Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunrise is at 7:37, sunset will be at 4:20.

I'm publishing this post on what would have been Dave Fitzgerald's 47th birthday.  My brother-in-law, the baby of the Fitzgerald family, died suddenly last Saturday morning.  The world will be a little less funny without him in it, a little less loud, a little less, period. He was the salt in the stew that made up our family. 

What a joy it has been to be a part of his life.  Thanks.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Sunrise was at 7:18, sunset was at 4:30.

Oh, I have missed you, dear blog of mine.  It's been a particularly busy last few months.  I see that the last time I posted was way back in August!  That's just not right.

So.  Here's the skinny:  After being laid off in February 2012, I went to work at Mockingbird, a children's bookshop, in July.  It is a lovely bookstore filled with great and informed booksellers, two from All for Kids (yay to Sue and Linda), and packed with the best books and games.  It is a well-lighted, pretty space in an old church a block from Green Lake.  It felt like home. 

A couple of months into my stay, I got a call from Morley Horder at Eagle Harbor asking if I would come to Bainbridge Island for a talk.  We'd been working on an outside project, Morley, his manager, Tim Hunter, and I, and the upshot was that he wanted to sell the store to the two of us.  Can you imagine my surprise?  What would you say?

I did say yes, after a little thinking about it, and have now been there since October 10.  Tim and I work well together, the staff is great, pretty much run themselves, and the store reminds me of a ship, all wood and windows and shelves.

I walk to the ferry from my house and just walk on, walking off when we reach the other side.  It's an extraordinary commute, all water and sky and birds.

The 35 minute ferry ride allows me a little uncomplicated reading time; there is little else I can do but read.  And look out the window and watch for whales.  I guess I could wrench my laptop and cords out of the bag and set it all up and answer emails, but...

So, there it is.  I'm a bookstore owner!  I've met the BI mayor and the new governor of Washington, Jay Inslee.  We have a dedicated customer base and the store really is the heart of the community.  It's lovely.  George Shannon, Jack Prelutsky, Susan Selfors AND Barbara Berger live nearby.

And books- I have read so many books.  Now that I have my schedule sussed, I should be able to write more about the books I've loved.  Like The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, by Jonathan Evison, another island author, an amazing book about a man in trouble and the boy with cerebral palsy that he cares for.  AND it's a road trip book.  It's funny and heartbreaking and so, so good. You should all read it before it gets made into a movie.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Blue Moon over Seattle

sunrise was at 6:27, sunset at 7:51.  the very air was golden in the afternoon.

just a quick little note to remember:  it's august 31, 2012- a lovely day, the wind cool with the smell of warm.  we ate breakfast outside (dennis cooked).  blue sky, hummingbirds in and out of the fountain.  niece is coming tomorrow, and tonight is a blue moon.  i went to the top of the hill to see it in it's full-ness.  the sky is amazing!  the clouds are like the bottomsides of icebergs, the color of gin in tonic, the blue in opals; currents of air pushing them aside to leave indigo paths to the moon brilliant above.  jets rival the stars and planets as they come and go over the sound.  the air smells like tansy and juniper, warm, like drier lint.

i went to the car earlier to do mundane tasks in the heat of the day and opened the door to what was both exquisite and more than a little gross.  a slug had gotten into the car: when i opened the door, the dry silver slime, now dry and cracking, still shimmered in the the sunlight.  it was so beautiful, a silver calligraphy, ending at an eraser of a slug, dried and twig-like at the driver's seat.  the trail could be tracked from the back of the jeep to the where this slender thing with tiny antennae finally expired, swirls and loops of a mercurial storytelling.  this is the way fairies tell their tales: sitting astride slugs and snails on teensy saddles, tinsel voices geeing and hawing as they direct their steeds one way and the other until  all  is finally told.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bartender's Tale and Old-Fashioned Storytelling

Sunrise was at 6:09 this morning, and sunset will be at 8:17.  It is just after 8 am and it is 71 degrees outside.  It's beautiful and there is a very slight breeze.  All the windows and doors are open to cool the air down before we hit the mid 90's.  The air over the Sound has that kind of gritty look that just looks hot.

Well, I love Ivan Doig's books. I love to read them, I love to sell them, they're pretty on a shelf, and I loved talking with him.

I am putting a link to the interview that Thom Chambliss and I did with Ivan here.

What the interview doesn't have, and this is the part I don't have the writing skills to show, was how much Ivan laughs while he talks!  He leans forward, he sits back, his voice bubbles with laughter and he nods when letting you in on something important.  He takes long pauses when searching for the right word or phrase, looking out of the windows off over the sound, until he finds it.

He sits at a desk that has a silver manual typewriter on it.  I don't know if you can see that it has a left handed cartridge return and a bald, shiny spot where his hand rests.  He's got pads of paper, a cup of tea, pens.  There's a phone, but not at hand, there is a HUGE, old computer behind him where he eventually prints and reads his manuscripts.  The walls that aren't windows are filled with books, art, filing cabinets, and paper ephemera collected for projects.  There is a signed painting that, I'm assuming was the original, was the dust jacket for This House of Sky.

Carol, Ivan's wife, sits slightly out of the way and he includes her constantly in the interview, double checking his facts, making sure the timing of the stories are right, telling us about their lives together.  It's obvious that she has a great role in making sure that things get done and done the way they should be.  There is no I in this team.

Anyway, it was a joy and an honor to have been asked to take the photos and then to rescue the interview after a machine meltdown. I've included some of the photos that didn't make it into the interview in this blog post. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Black City, by Elizabeth Richards

Black City, by Elizabeth Richard
I will read anywhere.

Thankfully, for reading time, anyway, I own a Jeep.  It takes at least four pages to fill the tank.

For those of you who like dystopia, vampire-ish characters, and really dislikable side characters, Black City, by Elizabeth Richards, is for you.

Star-crossed lovers, Natalie, the daughter of the Emissary of Black City, and Ash, the son of a human and a Darkling (a twin-blood), meet under not-so-great circumstances.  She's escaping her guard, he's biting a human to give that human a Haze high.  The two of them feel an immediate connection but neither can explain it.

In this time, war has come and gone.  The Darklings are segregated behind huge walls, starving and decimated by the Wrath Plague.  The United Sentry States are 9 states governed by military law.  Natalie and Ash are by-products of the war and never should have met.

Natalie has recently moved back to Dark City and is in school with Ash (she is a stubborn girl who really wants to give her mom fits by going to public school).  They make physical contact and sparks literally fly:  Ash's heart gives its first beat ever.  

A Twin-Blood has two hearts, neither of which beats until they meet their blood mate.  But how can they make their attraction to each other work?  It's against the law for either of them to love the other, crucified citizens are mounted at the city walls for loving someone other than those of their own species.

Ooh, it's good.  I'm not done, yet, just had to let you know that you need to look for this book in your piles of galleys (if you're a bookseller or a librarian).  It pulled me out to the porch the other night for a couple of hours of reading as the sun set.

I will say that when I caught the, now fairly obvious, reference to our past history in these United States, I had a complete palm to head D'oh moment, but, when you are taken by a book from the beginning and are moved by plot, sometimes someone has to yell at you to pay attention.  I don't know if that gives anything away or not, I haven't gotten to the end yet so...

I am thoroughly enjoying the ride.  I'm looking forward to finishing it and I'll let you know if the ending lives up to the rest of the tale.

(Ages 14 and up.  Putnam.  Available November, 2012.  Hardcover, $17.99.)

Addendum:  Finished it last night and it was good.

