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 #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:

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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!

Threadbare

Two weeks ago today, someone turned in one of our copies of Allegiant. I checked it in and, as expected, saw that it was on hold for another student. I printed out the hold notice, then got one of our narrow sticky notes and wrote the student’s last name and the date on it. I remember thinking, as I sometimes do (because I’m a nerd about names) that I liked the look and feel of this student’s name as I wrote it down. Just had a pleasant combination of consonants. Like I said: nerd.

I then looked up the student’s class schedule, found out where she was at that moment, and wrote the room number on the hold notice. I handed it to one of our student library aides to be delivered. Later that day, the student came to the library, got her book off the holds shelf, and checked it out.

We check out Allegiant a lot. It’s the recently-published finale to a very popular trilogy; the movie based on the first book is still in theaters. So I don’t remember, honestly, if my memory of this transaction was for this student, or for someone else checking out the book, or how many different kids I said the exact same thing to. To some girl at about the right time — perhaps to this girl — I smiled as I handed her the book, made a comment about how she must be excited to finally get it, and then recommended that she have some kleenex handy as she read it.

This particular copy of Allegiant was due today. The girl with the satisfying last name is dead. She was hit by a car while riding her bicycle on Easter evening and died last night.

When you work in the schools, you end up knowing an awful lot of people — especially in a smallish community like ours, where you have a pretty decent chance of recognizing any name you see on the news. A lot of educators develop the habit of half-consciously scanning arrest records and news stories for familiar names. Our student’s name hasn’t been released by the media, but when I saw that evening that there had been a bike-car accident involving a 13-year-old, and saw the location, I knew that this was almost certainly one of our kids. The following day that would be confirmed. I’d learn that she was one of my husband’s students. Other devastating details came to light. For two days we held out hope, and then we learned that it was over. Queued up the emergency phone tree at about 9 pm. Spread the word. Picked out a blue outfit to wear in her honor because it was her favorite color.

As far as I really know, the entirety of my relationship with this little girl was that I processed a hold for her, and I put her picture and name in the yearbook. She was a fairly regular library patron, based on her circulation history, but not one of the ones who interacted a lot with me.

Still, I feel heartbroken. It feels deeply personal to me. I don’t know how (or if) people avoid thinking about all of the connections. My head and heart are full of her parents, her siblings, her friends who I see red-eyed in the halls at school today, her teachers who are trying to seem strong. I am thinking about the driver. I am thinking about the adolescence and adulthood she won’t have, about her infancy and all her family’s hopes and dreams for her. I’m thinking about the book and wondering if she finished reading it, whether it will come back to the library, what I should do with it if it does. I’m thinking that is a stupid thing to be thinking about.

Although it is a vastly different situation, I’m thinking about my student M—-, who died on May 12 of last year. She was upset about a break-up and ended up throwing herself under a train. I was on maternity leave and all I could think was whether things might have been different if I’d been at school that week instead of at home with my own baby. M—- and I had been relatively close; I’d been her English teacher for a few years, and had tried to help her with some bullying/bad friend issues in the past. Given the dynamics of the failed relationship, I probably would have been one of the first people she would have come to talk to if I’d been there. I’m reliving my feelings of guilt and regret.

I’m thinking about the baby I held, hugging him close to me as M—-‘s name hit the news, and my solar plexus, that day. I know one day soon I’ll have to let my little boy get on his bicycle and ride out of my arm’s reach, out of my sight. I’ll have to trust that he’ll be safe, that he won’t trust a crosswalk with his life, that he won’t ever let a broken heart stop beating. It’s hard to fathom having the strength to let go on a day like today.

I’m thinking about how my coworkers must be reliving the loss of another student, just a kid, who took his own life last year. Loss is tied to loss. Our principal reminded us this morning that this week’s tragedy might stir up pain from unrelated events, that we should look out for our colleagues even if they didn’t personally know the deceased. It was a good thing to say. I didn’t know how hard this would hit me. It is good to remember that in all of the different reactions people have to something like this, none are likely to be unique.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.” C. S. Lewis wrote that in A Grief Observed, following his wife’s death. It seems like a perfect description of today. He goes on to describe a sort of juxtaposed need for isolation and company, wanting others to be nearby but finding conversation too much to bear: “If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” It’s true that I want to hide under my desk with a box of kleenex, but simultaneously I want to walk, want to be in the back of a room where other people are talking. I want to be sleeping or perhaps just staring at a wall, but I also want to be doing something, anything, to feel like I am in some way helping. I feel wrapped up, muffled, in Lewis’s invisible blanket of sadness. It isn’t a warm blanket, but it is well-worn and widely shared.

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 BoxersSaints — 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:

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

Book Drive

I’m taking a few minutes to sit, and it was either stare gloomily at Pinterest or come over here, so here I am.

