Reading Update #12 (Very Late, Oops)

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Well, I completely forgot to post my reading update on Monday. I thought about just skipping it entirely, but how sad would that be? ¬†Soooooo, I’m posting this one today, and will do another one in three days. Which should be riveting. But then again, pretty sure no one is coming here to read these groundbreaking book diaries. ūüôā

Reading Update:¬†It is Friday, March 28. Since last Monday, I’ve read four books, bringing me up to 30 out of 52.

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My most recent four are Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Can I Have a Stegosaurus Mom? Can I? Please? by Lois G. Grambling and H.B. Lewis, Lamb to the Slaughter and Other Stories by Roald Dahl, and The English American by Alison Larkin.

Briefly:

Let the Great World Spin was awesome. Read it for book club, and am so glad that it was picked, because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up on my own. Just really well written. I’d like to read more by McCann.

Can I Have a Stegosaurus is full of cool illustrations of stegosaurs doing fun things. And then it has a silly twist at the end. Yay dinosaurs!

Lamb to the Slaughter is disturbing and very good. I was a big Dahl fan as a kid, but hadn’t read much of his adult work (although I feel as though I must have read some of these before). This was very short and didn’t take much time to read.

The English American¬†was funny and thoughtful and interesting, although it was a little disjointed at moments. Glad that Mom told me to read it — definitely enjoyable.

Currently Reading/Looking Ahead:¬†I’m reading nothing at the moment, but tonight or tomorrow I’m going to start one of the following:¬†Woman at Point Zero,¬†Beautiful Ruins, and/or¬†Made in the U.S.A.¬†I think. Or maybe I’ll read something completely different. ¬†But these three are sitting at hand, waiting to be read.

 

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Review: Odd and the Frost Giants, Ludo and the Star Horse

Writing for children is harder than it looks, so I especially appreciate it when an adult fiction author can also write successfully for kids. Take, for instance, Neil Gaiman. He writes epic fantasy for adults, he writes lushly illustrated abecedarians — but his sweet spot, arguably, is spooky bildungsromans for the tween set (think Coraline and The Graveyard Book).

Include in that category his lesser-known 2008 book Odd and the Frost Giants.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about OatFG‘s plot; in fact, one of the things I liked best about it was its fodder for studying schema and making text-to-text connections, which is probably proof right there that you can take the English teacher out of the classroom but you can’t make her stop being a nerd.

Odd is a 12-year-old Viking boy with a crippled leg (played in my internal cinema by a more subdued Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon). His woodcutter father dies and his mother remarries, leaving Odd unsure about his place in his family or his village. Then winter refuses to pass into spring (“The cold never bothered me anyway!”) and Odd leaves home for his father’s abandoned work cottage. An act of courage and compassion puts him in league with a trio of down-on-their-luck Norse gods (you’ll have to forgive me if they were voiced by Hemsworth, Hiddleston, and especially Hopkins in my imagination) and sets him on his way from Midgard to Asgard and back again.

The title character is especially interesting. Writing sparely, in the style of an old legend, Gaiman leaves us with a lot of room to speculate on Odd’s motivations and internal dialogue. Ultimately, OatFG almost feels like an origin story; I wouldn’t be shocked to see Odd pop up as a fully-realized adult character in a future novel.

Beyond the more obvious connections, I found a book from my childhood tugging at my memory as I read OatFG. Mary Stewart — another British author with the gift of writing for multiple audiences — wrote three novels for kids, one of which is Ludo and the Star Horse (1974). There are many similarities between these two books beyond the identically formatted titles, one of which being remarkably similar discussions about the quasi-mystical art of woodcarving (IIRC; I didn’t re-read LatSH for this review), and the primary one being that the young male protagonist must leave home and travel into the realm of mythology.

Ludo is a young Bavarian boy who, on a long winter night, pursues his beloved workhorse on the path of a shooting star. They end up in the House of Sagittarius and then must travel the entire zodiac, facing tests of character along the way. Readers who love mythology, who want to know more about the symbols behind the western zodiac, or who just love a good boy-and-his-horse story will find this book fascinating and, I hope, as memorable as I did. (I imagined that it would be impossible to track down, but it looks like you can get it starting at $4 on Amazon — with updated cover art, thankfully! It’s hard to sell kids on novels with Seventies-era cover art, regardless of the quality of the book’s innards.)

