Wednesday, February 23, 2011

books for dreary days

Sunrise today was at 6:35, sunset will be at 6:06. Wet, dreary, gray.

So, when you're stuck at home and the landscape outside is strange and unearthly, retellings of fairy tales can be a good distraction. Three of the current offerings on my desk are Noah Barleywater Runs Away, by John Boyne; Sweetly, by Jackson Peirce; and The Search for WondLa, by Tony DiTerlizzi, not really a tale-retelling but it has that feeling.

Retold fairytales are seductive to me; it feels as if each new story helps to unveil the secrets as to where and why these stories were originally told. I love reading how other tellers of the tale understand and explain that world, taking us back to the kernel of story and lesson.

The Search for WondLa has been out for a while and it really is a wonderful book. It's the story of Eva Nine, a little girl who has lived underground her entire life. She is 12 years old and has lived only with Muthr, a robot who cares for her. When her home is invaded and destroyed by a huntsman, she must escape to the surface to survive. Eva and Muthr, and a cast of characters that will capture your heart, embark on a journey to find WondLa. Eva holds a single clue that could explain why she is the only human being on the surface of an alien planet, a picture of a girl, a robot and a human holding hands, with the word WondLa written on it.

The Search for WondLa is a great deal of fun, very exciting, adventurous, and the artwork is amazing, as you'd expect from the illustrator of the Spiderwick Chronicles. I read the advanced reading copy so the art isn't complete or in color but the few pieces included are still pretty cool. There is "expanded" (no, wait: Augmented Reality with sound) art on the author's website. If you have a child who likes epic-y big books, this is the one for you. It's big and thick and is the first in a series. It's very much a book to capture your attention and keep you enthralled for hours. Age 9 and up. (Simon and Schuster. 17.99. Available now.)

Sweetly, by Jackson Peirce, is a loose Hansel and Gretel retelling. The author also wrote Sisters Red, which I really liked, based on the Red Riding Hood tale. Gretchen was a twin but her sister was wrenched out of their lives by a monster when they were children. Ever since, Gretchen and Ansel, her brother, have felt that the woods are watching them, waiting for them to make a mistake. When their stepmother throws them out when they are teenagers, they end up living with a candy maker, Sophia, in a little comfortable southern town. Sophia's candies are magical, and she teaches Gretchen her trade. All is wonderful and good, until the local girls start to go missing. Creepy, a little odd, romantic...A good crossover book (crossovers are books that teens and adults can share). (Little Brown. $17.99. Available June, '11.)

My friend Mary Jane Beaufrand absolutely loved this next book so of course I had to read it. No one at work had one; I thought I'd have to ask MJ to borrow it! And she borrowed it from someone else-I never have to borrow books from people (and I certainly didn't want to wait until it showed up at the store)! Thankfully, it was one of the books I found in the ABA Winter Institute galley room (I know, can you imagine? A whole room stacked with new galleys. How on earth do you choose? Why choose?) and one of the few I took with me for the plane trip back home. Noah Barleywater Runs Away, by John Boyne, the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

I love the cover of this book, browns, yellows, a tree with stars hanging and an empty pair of tennis shoes at the foot of the tree. Kind of eerie in a dream-world kind of way. The art, line art in spots throughout, is by our friend Oliver Jeffers, author/illustrator of Lost and Found.

Noah Barleywater is 8 years old and his problems are overwhelming. So he runs away, through the woods and into the great wide world. Along the way, he encounters moving trees and people who chase him for assaulting the apple tree by taking its apples, and into an extraordinary toy shop filled with magic and a toymaker who has an amazing story to tell. Noah's journey leads him to a man whose story shows him that home is always with you and that regret shouldn't be a word in a life's vocabulary.

Noah Barleywater Runs Away is beautifully written, quite dreamy, and one of those books that makes you feel longing for something. I don't know for what, just longing. Age 9 and up. (Random House. $16.99. Available May, 2011.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nebula Award Nominees announced

Sunrise was at 7:03, sunset will be at 5:43.

There was blue light coming through the crack in the curtains when the alarm went off and it wasn't yet 6 am. Took the car in and the sun was up and the birds were loud. The rain froze to the windshield and the cover over the daphne plant was crunchy. There are tulip, daffodil and crocus leaves coming up through all the old leaves. Don't you love when the bulb leaves come up actually through the leaf, right through it? They must grow so slowly that they, atom by atom, push the leaf cells apart and insert themselves in the open part. The neighbors' daphne plant is sending out the first scents of spring, wafting out over their fence and down the hill. mmmm, bright and citrus-y.