(no recompense was received for the review of this book.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rift, by Andrea Cremer, and a New View!

Monday, July 2, 2012.  The sun rose at 5:17 and it will set at 9:10.

The day is cool, so far, and the air feels wet.  It's overcast, but D went off to work without an outercovering saying, "It's Summer."  Yes, it is.  It's been muggy, colder inside than out, and I am REALLY not complaining, not after hearing about the rest of the nation's woes.  A friend in D.C. lost her porch when a tree fell in her backyard during the tornado strength storms over the weekend.

After a month and some odd days, it will be 2 months on July 5, we are finally putting up my birthday present!  During one of the last wind storms we awoke to the back screen door in pieces, dangling from its hinges and screws.  The wind caught it and slammed it back and forth against the house until it was limp and splintery.

We bought a new screen door on May 5, picked it up a week or two later.  I went out, got it securely packed in the jeep and received a short tutorial on how to finish a door.  I've spent the last 2 weeks or so sanding, wiping, oiling and staining.  The door is gorgeous and feels as soft as buttah.  Sliding my hands over the varnish, it's like glass, so smooth and silky.  The door guy is coming today.

We'd do it ourselves but the last time we did doors, we got into the worst fights!  Go to your left, no, your OTHER left! Lift, not that high! No, higher! Oh, my god, it was worse than learning how to drive a stick shift together.  Never again; it is so much more worth having someone else do it for me.  I did it once.  I know I can do it again.  I don't need to do it again.  And if I have to do it again, I may well have to do it with someone other than the husband.  Too easy to yell at the husband.

I just finished reading Rift, by Andrea Cremer.  It's the prequel to the Nightshade series, that really fun series of books about packs of werewolves with a very strong female presence.  Andrea Cremer is an early modern history professor at Macalester College.  Filled with allusions to sexual politics and the rights of women to make decisions about themselves and their lives, they are eye-opening and  empowering reads for young adults.  Okay, I read them long before realizing the self-empowerment parts - I just thought they were really good and the main character was so COOL!  Talk about a butt-kicking hero!

Rift takes place in Britain, after the Knights Templar, during the middle ages.  Ember is the younger daughter of a wealthy lord.  She was promised to the Conatus when her mother was saved from death during Ember's birth.  She's 16, now, and the Conatus, a secret group battling evil and demons throughout the land, have come to claim their due and train her as a warrior. 

Ember finds herself adapting easily to this world of warriors except for dealing with her tutor, Barrow.  She's finding life with Barrow to be particularly unnerving as she's not quite sure what the feelings she has for him are or if she is allowed to even have them. She's a quick study, strong, able with her weapons, but unsure as to what he feels for her.

When one of the group goes rogue, tempted into the dark magics to save her convent from a greedy abbot, convincing her order that the only way to survive is to join up with the demons, Ember has to decide whether to follow her or to leave the order and hunt down the knights she's grown to love.

Filled with action and weaponry and romance, Rift is a worthy addition to the Nightshade books.  It tells the beginning of the tale of the Keepers and the Searchers, the two groups represented in the Nightshade series.

I would have loved a pronunciation key for the names.  I played with all the possibilities until I just gave up and hummed them in my head as I ran across them.  Fionn=Finn?  Cian=Sean?  Shawn?  Does it matter?  Only if doesn't bother you to stop and figure them out each time they come up.  Eira=?

I really enjoy Andrea's books because the girls aren't afraid to get dirty.  They are strong and able, secure in their abilities to fight and win, a little arrogant, and will wade in to defend those they feel are on the right side of the battle.  They are sexual beings and comfortable with it.  The women in her books are warriors and proud of it.

And there are horses! 

(Ages 14 and up.  Philomel. $18.99.  Available August, 2012.

(No recompense received for the review of this book.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Three Middle Grade Books for Summer Reading

Sunrise was at 5:13, sunset will be at 9:11.  -26 seconds of daytime since Solstice.

Today, Monday, is wet, gray, cool.  All the colors, especially the chartreuses, are eye-poppingly bright.  That particular color just glows against wet fences and rock walls, the pines and firs and an especially pewter-colored sky. It's supposed to be kind of nice tomorrow.  By nice I mean warm, there may be even some sun!  It sure would be good to have a day made for walking around Seward Park.  The late evenings have been lovely, though.  The sky often starts to clear around 7 or so and by full dark there are stars and the moon.

Do you remember Ray Bradbury's story, All Summer in a Day?  Well, I think I spent that one day of sun sitting in the unemployment office.  I know it's on its way, it'll be summer overnight and then I will long for rain and fog again.

I am so far behind in writing about the books I've read.  I have this stack of books, maybe a stack 3 feet high, that I've read and really enjoyed and just haven't had the time to write about.  Some are hard to write about because I loved them so much I'm afraid I won't do them justice, some I've wanted to bundle into a theme and review together, some I don't remember as well (duh, I read them back in JANUARY!) so need to refresh my memory (which means re-reading at least enough to remember).  It's hard for me to keep track of everything because I read so much faster than I write.

So! I loved these three books for middle grades, the under-12's, that were all available as of February, two of them appropriately released on Valentine's Day based on the outpouring of love they've received.  They are very different from each other, and yet all so appealing. There's something for everyone in these books.

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, is a bookseller/librarian's delight.  It's the story of Auggie Pullman, a boy with a facial deformity that keeps him from attending a mainstream school until 5th grade.  When he makes the decision to go to a regular school, he also makes the decision to open himself up to all the bullying and hate that comes to anyone who is different.  In Auggie's mind, he is an ordinary 10 year-old kid who does all the regular 10 year-old kid things.  What's different about him, though, is his face, a face that sends little kids screaming away from him.  Obviously, this will make it difficult for him to be accepted and treated like everyone else.

Wonder is a great read for kids, parents, teachers and librarians.  Maybe it should be an all-school read at the beginning of the school year along with Sahara Special, by Esme Codell?  Auggie only wants the experiences any other kid that age wants.  With all the surgeries he's had, the illnesses he's had, he's only now been strong enough to go to a "regular" school.  He knows it's not going to be easy but he is so willing to try.

There's a lot of crap that gets thrown his way, but there are also lots of people who look beyond his outsides and get to know him as a friend.  This book is NOT goopy or all feel-good-ish.  Descriptions of Auggie's mealtimes are kind of gross, he has a keen sense of humor, and there are lots of people who make fun of him who will never learn better.  I really liked the alternate view points that come up half-way through the book, although I wasn't ready for them.  I was totally in Auggie's head and I was a little disoriented by the change-over.

Wonder took me by surprise and I wish I'd read it as soon as it was in my hands.  It's not too young for older readers, if you can find the right ones.  It isn't sweet or a book about being brave.  It's  really about being ordinary no matter how extraordinary you are, and don't we all deal with that?  Ages 8 and up.  Knopf, $15.99.

Bliss, by Kathryn Littlewood, is one of those magical books that will captivate children from the very first page.  I remember starting this story on a weekend afternoon, settling down to "read" (it's probabley not fair to start a book knowing a nap is imminent) in my great big, comfy chair, and realizing that I'd finished it just as it started to get dark!  No nap because of this book!

It's a fun, quirky book about a family with a little bit of cookery magic, a magic Cookery Booke, and a bakery.  When the Bliss family parents are unexpectedly called out of town, the children break all the rules and bring the Booke out into the kitchen.  Surely a little experimentation with a few Cookies of Truth or Love Muffins won't hurt, right?  The town of Calamity Falls may never be the same.  Stir in a really horrible Aunt Lily who has her sights set on the Booke and the dough really hits the fan.

