Monday, November 23, 2020

Classics Club Spin Number One, Part Two!

 So I finally made the commitment to Classics Club, then pretty much forgot about it.  I have read, um, two of the books on my list. And actually, looking at the dates of those two books and the date of my post about my first Classics Club Spin, I surmise that I didn't actually complete it that time. But this time I really mean it! 

(My dad used to quote a probably apocryphal Elizabeth Taylor saying "This time I'm really in love!" on the occasion of her fourth marriage, whenever someone insisted on something that seemed unlikely.)

At any rate, I missed posting in time, so I'm already off to a shaky start, but here was my list:

  1. Birchbark House
  2. The Moonstone
  3. Picnic at Hanging Rock
  4. The Liar’s Club
  5. We Should All be Feminists
  6. The Satanic Verses
  7. Black Like Me
  8. Song of Solomon
  9. David Copperfield
  10. The Alchemist
  11. Invisible Man
  12. Remains of the Day
  13. West with the Night
  14. The Martian Chronicles
  15. Howard’s End
  16. Eight Cousins
  17. The Handmaid’s Tale
  18. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  19. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
  20. Dr. Zhivago
And the number chosen, it seems, is 14. So I am going to read Ray Bradbury's linked short stories, The Martian Chronicles, which I read and loved in middle school, with this very 80s cover:

Mmm, I can just smell those cheap yellowed paperback pages.  

Honestly? I'm kind of relieved the spin landed on this one. It will be easy to find, easy to get into, and easy to finish. I'll post a review when I'm done! 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Review: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko


Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

368 pages, young adult fantasy.

Nothing is more important than loyalty.
But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

I had a bit of a reading slump (nothing like my blogging slump, of course), but have come across several really good books recently. Yay! 

Raybearer, with its gorgeous cover, is definitely one of those. The plot sounds vaguely like one of my favorites from my summer reading, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. A child is being forced by a magical being to first gain the trust and love of a young royal, and then to murder them. Both books also draw from African mythology. But they are no more redundant than, say, Six of Crows and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, just to choose two of my favorites with European atmospheres.

My comment on Goodreads is that this book both made me want to go write some YA fantasy AND made me feel like I will never be able to do so. It is wildly inventive, with world-building that is both complex and clear. I could picture scenes in my head, which honestly, is not my strong point as a reader, so kudos to the author for being descriptive without boring me into skipping the descriptions. The characters are specific and fully realized, and I cared deeply about what would happen to them. The plot developments made perfect sense, yet I did not see them coming. I feel almost like I did when I read my first Narnian book, a sense of wonder that this world is totally invented by one person. I look forward to the next book in the series, and many more by the author.

5/5 stars

Monday, November 16, 2020

TTT: Long Titles That Go On and On for an Extraordinarily Lengthy Amount of Time and Syllables


 TTT (Top Ten Tuesday) is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl .  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check it out!

I have missed so many of these in my pandemic-driven lack of blogging that I'm just going to pick favorites I didn't get to weigh in on. Okay? Okay. 

One fairly recent top ten topic was "long titles." I came up with a few rules for myself in what qualified:
  • Books I've actually read and enjoyed
  • No subtitles--unless I felt deep in my soul that the subtitle was actually a vital part of the title
  • Six word minimum
  • But given that, the more syllables, the better, obviously. The Rest of Us Just Live Here has more words than The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, but clearly the latter is a longer title.
  • Tie breakers were given to the books I liked better
Working from that framework, and going back a few years on my Goodreads "read" list, I came up with this:

  1. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things
  2. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
  3. Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy
  4. Don’t You Dare Read this, Mrs. Dunphrey
  5. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future
  6. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  7. The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To
  8. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
  9. Neil Armstrong is my Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me
  10. I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President
I feel like the last two were quite intentional about trying to write ridiculously long titles. And I love them for it!

Working on this list, I remembered that whole YA fantasy title trope of ___ of ___ and ___, and I had to make another list of just those. It's so common that Epic Reads made a title generator out of it! I didn't just copy it here, because I'm respectful of copyright like that. What's your title? Mine is Dance of Memories and Monsters, which TOTALLY sounds like a book I'd read. 

