Saturday, July 29, 2017

Library Haul:Nonfiction Extravaganza

I stopped by the smaller local library today to return some games we'd checked out early in the summer.  Since you have to go to the desk to check them in, I wound up browsing in the library, despite already having dozens of books checked out, not to mention a bookcase full of books from my classroom library.

First, some new games.

Bananagrams for my husband and me, Five Crowns to start teaching kids about trump suits.  (we need a new term for that concept), and a board game called Dixit, which appears to be an image-based version of Apples to Apples.  This means my struggling-reader children can play too!

Some nonfiction:

Hyggelig, the adjective form of hygge, is one of the few Danish words I learned when I spent a college semester at an international folk school in Denmark.  It's a powerful concept, and while I don't expect to read every word of the book, it should be fun to flip through.  Summer Bucket List for Kids is my subtle way of getting my kids to want to do something besides screens this summer.  And The Stranger in the Woods sounds fascinating.  I'm several (short) chapters in, and it's good so far.

More variety:

I've had a copy of The Notorious Benedict Arnold in my room for a few years, but never bothered to pick it up.  Having just read and loved the author's Most Dangerous, when I saw this on display, I decided it was time to give it a chance.  I've heard good things about True Detective, so I grabbed season one on DVD.  The Winemaker and I are looking for a new show to watch together, so we'll see if we like it.  And I am working on a project for my classroom showcasing authors of color, so I thought I'd check out The Lines We Cross, as I've seen other books by the auther but haven't read any of them.

This is what I love about the library: the serendipity of stumbling across items you weren't even looking for.  Long live the TBR, and all hail the reading challenges, but libraries will always be my first and one true love.

A few days ago we were at the big main library, and I finally got to make a t-shirt!  My husband and daughter have done this several times.  First you use their digital die-cut to cut vinyl out based on your design.  Then you use their heat press to apply it to a shirt.  Mine is a bit wonky--don't love the font, had trouble with some placement--but I am still really happy with it.  Here's the front:

and then on the back:

You can't tell (or at least I can't tell on this computer), but the shirt is heathery purple and the writing is gold, not yellow.  

And THAT is what the library has done for me this week!  How about that?!?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Getting to Know Me

I'm borrowing this tag from AJ at Read All the Things!, because it was fun to read hers, and I kind of adore personality quizzes.  These are all 100% for entertainment only, except Myers-Briggs, which I have some faith in,  and my blood type, which is SCIENCE.  I just googled random quizzes for most of these.

What's the meaning of your name?

There are two schools of thoughts on this.  The first known Wendy is James Barrie's Wendy of Peter Pan fame.  I'd heard at one point that it came from a neighbor toddler calling him her "fwendy" (e.g. friend).  Cringe.  I've also heard it's a diminutive of Gwendolyn, meaning white-browed.  Mmkay.

My dad used to call me Wendolyn, and if anyone asked, "Oh, is Wendy short for that?" he's say, "No, Wendolyn is long for Wendy." My parents considered naming me Nelly, after my grandma.  Since I grew up in the height of the Little House TV show, in which Nelly was a huge beyotch, I was always glad they changed their minds.

What's your Myers-Briggs personality type?

INFP. Definitely an introvert in that I recharge from being alone and get drained by other people, even though I love spending time with friends and family.  Intuitive (as opposed to sensing) means I'm more big picture than detail oriented; more future plans than present reality focused.  I'm not as sure about that one.  Feeling means I make decision based on my emotions rather than on logic, and that I value mercy over justice.  This one's super valid, and (as these things often are) is both a huge weakness and a major strength in my life.  I can always see the exception to the rule, which makes it hard to be a consistent disciplinarian at home and school.  But I would also never vote to cut health care for others, even if it was a money saving plan.  Ahem.  And Perceiving instead of Judging goes right along with that.  Perceivers like to look at all the options and consider all points of view, and put off making the final decision.  

What's your Zodiac sign?

Heck if I know.  My birthday is just over the cusp between Cancer and Leo, but I cannot relate to anything Leo-ish.  When I was a kid, I claimed Leo because lions are cooler than crabs, right?  But once I read about the associations of each, I had to admit I'm more of the peace-seeking homebody than the attention-seeking leader.