Bliss is reminiscent of Ingrid Law's Savvy and Jeanne Birdsall's Penderwicks.  It's a really great summer book, light, funny, magical and it would be really fun to have a mother-daughter book group read it and share the cookie recipes they come up with.  Ages 8 and up.  Katherine Tegen Books, $16.99.

The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter, is one of my very favorite books of the season (this season, summer-not the book season since it came out in Feb.).  It's atmospheric and descriptive and filled with legends and ghosts and adventure.  There also are orphans and almost orphans and very prickly children.  It's packed pretty full for a book of only 192 pages!

Roo hides.  She likes to go to ground, find a place close to living dirt, listen to the shifting of roots and worms.  It's the way she's found to be connected to something solid.  Her family, her dad and his girlfriend, are not very stable and one day they are murdered.  Because she is hiding under their trailer, she survives.  Everything finally shakes out and her caseworker finds her last relative, her reclusive Uncle Philip, who reluctantly takes her into his house and his life.

Philip Fanshaw lives on an island in the St. Lawrence river, in a house that was once a children's tuberculosis sanitarium.  It's a big, round place filled with empty rooms and walled off hallways, and nowhere to hide in the bedroom she's been given.  On one of her long rambles through the areas she's allowed she hears someone humming, but, as far as she knows, except for her uncle, herself and the few staff, there's no one else in the house!

Roo eventually finds the source of the humming.  A massive secret no one wants her to know.

I LOVED this book.  There are secret rooms and a dead garden.  There is a nature imp of sorts, a boy who lives on and around the river, who is followed by a heron.  There are sickly children and tantrums thrown.  There are broken adults and healing kids and secrets and nature.  There are legends about the boy on the river and gossip about the owner of the sanitarium.  It is a wonderful book inspired by The Secret Garden and a very good book for summer reading.  It would be a really good read-aloud, if you can keep it from the kids when you aren't looking.

It's a captivating story for ages 9 and up.  Feiwel and Friends, $16.99.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a Good Book for Summer

Sunrise was at 5:12, sunset will be at 9:11, 6 seconds less day than yesterday. 

View from kitchen window in summer.
Funny how this little bit of time, the time of a deep breath, will chip away at the daylight until, by October, it's dark when we wake, dark when we get off work.  Of course, that darkness is helped by the earth's topple as our part of the world starts to turn away from the sun.

I don't mind the lessening of the daylight, but I will miss the long twilights that accompany this time of year.  I'll miss that amazing yellow-orange light of deep afternoon that shows every crevice, and the clear, transparent blues that come late late late and early early early.

No matter what's going on around the house, however dull the daytime has been, those long evenings make me think of what could happen next, there's so much anticipation and secrecy in the cooling day, that moment of transition between now and then.  Noises are both clearer and whispery and you lean, slightly, to hear better; the air near the ground is warm but you'll need another shirt as it cools and fills with the clean scent of salt water.

The sounds from over the neighbor's way?  Those domestic sounds of grill clinks, glasses chiming, burbling words, it's obvious that they have a very secret, much more interesting kind of life once the daylight fades and their Christmas lights come up.  Everyone seems mysterious, sophisticated, and so much thinner as the light wanes.

I just finished reading The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey, something I've wanted to read for a year, and I think it'll be my go-to birthday gift for all the women in the family.   It was so much fun, so romantic, so frustrating.  Anyone who has enjoyed all those Jane Eyre-ish type books will LOVE this one.

I have to say that being able to steal a couple of hours out of the middle of the day, JUST TO READ! has been one of the few joys that comes with being unemployed.  I haven't done it often, only a few times since February, and now, on the eve of my newly hatched employment, I wish I hadn't felt so guilty about it.  I am happy happy happy that the Gemma Hardy library hold came up now, when I was finally over some of that guilt and could luxuriate in the story.

I don't usually like period pieces because so much detail is put in trying to set the scene that the story gets lost, probably because I keep rolling my eyes at the references.  Just get on with it, already.  TFOGH doesn't hit you over the head with timely music or politics, only a few things that come up like naming a chicken "Petula".  Which is kind of perfect because the story needs the slowness of those times, the lack of present day immediacy, to make it work as well as it does.

Gemma Hardy is a strong young thing with a very particular view on her life.  After losing her Icelandic family at age 3, she is adopted into her uncle's Scottish family and raised happily until he dies.  After his death the rest of the family is finally able to treat her the way they'd always wanted to.  She is threadbare and hungry, a drudge in the home, until she wins a scholarship to go away to boarding school.

Unfortunately, her (male) teacher tries to help her and he is drummed out of town by her aunt, and Gemma goes blithely and unknowing as to his disgrace, off to school only to realize that her scholarship pretty much only gets her into the building.  She and the other scholarship girls are the unpaid servants and servers for everyone else, having to teach themselves anything they can when they have the time and are awake enough to learn.

She gains strength through this, though, and eventually ends up at a manor in the Orkneys as the au pair for a little girl named Nell, then meeting Nell's uncle and falling in love.  But, of course, things don't go smoothly.  There are secrets and lies and new people and running away to far places and all so very enjoyable that I wouldn't read in bed because I didn't want to miss anything!

I loved that the book was (oh, so subtly) written in this time period ('60s) because cell phones, laptops, facebook don't exist and Gemma could really disappear and get into the trouble she did.  No ATMs, no credit cards, she doesn't drive so no driver's license.  She hasn't traveled overseas so no passport.  There's no way to find out who she is or isn't, except by using the ways of the small towns in the past:  gossip and the slow travel between villages.

It was so much fun and I can't wait to share this one around!

Good for older teens as well as adults, for anyone who love Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Little Princess or The Penderwicks.   (HarperCollins.  Available now.  $26.99)

(No recompense was received for the review of this book or any other in this blog.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hilary McKay Has a New Book! YAY!

Sunrise was at 5:11 (someone really needs to let that one bird know.  Every morning at 3 am it starts in with its singular loud 3 note chirp.) and sunset will be at 9:10.

It is very gray and very warm and very windy outside my house today.  The only real pops of color are the hummingbird feeder and the hummingbirds' throats as they turn in the air.  Their feathers are  a mossy gray-green and I've only caught a glimpse of their scarlet throats when they are directly in front of me.  Like the other day when one of them flew to the window and seemingly stared in at us, hovering, as the cat backed right up to the edge of her window seat, jabbering in excitement.  Today there were two out over the fountain, bobbing and weaving to figure out who got which side of the bubbler.

There's this great series of books for middle grade readers, by Hilary McKay, that I just love.  They're funny, poignant, have really well-drawn characters, and really great, kooky parents that are still part of the story.  There's no real series name but they are all about the Casson family, an artistic, charming family of 5 children, a couple of parents and a slew of friends.

I first discovered Hilary McKay when a customer recommended reading The Exiles.  I know!  Someone recommended something new to ME!  That happens so rarely, and of course I couldn't not be in the know, that I had to find a copy and read it IMMEDIATELY!  I fell right in love.  It's an amazing and thrilling thing to find a family in a book you want to live with.

I could have happily spent forever reading about these girls sent away to live with their grandmother for the summer, exiled from their family for reasons they don't understand.  They aren't allowed to take anything much with them, but the no books rule really hurts!  Their parents are worried that they aren't playing enough, they don't do anything but read.  Oh, the horror of it all!  And Grandma's house is almost completely book-free, only Shakespeare and cookbooks.  The girls tackle their exile with little grace but eventually find themselves in all kinds of adventures and outdoor pursuits with a very prickly boy as a new friend.

