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bookish posts

Top Ten Tuesday: Best books of 2013 (so far)

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

So I am choosing to interpret this topic as books I read for the first time in 2013, regardless of publication date. That means there are some older ones here, as well as a few that haven’t come out yet (I know, so sorry).

And I’m publish this post with no fancy cover photos, or commentary, or ANYTHING, because I am leaving for ALA the day after tomorrow, and I don’t have time.

1. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
2. Death of the Necromancer by Martha Welsl
3. The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand
4. The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann
5. MidWinterBlood by Marcus Sedgwick
6. Jinx by Sage Blackwood
7. Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson
8. Gate of Ivory by Doris Egan
9. Doll Bones by Holly Black
10. Binny for Short by Hilary McKay

Categories
bookish posts reviews

Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta

The thing is, I should love this book. I really should. First of all, Melina Marchetta is absolutely one of my favorite authors, and her realistic fiction, from Piper’s Son to Jellicoe Road is amazing and heartbreaking and wonderful, and I will never ever stop reading it. I mean, these are books that have undeniable altered the landscape of my heart.

And second, Quintana checks off so many of my boxes. Fantasy? Historical elements? Political shenanigans? Wounded characters? A redemption plotline? Yes, to all of them! This is seriously a list of my favorite things in fiction.

Plus, there are a lot of smart people out there, whose tastes in books are really close to mine, who have loved these books and who think they’re brilliant and amazing.

And yet, as you may have guessed, I don’t love Quintana, or Froi, or Finnikin. I was invested enough in the characters to read all three books, including all 520 odd pages of Quintana, because I wanted to know what happened and how it ended. But for me–and I want to emphasize the ‘for me’–I found myself consistently feeling disappointed as I read all three.

Actually, disappointed is too strong; it was more a feeling of having a wall between myself and the characters. I didn’t have the emotional attachment to them that I do to Marchetta’s other characters. I wanted to like this book–I wanted to love it, and I didn’t.

What makes this more frustrating is the fact that I can’t pinpoint why I have this reaction. I mean, I think any book over 400 pages, or even 350, has to justify its length, and I’m not sure that Quintana does. And there were times when I found the narrative voice a bit too self-consciously clever. But these are relatively small things–there were plenty of other passages that were beautifully written, and this is a sprawling epic populated with quite a few separate characters and strands.

So–so, WHY? Why don’t I love the Lumatere Chronicles as much as I love Jellicoe? I still don’t know. If someone else gets it, tell me. The best I can come up with is that, again for me, Marchetta’s realistic fiction has a resonance and emotional depth that I did not feel in Quintana, or the two books preceding it, despite all the elements of love being there. And, you know, that’s okay. There are plenty of people who will love these books, who will feel amazed and healed by them. I’m not one; it doesn’t mean that they are bad books, or that I am a bad reader (a conclusion I was beginning to come to last night). There are simply some books that don’t work for a particular reader, however much they ought to.

Recommended for: high fantasy fans, especially those who like political drama and personal angst
Book source: public library
Book information: April 2013, Candlewick; YA

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links

Blogger appreciation: Inspirational edition

So I tried and tried to think of a less cheesy title for this post and, reader, I could not do it. In fact, several of them were worse. But what do I actually mean by inspirational? I mean the blogs that I keep reading because I find them soul-nourishing in some way. They remind me of who I want to be and how I want to live. Sometimes it’s crafts, sometimes it’s cooking, sometimes it’s homeschooling, or some combination of these.

Smitten Kitchen is the queen of cooking blogs, in my opinion. A wide range of recipes, written about in a down-to-earth way that puts the focus squarely on the food. If you’re not following Deb, and you like cooking, change that.

Tara, at Seven Spoons, has a lot of great recipes which I’ve really enjoyed. While I sometimes find the prose a bit purple, I keep coming back for the combination of photography and ideas. I don’t think I’ve ever made a recipe from this site that I’ve been unhappy with.

I’ve been following Elizabeth’s blog for several years now. She’s also Orthodox and I love her pictures of her home and Cleo the cat.

While I don’t do a lot of sewing, I like looking at the projects at Elegant Musings. Casey hasn’t updated a lot recently (for completely understandable reasons!), but the older posts are still fun.