What's your Hogwarts house?

I tested once into Griffindor and once into Hufflepuff.  My patronus, if you're curious, is the Scops Owl.

Are you left-brained or right-brained?

Well, according to this test, I am almost perfectly balanced. But in terms of "organized, mathematically inclined, and logical" vs "spontaneous, humanities inclined, and emotional" I am definitely a right brain person.  

What's your blood type?

I should know this.  I used to donate blood fairly regularly, until I kept being denied for mild anemia.  Um, AB negative?  Maybe?  I'm not even sure what it means to be of one blood type or another.  

What career are you meant to be in?

The online quiz I just took tells me I should be a teacher, which is kind of a relief, since I am.  I remember doing one of those quizzes in school and being told I should be an astronaut, a forester, or an orchestra conductor.  WHAT?!?  I think it had something to do with wanting to work independently and wanting to do something different from day to day.  Guess what?  That's true of teaching as well.

What's your Divergent faction?

Abnegation.  Sigh.  They weren't exactly the heroes of the series.  But yes, I can definitely see myself letting things slide in order to get along and not make waves.

What does your birth order say about you?

I'm the youngest of four, with an 11 year gap between me and my nearest sisters, who are twins, and 13 years between me and our oldest sister.  So in some ways I'm the typical baby of the family and in other ways, I'm like an only child.  Case in point?  I am perfectly willing to let people help me.  I try not to expect it or rely on it, but if someone offers, sure, why not?  That's definitely a youngest child thing.  One of my sisters was over today.  She worked this morning, then had a difficult doctor's appointment.  I've been off all summer and was making dinner.  I offered her a glass of water and she said, "That would be nice, but I'll get it.  Don't you worry about it."  I almost took her at her word, then I was like--wait, what?  I'm too lazy to pour her a glass of water?  She would move mountains for me.  But I almost made her get her own water.  Classy.

On the other hand, I was good at being around adults from a young age, because I was often the only child present.  I also had a really close relationship to my parents that had a different flavor than that of my sisters'.  I have always been comfortable being alone and entertaining myself.

Well, that was fun, if not at all book-related.  Feel free to play along!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag 2017

I traditionally do this in mid-July despite the year being WEEKS past the mid-point.  I'm a non-conformist; what can I say?  (Kidding.  Mostly.)

Let's see what the questions are--and, most likely, what my answers are as well.  I'm pulling from a couple of different versions of this tag to try to share a variety of answers without repeating myself.   Unless specified as a new release, the books might have been published at any time in the past, but I read them in 2017. I've read around 125 books so far, so I'm going to give multiple answers for most of these.

Brace yourself for an onslaught of books.  This post took a hellishly long time to put together, so bear with me on typos and errors.  Titles link to Goodreads.

Best Books so Far

Contemporary YA: Ramona Blue, The Upside of Unrequited, All American Boys
Nonfiction: Some Writer!, Most Dangerous, Bubonic Panic, Every Falling Star
Memoir You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, Born a Crime, Hypothetical Future Baby
Speculative Fiction Strange the Dreamer, Denton Little's Deathdate, The Inquisitor's Tale
Historical Fiction: The Smell of Other People's Houses, The War that Saved my Life, Maus I & 2
Literary Fiction (Books for grown-ups?  Adult fiction?): Americanah, A Prayer for Owen Meany
Re-reads: The King of Attolia, The Good Master, The Crossover

Most Anticipated Upcoming 2017 Release

Because I love the authorClick'd by Tamara Ireland Stone, Jane, Unlimited by Kristen Cashore, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
Because I like the series:  The True Queen, Retribution Rails

(That Jane, Unlimited cover is awful.  I hope it gets fixed.)

Best Sequel so Far

Brave, Thick as ThievesOur Dark Duet

New Release You Haven't Read Yet, But Want To

A Conjuring of Light, They Both Die at the End, Release, Disrupting Thinking, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

And yes, I own two of these and have another checked out from the library, yet I haven't read them.

