Guest post

My blogging friend Chachic is running a week-long celebration of Laura Florand’s books, and today she’s featuring a guest post from…me! Click over to find out why I love Laura’s books. Here’s a brief snippet:

“One of the other things I love about these books is the way they’re open to all kinds of relationships, not just the romantic one that is of course at the heart of the story. But family and friends, coworkers – they’re all important too, as they are in real life. I often find that romance books tend to have a kind of tunnel vision when it comes to the main characters’ other relationships. They might exist, but they’re never as important, never as realized as the romance. But here, partly because Florand is really good at sketching characters in a few sentences, they seem just as real, just as important as the main characters.”

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Top Ten Tuesday: Literary dinner party

top-ten-tuesday
This is a post for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. You can find out more and follow along there!

I switched up the topic a little bit for this week, because I think I’m too practical for the original desert island theme (Thor Heyerdahl and the Swiss Family Robinson, obviously). However I do know exactly who I would invite to a literary dinner party…OF DOOM.

The guests, in no particular order:

1. Lord Peter Wimsey and 2. Harriet Vane from Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter books

3. Eugenides and 4. Irene Attolia from The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

5. Howl and 6. Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

7. Miles Vorkosigan and 8. Ekaterin from the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

9. Psmith from Leave it to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse

10. Telemakos from Elizabeth Wein’s Aksum series

I’m pretty sure this group would either destroy or accidentally take over the world in the course of the evening, while Irene, Sophie, Harriet, and Ekaterin sat in the corner and traded horror/love stories. It would be awesome and I’m a little sad it can never happen.

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Picture Book Monday: July 2014

I took an unintentional break from PBM the past few months, partly because I forgot to keep track of the books I looked at and partly because we were doing a major update of the Children’s Room and it wreaked havoc with everything. (When I say “we” I mean mostly not-me.) Now we’re back, and the room looks amazing! If you want to see some pictures from the massively huge SRC kickoff/Grand Reopening, check out the library’s FB page.

Anyway, as I was denewing recently (thanks to Anna M for this marvelous term!), I noticed that I hadn’t talked about a few of the picture books when they first came in and wanted to highlight them now.

Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler: I loved both art and story for this one; the palette is gorgeous and the line art is clear and lovely. It’s certainly a gentle book, but it didn’t seem twee or overly sentimental to me–there’s a kind of clarity that gives integrity to the whole thing. It’s also, incidentally, a good book to use when talking about the life cycle of trees, or the changing seasons.

Rainbow Stew by Cathryn Falwell: There’s been quite a bit of talk recently about casual or everyday diversity (I like the latter term). Falwell’s book is a great example of this. A bit like Thunder Cake, it shows three young children who happen to be African-American as they visit their Grandpa and make his famous Rainbow Stew with the produce from his garden. The warm relationship between kids and grandfather and the lovely artwork makes me even forgive the fact that the text rhymes. (To be fair, Falwell has an excellent sense of rhythm which sets it above most of the rhyming picture books I see.) It even includes a recipe to make your own Rainbow Stew!

I don’t know whose brilliant idea it was to have Gennady Spirin illustrate a series of non-fiction books, but Macmillan went for it and I love the result. After all, why shouldn’t books that happen to be informational rather than fictional have great illustrations? Spirin and his son Ilya have done a total of four books with Brenda Guiberson to date. My favorite is Frog Song, mostly because Spirin’s shimmery style suits frogs perfect. You can browse through some of the illustrations here. I also like Guiberson and Ilya Spirin’s Ice Bears a lot. I would love for this trend to continue, especially with some of the “hard” sciences.

Weasels by Elys Dolan: When this one came in, Coworker K and I read it at least twice in one day. While some of the references may resonate more with adults, the idea of weasels plotting world domination and the number of fun details should appeal to the older picture book crowd. And it’s just so funny. You can find out a bit more and browse through the opening pages here.

This published early due to the classic “Hit publish instead of save” blunder. Oh well!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite movies and TV shows

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This is a post for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. You can find out more and follow along there!

There’s a bonus here–I did a whole separate category of period adaptations, because I love so many of those. I also tried to stick with things that I currently love, which means most of these are fairly recent. Commentary for some of these but not others, because I can.

