Monday, January 31, 2011

The Ask and the Answer

by Patrick Ness
Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2009.

**Spoiler warning for The Knife of Never Letting Go.**

Haven was supposed to be their hope, but when Todd and Viola reached it at the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go, Mayor Prentiss of Prentisstown was the only one who showed up to greet them. Taking up the story where it left off, Todd and Viola describe what happens to them after reaching Haven, which agreed to a peaceful take over rather than fight. Now separated for the Mayor's (or President, as he now wishes to be called) manipulative purposes, Todd and Viola have to decide whose side they're on in a coming war in which neither side seems to have a pure motive.

Is there any pure motive in war? What would you do to be "free," or would you compromise to minimize loss of life? What choices would you make, and what kind of person would they make you? These are the questions at the center of The Ask and the Answer, and they're tough ones to come to grips with. Todd and Viola, Mistress Coyle, the former Mayor of Haven, and a healer named Corinne are just some of the characters making these decisions and whether you agree with them or not, you can see the kind of people they are as a result of past and present decisions in a book just as intense as the first. I'm waiting on tenterhooks until the third book comes in from interlibrary loan.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Knife of Never Letting Go

by Patrick Ness
Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2009 (orig. pub. 2008).

Todd is nearly a man - he'll be thirteen thirteen-month years. He is the last boy of the community in Prentisstown, a town of all men who have Noise, a condition which means that all your thoughts are heard by the community, a germ that Todd was told caused all the women to die. But when Todd learns that what he has been told all his life may not be true, he has to re-evaluate everything he has taken for granted for the past thirteen years. How many secrets do the men of Prentisstown keep?

Todd is our first-person narrator - we're in his head, as if we're hearing his Noise clear as day, with all his dialect (words like "yer" and "attenshun") and confusion about what's really going on with Prentisstown. At first, I found it distracting, but I soon became caught up in Todd's plight and flight, and I had difficulty putting the book down. The plot is fast-paced, the details about this science fictional world are rich, the characters are so believable I hurt for them at times. If you're cliff-hanger averse, I recommend having book 2 ready as soon as you finish!

This was meant to be a "book off the shelf" - reading a book of my own, rather than a library book (my goal is to read 20 this year). Unfortunately (?), it looks like as long as I like the remaining books in the series, I will be adding two more to the shelves instead.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


by Catherine Fisher
New York : Dial Books, 2011.

The following necessarily contains ***spoilers*** for Incarceron.

After escaping Incarceron, Finn and Claudia find themselves in a battle of wits with Queen Sia, who does not want Finn - possibly the missing Prince Giles - to inherit the throne. Meanwhile, Attia, left behind in the prison, lives by her wits and tries to hold on to the belief that Finn did not abandon them. But the prison has plans of its own - can anyone stand against Incarceron itself?

Given the revelations at the end of Incarceron, I'd hoped for a little more backstory about Claudia and Finn. Instead, we fast forward a mere few months to Finn already trying to fit into the court and Claudia struggling to keep her position in court as the Warden's daughter. The plot moves along quickly as Attia and those in Incarceron works towards escape while Finn, Claudia, and Master Jared work on the Portal, trying discover Incarceron's secrets. While I didn't like it quite as much as the first, it was a good read with a fitting if slightly confusing ending.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One Crazy Summer

by Rita Williams-Garcia
narrated by Sisi Aisha Johnson
Prince Frederick, Md. : Recorded Books, p2010.

One summer in the late sixties, Delphine and her sisters, Vonetta and Fern, fly to Oakland to visit their mother, Cecile, who left them when Fern was just a baby. The girls have grown up in Brooklyn with their grandmother and father raising them, and eleven-year-old Delphine had to grow up fast. Cecile doesn't seem to want them now, either, and sends them to a Black Panthers breakfast and summer school every day to get them out of the house so she can work on her poetry.

If you were following the Mock Newbery Awards before the official announcement of the ALA youth media awards, you've probably heard this title bandied about. A lot of people predicted it would win, so I was not surprised to see it on the Newbery Honor list this year. When I needed an audiobook for my commute and saw it available at work, I snatched it up. I wasn't really sure what to expect. At first I was a little disappointed by the lack of action in the story. The tight focus on Delphine, our first person narrator, and her family made this extremely character-centric. Though 1968-69 was a very intense time, the plot of this story is much more subdued and introspective. The number of historical details expertly laced into the story struck me only after I'd finished the book and started looking in to some of the events and people mentioned. We learn naturally, as Delphine mentions things like her uncle being away, or sorting newspapers. The family interactions, especially between Delphine and her sisters, ring true and were made all the richer by Sisi Aisha Johnson. While I'm not sure it's the type of story that many children would choose on their own (and I'm pretty sure I may not have picked it up without prompting), it would make an excellent read-aloud and discussion starter.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

2010 in Retrospect

In 2010, I read 135 books, including audiobooks and chapter books for children, teens, and adults. This is less than last year (156), but I was also working significantly more hours for the second half of the year, so all in all I'm pleased with that number.

I also kept track of picture book reading, which totaled 61.

Here are some of my memorable reads for the year, with links to my reviews (month finished in parentheses):

I feel like I should at least mention that this is my only poetry book of the year, but even so it would still make my memorable reads list. Clearly I should be reading more poetry, but in all honesty picking a book of poetry and reading it intimidates me more than Shakespeare's plays.

Because I Want To Awards:
Most memorable but not best loved - Montana 1948 by Larry Watson (Aug)
Left me panting for the next one - Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (May)
Most surpassed my expectations - Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (Oct)
Most fun to recommend - Soulless by Gail Carriger (Mar)


I half expected most of my memorable reads to be early in the year, and be sort of the early great reads that I used as a measuring stick for the rest, but the numbers do not bear that out at all. April and October are tied for most-memorable-reads-in-a-month, with three a piece. Interestingly, January, July, and December reads did not make the cut. I'm not surprised by January: I only finished four books that month. The others are a bit of a mystery to me.

