Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday Post #25

Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer hosts the weekly (duh) Sunday Post link-up. I participate sporadically, but am ready to roll this week!

Well, hi there!

I am clear across town right now, in the suburb that is on the complete other side of Portland from mine. Where Beaverton is on the way to the coast, rural within my lifetime, and has only become less white with the development of Intel, Nike, and other large companies who hire internationally, Gresham is on the way to Mt. Hood, has been full of strip malls and car lots for my entire lifetime, and is one of the few multi-ethnic areas that has yet to be gentrified back to whiteness after the white flight of the '60s and '70s. I came out to pick up my son from my nephew's apartment after he'd hosted him so I could host my daughter's slumber party, and it turned out they were still enjoying each other's company and wanted 3 more hours.

So what's a girl to do when she's in an unfamiliar part of town with several hours to spare? Figure out where the nearest library is, of course. Since I have a Multnomah County library card in addition to my home county's card, I knew I could find a refuge even though I'm 40 minutes from home.

I am using the library headphones to block out the sound of other's coughing and typing, but I can't get Spotify to work, so I'm listening to this on Youtube:

Something about the hungover way I feel made me want to listen to early '90s Latvian rock. Don't you ever feel like that? No? Just me?

I'm not hungover, just to clarify. But hosting six tween girls overnight creates the same effect at this point in my life. I finally went downstairs and just sat in the kitchen for a half hour so they'd stop talking long enough to fall asleep (around 1 am). Then of course they bounced awake at 8:30, but everyone's mood was a little fragile and I ended up having to soothe hurt feelings. I got to my nephew's and asked him for Tylenol, then when I went to look up the address for the closest library, I said to myself, "A hundred and secondy-second" instead of twenty-second.

Moving on.

 Book Read This Week

I've finished two books this week, both thrillers. Neither were world class, though one was pretty good.

I just didn't really like this one. It was contrived and overwrought and ultimately kind of pointless. This is the third book of hers I've read, and I haven't really liked any of them, so I think I'll stop now. 

This one was pretty good. Not amazing, but good. There is a middle section that is straight up adventure story, less psychologically twisty, but then the devious factor kicks back in. My kid cleaned out her bookshelf and sold a bunch of books to the used bookstore, which grants 50% off credit, so I gave her the cash and spent the credit. Their selection of material I want to add to my classroom isn't very big, so I also picked up some mysteries for myself. I paid like 2 bucks for this, so I don't feel as bad about breaking my "don't spend money on books just for me" rule.


My classes are listening to audiobooks right now. I had a killer cold during and after spring break, and my voice still isn't back to full strength. But I didn't want to postpone a read-aloud until I could handle reading five periods a day, because I hate it when the semester or year ends before we finish our book. I let classes pick from audiobooks I had access to at the time, and they got some good choices.

  • Bang by Barry Lyga  The narrator accidentally shot and killed his baby sister when he was 4. Now he's 14, and this is the summer he plans on ending it all. The tension is palpable.

  • The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya    I am breaking all laws of read-alouds and reading this for the first time with the kids. It does at least allow me to be noticing, wondering, and making connections alongside them. The plot revolves around a crooked developer, which is a little less immediate for kids than for adults, but there's enough personality in the narrator that so far it's keeping their interest.  

  • Violent Ends by various authors, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson    I thought I had an audiobook of it checked out, but it was actually an ebook, and there IS no audiobook, so I am reading this one aloud. (One day when I choked on a cracker at lunch* I talked one of my better readers into reading for me, but even a kid who reads really smoothly can focus and understand better when listening than while reading aloud.) 
My last period class couldn't settle into listening, so we'll use picture books to cover the same material. Three of the four are definitely YA, not MG, so I talked a bit about how authors may choose to have characters swear in order to develop a believable voice, but that still doesn't mean swearing in class is okay, and honestly? I'm going to skip the raunchiest chapter from Violent Ends. I don't think ANYONE wants their reading teacher reading them a story in which it turns out that a teacher is having serial sexual relationships with students.The book has 17 authors writing different short stories from the POV of characters who are affected by a school shooting, so it won't mess up the storyline to skip one.

Other bookish things

I missed Kwame Alexander's Portland appearance the other night. But this library does have multiple copies of his new book in, so I'll be reading Rebound in the near future!

I'm going to have to give this next Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon a miss, but you can still sign up!