I read Marsbound and Starbound over the weekend-LOVED Marsbound and couldn't wait to read Starbound so went to Elliott Bay to buy it. I don't regret having read it, but it wasn't my favorite book by any means. It was disjointed and I had to keep thinking about who was speaking and I so liked the main character in MB...I really just wanted more of her. There will be a third, which I wish was available already- the end of SB has quite the little cliffhanger. When I checked Joe Haldeman's site, he said he was working on Earthbound. It may be two years before it's done! Aarggh!

Then I had to see about John Scalzi's next book and went to his website and had a very pleasant time reading his blog: And today he has a link to the Nebula Award Nominees for 2011. Here are the Young Adult Nominees, The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, I am so excited to know about these now! Can't wait to read them all:

Ship Breaker
, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
White Cat
, Holly Black (McElderry)
, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press; Scholastic UK)
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, Barry Deutsch (Amulet)
Boy From Ilysies, Pearl North (Tor Teen)
I Shall Wear Midnight
, Terry Pratchett (Gollancz; Harper)
Conspiracy of Kings
, Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow)
, Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK)

Oh, and these are the nominated adult novels:

Native Star M.K. Hobson (Spectra)
Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit UK; Orbit US)
Shades of Milk and Honey
, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okarafor
Blackout/All Clear
, Connie Willis (Spectra)

Now, that's a LIST! If you like science fiction and fantasy, add the Hugo Award nominees (the deadline for nominations is March 26, 2011) and you have a season's worth of reading all taken care of.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Great Science Fiction and Angry Young Man

The sun rose at 7:07, and brilliant orange of sunset was at 540

I read Marsbound, by Joe Haldeman, after I got home yesterday and was quite peeved that I didn't think far enough ahead to buy Starbound just in case I finished it. So, we walked to Elliott Bay Bookstore and went shopping. Saw Jamil and took in the scene that is Elliott Bay.

We walked down to the Melrose Market (obviously on Melrose Street) and fell completely in love with the rough-hewn loveliness that holds a butcher shop, sandwich shop, flowers, wine and cheese. It was packed! and we took complete advantage of the different offerings they had. There are cheese classes, home-made soups, brunch in a wonderful terrarium-like room where you can watch the cooks make your food. And it smelled so good, like rosemary and mint, exotic spices from the butcher's counter.

Such a be-yoo-ti-ful day. Blue skies, sunny, and COLD and WINDY! We didn't even break a sweat walking all those miles. I think we're going to make these long neighborhood walks on Saturdays a tradition. We've been to the Pike/Pine neighborhood twice, I know, it sounds like we've never lived on Capitol Hill, but there is so much to see and eat and drink there. How can you take it all in in two hours-long walks?

It is going to be a clear and star-filled night tonight, in the mid-20's, I'm going to go out and cover the daphne again. The poor thing looks awful.

I read Angry Young Man, by Chris Lynch, another author whose books I will read without even looking at the blurb. His books are often about young men on the edge of violence, the edges of society, difficult books to read about people who have done some awful things or who have had awful things to them. That having been said, he has also written some hysterically funny books about growing up and living with the choices that are made.

Angry Young Man is the story of two brothers, Robert, our narrator, the older brother of Xan, a misfit with a good heart, different enough to not have a comfortable place in the world. Xan's sense of justice runs high, he doesn't really have the ability to see two sides of an argument and he's worried that people can see into his soul by looking in his eyes.

Robert is in college and has a job, not enough to leave home, though; his life is hard but it's working out. When things start to get really rough at home, more bills than money, Xan is asked to get a job, too. Unfortunately, things don't go well and his behavior begins to get more and more extreme. When it looks like Xan may resort to violence to set things right, Robert has to figure out how to save him.

I love the relationship between the brothers, I love that the mom is flawed and has done the very best she could have done under the circumstances. I love the relationship between the brothers and the mom. It's a book that illustrates how quickly things can go pear-shaped and how hard they are to fix when it happens.

It's a small book, a quick read, but very good. Ages 12 and up. (Simon and Schuster. Available now. $16.99.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

books, books, boxes of books (long post for a car full of all those words)

Sunrise, 7:08, sunset 5:39.

It's Friday once again and what a great day. For one thing, it's not raining. There is light in the sky and it isn't freezing. The other good thing was getting up and delivering boxes and boxes of books to schools that REALLY need them. I am on the board of the Northwest Literacy Foundation and we have a program called Fill the Shelves. We delivered 20 or so boxes to 6 different schools, schools that have lost all or almost all of their funding for books and their libraries. We choose these schools based on the percentage of children who receive free or reduced lunches.

