Friday, November 20, 2015

November Reading

I've read and listened to several books during November. I wish I had read more, but that's not to be.

Anyway, here goes...

Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman for Book Club wasn't a surprise. There's a reason this book wasn't published years ago. The voice isn't quite right until she writes about Scout, Dill, and Jem. I think her editor was correctly when s/he told her to write from a child's perspective. Some folks were really upset to find that Atticus was a racist. I think I agree with one reviewer that said we view our parents as being perfect when we are children only to find out that they aren't perfect when we become adults. Also, I think if this book were read first, it wouldn't be so disappointing. I do think, however, that if I read Go Set a Watchman first, I'd never read To Kill a Mockingbird. It wasn't that great a book.

I did, however, really enjoy the next two books that I listened to on audio.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok chronicles the story of Hong
Kong immigrants, Kimberly Chang and her mother to Brooklyn, New York. After finding out that Aunt Paula brought them to the United States under false pretenses, Kimberly and her mother are horrified to find that they are living in a condemned, rat and roach infested apartment and that they are forced to work in Aunt Paula's sweat shop. Sixth grader Kimberly is smart, however, and earns a full-ride to a prestigious prep school. She works hard to keep her scholarship, but she also must work in the sweat shop to help her mother. There she meets and falls in love with Matt. While she has opportunities, Matt has none. That matters little to Kimberly, however. Because of her school performance, she earns a full scholarship to Yale. Fate, however, gets in the way. What choice will she make?

I loved this book. While I have been around many people coming from Mexico, I never realized how difficult it would be to come to a completely new culture not knowing much of the language and customs.

I just finished listening to Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. In San Francisco,Clay Jannon is forced to take a job at an erstwhile bookstore after his computer job is over. This bookstore is unlike most stores, however, because there are few books sold, but "members" can come and check out odd books that seemingly cannot be read. Clay, being rather snarky and very curious, cannot simply leave things alone. Instead, he investigates only to find out there's way "more to the story" that he never counted on. When the combined forces of Google cannot translate their way through the problem, he leans on his own wits, a rich friend's bank account, and a favorite childhood novel series to decode the solution to the mystery. Not only was the book terrific, but Ari Fliakos was the perfect reader. Highly recommended!

I'm looking forward to the Thanksgiving Break. Hopefully I can squeeze in a few more November books!

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

It's a well-known fact that I'm a Neil Gaiman fan. In fact, several other people mentioned hearing him speak at TLA was one of the highlights of all TLA conferences, and I'd have to agree. I purchased The Sleeper and the Spindle for the simple fact that it was written by Neil Gaiman. An added bonus are the meticulous pen and ink drawings by Chris Riddell that are enhanced by touches of gold leaf.

It's obvious from the title that this is Gaiman's "spin" (sorry for the pun!) on Sleeping Beauty, my favorite fairy tale. However, it's not the traditional gorgeous princess goes to sleep for a hundred years story that we all know. Here, the princess did NOT go to sleep and now she's an old crone,
The fairy/witch/evil person has instead absorbed all of the beauty and longevity of all of the sleeping members of the kingdom.

Rather than the handsome prince coming to save the day by kissing the sleeping beauty, it's a queen and three dwarves. This queen is about to be married, but goes on the quest to save the kingdom because it is gradually being taken over by sleep and web-spinning spiders. I was a bit slow on the uptake with the reference to dwarves, but I caught on quickly when the queen notices the eye of the sleeping beauty are like her stepmother's. So, we have a blending of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

Rather than living "happily ever after" though, Gaiman takes an unexpected turn. I'm not going to spoil it here. But it's typically Neil Gaiman, and I loved it.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Living by Matt de la Pena

Yesterday I finished listening to The Living by Matt de la Pena. I've been fortunate enough to hear.
Matt speak on several occasions and have always enjoyed his perspectives, but I don't think I've ever read any of his books before. I got this free audiobook on SYNC last summer. The Living is part Poseidon Adventure, part Unbroken, and part A Matter of Days.

Shy, a teenager from a low-income area in Southern California, works on a luxury cruise ship during the summer to help support his mother, sister, and nephew. His grandmother recently died of Romero disease. While working one evening, a passenger with a comb over spouts some nonsense and jumps overboard. Despite his best efforts to save him, the man is lost, but Shy is haunted by the experience. Not only that, his mother has just shared that Shy's nephew has Romero disease and is being treated in a hospital. Because Shy's sister has no insurance, Shy feels a major responsibility to help support his family financially, but is torn because he's working on the ship and cannot get home. His hot coworker, Carmen, complicates things when they share a passionate moment, but she's engaged. Then he finds himself being stalked by a man in a black suit.

