither forward nor backward but only cry out in pain: 'Anne! Don't! You're really hurting!'"

And from Black Ships:

"We were nearly four weeks on the way to Byblos, and the sailing season was ending when we arrived. We had stopped nine times on the way, trading at great cities and small. Our first was Halicarnassos, hardly two days' trip down the coast, then Cnidos on its cape."

Sick day

I've got some nasty stomach virus which is keeping me home from work today.

The only good thing about this is that I can lay on the couch and read, assuming I can stay awake.

I'm currently devoting my reading time to one book per day (as in, I'm only reading from one book per day instead of reading out of multiple over the course of the day). Today will be devoted to The Other Boleyn Girl, which pleases me as it's a serious chunkster. Maybe I'll make a dent in it today.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pompeii: Lost and Found by Mary Pope Osborne

My only previous experience with Mary Pope Osborne's books was through her Magic Tree House series that my daughter enjoyed when she was an early reader. As those books, especially for early reader books, were well-researched, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed with this book about Pompeii.

When I added it as a selection for the What's in a Name? challenge, I expected the book to be longer, more like Osborne's Magic Tree House research guides (the companion nonfiction books), so I was surprised to find that it is instead a picture book. But I wasn't disappointed! The illustrations by Bonnie Christensen, which mimic the frescoes of ancient Pompeii are absolutely gorgeous! Each page has a short paragraph about an aspect of life in Pompeii, and the adjacent page has a beautiful fresco reflecting this aspect. It's truly a beautiful little book.

I appreciated reading about the way of life in Pompeii prior to its destruction. There was a hint of sadness at the complete and sudden destruction of this community. I was reminded of Life As We Knew It, which I reviewed last month.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo by Obert Skye

It's hard not to like a book in which one of the main characters is a talking toothpick!

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo is the first in the Leven Thumps series, of which there are now 3 books + a companion (as is oh-so-trendy these days). This is a typical fantasy book, with classic elements: an orphaned boy living a miserable life who suddenly finds he has to save the world; magical sidekicks; a villain to defeat; and, yes, a talking toothpick.

Leven Thumps is exciting from the get-go, and it never really lags. I would have loved this book as a child, but as an adult I kept having to tell myself to quit being so analytical. There were scenes that seemed to have been added purely for comedic value that I started to find distracting by the end.

Any fans of Harry Potter will likely enjoy Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo. I've read a couple of chapters to my kids at bedtime and they both seemed to enjoy them. We'll probably read the entire book for bedtime once we finish the Spiderwick Chronicles (which I'll write about after we've finished all 5 books).

Monday, February 4, 2008

Library Meme

I love this meme, created by Becky over at Becky's Book Reviews.

How do you plan on celebrating Library Lovers month?
How sad is it that I, a librarian, didn't know it was Library Lover's month? I'll celebrate by making sure I remember to return my books on time. ;-)

How often do you accidentally spell library as 'libary' when you're in a hurry? I'm actually kind of paranoid about this. But there was this one time I had created handouts for a talk I was giving, with the name of my library in the header. After I got back from the talk, I noticed that I had made that typo on the handouts! EEEKKK!!!

What is the most amount of books you've ever had checked out at one time? Well, in my library, which is a departmental library in a hospital, I will often check things out on my card if the person needing to borrow a book needs to renew their card or hasn't gotten one, because I don't have the ability to create an account for them myself and it can be a real hassle for them to get it taken care of. So I have had upwards of 30 books out at a time professionally. I'm sure when I was taking children's literature classes I often had 10-20 out at a time, not to mention the stacks of picture books we used to bring home when the kids were younger.

What is the longest you've ever gone without visiting the library? I used to go to the library lots when I was a kid, but then in middle school and high school, when I was no longer within walking distance, I hardly ever went. I only remember going a couple of times in middle school, and I don't remember ever getting books for pleasure from the public library in high school. In fact, I only remember going to the public library maybe once or twice. I guess if we're talking about *any* library, I would have to say the longest was probably from the time my daughter was about 1 until she was about 3. Before that, I was in and out of academic libraries all the time.