Written for the upper elementary/lower middle school crowd, either or both of these books get my recommendation for the school or classroom library. Put them in the hands of young readers who are interested in mythology or just love a good, straightforward adventure story. And if you’re a fan of the adult work of Gaiman and/or Stewart, don’t miss out on these stories just because they’re written for younger readers. They’ll make for a pleasant, nostalgic afternoon’s reading.

This review has been cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

Reading Update #11

SGF Reading SPD

Reading Update:¬†It is Monday, March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day! I’m wearing green but sadly am not reading a green book, although we did make a green book display for the library. As of today, I have read 26 books toward my goal of 52 and am, evidently, halfway there. The four most recent books are a baby book (Fox Makes Friends), a kid’s book (Odd and the Frost Giants), an adult anthology of fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal fiction (Strange Candy), and an adult horror-parody (Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion).

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What shall I say about¬†Paul is Undead? It was clever, funny, and a pretty nicely done zombie parody. It was also gross and full of zombies, which for me is not a recommendation. That said, I read the entire thing — and I’m not known to finish books unless I want to. I recommended it to a few different zombiephiles but didn’t care to keep it after I finished reading.

Fox Makes Friends is a prettily illustrated book about how we can’t force friendships, but that friendships grow naturally out of doing things together. Very cute. Definitely a good one for the preschool/kindergarten set.

I’m addicted to Laurell K. Hamilton (or at least her Anita books) in much the same way one is addicted to junk food. I know it’s not good, but I just can’t help myself. I hadn’t yet read this collection of her short fiction, and was pretty excited to get a copy of it for fifty cents. As it turns out, the collection is pretty hit-and-miss. Her introductory notes are often bitter, making me wonder how many professional bridges she’s burned down. Some of the stories suffered from insufficient editing, and several were forgettable, but many of them were captivating enough that their worlds and characters are still occupying space in my brain and making me crave another installment.

And then Odd and the Frost Giants. I fear I feel that Neil Gaiman can do no wrong, so I’m hardly an unbiased judge of this book. I got it at the used book sale and was surprised to find that it was a book written at the older elementary/early middle school level; I’d been under the impression that it was a picture book, hence having not yet read it.¬†Odd is a little story about a twelve-year-old Viking boy who falls in with some down-on-their-luck Norse gods just in time to save the universe. It will be surprising to no one that the book was reminiscent to me of American Gods, and I’ll have to be forgiven if it also made me think about the recent¬†Thor movies; although I wasn’t picturing Hemsworth and Hiddleston in their Odd roles, I definitely imagined Gaiman’s Odin being played by Hopkins. I was also reminded of an old childhood favorite of mine,¬†Ludo and the Star Horse, which I would like to find and bring to our library at some point.

Currently Reading:¬†I’m not exactly sure I’m actively reading anything. I feel like I ought to finish¬†City of Dark Magic, but it’s not exactly calling to me, so we’ll see. I’m not giving up on¬†the others yet, either (Book of Deadly Animals and¬†Far from the Tree) but don’t exactly expect to make any progress on those in the next few days. Really, I need something light right now. Something easy and fun to read for those of us whose infant sons are on a sleep strike.

Looking Ahead:¬†I need to start (and finish)¬†Let the Great World Spin for book club, but I’m feeling a smidgen intimidated by it right now; it looks as though I’m going to have to pay attention to it, and I’m a wee bit sleep deprived for that. I’ve also got¬†Made in the U.S.A. on standby. We’ll see what I actually accomplish by next Monday….

 

Brief Notes on a Used Book Sale

Used book sale was an ungodly amount of work, and I can’t say that I’m displeased that it’s over and done with, but it was also a success. We collected well over 4,000 books, sold about 2,000 of them (or so we figure, given that we made about $1,000) and gave away a couple dozen to disadvantaged students.

We had a lot of people in the library, which was good. No one had had time to think about anything other than the sale, though, so we hadn’t updated our book display (still had valentines) and we forgot to turn on the LIB-TV. That’s not as good. But something to consider for the next one.

Ack. “Next one.” Shudder.

Supporting the notion that it is best to start children early on their road toward book-hoarding, H came down to the used book sale both days.

Henry visits the used book sale

Gah, I could just eat him up.