  1. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin
  2. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
  3. The Knife of Never Letting Go
  4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone
  5. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein
  6. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
  7. Girl of Fire and Thorns
  8. The Smell of Other People’s Houses
  9. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
  10. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Sunday Post #52/Sunday Salon #26


Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer hosts the weekly Sunday Post link-up, and Deb at ReaderBuzz expanded Sunday Salon from a FB group to a link-up as well. This represents a full year of Sunday Posts, if I'd posted weekly. As it stands, I haven't done this since May. And it's the one time my Sunday Post count will be twice my Sunday Salon count, so that's...probably not very exciting. Okay, on with the post!

What I Read: 5 books
La Perdida (3/5)--random graphic novel I picked up from a Little Free Library. I liked the art and the bilingualism but did not like the stupidity of the main character and the awful effects of her choices. Definitely not for kids.
Boy Toy (3.5/5) VERY disturbing topic, but I like how the narrator's perspective is shown to be his understanding of things while also being completely wrong.
Class Act (4.5/5) great middle grade graphic novel with plenty of Easter Eggs. Review here.
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo (4/5) Fierce and funny.
Raybearer (4.5/5) Loved this West African inspired fantasy. Review next week.

What I'm Reading/What's Next

I started listening to the audiobook of Darius the Great Deserves Better, and I'm so happy to be reacquainted with Darius, now out to himself and his family. I also just generated a list of a dozen books I'll be reading for next year's OBOB selection committee. I'm on the middle grade committee this time instead of the high school, so I basically signed up for books I've been meaning to read from my classroom library. If you're curious, my assigned list is here.

Three Things
  1. I discovered the will to blog. 
  2. I shared a very silly story outline with my students as an example for what they were to do. I added that like the girl in my story I'd been fired on the third day of my first job, but unlike her, I hadn't murdered my boss. They immediately offered to track him down and murder him for me. So sweet.
  3. It's fall! These yard photos kind of match the book covers above, don't they? 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Book Review: Class Act by Jerry Craft


Class Act by Jerry Craft

Published 2020 by Quill Tree Books

256 pages, middle grade realistic fiction graphic novel.

This book is SO GOOD. The art is a delight. Characters are expressively drawn and clearly delineated. The chapter headings are wonderful homages to different graphic novels, and there is a terrific scene where a table full of Black students are introduced--"Angie, Nic, Jason, Renée Kwame..." I didn't catch it at first, until I noticed Kwame's shaved head and realized he was modeled on the author. Then I went back and saw who all of them were!

Wonderful Easter eggs aside, the story is full of humor It made me guffaw a few times, from one kid wryly commenting, "That's why I only fist bump him," when the friends realize Jordan's crushing handshakes are a family tradition, to the constant witty nicknames Jordan and Drew call each other, to Mr. Roche's general cluelessness, culminating in the school sending teachers to the National Organization of Cultural Liaisons Understanding Equality. (Check out the acronym.)

I love the way Craft balances friendship issues and social issues, sometimes dumping them upside down. Jordan and Drew, working class and middle class Black boys, both come from loving homes. Their white friend Liam has a chauffeur, maid, indoor swimming pool, and a messed up family. Some of the teachers are still mired in micro-aggressions and foolishness, and some are so anxious about being offensive that they become easy prey for the teasing of Samira, who wears a hijab with aplomb. The book itself does a lot of teasing of well-intentioned white people (of whom I am one), and I am Here For It.

Fitting in, showing someone you like them, making and challenging assumptions, and finding your own way in life--all of these very real concerns for tweens and teens are beautifully represented in the students of Riverdale Academy Day School. There's not one overarching conflict or issue, just a kind-hearted portrayal of a year in the life of a bunch of (mostly) great kids.

5/5 stars

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Top Ten Most Spectacular Falls, or I Already Know How I'll Die

You frequently hear of people in their 80s taking a fall, breaking a hip, and never really recovering. I am quite sure I have a higher than average chance of being one of those people. I am not a graceful person, and I never have been.