Posy Gets Cozy, Alicia Paulson’s blog, is the definition of this category. Lots of beautiful photographs, crafting inspiration, cooking ideas, and a lovely sense of the value of the everyday.

I also love Anna at Pleasant View Schoolhouse. Blogging about family life is so tricky, but she does it wonderfully well, and I am constantly refreshed by her site.

For homeschooling, Melissa Wiley is great. Also, funny stories and so much more. I really appreciate her series on tidal homeschooling, which helped me cement some of my ideas about my approach in the future.*

Also in that vein, two new-to-me Waldorfy blogs! Small Wonders and Rhythm of the Home.

(Other editions of this feature: authors and book bloggers)

* Note: I am unmarried and have no kids, but I am a planner

Categories
bookish posts

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR list

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

So, for the summer TBR list, I have two parts. Part 1: the shiny new books that I can’t wait to read. Part 2: the books that are actually on my shelf waiting for me to get to them.

Shiny new books
1. The Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke

2. Cold Steel by Kate Elliott

3. The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton

3. The Elementals by Saundra Mitchell

4. Weather Witch by Shannon Delaney

5. The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson (I CANNOT WAIT)

Books which are staring at me balefully even now, whispering ‘Why won’t you read me?’
6. Unnatural Creatures, ed by Neil Gaiman

7. This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

8. In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Weatherill

9. Escape from the Pipe Men by Mary G. Thompson (This is a review copy even! The shame!)

10. A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

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bookish posts Picture Book Monday reviews

Picture Book Monday: June 2013

george and marthaI went on a little James Marshall kick recently–he wrote such charmingly weird little books. I think my favorites are George and Martha, which I also enjoyed when I was young. Marshall managed to get such a wide range of emotions out of quite simple illustrations. I also liked the two Fox books that I read too–in some ways I think those are a little closer to childhood than George and Martha. At least, they’re more from a child’s point of view.

bill and peteI also discovered the Bill and Pete books by Tomie DePaola. Now, I grew up on Tomie DePaola, and LOVE him and his books. But somehow I had never read Bill and Pete until recently. Speaking of charmingly weird! I think you have to have a very particular sense of humor to enjoy these, but if you do, you really do. Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile is the middle book and, in my opinion, by far the best. But all three are remarkable for their matter of fact presentation of outlandish facts and the relationship between the text and the illustrations. (The picture of the little crocodiles going up the side of the pyramid gets me every time.)
oooo said all the little crocodiles (From Tomie DePaola’s website.)

elephant and piggieAnd of course there’s a NEW ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE! In A Big Guy Took My Ball, a big guy takes Piggie’s ball and Gerald has to try to right the wrong. It’s not the best in the series–the whole thing was a little on the predictable series and also nothing will ever beat I Broke My Trunk. But, you know, Elephant and Piggie.

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Library

Library Display: Summer Reading/Dig Into Reading

This year, the theme for the Collaborative Summer Library program, which is used by many libraries across the country, is “Dig Into Reading”. For the children’s programs, that is–teens and adults each have their own related theme. I think it’s a great theme, simply because you can do so much with it–digging, underground, animals, even food. At any rate, when I first heard the theme, I started thinking about Wind in the Willows, and the Root Children, and gnomes. And then I made a display, incorporating all of those. It took a really long time and was a lot of work, but I also feel like it’s 1) one of the best displays I’ve ever made and 2) the display that is the most Maureen-y.

src 2013 7
Here we have a badger reading Wind in the Willows. Behind him, on the wall of his badger hole, are family pictures–Papa Badger, Mama Badger, and both of them with Baby Badger. There’s a cheerful daisy blooming over his head.
I started by sketching out a whole scene, on multiple sheets of paper. I knew I wanted lots of underground tunnels and holes, with both animals and fanciful creatures in them. I also added a couple of snails and some grasses and plants, to make things interesting on the surface.

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A beetle walking towards a clump of grass, while a snail goes towards a mushroom. You can see the beginning of the ant tunnel on the right.
Then I began to sketch and cut out the individual pieces. Most of them are cut out of multiple pieces of paper and glued together. There was a lot of cutting involved in this display, and I was extremely grateful for all those hours I spent cutting out paper dolls when I was young! With pieces like the mushrooms, I also made sure to leave a foot to glue onto the main piece of paper that forms the dirt. With things like the snail, that went over the paper, I left out this step.