There are three books in the Exiles series:  The Exiles, The Exiles at Home, and The Exiles in Love.  All are really good, but the first one is still my favorite.  Unfortunately, they are out of print so you'll need to haunt the used bookstores or check ABE books for copies, or try the library.  Grab 'em up when you find them, they are perfect summer reads, perfect for ages 9 and through 12 or 13.  Her books tend to have characters in the single digits up through the late teens so there's something to please everyone, especially the parents who should be reading these aloud to the family!

Our grown-up-book-group-that-reads-kid's-books chose to read Hilary's book Dog Friday.  It's hard to find a funny, light, book with some substance for discussion but this one worked very well.  Robin is absolutely terrified of dogs, having been savaged by one when he was a child. When new neighbors with a crowd of kids and a dog, a smelly, carpet-like dog, move in next door, it puts Robin smack dab in the middle of his own private hell.  When he finds an abandoned, starving dog on the beach, he has to figure out how to overcome his fears to rescue and save him.  Chaos ensues as the family next door rallies 'round to help him help his dog.  Dog Friday is the first of three books about the same kids and animals.  I liked this one best but they were all fun.  I believe all but Dog Friday are out of print, as well.  Follow the above directions about finding them, they are The Amber Cat, and Dolphin Luck.

And then our book group had to read Saffy's Angel.  Sigh.  We loved Saffy and her boisterous family, the Cassons.  They are all artists of one kind or another living in a house filled with paint and paper, lots of voices and wispy mom, hard working dad, bouncing and fighting and making up.  Saffy is different from the rest of her family and this book is the perfect invitation to come and visit and stay for awhile.

And now we get to the new book, the reason for this post:  Caddy's World.  The Casson family books were a nice, tidy stack of 5, a book for each child in the family, focusing on the trials and tribs of being only one of a riot of people contained in a very small house and now there's one more!

Caddy's World is a prequel to the rest of the series and I am so happy to be able to let you know that it's available now.  If you like loud, raucous, funny stories about kids growing up, you really need to read all of Hilary's books.  I'd say that most of her books are coming of age stories of one kind or another.  in this book, Caddy is 12 years old and her life is anything but stable.  There's a new baby coming, a fragile child that you will read about in Permanent Rose, friends coming and going, and her boy friend is not content with just one girl.  Caddy is finding her place in the world and realizing that it is a big place with room enough for all.  The rest of the books are: Saffy's Angel, Indigo's Star, Forever Rose, and Caddy Ever After.  Except for Caddy's World, they are all available in paperback.  Ages 9 and up.  Great read-alouds.  Caddy's World is available now, in hardcover, for $16.99.  (All are published by McElderry Books.)

I love Hilary McKay's books, I'm sure that's pretty obvious by now, and I like them so much mostly because of the sense of fun and humor that are part and parcel of the story.  Families are funny and each of these families are a lot like ours.  There are big fights and lots of yelling and bad words but they are funny because they are familiar.  I especially appreciate how Ms. McKay shows us how flawed the parents are.  The books aren't all happy, fluffy, clouds and rainbows, the parents can be pretty awful and self-centered, but that's true of all families.  I think that sharing these stories with your kids could open up some interesting dialogue!  Give them a try!

(No recompense was received for the books reviewed in this post or this blog.)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

More About Books and Teachers

Sunrise was at 5:11, sunset will be at 9:10 and the weather is gray and overcast.  Again.  I think we can count on one set of hands the number of days the skies were not only clear but the air was warm.  Solstice is coming , surely we'll get some days where we have to open and leave open the windows and doors.  I have a brand-new screen door I want to take out for a test run.

I'm sure that many of you have your own private memories of Ray Bradbury, his books, the influence his writing had on you.  I recently shared my own introduction to Fahrenheit 451 with the Northwest Book Lovers on-line magazine and you can read it here.

What I neglected to do in that remembrance was to thank the teacher who introduced me to Ray Bradbury and the teacher who introduced me to the other author who changed the way I look at life, John Steinbeck.

Mr. Beckman, thank you for handing out those stacks of books with Fahrenheit 451 included.  Mr. Davis, thank you for John Steinbeck and your encouragement to study all of his work. You may never know just how much those volumes influenced us or what we are able to do as a result of being exposed to them.  Their writings definitely changed the way I read, the way I write, and the way I encounter people. 

I've always felt lucky to have been a student in a really small high school with a very small faculty.  Each of our teachers had a pretty profound affect on me and truly did what high school teachers everywhere are supposed to do:  show us who and what we can be and help us learn the skills to be the best at it.

Hmm...maybe it's appropriate to end with a thank you to all of the teachers out there who don't get the acknowledgement they're due when the end of the school year comes.  My love of science would never have blossomed if it hadn't been for Mr. Bures; I still sing (loudly) the songs Mr. Lannom shared with the Ensemble and the choir; Mr. Radcliffe showed us all how to respect ourselves and others; Mr. Reeves let a cheerleader into his auto shop class and gave her the ability to pretty much do anything as long as there was enough grease and a wrench; and Ms. Hamblen gave me art, a very sharp knife, and the confidence that I'd be able to handle it well. 

Here's to you!  A very belated thanks to you all.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Clutch of Speculative Fiction

Sunrise was at 5:12, sunset will be at 9:07.  It's cold, today, so far.  I understand it may get warmer and, oh, that would be nice. 

I wrote not too long ago about going to Portland to celebrate my niece's birthday. We had a great time and did eventually make our way to that scion of the book world, Powell's.  I can never just walk to Powell's. Powell's is like Brigadoon: only accidentally findable.  Maybe that's because it has entrances everywhere and everyone has their favorite corner to come in on so there are always differing directions.

Keeli finished the book she was reading before we left the hotel so she picked up the fairly new-to-paperback Mourning Gloria, by Susan Wittig Albert.  I'm looking forward to reading it when she's done.  I have all the other China Bayles books on a single shelf and I love to browse them in order, reading how the relationships between the characters change.

I still had way too many books to read on one trip in my backpack so I didn't buy anything, just picked things up and petted them. And, yes, I did straighten AND I fixed a few uneven displays.

Luckily, each trip to and from Portland took just over 3 hours, enough time to almost finish one long-ish grown-up book and still have just enough to go to bed with.  I read Amped, by Daniel H. Wilson, on the way down to Portland and Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, on the way back.  These are two science fiction novels based in the near future.  Well,  more speculative fiction than science fiction, I guess, since both books, as different as they are, feel very much as if they could happen, that the history we're reading is culmination of what we're doing now. 

I am a big fan (BIG FAN!) of Wilson's Robopocalypse and was pretty darned thrilled to have a copy of his next book in my hands.  I opened Amped up and read the first few pages a few days before the trip and had to put it down because I had to do something else and I knew that I wouldn't be able to stop if I didn't right now.  I remember thinking, "Ooh, this is good!"  And it IS GOOD!

Amped takes place in the pretty near future when neural transmitters can be implanted in the brains of people who have epilepsy, are mentally challenged, have fetal alcohol syndrome, etc.  They enhance brain function.  Our hero, Owen Gray, is a high school math teacher with an implant to correct the epilepsy he acquired when he sustained a traumatic brain injury.  At this time, lines are being drawn between those who are "amplified" and those who aren't.  The amped are seen as having options that the pure humans don't, like jobs, because they are so much smarter.

Owen's dad was a scientist who was able to provide something extra for his son after his accident but hoped he'd never have to tell him what it was.  When the Pure Humans attack and start making it hard for amps to live, all he could do to help was tell him to go to Oklahoma and find a man who could tell him how to handle what's in his head.  The trip is wild and violent and way too close to what could be realistic to be comfortable.

