Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Michelle Cooper's books

Sunrise was at 7:58 and sunset will be at 4:26. 39 seconds more daylight today than yesterday.

Every morning I get up and walk around the house in the dark, drinking my coffee, keeping an eye on the sky, watching the hills become defined as the sky lightens. The clouds change as the sun rises, too. What were smears over the Olympics pre-sunrise become mountain-shaped and -sized as they roll up against the western barrier to the Sound.

As the earth rolls around the sun, spinning as it goes, daylight shines through the windows at Beacon Hill's Pac Med Building one morning and then misses it the next. It's cool to watch the windows brighten and then dim as we move through space- it really shows our place in the universe: We spin in and out of the sun's light through day and night, we turn around the sun, tipping one way and then the next through summer and winter, around a star (!) that is a million times the size of the earth, that is one of billions of such stars. We sit inside a snowglobe of stars, the light of which reaches us maybe long after that star died, the light piercing our skin and bones, making us the "stuff of stars".

I wonder about other beings looking toward our yellow star, what constellation does our star appear in? What myth or legend have they created because our sun was part of the story explaining their world?

It's snowing at Lake Forest Park, where I work. 14 miles away, at the north end of Lake Washington. The south end of the Lake is dry, the mid-point, where I live, is dry, there is blue sky over our house. Lake Washington is a BIG, LONG lake. Cliff Maas, the weather guy at UW and KUOW would say that this is part of the convergence zone, a whole different kind of weather there from the weather here. I have left my house in clear weather and driven into pea-soup fog just south of where I turn off of I-5 to go to work. Driven into a wall of rain; no rain here, wall of rain there.

I am smack dab in the middle of The FitzOsbornes in Exile, the second of The Montmaray Journals written by Michelle Cooper. I absolutely love this little series of books. It reminds me very much of I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith, in that it is the story of a family of girls and boys, poor but royal, who are the monarchs of a small country, Montmaray, an island off the coast of Spain.

Wonderful dialogue, quippy and fun, smart and snappy, the family is made up of cousins who are distantly related to other royalty, queens of Spain, princesses of England, and the story takes place in the 1930s, just at the beginning of World War 2. Montmaray is not going to war, it's a little blip in the ocean, and they have never allied with anyone in particular. I guess they are a part of Britain, in a way. Unfortunately, other countries have a different idea about what Montmaray can do for them.

The eldest daughter, Veronica, is writing a Brief History of Montmaray (also the title of the first book) and the middle daughter is our narrator. Or maybe they are cousins. I can't remember how the whole lineage goes. It is a wonderful series and so much fun to read. Our narrator, Sophie, is chronicling her life and as she fills us in first on life in the village and then on the more sophisticated life of London debutante life, we learn about how the war crosses Europe. Not something I have too much interest in, usually, but reading about it via Sophie's journal is enlightening and interesting.

If you liked I Capture the Castle and Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you will really enjoy these books. So good.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

umbrellas and books

Sunrise is at 7:57 today and sunset will be at 4:25.

Gray, not raining. Yet. Debris, open bins, buckets are strewn all over the yard. Must have been quite a wind at some point. There is a chance we may have some snow tonight, half an inch at most, they say. I say, "Bring it on." I have my new boots, I have warm clothes, I have already broken bones that will be stronger for having gone through the last snow. I will take the bus (whenever it comes) and I will pack my bag with water, snacks, and a few good books. Oh, and the new umbrella my niece and nephew gave me because they wanted me visible while I walk.

I am tempted to figure out how to rig little Christmas lights in it so I can read in the dark in the rain and the teensy bit of snow we may still get. They will have to be the kind of lights that we put outdoors, huh? Can't you see it now? The myth and legend that will rise up out of this pale, glowing, happy, polka-dotted woman-height circle floating through the town, like a baby UFO trying to get off the ground. I could put tinsel on the ribs and it would look like a jellyfish! Pretty.

I am looking forward to getting the brace off my right arm (I broke two small bones in my wrist, one under the thumb -cracked it-and one just over the pointy wrist bone -chipped it). It isn't so much that it's a hindrance -it is- but that I have so much I want to do! I want to weed the pathways, I really want to clean the windows in here, I want to use both hands to hold a book (carpal tunnel problems in my left hand have accelerated greatly), I want to finish the quilt I was in the middle of when I got sick but before I fell in the snow. I want to get back to body equality: my left side is killing me! I have to use that side for everything and it hurts! It feels like the nerves are all exposed and being dragged along sharp bones. January 11! More X-rays and FREEDOM! I am actually looking forward to having a hot flash just to cool that arm off! Finally!

I am in the middle of Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp. It is a beautifully written book about a woman and her lifelong affair with alcohol. It's hard to read all at once so I come to it a chapter at a time. I was introduced to this book when I read Let's Take the Long Way Home, by Gail Caldwell.

Started Corvus: A Life with Birds, by Esther Woolfson, and I just so enjoy it. It is the true story of a woman and her crow. Very nice and makes my blood pressure lower just by picking it up. Thanks to Constance P for lending it to me.

Just loved this new book called A Tale Dark and Grimm, a retelling of the Grimm's fairy tales where Hansel and Gretel are the main characters. Very clever, funny, bloody, and could be a really good re-introduction to the original tales most moms are afraid to share with their kids. In this particular retelling, Hansel and Gretel are the children of a king and an queen who are the victims of a dark fate. When they do a horrible thing to the kids to right a wrong, the twins run away from home and into the woods and adventures filled with the Devil, witches, the fates disguised as crows, and quests destined to lead them home again. It is a good addition to the other Grimm tales out there now, like Cornelia Funke's Reckless, Polly Shulman's Grimm Legacy, The Sisters Grimm, by Michael Buckley, and Sisters Red, by Jackson Pearce. Tale Dark and Grimm is good for ages 10 and up, available now.