What is the biggest fine you've ever had? I think I had a pretty substantial fine at some point due to a lost book or two. Maybe close to $50. Yikes!

When you go to the library, do you plan ahead and make a list? I almost always know what I plan to get, or at least have an idea. I very rarely just browse.

Have you ever been shushed or hushed by a librarian? My kids have, for sure. When I was a children's librarian, I tried very hard not to be a shusher!

What is the worst (against-the-rules) thing you've ever done in the library? I kissed my boyfriend in 6th grade behind the library. Does that count? I think the only library I've eaten in (besides my current library, which doesn't count) was at my previous job, where food and drink were allowed.

What's the worst thing you've ever done to a library book? The worst thing that has ever happened to a library book in my possession was probably a page torn by my child. I'm pretty protective of my library books!

Have you ever had a "favorite" librarian? Yes. Myself. ;-) No, really. I don't think I did have a favorite growing up. I would have to say my favorite librarian was one of the children's librarians I used to work with.

If you could change one thing about your library it would be... Does it have to be just one thing? I have a few...self-serve holds. A self-check machine that works all the time. And a friendlier staff.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America's Favorite Addiction by Jake Halpern

The one thing about reading from a list like the one for the Name that Book competition in my husband's school district is that you are sometimes exposed to books you would never pick up otherwise. Such is the case for me with Fame Junkies. I'm not generally much of a nonfiction reader anyway, and I certainly would never have chosen a book about fame.

In Fame Junkies, Halpern attempts to explore why people are so obsessed with celebrities and the idea of being famous. The book is divided into three parts: Part 1 focuses on people who are trying to become famous, Part 2 on the people who have found themselves surrounded by the famous, as assistants, stylists, etc., and Part 3 on fans.

Overall, this book left me nonplussed. I guess part of it is that, for the most part, I've never really bought into all of the Hollywood stuff. This season is the only time I've ever watched American Idol (and only because my 11-year-old daughter wanted to watch it); I don't buy People Magazine or any of the other entertainment magazines. I've never wanted to be famous. But at the same time, I'll admit that even I have been keeping up with Britney Spears' saga...

I did find parts of the book interesting - for example, the psychology behind people's addiction to fame. But overall, it just made me relieved that I have somehow escaped this addiction and sad to hear what measures some families will take in hopes that their child will somehow break through and make it in Hollywood.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

January wrap-up

I like the idea of posting what I've read at the end of each month. I've seen lots of other bloggers do it, but I haven't been in the habit. Let's see how long I stick with this one! ;-)

In January, I read (or finished):

Becky: The Lives and Loves of Becky Thatcher (adult fiction, LibraryThing Early Review copy)
Bella at Midnight
(children's fiction)
Firegirl (children's fiction)
Chicken Boy (children's fiction)
King Dork (YA fiction)
Life As We Knew It (YA fiction)
Dreamers of the Day (adult fiction, LibraryThing Early Review copy)
Bobbie Dazzler (picture book)
Punk Farm on Tour (picture book)
Previously (picture book)
Over in the Jungle (picture book)

Books 'n Birthdays

I've been really good about not buying any new books lately; at least, if I've bought many, I've successfully blocked it out. :-p

However, it was impossible to let my birthday pass with no books!

Yesterday was my birthday, and I was good and limited myself to a knitting/crocheting book, since that doesn't add to my reading stack.

But then I got a check from my dad today. At first I thought, ooohhh, I can buy lots of yarn! Then Half Price Books happened. I was good in the sense that I limited myself to books that I've chosen for challenges or are on lists I'm reading from. Here's what I ended up with, for less than $35!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
A Prayer for Owen Meany
Ursula, Under
Water for Elephants
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
The Solitaire Mystery

I saw several copies of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, too, but they were all hardbound, and I really prefer paperback. We actually even found ourselves right by *another* Half Price Books later in the evening and stopped in just to see if they might have a paperback copy, but nope. As if I needed another book...