Saturday, January 30, 2016

January Wrap-up

I wrote my December wrap-up post a few days before the end of the month, and then, since it was my vacation, read a few more books.  So I'm adding those to this month's total.

My Reading

Books read: twenty, or seventeen if you don't count the picture books I logged.  

Now that's more like it.  I'm continuing with my effort to read books on purpose--that is, to follow my list of priorities instead of just floating in the current.  I also very helpfully got sick this month in a way that allowed me to sit and read, as opposed to last month when I got sick and couldn't stay awake enough to read.


Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey, by Maragaret Peterson Haddix.  Both seventh grade classes chose this as their read-aloud when we returned from break.  As expected, period five got SUPER INTO IT and we sped through it.  The other class is still working on it.  There was an intense round of nominating and voting to choose the book, and the first day a few disgruntled kids that had voted for different books were sulking and predicting, "It's just not my kind of book."  Well, they were all hooked within a couple of pages, and freely admitted by the end of the first reading that it was a great choice.  This is the same group that read and loved the very different Haddix book Found in the fall.  (Remember that, it will be important later in this post.)  The book, written as a journal, details Tish Bonner's increasingly desperate bid to take care of her little brother while her parents slowly fade from their life.  Four stars from me, five from the class.  Man, they were SO PISSED at Tish's parents.  It was great.

Kwame Alexander's Newbery award winning The Crossover was another big hit.  I read this to a much more reserved 8th grade class, and two of my more reluctant students borrowed it to read ahead during independent reading time.  They sat, heads together, racing through the story.  The next day I was sick and begged off reading aloud, so one of my most struggling readers asked if he could read it to the class instead.  Five stars from all of us.  I tend to like novels in verse, but I've never read one with the energy and coolness of this one.  (Coolness?  Wow, I'm certainly NOT cool.)

When Matt de la Peña's Last Stop on Market Street won the 2015 Newbery, it seemed the perfect excuse to buy it.  My students know him from books like Mexican White Boy and The Living, so we were all somewhat surprised to see this sweet picture book--and we were also thrilled that Matt became the first Latino winner of the prestigious award.  (And, as far as I could tell, the second person to win for a picture book.)  My darling seventh graders did a good job understanding some of the thinking behind the story, but the 8th graders were less impressed.  Reading it aloud was a great way to discover how many writing tricks it employs.  Repetition, sudden bursts of rhyme, and a rhythmic way of leaving out the "and" in sentences where I'd expect them, all give the book a distinctive cadence.  4.5 stars from my 7th graders and me, 2.5 from my professionally unenthusiastic 8th graders.

This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary is one I got at the library because it was a Nerdy finalist.  I read it to my 7th graders during our end-of-semester read-in, and knew I need to buy two copies of it; one for home and one for school.  Or at least one for school, so I can read it annually.  It celebrates the power of imagination and reading.  I am smitten with Julia Morstad's illustration of Sadie as a mermaid, and i adore that Sadie has also "been a boy raised by wolves" in her reading adventures.  Sadie also looks like she could be Asian--always nice to see someone besides blonde cherubs in picture books.  (Says the woman who adores Jan Brett's Scandinavian inspired books.)

I realize I'm going on at length in what is supposed to be a quick wrap-up.  The next category will compensate for that.

CYBILS finalists

The titles are a matter of record, but as a round 2 judge, I won't be sharing my thoughts just yet.  Still, I did manage to read all of them in quick succession, except for Dumplin', which I read in November.

The other finalists are All the Rage by Courtney Summers, Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon, Infandous by Elana K. Arnold, and The Truth Commission by Susan Juby.  Very good books, each and every one.  I'll be getting all but one for my classroom library (intrigued?) and I can see why any of them could be someone's favorite book of 2015.


Mildly Disappointing

Only one book I read this month failed to wow me.  Cory Doctorow's graphic novel about the economics of video gaming, In Real Life, was pretty good, BUT.  The topic was not something I'm already interested in, and the graphic novel format made it hard for me to get invested.  I think I would have gotten more out of the story if it had been fleshed out into a traditional novel.  The format fit thematically, but didn't work for me.