Biggest Disappointment

Biggest Surprise

Flying Lessons and Other Stories, because anthologies are usually uneven, but I loved this entire collection.  Most Dangerous because I thought it would be dry and dull, and instead it was thrilling and engaging.  The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, a random library find, because it was lovely and dreamlike and entirely unexpected.

Favorite New Author

Robin Roe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Barry Lyga, Derek Kirk Kim, I. W. Gregorio

New Favorite Character

The eponymous Ramona Blue, Jane Steele, and Owen Meany; Molly Peskin Suso from The Upside of Unrequited, Pen from Girl Mans Up, Sarai from Strange the Dreamer

Book That Made You Cry

Born a Crime is the only one that made me full-on cry, although Strange the Dreamer, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, The Crossover, Girl in Pieces, and A List of Cages all made me misty-eyed.

Dude made me laugh out loud too, but I was expecting that.  Hand-down best celebrity memoir I've ever read, probably because it's got nothing to do with his celebrity and instead is a love letter to his mom (not in a creepy way!) and an extremely engaging description of what it was like growing up biracial as apartheid fell apart.  Fascinating.

Book That Made You Happy

The Sun is Also a Star, Princeless, Bandette, Ghost 

I guess it's no surprise that these are some of the most brightly colored covers on this post.

Most Beautiful Book So Far

the illustrated copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets I read to my daughter.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Tuesday Slice of Life: In Which I Try for a Poem

Inspired by by Noemi Shihab Nye's poem "The Words Under the Words" in Nineteen Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East.


My mother's hands recognized the stab of a needle on a calloused finger,
the dirt around the root,
the soft, purring fur of cats.
She'd hold my hand in hers, tracing my smooth thumb with her rough, reddened fingers.
Some days I can picture her hands more clearly than her face.  My own aging hands startle me to pangs of love and absence. 

My mother's days were made of getting things done,
of guaranteeing regular meals to her diabetic husband,
of denying weakness and refusing sloth.
Bread baked,
dishes washed,
patients nursed,
clothes sewn,
daughters taught,
dogs walked,
yards weeded,
coffee drank,
and, after dinner, cookies eaten and stories told.

My mother's voice says
fear and pain are guaranteed in life.
So laugh.  Swim in the lake.  Make a new friend.
Learn something new.  If a heart attack makes mountain climbing impossible
Buy a beach cabin.
God?  Who knows.  The resurrection?  Seems unlikely.  But, oh, the Holy Ghost--that she's seen. 
Love lasts.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

5 Star Review: You Don't Have To Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie

Published 2017 by Little, Brown, and Company

457 pages, memoir.

From GoodreadsWhen his mother passed away at the age of 78, Sherman Alexie responded the only way he knew how: he wrote. The result is this stunning memoir. Featuring 78 poems, 78 essays and intimate family photographs, Alexie shares raw, angry, funny, profane, tender memories of a childhood few can imagine--growing up dirt-poor on an Indian reservation, one of four children raised by alcoholic parents. Throughout, a portrait emerges of his mother as a beautiful, mercurial, abusive, intelligent, complicated woman. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me is a powerful account of a complicated relationship, an unflinching and unforgettable remembrance.

As is my wont, I started this book not knowing much about it, other than it was Sherman Alexie writing about his mother. I didn't know the whole 78 stories + 78 poems thing. I didn't know it would be as much about her death and his complicated mourning as about her life. I expected linear. I got spirals.

I read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and Smoke Signals way back in the early nineties. I had just graduated from college and was working as a page at a library while waiting to go teach overseas. My library friend and I, a woman I lost touch with after her mental illness landed her in the hospital a few times, saw the movie of Smoke Signals together. 

Only that's not possible, because the movie came out in 1998, seven years after I'd worked at the library and at least two years since my cowardice and selfishness caused me to evict that friend from my life. 
Much of Alexie's work is like that, a story told and then questioned. What is story telling, what is memory, what is lies, and what is the truth revealed by the fiction? These questions run throughout the book.

