Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 17 - wet and windy!

Gray, wet, windy. I have made soup (butternut squash - and a beautiful orange that actually matches my dining room walls) and washed the dishes and have done a load of laundry. Nancy Pearl is on the radio and books are in my eyes and books are in my ears. She is talking about Pete Dexter's newest book, Sooner, and now I have to go find my copy to read next.

Sunrise is at 7:18, sunset's at 4:30 and it's so dark then that it compels me to go home and go to bed, there is a compulsion to nest, pilling quilts, pillows and cats around our knees and shoulders. A stack of books to sample...mmm (insert Homer drool sound here)...now that's good livin'.

I read After by Amy Efaw and it is a difficult book to read. Teens will absolutely be riveted by her story. Devon woke up one day in great pain and found herself having a baby. She put it in a garbage bag and threw it away. When the police find her, she denies having given birth, she has absolutely no memory of what happened or how she got to this point.

Devon is a great character, very well-drawn, very much someone you might want to know and her story is realistic. She is smart, responsible, a soccer player; not someone you would expect to be in this situation. Many girls have given birth and have thrown their babies away, many of them are caught and jailed, many more go on with what is left of their lives, holding on to the guilt and denial. Away tells their story well.

Amy Efaw based the story in Tacoma's Remann Hall so the descriptions of what it is like to live in a juvenile facility feel true and the explanations of what goes on prior to and during the court proceedings are fascinating to me. It is a fast-paced and tightly written story and will propel you from page to page.

Devon is a sympathetic character and her struggle to deal with what happened will resonate with those who read After. The psychological and emotional trauma she goes through while remembering what happened is grueling. It is a sad but hopeful look at a horrible thing and I liked it very much. I especially liked the notes at the back about why the book was written. It is an "important" book, like Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls, that shows us what happens when people make certain choices, especially choices they feel they have no control over once they're made.

Age range for After is given as 12. Be aware that it is fairly graphic in its depiction of the birth and clean-up. Viking Books. Hardcover, $17.99.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Almost raining, heavy clouds, lighter gray skies out over the Sound. Birds are at the feeder, the cat is in the window doing a little chirruping, and I am looking forward to spending the day reading now that the dishes are washed and the floors are swept.

Sunrise was at 7:12, sunset will be 4:35. I would like to experience, at least once, a day that has no light and a night that has no dark; to see the sun slip toward, but not dip below, the horizon, to be in a place where the landscape is so broad that, could you stay awake that long, you could turn and follow the sun barely lightening the night sky or never completely going down.

It would be so cool to spend a year in a place where the changes in the day and in the seasons are severe, experiencing the anticipation of the longer days and the disappearance of the sun. Do you think the sociology of people who live in those areas would be different from those who live in places where the tipping away of the earth from the sun is not quite as obvious?

I have read many books about teenaged girls this week: Forest Born, by Shannon Hale; Hold Still, by Nina LaCour; Lonely Hearts Club, by Elizabeth Euhlberg; Ever After, by Amy Huntley; Lips Touch Three Times, by Laini Taylor; and After, by Amy Efaw. Wow. These are pretty amazing books and, for teachers, librarians and parents looking for interesting and timely books for teens, this clutch would make a nice, current, wide ranging selection. They deal with everything from the pleasure of seduction to the taking of and the taking control of your own life. They deal with friendship, family and loss. They are all very well-written and each one will pluck a string of recognition in the reader.

I won't review each one in this particular blog entry - I tend to use this blog as a kind of book list (I have a really hard time keeping track of what I read and I don't do Good Reads well. Yet.) so I just need to get the titles down so I have something to reference later.

Forest Born
, by Shannon Hale, is the fourth book in her Books of Bayern series. The series began with Goose Girl, many years ago (and if you are going to search the books out, look for the editions with the Alison Jay covers), and continues with a character from each of the books as the main character in the following ones.

In Forest Born we are reunited with Razo, Isi,Dasha, and Enna, and we get to know Razo's sister, Rin. Rin is a girl who knows a lot about the people in the forest where she lives. She can tell by the way they act whether they are lying or can be trusted. She is also a child of the forest: she can hunt, climb, travel quietly through the woods, and the trees offer her solace.

When Rin compels a young man to do what she wants, when she realizes that she is able to make people do things against their will, it makes her feel both extraordinarily powerful and sick at heart. When she takes to the trees to calm herself, she feels a wave of sickness and darkness settle into her soul. Sure that even the trees hate her for what she can do, she leaves the forest for the city, hoping she can find her true self there, away from the people she is sure to hurt.