"The Big One" hits the west coast of the United States causing a tsunami which wrecks the cruise ship. After a harrowing escape, Shy and Addie, a wealthy blond girl, find themselves adrift at sea in a leaky life raft. Addie shares that her dad owns a medical supply company based in the Hidden Islands and he has a picture of Shy taken at his grandmother's grave. The two are thrilled to find a boat, but despite their best efforts, there is no response. Using their one oar, they get to the boat only to find two murdered passengers who look like doctors.

Although it looks like curtains for the duo, Addie flips out and shoots their last two flares. However, this alerts Shoeshine, another cruise ship worker, to find them. They are taken to the island where Addie's dad's company is headquartered, given food and clothing. They are told that researchers are there on a large boat who will take them back to the West Coast.

However, not is all sunshine and roses on the island. Shy picked up a duffle bag on the boat with the dead doctors that contains syringes, a spray bottle, and a gun. When Shoeshine sees this, he injects the "vitamins" into Shy and Addie. They find that many people are infected with Romero disease and are quarantined. While Shy is thrilled to see that Carmen is alive, he is confused about his new-found feelings for Addie who shared that she might be falling in love with him. He's also confused when a helicopter leaves the island, and Addie is nowhere to be found.

Shoeshine warns Shy to steer clear of the departing ship, but the man in the black suit finds Shy, confesses the truth about Romero disease, and pulls a gun to shoot Shy. Will Shy live to see another day?

Yes, there's a sequel, The Hunted. If it has half the action and suspense of The Living, it should also prove to be a great read.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Forget Me by K.A. Harrington

Over the weekend I finally finished Forget Me by K.A. Harrington. I don't know why it took me so long to read it because I really enjoyed the book. It's a mystery and if you know me or have glanced at my blog, you know I rarely read mysteries. However, when I do, I really enjoy them.

After Morgan's mysterious boyfriend is killed in a hit and run accident, her BFF, Toni, urges her to post a goodbye photo on a social media account. The photo ID identifies her dead boyfriend, Flynn, as Evan Murphy. Morgan's never heard of Evan Murphy, but when she does a bit of research, she find that Evan looks exactly like Flynn.

Soon the two meet at a party arranged by Toni's new boyfriend, Reece. Then they have a double date with Reece and Toni. Morgan realizes that Evan is not Flynn although their similarities are uncanny.

Because Morgan makes a little extra money for the family by taking pictures for the local newspaper and for her own personal use, she visits the abandoned amusement park to take some photos for her portfolio of abandoned places. There she discovers a shack where she finds some of Flynn's possession including a notebook where he's taken some cryptic notes. It turns out that Flynn was a runaway posing under a fake name.

Meanwhile, Morgan and Evan become close when Morgan realizes that Evan's family owned the company where most of the adults in the town used to work until the company closed. While this complicates matters, it also opens some doors to discovering the cause of Flynn's hit and run accident.

As you can see, this is an involved plot, but one that keeps you reading. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Latest "Reading"

I've been busy working on a new research project putting out fires with our new book vendor. I know that once the research unit starts and the first book order arrives, I may have more time. We'll see...

At any rate, I haven't read a lot lately. I have, however, listened to several books. I need to blog about them before I forget the plots

I am an avowed Rainbow Rowell fan. As I've previously blogged, I loved Eleanor and Park and really enjoyed Fangirl. I decided to listen to one of her adult books, Landline. While I enjoyed the book, Eleanor and Park is still my favorite.

Georgie McCool (yes, that's her name) writes for a hit comedy show and is excited for the opportunity to write for a new show IF she and her writing partner can get several episodes written before the new year. Unfortunately, that means that she'll miss going to Nebraska to celebrate Christmas with her husband, Neil, and their two daughters. When Neil takes the girls and leave, Georgie feels lost. She moves back in with her mother, her mother's much younger husband, and her much younger half sister. It is in her old room that she discovers an old yellow telephone - a landline - that links her to her college self when she and Neil broke up right before Christmas years ago. Using the landline, she tries to decide if Neil would have been better off not having married her. This bit of magical realism makes Georgie finally recognize what's most important in her life. I especially liked her first experience with snow and her realization that it is actually COLD.

I just finished listening to Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. For some reason, I thought
this was a YA book and it started out in that manner. However, I soon found out that it is an adult book. Set in 1970s rural Ohio and told through a series of episodic flashbacks, this is a story of the Lee family and the death of daughter, Lydia. James, a college professor, is a first generation Chinese American who never fit in. He never had friends, was popular, or felt included. It was only when he met Marilyn, an ambitious Caucasian woman, that he felt accepted. Marilyn, on the other hand, always wanted to be a medical doctor. Her plans were put on hold when she finds that she's pregnant, and she and James marry. Because of her marriage, Marilyn becomes estranged with her home-economics teacher mother. After her mother's death, Marilyn receives a small inheritance. Because of the inheritance, she leaves James and her now two children to pursue her dream by going back to school. However, she soon finds herself pregnant again, and returns to the family. Both of her children, Nath and Lydia, internalize their mother's leaving in different ways, but it most effects Lydia who decides to become the perfect daughter in the hopes that her mother will never leave again. Marilyn, however, decides to pin all of her dreams on this perfect daughter, and determines at Lydia's tender age that she will grow up to be a doctor. The story centers on Lydia's death by drowning and how it brings out "everything I never told you."