Like Alexie, I'm a middle aged orphan. My mom, like his, was 78 when she died. My mom, like his, was a complicated woman, neither simply kind and loving nor simply cold and angry. My mom, like his, was a quilter. My mom, like his, carried childhood and generational pain. My mom, like his, lived her whole life in the Pacific Northwest.

Of course, unlike his, my mom was white, as was my dad. So my experience and my family are nothing like Alexie's. There is just enough overlap that I feel sudden stabs of pain as he reflects on his mother's death and his guilt, grief, and relief. And I can relate to his humor--he is a funny, funny guy, and pain-based humor is, let's face it, universal. But most of what I'm doing as I read this book--any of his books--is bearing witness. I am listening. I am shutting the fuck up and letting him tell me what his life is like, what his family is like, where he came from and how he got here. 

I grew up inordinately proud of my status as a fifth generation Oregonian. One branch of my family emigrated along the Oregon Trail. I don't think I really fully understood until a few years ago that my family invaded another culture's homeland. That we engaged in a genocidal land grab. That I am as much an invasive species as the Himalayan blackberry and starlings that fill this state. I am also equally entrenched. There is no more malice in my heart than there is in the thorns of the berry vines or the glossy black feathers of the birds. To read Alexie is to understand how much was lost and ruined when my people came to his people's land.

We have a Holocaust museum in our country. We do not have national museum that presents the horror of slavery. We do not have a national museum that commemorates the treatment of native Americans. What does that say? 

It bothers me that Alexie is one of the few native American voices I've ever read. It's unfair to expect Louise Erdrich, Mary Crow Dog, William Least-Heat Moon and Alexie to represent the entire range of cultures and experiences under that umbrella. Can you imagine having read only four white American authors and expecting that you now understood the "American experience"? But I am so, so glad he writes.

5/5 stars

How mortifying!

“Well, we were always going to fail that one," said Ron gloomily as they ascended the marble staircase. He had just made Harry feel rather better by telling him how he told the examiner in detail about the ugly man with a wart on his nose in the crystal ball, only to look up and realize he had been describing the examiner's reflection.” 

There are different flavors of embarrassment.  (Ron, I suspect, is familiar with all of them.)

There is asking a (white) woman if her (Asian) daughter is her exchange student. In my defense, she DID have a Japanese exchange student present as well and had been talking about her.


There is feeling a slight tug as you slide out of the booth at McDonald's and realizing after you get home that you ripped the entire back pocket off and your underwear has been flapping in the breeze.  Does it make it better or worse that I happened to be wearing flesh-colored panties that day?


There is your mom singing along with Justin Timberlake when your family is out getting some tacos. God, I love being the embarrassing one instead of the embarrassed one for once.


There is sending a panicked email to a colleague when your Airplay stops working--again--and him telling you the cord just wasn't plugged in--again.  I swear I checked it the second time.  



 Ah well.


Ooh, that reminds me-- I just started listening to Born a Crime, and it's fabulous.  My friend recommended listening to it, and even though I know I could blow through it in an afternoon if I read it, getting Trevor Noah's inflections and pacing, not to mention the accents, makes it even better.  This is no celebrity memoir--it's funny and informative and heart-breaking and wise. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Most Dangerous is Most Fascinating and Most Timely

I really, really liked Steve Sheinkin's book Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War.  I've been avoiding reading it for two years now, because it sounds so serious.  It's got a guy in a tie on the front, and it's about Vietnam.  How much fun can it be?

It's brilliant.  It's fascinating, horrifying, exciting, fast paced, evocative, and engaging.  Sure, it's also informative and thought-provoking, but it's not boring.  (Like if you say someone has a great personality, it doesn't mean they're NOT good-looking too.)

As I read about decades of lies, manipulation, and callous disregard for human life, all issuing forth --secretly--from the Oval Office under multiple presidents, I couldn't help but notice some sentences that seem appropriate in an era in which the secrecy has been abandoned while the lies, manipulation, callous disregard etc. has ramped up.

When Ellsberg gets the Pentagon Papers--government documents that lay bare the sordid history of the U.S.'s actions and policies in Vietnam--released in the New York Times, an injunction was laid on them to cease publication.  They took it to court, and the judge's decision reads in part:

"A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, an ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know." (pg. 236)

What?!?  The right of the people to a free press is more important than the irritation of people in power?!?