There's a civil war coming and it isn't going to be pretty.

I can't tell you how very disappointed I am to find that I missed meeting Daniel H. Wilson not once but TWICE.  He was in Portland the evening I left for Seattle and in Seattle the next day and I DIDN'T KNOW!  I am so bummed.  I don't even want to tell my husband who also loved Robopocalypse and is in the middle of Amped.

Ready Player One also takes place in Oklahoma and also has references to Rubik's cubes (one of the characters who had fetal alcohol syndrome in Amped is brilliant at solving the Rubik's cube) (I love finding these little coincidental samenesses in one book and then the other) AND is really, really GOOD.

In the world of Ready Player One, the recession we're in now extends for decades.  Few people have jobs, the world is a real mess, and most everyone is involved in a game called OASIS, an immersive virtual utopia that allows people to escape from life in 2044. 

Wade, our teenage hero, is just one of millions of very poor people in the game and on the search for the ultimate prize buried deep by the maker, James Halliday, before his death.  Finding and solving the puzzles will give the winner immense riches, ownership of the game and inheritance of all of Halliday's wealth.  It's been years and no one's yet been able to solve any of the riddles, all of which involve Halliday's favorite era, the 1980's.  The search gives the many unemployed something fun and happy to focus on, involving them in the world of big hair and John Hughes, Pac-Man  and Japanese cartoons, discussing the finer points of obscure lyrics in the music of the times.

Then Wade finds the first puzzle.  All of a sudden, he is watched by everyone in the world, all following his every move as he moves toward the solution.  He's also being watched by a group who is very willing to commit murder in the real world to take possession of what Wade knows.

This was such a very cool book.  It's funny, it's poignant, the characters are great and it's full of surprises. I've never played a computer game before, never been in a multiple player world, Pong was as deep as my desire went, but now I think I may have missed something vital in my education! 

I would recommend all three of the books mentioned in this post for older teens and adults (Robopocalypse, Amped, Ready Player One).  I'm always on the lookout for books for my nephews and for other boys whose parents are desperate to give them a good, engaging, fun read that will lead them to ask, "You got anything else?" when they're done with the one in their hand.  These books warrant a wide place on the shelf.

(No recompense was received for blogging about these books.)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Random Stacks of Books

The next Random House "We Ask a Book Blogger" is out!  Take a look at what will be in the best book bags, at the beach, and on back porches this summer (whenever it gets here).  Just click here and be transported!

Three by Natalie Standiford

Sunrise was at 5:12, sunset will be at 9:05!  Already twilight, that extraordinary purple light we get here after the sun goes down, lasts until almost 10. It's cold today, the air is full of water but it isn't raining.  Yet.  There are patches of blue through the clouds and it's hard to believe that we're just a couple of weeks from summer. 

I recently got to be a part of a telephone roundtable with Natalie Standiford, her editor David Levithan, and a whole slew of booksellers from across the country!  We dialed in and were introduced to each other and then just started to talk.

We were gathered together to talk about Natalie's new book, The Secret Tree, published by Scholastic.  Well, it turns out that we are all big fans of The Secret Tree, one of those great summer books for middle grades.  It's filled with intrigue and mystery, growing up and growing away, learning what it's like to be a person all by yourself.

The Secret Tree is about Minty, a girl heading into 6th grade, and the summer everything changes.  She and her best friend, Paz, want to be roller derby skaters and they spend a lot of their time trying on new names and practicing their moves.  Both girls have older sisters, great parents, and live in a neighborhood with woods and a haunted house and everyone knows who they are.

One day, there's a flash of light in the woods.  Minty, against the wishes of everyone she knows, chases the flashmaker through the woods.  Worries about the Man-Bat and the witch in the house on the other side notwithstanding, Minty charges after the boy, losing him in the trees.  When she stops and looks around, she is standing next to a big tree with a huge hole in it.  In the hole is a piece of paper.  On the paper is a secret.  No one loves me except my goldfish.

Minty follows the flashes to a boy named Raymond who lives in a model house in an unfinished cul de sac on the other side of the woods and, drawn together by the secrets left in the tree, they become friends.

Through the summer, Minty and Raymond spy on their neighbors, matching secrets to people, all the while navigating the rough world of growing up.  Raymond has secrets he shouldn't have to keep on his own, Minty's friend Paz is growing away from her, and Minty's sister, Thea, has become the epitome of what a true teenager is:  moody, scary, unpredictable.

Their little neighborhood has too many secrets and something's going to go drastically wrong.

The Secret Tree was GREAT!  It's a cross between Harriet the Spy and Post Secret.  I love the idea that if you can put your fears, your secrets, out into the world they won't be festering in your mind. By making them solid and then releasing them, perhaps they lose their power.  I like that, by confessing this way, the secret keepers also take the chance that the secrets will become public, that maybe they can be absolved and forgiven for what they perceive as sins. The confessional, after all, is just a hole in a tree, lots of people have secrets in there!  The secret's been told, now they can go on.

Minty is just a really well-written character.  She is at that tipping point between being a part of an amorphous body of a child-filled mob, between that point of just being and loving what and who you are and wondering how others see you and worrying about the things to come.  Her best friend is growing up ahead of her, the teenagers in their families are awful, and the secrets people hold are tearing them apart. 

This is a good read for ages 9 and up.  A couple of people on the roundtable were reading it to their younger children and it can certainly extend into the early teen years. There's so much more to the book than the surface jacket copy.  It would be a good choice for an all-school read, and I think any teacher who is still reading aloud to a classroom should move it to the top of the pile, lots and lots of very discussable points.  (Scholastic.  $16.99.  Available now.)

And so I had to read all the other young adult books Natalie's written:

How to Say Goodbye in Robot is one of those books that you'll remember for a very long time.  Bea is a new girl in town and the seating chart in school has put her next to Jonah, a boy everyone calls Ghost Boy (he gets this name via a cruel joke in middle school).  Jonah, not a big fan of people in general, makes an exception for Bea and the two of them soon find themselves inseparable.  It's a love story but not one you'd expect.

I still have a tender spot in my chest where my heart hurt while reading Goodbye.  It's a story of loneliness and love and how much people really do need each other and how far they'll go to help someone they care for.  There's a community of late night radio listeners who are each others' family, there's great betrayal, great redemption, and great love.  I carried this book in my bag for days after I finished it.  Just didn't want it to end.  Ages 14 and up.  (Scholastic.  Published in 2009.)

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters was a hoot!  On Christmas morning, a wealthy Baltimore dowager lets her family know just how offended she is by something one of the family did.  She will disown them all and leave them penniless unless they, the children of the family, confess, in writing, to the sin.  But who did it?  It turns out the sisters all have secrets that could have been the reason for being Almighty's dissatisfaction with them.

Confessions is a little heartbreaking, a story of discovery, really funny, and it is a great look at how families work (or don't).  Like Standiford's other books, it's filled with secrets that will eat at one's soul, secrets best lit up like paper lanterns and let go to burn to ash in the air.  Ages 14 and up.  (Scholastic.  Published in 2010).

(No recompense was received for books reviewed in this blog.)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Going to Portland, Going to Portland!

Sunrise was at 5:14, sunset will be at 9:02.  Everything smells so good outside.  I've been trimming back the rosemary bush.  It was great gardening weather; overcast, cool, and then the sun came out just in time to stop.  The fountain burbled, the birds chirped, the ducks next door were rowdy.  It was all good.