The look on the faces of the librarians and the kids when we rolled the handtruck into the libary was pretty amazing. Some cried, most laughed, the buzz in the libraries when we walked in was intense. We'd put the boxes on the counters and then let the kids open them up and look at what was inside. By the time the kids get back from their winter break, most of the books should be catalogued and ready to be checked out. The kids who helped with the book opening all got a post-it note and a pen and dibs on the book they most wanted to read first.

One of the classrooms was in the middle of the RIF book distribution, selecting a (free) book and
then putting their names inside. One little boy kept asking, with a very sweet emphasis on the word "book" (booook, pronounced like Luke), I can read this book every day? Every day I can get to read this book? and the librarian, Pat Bliquez of Roxhill Elementary, said, Yes, it's yours forever! You can read it forever! He really got the idea of forever and the joy flowing from his little first grade heart was palpable.

The single middle school we went to, Chinook Middle School in the Highline School District, was in the middle of class change, high movement, lots of noise, and Carolyn Rancour reminded us to stay alert in case we didn't get to the library before getting embroiled in the hallway world of middle school. Her library was filled with computers and books. The computers were lent her from other classrooms so the kids would be able to work together in labs or in groups. She found the space for them by searching through the stacks for old history, science, social studies books, books long out of print, now filled with misinformation. One book she told us about was published in 1962. We hadn't even made it to the moon. John F. Kennedy was still president. The Beatles hadn't yet come to America.

Her new books will be helpful in correcting some of that old information: there is no Soviet Union.

Concord International School in South Park is filled with different languages, many of which I couldn't recognize. The signs are in English, Spanish, Vietnamese...All the kids were in pajamas, obviously it was Pajama Day, the last day in school before Winter break. The first graders in Mindy Terr's library that day got to ride up in the elevator in shifts, each chaperoned by the adults, two of whom were our younger delivery people, Elizabeth and Riley. You forget how exciting riding in an elevator can be for little kids and how very open they are. John Odland and I learned that you should never get in an elevator with anything that could catch on fire because then you could have a fire in the elevator. Someone really learned her lesson about fire safety.

Mindy's students gathered around the books and each one found one they really wanted to read and headed to the little reading area, settling in and reading out loud to each other. I don't think ANY of them were listening to each other, they were just sharing everything, laughing, getting up and showing their friends what they were reading, and then going back to their chairs.

Our first delivery was quiet, school hadn't yet started but this school, Muir, is near Franklin High School, one of the schools that consistently comes in the top places in the Global Reading Challenge. Their librarian, Steve Marsh, is tireless in getting kids who may not speak English at home, literate and at or above grade level before they leave him.

(All the elementary schools are participating in the Global Reading Challenge. Briefly, it is a contest involving books and facts about each one. Each school's 4th and 5th graders will read ten books and then do a Quiz Bowl type trivia test. The school with the most points goes home with the trophy to compete against schools in British Columbia. Northwest Literacy is one of the groups that funds the program.)

Mary Manzin, at Emerson Elementary in Rainier Beach, had only a couple of kids in the room, one in a suit, ready to move on to perform in an assembly but books have an amazing lure for children at this age. Well, for kids of all ages, actually. Mary's assistant was like a bee in a flower bed, touching the boxes, walking around us, getting closer, moving away.

Marcia Kauzlarich at Madrona Elementary in Highline was in the middle of Free Day, the kids had had perfect behavior for 5 weeks (!) and got to choose what they wanted to do. They seriously gave up the games and puzzles they were involved in to be some of the first people in the school to handle books only a few people have touched before. BRAND NEW BOOKS! Again, each of those students immediately found at least one book they "Really have to have it NOW! Can we have this NOW?"

Yeah, I love this. Seeing the progression of literacy, from the tiniest first graders sounding out the words they don't know, the third graders secure enough now in their reading to choose something to read that they haven't had any contact with before, to the great, big middle schoolers who, because they got the right book in their hands, may go onto college or at least have a life filled with beauty and interest.

These librarians, too, are faced with huge obstacles in their schools. There are 80 different languages spoken in the schools in Rainier Beach. There are more than 240 dialects spoken in the Highline School District. They are poorer schools, mostly filled with kids from poorer families. They don't own many books, so the books they can borrow from the library not only change their lives, they change the whole family as they come home for a week or two. Kids read the books to their parents who may not speak any English, thus passing what they learn on to others.