And then there's this one.  As the news came out and everyone debated whether Ellsberg's decision to leak top secret information was a heroic act or a treasonous one, he was asked by Walter Cronkite (look him up, young'uns!) what he thought the meaning of it all was.

"I think the that the people of this country can't afford to let the president run the country by himself." (pg. 245)

I'm just going to let that sit there.

My only regret regarding this book is that my parents aren't still alive to quiz about their recollections of the events described.  My dad was a photographer at Oregon's largest daily newspaper, so I KNOW he would have had an opinion.  I also would like to ask them if their thoughts about the Pentagon Papers shifted over time.  In retrospect, it's hard to find fault with Ellsberg's actions, but I understand why it was so highly controversial at the time.

There is something hugely discouraging in reading about how the most powerful people in the land, regardless of party affiliation or even good intentions, make and hide terrible decisions.  But there's something hopeful about the idea that we the people, as individuals and groups, can still make a difference despite them.


Published 2015 by Roaring Book Press
Nonfiction, 384 pages
Five Stars

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation: Picnic at Hanging Rock

I've seen this on Wilde on My Side, and she pointed me to Books Are My Favorite and Best as the originator.  Basically, everyone starts with the same title each month, and then using your own personal trains of thought, lead your readers through six books, one to the next to the next.  It could be authors, covers, time of life when you read the book, or any other connection that comes up in your min

I pretty much forgot about this meme last month, but I'm back on board.

1. Our starting point is a book I've never heard of before, Picnic at Hanging Rock. It is, I understand, a story set in 1900, about a group of girls who head off to Australia's Hanging Rock in their long white dresses.  Three girls disappear.

2. This basic outline reminded me of a Margaret Atwood short story that's lingered with me for decades.  Part of her collection called Wilderness Tips, "Death by Landscape" looks back on a girls' summer camp outing in which the narrator's friend disappears.

Ooooh, I could go so many ways from here...Canadians, camps, wilderness, books I read in my late teens and early twenties, Margarets...

3. Fine, I'll be unsubtle and go with A Walk in the Woods.  Bill Bryson at his funniest is very funny, indeed.  This book is not his funniest (that would be either The Lost Continent or Neither Here Nor There), but it's still pretty dang funny.

4. There's a bear's head on the cover of A Walk in the Woods. There's a bear in Gentle Ben, a classic from my childhood.  The author, Walt Morey, was a patient of my mom's (she was a nurse) for a few days once, and she brought him my copy of the book and asked him to sign it.  I still have it.

5. The absolute loveliest autographs I have are from Patrick Ness, who kindly signed all three of his Chaos Walking books for me when I met him at a teaching conference.  "To Wendy, who said lovely things" is what he said on The Knife of Never Letting Go, referring, no doubt, to my incoherent but very sincere gushing about how much I love his work.

6. Speaking of knives "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife" is one of the world's great opening lines.  We owe our thanks to Neil Gaiman for starting The Graveyard Book with it.

I've been feeling somewhat meme-y (meme-ish?) lately.  Bear with me.  I still want to do the mid-year freak-out tag too.  Until then, don't lose any of your hiking buddies to mysterious forces if you're out in the woods!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Mt. TBR Check-in 2

Shouldn't that be base camp 2?

If you are new to the Mt. TBR challenge, check out the post at My Reader's Block in which she explains.  But the short version is, I'm trying to read a bunch of books that I've owned prior to 2017, and the more books I read, the higher mountain I get to claim I've scaled.  And I'm here to answer all your burning questions about my trek so far!

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read)

I've passed Pikes Peak, elevation 14,115 ft., aka 12 books.

After two dozen books, I passed Mont Blanc, at 15,774 ft.
Now, THAT'S a mountain.  No offense, Colorado.