Ahh, Sarah Dessen. Don't you just love her books? I will put everything else down to read her books next. They are such fabulous stories about people, mostly girls, who are in the middle of becoming young adults. They are simple life stories wrapped around girls who are very likable, very much like the rest of us: confused, changeable, sometimes unhappy, just trying to figure out how to grow up. She adds music to the mix and I love that a lot of her characters need or want jobs and that those jobs often take place in restaurants or around food.

Her newest book, What Happened to Goodbye, is about a girl with divorced parents. She lives with her dad, following him from town to town as he works to save failing restaurants, and assumes a new identity in each one. The current town is filled with likable people and a quirky boy next door, and, for the first time in years, she uses her real name. Ooh, it is so good! Unfortunately, you will have to wait until May to buy it (you can order it from Third Place Books, now, if you call us!). Thank you, Colleen, for sharing the ARC and thanks to Rene H for then sharing it with me. Age 12 and up. (Penguin, due May, 2011.)

Hmm. Half the books I've read or been in the middle of reading are grown-up books! Huzzah!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

Sunrise today is at 7:55, sunset will be at 4:21, and there is a whole single second's more light today than yesterday and I am going to enjoy every bit of it.

Our house faces mostly north and south. Yesterday, the sun didn't even get above our southern horizon. Shadows abound in our yard, moss grows everywhere, and it was only at the highest point of the sun's trek across the sky that we would have even seen it rather than it's light. At the other end of the year, at the Summer Solstice, the sun is so far north that it sets well behind the cityscape I posted yesterday, the sky between the buildings will be a deep transparent blue at 10 pm and they'll glow at the 5 am hour.

As I get older I find myself noting the subtle changes in everyday things like sunrise and sunset, the beginning leaf buds on the lilacs, the rise and fall of the water in the creek in front of the store... it is easy to feel removed from nature, the very world I move through but am not physically a part of: I am in a car and then in a store and then in a car and then in a house. Too easy to be removed from the very things that connect us not only to the natural world but to those that connect us to each other, the things that we all experience. The sun rises and sets for all of us, the eclipse was seen all over the world, winds blow, water rises, and we should take a moment at some point in the day and notice what's going on around us.

I guess I really like the idea that these things will continue long after I'm gone and that my atoms and skin dust will merge with the other motes that make up the pollution that brilliants up a sunset. My only true legacy will be the effect my ashes will have on roots and skies. That's long term, huh?

I sent a facebook note to my sister-in-law about going out and looking at the sky the night of the eclipse and she wrote back, "Couldn't you just hear the phone ring last night..."Make sure you watch the eclipse tonight. Won't be again in your lifetime." Can't help but think of her (my mom) during times like that."

My mom, like most, I'm sure, woke us up every time a rocket was sent into space. We watched as they went up and came back, we went to the moon, we watched for UFOs, we tracked satellites, we talked about what might be out there, and I like to think that she is watching for us to look up (well, I guess I am assuming that she would have gone up after death. Hmmm.).

Some people made popcorn and watched movies, we'd get up in the middle of the night, wrap up in blankets and go out barefoot to look at the sky. I loved the feeling of being among the small cozy group who were doing the same thing at the same time. We were the beginning of the whole flash mob thing stretched wide across the world!

Anyhoo-Mom's birthday was Christmas Eve. We celebrate her birthday, the change in the season, lights on the houses, the glitter that catches every little piece of shine, and the absolute brilliance of the stars when the cold crackles.

Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, go outside without your coat and take a deep breath. I'll be thinking of you.

PS-the eclipse photo at the beginning of the post is from Don Emmert's collection of photos from the Seattle Times yesterday. Amazing pictures from around the world. Interesting to see how different the crescents are from one hemisphere to the other.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Happy Solstice!

It's Solstice! Sunrise just occurred at 7:55, the Seattle skyline is glowing in the sun (yes, no rain and some clear skies). It is the shortest day of the year and sunrise will be at 4:20.

Were you up last night watching the lunar eclipse? So very, very cool.

Check out www.starhustler.com to see a little video about the eclipse. Well, you should take a look at the site anyway because it is so darned great. Lots of the "naked eye astronomy" videos that play on PBS are on the site, and they are fabulous. D and I have stayed up late most nights since we discovered the show in '94, just to catch the 1-5 minute star and planet lessons on one of our local PBS stations (KBTC). I know the winter constellations and that the brightest light we can see in the sky toward the south is Jupiter.

Our childrens' book staff presented our favorite books of the season at a little store book talk last week and one of mine is Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer.

Nightshade is the story of Calla, a leader of a pack of werewolves who knows that her future is fairly well set. When she graduates from the Mountain School she will be the mate of the other major pack forming a large and very strong pack, ruling together, and guarding all of the sacred sites of the pack. This has been the plan for most of her life and she has been happy with it. It doesn't hurt that her future mate is extremely sexy and strong himself! When Calla saves a human boy and brings him into their lives, she sets into motion a number of things that cause her to question her life and the world she has always known.

Ooh, this was so good! Great romance, great, strong female character, history, it has it all. Oh, and it will be a series- Gotta tell you that the next one will be at the top of my to read pile!

One of the things that is really cool about being a bookseller is that we often get to go to dinner with the authors of new books and talk to them, listen to what they have to say, and catch up with the other booksellers in town. We get to eat some really great food and drink some pretty good drinks and talk to other people who love books. The lists we compile at these events are pretty good ones; someone ought to be writing them down!

Anyway, dinner with Andrea was amazing. Not only does she write really good young adult books (this is her first but she'll write more) but she is a history professor at Macalester College and used her research for writing about sex, violence, religion and power in history to write Nightshade. It's not only a good book, it will make you think!

And the cover is exquisite. Age 14 and up. (Philomel. $17.99. Available now.)

This is Andrea's blog site: www.blurredhistory.blogspot.com.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Sunrise is at 7:53, sunset will be at 4:19.

