Reading Update #21

SGF Reading

Reading Update: Today is Monday, May 27.  As of today, I have read 56 books toward my new goal of 100.

Since last week, I read the following books:

books21

I’ll start with the picture books and move up.

A Pocket Full of Kisses is apparently a sequel, but I didn’t realize that when I read it. I was immediately drawn to the artwork and the fact that it’s about raccoons. I really loved raccoons when I was little. Thought I’d have one as a pet one day (thanks, Sterling North); my most threadbare stuffed animal from my childhood is Rocky, my beloved raccoon. As an adult living in a place where raccoons are a reality instead of a fun idea, I’ve come to learn that they aren’t exactly the endearing woodland friends of my early imagination, but I still find them — and their adorable hands! — fascinating. Anyway, in this book, the main character is a raccoon who is trying to adjust to having a new baby brother. He’s becoming annoyed at the way his brother encroaches on his life, and worries that his mama may not love him as much now that she has two children. Mama Raccoon puts his fears to rest by giving him extra kisses to keep in his pocket. It was very sweet, and now I want to track down the first book!

New Baby Train is an adorably illustrated folk song offering up an alternative theory to the whole “stork” thing. Rather than tell you more, I’ll point you in the direction of a YouTube video that brings song and book together:

Moving on from little kid books to YA books, we have Throne of GlassI’d been wanting to borrow this from our school library for a while but hadn’t gotten around to it before this past weekend. The cover art, concept, and its popularity with my pickier fantasy-loving boys drew my attention. It’s the first in a series (six novels projected, plus a collection of prequel novellas); book 3 comes out in September. It features a young female assassin fighting to win a position as the King’s Champion — but more importantly, for her promised freedom after four years of royal service. On the positive side of the equation, I read this book quickly and eagerly, and have book 2 sitting at hand. I liked that there is a strong supporting character who isn’t a Generic White Person. On the negative side, the characters left me flat. The protagonist is annoyingly and unrealistically vain and immature; I couldn’t work up any interest in which boy would win the girl. And the book suffers badly from purple prose. That said… book 2. Here next to me. So there’s obviously something working correctly here. (Also: Why do my male students like this book so much? It’s very girl-oriented. The book even mentions menstruation! Interesting.)

And moving on from YA books, past adult books, into Adult Books, we have Possession. This is book 5 in the Fallen Angels series by J.R. Ward. It’s an urban fantasy, heaven vs. hell epic, peppered liberally (well, not so much in this book, which was a welcome change of pace) with steamy scenes of demonic, angelic, and human sexcapades. Definitely classy reading. I liked this one better than some of the previous installments; it’s definitely not great literature, but better than your average romance novel and on the upper end of the majority of urban fantasies I’ve read, so there you have it. Start at the beginning with Covet if this genre is your cup of tea.

Currently Reading: I need to wrap up The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1.

Looking Ahead: Crown of Midnight (sequel to Throne of Glass) is in the wings…

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Review: The Ascendance Trilogy

[Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire]

I want to tell you a story.

There’s a sixth grader who frequents my school library (I’ll call him Tim), checking out an astonishing number of books every day. In fact, in the past eight months, he’d checked out well over 200 books — but every one of them was a graphic novel. Nothing wrong with that, but I occasionally wondered what it would take to get him to make the jump from visual to verbal narrative.

And then, in fourth quarter, he checked out The False Prince, the first book in the Ascendance trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

A few days later Tim was practically jumping up and down at the circulation desk. “This book is SO COOL! The author, like, doesn’t ever even let you know what’s going on! I was completely tricked!” I can’t continue quoting him without printing spoilers, but his excitement over this novel (completely devoid of illustrations though it was) was extraordinary — and he desperately, desperately wanted the second book.

Yesterday, when I asked him to pick out his favorite library books, he walked right past the graphic novel section and picked up the Ascendance trilogy. I don’t think I have to tell any of GLW’s readers what that felt like to me.

Tim’s love for these books is far from unique at our school. We brought in several copies of all three books in anticipation of the author visiting, and it quickly gained fans of every age, reading level, and gender — including among the staff. As a school librarian I read a lot of YA books. Admittedly, sometimes reading some of these books feels more like work than pleasure. Reading the Ascendance trilogy, in contrast, was a very different and enjoyable experience. I found myself waiting for the next book in the installment every bit as eagerly as the kids.