She becomes a handmaid to the queen, a woman she would like to emulate for her strength, simplicity and incisiveness. The politics, intrigue and jealousy of being at court are even more complex than trying to find out what her role in the world could be. And then war comes to Bayern.

Rin and her new friends, Isi, Dasha, and Enna, head off to Kel to fight the new queen, a woman with the ability to people-read. This is the ability to read desire and need and then use that to make her subjects do what she wants, binding them to her with her voice.

On the way to Kel, Rin begins to find her way through the maze that is the woman she will someday become as she and her friends talk and fight and tell tales about the abilities they have to call the wind, fire and rain.

Forest Born is a really good book. The story is exciting and funny and you really don't have to read the others first (you will want to, but you don't have to). There are battles of wits, words, and weapons, there are bullies and lovers, there is great romance and deep despair. It is a book of fantasy and true-speak about how hard it is to grow up and take responsibility for what you do and who you are.
Ages 12 an up. Bloomsbury Children's Books. Hardcover, $17.99.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dishwashing on November 10

Yeah, it's still cold. Overcast. "Intermittent rain showers. All day." The woman on the radio sounds really sad about the weather. I think she needs one of those sunlight lamps at her desk. Or, she needs a birdfeeder! Nothing will lift her spirits like watching little birds jockeying for position at the feeder. They are lined up in the berry bushes like little airplanes waiting for clearance to land.

Sunrise was at 7:08, sunset is 4:38. I love this sunrise/sunset calculator. It shows how many minutes and seconds of daylight we lose each day (I assume it goes the other way when we get to the other side), when the solar noon is, and what the altitude of the sun is. It's very cool and it's site is if you would like to follow along.

When you finally have to drink your evening glass of wine out of a jelly jar, it is time to do the dishes. Every glass in the house was upstairs. How on earth does that happen?

I actually really like doing the dishes (and, no, we don't have a dish washer except for the human ones) because it is the only time I can see something started and then finished. It feels like I am actually organized. I like to wash each set of things like big dishes, then the little dishes, then the glasses...and then I end with the "silver"ware. Which I really dislike doing. There is always one more fork under all those suds - the utensils just go on forever - but then I am happy when, while trying to find the next last one, I realize that last one really was the last one!

Many years ago, back when I was in high school, I reread the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, by local author Betty MacDonald. I remember reading a story about a girl who hated washing the silverware and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle came up with a cure that encouraged her to think of this chore as a game, rescuing the princess spoons and making them safe and then saving the knight knives. I don't remember all the details but I still dry the utensils the way I did after I read the story: I dry all the big utensils and put them away, then the all the knives, then the forks and then the spoons (big ones, then small). I carry the memory of that story with me everywhere I go. I wash the silverware the same way wherever I wash dishes no matter whose sink it is.

And that memory reminds me of one of the nicest passages about dishwashing I have ever read. It comes from (I hope this is right) T. R. Pearson's amazing book, A Short History of a Small Place, in which he describes the sound of dishes against each other. The character is walking at dinner time and the windows of the houses are open and he is listening to the sounds of evening coming.

The description is so beautiful and true that when I read it, I imagined the house where I grew up, with the kids across the street still playing baseball in the lot under the window just as it gets too dark to see the ball unless it's against the sky, and just before the street light came on. This particular memory is attached to one of the only evenings in Port Orford where it was warm enough to have the windows open and calm enough that the wind didn't slew the ball throw.

I imagine that little yellow square of light, the open window sucking in the sounds of log trucks, voices yelling each other to run, and barking dogs, and the sound of dishes clicking and chipping against each other slipping out, sounds that evoke home no matter where you live. This book is a southern novel but this piece of it is something everyone recognizes. I immediately replaced his descriptions of place with mine.

If this isn't the right book and author, I apologize. Whoever wrote the passage I remember is a master of scene setting. It still surprises me when something I read changes the way I see the world and my place in it. I will see if I can find the book and double check it. I worry, though, that it won't be the same the next time I read it! This is T. R. Pearson's first book and is absolutely wonderful. Please check it out the next time you are in your bookstore, your local, independent bookstore, of course.

There must be 30 birds out in the bushes under the feeder. They explode into the air like a sneeze, abruptly and with great dispersion, every time I stand up. It is so cool.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November 4

It's supposed to be clear and sunny today. It's cold, though. Cold for me, anyway,in the 40s. Supposed to be in the 60's later. I am listening to Roger Faris, the home repair expert from Phinney Ridge, on KUOW about winterizing our homes for the season. I am taking notes and will be spending Saturday tightening up and filling in.

Sunrise is at 6:59, sunset will be at 4:47.