My daughter was with me when I told the bookseller, "I need horror for middle schoolers that is scary but still somewhat age appropriate." One of the books I ended up getting is The Cellar. She was out with her dad the other night and bought her own copy of it, and can't put it down. The clerk apparently pointed out to her, "This says 14 and up," and she said, "Yep," and stared him down. (She just turned 12.) This is where my anti-censorship, "trust the kids to know what they can handle" philosophy gets put to the test.

Life snippets

* So there I was, running an errand at lunch and eating a triscuit so I wouldn't starve. And it got stuck in my throat. And I couldn't breathe. And I thought--there is way too much going on with my family right now for me to effing die. I stopped my car more or less in the middle of the road and considered getting out and doing the "I'm choking" sign in hopes that someone would stop and Heimlich me. But I finally got it out myself. It was pretty terrifying though, and the next two days my back and neck were sore from the effort I'd put into getting my airway open. Of course, once I got it out, it became just a kind of funny story. My friends informed me that I am no longer allowed to eat when I'm alone in the car.

My face is feeling quite smooth today, because the slumber party craft this year was making face scrubs and masks. We did a cocoa one (cocoa, honey, and cream), and a banana-avocado one. It was pretty hilarious overall. Otherwise I mostly just stayed out of their way and tried not to judge their conversations. You couldn't pay me to be 12 again. Which is why I was all weird about insisting my kids wait until their12th birthdays to get their ears pierced. I figured there had to be SOMETHING cool about hitting that age. Most of puberty's changes are, well, not so fun.

I'll leave you with one of my other favorite Latvian songs from my twenties.


Saturday, April 14, 2018


I've been doodling a lot of  dandelions lately.

Dandelions are pretty. They are a beautiful sunny yellow color, all fuzzy and soft. You can eat their leaves, and according to Facebook (which we all know is a GREAT place to find accurate information), as an early blooming spring flower they are vital to honeybee happiness. Plus you can make wishes on them.

Dandelions are weeds. They grow anywhere, self-sow rapidly, and are hard to dig up or kill. Once they settle in, it is pretty much impossible to eradicate them without resorting to extreme chemical measures.

I need to be like a dandelion right now. I need to be resilient and stubborn and keep showing up no matter how often I get my metaphorical head snapped off. I need to dig my roots in deep and grow myself back even if life is hacking away at me. 

I also need to treat the metaphorical dandelions in life rather like I treat the ones in my yard. I don't worry too much about them these days. I actually pause and appreciate their bright cheerfulness. If they go to seed and drift to the next yard, I try not to panic about what my neighbor will think. I don't have to accept the common knowledge that dandelions are the enemy. Weeds are in the eye of the beholder, after all. If my life, like my lawn, doesn't look like it's "supposed to" look, that doesn't mean it's bad. Just different.

All of which is a overwrought way of saying there is a lot going on in my life right now. For awhile I wasn't even reading, but I've dove into books again, for respite and escape mostly. But when it comes to writing about them--I'm not doing so well. Life is hard, and there are people dying all over the world, and every time I lift my head and look around me I hear more bad news about my country. I have a very limited amount of energy for anything besides the crap we're dealing with, and I choose to spend it reading, trying to show up mentally as well as physically at work, and, well, that's pretty much it.

Everyone is healthy at my house, other than this damn chest cold we keep passing back and forth, and we all still love each other.  I'm sorry for being one of those people who post dramatic crap and the won't talk about it, but it concerns my kids, so I know you'll understand. I just don't want to lose this blog or the virtual bookish friendships I've made, so I felt like I wanted to say something.

Hey, as long as you're here--I read Tom Hanks's book of short stories and thought they were very good. A lot of reviewers felt they were bland, but I felt there was a bite in most of them as well as the sweetness. There was also a line about USING things, not letting a piano gather dust, and it inspired me to play my piano for the first time in forever. I also just read Saints and Misfits, and it was SO GOOD. The narrator does that annoying thing where she doesn't communicate crap that would clear everything up, but it actually makes total sense why she doesn't. I really liked how the characters were none of them saints, despite what Janna originally thought, but other than the obvious one, they were all still doing the best they could.

Friday, April 6, 2018

What’s Normal To You Might Not Be Normal For Me.

Decades ago, I lived in Latvia for several years. I was a volunteer English teacher, and I met a few other Americans who’d come over on the same program. Latvians frequently used the term “norm├úli” to mean “as usual,” and our students therefore tended to overuse and misuse the English word “normal.”  One of my colleagues was asking her student how her weekend was, and the girl replied, “Normal.” Liz responded, “What’s normal for you might not be normal for me,” and thus a great catch-phrase was born.