And you know the librarians at EVERY school, not just these few, are dedicated to the kids in their schools and to their lives of literacy, all the forms of literacy. They work long hours, they know every child, every need, make decorations and run math labs. The excitement in each of these libraries was amazing. Every single one of these librarians seemed to be vibrating, their minds ahead of their bodies, they were answering questions and handing out pens, solving problems, catching someone's eyes, and still paying attention to the 4 people who came and interrupted the day.

Look at these classrooms, they are vibrant, bright, connected, filled with laughter and words. What wonderful places to be.

If you are ever looking to donate some money to a good group, think of The Northwest Literacy Foundation. 21 years in existence, it has given thousands and thousands of dollars worth of books to schools in need. It is completely run by volunteers, has no office space, every penny goes to buying books for schools, using a locally owned, independent bookstore for the sales. It is a truly worthy place to give money.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Paul Doiron, Marie Lu: Trespasser and Legend

Sunrise at 71:9 , sunset at 5:29. Stormy tonight, windy and rainy. The sun's going down and there is a strip of clear, lemony light between the Olympics and the rest of the sky. The lights have been flickering and the radio's done that static-y thing that scares the bird. The rain is pummeling the windows.

It's been a long couple of reading days and night. Yesterday was the first day of my weekend, tomorrow's the first day of the next week.

I got up early and took D to the doctor and then to work; I love the drive back down Rainier Avenue South toward home, anchored in the way, way south by Mount Rainier. Every so often, mostly when the air is clear, I can feel the gravitational pull of having something that big at the southern horizon. It is the horizon.

Once, years ago, my friend Jo and I got off the bus in Banff, long before daylight, probably around 4 am, and spent the hours waiting for morning just wandering around looking in windows and deciding where to eat when things opened up. Just as the sky began to lighten, I got really dizzy. It felt like I was walking with a decided lean. When we could finally actually discern the difference between the sky and everything else, I realized that I must have felt the absolute massiveness of the mountain that loomed over the place we were in. It felt like the world had tipped a bit, the mountain was so big and straight up that, even though I thought I was standing upright, I was actually leaning at a slight angle to make the sidewalk seem flat. Bizarre. I think that was the first time that I realized that mass has pull.

I read off and on all day yesterday. It was a good day. I watched the Food Channel (Jamie Oliver is my very FAVORITE!), surfed through old photos, and read.

I absolutely loved Paul Doiron's next book in his series about Mike Bowditch, Maine State Game Warden, Trespasser. Trespasser is about a young game warden dealing with all the crap of trying to hold a relationship together while investigating the disappearance of a woman who hit a deer and then left her car. Great descriptions of the Maine woods in the middle of winter, great descriptions of the Maine folk who live on the edges of those woods and on the edges of society.

The first book in the series is The Poacher's Son. It is still only in hardcover (and well worth the money, in my opinion) but will be available in paper in April, 2011. Trespasser will be out in June. (Minotaur Books. $24.99)

I got to meet Paul at an author dinner here in Seattle last year. Good food, good company, good wine, good book, and then he wolf howled on the corner of 4th and Virginia. Absolutely fabulous night.

I finished Trespasser at midnight and was still not too sleepy so, quietly and with great stealth since every floor in our house squeaks, went into the next room to rummage through the stash of Winter Institute books that I have squirreled away. I found Legend, by Marie Lu.

Legend is a huge deal at Penguin. They rushed out a Special ABA Winter Institute Edition, bound in shiny black paper, with an exciting paragraph on the cover. Sometimes you have to kind of laugh about the serious discussions that people have about the books they are selling us. As booksellers, we hear SO many intense descriptions about certain kinds of books that they all begin to sound alike. And right now, anything that is in anyway about the future world, and not a particularly nice view of the world, is described as a little like Hunger Games, but with a twist. It isn't a very good way to get started with a book that should be read with new eyes.

It is a really good book; great characters, great themes, not so much a utopia gone wrong as a world in decline. It's the story of Day, a boy with issues, smart, caring, and worried about the health of his family. He's also on the run, the government's been looking for him, as he's been taking from the rich and giving to the poor. He's also supposed to be dead. Most of the poor have different versions of plague and he's been secretly stealing money and medicine to help his family.

It's also about June, a wealthy 15 year-old girl who has perfect scores, the highest scores on the youngest person ever allowed to join the military. Her brother has been training her to be the best officer ever, and it seems that most of their time is spent checking to see who hast he plague and looking for Day.

One fateful night, June and Day's worlds collide and their lives will never be the same.