This is a tough book to get through. Ng, however, makes you care about the characters so much that you're willing to make the time commitment to finish the book. As a reader, I could see things coming and in a much clearer light than the characters could. The story broke my heart. I wish she'd write a sequel because I'd like to know how Nath did at Harvard and if Hannah (the third child) ever found the love she sought from her parents.

The Selection by Kiera Cass is definitely YA. A combination of Cinderella, the Bachelor, and The Hunger Games, this book is a derivative of all things dystopian. America Singer is one of thirty five girls selected from "the Provinces" (districts) to come to the Palace in Illea because Prince Maxon needs to select a wife (Cinderella) Of course, all of this is televised to the country (the Bachelor) because everyone want to root for one of the girls and to see what they are wearing, etc. However, from time to time, the Palace is attacked by the Rebel forces (The Hunger Games).

America reluctantly entered the competition because it will help her family who are lowly fives in a caste system where the higher your number, the lower your status. Her boyfriend, Aspen, encouraged her to enter and when selected, he breaks up with her. When America arrives at the Palace, she has a run-in with the Prince, but they decided to just "be friends." Over the course of the book, several of the candidates are sent home and several leave due to the attacks on the Palace. At the end of the book, there are six candidates left. America, of course, is one of them, but her boyfriend, Aspen, is now a guard at the Palace due to his conscription into the army. (What a coincidence!)

Rather than having a nice narrative arc, the book ends without a conclusion. Of course, it helps that there are two sequels. An obvious pawn to sell more books...

Circling the Sun by Paula McClain was the latest book club read. This is a fictionalized biography of Beryl Markham, who was a contemporary and "friend" of Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame. (Beryl and Karen both had affairs with Denys Finch Hatton.) In many ways Beryl was a modern woman. She was an exceptional horse trainer and a aviatrix making a solo flight over the Atlantic during a time when most people had never flown. On the other hand, she was very unlucky in love, having married three times and having numerous affairs.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Banned Books Week

7th Graders reading some favorite Banned Books.
This year we decided to celebrate Banned Books Week in the library. I really didn't go overboard or anything because generally no one really notices what we do. I simply collected books for a display and stuck a "Banned!" label across the front.

I had barely gotten the books out when a crew of Middle School students came in who were outraged that these books had been banned.

 "Why is The Giving Tree banned?"

 "What's wrong with Hop on Pop?"

"We read The Absolutely True Diary of  a Part Time Indian for class!"

"But I LOVE The Art of Racing in the Rain."

"Where the Wild Things Are was my favorite book when I was little. I read it every night before I went to bed."

 "Why would someone ban Winnie the Pooh?"

On and on and on.

I even had an Upper School student who sent  an email to all of the classes in Upper School telling them to come and celebrate a library that doesn't ban books! (I did point out that libraries don't ban books - generally administrators do.)

I guess I was really surprised at the reactions of the kids. Their reaction generally was "Why?" but also "Who Says?" Our point exactly.

I never thought anyone would even notice.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

1. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I've begun my "New Year's" reading. We aren't conducting a 40 Book Challenge like we did last
year, but I've learned that I personally work better with challenges. So... I'm challenging myself to read another 40 books during the school year.

Here's the first...

I just finished listening to The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I've heard about this book for a really long time, and Margaret Atwood is coming to the Texas Book Festival in October so I thought I'd give it a go. While I thought it was a really good book, I was disappointed to find that it was my LEAST favorite genre, Dystopian!!!!

It turned out that that it was good that I actually listened to the book. Claire Danes read the novel, and I really felt it was an appropriate match. After the narrative of the story was completed, the epilogue was a speech where "The Handmaid's Tale" was discussed as being an artifact found after the period. The artifact was narrated on cassette tapes. Apparently, this was how the artifact was "found."

"Offred," the protagonist, was a "Handmaid." In the dystopian society in which she lived, the "Handmaid" was a babymaker for the elite Commander and his wife who could not have children. While this was not an ideal position, she felt that it help her from being hanged and her body put on display for others to view. In her past life, she'd had a husband and a child, but she did not know where they were or if they were alive. In passing, one of the other "Handmaids" alludes to "May Day," but Offred doesn't really know what this is about. All she knows is that this is a society devoid of love, information, and attachments.

While this is obviously an adult book, and I would not recommend it to Middle School students, I'm glad that I listened to it. Atwood is an accomplished writer. Her images were vivid and her situations distinct.

More to come...