Tuesday, June 29, 2021

TTT: Novels Made of Short Stories

 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!

The topic this week is most anticipated upcoming releases, but I'm going to rebel and write about novels that consist of interlinking short stories. This idea comes straight from Anne Bogel at The Modern Mrs. Darcy. Many of the books are from her list, because it caught my attention, I placed holds on a bunch at the library, and they all came in over the last few weeks, so I've been reading a lot of them. Books I first heard about from her list are marked with a *. 

*Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Three generations of women; grandmother in India, mother who immigrates to the US, and US born daughter--making difficult decisions and facing unintended consequences. 
“What is the nature of life?
Life is lines of dominoes falling.
One thing leads to another, and then another, just like you'd planned. But suddenly a Domino gets skewed, events change direction, people dig in their heels, and you're faced with a situation that you didn't see coming, you who thought you were so clever.”


*Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
This one covers two generations but casts a wider net sideways. Cooks and chefs abound, as you might guess from the title. 
“When Lars first held [his daughter], his heart melted over her like butter on warm bread, and he would never get it back. When mother and baby were asleep in the hospital room, he went out to the parking lot, sat in his Dodge Omni, and cried like a man who had never wanted anything in his life until now.” 

*Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
One of my favorites on this list. Two young girls are kidnapped on a remote peninsula in eastern Russia, and their story affects other locals in various ways, large and small. 
“Everyone looked better at a distance. Everyone sounded sweetest when you did not have to hear them talk too long.”


Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
I declined to rate this book because I kind of hated it, couldn't stop reading it, and understand why it won the Pulitzer. Olive is not very likable, but she's also very relatable. 
“Olive's private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as "big bursts" and "little bursts." Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents. Which is why you need the little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee's, let's say, or the waitress at Dunkin' Donuts who knows how you like your coffee. Tricky business, really.”


The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Authors like to handle family sagas with interconnecting short stories, I guess! Half siblings connect the stories in this book, which delves into international shipping, Ponzi schemes, the eponymous hotel (a luxury lodge on a Washington state island), prison, rehab, and grief.  I'm including this quote just because ha ha ha, right? (The book came out March 24, 2020.)
“Do you find yourself sort of secretly hoping that civilization collapses, Melissa said, just so that something will happen?”


Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
It starts in the future, and each story jumps backwards into the past. Two souls find each other again again, in various relationships and with varying degrees of success. 
“He wonders if a few moments of utter and total joy can be worth a lifetime of struggle.

Maybe, he thinks. Maybe, if they're the right moments.”


The Circuit by Francisco Jiménez
This book is so over-taught in my school district that I forget it's not known in other circles. Jiménez shares stories of his childhood as a migrant worker in California, Powerful, deceptively simple, and the title story is a doozie.
"But when I spoke to Arthur in Spanish and Miss Scalapino heard me, she said “NO!” with body and soul. Her head turned left and right a hundred times a second and her index finger moved from side to side as fast as a windshield wiper on a rainy day. “English, English,” she repeated. Arthur avoided me whenever she was around."


Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
I liked this one better than the similar and more famous Girl with a Pearl Earring. Both books (published the same year, oddly enough) trace the history of a Vermeer painting. This book is about an imaginary painting and its owners, going backwards through time to its creation. 
“How love builds itself unconsciously, he thought, out of the momentous ordinary.”


My introduction to this type of book came in Mrs. Boughton's class in sixth grade, when we read Dandelion Wine. I spent the rest of middle school and well into high school gobbling up all the Bradbury I could find, including The Martian Chronicles. Beautiful examples of stories grounded in specific places, enhanced by Bradbury's extraordinary gift for sci fi allegory and gripping plots. A recent re-read of MC found it somewhat dated, but still worth a read.
“Way out in the country tonight he could smell the pumpkins ripening toward the knife and the triangle eye and the singeing candle.”

My other favorite on this list. This one is sci fi that reaches further into the future with each succeeding story.  The focus is on genetic modification and what it means to be human. Note: I hate the cover and never would have picked it up had others not recommended it, so I'm passing that favor on to you.
   “It's a popular myth that the most deadly animal in history is the human, because murder and war and genocide can be laid at the feet of our species. However, the deadliest animal is of course the mosquito. Fortunately, both species can now be significantly improved.”


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

TTT: This Post Is About Titles that are Complete Sentences.


 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!

The topic this week is: Book titles that form complete sentences. 

After reading Sam's entry for this on The Broke and the Bookish, I decided I want to play too. Even though it's a day late and I haven't blogged at all in months. I chose these books by opening up my Goodreads "read" shelf and scrolling for the most recent ten titles I've read that qualify. 

Here goes nothing!

The Girls are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram

Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman

Surrender your Sons by Adam Sass

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

TTT: New To Me Authors in 2020


 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!

The topic this week is: authors that were new to me in 2020.