Another feminist graphic novel, G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal gets 3.5 stars.  The story worked better for me, and I looooooove the diversity represented, but my excitement about a female Pakistani superhero was more weight than the learning-to-be-yourself story could hold.  I also finished Oregon author William Ritter's debut novel, Jackaby, and while I enjoyed some aspects immensely, I never connected enough with either protagonist to really get invested in the story.  I was also puzzled at why it seemed to be set in an alternate history with unfamiliar cities, when otherwise it read like a straight historical fantasy.  


Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke, Facts of Life by Gary Soto, and Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead are the motley crew that earned four enthusiastic stars from me. That's an adult thriller, purposefully ugly MG graphic novel,  MG short story collection, and MG+ novel in three voices.  Huh, I just realized how many books I found this month that were actually on target for my students.  A lot of MG reads too young for many of them, and a lot of YA reads too old for a different sub-set of my kids (or, in most cases, for their parents...ahem).  So I'm really pleased to have found these books I can enthusiastically recommend.

Wow, wow, wow!

I loved the combination of letters and Maira Kalman paintings that went into Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler.  And I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios stands out for me as a great book, approaching some tough topics with a lot of heart.  

Not rated

I finally finished Dave Cullen's Columbine.  I listened to it on audiobook in early December, but had to return the recording before I finished it.  I finally got a physical copy, and it turned out I only had about twenty pages left, so I feel a bit silly saying I read it this month.  More to the point, I chose not to rate this book because the difficulty of the topic leaves me unable to evaluate with any kind of objectivity.  I did review the 98% of the book I'd read last month, and at that point gave it four stars, but with a bit more distance I've decided I'm not comfortable with doing so officially.

I also abandoned Truthwitch at about 50% in.  I was having to force myself to pick it up each time, and putting it down far too easily.  I'm all for jumping into the story without exposition and figuring things out on the fly, but when nothing is made clear, it's hard to see what's at stake or to care about what happens.  I'm not writing the author off, because there were a lot of interesting things going on, it just didn't work together for me.  

Assorted Stats

In late December, inspired by all the year-end posts, I put together a google form that will create a spreadsheet for me of information I'd like to track beyond Goodread's scope.  I've been faithfully using it so far.  I'm logging more of the picture books I read to my kids, so the numbers are somewhat off from my "official" stats here on the blog and in Goodreads.  That being said, 50% of the books I read this month got four stars, 65% of them were obtained at the public library, 74% were by female authors, 74% by white authors, 26% were debuts, 90% were by Americans (the other two were by Canadians), 57% were YA, 61% were realistic fiction, and I'll give you the graph for this last statistic:

(Characters could obviously hit more than one category per book.)

My Writing

Just as with the reading, I continued to write in December after posting my wrap-up.  So counting those year-end posts, this is my thirteenth post since the last wrap-up.  For the first time, my most-viewed post was NOT a Top Ten Tuesday post, but instead one of two discussion posts I wrote about reading in a digital world, in which I talk about differences between TV and books as story telling medium, and then list the TV shows that have won me over.  That post also tied with my TTT post listing which 2015 releases I still need to get to in terms of comments, but I'm going to give the win to my discussion post, since it inspired more thoughtful comments--even, dare I say, a little discussion!  I'm pretty proud with both posts I wrote on the topic, the first one being a more personal piece about how I ended up growing up without a television (or, obviously, the internet).  

Other posts included a hastily put together list of my most recent TBR additions, a mini review of three books read in the past month or so, and a paean to my local library.  (I don't think I've ever used "paean" in a sentence before, and I hope I'm using it correctly.)  I also had a lot of fun putting together a top ten list of favorite books featuring dogs--so much fun I tried to publish it a week early, hence the hastiness of the TTT post that was SUPPOSED to be happening that week.  I also wrote a post about the Three Garys of middle school lit.  


After getting strep right before Christmas and spending much of my vacation hibernating, I have come down with a killer cold this week and had to take a day off yesterday.  Unlike in December, I have enough brain power to read while I rest, so it could be worse, but MAN am I tired of being sick.

