Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ashland and a bookish vacation!

Sunrise was at 6:49, sunrise will be at 7:18, but it will be a long twilight and darkish at 6:30. Lights need to be turned on. It's cold out there, today, highs will be in the 60's. Maybe. It's gray and it's rained a little. Everything is either brown and crispy or dusty and green. There are tiny splashes of other color, like pink and dark blue, but mostly the yard is filled with jungle camouflage colors.

We spent a week in Ashland, OR, during the hottest September they've had- too hot to window shop or to go for walks except early in the morning (88 degrees, 80% humidity at 11 pm, the first night we were there). Thankfully, most of the restaurants and the theaters were air conditioned and we spent a lot of time standing in shops to get cold before venturing out again. We had to change hotels from one with only fans to one with air-conditioning- someone was on the verge of heat stroke. So much for being adventurous and staying in historic places! Maybe next time we'll be better prepared.

We saw three plays, Julius Caesar, Pirates of Penzance, and The Imaginary Invalid, and they were all extraordinary. Julius was played by a woman, Pirates had rap and other modern styles of music and the puppeteers were amazing. Imaginary Invalid was really funny (someone said the comedy was a little juvenile) and my brother-in-law was part of the "audience participation" segment. Completely floored him and he couldn't remember his age! We walked all over town with people whispering "That's Ed Fitzgerald! From Minnesota!" as we went by. Hysterical! A couple in a car bent over to look out at him, pointing, and waving!

Lithia Park, in the middle of the city, has a creek running through it, it's where all the city water comes from, and my sister-in-law and I would walk there in the early morning. One day, on our way to breakfast, the resident deer family was clipping along the main street heading north, cars stopped, waiting for them to get safely off the street, headed back into the park.

No television watching, a little live music, a lot of nighttime and restaurant reading: Absolute Value of Mike, by Kathryn Erskine, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A. S. King, Fox and Phoenix, by Beth Bernobich, and Riding Invisible, by Sandra Alonzo, four of the 9 books I took with me.

All of these books are really good so I'm just going to synopsize them (is that a word?) here:

Absolute Value of Mike is the story of a boy with dyscalculia, his dad is an engineer with Asperger's, and Mike is sent to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle to work on the Artesian Screw, something that will help him get into engineering school- which he wants nothing to do with! It turns out that the Artesian Screw is actually the Artisan Crew, a group of people who are doing and selling art to raise funds to help a woman adopt a Romanian child. Or they would be if the head Artisan wasn't still grieving over the death of his own son. Funny, heartwarming, A.V. is all about finding out who you are and what your passions are. A good read for ages 10 and up, boys will like this. If you are a teacher, it would be a great read-aloud; read a chapter or two and start lining the readers up! (Philomel books. $16.99. Available now.)

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is about a girl whose best friend dies and she is working through her feelings about him and the last couple of years of their relationship. Vera has always loved her best friend, Charlie, holding close all of his secrets. Even after he ruined everything, Vera holds tight to one last secret. Will she clear his name of the horrible things attached to it? Is it okay to hate him, after all that's come before? Believe it or not, Vera Dietz has moments of great humor as well as being a smart and surprising read. Ages 14 and older. (Alfred A. Knopf. $16.99. Available now.) (Make sure you check out A. S. King's new book, Everybody Sees the Ants. An absolute must-read for anyone who likes YA Lit.)

Fox and Phoenix is a really interesting mix of folkloric China and modern day Chinese steampunk. Yun and Kai must travel across China to find their friend, Princess Lian, to warn her of her father's, the king's, imminent death. Their quest is filled with Dragon Ghosts, warriors, spells and magic, and all the mod-cons with which to cast the spells. Such a great world to put a story like this in: the elevators are run by magic and wind, there are cell-phone-like phones and computers in people's eyes, and no hotels, only inns or roadside stops, where you have to pee out back. Exciting, funny, I'm looking forward to the sequel. (Viking. Age 11 and up. Available in October '11.)

Riding Invisible was quite a good book. Good for kids who like reading things in the form of journals, good for others who like reading about kids in crisis, good for horse fans. Yancy is in a family where his brother could kill him or his horse at any time. Will has conduct disorder, a mental illness where he has no ability to control his emotions or to see his way clear to the end of an action. He has threatened Yancy's horse, Shy, and now they have to run away to be safe.

What a story. They head into the desert outside of LA, sleeping in parks, drinking out of rivers, getting mugged and relying on the kindnesses of strangers. When they are eventually given refuge by a man who works on a horse ranch, Yancy learns that sometimes, but not always, forgiveness is the better part of life. It doesn't mean be stupid and put yourself in danger, but to try and get beyond the immediate, get safe, and then deal with the fact that family is still family and things have to get fixed.

I really appreciated that the adults tried to be adult and deal with the son in a quiet logical manner until they realized that, sometimes, you really aren't going to be able to fix things and you have to let someone else better qualified help you. Lots of good stuff in a thin volume. Ages 11 and up. Great horse information in this one. (Hyperion. $8.99. Available now.)

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