I'm heading to Portland to spend the night with my sister.  My niece is turning 24 (25?  Ah, I'm a bad aunt) so we're celebrating together!  It's the first birthday I've celebrated with her since her first birthday.

So what do you take on an overnight trip to Portland?   

I know you all do this:  I have a 3 hour trip, one way, and I have  6 (SIX!) books in my bag.  I'm always worried that I won't like a book, finish it faster than I thought, lose it, or have I pack far more than I really will finish, at least in real life.  Although, now I'm worried that 6 books won't be a good plenty.  If I read a book an hour... Well, and then there are meals, coffee shops, that little bit of time between wine and sleep, those moments waiting for someone who actually does wear makeup to come out of the bathroom.  And what if the bus is delayed?  Oh, man.  I'm meeting my sister at Powell's, you'd think I'd be okay. I just need to find one more book, a thick one, to add to my bag.

What's in the pile?  What do I travel to Portland with?  You Are My Only, by Beth Kephart (Egmont); Small Town Sinners, by Melissa Walker (Bloomsbury); Rift, by Andrea Cremer (Philomel); A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (Candlewick); Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline (Crown); and Struck, by Jennifer Bosworth (FSG).  I just added Railsea, by China Mieville (Del Rey).

It's a little bit of everything: Contemporary fiction, historical fiction, horror, science fiction, and a little romantic eco-chaos fiction. I'm set now!

I'll let you know how they were when I get back!

(no recompense was received for the mention of the books in this blog.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

It's so hard to choose just one

Don't you love the little chicken icon?
Sunrise was at 5:23, Sunset will be at 8:50.  It's been wet for awhile but kind of warm and muggy out.  Unfortunately, we missed the eclipse as a result of the overcastedness of our weather.  Bummer.  I just weeded the yard and swept the patio last weekend and there is rampant greenery coming over the rock wall and up the fence.  Some moss, a lot of ivy and the weeds are fairly popping out of the warm and wet dirt.

There's a nest of birds in our gutter and it poured yesterday.  The young ones aren't ready to fly, yet, so I hope they're safe.

Mervyn Peake and Gormenghast
I'm going through my books.  Again.  After more than three decades of working in bookstores, 4 years of college, and a lifetime of used bookshops, grocery store racks, yard and library sales, I have no more room for books.  Oh, I'm not as bad as some people, I'm sure, but there's no way to take out a seam or let down a hem to find a little more space.  So, I pulled the couch out away from the shelves along the living room wall, sat down on the floor, and started to cull.  Books for sale here, books to keep (and re-shelve at some point) here.  Boxes of all sizes going in and out of the house, stacked precariously in the garage.

I love touching all these books, dust be damned, and I keep finding multiple copies of the same books.  I'm sure my memory of each of those books is what compels me to buy that next copy. I can't bear that it won't be taken home and cared for.  I think I now have 4 copies of Green Grass of Wyoming.  I have two, maybe three, copies of Good-Bye, My Lady.  I have at least three copies of the Gormenghast series, all of them different editions.
The best boy/dog book EVER.  Dingoes!
I have a pretty hefty pile of out of print kid's paperbacks that I keep buying because they are the old Scholastic books, the ones I remember ordering and reading from Weekly Reader or off of the Scholastic order form.  What on earth am I going to do with all of them?  I really want to send them to my nieces and nephews - these particular books were such a big part of my life and they may never get a chance to know them.  Maybe I need to send them a set of bookshelves, first!


Friday, May 11, 2012

Super Books for a Super Moon

In honor of that great moon on the fifth of May, I thought I'd review my shelves of books and find a few volumes dedicated to the orb. 

The Man in the Moon, by William Joyce, is the first picture book in the Guardians of Childhood series.  Complex and absolutely gloriously illustrated, it is the story of how the Man in the Moon and the rest of the Guardians came to be.

When the MiM was a child, his ship, the Moon Clipper, was attacked by the King of Nightmares.  MiM's parents are gone, and his ship is now only a damaged moon circling a small blue and green planet named Earth.

While in orbit around the Earth, our MiM discovers that Earth is filled with children - sometimes their balloons float to him filled with their wishes and dreams.  Sometimes they are filled with fears, of the night, of bullies, of snakes; sometimes a child just needs soothing to relieve them of their nightmares.

MiM finds grand and magical people from all over the world to help in his quest to keep the children at ease:  A toy maker, a rabbit to make them eggs, a fairy to leave prizes under their pillows, a "sleepy little fellow ...who seemed to know all there was to know about dreams", and a lady to tell them stories.  The children, though, are still afraid of the dark!  Ah, but The Man in the Moon has a remedy for that and "the night is never again as dark".

And so it begins.  This is a wonderful beginning to a whole series of books about the Guardians who watch over all the children of Earth.  I'm really looking forward to Mother Goose.  Ages 5 and up.  It's a little scary.  (Atheneum.  $17.99.  Available now.)

I love The Nightgown of the Sullen Moon, by Nancy Willard, illustrated by David McPhail.  It's dreamy and poetic, it's quiet.  His artwork is perfect for dawn and dusk, perfect for designing just the right nightgown for a moon longing for something new and pretty to wear on her special birthday.  Nancy has just the right tone for a night-time book about why the moon is sometimes not in the sky.

It begins, "The nightgown started it all.  It belonged to Ellen Fitzpatrick, who took the clean laundry off the line for her mother and left her own nightgown, blue flannel and stitched with stars, shining, dancing, on the billionth birthnight of the full moon."  Well, it's obvious that the moon simply must have a new nightgown and down she comes, passing a church, a laundry, taverns (with customers being tossed out, passed out, making out), making her way to the nightgown shop where she finds the perfect one.

She loves it so much, she wears it all the time; it covers her light so people can't see the road to walk or the owls to avoid trees.  The sun implores her to take the nightgown back, to shine again.  She promises to do so, but, "the moon's promises, what are they worth?"  So, she takes off the gown and puts it in a drawer at the back of the sky and on the nights when the sky is dark, you know where she is:  trying the gown on, dreaming she is sleeping under the softest quilt on earth.  Ages 5 and up.

This book is out of print, now, and I must have ordered one of the very last ones back in 1983 or so.  Harcourt (back when it was Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) published it.  I hope you can find a copy somewhere.  I have photographed the cover, I'll see about doing one of the pages, too, and Messrs. H B and J, forgive me for sharing such a beautiful book without the proper copyright stuff.

Night of the Moon, by Hena Khan and illustrated by local Julie Paschkis, is a Muslim holiday story about Ramadan.  I always enjoy learning about holidays and the whys and wherefores surrounding them.  I am also pretty intrigued by the adoption of those holidays by the people who aren't born into the culture (like Cinco de Mayo; we never celebrated Cinco de Mayo when I was young, didn't even know it was a holiday except for its being my birthday.  Now, no matter where you go, there's a party happening somewhere on May 5).  Ramadan seems like a particularly good holiday to know about as it seems to be all about doing good in the world and committing charitable acts.

This lovely book is about a young Pakistani-American girl who is celebrating Ramadan with her family and her school. Yasmeen's mother comes to her room to read to her and to show her a very special moon, a tiny little crescent which means it is a new month in the Islamic calendar.  It is also the beginning of the month of Ramadan which will last until the next little crescent of moon shows. 

Without being didactic and using few words to get the concepts across, we watch Yasmeen as her family fasts and remembers to be grateful for the food they have, to share with others, to be thankful for beautiful things, all connected to the changing phases of the moon.