My students have been taking a reading test to compare to their September reading tests, and so far my classes are averaging between six months and one year, two months gain over the past four months.  This is partially BS, since a number of kids blew off the first test and tried the second time, but this BS is what my teaching is judged on, so I'm relieved.  There are also some kids who really have grown, and are rightfully proud of themselves.  

Margaret Peterson Haddix, period five's favorite author, cane to Powell's last week.  I quickly put together an evening field trip, and took a busload of middle schoolers to see her speak.  They were blown away by the bookstore, asked appropriate and interesting questions during the Q&A, and generally had a great time.  I realized that I haven't organized a field trip since coming to this district eight years ago, and only participated in one other.  I did a LOT of trips in my old district.  Just like with the grant I got to allow me to buy books my students express specific interest in, I think this says a lot about how well suited this position as a reading teacher is for me.  My enthusiasm gives me energy and ideas.

My own kids also were there (partly because my two co-chaperones got sick, so when I realized it would be me and 28 kids, I begged my husband to show up too).  Their questions were a little less on-point (My daughter: "Have you ever written any cookbooks?"  My son: "How many people die in your books?"), but they thought it was pretty damn cool to meet an actual author.  My daughter got a copy of Among the Hidden and had it signed, and was so excited about that!  My kids are both struggling readers, but love books and stories, so I just keep reading with them and trying to feed their enthusiasm and not let them get discouraged.  

My husband's doctor put him on a month-long Paleo re-set diet.  There's no way I would be able to manage a diet like that if he were still eating normally, so I figured I should go on the diet too in order to support him.   We seriously didn't know if we could handle it.  No wheat, no dairy, no booze, NO SUGAR.  The first several days we were both hungry all the time, because we couldn't figure out what to eat for breakfast, lunch, or snacks.  Once we adjusted, it went better.  I've been cheating a little the last couple of days, but seriously, I went over two weeks without sugar, which is definitely a lifetime record.  We don't plan to make it a long-term thing, but are hoping we broke some bad habits (like stopping on the way home from work to buy a bag of Oreos to eat on the way home...)  We have both put on a LOT of weight in the past 18 months, so something had to be done.

We discovered, due to a series of errors I made as we transition to a new insurance company, that our son's meds are SUPER HELPFUL in allowing him to stay in control of his behavior.  Not a fun lesson for any of us, but good to know all the same.  My husband and daughter started guitar lessons, which is kind of adorable.  

As of Jan. 23, my Christmas tree is still up.  No, I do not have a fake tree.  We did finally unplug the lights so the whole thing doesn't go up in flames.  I'M TAKING CARE OF IT TODAY; I SWEAR.  

Which brings me nicely around to this, posted on my FB page by my brother-in-law last week:


  • Gorgeous book nooks: here and here
  • The most powerful call to teachers of reading I've read in a long time, by the indomitable and necessary Donalyn Miller
  • Another Nerdy Book Club post, this one about the importance of diverse books.
  • Interesting article on the creation of a diversity survey to establish a baseline for where the publishing industry is as of now.
  • And this is totally NOT book related, but I'm fascinated by this set of four videos about a 70 year old woman born in isolation in Siberia, who saw nobody but family members until she was 35.
  • The amazing Matt de la Peña's NPR essay on how "the tough teen may be quietly writing stories" and his own journey from too-cool-to-care to lover of literature.  I swear, the more I hear from this guy, the more I admire him.  Like, I'm getting a little creepy about it for someone who's technically old enough to be his mom.  (I think--Wikipedia claims he's 64, but, um, no.)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Tale of Three Garys

During my first year of teaching in the US, back in 1998, I heard about this book called Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.  "Paulson is Hemingway for middle schoolers," my mentor teacher told me.  While I was only mildly charmed by the famous adventure tale, I quickly fell for Nightjohn, then in quick succession, Soldier's Heart, The Rifle, Sisters/Hermanas, Harris and Me, and Dogsong.  The last one made me realize that a memoir my father had shared with me, one I resisted reading for quite awhile and then absolutely loved, was also by Paulsen (Winterdance: The Fine Art of Running the Iditerod).