I’ve just realized that I never made my work coffee this morning. The coffee in my mug, only half-consumed, was brewed at 6:30 AM. Yum. No wonder I’m tired and thirsty.

Man, I hurt.

Since having Henry, I’ve had pelvic pain — not severe enough that I’ve felt the need to do anything about it, but the muscles or tendons or whatever in there just aren’t as well-strung as they once were. I’m always “yoinking” my hips. Pushing something heavy — say, a cart full of books — goes straight to my pelvis, and because the hip bone is connected to the back bone, that then goes to my lower back, which goes to my stomach, and so basically I’m spending a fair amount of time wishing I could somehow ace-bandage my hip joint into the pelvic bone. Add to that all of the lugging-of-baby and weird positions we sit in while holding babies, and I’m pretty sure I’d make a chiropractor cackle with glee and call his accountant with good news.

So our school has a used book sale every year, which is this massive labor-intensive project, and has been head up for the past several years by a supermom volunteer who lets boxes of books take over her entire garage for the sale while they are sorted and stored. This year, I was encouraged to do the sale again despite the fact that supermom had moved out of state — and no other parents were jumping up and down to take her place. The easiest solution seemed to be for me to step into the volunteer coordinator’s role. I mean, how hard could it be to sort donated books as they come in?

And the answer is, not hard — but hard. I mean, my brain doesn’t falter under the weight of book sorting. But I’ve spent the better part of the day, every day for the last week, pushing around heavy (poorly-wheeled) carts full of often grimey books, bending over, picking them up, sorting them into cardboard boxes, and moving/stacking filled cardboard boxes. And if you’ve ever had the misfortune to help us move, or anyone else with a sizeable collection of books, you know exactly how much fun cardboard boxes full of books are. Nearly 2,200 books so far, and three more days worth coming — hopefully getting us close to my goal of 5,000 (about half of what we’ve had in the past, and not nearly as well sorted, but I’m trying to finish up a yearbook and be a librarian too, so it’ll be what it’ll be).

I don’t mean to complain. It’s kind of fun, and I took it on myself. But it is really exhausting, and really physically demanding, and I hurt.

It’s an interesting project. I open a bag or box of books and it’s a little window into the donor. Most of the kids are bringing in benign bags of outgrown children’s books, but the teachers are culling from their own collections. It’s fun to reach in and pull out a double fistful of gory thrillers, or enough romance novels to fill a bookshelf. Political books! Pedagogy books! Books that reveal religious beliefs, eating habits, family issues. I open a bag and discover a kindred spirit, or someone with whom I apparently disagree on just about everything.

(I want to take a second right now to say that I have no idea which person is connected to which book; if there were names on the boxes/bags, they’ve long since been removed by the time I get around to sorting.)

Who is this person? I wonder. We would have so much to talk about. Or: I wish I knew so I’d be sure never to bring up politics around them.

Then again, that’s a silly game to play, because maybe these books didn’t belong to any of my coworkers at all. They could be a spouse’s books, or books left over from a neighbor’s garage sale, or books they collected for the drive from all of their church friends.

And besides, they’re the books that the donor decided to get rid of — not her treasured personal library. What says more about a person: the books on her shelf, or the books in her donate pile?

By the way, I searched for a picture of cardboard boxes to illustrate this post, and found the picture below, and now I can’t wait for Henry to be big enough to do this because DUDE.

Maze-made-from-cardboard-boxes

Weekly Reading Update – Week 8

SGF Reading

Reading Update: It is Tuesday, February 25, and as of today I have read 18 books toward my 2014 goal of 52.

In the past week, I read three books: Weekly Reading Week 8

Orange is the New Black is our book club selection for this month. It was a good read: thought-provoking and engaging without being especially taxing. I didn’t find it to be as hilarious as promised, but it was a pleasantly complex and forthright examination of a world I hope never to know any more personally than this. I liked the author and how she wrestled with and handled her identity as an educated, wealthy, privileged white woman in the prison community; my favorite part was the end (an addition to the paperback edition) where we learn what she did with her privilege to help those who helped her through her incarceration. My only complaint, if I can even call it that, is that I kept reaching for a plot arc that didn’t exist — and I blame Kerman. Her writing style kept teasing us with the next shoe to drop, except that it was a memoir and not a novel, and so things didn’t play out according to classical story structure. Not sure whether that’s fair to even mention, but there you have it.

