Back, for one night only…

I hope it won’t actually be one night only, but it probably will be one night for a good while.

Recent life events (since March):

  • Took a family summer road trip to St. Louis, Chicago, and Holland, MI.
  • Got a job (this is kind of the main one) as a school library media specialist in Harford County
  • Learned how to return to being a two-working-parent family.

Blogging has gone by the wayside, and that’s actually been a conscious decision that I’m pretty happy with. But I don’t want to completely slam the door on it (not least because I want to find a way to incorporate more online communication tools at work), and I’ve wanted to add a post for a few days.

Here are some thoughts that have occupied me recently:

  • Discerning which tasks at work and at home are actually the most important and starting with those.
    • As an aside, I’m really happy with my laundry management system, adapted from one I heard about from Holly Dvorak at controlmyspin.com. She suggests doing one load of laundry each day from start to finish (instead of having “laundry day”). Given our schedule, I try to do a load from middle to middle (I have the kids put away clothes, fold clothes from the dryer, start another load, and get that load in the dryer before bed), and that has worked very well.
  • Worrying about violence and injustice in our state and around the world. And what a Christian response might look like.
  • Trying to keep reading (not easy).
  • Trying to keep having fun with my kids.
  • Trying to keep everyone fed.

It’s been a pretty narrow focus, but good overall. Before I go, here are some books I’ve enjoyed this summer and fall (you’ll notice fewer picture books this time around):

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED this one. It was so fast-paced, and yet Weir explained enough of the science (or at least, the possible science) to make it believable and understandable. Mark Watney is a great character; I found myself laughing out loud even while he was trying to solve life-and-death problems. And I’m excited that they are making a movie!
Last Stop on Market StreetLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really liked this one. The illustration style reminds me of The Snowy Day, and it was just a nice story about a boy riding the bus with his Grandmother, and learning about why they do things the way they do…and learning to enjoy them. Plus, knitting!
Stolen Magic (Kat, Incorrigible, #3)Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved, loved, loved this last book of the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy. I did get a little tired with Kat always thinking she has everything figured out and acting before thinking, but I finally realized I couldn’t always trust her judgments and, after all, she’s only 13. Still lots of fun to see the manners-driven Regency period with magic overlaid. And I always love Kat’s interactions with her family.
Mars EvacueesMars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like sci-fi at all, this book is absolutely fabulous. In many ways, it’s pure space opera for kids, complete with explosions and interplanetary travel. But it’s definitely got parts that touch on deeper subjects, including the nature of war, understanding “others,” and what makes people into friends. I also love the many funny parts (the robot Goldfish teacher who will not be deterred from its mission is a particular favorite) and that the kids are so obviously kids, not miniature adults. I loved it.

P.S. There is a good amount of cursing (mild, in the grand scheme, but not stuff I’d want my kids saying), so I’d keep this for 4th or 5th grade and up.
Skulduggery Pleasant (Skulduggery Pleasant, #1)Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

HILARIOUS. Also quite scary in some parts, at least for those like me who aren’t up for very scary stories. Skulduggery Pleasant is a walking skeleton (he wasn’t always like that) detective, who teams up with Irish twelve-year-old Stephanie Edgeley to prevent the end of the world. He’s got a dry sense of humor, an overinflated ego, and a strong sense of duty. Stephanie is stubborn, troublesome, and insightful. They make a cracker-jack team. The audiobook was pure pleasure to listen to.
Greenglass HouseGreenglass House by Kate Milford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is my favorite (so far) of this year’s Black-Eyed Susan crop. It has a cozy atmosphere, but there’s plenty of intrigue to keep the plot moving, and gamers will enjoy the large role that a role-playing game plays. Milo and his parents run an inn in a town known for smugglers (they have regular “runners” who stay there), but a whole host of strangers show up just as the Pine family is preparing for their usual Christmas lull. Milo and a new friend, Meddy, decide to figure out what everyone’s up to, aided by their newly created gaming personas. There’s a twist I certainly didn’t seem coming, but I’m sure many other readers will.
The Boy on the Wooden BoxThe Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Listened to this as one of our Black Eyed Susans for the year. What I felt set this particular Holocaust memoir apart was the large amount of reflection that Leyson incorporated at every step of his story. He would tell us what he felt but also what was causing that feeling, or why it might seem strange to today’s readers. He also gave a helpful accounting of why more Jews didn’t flee Europe (they were basing their actions on recollections from WWI; many of them had no resources with which to leave).
The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party (The Princess in Black, #2)The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon Hale