Gary Paulsen can do Hemingway-esque tales of brutal adventure, the stoic masculine figure against the elements.  Hatchet and its many sequels and reimaginings are just the tip of the iceberg. Soldier's Heart tells of a young boy's journey from enthusiastic patriotism, through the horror and boredom of war, and out the other side with lifelong PTSD.  

Guts is another memoir, this one aimed at his teenaged audience, in which he shares the real life experiences that inform his adventure writing, from working as a paramedic to seeing a small child killed by a mule deer.  It's not just his topics that reminded my colleague of Papa; Paulsen also writes in  deceptively straightforward, factual way that manages to convey great emotional impact.

He can also do humor (Harris and his cousin tackling a brood sow because she represents the enemy in their war game),  and he is far less sexist that his predecessor.  Nightjohn and Sisters/Hermanas are both told from the point of view of a pre-teen girl, and whether he's giving voice to a slave or a beauty queen, he represents her voice with respect and clarity.

Not long after discovering Paulsen, I was introduced to another Gary.  Gary Soto's mid-90s short story collections, Baseball in April, Petty Crimes, and Local News were among the only books I could find for my ESL students written by someone from a background they could relate to.  House on Mango Street was too arty, and The Circuit only consisted of the one volume back then, but Soto was prolific and relatable.  

When Neighborhood Odes came out, we wrote our own odes and experimented with cut-paper illustrations.  The Afterlife and Buried Onions showed us he was equally at home with novels.  Facts of Life, the latest Soto collection I've introduced to my classroom library, is as full as ever of slice-of-life vignettes that show early teens finding their place and developing a sense of self, with mixed success.

For years, I spoke of The Two Garys with reverence, and sought their work for my classrooms.  The third Gary, Gary Schmidt, snuck up on me more recently.  The Wednesday Wars was the first book of his that came to my attention.  It combined three story elements I particularly enjoy: historical fiction, family drama, and wry humor.  I started looking for other books by him.  They were out there, but always checked out at the local library, which is definitely a good sign.  Okay For Now re-immersed me in the qualities I'd so enjoyed in the first book I'd read, then What Came From the Stars startled me by going in an entirely different direction.  Orbiting Jupiter, his latest, totally made me sob, and somehow that was enough of a recommendation to get a boy in my reading lab to pick it up.  It was the first book that he finished, and he plowed through it in a few days, reading every chance he got.  

All three Garys write YA work that is accessible, but not dumbed down; emotional, but not cheesy; thematically mature enough to appeal to middle schoolers without being racy enough to raise parents' eyebrows.  They all deserve a place of honor in any middle school library.

Monday, January 25, 2016

TTT: Going to the Dogs

The Broke and The Bookish are (is?) giving us a freebie this week.  After an exchange with a commenter about great dog books, I decided to make that the focus of this post.

I'm keeping my interpretation wide open.  The one thing you won't find here are sentimental tear-jerkers, a la Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Goes.  I probably shouldn't write them off, since I've always refused to read them, but still.  And I'm not saying no dogs die in any of the books that made my list, it's just handled less heavy handedly.

1.  No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman.  "Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.” Kormon spoofs the kind of book I just mentioned in his story of a boy who gets in trouble for despising his teacher's favorite story.

2.  Sight Hound by Pam Houston.  Told from multiple points of view, including two dogs' and a cat's, this book traces the relationship between a Irish Wolfhound and the playwright he shares a home with.  I found it very touching.

3.  The Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness.  Not a dog book per se, but the character of Manchee plays an important role.  Because males in this world can hear the thoughts of all people and creatures, we know all of Manchee's delightfully doggy thoughts.  He starts as a bit of comic relief, and develops into the heart of the saga.

4.  Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight.  I loved this book as a kid.  It's your basic boy love dog, boy loses dog, dog returns to boy story.  With highland accents.  And it has zero to do with the TV show.

5. Dog Songs by Mary Oliver.  Poems about dogs by one of the most accessible (yet respected) poets around.  Yay!

6. Dog On It  by Spencer Quinn  My oldest sister brought this series to my parents' house when they were getting on in years.  We all wound up reading it during various visits.  It's a fun little detective series, told from the POV of the detective's dog.  It sounds cheesy, but Quinn uses humor and what I can only call dog awareness to make it work.  He's started a MG version of the same idea, but I haven't read those yet.