I distinctly remember the time I was frolicking ahead of my parents on a hiking trail and heard my mom tell my dad, "Whelp, she's never going to be a ballerina." Then there was the time my elementary school PE teacher shouted across the playground, "Falconer! You run like a turkey!" (Yes, he was an ass.) 

I don't even want to know how many top ten Tuesdays I've missed this year, but for some reason, I am compelled to share with you now a top ten list of just the most memorable falls I've taken in my life. 

(Which is an entirely different list from the most memorable falls I've been to. In case you were misled as to what kind of falls I was going to talk about, here's a local favorite.)

10. The fall that prompted this list, being yesterday when I was carrying two armloads of books a student had returned to the office back to my classroom, when my shoe sole snagged on the unnaturally clean hall floor and I --and the books--went flying. At least nobody was there to see my grace in action.

9. Walking upstairs at the doctor's office with my daughter, I stumbled and fell up. Quick catch, didn't spill my coffee, no pain, momentary embarrassment. Except of course for my daughter, who was both HORRIFIED and DELIGHTED and wouldn't shut up about it for the rest of the week.

8. Freshman year in college, a bunch of us were walking to a frat for a party, when I fell on the ice and hurt my wrist. Sending the others on without me, I trudged back to the student health office for some help. The nurse wrapped my wrist, made me a doctor's appointment for the next day, and handed me a bunch of pain killers. "Um, I've been drinking?" I said, "Should I take those, or..?" She snatched them back, and I have always wondered who treats a college student for a fall near midnight on a Friday night AND DOESN'T EVEN ASK IF ALCOHOL WAS INVOLVED. (I will note here than only two of the ten falls on this list are alcohol related at all, and even then, I'm pretty sure it was 10% drinking, 90% being me.)

7. This year on my birthday, 31 years after #5 on this list, my family indulged me by hiking in to a swimming hole along a river. I was waist deep in water and went to lean on a rock, but misjudged how far away it was and/or how strong my arms are, and instead slowly fell face first onto it. My husband and daughter assured me it was very strange to watch as I apparently deliberately smooshed my face into a rock.  I skinned my nose, but was far too happy to be in the water on a warm day to really mind.

6. A dozen years or so ago, my husband and I were four miles from the trailhead when I stumbled over my feet, LIKE I DO. As I sat on the ground catching my breath, I noticed my pinky was dislocated. I held my arm up over my head and bleated at my husband, "Finger! Wrong way! Finger! Wrong Way!" He splinted it into a better position with a sturdy twig, which we both found satisfyingly "wilderness first aid"-ish, and gave me some ibuprofin. We hiked out and drove to the nearest hospital to have it reset. It's still a bit wonky, but it only really bothers me when I'm holding m&ms in that hand and they trickle out of my fist because that pinky won't plug the gap correctly. 

5. The fall I had on my 20th birthday, which happened to coincide with a champagne brunch my dad's climbing club hosted high on the mountain. I was doing a standing glissade on a snowfield on my way down, and didn't stop before the end of the snowfield, so when I hit rocks, I tumbled. I came up grinning, thanks to youth and champagne, but had a scar on my thumb for decades after. 

Brunch on Cooper Spur, Mt. Hood

4. 2007, my last spring in my former school district. I had great kids that year, as was proven when I went to perch on my "teacher stool" in the front of the room, missed, and landed on the floor. I completely expected a roar of laughter, but all I heard was, "Ms Gassaway! Are you okay?" One girl who had just transferred into the class smirked, and her neighbor glared her down. They offered 100% kindness. (The next year, at my current position, my students stole my wallet and defaced my photos of my husband, but that's a whole other story, and in no way indicative of the kids I have now.)

3. Maybe 2015? It was inservice week at my school, and I was trying to find some district level meeting that was being held off-site at 7:30 am. I'd parked in the small downtown area and was searching for the address on foot. The cast and crew of a TV show called The Librarians happened to be in town filming that week, and as I was working my way through a parking lot they were setting up in, my foot caught on the pavement and I went down. Suddenly a dozen young and healthy movie people were gathered around me, full of concern. I felt about 90. They helped me up, I laughed it off, and as I limped away, I heard "Wendy?!?" incredulously from a car going by. My co-workers, also looking for the event, had watched the whole thing. 