Blue skies today, Rainier and the cradle of mountains surrounding us are out in all their glory, the few clouds I can see are held back by the ranges. I just fed the birds and they discovered it in seconds. We've had hummingbirds in the fountain and the maple tree all morning. The ones in the fountain seemed to be playing with the water (when they weren't trying to impale each other) by ducking in and out of the bubbler and then perching at the top and sliding to the edge, flapping back to the top, sliding back down, over and over. Beautiful, bright red throats, shimmering green backs, quick little flicks back into the trees.

With all the heavy rains and high winds, there've been some real problems and trouble, but beauty, too. I was driving to work on Wednesday, heading north towards the U on I-5, and saw a brilliant rainbow that stretched from the U district, across I-5 and down towards Lake Union in front of Gasworks park ending in the lake-what was so very cool, though, was seeing the houses through the rainbow and they were all shaded in the colors of the rainbow! I have never seen that before! And it was morning! Rainbows are pretty rare in the mornings but there it was! It wasn't long before I was no longer between the sun and the rain and it was gone. So cool.

One of the best books this season, and one that's on my top ten list for winter, is Hold Me Closer Necromancer, by Lish McBride. Took me a while to get to it but I am so glad I did! Funny, funny, funny, set in Seattle in and around U Village and campus, it's the story of a slacker burger flipper, Sam (short for Samhain), who runs afoul of a powerful necromancer who reveals that there is something very wrong with Sam's life, or maybe very right- it kind of depends on whether you really want to raise the dead.

Sam has been protected by an herbal pouch his mom made him when he was born. When it accidentally comes off, just after he dents a fancy car with a potato, the man who owns the car recognizes him for what he truly is. Unfortunately, Sam doesn't have any idea about what that means. Due to the lack of convo between Sam and his mother about why he needs this pouch, many awful things start to happen to the people he loves to convince him to take this change in his life seriously. One of those is the death of his friend, Brooke. Brooke's body is found in her apartment but her head ends up with Sam, still alive, kind of. She can talk, cry, think, and she is not happy! They have to carry her around in a bowling bag.

Did you know that you have to petition the Council and register to live in Seattle if you are Were, a 'mancer of any stripe, or any kind of paranormal "person"?

It's a really fun book, good for either sex, and it shows us a new side to life in Seattle where the underground scene may be much different from what we thought. Great for age 13 and up. (Henry Holt. $16.99. Available now.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Books, Rain, Sun, Rain, Sun, Wind, Sun.......

Sunrise was at 7:45, sunset will be at 4:18.

I just looked ahead to the next few days of sunrises and sunsets and noticed that while the morning times continue to get later, the sunsets read 4:18 for days! Without checking the details it looks like the earth just doesn’t tip any deeper for awhile. The details off to the side of the times show the difference in daylight between one day and the next; tomorrow’s light will be 5 seconds shorter than today’s, Friday’s daylight will be 6 seconds shorter than tomorrow’s…. Solstice is on its way and I can’t wait to watch the distancing between these numbers as we head into February, the single most difficult month to get through.

We had a real emergency broadcast today! Massive thunderstorms in Snohomish county, winds up to 60 miles per hour. In Seattle, we had a little breeziness before the sun came up, pewter gray skies over Beacon Hill, houses and buildings glowing against the dark, and, through a slip of sky in the south, watery sunlight turning the windows on the hill a silvery pale blue.

By the time the first thunder in Seattle hit, we had downpours of rain that actually hurt when it hit. It was much like driving through a carwash, rain bouncing as high as bumpers, the streets became 3 inch deep rivers, nowhere for the rain to go, and I saw a man in a camel colored jacket and no hat at the corner of Boren and Jefferson skipping across the street in the rain.

I grew up where it rains really hard but I was pretty surprised by the intensity of this rainfall. I wish I’d had a rain collector set up today.

Now, half an hour later, big swathes of blue sky, no rain, and the little birds are taking advantage of the break to scavenge for seed in the shelter of the bushes. Wow! We have real sunshine!

I finished She’s Gone Country, by Jane Porter, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything went the way I wanted it to. Sometimes, I just want to read happy stuff. I listen to the radio too much to want to spend my leisure time feeling bad while doing something I like. If any of you have sisters or friends who like to read a little fluff, books about women who are often like us, women who do stupid things and then have to deal with the repercussions, then Jane Porter is a good choice. And she’s FUNNY! (Hachette. $13.99. Available now.)

I went from She’s Gone Country to Torment, by Lauren Kate, the sequel to Fallen, a teen paranormal romance between an angel and the girl he has found and loved through millennia. Very much a good way to spend some hours. (Delacorte. $17.99. Available now.)

And from Torment I dove right into The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June, by Robin Benway who wrote another one of my favorite books, Audrey, Wait!. I think Robin Benway has an amazing flair for dialogue. Her banter between the sisters, the sarcasm, the humor, she gets it so right. TESofAM&J is the story of three sisters who, all of a sudden, develop powers that they are unsure how to use. There is mind reading, seeing the future and invisibility and no way of learning from anyone how to deal with them. Add to the mix a few boys and new relationships, a newly divorced set of parents and all the stress that comes with those things and you have a pretty good backdrop for a grand story. I laughed out loud a lot during the reading of this book, I remember being taken by surprise and snorting. Once. I just unearthed the book from a forgotten pile of books in the hall and I am so sorry I didn’t read it long ago. Or maybe not-With all the time away from work, the weather, the hectic time of year, this may have been exactly the perfect time for a book that lightened my mood and got the endorphins flowing! (Razorbill. $16.99. Available now.)

I am a quarter of an inch from finishing Rick Riordan’s Lost Hero, a kind of sideways continuation of the Percy Jackson books featuring Roman gods and goddesses. It’s really good but it’s the book I read in bed or pick up between finishing and starting something else.