I was thinking about diversity in literature recently, based in part on an article about how only four YA fantasies by black women are expected to be published by major houses this year. FOUR. There’s so much more variety of authors and diversity of characters than there used to be that it’s easy (for a white lady like me) to think things are markedly better. But the vast majority of what’s published is still by and about white people.

And straight people.

And monolingual English speaking people.

I started thinking about all the boxes you have to tick off in order to qualify as the default, as “normal” has been defined for generations.

  • White 
  • Heterosexual
  • Cisgendered  
  • Raised by birth parents 
  • Able bodied  
  • Neuro-typical  
  • Christmas-celebrating, but not significantly religious  
  • Native English speaker
  • Middle class or wealthy  
  • Educated  
  • Politically moderate  
  • Slim, or at least wishing to be so 
  • American, Canadian, British or maybe Australian

 (I’m not adding “male” simply because I’ve read a ton of books by and about women, and although it’s definitely a problem that we think boys won’t want to read about female main characters, as a girl, finding female rep in books was never a challenge.)

 But still—look at that list. That’s a LOT of things that have to line up exactly in order to be considered “Normal.” Miss any one of those things, and all of a sudden you are “diverse,” “exotic,” “niche” and in an “issues novel.” 

And yes, I was EVERY SINGLE ONE of those so-called “normal” things growing up. As were my parents and sisters. I have branched out a tiny bit since then—I’m on antidepressants, and I’m overweight and underconcerned about it, and my family has been built through adoption. It’s not much, but it’s enough that when I read about a character struggling with mental illness, or a character who’s fat and doesn’t “win” by losing their weight, or when I read about different parts of the adoption triad, I feel seen.  (I also feel confident in weighing in on where representation in those areas is poorly done, but that’s another issue.)

It’s enough that I get, just a little bit, what it would be like to have never seen yourself in a book. To have to cobble together representation from almost-likes and well-I-guess-that’s-universals.  And then what it means to actually find a piece of your lived experience in a book.

I made a book buying resolution for my classroom library this year. I am focusing on the areas students constantly run out of options in:
  • Horror
  • Graphic novels
  • Latinx rep

But now I’m thinking about my own reading and the voices I seek out. I will always be a mood reader, and I will always read plenty of books in which my white-cisgendered-straight-girl self is well repped. I’m okay with that. It doesn’t mean I can’t also seek out authors and characters who do not fit neatly onto the list I began with. People who are

  POC of all varities
  Transgender, non-binary, intersex etc.
  Raised in non-nuclear families
  Adopted, fostered
  People with disabilities
  People with mental illnesses
  People of other religions or more niche brands of Christianity, strongly religious Christians
  Immigrants, migrants, and refugees
  Non-native speakers of English
  People living in poverty, homeless people
  People living in non-English speaking countries or countries that ended colonization in the 19th or 20th century
  Extremely conservative, liberal, or libertarian political views
  Little formal education

There is a whole world out there. None of it is normal, or all of it is. Hard to say. But I just bought an #ownvoices book about a blackAce girl, and I can’t wait to read it.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Superhero Origin Stories: DC Icons #1 and 2

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo and Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu 

Published 2017 and 2018 by Random House Children's Books

364 and 277 pages, fantasy (superhero).

Leigh Bardugo will always have a sizable chunk of my heart for having written the Six of Crows Duology. Even though I didn't particularly care for Shadow and Bone, and even though I haven't seen Wonder Woman (other than the occasional episode of the Linda Carter show back in the day), I wanted to check out her version of the WW origin story. Plus, it was on the Cybils YA spec fic short list, so I kind of had to read it. I liked it less than Six of Crows but more than I'd expect from a superhero retelling, so I when I saw Marie Lu's Batman available at the library, I picked it up too. I haven't read a bunch of Lu, but again, I've liked her work, and I'm rather more familiar with Batman, having seen a couple of Michael Keaton movies and at least one of the Christian Bale ones, plus I'm very familiar with the Jingle Bells song, as well as this delightful meme:

I'm not NOT the target audience--I don't disdain superhero reboots, I love fantasy and retellings in general, and I like both writers' style. But I'm not the EXACT target audience either--the only reason I know these are DC stories is because it says so on Goodreads, and I had to stop and Google a few times as I read to find out if side characters were canon or new inventions. 