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This arrived just in time for our Halloween Princess in Black to grab it off the library shelf. We all loved it. The kids especially loved that, with more monsters to fight (poor Princess Magnolia’s monster alarm keeps going off during her birthday party), there were more princess-y fight scenes to read at the top of their lungs. I think they also liked the other princesses’ names. For those interested, Ms. Hale posted an epilogue that had to get cut from the final edit on her blog: http://oinks.squeetus.com/2015/10/bon….

View all my reviews

Well, that’s all for now, folks.

 

At least have some books…

I have a list of blog post topics on a Post-It note on my to-do list. Here are some things I have recently wanted to blog about:

  • Being called to the laity (instead of ordained ministry, like certain other members of the family…)
  • Ideas, or lack thereof, for Sunday school
  • Working on the YALSA Hub reading challenge
  • Life 9 months post-move
  • Thoughts about Lent this year
  • Guns and why I don’t like them

Obviously, I haven’t sat down to write any of these, and while I hope to get to at least some of them, it doesn’t seem likely in the next week, either. So here are some recent library books instead…

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary FriendThe Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We grabbed this from the library’s new award winner display, and I can see why it won. The pictures have a lovely bright and dark contrast, but the story is also fun and it just feels like a kid-friendly book all around. I hadn’t heard of it before it won this year’s Caldecott Medal (not surprisingly, for me), but my kids and I have all enjoyed it thoroughly, and I’ve had several reread requests.

The story follows an unnamed imaginary friend who, when he doesn’t get called up by a kid to be their friend, decides to go out into the real world and find his own friend. Sure enough, he finds both his friend and his name, and all live happily ever after.

Little OinkLittle Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the creators of Little Pea and Little Hoot comes a story about a pig who wants to be clean. This is a cute addition to the Rosenthal and Corace’s brand of creatures wanting to doing the opposite of what they are known for, and it’s again fun as a parent to read how Little Oink disagrees with his parents.

Fox's GardenFox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a gorgeous, wordless story about a fox finding shelter in the winter and a boy who helps her out. I can’t rave enough about the pictures–I could sit and look at them for a long, long time, except that my kids technically have dibs on the book.

Mr. Putter & Tabby Turn the PageMr. Putter & Tabby Turn the Page by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This installment of the Mr. Putter and Tabby series takes the pair to the library to read for story time. They don’t know quite what to do when Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke decide to come, too, but the visit goes well for everyone except perhaps a couple of librarians who lost their food to Zeke. A sweet, fun (and librarian-pleasing) entry for the series.

Shhh!Shhh! by Valeri Gorbachev

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sweet story about how an older brother quiets his toys down for his baby brother’s naptime–and revs them back up when the baby is awake! All three kids liked this, and it was simple but fun.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate!Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first audio book for the YALSA Hub challenge this year, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a continuation, and I haven’t read the first book (Better Nate Than Ever), but Five, Six, Seven, Nate definitely stands on its own. In it, eighth grader Nate Foster heads from a Pittsburgh suburb to Broadway as an ensemble member of “ET: The Musical” and experiences all the ups and downs of being a member of a real Broadway cast. The reader gets a real sense of the theater world and can easily sympathize with Nate’s difficulties. Although he spends a lot of time getting cut from numbers due to poor dance skills, Nate’s flair for learning lines, ability to make (and keep) friends, and passion for the theater carry him through. There’s even some romance.

Author Tim Federle also narrates, and he does a great job–I read on the back blurb that these books are based on his own experiences on Broadway, and you feel like he really identifies with Nate when he reads. He doesn’t quite do Jim Dale-style voices, but he does vary his voice enough (including some very well-done accents) that you can easily tell which character is talking. I thoroughly enjoyed both the story and the audio production of it.