I have just started reading Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home and it is so beautiful. It’s the memoir of a friendship and I am looking forward to reading more of it. I’ll let you know more when I get farther along than the first couple of chapters.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Winter's coming!

Sunrise today was at 7:42, sunset will be at 4:18.

It's a sunny Saturday in early December. Pretty and cold, going to be windy later. The Ducks are going to the National Championships. The brilliant sunlight shows just how often Gidget puts her nose on the windows.

The guys across the street just turned their Christmas lights on! Smith Tower's light has turned from blue to green, the Space Needle tip is lit up like a tree, Qwest Field's lights have changed from teal/green to green/red, Amazon's star is lit up, Queen Anne's radio tower lights are on and a lot of the Seattle skyscrapers' top floors are lit in green, white, and red lights.

Wednesday night Lake Union was filled with Christmas ships, yachts and other boats all decorated with lights and decorations. So beautiful! I love driving home in the dark and seeing the ships all decked out, lining up for the run through the Montlake Cut on their way to Lake Washington and the caroling stops. There is something so uplifting about lights pushing back the darkness, bravery against the fading light.

Just imagine the ancients standing together, wondering if the light will ever come back, lighting bonfires to call the sun. We're a long way from those times, but every year I feel an urge to do my part to make sure the sun comes back by lighting candles, turning the Christmas lights on in the living room, making sure the curtains are open so we get the last moments of daylight. The sun is finally almost gone behind Beacon Hill, the last ruddy color over the black Olympics, and all the houses on the street below are lit up. It just turned 5 pm and the light is but a whisper in the west.

Books for this season include The Faraway Lurs, by Harry Behn, a wonderful book about a meeting of a dark ages princess and a newer ages prince, a meeting of stone and bronze, and very romantic. Dear Elizabeth, Winter is Here, by Jean Craighead George, is a great picture book that explains that as soon as the solstice comes, the season changes. The Longest Night, by Marion Dane Bauer, is an amazing fable about all the animals going to fetch the light but only the lowly sparrow is able to do it.

Note the trees attached to the cranes. I read somewhere it was to honor the trees, that because a tree was taken and used, that honor needed to be paid so balance was restored, so bad things wouldn't happen to the people building houses or other things. Like pouring a little wine onto the ground to honor the earth that feeds us. Has anyone else out there heard this?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

mmm, bed rest

Sunrise was at 7:37 and sunset will be at 4:20. It's damp and gray, but not raining. All the rocks, the bricks, the branches are many shades darker than usual.

Being at home for many unbroken days in a row gave me a whole new appreciation for my bed. The geography of it is imprinted on my back, shoulders, and feet, the sweetly sloping valley that holds my body just so, the central range of futon that separates my side from D's, the puffy bottom corner that holds my feet just above the average mean, the soft outer edge that supports one knee above my hip. It's a king sized bed and when I stretch out, my arms above my head and legs straight out, my toes just curl over the bottom and my fingertips just extend into the window sill-I never felt tiny until we got this bed.

While I was laid up all that time, sick and then broken, I had the TV controller, rolls of toilet paper (for nose blowing), piles of books, my knitting and quilting, and still there was room for a cat. Windows to the open valley below so I could watch the birds and neighbors and sun moving across the sky.

Very much like the Robert Louis Stevenson's poem, In the Land of Counterpane:

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

Being sick sucks, having a really good reason for staying in bed doesn't.

Books read while recuperating:

Illyria, by Elizabeth Hand: Atmospheric, a little eerie, youngest siblings in two families (cousins) have been in love since birth. Beautifully written, slender book about hidden lives and secrets. 14 and up.

Morning Glory
, by Diana Peterfreund: The Children's Book staff at Third Place Books loves Diana and we HAD to read this novelization of the movie. It was good, now I don't have to see the movie! Grown-ups.

Hull Zero Three, by Greg Bear: massive, universe crossing ship filled with creatures and a few humans. Are they lost? This was really good, I love books about long trips where the ships have to make decisions and what happens as a result. 13 and up, it's in the science fiction section of the store.

Shadow Hills, by Anastasika Hopcus (debut novel): Boarding school novel about a girl and her classmates who have powers no one talks about, until her unknown powers make themselves known. It was fun and the romance was good. 12 and up.

The Scorch Trials, by James Dashner (sequel to Maze Runner): You must read Maze Runner! This is a really great sequel but I wish I'd read Maze Runner again before starting it. A book placed in the future, you find out what's going on as the main character does; he is a maze runner, put out into a massive, changeable maze where not reaching the end will kill you. 12 and up .

Scrawl, by Mark Shulman: This was fabulous. A boy spending detention writing about why he and his friends are in detention. I love these kinds of books, too, where the characters discover who and what they are by writing about it. 12 and up.

Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, by Claire Dederer: Just what it says! Very good memoir about life, children, marriage while learning yoga. Grown-ups.

Night Road, by Kristin Hannah: Ah, I love me some Kristin Hannah. This was really good. A foster child finds a home with her grandmother and friendship with a wealthy family. She falls in love with the older brother, trying to keep it secret from the younger sister. A horrible accident separates her from the family. It is a weeper (the publicist sent a box of kleenex with the book. And, may I say, the lotion in them was a welcome relief to toilet paper on my nose.). Grown-ups.

Sapphique, by Catherine Fisher (sequel to Incarceron): You should read the two of these close together, too. It's kind of a dystopian future, a little steampunk-y, and very different. Read Incarceron without knowing too much about it. Take it slow and note all the information. A book to read again. 11 and up.

Chime, by Franny Billingsley: Franny Billingsley is one of my favorite authors, someone not very well known, maybe, because she has only written a few books. But her books are so good, perhaps because of the time between them. Chime is a GREAT book. It is the story of girl and a boy, in what may be an alternative Victorian England, getting to know each other. It's a little Austen-ish, she doesn't think she's good enough for him even though is certain they should be together and it is HYSTERICALLY funny, too. Our heroine is sarcastic, smart, strong, and she may be a witch. Please read this book (it will be out in March). 12 and up.