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An ant tunnel, which I realize looks NOTHING like real ant tunnels. Also, a little bush that I had to make at the last minute, and a bird. There’s a worm heading toward the ant tunnel, and a yellow butterfly on the right.
Next, I used some of our wonderful supply of large paper to make the sky and the ground. I also found some lighter brown construction paper to make the tunnels. Initially, I had been thinking of something even lighter, but I think what was there turned out to be perfect.

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Another butterfly and a red snail. In the center, a purple root child contemplates a ladder–I largely ignored the question of how everyone would get in and out of their tunnels and holes–while a clump of pansies blooms.
Then I had to put everything together. This was a multiple day process and my coworkers were extremely gracious about putting up with things scattered everywhere.

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A cloud rains on a gnome, who shelters under a mushroom. He has been throwing raspberries down into a basket, while below him a Root Child and a shrew examine the storeroom. A worm is on the way to pay a visit.
There was a minor hiccup in the assembly process–I glued the ant tunnel down in the wrong spot and then had to figure out how to rearrange everything that was left. Fortunately, it did work, because the glue had set.

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On the left, a garter snake pokes its head out, while two ants march up the hill. A Root Child and a gnome are going through the snake’s back door, while another Root Child slides down a pole to the basement and a mole tunnels his way out.
Finally, I had everything glued together. Then I had to actually put the whole thing on the cubes. THAT was a fun process. (And by fun, I mean not fun at all.) It was a bit difficult to get everything positioned so the different tunnels weren’t going around a corner, partly because things had shifted from my original drawing.

src 2013 1
A gnome stands in the grass at the top of the hill, while a Root Child points out a mushroom to a butterfly. A water snake looks at a frog, who is enjoying the shade of a water lily.
However, eventually I found the right configuration and got everything taped on (double-sided tape, you are my true love! never leave me!). And that’s it!

Title of display: Dig Into Reading
Theme: Summer Reading
Time: Ahahaha–5-6 hours?
Resources: These for the root children: 1; 2; 3; 4; Google Image searches for the different animals and plants.

Categories
bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading 6-12-2013

summer princeThe Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson: I liked a lot about this one–the writing was lovely and it’s the kind of post apocalyptic world I can get behind. I believed in the way the society developed and I thought the setting was really nicely done. I also liked June and thought her relationship with art was more believable than it sometimes is in YA books. However, I agree with Charlotte that I expected Gil and Enki to have some relationship to, you know, Gilgamesh and Enki. This does not seem unreasonable to me! Moreover, this is one of those books where I was totally enamored of the book while I was reading and then when I stopped, I had questions. I did like it a lot though, so if you like the idea of dystopias more than you like most YA dystopias, I would recommend this one.

green lionThe Pursuit of the Green Lion by Judith Merkle Riley: Second in the Margaret of Ashbury series. I like these books a lot, but they’re almost impossible to describe. Sort of like Margery Kempe, except with a sense of humor and also fiction? Anyway, I enjoy them a lot–Merkle Riley has a great sense of the period and language, without ever seeming stilted.

human divisionThe Human Division by John Scalzi: For some reason I wasn’t quite sure I would like this one, even though I’ve definitely been a fan of the other books in the Old Man’s War series. That was silly! The Human Division works well as an overarching story, continuing the questions and difficulties raised in the other OMW books. I am curious to know if Scalzi intends to keep writing in this universe, because I don’t see some of the problems getting resolved easily.

chocolate roseThe Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand: I’ve been enjoying Laura Florand’s books as a light contemporary romance. The Chocolate Rose is the newest, and I think, my favorite. I was a little dubious at first, because I’m not such a fan of the alpha hero, but I think that’s actually Jolie’s misperception, rather than the reality. Regardless, I really liked this one!

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bookish posts

Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Reads

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

I think my personal definition of a beach read is a book which I wouldn’t mind getting sandy and/or wet. So something that I either really love and have read until the copy is falling apart, or something that’s paperback and probably picked up at the thrift store for $.50. So here are ten I think it into one of those two categories for me.