7. Notes from a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko  The dog does okay in this book, but the kid goes through a bit more than I'd expected from the brightly colored cover.

8. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech  A modern classic, this novel in verse is narrated by Jack, a young man with a super English teacher.

9. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.  Wait, I just said "modern classic," right?  So I probably shouldn't say it again.  A mystery with a protagonist who is autistic, this book brought the diversity long before #WNDB.  It's not just great because of that though--the story itself is fascinating.

10.  Call of the Wild by Jack London.  I remember reading this back in 4th grade.  We put on a puppet play of it, and gave the best artist in the group the job of drawing Buck.  His transition from pampered house pet, to sled dog, to basically a wolf always fascinates.

My husband got me this terrific t-shirt for Christmas:

Honorable mention to all the lovely dogs of picture books-- Angus, the scottie; Harry the Dirty Dog; Good Dog Carl, and Mr. Potter and Tabby's friend and neighbor, Zeke.  

How do you feel about dog books?  I know there are a few out right now I haven't gotten to.  Are there any you'd recommend?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Adoration of My Library

I have always been a library girl.  I've had a library card since before I remember, and I've written before about my childhood library.  I've worked at four different libraries, and I still dream of getting a MLS, or at least a library/media endorsement on my teaching license.  I've had library card in four Oregon counties, including the beach town we visited frequently when I was a kid.  When my husband and I spend a year in Riga, Latvia, one of my first moves was getting a library card at the English language library.

I know from libraries, is what I'm saying.

My current library card is with the WCCLS, or Washington County Cooperative Library System.  There are several great libraries within that group, of varying sizes and located in areas of varying convenience to my daily life.  The cream of the crop, and perhaps the best library I've ever been in, is my home library, the Hillsboro Main Library.

What's so great about your library? you ask.  And I thank you for your question, and enumerate its many fantastic aspects.

1.  It's located by a series of manmade lakes and walking paths.  If you want to take a walk, or sit on a bench by the water with your book, or bring the kids' bikes and let them blow off steam, or feed the geese--you can.  Alternatively, if you want to sit inside to study or read, there are armchairs and desks with lovely, peaceful views all along the windowed wall.

2.  And therefore, the library is full of natural light.  Its two longer sides have plenty floor-to-ceiling windows.  The interior of the library features lots of lighter colored wood, and the effect is a joyful space that welcomes nature.

3.  Noisier activities--the kids' section, the DVDs, checkout, the cafe--are all downstairs.  If your kids haven't quite mastered "library voice," nobody is going to glare at you.  Upstairs, where the adult fiction and nonfiction are housed, the atmosphere is more traditionally hushed.  If you don't want to listen to kids or chatter, you can find plenty of quiet there.  This is what we call a win-win.

4.  The lobby cafe features the cheapest good coffee in town, and if you buy a bag of fifteen donut holes for $1.50, you are likely to get somewhere around 20-30 donut holes in your bag, because apparently they like being generous with their donut holes.  Also, one of the baristas likes to post riddles, which are always good for keeping kids occupied while you order.

5.  Here are some things I have checked out at my library: books, DVDs, a rabbit shaped cake pan, an aeblskiver pan, puppets, audiobooks, a pre-loaded player for kids to listen to books on, a stud finder, an ice cream maker, a croquet set, piano music, board games, and a multi-pronged charger.  I've also used their scanner and printer, and once a week, they offer free 3D printing.  We haven't tried it yet, but c'mon, that's cool.

6.  Once a month, the library shows the latest kids' DVD release on a big screen.  Popcorn and apple juice are served, all you can eat.  It is absolutely, 100% free.  They also have monthly Lego play days, various crafting parties, and many other events that I haven't participated in but keep meaning to check out.  