Mindblind, by Jennifer Roy: Really good story about a high school boy with Asperger's Syndrome. 11 and up.

Beginners guide to Living, by Lia Hills (debut): Wow. Boy's mom dies, he meets a girl at the wake, falls in love, falls apart. Turns to philosophy to find a way. Very good, smart writing. I loved the way the romance and sex were presented in this. Very true to life. 14 and up. (PS: Love this cover.)

Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes, by Lisa Greenwald: Simple, fun book about three friends snowed in their apartment building on Valentine's Day. Out of boredom, they decide to deliver homemade fortune cookies to each apartment in the building. During the adventure, they get in fights, meet lots of people, and bring a small community together. She is the author of My Life in Pink and Green, another sweet book about discovering a niche for yourself while making the world a better place. 10 and up (boy crushes, though!).

Reading, but not yet finished:

Blind Your Ponies, by Stanley Gordon West (debut): Small town in Montana, basketball, a group of kids who have never won a game. It's good! the love scenes are a little over-written but I can deal with that. Grown-ups.

Big Crunch, by Pete Hautman: Boy, this is good. Boy and girl are friends, misunderstandings occur, love ensues, goes away, comes back? 13 and up.

She's Gone Country, by Jane Porter: Jane Porter is my guilty pleasure. I love her characters, they are like most of us. A little tortured about out decisions, worried about what we'll do in the future, are we good parents?. Good romances, fun writing, funny characters. This one takes place in Texas. Model Shey has moved back to Texas to the family ranch after her husband left her for another man. She's now raising her three boys on her own, and her high school boyfriend is single again. Ooh! Grown-ups.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sunrise here in Seattle was at 7:33, sunset was at 4:21.

Overcast, cold, wet air. We have two tough little patches of snow left on either side of the driveway. I don't know if my daphne plant will blossom in the spring, it got pretty burned in the cold. I covered it but I think it still got too cold. It's my harbinger of spring, the daphne bush is. It sends out fresh green blossom starts in February and by March the blossoms start to turn pink and begin to open, sending out that exquisite citrus scent that says that summer's warmth is on its way.

The newest BookNotes follows. This is the newsletter I send out to old friends who are interested in reading about new books. I include it here so there is an archive, of sorts, and so I can include photos of the covers of the books reviewed.

November ’10 BookNotes:

Hello, everyone! I hope you had time to enjoy the snow and were able to do it safely. I walked home in it on Monday night and it was absolutely beautiful. I loved the dryness of it, the way it skirled through the air, the glitter of it blown across the streets, like sand in the desert. It blew up and settled in the corners of unexpected places, shining like those old Christmas cards. And the wind! As a coastal being, I miss the blustery sounds of the wind. I am thankful, though, for deeply rooted trees, strong branches, and living where the power seldom goes out. It may be tame, but I am warm and able to type up this edition of BookNotes as a result of the magic of electricity and the wires that carry it. PS: We saw a Thanksgiving hawk (a Harrier?) first thing in the morning! Very cool.

Before I get started on new book reviews, a little business: You are all invited to Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, on Thursday, December 16, 7 pm, for the first in our quarterly Children’s BookTalks. Coffee, cookies, recommendations, personal shoppers, book lists, free gift wrap, and THE ENTIRE CHILDREN’S BOOK DEPARTMENT AT YOUR DISPOSAL! Come with your lists in hand, we will help you make perfect book choices.

BookNotes

I like to start with books for the youngest readers first, the board and picture books, but remember that many of these are great for adults, too. Take a moment to look at them with the view of giving them to an older friend the next time you are at your bookstore.

These are two of my favorite novelty books: Beautiful Oops, by Barney Saltzberg, and Ten Little Penguins, by Fromental Jolivet. Both of them are considered lift-the-flap books so they are good for kids who have good hand coordination, who are able to be delicate with moveable pieces of paper, maybe age 5 and up.

Beautiful Oops is a great little book for anyone who draws or paints. So many little kids think that when they make a mistake they have to start over. Sometimes they feel they will never be able to make art, so, Saltzberg has made a book filled with mistakes, torn paper, spilled paint, bent pages; all the beginnings of one more new piece of art. It’s a really cool and encouraging book for preschoolers or anyone else who wants to create without fear. I really appreciate how the mistakes in the book allow you to think about taking your art in a completely different direction, too. (Workman. $11.95.)

10 Little Penguins is a very, very cool book (ha-pun intended) filled with intricate pop-ups and each one has a pull tab, a flap of some kind, something that moves (removes) one of the penguins on each page. This is a variation of the classic ten little whatevers song where one rolls over and then there is one less whatever in the bed or on the sled and it is hysterically funny. Very well-done flaps and tabs truly forward the song and the rhyme is really well-preserved. This is one of my favorite pop-ups, as good as Zelinsky’s Wheels on the Bus. Bernard Duisit, the engineer for this book, did an amazing job figuring out how to make each page different from the one before. Make sure you check out Penguin number 4! The author, Fromental Jolivet, also wrote one of my other favorite books, 365 Penguins (look at that one, too, next time you’re in your local store). (Abrams. $17.95.)

There’s Going to Be a Baby, by John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury, is a fabulous book about becoming a big brother. Well-illustrated in both realistic and retro fashions, it tells the story of a little boy thinking about what it will be like to have a sibling. It starts with mom telling him that there’s going to be a baby and then each spread shows the two of them through the gestation period, she gets a little rounder and the weather changes, he talks out his fears and ideas about what all of this means. I just love the little things they were so careful to include: Grandpa is rumpled, not everyone is white, he is clearly a little boy, and it isn’t a sweety-sweet book. Burningham’s simple words and Oxenbury’s round-headed child make for the perfect book for introducing a new baby to the family. 4 and up. (Candlewick. $16.99.)