The last is one of the ones I’m reading for the YALSA challenge, but the two I’m reading now (one in print, one on audio) are taking me longer to get through. In audio format, I just got extra time to listen on Five, Six, Seven, Nate because I took a solo trip down to NC. In print, I can tell that bad things are coming for the characters, and that always slows down my reading.

I did finish one of the books I’ve been wanting to read this year, and I can strongly recommend it as very funny and enjoyable (and not even geared just to knitters, like most of her other books):
The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes: Stories of Tidiness, Self-Esteem and Other Things I Gave Up OnThe Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes: Stories of Tidiness, Self-Esteem and Other Things I Gave Up On by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book took me a little while to get into. My first problem was that I bought it in Kindle format, and when the first chapter came up with the title “Thirteen,” I thought the Kindle had simply dropped me in at the wrong spot. Once I figured out that it was just the title of the first chapter, and finished it, I was hooked. While there isn’t as much knitting as in Pearl-McPhee’s other books, the humor is just as great. My personal favorite was the skunk chapter, which had me laughing so hard that I had to retell a modified version to my kids so they’d know what was so funny.

View all my reviews

Books I’ve Enjoyed, 4/3/14

Hey, hey, it’s one year since I started this blog. Not yet to 100 posts, but we’ll celebrate anyway.

I’ve been rotten about keeping up with the books I’m reading with my kids over the last month or two, but I’ve had my own little reading boom, so I’m going to share some of the books I’ve enjoyed recently.

Only one of those came from the library (probably part of my problem with our book collection size…), but I enjoyed each of them nonetheless:

People of the BookPeople of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have had this on my nightstand for years now, and I finally decided that it was getting read…and I’m so glad I did. This book has restored my faith in literary fiction. I think the plotting and writing were beautifully done, but the story was enjoyable and gripping, too, and I did not feel like the whole human race was going to hell in a handbasket when I’d finished. Also, librarians are some of the heroes of the book, so you know it has to be pretty good.

The overarching story follows book conservator Hanna Heath as she is given the once-and-a-lifetime of studying and conserving the famous Sarajevo Haggadah in the 1990s, but then each section follows a different character who was part of the book’s previous history. Although Brooks is very upfront that the story and all the characters are fictional, it is based on some of the history of the real Sarajevo Haggadah, which Brooks learned about in her previous work as a journalist.

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard TimesThe Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was quite a book, and having seen the entire first season and part of the second season of the TV show, I enjoyed seeing where the stories matched and where they differed. I enjoyed Worth’s narration of both stories about her patients and life at Nonnatus House, and I didn’t find her occasional judgements about the people she encountered as bothersome as other readers did, because she was honest about her feelings and about her naiveté at the time, and also fairly self-critical about them. It’s still hard to believe that people were having babies my parents’ age in a fashion that seems like it should be older than my great-grandparents, but it certainly was fascinating.

Behemoth (Leviathan, #2)Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s been awhile since I read the first book in the series, but I enjoyed this installment very much. It was nice that I was already interested in both Deryn and Alek (it took me awhile to get into the alternating points of view with Leviathan), and the story certainly kept up the action. Some of the dilemmas that arise from Deryn pretending to be a boy are pretty funny…especially as the reader realizes (likely more than Deryn herself) just how many people are starting to guess that she’s a girl.

 

The Storyteller's Daughter (Once Upon a Time Fairytales)The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this book in spite of myself. I bought it because it looked interesting (and because I like fairy tale retellings, and didn’t know a whole lot about the Arabian Nights), but when I started it, I felt like the narration was a little too self-conscious, trying a little too hard to create a mystical story aura. Still, the story itself was good enough, and the characters were likable enough, that I was eventually able to forget about the narration and just get lost in the story.

 

Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity, #2)Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me awhile to pick this one up because I knew it took place in a concentration camp. My mom and I have discussed how it was easier to read books about the Holocaust before and, in her case (and hopefully mine, once I get there!), after our kids were young–but I’m still right in the young-kid stage. What strikes me reading this book now was how Rose was not yet okay at the end of the book, even though you know pretty early on that she survives and you get the sense that she will eventually be okay. Also, the fact that her mother doesn’t get to see her afterwards, and may not even know what she’s gone through…as bad as it is, I think I’d want to know what my daughter’s been through.