7.  There's a hallway upstairs that shows quality local art, rotating monthly.  Downstairs there are little glass cubbies that display small collections.  I almost wept the month they had fabric art upstairs and antique cameras downstairs.  My late mom belonged to the fabric art group displaying upstairs, and my late dad was a professional photographer whose early cameras looked a lot like one of the ones on display.

8.  They have a "Caught Reading" poster of Taylor Swift in the lobby in which she is wearing a red knit dress that looks to be an exact replica of an Old Navy dress I picked up at Goodwill last year.  This CRACKS ME UP.  I tried to get my kids to take a picture of me with the poster once when I happened to be wearing the dress, but they were too mortified.

9.  You never know when they're going to have something random and cool set up.  One time my son and his buddy and I took selfies with Frozen masks in front of a winter backdrop they'd set up.  Before the holidays, they had knitting needles and yarn, and patrons were invited to sit and knit squares that would be sewn into blankets to be donated.   And for awhile they were letting you check out these sheep sculpted out of paper, asking you to take pictures of the sheep around town and post them to their Facebook page.  What?

10.  I bet you thought I was going to say "books."  And of course, you were right.  It's a big library, and it houses many books.  The collections are up to date and comprehensive.  The whole system is even bigger, so I can get almost anything by requesting it, but even if I could only access the books on their shelves, I'd be set.   And did I mention that the library has a 100 item limit and a three week checkout that can be renewed four times?  (How do I know there's a 100 item limit?  Well, because when you attempt to check out more than that, your card gets rejected, and you have to ask a librarian nicely to let you have those last two books, swearing up and down that you returned five on your way in.)

All of these features (and more I've forgotten) combine to make this library a true community center.  I can never get over how much they offer families, all for free.  I know that any weekend, I can take my kids to the library and spend a few hours.  The parking lot is constantly busy, as people from all walks of life make their ways through the doors.  When I'm at my library, I can get downright misty eyed about it being the cornerstone of democracy, and when our property taxes make me cringe, I soothe myself with thoughts of all we get from the library.

I hope I haven't made you feel bad about your library.  Any library that has books you want to read is a good library.

My library, however, is a great one.

What are some features you appreciate about your local library?  Or is your library lacking?  Are you a library lover or a library avoider?  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Recently Added to my TBR List

Okay, well, this is embarrassing.  I had my post already and scheduled, but just realized I actually did NEXT week's topic.  So I quickly rescinded it, and am tossing together a quick look at...

Ten books I've recently added to my TBR list.  

Since, y'know, that's the topic.

Thanks as always to The Broke and the Bookish for inspiring the topic and hosting the linkup.  All lapses of making sense are entirely my own fault.

And as I put together the list, I realize embarrassment #2.  With very few exceptions, each of these books made it onto my TBR list because I saw it on someone else's blog.  Whose?  No idea.  If you see a book on here that you have recently recommended, feel free to take internal credit.  Or even tell me in the comments, "Yeah, I just talked that book up last week, so--you're welcome."

Without further ado, and listing literally the last ten books I've added on Goodreads:

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson.  I've seen this book around a lot, and while the synopsis always sounded good, that raccoon just freaks me out.  Still, I saw it once again recently, on the blog of someone wonderful, and decided that yes, I would probably enjoy this book.

A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah.  I saw this in an article recently, and because I really enjoy Hannah's work, immediately earmarked it.  I have NO IDEA what it's about, and when I just went to its GR page to get the link, I scrupulously looked away from the synopsis.  She writes nicely twisty British police procedurals, if I understand that term correctly.  This book is a stand-alone.

Woman with a Secret, also by Sophie Hannah, is the ninth book in her Spilling CD series.  When I went to mark the previous book as TBR, I saw that there was this one I had yet to read, so I added it as well.

A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie.  I'm 95% certain that I saw this on Modern Mrs. Darcy's blog, and that she said she'd blown through the bulk of this mystery series, so I put the first one on my list.  I'm always on the lookout for good mysteries.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson.  This is one I actually found for myself.  I'd seen volume 1 at bookstores, and when I got a chance to heavily influence the book buying grant my school library got, I put it on the list.  What?  Graphic novels are expensive, and book-buying teachers have to stretch their dollar.  I read it the day it came in, and while it wasn't my favorite graphic novel, I enjoyed it, and of course totally appreciate the ethnic diversity and feminist sensibility offered within its pages.  So Vol. 2 is on my list.  