Sounds pretty clear, but there were sixty authors I read for the first time this year, so I couldn't keep it to ten. Some of these are authors who have been around for awhile; others released their debut. All are authors I hope to read more from!

Most of the list is in alphabetical order, because not only are they all amazing, it's also hard to compare YA fantasy to adult nonfiction to middle grade graphic novels. But there is one author who stood out to me this year in an even more significant way. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Sunday Post #53/Sunday Salon #27


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.

What I Read

These were all read either for choosing next year's middle grade OBOB titles (Oregon Battle of the Books) or for round 2 judging for Cybils for YA fiction. As such, they were all good. One was my first "all the stars" book of 2021, but I'll tell you which one later. :) 

I will say, however, that I love this cover, done by Fabio Consoli. 

What I'm Reading/What's Next
 I've started reading my final two Cybils books. I'm listening to Furia on Overdrive and just started Sia Martinez and the Moonlight Beginning of Everything. They both seem good so far, but there are some AMAZING books on the list already so I'll have to see what I think.

I also have a bunch of OBOB books to keep reading this month, and picked up several at the library the other day, with more coming soon. I am kind of looking forward next month when both of these duties are done and I can read whatever I want. I've gotta say, for all that I've read some terrific middle grade books for OBOB, I hope I can shift to the high school group next year.

Three Things

  1.  My sister and I spent about four hours this afternoon/evening sitting by a fire in my backyard, bundled up in blankets. We started with tea and moved on to wine, and it was wonderful. 
  2. My family got an Echo Dot for Christmas, and my favorite thing to do with it this week is to ask it every day, "Alexa, who's the president?" It makes me happy every time she tells me. 
  3. All my book orders came in at once, and I processed about 35 new books for my classroom. I get to share them with my students next week, and I hope they'll be excited!
Have a good week! 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Bookmobile

I've been dropping off books at students' houses since we went into lockdown last spring. Today was my twelfth bookmobile run this school year--I didn't keep good records of last spring, when I thought this would all be more temporary. 

I don't live in the town I teach in, which is actually two towns that run into each other without any break between them. Forest Grove has a small college and two fancy parts of town: the part near downtown with lovely homes from the early 20th century, and the part up on the hill with McMansions built in the last twenty years. Cornelius has a majority Latinx population and no part of town that could be called anything more grandiose than "pleasant." Both towns also contain areas that run somewhere between "run-down" and "grim." Each town has a solid library, but our county's libraries have been closed to the public since March, and not all of my students are able to navigate the online order and pickup system. I've delivered books all over both towns, though students whose families are able to buy books are less likely to need my services. Today's drive was typical enough that I thought I'd document it.  

 I put 49 miles on the car from school to home (usually an 18 mile trip). Today was a little extreme, as one student lives 17 miles from school, in the opposite direction from my home. (I'm not even sure why she goes to our school, since I have to literally drive through another town to get to her house.) Usually my trips are concentrated within 3 miles or so of the school in any direction.

Today was also a little extreme in that the radio on my ride to school was all "Democrats win Georgia!" and "Here's an interview with an author who says being kind helps you live longer," and by the time I left school with my car full of books, it was more "Would you call this sedition, insurrection, or terrorism?" and "Number of dead yet to be confirmed." 

My first stop was at an apartment I've been to often enough now that I know where to park and don't have to triple check the number on the door before knocking. Nobody answered, so I left I Wish You All the Best on the doorstep, but as I walked back to the car, I heard my student open the door and call, "Thank you!" She's been waiting for the book for awhile, and I finally bought a second copy when I realized I was never getting my "classroom" copy back from my daughter.

The next stop was at a trailer in the park that runs for a solid mile or so behind the Walmart overlapping both towns, unnamed roads interconnecting in a confusing web that Google Maps handles better than Waze or Mapquest. I knocked on the door and was greeted by a younger brother, maybe 10. "I have books for E," I told him, and he nodded and wandered off leaving the door open. I noticed the placement of the gas grill right outside the front door, quite convenient for winter cooking. An even younger brother came to take a peek at me, and ducked away again when I said hi. I can only assume no parents were home since nobody yelled "We're not trying to heat all of Cornelius!" as the door stayed open. My student finally appeared, juggling a stack of returns, and we traded. She now has all of my Walking Dead comics, the complete Sunny series, and several other graphic novels.

Next I went to a new-to-me house, always a bit unnerving as I try to peer at addresses without steering into the curb. This home is set up something like an old time motel, with eight one-story attached dwellings in two C shapes.  Nobody answers the door, but I know they've recently recovered from Covid-19 at their house, so I'm not sure if they are just being cautious. This student had asked for books for a younger and older sibling as well, so I leave picture books as well as the requested Matilda and Divergent on the doorstep and continue on.