I moved one of the bird feeders and it seems to be attracting a few more birds in the new location, although they are now landing on the bare pole and using it as a resting place before heading to the water to stand in the spray. I have only seen chickadees and sparrows, so far. I put out a finch feeder and a hummingbird feeder. I guess I should be more patient. Right now, there are lots of berries in the bushes to compete with.

I just picked up The Atlantis Code, by Charles Brokaw, and Smells Like Dog, by Suzanne Selfors. Two very different books (one is adult speculative fiction, one is a humorous middle school novel)with similar themes: treasure, maps, danger. I love how that happens. Sometimes, every book I pick up for weeks will have some sort of serendipitous event within. Maybe this could be a new kind of divination tool? Palm reading via text? You hold a book, your palms touch the book, am I reaching too far? Hmmm....

I am looking forward to both of these books: The Atlantis Code is a Da Vinci Code-ish kind of book. Clues to the whereabouts of Atlantis are beginning to show up in archaeologist's digs. The clues, musical instruments, are covered in a written language that leading linguists can't read. The Catholic church is involved in trying to keep the clues and the dig secret, but leaks abound. It's a pretty good story, so far, although I had a hard time getting through the introductions of the characters at the beginning.

Smells Like Dog is written for elementary/middle school so not nearly as full of bullets, sex and blood as Atlantis Code. Funnier, though. I will let you know all about it when I'm done!

There are many birds, now, under the feeder and the bubbler out back is a big hit with the little birds. Lots of ducking and bobbing going on out there.

Atlantis Code is for adults. Forge. Hardcover, 25.99. Smells Like Dog is for ages 8-12. Little Brown. Hardcover, $15.99, available May 2010 (no cover art yet).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cool and overcast today. A lot of the trees are bare now and the sun is at that particularly low angle that comes from living so far north. Someday, I would like to see what the light is like say, in Calgary, at this time. A fresh batch of coffee is brewing and the smell is rising through the house. Sunrise was at 6:57 and sunset is at 4:48. 4:48! Damn you, Daylight Savings Time!

It is voting day and we finally found our ballots-I will drop them into the box on the way to work. I miss standing in line to vote. Our neighborhood voting place was Washington Middle School and many different languages were spoken in the line around us - it made me feel very patriotic and aware of what our country should be about; sharing this privilege with people who may have been voting, freely, for the very first time.

The new patios are in, the plants are planted and we have a water feature that burbles and splashes in the corner. We are waiting for birds to take advantage of the new feeders. Dennis said he watched one of the little popcorn birds out there, bathing in the pool. I haven't seen that yet. I keep looking out the window and stepping out onto the new steps for a view, but I think I scare them away.

I wish I could remember everything I've read the last week- maybe they will come to me over time. I am reading Fever Crumb right now. It is written by Philip Reeve of The Hungry City Chronicles (they may also be known as The Mortal Engines Quartet) and Fever Crumb is a good addition to the canon.

The Hungry City Chronicles
is this amazing series of books that take place very far in the future. There is no water, there are few resources, there are cities and villages that have been built up on engines that move them from place to place as the governors of those cities look for smaller cities to consume. This is called Municipal Darwinism.

Tom and Hester, the heroes of the series, travel together across the barren European landscape. They endure betrayal and jealousy, find cities to fight for and with, and get into adventures that take them to places that now only exist in memory and folklore.

This series is really great and anyone of any age who likes true science fiction will thoroughly enjoy them. Find them and read them! It looks like they may be going out of print, so buy them quickly! Oh, right, the library may have them, too.

So, Fever Crumb takes place in the same kind of world: Our earth, London, long after some kind of apocalypse occurs leaving the world in the hands of Engineers who are, truly, reinventing the wheel.

Fever, our hero, was adopted and then raised by the engineers, and is now considered to be an anomaly: a reasonable female, a girl child devoted to rational thought. As such, she is the first girl admitted into the Order of Engineers.

As she begins her apprenticeship with an archaeologist, in a house filled with warmth and emotion, memories begin to come to her, memories that she is sure aren't hers. Where did they come from? What should she do with them? Could it be she has the answers her world needs?

Mmmm. It's good, and if you like books that show what it's like to live after the fall, you will really like Fever Crumb. Fever Crumb is published by Scholastic, and will be out in April, 2010, for $17.99. Ages 11 and up. You can read The Hungry City Chronicles, now. The titles in the series are: Mortal Engines, Predator's Gold, Infernal Devices, and A Darkling Plain. They are published by HarperCollins Eos and, the ones that are still in print, are available in paperback. Again, ages 11 and up for these.