Great read for everyone. It's exciting, well-written, sad and hopeful. I am really looking forward to telling everyone about it when it's published in NOVEMBER! AND it has to be a series because there are certain things in the story that aren't resolved. It ends in such a way that it could be finished, but I hope it does go on! Age 11 and up. (Penguin. Due November '11. $17.99.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Books, Ideas, Life

Nancy Pearl and Steve Sher talking about books and big ideas on KUOW. What books changed your life, your way of thinking, and Nancy mentioned the tv show Eyes of Veronica Mars, it sounds like she really likes the show. And she should! As the pre-eminent librarian in the world today, she recognizes good writing when she hears it!

Rob Thomas is the writer of Eyes of Veronica Mars and the author of some extraordinary teen books: Rats Saw God, Slave Day, and Doing Time. His others are alright but, come on, Rob. Even a fan like myself can't champion those!

Anyway, the books that I love and still think should be at the top of most teen reading lists are the above. Books that deal with self-discovery, stepping into someone else's shoes, how your actions change the world...I think we book sellers of teen lit need to bring these books back into the canon. If you haven't read them, do. If you have, order a couple for the shelf and make them the ones you go to first. They, as far as I can remember, aren't dated, they are funny, they will make the reader re-think their everyday actions and thoughts.

Rats Saw God is the story of a boy who is in detention and has to write about how and why he got there. Along the way it becomes much more than just an assignment.

Slave Day is reminiscent of Glee, now that Glee is in the world. Slave Day is just that: A fundraiser for the school, slaves are auctioned and bought, much horror and insightfulness ensues.

Doing Time is a collection of inter-connected stories, all about people doing their 200 hours of community service. The story about the girl and volunteering at the vet's....

Okay, if you read any of these, will you let me know what you think? Rob has stopped writing books for young adults and he is such an amazing writer. I would love to let him know that his words still reverberate with us, that paper books are still making a difference out there.

I am having trouble working with sizes, obviously, sorry for the unevenness of this post.

These books are good for ages 12 and up. Especially good for boys.

(I have a picture of the two of us in a bar in L.A.. It was a party for Ian Falconer in an amazing hotel -one seen in many commercials- and he was standing at the bar. I couldn't help it, I had to introduce myself and tell him how much I loved his books. His agent was standing right there, and heard the story, kind of looked at Rob -yes, I feel I can call him Rob- and told him that he needed to finish the book he was writing. Well? It's been many years since then, he's done Cupid and Veronica Mars and no more books! I am so bummed.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sunrise was at 7:26 and sunset will be at 5:21. Only a little while more to the equinox, March 20 this year! Cold, overcast, stripes of blue sky and gray clouds and it's supposed to be mostly sunny and close to 50 degrees today.

Dull colors and once more I had to take note of the color in the yard. We have a sustainable, low water, Northwest plants yard so it seems to be mostly gray, green and brown. Some of the things we planted and kept from before the renovation will have great colors, eventually, and then there are the volunteers: the crocuses are rising.

The photo on the left, I don't know the name of this plant but it's strong and rubbery looking, hangs down over the rock wall and has the most vibrant dark blue flowers. All washed out in the camera, though. I find the crocuses most exciting, these little harbingers of spring. They come up everywhere and I have no idea where they'll be next year. The squirrels help to keep the mystery strong.

I finished Ruby Red, by Kerstin Gier, yesterday and so enjoyed it. What if there was a gene for time time travel? What if your cousin was the one in your generation who inherited and was being trained for the experience? And what if all the training should have been for you, instead?

Gwen lives with her extended family in London, keeping watch on her cousin, Charlotte, just in case she disappears from sight and time. The female side of this family has the gene for time travel, exhibiting the signs just around the age of 16. Charlotte has been groomed for this from the time of her birth, long anticipated (since the other family members have been able to at least figure out the when if not the who would be the next in line for the talent) by the family. She knows many languages, has been schooled in different time periods' clothing and manners, can fence and curtsy, and has a comfortable relationship with Gideon, another time traveler.

Unfortunately, Charlotte isn't the one with the gene. It's Gwen. And she hasn't been trained for anything that will help her deal with suddenly appearing in the drawing rooms of ancient mansions.

There are vast, centuries long conspiracies, very interesting time discussions, a missing chronograph, and two of the other time travelers have run away and disappeared into the past. Ruby Red is the first in a trilogy and a fun, funny, light read. I am looking forward to Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green (I think those are the colors!) and more adventures with Gwen and Gideon. Age 12 and up. (Henry Holt. Available in May, 2011. $16.99.)

PS: These books were originally published in German and the only jacket covers I could find were on Kerstin's website (I think it was Kerstin's site!) and they are beautiful! I hope the US publications are as nice.

Brian Jacques

Brian Jacques died. A moment of silence to remember the man who was able to make every child (and adult) feel they were the only reason he created that vast Redwall world.