One of my all-time favorite author-illustrators, Bob Graham, has a new book out called April and Esme Tooth Fairies. This is a wonderful little tale about two young tooth fairies who have been asked to undertake their first collection. After they convince mom and dad to let them go, they have a grand adventure finding and securing the tooth, leaving the money, and then coming home. Fabulous art work shows a tiny little house up against a tree trunk, a swing attached to dandelion stems, tattooed parents, and a little tiny brassiere hung in front of the fire. There are tons of things to look at, mom bathes in a gravy boat, stamps are art work, all very magical and sweet, perfect for starting a fairy house craft project. It is a lovely story about things changing as much as they stay the same. I have to admit that one of the things I like best about Bob Graham’s books is how untraditional the parents are. The dad often stays home and the mom is the breadwinner, they are artistic and they both sport tattoos and ponytails. Great fun, and, if you can find it, check out Queenie, One of the Family, one of my favorite chicken books. 6 and up. (Candlewick. $16.99.)

Mindblind, by Jennifer Roy, is a great book about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. Nathaniel is almost a genius, numerically he is a genius, but to be a real genius, according to a book he read, he must also make a mark on the world. He has great friends, is in a band, has a crush on a girl in his high school, and worries about wearing his clothes the right way out. He’s not always sure his face is clean, sometimes he disappears into his own brain where he feels most safe and he is under pressure from his dad to be a more normal teenage boy. When he goes to a party where people feed him drinks something awful happens and he slips into his brain, unable (unwilling?) to come back to our world. Nathaniel’s real friends and family protect him from a terrifying world of landmines that exist between his bedroom and the rest of the world. I loved this book. Nathaniel’s friends and his mom are the perfect barrier between him and everything else, they love and care for him, and they get him, they know he loves them, too, in the only way he can. Mindblind is a fascinating look at Asperger’s Syndrome from an author whose son is the inspiration for Nathaniel. 12 and up. (Marshall Cavendish. $15.99.)

Reckless, by Cornelia Funke, is different from her other books, more adult, more gruesome, not so good for under-12’s because of the gore. But I loved this book, I am a huge fan of books about fairy tales and where those tales might have come from, a huge fan of Cornelia Funke’s, and this one is really good. In a magic world beyond the mirror in his missing father’s office, Jacob Reckless makes his fortune trading and enjoying Mirrorworld’s treasures. That all changes when his little brother follows him through the mirror. When Will follows Jacob, he becomes enchanted by a virus-like thing that begins to change him into a stone-like warrior with no chance of changing back. Jacob then has to go on a quest to find a way to bring Will back. Good stuff! This book is especially good for all those who like fairy tales for grownups. Age 12 and up. (Little Brown. $19.99.)

Beautiful Darkness, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is the sequel to Beautiful Creatures, and is just as romantic and atmospheric as the first. Beautiful Creatures introduces us to Lena and Ethan, two people who’ve never met. Ethan, though, has been dreaming of a young woman (dreams filled with water and danger, he wakes covered in mud and water) and one day he meets her. Their meeting shakes up this world and the others. In Beautiful Darkness, Lena begins to separate from Ethan, feeling the pull to the dark side, while Ethan’s nightmares and the visions only he can see are becoming dire. These are great books for anyone who likes romance and southern atmosphere. The adults I know who have read them absolutely love them and are waiting, impatiently, for the next one. 14 and up. (Little Brown. $17.99.)

Mr. Toppit, by Charles Elton, is one of my favorite grown-up books this year. It helps that it is the story about a children’s book series written about the main character, Luke, as a child. Arthur Hayman is an unsuccessful screenwriter who turned his talents to writing a not very well-known series of books about a boy named Luke Hayseed, a kind of a Narnia-esque series that has at its center an evil character named Mr. Toppit. When Arthur is hit by a cement truck, his last moments are spent in the arms of an American tourist, someone who ends up in the middle of the family, someone who accidentally makes the Hayseed Chronicles a worldwide success. As the series becomes more and more popular, the Hayman family begins to leak its secrets. I loved the writing in this book, the story was compelling from the first page, and the characters and their secrets are wonderful. Luke is a reluctant hero, and his mother is a wispy, whispery, unlikely tower of strength. The book actually feels very much like a British children’s book written for grown-ups, filled with fog, mysterious woods, a seductive being that you really aren’t sure about, and a main character you really want to like. (Other Press. $15.95.)

Alrighty, then- here are a few of my favorite books and I hope you really like them, too. Let me know what you think when you give them a read.

Don’t forget the Children’s BookTalks at Third Place Books on December 16, 7 pm. I look forward to seeing you there!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Unidentified, Rae Mariz.

Friday, November 19. Sunrise was at 7:22, sunset will be at 4:28.

Still sick. Not contagious, I don't think, but congested and hacky deep in the lung-al area. It makes me cough to talk, have to push air through my throat to go across the vocal cords to make sounds. Awful. I spent most of yesterday in bed, most of today up, though.

We have family in town; Cousin Ann, from Minneapolis, is here. She came for our niece's opera debut on Wednesday, as Gretel in Hansel and Gretel, and we had taken Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off so we could all spend time together, and we are sick. We were able to go to lunch with everyone today (Friday) but are still too tired and achy to spend the weekend in Tacoma with the fambly.

I spent all day and most of the evening in bed, TV on the Design Channel, quilting a quilt for my bro-in-law (last year's Christmas present), and reading when it finally got late enough. I read The Unidentified last night (staying up really late to finish it). Man, what a book!

I wanted something I could read that wasn't too heavy, too emotional, and science fiction often works for me when I am getting ready to go to sleep. It's far enough removed from my real life to be distracting but close enough to be entertaining. I love the aha! moments that come from science fiction, so, The Unidentified, by Rae Mariz was it.