Anyway, we had a couple thousand leftover books, which we boxed up this morning with the help of the student council, and which are now residing in the school’s decommissioned boxcar until needed next year. Lots of great books left, so if you missed this year’s sale, make sure to pay attention for the next one. Shudder.

 

Reading Update #10

SGF Reading

 

 

Reading Update:¬†It is Monday, March 10, and as of today I have read 22 books toward my goal of 52. Yep — one book in a whole week, and it was a graphic novel (Saints). I am On A Roll.

So. Saints.

Saints

Saints is the second act (companion piece? flip side of the coin?) of¬†Boxers, which I’d read and commented on last week. Ultimately, I was disappointed by¬†Saints; it was noticeably shorter and, IMHO,¬†lesser than its other half. My perspective of self, faith, history, etc., was challenged by the first book, but the second merely seemed like a story. I wanted to be shaken up all over again, y’know? Sooooo… final verdict is, definitely read these. But read them back-to-back, without a delay in between, and don’t expect¬†Saints to be as devastating and groundbreaking as¬†Boxers. Everyone needs to read¬†Boxers.¬†Saints —¬†well, it probably didn’t need to be written, honestly.¬†Boxers would be just about as good without it. But that’s just my opinion, and I know it won’t be shared by a lot of readers/reviewers, so take it or leave it.

Currently Reading: Last week I got less reading accomplished because I was setting up and running a used book sale in our library, which made for a great deal of dangerous temptations for the impulsive book-collector. I bought a lot of fascinating looking books.

Of those, I’ve started reading¬†City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte and¬†Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion¬†by Alan Goldsher. Strictly speaking, I am not loving either one — but I’m reading them, and that counts for something.

Looking Ahead: A sampling of the intriguing orphaned books I’ve adopted and may be picking up in the near future:

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Reading Update #9

SGF Reading

Reading Update:¬†It is Monday, March 3, and as of today I’ve read 21 books toward my goal of 52 for the year. I’m beginning to think that I may want to change that goal earlier as opposed to later; I never dreamed I’d be almost halfway there before April. Of course, a lot of my reading has been less than totally intellectually challenging or time-consuming.

In the past week, I’ve read three books. One of them — a baby book called Red Dog —¬†doesn’t have a cover image¬†anywhere online. Here are the other two:

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Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, is a very beautiful illustrated story — graphic novel? sorta? — about a girl in Montreal who finds herself ostracized and bullied by the girls she once thought of as friends. Unhappy with her life, her changing body, her clothes, H√©l√®ne¬†hides away inside the world of¬†Jane Eyre¬†and uses it as a lodestone for the better life she hopes one day to find.¬†The fox comes into play when¬†H√©l√®ne goes to a school camp, encounters the titular creature, and makes a new friend. It is beautifully illustrated and a lovely sort of thing to read on a drizzly afternoon. A lot of women/girls will be able to empathize with¬†H√©l√®ne.

Where¬†Jane. the Fox & Me¬†is lovely and intimate,¬†Boxers¬†is awful and epic. The first in a pair of graphic novels (the second is¬†Saints, which I hope to read this week) about the Boxer Rebellion of China in 1898-1900, it challenged, disturbed, and educated me. For those not in the know (like me, pre-reading), the Boxer Rebellion was a violent uprising against foreigners — specifically Christians. This book puts the reader on Little Bao’s team, makes him a sympathetic and even inspiring character, and then makes the reader watch as Little Bao commits atrocities. Except, of course, you’re left wondering what “atrocity” means, and what the spread of Christianity really looks like to the non-Christian world, and ultimately it’s all just kind of hard to read (and impossible to put down). The illustrations will make this accessible to younger readers, but the subject matter makes it a book suitable for adults. If you’d like to know more, I encourage you to check out this review from GLW.

Currently Reading:¬†I have been flipping through a couple of different books. I’m going to go ahead and claim¬†Saints, although I haven’t opened it yet, because I know I’m going to read it in the next day or two. I think¬†City of Dark Magic is going to stick (that is, I think I’ll end up finishing it) although I’m not going to make any promises just yet. Other books on my “I’ve read a few pages but I’m not committing yet” list include Outlander and These Broken Stars.

Looking Ahead: Probably could have lumped this category in with the previous.