And right now I'm just two books shy of Mt. Vancouver.  There's a Mt. Vancouver in New Zealand, but it's only around 10,000 ft, so I think this must refer to the Mt. Vancouver on the Alaskan/Yukon border, topping out at 15,787 ft.  It has three summits, so I'm declaring myself on top of Good Neighbor Peak, the slightly lower southern summit, while still aiming at the high point of the northern summit.  I could just speed through a couple of graphic novels and call it good, but by golly, I've started writing this post and I'm not going to cheat on it now.

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:

 A. Choose two titles from the books you've read so far that have a common link. Find your link and tell us what it is.

Well, avoiding the obviousness of the books I've read with transgender protagonists (Gracefully Grayson, If I Was Your Girl, and None of the Above) or novels in verse (House Arrest, Garvey's Choice, Keesha's House), I'm going to go with books in which a middle school boy gets in trouble for stealing: Ghost and House Arrest.  

28954126 24905366

 B. Tell us about a book on the list that was new to you in some way--new author, about a place you've never been, a genre you don't usually read...etc. 
The Boys of Blur is set in the canefields of Florida, a setting I am completely unfamiliar with.  I had to do some google image searching to really see what it was like there.


C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?
Since I'm making my Mt. TBR challenge all about my classroom library, this is kind of a weird one to answer.  I physically received most of these books at the same time: last summer.  Still, some had been on my to-read list longer (which is why I ordered them when I won the grant).  For example, I Hunt Killers has been on my Goodreads to-read list since Nov. 2014.  Maus is the one that's been on my mental to-read list the longest.  (Shades of Ron Weasley:  "Are you mental?!?") But looking carefully at the list, I think I've had a copy of Chomp in my classroom for a few years, so that's probably the one that qualifies. 


Oh, the actual question--yes, I'm glad I read it, especially since it's my daughter's favorite, and now I'll get her references.

My goal is 100 books, a slog up Mt. Everest, so I'm clearly behind schedule.  I'm doing better now that school is out, though, and I brought home at least 100 books from my classroom library to help me stay focused on this challenge no matter what my reading mood.  I still get side-tracked, of course.  I'm doing some online teacher reading groups.  I visit the library.  I have my own books.  I am currently in possession of two unread V. E. Schwab books, one owned and one borrowed, and you can bet your sweet patootie I'll be reading them very soon, even though they were both published after this challenge even started.   (Wait! Is that even possible?  Is she publishing sequels to different series in the same year?  GAH!)  But I will keep circling back.  Step by step, that's how you scale mountains!

(And by switchbacking, but I'm not sure how to extend that metaphor here.)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Megan Whalen Turner's Tales of Attolia

Yes of course I'm annoyed that they changed cover styles.  I LOVED the old ones.

There are some series I read long after their completion. Anne of Green Gables, the Chronicles of Narnia, and the Little House books were childhood favorites.  More recently, I've read through the trilogies that started with Poison Study, with Half Bad, with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Other series I discover towards the beginning, and then I have to wait for new books to come out--oh, the agony! The twin challenges of incomplete series are a) having to wait to find out what happens next, then b) having to remember what happened before so the new book has its full impact.

This is not quite the case with Megan Whalen Turner's fantasy series set in a place vaguely reminiscent of not-so-ancient Greece.  Her first novel, The Thief, came out in 1996.  My sister recommended it to me in 2008, since we both like a certain type of fantasy: light but not fluffy; magical yet grounded in humanity.  I enjoyed it, and went on to read the next two, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia, in quick succession. Each story came to a resolution, but left the feeling that there could also be more to find out.

Three years later, we found out a fourth book, A Conspiracy of Kings, was coming out.  Since it had been so long, I re-read the first three before taking on the fourth.

SIX years later, this past spring, book five, Thick as Thieves, came out.  So I re-read the first book, skimmed the second, read the third, couldn't find the fourth so just reminded myself from reviews what the basic idea was, and dove into it.

Who knows when the sixth (and final?) book will be out.  I'll probably re-read the whole series at that point, making this the series I've re-read the most often since turning 12.

There are people who are passionate about these books.  As I did research for this post, I discovered a Livejournal dedicated to Whalen Turner's work.  But not enough people seem to know about her.  Heck, there are people blogging today who weren't alive when the first book came out.  So let me tell you why you should go pick up The Thief and start reading.