1. Any book in the Anne of Green Gables series. Our copy of Anne of Avonlea has a popsicle juice stain from when I was younger.

2. Any of the younger books in the Betsy-Tacy series. Not that I don’t love the older ones too, but they’re more serious.

3. Lord of the Rings, since my copy of Return of the King is missing both front and back covers.

4. The Blue Sword or The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

5. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

6. Almost anything by Jennifer Echols. For a fun, fluffy contemporary YA, I’d definitely pick her.

7. Anything at all by Georgette Heyer. Actually, I think Heyer falls into both categories!

8. Either the Hercule Poirot or the Miss Marple mysteries, by Agatha Christie. There’s something so comforting about these.

9. The Queen’s Thief series, because pretty soon my paperbacks are going to need to be replaced anyway.

This last one doesn’t quite fit into either category, but they’re such perfect summer books that I have to include them anyway!

10. The Penderwick series by Jeanne Birdsall. These are lovely books, a modern version of an old-fashioned idea.

Categories
bookish posts monthly book list reviews

May 2013 reading list

Books I’ve already talked about
Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells
The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells
Wise Child by Monica Furlong
Quicksilver by RJ Anderson
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Promised Land by Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice
Doll Bones by Holly Black

Other books
Star Crossed by Jennifer Echols: I love Jennifer Echols’ YA books, so I thought I would try her first adult novel. I was not terribly impressed, partly because the world that it takes place in has almost no interest for me, and also because it seemed to lack some of the charm of her YA books.

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley: Latest Flavia! So glad that we finally got some plot happening, as I was beginning to feel a bit strung along.

Wooden Bones by Scott William Carter: Unfortunately, I wasn’t wild about this sequel to Pinocchio. It seemed disjointed and didactic.

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty: I wasn’t sure how I would like this one, but I ended up liking it a lot! I did have a very personal reaction to the end which caused me to disengage from the book a bit, but this is so completely personal that it shouldn’t affect anyone else’s decision to read it. (For those who have read it and are curious, the answer to the Holly subplot was a little too real for me. Despite the fact that I suspected it almost instantly, when it was confirmed it was still a little shocking. Nothing to fault in Moriarty’s writing or depiction, just that it was a bit much for me.)

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma: This is a great mystery with a bit of a paranormal twist. I think Lauren’s narrating style might grate on some nerves. I noticed it, but I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. Lauren is definitely an unreliable narrator, which is (almost) always one of my favorite things, and there’s lots to chew on in the questions about young girls and how we view them.

Gate of Ivory, Two-Bit Heroes, and Guilt-Edged Ivory by Doris Egan: This is the kind of sci-fi I love! Actually it’s probably more of a science fantasy, since there’s magic, except that there are spoilery reasons for the magic that tips it back into SF, sort of? Regardless, I really really enjoyed all three of these.

Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson: Sequel to Hattie Big Sky, but one which I think could be read as a standalone. I loved the way Larson addressed Hattie’s desire to be a journalist and her relationship with Charlie. All in all, it was a very satisfying sequel and, I think, even better than the first book.

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer: A wild book about a girl who passes herself off as a boy and joins the British Navy. I didn’t believe it at all, but it was fun. And I do think that it portrays the grittier side of historical fiction, which is a nice counterbalance.

Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley: A mystery recommended by RJ Anderson. I liked it quite a bit–it has some of the Gothic flavor, plus the French setting, of a Mary Stewart novel. I’ve tried one of Kearsley’s books before and didn’t finish it, so this was a nice antidote. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for her in the future.

Ships of the Air by Martha Wells: Second of the Ile-Rien books. Eeee, I love this series! Martha Wells is such a great writer, and I’m completely invested in the characters. There were definitely some plot twists I did not see coming too! Third book is on the shelf, waiting for me to get to it.

Dark Triumph by R.A. LaFevers: I had mixed feelings about the first book, Grave Mercy, and Dark Triumph confirmed that this is not the series for me. Siggghhh. I just didn’t enjoy reading it, and I felt like Sybella’s coming to terms with her past happened very easily.