I won’t go into a whole lot of detail about the first book, as it has been reviewed here by other readers before (last August and this April) but I will say this: if you’re looking for a swashbuckling adventure story with a great balance of darkness and amusing moments, just a sprinkling of romance (not enough to make it mushy, but enough to keep it interesting), pirates, double-crosses, battles, clever capers, and a resolution that is neither too neat nor unsettling, then here you go. It’s a series that I’d feel comfortable recommending to both fifth graders and ninth graders, and although the main character and most of the supporting cast are male, the strong female characters and great storytelling make it universally appealing.

And of course, my reading experience was complemented by the awesome experience of getting to meet the author. I’ve always said that books have two creators — the author and the reader — but this has been my first chance to speak in person with that original creator. I look forward to sharing some of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s thoughts from my interview tomorrow!

NOTE: Interview with the author is here. Go read to learn more about her writing process, potential False Prince movie news, and more!

Reading Update #20

SGF Reading

 

Reading Update: Today is Wednesday, May 21. As of today, I have read 52 books and got myself one of these thingamajiggers:

52of52

Which, of course, is just patently silly. Obviously when I set this goal I wasn’t taking picture books into consideration! So I guess I’m going to go ahead and change my goal… hold that thought…

52of100

Okay. That’s better.

Since last week, I read the following books:

week20books

All of the above were fewer than fifty pages in length. (I’ve been reading a couple of big fat books, too, but just haven’t finished them.) With the exception of The Night Bookmobile, they’re all children’s picture books.

Listen to the Wind is a kid’s adaptation of the Three Cups of Tea story. I always kind of look askance at Greg Mortenson stuff, after all the scandal and whatnot, but the artwork in this picture book blew me away. Plus, if you take the discrepancies and financial indiscretions off the table, Mortenson’s story really is inspirational and has a great sort of message for young readers. This book is obviously a vast over-simplification of the whole tale, but worthwhile and a good adaptation.

Henry’s Heart is a densely assembled nonfiction-ish picture book about the human circulatory system. It’s awfully cute and would be a big hit with little kids with an interest in science and medicine. It’s not a great read-aloud book because of the non-linear writing (lots of sidebars) but a lot of children would get a kick out of poring over all the little details. I think it would also be a good supplemental text or something for a health class!

I quite liked Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated. It’s exactly the sort of storybook I would have adored as a child. Just a sweet little fairy tale, with endearing illustrations and the sort of less-than-perfect ending that appeals to me.

My Name is Sangoel is the story of a refugee boy who struggles to find a way to maintain his identity after moving to America. None of the people he meets in America can pronounce his name, until he comes up with a clever way to bridge the language gap. It is sweet and simple, and would be a terrific book to share with young students who have classmates from other countries.

I really loved the artwork and text design in Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story Of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way To Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History! It’s another nonfiction picture book and tells an abbreviated version of Annette Kellerman’s life. I wish that it had gone into a little bit more detail about her early medical problems; I think most young readers will miss entirely the fact that she was (initially) disabled.

Then there’s The Night Bookmobile. Oomph. That’s the sound of being kicked in the stomach. On the one hand, this book was SO good. I loved the concept of the Bookmobile and the Library, and the protagonist’s yearning for the Bookmobile resonated deeply with me. I’m sure it would with any lover of stories. But the resolution? The protagonist’s choice? The way she let her desire for something unattainable ruin all of the many good things in her real life? Ugh. This book falls in the unhappy category of being one I would recommend to tons of people, except for the fact that I can’t, because it would feel too much like an endorsement of something reprehensible. Pooh.

Finally we have Extra Yarn, which was so very nice. I love Klassen’s artwork, obviously, but I also loved the story and its adaptable metaphor — for happiness, kindness, love, you pick ’em. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Currently Reading: Here, let me just copy and paste exactly what I wrote last week for this section.

I have Possession (book 5 in the Fallen Angels series, a dreadful guilty pleasure of mine) for on-the-road, and a MASSIVE copy of the first volume of The Absolute Sandman at home. It stays safely at home because it’s the public library’s, and I don’t want anything to happen to it (as it’s rather wildly expensive) and it seems like it might be somewhat safer there.

Ta-da!

Looking Ahead: I don’t even know. Ha! I guess we’ll see what strikes my fancy next after I finally finish these other two behemoths.

 

Goldilocks

Look at those curls. Is that just ridiculous or what?

Goldilocks

I wondered what his hair was going to look like, even after he was born since we couldn’t really tell. Would it be red like mine? Near-black, like his daddy’s? Straight like Dad’s, or wavy-curly like mine?

Never really occurred to me that he might have hair the color of my dad’s hair, and that it would be pin straight in front and scrunch up into ringlets in the back. It’s like a textural mullet.