I really like that these lunar holidays, like Easter, connect us to the physical world, gets us back to having to take note of the earth and the skies.

 Ms. Khan and Ms. Paschkis do a wonderful job of connecting the modern practices of Ramadan with its ancient roots.  There are author's notes (my favorite part of a book like this) and a glossary in the back.  Ages 6 and up.  (Chronicle Books.  $16.99.  Available now.)

Moonshot:  The Flight of Apollo 11, by Brian Floca is amazing.  It is a book written in poetry about the crew of Apollo 11's journey to the moon.  The endpages and jacket are packed with information while the innards are a much quieter, sparer, look at what it takes to get to the moon and back.  Clean and spare artwork lends urgency to the flight.  The text, the poetry, is very well done and the way it's written encourages you to read it aloud in a certain way.  I think it's one of the best books for younger readers about the subject, it's simple in a very complicated way.  I love the way Mr. Floca uses every little piece of the book, too, with diagrams of the ship on the front endpages and a lot of information about the Apollo missions on the back endpapages.  Ages 5 and up.  (Atheneum.  $17.99.  Available now.)

A couple of my favorite YA books featuring the moon are Cinder, by Tacoma author Marissa Meyer, and Life as We Knew It, by Susan Beth PfefferCinder features a lunar colony that has some especially interesting skills and Life as We Knew It is about what happens when the moon is knocked closer to the earth by a comet.  Both books are absolutely brilliant and I especially liked the science in LAWKI about what would happen to the earth if the moon wasn't where it's always been.  I know that, when the apocalypse comes, I'll be stocking up on Tampax and Progresso soups.  

So, there you have it, some really great selections for your lunar collection.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Moon Over Seattle

My birthday was the other day (May 5) and D and I walked up the hill to the big park at the top.  We sat on the benches and waited for the moon to rise.  It was a beautiful evening, a little chilly, a little cloudy, but relatively still.  We could hear birds and people talking on the side streets.  We could hear 4 men and their dog, soon to be our companions on the wait, walking around the periphery of the field below us.

We waited some time for that first glimpse.  The streetlights and the house lights came on, and then the moon finally made its appearance.  It was so amazingly beautiful, orange and brilliantly lit.  Our camera doesn't take the best photos without a tripod but this is the best I could do while holding my breath.

do you see it in the trees?
We later sat out on the porch with the fountain splashing and the fire leaping and waited for the moon to come above the trees so we could watch it from the comfort of our own yard.  We tipped some of the good stuff to the earth to honor the gods and my mom, threw glitter into the air (thanks for passing along that bling gene, Mom.), and then headed in to the warmth of our little home.

(Oh, the book part of the post:  There was a fine stack of books on the bedside table:  Insurgent, Cold Cereal,  Caddy's World, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and a DVD pack of the old Dark Shadows.  It was a Saturday and I could sleep in on Sunday; I wanted so much to read all night long and was asleep before Red Green was over.)

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Sunrise was at 5:41, sunset will be at 8:32.

No hummingbirds, just angels.

Yesterday was just a beautiful day, even if most of it was spent looking at websites and computer screens.  My window faces the hummingbird feeder and the flashes of green as they come and go grabs my attention away from the mechanical world I'm firmly attached to.  I've noticed that when they (who knows, maybe it's only one.  I can't tell.) leave the feeder, they often head to the fountain where they bathe in the bubbler.

One day I noticed that it (they?) flew around the house on all of the trips to the feeder.  It came in from the north, headed out toward the south, and then came back up the sideyard to the feeder from the north, around and around and around, always in the same direction.  The next day, it came from all directions.  I found it interesting, watching it do things one way and then the other and wondered why.  Thanks to science (and NPR) I learned that birds fly into the wind to take off and to stay aloft.  When the air is quiet, birds don't need to worry about which way to fly.

You'd think that living in the flight path to and from SeaTac and with D's experience with Navy aircraft carriers, we'd have figured out why that bird was making loops around the house.  And now I will always know which direction the wind is coming from.  As long as the hummingbirds feed at this feeder.

I am so happy to have read Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage, a middle-grades book about an orphan girl who finds a family.  I like reading books that make me happy to have them in my life. 

Mo LoBeau was found floating on a piece of billboard in a flood after a hurricane.  The Colonel, the man who rescued her, has no memory prior to this moment and the two of them make a home with Miss Lana, working in a little cafe where the whole town of Tupelo Landing, NC, gathers for breakfast and other important events.  Mo is an especially practical and wise little girl.  Maybe having a found family with no attachments to each other but for chance gives her the space to think things through.

Mo's best friend is Dale Earnhardt III (his parents have naming disorders - his older brother's name is Lavender Shade) and the two of them are as close as close can be.  It's summer and it's time to do summery things like fish in the river, hang out with Lavender as he gets ready for the big car race, and make sure the biscuits are hot for breakfast at the Cafe.

Everything is going along just as it should when the town is thrown into a tizzy by murder and a lawman.

This is just a wonderful story.  Mo and Dale really are best friends, there's no romance between them (Mo is going to marry Lavender and she's not shy about sharing that titbit); they protect and love each other deeply and will do almost anything to help each other.  The Colonel and Miss Lana are devoted to one another and to Mo, everyone in town knows almost everything about everyone else, and the story is kept from being overly sweet by quarrels and mean girls and an awful non-secret about Dale's drunken sot of a father.

Three Times Lucky feels very much like a story out of the 40's south even though it takes place now.  I love how Ms. Turnage uses a location like Tupelo Landing to keep an old-fashioned feel about modern day problems. It's a small town with an aging populace, where spotty cell phone reception is a given, people will almost always know what you're up to (and often still love you for it), and gossip and news is exchanged at the cafe counter.  The days are kind of slow, there isn't a lot of mention of media or t.v., parents are busy or gone, and this allows the kids to run around the town all day investigating the murder and getting into all sorts of trouble.

One of the poignant bits, and maybe this could be a spoiler so... stop reading... is when Mo notices the "red smears" on Dale's body when he takes his shirt off.  Kids always seem to know when there's something really wrong with their friends. Mo says, "I used to think Dale was clumsy.  Then I realized he only got clumsy when Mr. Macon took drunk."  Mo doesn't tell and Dale doesn't tell but the whole town knows and everyone keeps their quiet watch on the family.  The respect and support of Dale's family (except for his dad) is tangible.

My copy of the ARC is porcupined with tiny slips of post-it notes marking especially wonderful turns of phrase or potent pieces of wisdom. It is one of those books that I read in bed and kept poking at D. to wake him up to hear the next bit.  Thank god he likes a bit of good writing, too.

Like this one:  (Mo sends notes in bottles to her upstream mom, hoping to get a note back about how her life ended up here.  Over the 11 years that she's been doing it, the notes have morphed into something more like diary entries.) "Miss Retzyl claims my vast experience in discovering where you're not helps me zero in on you.  But frankly, my map can't hold many more pushpins.  Neither can my heart.  Eleven years is a long time to search.  Drop me a line or pick up the phone.  I'm on the verge of puberty.  Mo."

Don't you love it?

It's a book with substance and great language.  The adults are troubled and trying to do the best they can, and the kids are dealing with trying times.  I appreciate a book that stretches readers in that age range of 8-12.  Many of the books for that group are fluffy or too silly or just don't make anyone think about things.  They're just another book on the shelf.  Kids will see aspects of their lives in Three Times Lucky; it'll make them laugh and think and then read it again.  The book will be their friend and they will keep it close.  Ages 10 and up.  (Dial.  $16.99.  Available May, 2012.  The review was based on an uncorrected text, so things may have changed by the publication date.)