World Building

The spirit of these books reminds me of Six of Crows, of The Scorpio Races, of Graceling and The Girl of Fire and Thorns.  It calls to mind the worlds of Prydia, Narnia, even Camelot and the Forests of Arden.  (Why yes, I DID just list all of my favorite fantasy novels.)  What all of these have in common is the sense that this entire world exists far beyond the boundaries of the pages we're reading.  Geography, history, culture, language, social systems--you can tell it's all there, because enough of it is made clear.  The Thief was intended as a stand-alone, but when the author won the Newbery and an enthusiastic librarian asked her when the sequel was coming out, she realized she could actually use all that backstory and future results that she had developed in her head to give us more books.  The landscape is inspired by Greece, complete with olive groves and a large empire across the small sea, but it's not meant to BE Greece.  It's the world in which the tiny mountain kingdom of Attolia controls the only pass between the small kingdom of Sounis and the small kingdom of Eddis.  Two of these nations are ruled by young queens, one homely and beloved, the other beautiful and feared. The third is ruled by a middle aged king who plans to wed one of these queens and crush the third country with the combined military force.  He's not too particular about which country he gets by marriage and which by force.  Meanwhile, all three kingdoms are being eyed by the continental empire of Mede.  There are politics and military strategy involved, but it never overshadows the characters.  (Well, maybe a little bit in book 2, The Queen of Attolia, but that book also hosts some of the most shocking action and, well, shocking romance of the entire series.)

Snark and Humor

I can't stand huge epic fantasy series that take themselves way too seriously.  The Attolia books aren't comedy, but they are regularly and delightfully funny.  Unfortunately for this "review," much of the humor is contextual and I'd kill it by explaining what led up to this moment and why it's funny, but both the author and her characters are witty and sharp.  Gen, the eponymous thief of the first novel, is sarcastic, comically whiny, and far too smart for his own good.  Kamet, a Medean slave who narrates the latest novel, Thick as Thieves, has a sardonic wit as well.  

Narrative Voice

Here's where Whalen Turner's writing really shines.  The first book is told from a first person POV.  The narrator isn't unreliable, exactly, but he doesn't share all he knows.  The second book focuses on the same character, but from a third person POV that also shares what's going on with other characters from time to time.  Book three introduces a brand-new first person narrator.  WHAT?!?  It sounds insane, but book three remains my favorite of the entire series.  Book four jumps between a first and third person POV, and book five brings in ANOTHER first person POV, this one a minor character from an earlier book.  

All of this is not because the author is nuts, or can't decide what works for her, or gets bored easily.  Each story is told in the way it calls out to be told.  Her work sometimes feels "twisty," yet she never lies, instead choosing a method of narration that will give or withhold certain information in order to create a more compelling story.  

Role of Religion and History

The kingdoms have various pantheons of gods and goddesses.  Over centuries and the rise and fall of empires, different religious systems have been foisted on the people.  Everyone gives lip service to whatever local custom demands, but nobody is all that religious.

Except, occasionally, the gods walk among them.  The legends come to life.  (Gen gets particularly snarky over his god telling him things like "Go to bed," instead of grandiose proclamations of encouragement.)  I love how this is handled.  The people in the story are no pawns or play-things, but there is a certain sense of being grounded in their land, of being tied to their history.  

MWT's General Awesomeness

Some fun facts:
  • She mulls over the story in her head, then tells it out loud (to herself or others), then writes it down, then polishes it up.  I'm not entirely sure which part of this takes 5-7 years, but it's certainly a remarkable writing method.  
  • She avoids teasers and spoilers, because she thinks it's unfair given how slowly she writes.  She also is basically the opposite of J.K. Rowling in terms of weighing in on your head-canon.  "Not telling" is her literal answer to most questions people ask her about the books, even when it comes to pronouncing names.  She wants readers to come to their own understanding and interpretation, not rely on her to say "This is the correct way to look at my books."
  • Her husband is a Guggenheim recipient for something that sounds really intellectual.
  • She drops by her local bookstores and signs copies, so if you want a signed copy, you can always order them through those stores.  
  • There's a terrific two-way interview between her and Shannon Hale in which they commiserate on people who say, "Oh how cute, you write kids' books" without realizing that they are Newbery award winners translated into multiple languages, and they would sound like jerks if they explained all that, so it's just annoying.
  • There is one more book planned in the series!
  • Writing this post may have cured me of always typing "Margaret" instead of "Megan" when I'm writing her name.  Ha!  Whoops!  Check out the heading on the graphic on top!  I was going to fix it, but I decided to keep it real instead.  Sorry, Megan!