But all that aside, it’s an excellent book, you can tell Wein has thoroughly done her research, and Rosie and her friends are heroines worth rooting for.

View all my reviews

 

Something to tide you over…

Ok, I doubt anyone is just checking this blog everyday just to see the next post, but I do feel bad about not having posted in a good week and a half. I will try to get some more posts up in the next few days.

In the meantime, this posted on YALSA’s The Hub today (and was a large part of why no other blogging got done in the last week):

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2014/01/14/literary-knitters/

It was a fun chance to combine two interests in one project. While you’re there, you can check out the many other Hub posts, including a reading challenge for finalists of the William C. Morris Debut Award (for a first time YA author) and the Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award. The ALA Youth Media award winners (including those from YALSA and ALSC–the latter include the famous Newbery and Caldecott awards)  for this year get announced on January 27, so stay tuned!

Library Books Enjoyed, 11/7/13: Grown-up Edition

From a confluence of circumstances, I have checked out and read several books over the past few weeks that were for me, not the kids. The first was one I must have put on hold after reading a review–I didn’t remember it at all when I got the hold notification. But it blew me away when I read it:
Levels of LifeLevels of Life by Julian Barnes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was devastating and amazing, both in the way that Barnes artfully integrated history, fiction, and lament and in the raw emotion. This is an extremely difficult book to categorize but was a completely worthwhile read.

Ok, I obviously didn’t put much time into reviewing this on Goodreads. Here’s a little more about the book and my reading experience. I had read one other Julian Barnes book, The Sense of an Ending, which I appreciated as a literary work that had won the Man Booker prize, but didn’t think much of personally. (I think I’ve come to realize that I’m not good at reading unreliable narrator books, because I just inherently trust the narrator.) I didn’t really know what this one was about, and I didn’t know if I would like it or not.

It starts off with a brief history of some early balloonists whose various paths happen to cross and which leads to the first aerial photograph being taken…a phenomenon that might not seem like a huge deal until astronauts take a picture of the Earth from space.

The second part is a fictional account of one of the balloonist’s love affair with actress Sarah Berhardt. Trust me, it ties in.

Finally (although this section is the longest), the book is a lament about the death of Barne’s wife. This part was very raw and straightforward, but it drew on metaphors and emotions from the first two parts. I can’t very well describe it any better, except to repeat that I was blown away.

This is not a happy or very hopeful book, but I wholeheartedly recommend it.

The other two I picked up as I try to again ramp up my reading of YA fiction and (right now) particularly graphic novels:
Boxers (Boxers & Saints)Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really moving account of China’s Boxer Rebellion from one of the peasant-warriors. Interesting how it showed the ways that colonialism/the spread of Christianity hurt many of the people in the countryside, and also the supernatural beliefs that strengthened the fighters. Be warned that the ending is tragic. I’m interested to read Saints, the companion book, as well as (eventually) some actual history of the rebellion.

Saints (Boxers & Saints)Saints by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Was itching to read this after I finished Boxers, and it was very good–I read it in one evening (it helps that it’s a lot shorter than Boxers!). This provided an interesting look at a Chinese Christian experience during the Boxer Rebellion. I thought I knew how it would end, from reading Boxers, but you actually learn a little more about Bao’s story at the end of Vibiana’s.

View all my reviews

For those of you keeping track at home, yes, this means my French reading project is way behind. But that’s up next on the docket, so hopefully I can update in the next week or two.

Guest Blogging!

I had my first ever public blog post published today at YALSA’s The Hub:

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2013/10/08/old-favorite-new-genre-exploring-fantasy-sub-genres-through-robin-mckinleys-work/

I’m hoping to get to blog their occasionally in the coming year…it will give me a good reason to continue trying to keep up with the YA lit world.

Incidentally, I finished Shadows this weekend and hope to get a review up in the next week.

Happy Tuesday!