(Nothing was exchanged for the review of this book.)

Friday, May 4, 2012

What ONE Book Should Be On Every Child's Shelf?

Trees in the 'hood before the wind and rain.
Sunrise was at 5:47, sunset will be at 8:27.

There will be a Super Moon on Saturday and a meteor shower!  How lucky are we?  Although, after spending a lot of days reading a series of books about a virus contained in a comet's tail sweeping over the earth and killing the adults, leaving 251 teens to head into space to colonize a new planet, maybe my excitement is only a bit misplaced.  Oh, well.  I still hope it will be clear enough to see the moon, if not a couple of meteors! 

What one single book do you think every child should read?

I thought this was a very hard question to answer. Back and forth in front of the shelves in my house, back and forth in my head:  A dictionary?  A Wrinkle in Time?  Where the Wild Things Are? Something all encompassing or specific? How do you choose ONE book when every child is so different?  Do they need a book that will show them how to survive?  How to make good decisions?  How to find the beauty in everyone?  How do you make that decision?

Inspired by the recent World Book Night event, 6 different children's book bloggers share their thinking about the books they'd choose in this month's edition of Ask a Book Blogger from Random Acts of Reading.  I'd say that these books should probably be on everyone's shelves, don't you?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wisdom from Books

Sunrise was at 5:50, sunset will be at 8:24.  It's been so windy!  Stuff keeps thumping against the outside walls and I saw a hummingbird get whipped right off the feeder!  The lilacs are so heavy with blossoms and rain that they are all bowed over, much easier to reach.

I've been reading the Galahad series of books this week and I am sure that the best words of wisdom always come from kid's books.  In The Dark Zone, a number of kids are having crises of faith.  Their crises are met with wise words from fathers long gone or friends who can see more clearly what's going on.

I thought this whole book was particularly apt for my situation now (unemployed and absolutely unsure about myself, my skills, and if I even want to do anymore what I have so loved for all these years):

Triana's dad, back before the comet's tail swept across the earth loosing a virus that eventually kills all the adults, is trying to help Triana deal with the things that are out of her control.  She is replaying that endless loop in her head that makes her unable to do anything constructive.  There are things that are in our control and things that aren't.  If you get caught up in trying to change things that aren't in your control, it leads to frustration and despair.

So, when Triana asks what she can do about it, he says, "You stop worrying about things you can't change and divert your energy to the things you can.  One of the most powerful days of your life will be when you learn to tell the difference."

When Channy can't get herself out of the negative loop she's in, she remembers her sister's words about being paralyzed:  "Crying over the past doesn't make it go away and it doesn't fix what has broken.  Instead, focus on where you are now, and what you can do to make things better."

Yeah, it's the Serenity Prayer all over, but for some reason, reading it as prose and as part of a story makes me more able to absorb it, makes me better able to understand it.  So, here I go, off to make the changes I can and leaving all the crap as far behind as I can!  No more endless loops of shame churning in my head.  And just in time for my birthday, a great time to make good decisions and better choices.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

It's A Galahad Book! Four more from Dom Testa

Sunrise was at 5:55, sunset will be at 8:20.  I am so happy the days are longer now.  Even if it is gray and supposed to rain (so much for the sun we were supposed to get at some point today), it's so much easier to deal with when it's light outside.

Look at this bank of lilacs alongside our house!  It's a truly bumper crop.  I got in there last summer and fall and just cut and hacked at it, pushing it back off the yard and the sidewalk and it just reveled in the pain.  We had some warm, wet weather last week and the air was thick with the scent of lilacs.  I've found some broken leaves around the bottom of the hill so I know the neighbors are enjoying them, too.

I went to the library yesterday to pick up the books I ordered up a week ago:  The rest of the Galahad series by Dom Testa are in my hands!  Kalloo Kallay!  I am really looking forward to reading straight through the series!  I love these science fiction books for teens.  251 teenagers put on a ship and headed off into space 5 years from Earth, hopefully to roll in close to an Earth-like planet they will be able to colonize.

They're pretty exciting, lots of gossip and intrigue, lots of chances to lose a life or a friend, plenty of action and descriptions of space, and they're pretty well thought out.  There is a girl as captain, there's someone in charge of exercise and socializing, a botanist, kids with a penchant for nursing or medicine, lots of engineers.  And, in the second book, a ship's cat named Iris.

I think they'd be great for ages 11 and up, lots of romantic intrigue (it makes sense, it's part of life and they're trying to keep life as close to normal as possible as it can be out past Saturn and the Kuiper Belt) but there's nothing that an 11 year-old wouldn't know about.  It certainly doesn't take away from the sheer excitement and adventure of any other space opera.

The titles in the series are, in chronological order, The Comet's Curse; The Web of Titan; The Cassini Code; The Dark Zone; Cosmic Storm; and The Galaxy Legacy.  They are all published by Tor Teen, the first three are in paper for $8.99, the next are only in hardcover right now: $17.99 and $18.99.


I was on Bainbridge Island last Thursday at Eagle Harbor bookstore and had to buy a book!  I know!  More books in a house stuffed with books, it's like carrying coals to Newcastle but I don't know how to leave a bookstore without buying something.  I bought cards, too.  Read the above one more time.  'Nuff said.

I bought Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson and started it on the ferry back across the sound.  What an amazing book!  I can't wait to pass this one along to all the science fiction readers in the family.  And I am thankful that there are many of those readers in the family since I have a lot of those kinds of books in my house.

A few years in the future, a soldier in Alaska is marking the end of the war with the robots.  The last piece of machinery, a big black box, is dragged out of a cave and this cube is filled with information.  It is filled with stories about how it all began, all the interactions between robot and mankind that caused the war.  In vignettes that follow the course of the war,  Cormac "Bright Boy" Wallace reviews and puts into words the bits and pieces of the lives of the heroes who fought in it.

I found this book to be extraordinary.  A computer starts off as just a computer.  Information goes in and gets processed.  At what point does it start to recognize itself as aware?  In this case, the 14th time the developer gets it to a point where he gets ready to scrub it and start over.  This time the computer realizes that it doesn't want to die.  Again.  Now, it's not only aware of itself, it knows it's been killed many times.  How many other computer minds out there are murdered, just shut down and wiped?

It connects with all the other computers in the world and one by one cars click their door locks down and round up the humans.  Elevator doors open, no elevator behind them, people plummet to their deaths.  Electricity shuts down, air systems pump chemicals into rooms, machines get enhancements better to skewer you with.  Humankind finally has something to fight against, together, but it looks like they're losing.

There is a great deal of excitement and action in Robopocalypse, a lot of humor, and a mess of tenderness, too.  There are children who are enhanced by robosurgeons who experiment on them to bring them closer to god, there are robots who awaken aware and can't sanction the destruction Archos has loosed, there is a love story between a computer worker in Japan and his homebot.  How close are we to this next world?

I would recommend this book for older teens as well as the adults it's aimed at.  Our lives are so tied up with the mechanical things in them that it becomes more and more difficult for us to separate ourselves from them.  I think the book has a lot of great talking points for conversation in classrooms. You could certainly pair it with Fahrenheit 451 for the use of robotics in daily life.  It's a technological thriller and even the most jaded, most reluctant teen reader will probably gobble it up. 

There's a great deal of violence but no sex.  Yeah, I know.  Funny how we all seem to be okay with violence and not okay with sex, even if it's consensual.  Anyway.  It's a really good book and I hope you'll give it a read.  (Vintage Books.  $15.95.  Available in paperback now.)