Thor, Vol. 1: The Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron.  I am not a comics girl. I don't know my Marvel from my--okay, I don't even know what the big names are.  But c'mon, a female Thor?  This has to be all kinds of awesome.

Touch by Claire North.  This was DEFINITELY on someone's TTT list last week.  I think.  The premise is that as a person is being murdered, they reach out to their killer and...transfer into their body.  So basically, this person can hop around from host to host, and presumable achieve a sort of immortality?  Like a creepy Every Day?  Sounds fun.

The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch by Daniel Kraus.  I'm digging that cover, although the color seems garish.  (Haven't seen it IRL though.)  Historical paranormals can be great.  And I'm a sucker for names that start with Z.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine.  This showed up on a number of year-end lists, and it's a book about books, so, why on earth would I NOT read this?

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab.  I've read many enthusiastic comments about this author, so I figure I'd best begin at the beginning.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mini Reviews: Goodbye Stranger, In Real Life, The Rest of Us Just Live Here

I usually don't write full-on reviews on Goodreads, because I feel like with hundreds of people weighing in on any one book, my synopsis can only be redundant.  Even most analysis has been thoroughly hashed out by the time I get to a book.  (This is probably related to my history of being a library user, meaning I'm usually reading older books.)  Instead, I just post my own reactions and thoughts, mostly for my own future reference.

These are the last three books I've "reviewed" on Goodreads.  Take them for what they are.

Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Published 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books

This book is a rare example of a book that is just right for middle schoolers. They disdain anything childish--slap a "suitable for grades 5-8" label on a book and watch them run away from it--but aren't as ready for more adult fare as they might think. 

Bridge, Emily, and Tab are three smart seventh grade girls with a long and healthy friendship. They find themselves developing in different directions and at different speeds as they move into middle school. Emily, the jock, begins a flirtation that leads to peer pressure and sexting. Bridge makes a boy friend, but is pretty sure she doens't want him to be a boyfriend. Tab gets her consciousness raised by her feminist English teacher (Go Feminist English Teachers!). Some "good" kids make some bad decisions, some "bad" kids wind up doing the right thing after all, and adults are realistically supportive yet somewhat irrelevant to the kids.

Less successful is the parallel story told in 2nd person. I can handle second person and multiple storylines, but the big secret just wasn't that exciting, and the coffee shop mentor was a little too wise. I also wasn't sure what that plotline added to the story--"Sometimes it's okay to grow apart from someone"? The other thread of storyline, Sherm's letters to his absent grandpa, were more poignant, and helped move the story along. 

The epilogue was also unnecessary, but I forgive it because it was so dang cute.  4 stars

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, illustrations by Jen Wang

Published 2014 by First Second

For me, this is one of those graphic novels I would have enjoyed more as a novel-novel. It felt too much like the abridged version of a longer, more interesting story. Still, interesting story and great illustrations.  3 stars

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Published 2015 by HarperTeen

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ness at a conference last month and getting him to sign new copies of all three Chaos Walking books for me. I had somehow pegged him as a Brit, but no, he told me he grew up in Puyallup. That added to my understanding of the setting of this book--Mt. Hood is The Mountain where I live, but Ranier is The Mountain of the book. I'm still figuring out Twitter, and after meeting him, I started following Ness there. It seems from his tweets that he is gay, grew up in a religious family, and has anxiety issues. So that gave me some background on Jared, Henna, and Mikey himself. Does any of this matter in the least? I mean, he's written sci fi about worlds and situations nobody has ever been in, so clearly he's capable of using his imagination and empathy to create. Still, there is an emotional truth in this novel that I think must be informed by his own life experience. 

I was torn on four vs. five stars--I really enjoyed it, but while the whole Chosen One "subplot" was clever and fun, it's maybe a little too gimmicky for me, reducing rather than enhancing the emotional effect of the story. 

I don't think I will never not read a book this man writes though. Holy Cow, is he great. 4 stars