2. First grade, 1975. Skipping towards school after disembarking from the bus, I tripped over my own feet and face planted on the cement walk. The principal came running, and I thought I was in trouble. I broke my nose and went to the hospital, where I got to watch cartoons on TV, a complete thrill in my TV-free childhood. I also got a giant nose cast, which was much less of a thrill. 

I just spent twenty minutes looking for a picture I have of me with that cast on, and even though I KNOW I have a digital image of it, I can't find it! So here's a picture of me after a fall that didn't even make the list

1. Labor Day weekend, which to teachers is The Final Weekend, 2017. I stayed up late, and was finally heading up to bed, but remembered I'd left something downstairs. I tried to turn around mid-step, lost my balance, and fell backwards down the bottom three steps, cracking my head against the entryway wall and knocking myself out for a few seconds. I had a concussion, and while the ringing in my ears I've had ever since is certainly annoying, the 15 minutes or so of mental confusion while realizing I was mentally confused were terrifying. 

If you made it this far, reward yourself with this beautiful song, "Falling Slowly." I don't seem to be able to embed video in my blog this month; sorry.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Discussion: Who Are Ratings For?

 Recently I read a book (shocker, I know).

It had a great premise. 

The main character was Black and gay, and I'm all about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement and the #OwnVoices movement.

It was a fairy tale retelling that really reworked the original and challenged the sexist stereotypes, and ai am HERE for that.


it was boring.

THERE. I said it. I ended up skimming through the last half of the book just to see what happened and if my guesses were correct. But I could just as easily have put it down and never thought of it again. 

I have a "skimmed" shelf on GR so I can mark that I've interacted with a book without having to rate it. If I were going to rate it, I would have given it a 2. It wasn't vile or offensive (1), but it wasn't good (3).

But given how important I think it is for all people (and especially all young people) to see themselves represented in books, I would have been tempted to give it a 3.

And given how many authors I've seen decrying the reviewers who say "Well I hate YA, so I hated it--2 stars" I might have even been tempted to rate it higher. Maybe the predictability would have seemed fresh to a younger reader? Maybe the love at first sight romance would have seemed dreamy instead of annoying when I was 15? Is it a four star book for what it is, even if 'what it is' is not my cup of tea?

Which brings me to the question at hand. I've bemoaned this before, as have many of you, but the ratings side of things is frustrating. For my own record keeping, I want to write down how I felt about the book. But I don't want potential readers, who might well love it, to be turned away from it. I've been splitting the difference for awhile now, putting half stars on the Google form I use for more extensive record keeping and rounding up on Goodreads. But that doesn't seem sustainable. There's also the issue that my understanding of ratings (3 and up is positive) doesn't match what it seems publishers and authors believe (anything below 3 is an insult). And that doesn't even get into the theoretical "True" audience for reviews, other readers. 

The only time I look at ratings for books is if I'm trying to decide between specific books to spend money on. If I'm at the library, I'll grab anything that sounds good. No skin off my teeth if I don't like it! If students have requested a book, I'll buy it for them. I'm here to make readers, not judge them. But if I'm looking at a list of books that SOUND like my students might like them, then I'll pull up their ratings and see if there are any outliers. 4.5 and up? I should probably get it. 3.3 and below? Probably not. And yet, who is rating these middle grade and young adult novels? If it's other teachers, librarians, and adults who like a good story, is that really going to give me a good idea of what my students will like? This is why we get the complaints about reviews from people the book wasn't written for. 

What do you think? Do you rate books for yourself or for other readers? Rounding up or rounding down? With descriptors instead of stars? (And if that one, do you feel like you're just calling 1-5 by new names?) CAN WE GET THE AUTHORS TO JUST STAY OFF GOODREADS FOR THEIR OWN SANITY? Do you use ratings when making decisions about what to read and/or purchase?