TV
1. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Socialite/detective in 1920s Melbourne, going around solving crime while wearing the most beautiful clothes. Bonus: all of the other characters are also awesome, especially Dot.
2. Call the Midwives: Wonderful cast of characters, which makes it hard for me to even pick a favorite except that my favorite is Chummy. Also, if I could somehow have Jenny’s hair that would be great. Heartwarming and heartbreaking, sometimes in the same episode.
3. Bletchley Circle: A group of female code breakers from Bletchley Park get together after the war and solve crime. How is that not the best? Also, Anna Maxwell Martin.
4. Doctor Who
5. Firefly

Movies
1. Lord of the Rings: While I have my issues with certain choices, (Faramir in TTT, argh!!) Peter Jackson’s adaptation of LotR is certainly the best we’ll ever get.
2. Master and Commander: Pure fun for the nautically minded amongst us, I also really loved this one as an adaptation.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: I just really really love it, okay? Honestly, I love the fact that it’s a sleek, carefully crafted superhero movie that’s full of trenchant political commentary (“You want to see my lease?” -Nick Fury) and that also has a diverse cast and it’s just…*flails*
4. The Hunger Games
5. Up

Bonus: Period adaptations:
1. North and South
2. Pride and Prejudice 1995
3. Little Dorrit
4. Our Mutual Friend
5. Cranford

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Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

palace of stonePalace of Stone is the sequel to the Newbery Medal-winning Princess Academy. I liked Princess Academy and appreciated how Hale played with our expectations of what was going to happen, but it wasn’t one I completely and utterly loved. I’ve also found that Hale’s sequels tend to be less impressive for me than her first books. All of that is to say why it took me so long to read a book by an author who I admire and generally enjoy.

As it happens, Palace of Stone is nearly a standalone. Events from the first book are referenced, and it certainly helps to have read Princess Academy, but the events are distinct enough that it could be read on its own.

Miri and her friends from the Princess Academy travel to Asland, to the flatlands where Britta is engaged to Prince Steffan. But they step into a world that they do not understand, where the nobles take and the Shoeless whisper against them. Miri and the other Eskelians must decide where their allegiances, both personal and political, lie.

The personal side of the story is the part I appreciated the most. Miri struggles to find her place in Asland, but her loyalty to her home and her friends remains central to her character. That her difficulties are reflected in a romantic tangle between Timon, a young man who has aligned himself with the Shoeless and their cause, and Peder, her old friend from Mount Eskel, is actually not something that bothered me too much. Maybe because I was never in any real doubt about what choice she would ultimately make.

I had a more mixed reaction to the political side. The situation is fairly clearly based in some measure on the French revolution. The abuses by the nobles against the Shoeless are shown clearly, and Miri has a lot of sympathy for them, as an outsider herself. On the other hand, Miri’s best friend is engaged to the Prince. That tension drives most of the book.

Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, both the depiction of the different groups and the solution are a little too easy. I know it’s a middle grade novel, and I appreciate that Hale is willing to take on the subject, but I wanted the end result to be a bit messier, to feel less emphatic and determined. (I will also admit that Frances Hardinge has given me perhaps ridiculously high standards when it comes to potrayals of revolution in middle grade books.)

So in the end, I’m glad I read this one, but it’s not my favorite of Hale’s books, nor do I think it’s quite successful in what it sets out to do.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2012, Bloomsbury; middle grade

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My favorite sailing books

It’s my dad’s birthday today. He would have been 64. I’ve memorialized him enough here. And yet, I didn’t want today to pass without a little bit of notice.

A love of the sea, ships, and books about both was one of the things we shared. It was a family passion, but it originated with his craftsman’s respect for the beauty of tall ships. Here are some of my favorite books that touch on the sea and sailing.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham: Nathaniel Bowditch’s story of adversity and at points downright tragedy is amazing. Latham’s account tends towards the bootstraps mentality, and yet it’s impossible to mistake the sheer determination with which Bowditch faced life.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome: I took to these books so completely and so thoroughly that I wanted to be Nancy Blackett, as the August 1999 entries here will attest. They are best read in order, at least the first time, but my favorites are: Swallows and Amazons, Pigeon Post, We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, Secret Water, and Coot Club.

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian: I read this at an astonishingly early age, not so much in terms of difficulty as content. These are the books that bring back my dad most vividly: he had read all 21 of the books at least twice and whenever he re-read the first, he would call me over and read the opening aloud, his delight in them so wonderfully apparent. I do enjoy them quite a bit, especially the first few, but I never made it all the way through the series.

Horatio Hornblower by C.S. Forster: I’m not sure exactly when I started reading these, but certainly by eighth grade. I know this because I was convinced, and tried to convince my eighth grade history teacher, that C. Northcote Parkinson’s (fictionalized) biography was in fact real. Ah, the innocent days before Wikipedia! Anyway, in some ways these were more to my young taste than O’Brian. Perhaps the fact that I had already seen the TV adaptation and was therefore imagining Ioan Gruffudd as Hornblower helped.

Looking over this list, it’s a very classic one. Perhaps it’s only my own niche interests speaking (probably not many other children amused themselves by pretending to be a tacking ship at recess), but O’Brian and Forster have been popular for years for a reason. I’d love to see a great YA book set on a ship, whether it’s historical, fantasy, or something else entirely. And if I’m missing your favorites above, tell me!

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Getting organized

I don’t normally do major posts on Tumblr, but I did want to participate in the #Get Organized project this week and that seemed like the best place. So head on over to see how I keep track of the books I want to read.

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