I don't know how many of you visited All for Kids Books and Music but if you'd ever been, you'd have seen the event room and its walls full of art and words from all of the visitors who'd ever presented to us. Brian Jacques' signature was the very first one; big and black on a wide, white drywall'd wall.

He came and spoke to many children that first event, the very first event we'd had since moving to our new space which included an Event Room. Taking a couple of ciggie breaks, and signing everything we asked him to, he saved a few of the saltier stories about his life for the after-event while his wife and the staff sat laughing and handing him books. When he was done, he said something about how something needed to be done about the blank wall and asked "Shall I sign it?" And that was that. A tradition was born. We found some not too dry markers and he stepped up to the middle of that wall and with a flourish put his name smack dab in the middle, a little like John Hancock's. It was big and bold and all the other authors after signed around his name, eventually filling every open space, the inside of soffits, the door frames, the ceiling and moving out of the room into the store itself.

He came back a few more times just to say hello and to slide another little note onto the wall: Il Ritorno. I return. He was a marvelous man to listen and talk to, someone who never thought there was a difference in writing for kids or adults, that if the story was a good one, it was a good one for all. He changed a lot of lives, Brian did. Children, especially boys, would read his very thick, very small print, books straight through, surprising their parents and teachers, because the story was so good and Brian said they could. Kids still find themselves traveling through Redwall into the rest of the world.

Travel well, Brian. Eulalia!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Stork, by Wendy Delsol

I have to write about Stork before I forget.

I read Stork, by Wendy Delsol last month but I obviously went on to something else before I got it written down- I really like retellings of fairy tales or re-inventions of how myths get started and Stork is a good example of this.

Katia Leblanc is 16 and a reluctant new resident of a small northern Minnesota town. Not only is she new to the town, she has to start over at a high school smack dab in the middle of a whole class of kids who have known each other forever. Even though Katia has been to visit her grandfather before, she doesn't really know anyone else.

One night, she meets the old woman who owns the fabric store across the street from the grocery store her grandfather owns and she helps out in. This meeting heralds a huge change in her life, combining ancient worlds and rites and modern day choices about life and death. She is inducted into the Icelandic Stork Society, an order of women with the ability to connect unborn children with the correct mother.

If that's not enough, she has to deal with a bad decision she made with BMOC Wade at a party and some interesting feelings she has with Jack, a boy she fights with every time they meet, even though she feels strangely drawn to him.

This was a really intriguing read. I hate the cover, it certainly doesn't evoke any of the innards of the book. I picked it up thinking, "Okay, read a page or two and then you can take it back to the store and leave it." Nope, you're right, I had to finish it. Absolutely riveting and will be one of those books you can recommend to teens who like fairy tales. Age 12 and up. (Candlewick. Available now. $15.99.)
D and I went to his company picnic last Friday. I bought a new outfit and new shoes, shoes with non-rounded toes, with a HEEL, a high heeled pair of shoes. I had to wear them around the house while I worked so they'd stretch a little bit. I love my feet. They are bony and veiny and wide. They look like my hands. My feet and hands are the very same as my Grandpa Hi's, my Grandma Pearl's and my mom's. Except for the color of my eyes, these body parts are pretty much the family legacy. No money, no treasures, just bony body parts.

Okay, because it has been so dark today and I needed a little pick me up and a little light, I went out and took photos of the color in the yard.

Gary Schmidt and Best Books Ever

Sunrise was at 7:32, sunset will be at 5:15 but on days like this, it just stays dark and gets darker until it's night. It's cold, wet, windy; gray, sage and brown. I know there are bright spots out there somewhere but it's too uncomfortable outside to go look. I just heard that it's 50 degrees and my feet are freezing.

It's noon, I've been up for an hour, too many late nights reading, have drunk half a pot of coffee, and am boiling up some beans for chili. I can't seem to focus on any one thing: it took me 20 minutes to empty the dishwasher and I still haven't put the pans away. Looked at facebook, then got distracted by a pile of books, then jumped back and forth between the blogger dashboard and email. I finally turned the heat up and the heat has risen to my shoulders and now I'm too warm (and my feet are still cold).

Since it's Friday and my day off, anything for an excuse, I am going to make ramen for lunch! YAY! My favorite comfort food. And, yes, the small, square, packages that are 10 for a dollar, are my ramen of choice. Lots of celery, snow peas, and some cheese all melted through. Mmmmm. I used to make this for my high school boyfriend; in college I had a friend over for dinner and this is what I made (he said, "Maybe you can't cook, but you can sure stir!"). I love this stuff. I know it's not the best possible food on earth, and I always end up napping after, but it makes me HAPPY!