My sister was over a few days after I finished it, and I showed it to her.  "Well, YEAH," she said.  "I downloaded that onto my Kindle and read it the weekend it was released."  Further discussion revealed that our favorite and least favorite books in the series are flip-flopped.  Which just goes to show that even the "weaker" books in the series are still AMAZING.  Because as much as the political maneuvering of book 2 makes me restless, I still love that wild beginning and emotional ending.  And as much as she was disgruntled to find some NOBODY narrating book 3, she had to admit that it was great fun seeing our beloved characters win over more supporters.  

What are you waiting for?  GO FORTH AND READ! Then come back and tell me if you agree with me or my sister about which book is best.  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

June in Review

My Reading

# of books read: 25, plus several picture books and lots and lots of Calvin & Hobbes.
Best(s): When you read 25 books in one month, you get a lot of good ones. Let's see:
Best adult novel: Americanah
Best YA novel: The Sun in Also a Star
Best MG novel: The Inquisitor's Tale
Best collection: Flying Lessons and Other Stories
Best re-read: The King of Attolia

(I totally just made up those categories after looking at which books I gave five stars to.)

And the rest weren't bad either.  I'd give Usename Evie a miss, if I were you, but the others were all good to excellent.

Also, I love you, but this computer is driving me nuts, and I've already spent two hours on this post.  No links from pics.  Just from my favorite titles.  If something else looks interesting, use Goodreads. 

Mt. TBR progress: 4 books, for a total of 33.  I'm nearly to the top of Mt. Vancouver. I'm also 17 books behind schedule, but hey--that's what summer is for. I'm working on it!

Bookish Events and Happenings

Looking back at last month, where I shared my summer bookish goals, I am doing my usual haphazard best. I've spent many mornings sitting in my outdoor book nook with a cup of coffee, reading away. I am doing great on my book-a-day challenge, and have only had to use a picture book a few times. I finished one of the professional books I wanted to read, but did a really poor job at connecting with the online group that read it together. In my defense, it seemed to kind of fall apart after the first week. I think I'll do better with the second online professional book group.

My family is also making heavy use of the library lately. On Father's Day, after we took The Winemaker out for breakfast, we all went to the library for the afternoon, where the kids 3D printed fidget spinners and my daughter and The Winemaker did some digital laser cutting and created a few t-shirts. The other day my son went to a "Disassembly Party" and got to take apart some old appliances and electronics.

Plus, books, right?

On the Blog

I feel like I've been neglectful of the blog as of late, but still posted 14 times in June. The big one, of course, is my 2 year anniversary, complete with giveaway. Check it out! I had fun writing about my book related sins, and I pushed myself to do some teacher blogging about my thinking and planning around summer reading slide. Wow, I feel like I wrote those a REALLY LONG TIME AGO.  The end of the school year is always kind of nuts.


As I said, the school year ended, a bit late due to our unprecedented number of snow days. The first three weeks of June are essentially a vibrant blur.  

Then we went up to Mt. Hood for four days in a rental home with my oldest group of friends. We used to go camping together every summer, but somehow in the past five years, we've drifted from camping to cabining or yurting to just plain renting a big ol' house. We still had a bonfire each evening, and still got out for some nature walks, and still laughed and talked and reminisced and dreamed together. We're never quite sure if we've been doing this every year but one for the last twenty years, or every year but two for the last nineteen, or what, because we didn't realize when we started that we were starting a lifetime tradition, that our kids would grow up thinking of our trips as an "always" kind of thing, part of what makes summer, summer.

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction, along with many other terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole usually puts together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!