Ghoulish Song by William Alexander: Sequel to Goblin Secret, which I really liked. This one was a bit disappointing–I went in with high hopes, but the resonance and dreaminess of the language which was present in Goblin Secrets didn’t seem to be there in this one. This may partly be second book syndrome, but I didn’t get that sense of the wild strangeness of the city that I did in the first book.

The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome by Roland Chambers: I love (LOVE!) Swallows and Amazons, which is absolutely one of the books that shaped me and my life and my way of thinking. I also liked Old Peter’s Russian Tales and The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship a lot. Unfortunately, this biography made me really dislike Arthur Ransome, as it gave the strong impression that he spent his whole life in a kind of wilful & childish ignorance. I kept hoping he would snap out of it, but he did not. I still love S&A, but I wish Ransome’s own story had a happier ending.

The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logstead: Another book where a girl dresses up as a boy! This time, she goes to boarding school. I liked the fact that it was fairly realistic about her struggles passing as a boy, and clear about why she chose to do it (she wants an education). I called several of the plot twists, but it was a fun read and quite well written.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan: 19th century England WITH DRAGONS, but quite different than the Temeraire series. I liked it, but felt that it dragged a bit in the middle. However, the world and characters were engaging enough that I definitely plan to read the sequel.

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis: Last of the Kat Stephenson books, SOB. I love the resolution, and the way it stays definitely middle grade, and the fact that there’s no clumsy epilogue. YAY for all these things! And yay for Kat!

The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin
The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett

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bookish posts reviews

Doll Bones by Holly Black

When I first heard about Doll Bones, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it or not. Horror is not really my DollBonesthing, and I definitely was it talked about as a middle grade horror book. And the cover did not really help–it’s a wonderful, eye catching cover, but you have to admit, the doll is fairly creepy. However, I love Holly Black and there was something about the description that made me decide to go ahead and read it. And I’m so glad I did.

You see, although the cover and the book talk I initially heard made it sound like Doll Bones is a middle grade horror, it’s not. Oh sure, the Queen Doll is a bit frightening, and Black does a good job of teasing out the tension of whether she is real or not for a long time. But saying that Doll Bones is about the Queen is like saying Code Name Verity is about spies: technically right, but oh so very wrong. Doll Bones is actually about friendships and growing up and integrity. It’s about three friends who are struggling to find their place in the new world of middle school. And Holly Black does a marvelous job on so many levels.

First, there are the characters. Zach, who loves playing the game with his friends, but who is pressured by the expectations of what boys should and shouldn’t do. This pressure is personified in his father, who throws away Zach’s action figures and kickstarts the plot. A lot of the book is centered on Zach’s struggle to make sense of who he is: both the athlete and the boy who makes up stories. There’s Poppy, who remained a bit of an enigma to me in some ways. And there’s Alice, who is being raised by her very strict grandmother.

And there’s the friendship between the three of them, which is almost a character in itself. They’ve always had each other and it’s been this wonderful uncomplicated thing. But growing up means becoming more complicated and that’s what lies at the heart of the story. How can you hold onto the important things when you’re changing and the world is changing around you? The answer that the story gives is a wonderful one, I think.

Moreover, I thought the writing itself was really nice. I admire Holly Black’s ability to write seemingly effortless prose, which actually has a lot of craft lying behind it. That’s definitely on show here, with a few moments that are a little more poetic/deep. I also liked the way the book explores issues of gender and race. They felt thought-out, not surface level or easy answers, but also integral to the story itself. It’s rare, as far as I can tell, for such a nuanced depiction to appear in a middle-grade book and I really appreciated it.

So, I really loved Doll Bones, despite a few minor quibbles about some of the plot points. Things seemed to happen very coincidentally in a few places, although you might be able to make a case for the Queen influencing events a bit (maybe?). Nevertheless, I think younger readers might not even see that, and I even just shrugged and accepted it. I liked some of the secondary characters as well, especially the librarian the children meet.

I’m not sure I’ve said anything new in this review–lots of other people have already read and appreciated this one, which isn’t surprising. But I was so impressed with the book, with the level of writing and characterization in it, that I had to add my praise.

Book source: public library
Book information: Margaret McElderry Books, 2013; middle-grade

Other reviews:
Charlotte’s Library
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
The Book Smugglers