This Star Won’t Go Out is the collected papers (journal, emails, etc.) of and about Esther Grace Earl, a Nerdfighter who didn’t inspire John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars but to whom the book was dedicated, for glaringly obvious reasons. So yeah, you’re basically stepping inside the mind and world of a young teenage girl who has by now died of cancer, and if you’re the sort of person who lets things like that get to you (like, ah-hem, me) then you’re going to spend a few hours pretending that you’re not crying. I’m not really 110% sure that this was a good book, but it was certainly a reflection of a good person, and I couldn’t put it down, so take that as you will. It’s certainly a loving and lasting legacy of a girl who never forgot to be awesome, and I’m proud of her and of her family and friends for making sure that her star doesn’t go out.

On a completely different note we have Zombie Baseball Beatdown, which I’ll be reviewing for GLW here in a few days, so stay tuned.

Currently Reading: I just finished ZBB last night and haven’t started anything new yet.

Looking Ahead: I’m currently carrying around These Broken Stars but I’m not exactly feeling inspired at this moment in time. The library just got in a box of graphic novels that are looking more my speed today, but that might be because I have a headache.

 

Transitioning

We’re (at least) halfway through the summer, so it’s time for me to get off my sit-upon and make the transition from being a teacher at one school to being a librarian at another. That means a lot of boxing things up and sorting things out (one of those jobs that seems easy enough until you walk in the room and discover how Sisyphean it truly is) in a room that is devoid of air conditioning. Bittersweet sort of thing.

It also means meeting with the erstwhile librarian to learn the ropes (or as much as I can learn without actually doing). I’m excited and a little overwhelmed — there is a lot to learn, and a lot I want to do that may constitute biting off more than I can chew. I have to ease into this whole thing and prioritize what I learn to do!

It’s a beautiful space. I’ve been in a couple of times with R and have been trying to settle into the idea that these are my new digs:

I need to get back up to speed on middle-level literature after several years in a high school. Fortunately, I have a great big room full of books written for middle school kids at my fingertips.

WatchedI started off by reading Wonder, a very good book recommended to me by the principal, a counselor, and the outgoing librarian. Really a beautiful book; I’m going to try to get R to read it, if he’ll find some time away from his computer-reading. I’d like to write about it here if I find the time and energy.

CrossedNow I’m reading Crossed (book 2 in the Matched trilogy, which I started with my book club). It’s suffering a bit from SITS (Second Installment in the Trilogy Syndrome) but I still want to finish the trilogy. I’ve got the third book on standby but may read something else in between, depending on how Crossed ends.

After that, I’m either going to read Palace of Stone (the sequel to Princess Academy, which I read on audio book a couple of years ago) or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. And then I probably need to pick a good old-fashioned Book for Boys Who Don’t Necessarily Always Love Reading. Any recommendations from my teacher/reader/librarian pals?

I took a look at the fiction stacks and found that there are about 160 shelves (actually around 165, but some are very short and are made up entirely of very specialized series). I think I’d like to challenge myself to read one book from each of the shelves in the next year, which seems like an enormous undertaking except that middle-level books are pretty fast reads for me. If I really put my mind to it I could clear one a day, but I’m not going to hold myself to that since I know I’m going to have all kinds of responsibilities, duties, etc. with this job on top of being a mama.

Of course, I might occasionally want to read a grown-up book, too… I’ve got Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: The World as Stage on hand, and in the process of weeding my home library I came across several books that I’d purchased ages ago and never got around to reading. Plus, as soon as I can get an affordable copy, I’ve got to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane. (Plus there’s book club — and I’m giving a little bit of thought to joining a second book club — so I have at least one outside book a month to read.) So I’m not going to formally throw down the “160 middle-level books before June” gauntlet or anything… but I’m going to sort of generally aim myself in that direction and see what happens. At the very least, arbitrarily pointing myself at different shelves will expose me to books I might not necessarily choose otherwise.

Listening

I’ve been spending some time wandering through the CD shelves at the LIBRARY! and giving my iTunes an infusion of fresh music. Not sure, honestly, what the legality of that is. I mean, it’s at the library – if I’m not going to redistribute and/or sell it, is it okay to import it to my personal computer? One hopes, because one does…

Anyway, the iTunes are shuffling, and I’m listening to:

  • Yo-Yo Ma on the Seven Years in Tibet soundtrack
  • Tower of Power
  • Shitake Monkey
  • Bowling for Soup
  • the Dave Matthews Band (not that I didn’t have them before, of course)
  • Arcade Fire
  • Onomatopoeia – easily the coolest named musical ensemble this side of the Boise River
  • The Corrs
  • Wilco (which, I maintain – despite what iTunes wants me to believe – does not belong in the country genre)
  • KT Tunstall – specifically, Drastic Fantastic
  • More Music From Northern Exposure
  • a Dark Side of the Moon tribute by the Vitamin String Quartet
  • and Blake Lewis, who was robbed

What are you listening to? What would you recommend to me? More importantly, what would you recommend that I can also find at the Boise and/or Ada libraries?