4/5 stars
I really didn't have any preconceptions about the Wonder Woman backstory. I loved the heady mix of mythology and BS, and felt that Diana was very believable as a sheltered young woman trying to find her own path. I really appreciate that the main relationship arc in this book is between friends. Diana and Alia have their own strengths and struggles, their own baggage and courage. Watching trust and respect develop between them gave me quite a few of the feels.

3/5 stars
This one was more uneven. Batman's backstory is assumed--the wealth, the dead parents, Alfred. His transition to superhero remains slightly over the horizon. None of his storied enemies show themselves, unless you count an exceedingly bland Harvey Dent (one of the names I Googled, because it sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn't remember his role). Despite rushing into action a number of times, Bruce still seems to be passive and waiting. I did like the Nightwalker (confusingly, it's not Bruce) who begins the book with blood under her nails, and the scenes in the basement of the asylum were suitably disturbing.

Next up we have some ****SPOILERS**** so I will throw a few more memes at you to keep you from seeing them accidentally.


In Wonder Woman, when you first hear about Alia's brother, he sounds like a controlling jerk. Then you start to think maybe he's just an adoring older brother. Eventually it becomes clear that this is actually a comment on abusers and how they justify their abuse, blaming the victim for how they treat them. Then Batman comes along and meets a girl...who has a messed up, controlling brother. I have no idea if the two authors communicated at all while writing, but it just seemed interesting that both books had an asshole brother as the villain.

I'm not a Sarah Mass fan, so I probably won't read the Catwoman one. But I do like Catwoman, and now that I think of it, I wonder if Batman's story was left open so the Catwoman book could continue it from a new point of view. In other words, I'm not ruling it out entirely. But if you're only going to read one, I'd recommend Wonder Woman.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

March in Review

My Reading

# of books read: 15.5 (I skipped the middle sections of one)
Best historical fiction: Dreamland Burning
Best graphic novel: Swing It, Sunny
Best adult novel: Moonglow
Best YA novel: Far From the Tree

Personal Favorite: The Wicker King

Challenge Progress: 14 of the books were backlist, and 14 were from the library. Basically Let's Talk About Love and Batman: Nightwalker were the only 2018 books I read, and Swing It, Sunny and Ms. Bixby's Last Day were from my classroom, not the public library.

Bookish Events and Happenings

After I tweeted that #ArmMeWith picture and got attacked by a few trolls, the highlight was receiving boxes of books for my classroom library from strangers and friends alike. People really are kind. Our wish list is here, just in case you were wondering.  Yes, there's a lot of graphic novels and horror on there. I give the people what they want.

On the Blog

I took a break! 


Oof. I took a break for a reason. But I also got to spend some time in Seattle with one of my kids. She no longer lets me post pictures of her publicly (smart kid, right?), and I got sick for half of our trip, so we didn't see all that much, but here are a few pictures for your enjoyment.

My sister's cat, who was originally my parents' cat, the aptly named Velcro.

The Woodland Park Zoo was remarkable. We really enjoyed our time there. 

I'd never seen a Komodo dragon before--HUGE. And cool. Very reptilian with the tongue-flick thing.

Meerkats are as adorable as you'd expect.

Sign by the wolf area: "Thank you for not howling at the wolves." I commented on it to the volunteer nearby, and he said it's not so much that the wolves care, but that other humans complain about people making all the noise.

Me, as we approached the flamingo area. "Let me get a picture of you in front of the penguins!" My daughter is NEVER gonna let me live that down.

There were some seriously exotic birds. Gorgeous.

This sums up the weather the whole week. Grey spring.

There was also the March for Our Lives, which I attended with my kid, her cousin, and my sister-in-law. 

It was cold out. 

Great signs everywhere.

The sign my sis-in-law and niece made. I was excited to see she'd specifically labeled the book "Rain Reign," which I got her for her birthday last year.

One of my colleagues died unexpectedly. I worked on this during my prep period the day we had to tell our students. (Not my original sketch, just my interpretation of a pinterest pin.) It's not normally how I spend my prep period, which is, after all, time on the clock. But "getting through the day" was the priority.

March is a birthday heavy month. My niece turned 30 this month, and my dad would have turned 86. My husband was at a bridge tournament in Philadelphia from his brother's birthday to his mom's birthday. (He and his partner took second in their class. I'm very proud.) One of my longest-term friends turned 49, as I will this summer. Next month my daughter turns 12. In literally our first conversation ever, she asked me through a translator if she could get her ears pierced, and I told her when she was 12, so we're both looking forward to that. For that and other reasons, I'm hoping April will be slightly less heavy going than March was.  (April is also the next Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, after all.)

Think spring!

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!