I received the boxes of books (and, yes, I said BOXES) from the Winter Institute shipping room and I left them unopened for a couple of days, sitting on the floor in the dining room. I put off opening them because it was such a treat knowing what was inside, knowing how great it was going to be to get inside and pull them out, one book at a time, ruffling the pages, looking at the back covers, putting this one in the immediate pile, this one in the next pile, this one on the table so I could read it NOW.

I pulled Divergent out first and read that one in one long pull, then I searched for Okay for Now, written by Gary D. Schmidt, because I really wanted to read that one first.

Okay for Now is Mr. Schmidt's companion to The Wednesday Wars, one of the best books ever. And now I can add Okay for Now to my list of One of the Best Books Ever.

Doug Swieteck is an 8th grader. His dad is a slob and an alcoholic, a mean man. His mom is amazing, his brother is beginning to take after his dad, and his other brother is in Viet Nam. When the book begins, they have to move away from the world they know to "Stupid Marysville", a town with a stupid library, a stupid store, and a stupid school, because his dad got himself fired from his stupid job.

I don't want to tell you too much about the book because it is such a joy to read. I told D. how much I liked this book and a little bit about it and he said something along the lines of "sounds really uplifting". Well, it is. Doug is a great character and so realistic. He's confused, unhappy, worried, angry but so wants to do well and be a good friend. Will he ever get his chance? Will his hoodlum brother's reputation always get in Doug's way? Will his dad's friend, Ernie, get him fired again? What will happen when/if his oldest brother comes home from the war? How is he going to deal with school when his disabilities are discovered?

Thank whatever's out there for libraries, librarians, and friends who see something good in you. When Doug finally gets himself admitted to the library and makes his way to an echoey room with a glass box in the center, he finds something that gives his life focus and reason. That enclosed book and its paintings of birds give him something beautiful and all his own to hold close to his chest. Something his father can't take, that he can share in little ways with others, and something outside himself that he feels he can make the world a better place.

I LOVED this book. Now I want to reread Wednesday Wars and then this one, again.

Gary D. Schmidt will be coming to Third Place Books in May. Read one of his books and then come meet him. The photo at the top of the page is of Gary signing my copy of Okay for Now at Winter Institute. Isn't that COOL!

(And the ramen? it was good and I started Bumped, by Megan McCafferty, while I ate and scraped up every bit of stringy cheddar and snapped into those bright green veggies.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

David Levithan and The Lover's Dictionary

Oh! I had my second physical therapy appointment today, many tiny movements writ big, movements connecting those tiny wrist bones and their delicate shifts and those big shoulder bones that are so affected by the lack of movement in those wrist bones. One more therapy session and x-rays next week. Woohoo!

I know, I know, two posts in one day but I have to tell you about David Levithan's new book for grown-ups, The Lover's Dictionary.

The Lover's Dictionary is the story of a relationship told in alphabetical order using words from the dictionary where the definition is a memory/thought/entry defining that word. It is such a cool book! I just couldn't pick up Getting Things Done to read while I had breakfast. This is what I took with me to therapy and just had to keep reading.

"disabuse, v.

I love the idea that an abuse can be negated. And that the things most often disabused are notions."

It is a very interesting way to tell a story- I have visions of using this idea in our summer book and writing programs - however, using words that may not be loaded with so many adult connotations.

David Levithan writes beautifully, something you'd expect since he is an editor at Scholastic. If you haven't read anything by him, check him out (Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, Love is the Higher Law...). He will be at Elliot Bay Bookstore for this book on Saturday and I think I need to be there.

Maybe I'll see you there!

(Lover's Dictionary is for grown-ups. Available now, $18.00. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)

Divergent for Spring

Sunrise is at 7:35, sunset will be at 5:12. The Olympic mountains are ghostly this morning. The snow glows against the graying skies and the snow-cleared rock is the same shade of sky - the peaks float above the Sound. And now they are pink as the sun has finally risen high enough to illuminate that side of the landscape.

It's sunny and COLD. It isn't back east or Texas cold but it's still cold. Had to cover the daphne again last night so it might have even a few buds open in late February. The lilac buds are beginning to plump up and I heard a bird at 5 am the other day. I guess Punxsatawney Phil is right: Spring must be right around the corner.