It takes place in a time not too far from now, maybe 15, 20 years down the road. Things are recognizable, buses still run, parents still work, kids go to school. Ah, but the schools are vastly different: they are run by corporations and sponsors. Because there is no money for schools, corporations have stepped in to help out by renovating abandoned malls and turning them into schools called The Game. These corporations "brand" kids, they advance by playing games, they are the face of products marketed within the school, and becoming branded by a company is something many of the kids yearn for.

Katey, also known as Kid, a 15 year-old, is pretty average: she’s not wealthy, has only a few good friends, is a good student, and pretty much feels about school what most teens feel. But because she is observant and doesn’t spend a lot of time following trends and fads via her phone, she becomes aware of some changes in the atmosphere around the Game. She begins to realize that everything she does, everything EVERYone does, is being tracked and used by the Game to create buzz and excitement about certain products and people.

Because Kid doesn’t spend a lot of time on her phone, her mom works very hard to give her the minutes she does, she spends a lot of time watching real people and she sees the beginning of an anti-corporation movement called The Unidentified. Curious about the group, she searches them out, triggering notice by both the corporate sponsors and The Unidentified so becoming the poster child for both.

The Unidentified was really good, something you can actually see happening as education moves away from being publicly funded with tax dollars and major corporations start stepping in to shore up bits and pieces. Certain machines used in lunchrooms, corporations providing specific phones or computers for classroom use, you can see it happening now.

The Unidentified is also really smart, funny, and thought provoking. The characters were well-developed, I loved the slang and language. I loved how refined the societal changes are; since the book is only a few years in the future, there wouldn't be big jumps in language or life and I think she did a really great job illustrating that. Good for ages 13 and up. (Balzer&Bray. $16.99. Available now.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

book list for sick days

Really. No two people in a family should ever be sick at the same time. D and I have never, in 30 years of marriage, been sick at the same time, this is the first time and I hope it never happens again. It hasn't been awful but I am sure that I don't whine as much as he does. I think it's more that there isn't enough room in one day for all the whining we can both do, so I just stay quiet and in bed. Hacking and blowing and drinking and peeing....all the live long day.

I did have a nice hefty stack of books next to said bed: Saving Sky, by Diane Stanley, The Twelve Days of Christmas, by Marion Babson, Mindblind, by Jennifer Roy, Night Road, by Kristin Hannah, and Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses, by Claire Dederer (I'm almost done with that last one-I'm going to bed in an hour to read until Glee comes on and then I'm going to sleep until the morning light. Man, I hope I sleep through the night).

The stack is all gone and I have refilled it. I am looking forward to seeing the same books in the same stack next week. I don't want to read the day away for a little while. It is time to get up, get out of bed, drag a comb across my head...

I had pincushion hair: I have really long hair and it was in one big dread hanging to the back of my head for a day. I couldn't get a comb through it, couldn't put my fingers in it. It just sat there. And now my scalp aches at the roots.

Saving Sky was an amazing story about living off the grid, in a time not so far away, in a state not unlike Arizona, where people who aren't white are being ostracized for something they didn't do and other people are afraid to stand up to the bullies who are pushing them around. Until Sky steps forward to tell them they are wrong and this needs to end.

Sky and her family are great. They are not alarmists, they are just well-prepared for the end of gasoline and oil, the lack of fresh food and water, they live well off the grid, out in the desert, on a bit of property with a good sized garden. They trade for goods, don't watch t.v. or listen to the radio, and give blessings every night under the sky. They aren't particularly religious, they just treat everyone as they would like to be treated, which bites them in the butt when the new kid, who isn't white, is one of the targeted people in a round up of foreigners during a series of terrorist attacks on US soil.

Sky and her family hide him, protecting him even though their family is then roughed up some. I loved this book, yes, it's a liberal read, but it seems like a pretty realistic look at how things may go when the electricity goes out and the last can of tomatoes, box of tampons, and bag of diapers is gone. Ages 12 and up. (HarperCollins. $15.99. Available now.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

November 12, books for a sick day

Sunrise was at 7:10, sunset will be at 4:36. Lights will start snapping on outside at 3:30, the shadowed walks will be dark while streets facing the Sound will be bright

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, blue skies, mostly, temps in the high forties, and our heater is fixed. For now. Our Heater Guy said that it's time to start saving for a new one. Bummer. But the temperature in the house is now holding at a balmy 68 degrees.

I hate being sick on my weekend. It's just so unfair. I've probably just got a cold but it's the perfect weather for walking around the park, it's a good day for sorting and doing housework and I'm too tired and achy. And D is sick, too, so I can't lie in bed listening to my "stories". I could go downstairs and sleep on the couch but I really don't want to. So, I fell asleep in bed, reading, book still upright and held in both hands. I woke up and realized I'd been asleep so I took my glasses off and turned over, feet especially covered for warmth and then I was wide awake.

Yesterday was a good day for being sick: Rainy, wet, cold, the bed was warm and my throat was sore. I listened to the radio and read and slept, and then watched a NetFlix movie that I've had for four months. I am the perfect NetFlix customer. I knitted and watched the movie and drank tea and just thoroughly enjoyed being at home- I seldom get sick enough to call in but I truly couldn't talk to anyone yesterday and I felt pretty awful most of the day. 'Round about 5, I felt pretty good, but woke up this morning filled with gunk and aches.

I read a great YA road trip and music mix book while lying there in the gloom of a rainy day, Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, by Morgan Matson.

The book takes place a couple of months after Amy's dad dies, her brother has been sent to rehab, and her mom has moved to Connecticut to start a new home and life. The family home in California has been put up for sale and Amy just finished the school year so it's time for her to join her mom. Unfortunately, Amy doesn't drive. She can, she just doesn't, so her mom and a friend hatch a plan for Amy and the family car to be driven cross country by an old friend from her childhood, Roger. Roger is spending his summer with his dad in Philadelphia and this trip will take care of two birds with one stone.