It's only a few blocks to the next stop, the girl who's requested books every time but one. She lives in a one story home, and her two dogs bark their eagerness every time I come by. Her parents are flustered by my arrival, not sure if the stack of books she left out are meant to be given back to me or not, trying to pull the dogs away from the door. My glasses have steamed up from my mask, and I can't see through their screen door, so I'm equally awkward. I leave her new books on the little bench outside (The Book Thief for her, Roller Girl for her younger sister), and quickly grab the returns from her mom while her dad hangs onto the dogs. 

I head to another new stop, also nearby, also a one story home from the late 70s or so. I'm admiring the hanging wreath that dangles from a wire on the porch, and I hear a little voice say, "Who's there?" then a bigger voice say, "OH!" and the door flies open. Since it's my first time dropping off books here, it's my first time seeing this student in person, and he's much taller than I'd realized. "Hi, Ms Gassaway!" he says, beaming.

"I had two My Hero Academia books, so I brought them both," I tell him, and also, "I like your wreath!"

Next up is a stop for a kid who'd specifically asked me "Please don't leave after books are dropped, I really need to get the books you gave me, off me." So when I knocked on the door of the tall, narrow house he seems to share with a bunch of brothers, I waited longer than I usually would for a response. I'd just headed back to the car to get a plastic bag to put his books into so I could safely leave them out front when he came to the door, holding those books he needed to get off of him. He reads a lot of Chinese books and prefers manga in English, so I dropped off the first volume of Naruto, two random manga books, and Amulet book 1.

Then it was time to head out into the country, past dairy farms and fields, along a muddy brown river, past the "no gas for 40 miles" sign, to my most distant student. Her home is only reachable via a private bridge across the river, and a gate blocks it from the highway. Her dad was outside and he and a big yellow lab and a small black and white shepherd came to see what I wanted. I passed the books through the fence and resisted my urge to ask him if I could stay and get a better look. Dogs and dad were friendly, but there was a definite "no trespassing" vibe. She'd only asked for one specific book, but I know she's a big reader and I don't want to have to make the drive every week, so I added Exit, Pursued by a Bear, Internment, and Cinder to the one she'd requested, Pumpkinheads.

It started pouring as I drove back to town, Douglas firs dripping on either side, then swampy fields opening back up as I got closer to civilization. NPR kept up a steady stream of polite outrage, broken up with an interview recorded during happier times--aka this morning--of a founder of Black Voters Matter, who broke into song. In addition to the books students gave back to me, I brought home another two dozen or so books from the classroom to tell them about next week.

This year my little bookmobile has made 112 drop-offs altogether, for 52 separate students. Over 200 books are currently checked out, after picking up 19 returns today. Six kids have requested books five or more times, and I'm still adding more "customers," with two first-time requesters today. 

I refuse to calculate how many miles overall I've put on the car for much the same reason I don't calculate how much money I spend on books for my classroom. Instead, I focus on the benefits--the students who are happy to actually see their teacher in person, the dogs I get to pet, the books that are being read instead of sitting on the shelf, the discoveries students make. Who knows, maybe it will even help me live longer? 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Challenged by Challenges

After struggling with challenges throughout the life of this blog, in 2020  I set myself a low Goodreads challenge, and midway through the year I started trying to read 2 books by a BIPOC author for ever book by a white author. That went better than any previous vague goal of "reading more authors of color." 

As I've said before, I like the idea of challenges, but I don't like feeling boxed in by them, and I get annoyed with having to post updates and check-ins. For someone who a) started a book blog of her own free will and b) who has spent the last nine months mostly sheltering in place, I sure do resist being forced to socialize. Still, there are so many fun ones out there. My current tentative plan (2020 showed all of us the foolishness of thinking any of our plans are final) is to sign up for a few, track on my own, and just check in at the end of the year.

We'll see.

First, the basics. 

I always sign up for the Discussion Challenge at the Dabbler level, since it only requires 1 post, and I KNOW I can do that. Plus, Shannon at It Starts at Midnight and Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction are two of my favorite bloggers, as well as being lovely human beings. The discussion posts people share are usually great reads too! 

I'm also still a fan of setting my Goodreads goal at 100. Less than I'll read, but big enough it will take some time to get there. I even remembered to update the widget at the bottom of my blog!

On to the more challenging challenges. 
I found two that seem nice and flexible, and if I can make one book overlap into both, all the better. They are the Pick Your Poison challenge on Gregory Road and the Book Bingo 2021 on Unruly Reads.  With categories like"Who's in Charge?" (subtopics: books about empires, social movements, being a first time parent, or cats) and "Rabbit Hole," I'll be both inspired to pick up new things but also to think about the books I'm reading anyway in a different light.

Finally, I've culled several book challenges and put together a list of topics I like. I think I'll keep those as an ongoing challenge, much like my Printz Project, which is not something I have a deadline on. There's also Classics Club, which I am attempting in a very desultory way. (Yes, it took my several tries to spell that right.)