I was up until 1 last night, this morning, whatever, reading Divergent, by Veronica Roth, a first-time author. What a book! One of the things we did at Winter Institute was a Speed Dating thing: authors spent 15 minutes speaking to us about their favorite books and then they'd move on to the next table and keep spreading the good news. I would say that at least every presenter had at least one book they compared to Hunger Games. Hunger Games meets Twilight, Hunger Games goes feral....I remember talking to someone about that: what if there was no Hunger Games? How would you describe these books then?

Divergent takes place well into the future, in a degrading Chicago, and is the story of a girl who lives in one of five Factions. In the bad days, it was decided that evil, poverty, violence, all these things could be lessened or gone if the world was divided into groups that were the essence of certain virtues. Beatrice is born into the Abnegators, one who gives selflessly, thinks only of others, and is able to think clearly because they have nothing above anyone else. They are also the people in charge of the government because they only think about what would be best for everyone.

At the age of 16, the children are able to choose where they would like to spend the rest of their lives, to switch factions, if they are unhappy, to one that more closely reflects who they are. The other factions are Erudite, the scholarly, research laden, Dauntless, brave and exciting, the ones in charge of training for battle (just in case), Amity, balanced and happy, and Candor, the ones who see through the crap and see things only in black and white, truth tellers.

This one choice can change everything they have ever known, can take them from their families and friends, change who they will ever be.

Beatrice and her brother, Caleb, are 16 and the story begins as they are being tested to see which faction they would best be suited for. Beatrice has begun to really question who she is, she has realized that she is not suited for selfless giving, she feels selfish and questioning, not an Abnegator. When she decides, she chooses the most opposite faction she can: Dauntless.

This is an amazingly compelling read. Filled with exciting action, evil people, great romance, big ideas and massive fallibility- I truly could not put it down, and neither could Annie, one of my co-workers at Third Place. I started it last night at 9:30 and was truly concerned that I would not finish before midnight. I didn't, but I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep if I didn't know how this first part ended.

This book will be garnering a ton of buzz and press, so order it up from your local, independent bookstore.

I probably should have finished the rest of the first chapter of Getting Things Done that I have to have done by tomorrow before I picked up Ms. Roth's novel. I can read a 487 page book like Divergent in a single bedtime reading and it takes me days to get through 53 pages of a business book. Hmmm. (Divergent will be available in May, 2011. Age14 and up. $17.99.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Alice Hoffman is Coming!

Sunrise was at 7:36, sunset will be at 5:10. At 7 am the sky is a pure indigo blue, just beginning to announce the day. It is the same color at 6 pm. There is just a clear deep blue, like light coming through stained glass, bookending our days. There are a few extra minutes of light per day and it is finally noticeable. When 4:30 pm comes and goes and it is still daylight, you know it's coming up spring.

Like many people who read a lot, there isn't a lot of time between one book and the next. I finished reading Red Garden, Alice Hoffman's newest (published) book and received her VERY NEXT book in the mail, The Dovekeepers, the same day. That's a good thing because she's coming to the store on FRIDAY! I can't wait! I hope she'll sign all my books-I've been reading her for decades and have been hoarding everything just in case I ever got to meet her! Favorite AH books? White Horses (this was my introduction to AH and is still my all-time favorite book by her) Illumination Night, Practical Magic, Red Garden, and, even though I'm not finished with it, Dovekeepers.

I found myself wandering all over the house reading Red Garden. I read it while on the bike in the living room, and then carried it everywhere, reading over the counter stirring breakfast, draped over the bannister upstairs, putting my pants on, holding the pages down with the blankets putting on my socks. Finished it eating breakfast. Very satisfying, very Alice Hoffman-ish. Very much a loud whisper of a book; I lean in to hear more. I find her books to be powerful in their quietude.

Red Garden is the story of a place and, within that story, the stories of the women of that place. Three hundred years of the history and the making of a small town through the memories and passions of the women who lived there. At the center of the town, and at the center of the book, is a garden where only red plants grow, where even transplanted plants turn red. And at the center of the garden is a secret.

I love her books because of the secrets that the people in her books hold close. They are secrets that change the lives of those who hold them and they can be as simple as a crush or as complex as murder - and I have found a relationship with her characters because I can see their secrets reflected in my own. Her characters are fictional but the actions they take and the passions they feel are very much ours.

I can't wait to get back to Dovekeepers (must read book called Getting Things Done first for a staff book group), a story that takes place in 70 c.e. about a girl whose mother dies while she is being born and so she is ostracized within her family; her father thinks she is cursed. As the Romans destroy Jerusalem, she and her father escape into the desert and she falls in love with a man whose family is traveling with them. It's really good. The language, history and rites of the times are fascinating, and I am anxiously awaiting my return to it. (Dovekeepers will be available in October, '11.)