Unfortunately, the Mom-Mapped Trip gets thrown out the window as they both realize they have some unfinished business they'd like to take care of as they travel: Roger's been dumped by a girl who won't speak to him now and he'd like to confront her and Amy would like to visit the places and people of importance to her and to her father.

The trip they end up taking becomes more of a journey within as they make the long detour from California to Nevada, Nevada to Colorado, from Kentucky to Philadelphia, from despair to hope, from uncertainty to discovery.

Amy and Roger start off just being a couple of quirky kids trying to get home and end up really good friends able to help each other through some dark times in their lives. Along the way they meet good people, see some astonishing landscapes, share many memories and laughs, and find out that life continually changes and amazes as you go along.

As good as the journey can be, the detours are where you learn and live.

It was really good and I'm glad Rene H at work recommended it. A perfect read when you're housebound and cold. It also has music mix lists within. I'd love to reread it with the music playing along-it'd be really cool to understand why a particular piece of music was chosen for each leg of the trip.

Good for ages 14 and up.

(Simon and Schuster. $16.99. Available now.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pathfinder, by Orson Scott Card

Sunrise was at 7:07, sunset will be at 4:39.

Man, it's cold. Cold, cold, cold. Heater died on Monday. It happens every year on the day we finally decide we can't hold off turning it on any longer. Called the Furnace Man. He'll be here on Friday and I will sit with my feet on the heating vents, blankets tented over me. The cat will take up residence in front of the kitchen vent. Our bird is in D's office, warmest room in the house due to all the electronics. I can barely feel the keyboard.

I just finished reading Orson Scott Card's new book for young adults, Pathfinder. It was GOOD!

I have always been a fan of his books. I don't know much about him or his politics but I love the way he writes. Ender's Game is one of the few books I can re-read and still feel like I am reading it for the first time, and Lost Boys was one of my favorite "horror" books. Brilliant writing.

Rigg, is a young man with special powers, he can see the paths of past lives, who is thrust into an adventure against his wishes. His father's dying wish is for Rigg to search out the sister he's never met. When it's time to go, he goes to the woman who has been closest to them and she gives him jewels and clues as to what he will be looking for. Along the way he picks up exiled Umbo, a childhood friend who has tried to blame Rigg for the death of his little brother. Together, they travel far beyond the world they know, and begin to realize that they both have talents that no one else has and that, together, they can actually change the past.

Pathfinder was a really good story. Thought provoking, difficult, frustrating at times. Funny! I absolutely love science fiction because you can kind of trace how the future could happen from the now times and I like the solidness of that.

Pathfinder starts, and each chapter begins, with a side story, the one that makes it possible for Rigg's tale to happen: a boy, Ram, is on a ship heading into space, searching for a planet to settle. At a certain point in the journey, Ram and his ship will fold space and jump forward to a likely planet (he TESSERS! Like in A Wrinkle in Time!) where, eventually, the colonists will make a new life for the other earthlings to come. But, has something gone wrong? Are things going the way they should have gone?

I read this in a couple of late nights, cold arms, cold nose, frozen fingers holding this brick of a book aloft over all the quilts. It will be a good read for anyone who likes science fiction and long books. It reads quickly, it's just a lot of pages. I'd say ages 12 and up, especially good for someone who either "understands" time travel or who can read certain things without having to know all about it. I am sure it took me longer to read because I had to keep following the logic.
(Simon and Schuster. Available 11-23-10. Hardcover, $18.99.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November and Suzanne Collins

(This post was written on November 6) Sunrise was at 8:01, sunset will be at 5:44. So perfect, the darkness in the morning at this time of year.

This last week was a study in many contrasts as far as the weather was concerned: Gorgeous, blue skies, bright orange leaves, temperatures into the 70's, Indian summer in November. And: deluges of rain, record setting falls of water, record setting temperatures, emptying trees, fog, flood warnings. Fidgety weather, can't dress for it, can't decide what to do in it.

Yesterday, I worked in the yard,weeding, raking, cutting branches back. The weather was perfect for sweats and a sweatshirt, overcast and warm, and just cool enough to relish the heat of working muscles. By late afternoon, the wind had come up, temperatures dropped and it started to pour.

I'm glad I got the raking done I did then. Today, the maple leaves once again cover the sidewalk underneath and I should go and spread them out over the places that need mulching.

I will be heading out for work in an hour or so for the Suzanne Collins Mockingjay event at the store. Should be quite exciting! But first, the Ducks vs. Huskies at Autzen Stadium! Go Ducks!

Here are some pics from the event. The people in the line to meet here were so excited. They'd get to the front of the line and you'd hear, "There she is! I can see her!" One girl said her legs were shaking and she thought she'd have to sit down.

Suzanne was very accommodating and anyone who brought a camera got a picture, books were "signed" (you may be able to see that she's wearing a brace so she stamped books with a specially made stamp), and feelings were exultant!
These young women were the first group to come to the release date party we threw in August so kids could pick up her book and have a place to read until they had to go home. They made a banner and were also the first in line to meet Suzanne.

And this is what seems to be most of our staff: Back row: Me, Wendy (our events coordinator), Jessica, Joyce, Judy (our children's book buyer), Chris (our Scholastic Book rep); front row: Rene, Suzanne Collins, and Kestrel.

(PS: If you haven't read Suzanne's books, Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, you are in for a great week of books. This is a good series for ages 11 and up. There are younger kids reading it, but I'm not sure they should be. It's violent and children are killing other children. If you want something a little less violent but by no means less well-written and gripping, try her Gregor the Overlander series. Gregor is an 11 year-old boy who chases his sister, Boots, into the Underland, a whole world under Manhattan, carved out of the rock. It is filled with all kinds of creatures, cockroaches the size of horses, bats that are psychically and physically bound to their humans, and a wonderful epic poem that seems to be all about Gregor, his sister, his missing father, and the fate of the world. So good. Good for both boys and girls, adults who want a really great read, 8 year-old readers and older.)