We’re going to have to trim it soon. Almost thirteen months old now, and hasn’t had a haircut. His bangs are getting in his eyes and if you stretch them out, his curls go below his earlobes. The curl, not the earlobe. I don’t think he’d like us to stretch those.

I wonder, if we had a couple helium balloons and some hairspray, if we could get his hair to do this?

not our baby

not our baby

Because awesome.

 

A Mother’s Day

For a few years there, I really didn’t care for Mother’s Day. Under my professional exterior, I was consumed by the neverending, desperate cycle of waiting-to-see, getting-bad-news, waiting-to-try-again. Mother’s Day just seemed like one more kick in the shin.

My first Mother’s Day was in 2013. I was a newly-minted mother with a week-old baby. I felt a vague sort of pleasure that I was finally a mom on Mother’s Day, but come on. Anyone who has ever been one week postpartum knows exactly how much I cared about anything at that point, beyond my baby and sleeping and clean dry undergarments.

So in some ways, this was my first real Mother’s Day, and it kind of felt important to me.

In the days leading up to it, I realized how cool it was that Mother’s Day fell so soon after H’s birthday. Him being born was the biggest bestest thing that ever happened to me — it was almost like a second birthday for me, because it changed everything, fundamentally changed who I was. That day gave me hope and strength again. But I didn’t want to be the mom who tried to make her kids’ birthdays about her — so how cool was it that only about a week after my first baby’s birthday, there was a day set out to acknowledge the fact that yeah, something amazing had happened, hey, I was a MOTHER. I was finally in the club. I had finally achieved something I’d dreamed about for so very long. For the first time, Mother’s Day felt less like the commercial “holiday” that it is and more like a sort of spiritually significant occasion.

I know there’s nothing unique about me feeling like having a baby was this momentous thing. I’m not talking about anyone else in the universe here, just myself: The most important thing in my life, the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done or will ever do is having and raising him and hopefully his siblings. I may be a lot of other things, I may have a career, blah blah blah, but the most fundamental, crucial thing about me is that I am H’s mama.

And being a mom has definitely changed my life, sometimes for the harder. Stuff like waking up an hour before anyone else to clean the kitchen, put away the toys, do the dishes/laundry, and pack the diaper bag. Stuff like trading all my daydreams about various projects for day-worries about household tasks that aren’t getting done. But that stuff — the worry and the work — is just part of being a mom, I reckon.

So I celebrated my sorta-first Mother’s Day in true Mom Style, featuring time-honored events like “scrubbing a huge nasty stain off the bathroom floor on my hands and knees,” “eating soggy leftover pizza,” and “spending the entire afternoon getting tires purchased and installed on the family car.” Whee.

Oh well. I guess there’s always Father’s Day.

Reading Update #19

SGF Reading MDE

Reading Update: Today is Monday, May 12. As of today I have read 45 books in 2014 and am, accordingly, 87% of the way toward my goal. I definitely think I am going to be changing that goal here pretty soon! Since last time, I finished the following books:

week19 reading

The One is the finale of the Selection trilogy. There are a lot of YA trilogies out there, and most of them seem to be dystopian yarns; the Selection is no exception in that regard, but it is exceptional in that it was entirely satisfying and devoid of most of the darkness and angst that characterize most of its cohort. Yes, bad and dark things happen, and there are bad and dark characters — but I never felt like this trilogy was going to give me an ulcer, and it never made me cry. Instead, it made me want more time to read, and then it made me want more story to read when I was done. No one is going to claim that this trilogy is a Great Masterpiece of Youth Literature, but I will happily claim that it is one of my favorite things I’ve read this year.

The Princess Test is a long-form retelling of “The Princess and the Pea,” although long may be stretching things a bit — it’s really just a short story, typeset in such a way that it makes up an entire (small) book. In order to flesh out the story beyond its usual parameters, Gail Carson Levine adds extra challenges beyond the expected pea-under-mattresses and afflicts her monarchs with a predilection for excessive synonyms. It was a cute, quick little tale.

The Princess and the Pea is a graphic novel adaptation of the more traditional tale that I remembered from my childhood. Nothing too exciting here, including the artwork (which seemed a bit like that of a high school manga fan), but a nice introduction to the fairy tale for the visually oriented.

Red, White, and Blood is the third in the Nathaniel Cade/President’s Vampire series. The concept here is that there is a vampire in the President’s Secret Service, sworn by an old voodoo oath to protect the President and the United States at the cost of his own vampiric nature. That vampiric nature, of course, is at the cost of Cade’s morality, and so even as the vampire fights the forces of darkness (both supernatural and human) he also fights a battle within himself: is he worse than a beast, or is he redeemable? Farnsworth is a local guy, a heck of a researcher, and a fellow who spins a fine suspense novel. It’s not overly vampy, isn’t weighed down with historical tidbits, and walks that lovely line between scary and exciting. I love these books and, even though they’re (again) no great masterpieces, I highly recommend them.

Currently Reading: I have Possession (book 5 in the Fallen Angels series, a dreadful guilty pleasure of mine) for on-the-road, and a MASSIVE copy of the first volume of The Absolute Sandman at home. It stays safely at home because it’s the public library’s, and I don’t want anything to happen to it (as it’s rather wildly expensive) and it seems like it might be somewhat safer there.

Looking Ahead: I hope I can get hold of Volume 2 of Sandman. Beyond that, there are several YA titles on my radar, and the kids are almost done using the library, so soon I’ll have my pick of the litter. I think the first one there is Daughter of Smoke and Bone; I checked it out and was going to read it next, but a kiddo just put it on hold, and they only have the next week to get and read books, so I’ll probably bring it back for her and get it again this summer.

Stepping Up

Just when I was ready to decide that the most exciting thing I’d seen this week was a Jeopardy contestant wearing a mockingjay pin…

Dan Pawson

…our little boy decided that he was ready to let go of the furniture and take a few unsupported steps across the room. 🙂

He did it several times before deciding that really, this was a terribly inefficient way to go about things when crawling was so much faster and safer. Man, when he doesn’t want to stand up, he is really good at letting his legs go limp and arching his back backward!

So I guess we officially have a toddler now. Yikes! One year and four days old.

It’s all just sort of extraordinary, isn’t it — watching them learn and grow and put two and two together, watching those gears turn. Watching them change from a helpless little snuggle into a little human being. I’m reminded of something I saw on Pinterest the other day:

closest to magic

We watch a lot of Jeopardy in our house. I’m not entirely sure why we don’t do pub trivia or something; it’s designed for people like us. We listen to NPR quiz shows, and — okay, I have to admit something. We don’t just watch Jeopardy. We record it. Our DVR is overflowing with old episodes of Jeopardy. Because that’s the sort of nerds we are.

And nerds beget nerds, I think. I’d read that babies will respond more to music their mothers listened to while they were pregnant — that they somehow recognize it or find it familiar. I’m blaming that phenomenon, and my twice-daily 20-minute commutes listening to NPR while pregnant, for the fact that my little guy perks up when he hears the dulcet, educated tones of local weathermen — and bolts for the nearest television set when he hears Alex Trebek’s voice. Not even exaggerating: he was just hanging out one day, and the theme song started. He scooted at top speed in to the room with the TV set, pulled himself up at the television cabinet, and stood there watching Jeopardy from the opening theme song through the end credits.

It isn’t other shows. He doesn’t do that with the news (except the weather report) or Sesame Street or anything else, not with the consistency he has for loving on Jeopardy.

If he becomes the Ken Jennings of his generation, he’d better take his mama out to dinner. 🙂

Reading Update #18

SGF bday

Happy week 18! This past weekend was my little boy’s first birthday, so my SGF up there decided to celebrate. I think he’s going to get frosting on his cashmere sweater, holding the cake like that, don’t you?

Reading Update: Today is Wednesday, May 7. As of today, I have read 41 books toward my annual goal. And I’m kind of cheating by saying that, because technically, I sort of stopped reading Just After Sunset a bit short of the finish line, but I was more than halfway through the final story and am pretty sure I’d read it before, so I’m not letting it get to me. So. This book:

6150413

You know what they say about pizza and certain other things — that even when it isn’t great, it’s pretty good? Yeah. Same thing goes for Stephen King. I didn’t think this collection was great, but it was satisfying and entertaining. On to other things.

Currently Reading: I’m about one good commute away from finishing Red, White, and Blood but will probably set it aside tonight to gobble up The One, the finale in Kiera Cass’s Selection trilogy. I have only one criticism of these books, and that is that the titles are annoyingly difficult to search on Destiny, Google, etc. You pretty much have to know the author’s name in order to correctly pull up The One in a catalog. I’d finish RWB first, but this is the school library’s copy of The One and there’s a line behind me, so I need to go ahead and get it read.

Looking Ahead: I was just on Goodreads, and the latest installment in one of my extremely-guilty pleasure series just came out in paperback. Eeeeeeeeek…. And here I was just about to start a couple of long-awaited YA books…… haha. I need summer to get here so I can read!