Here's to even more great reading in 2011! I'll be trying to keep clearer stats this year to determine how many children's, teen, and adults books I'm reading as well as the total, and posting monthly sum-ups as well.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Whole New Mind

by Daniel H. Pink
New York : Riverhead Books, 2006.

In A Whole New Mind, Pink argues that in an age of computers and outsourcing, as well as relative abundance at lost cost, what we think of as "right brain" behavior will be what gets us ahead in the business world. Specifically, Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning, will be ways in which you can gain ground in a world that no longer has to be purely logical and utilitarian, since we have more time and more money to concentrate on aesthetics. He uses left brain/right brain as a metaphor, while emphasizing that a holistic approach is important.

I first heard of this book when I was reading a professional journal talking about what librarianship was going to be like future. The author suggested reading this book to get an idea of the qualities that we would need to have to be relevant in an increasingly electronic age. I read thinking about ways in which this is true: we make connections between books, movies, mood, a particular reader (Symphony), and we definitely need Empathy to figure out what kind of information someone is looking for, or finding the right book for someone whose taste is completely different from my own. I definitely have some food for thought about my profession.

At the same time, I discovered a lot about myself while I was reading. I found that I am very logical, analytic, and detail-oriented in my approach. Unlike many people (apparently), I have an easier time remembering random facts than stories. I found that I have a tendency towards a "male" brain - that is, tending towards logic, and not as good at reading facial expressions (I kind of knew that already, but some of the exercises in the book just confirmed that for me). Also, I like the Three Stooges just fine, which apparently is also more of a male tendency. On the other hand, I connected a lot more with his chapters on Play and Meaning, and these were the two chapters that I was most intrigued by his list of activities designed to help you stretch that sense in your own mind. Unfortunately, the stories and arguments Pink uses become repetitive after awhile, especially if you're reading several chapters in one sitting. Still, his ideas provide excellent food for thought, and I've added a few more books to read as a result.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

by N.K. Jemisin
New York : Orbit, 2010.

Yeine is a daughter of an heiress who abdicated and a man from a backwater tribe in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. When her maternal grandfather invites her to Sky - the city and the palace - Yeine knows she cannot say no to someone with so much power, even if she wanted to. And while she doesn't know what her grandfather wants, she has a purpose of her own: to find out why her mother died.

It's hard to do justice to a story as complicated as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms without giving away major plot points, so suffice it to say that the above merely scratches the surface of the plot. This is a debut and the first in a fantasy series with incredibly complex world-building, political intrigue, and its own system of religions. In this world, the Arameri are all-powerful and even the gods serve them. Yeine narrates her story as she navigates this new world, her sense of morality, and her determination over whether she will ever truly be an Arameri. She could be just a pawn, but her character is too fleshed out for that. The gods, too, have incredible character development, seeming at once human and otherworldly. While I often wrinkled my nose at the amorality (and, yes, immorality) of Sky and its people, I am intrigued enough to continue reading the series when The Broken Kingdoms is available.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Late, but Completed: The Everything Austen II Challenge

Whew! I did it...well, not quite. The Everything Austen II Challenge hosted by Stephanie's Written Word was to read or watch six materials by or related to Jane Austen from July 1 to December 31, 2010. I was trying to read only, and managed to just finish my last one on January 12, 2011. Here were the books I read, with links to my reviews:
Though I was a little late in finishing, overall I'm pleased with the results. I reached my goal of reading both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, so I have now read all six of Austen's completed novels. I picked up a trilogy that I've been enjoying hugely, and I discovered a couple of new-to-me authors that I've really enjoyed. I call that a successful challenge!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Book Lust to Go

by Nancy Pearl
Seattle, WA : [Jackson, Tenn.] : Sasquatch Books ; Distributed by PGW/Perseus, c2010.

*This book was received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. As per the rules, I receive a free book in return for a review, and whether it's positive or negative has no affect on my receiving books in the future.*

Readers of the earlier Book Lust books will know what to expect as far as format goes: book lists are divided up by theme, a few short paragraphs list books with titles in bold, along with a short description of each of them. In Book Lust to Go, uber-librarian Nancy Pearl specifically chooses books for armchair traveling. She includes nonfiction, fiction, books set in the chosen location, and books by authors from that location. Most impressively, these are all books she's read.

I enjoyed Book Lust when I read it earlier this year, so I was really excited to win Book Lust to Go from Early Reviewers. Perfect, I thought, to have a reference book to turn to in trying to read more globally. I tried to be selective in adding books to the "to be read" list, since I can keep this book and refer back to it whenever I have need. But Nancy (I feel I can call her by her first name, since she's given me such an insight into her mind as a reader) also includes such compelling reasons for enjoying each title, such a palpable enjoyment of all these books she's read, and most dangerously from time to time quotes from her favorites that I couldn't help myself. Even being "selective," I added a few pages to my TBR notebook. Yet these books are so varied, so informative, so internationally eye opening that I think it will be totally worth it to read all I added and more (remember, I was being selective). My only quibble is that sometimes instead of listing several books, she lists books in one long sentence with many semicolons, making it extremely hard to follow. Though my uncorrected proof does not have this, a lovely feature of the finished copy is the maps in the front of the book with page numbers indicating where each country is covered for easy reference to where you want to travel. So open your TBR notebook, your Excel spreadsheet or what have you, and open up Book Lust to Go to start your armchair traveling.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Duty and Desire

by Pamelia Aidan
New York : Simon & Schuster, 2006.

The second book in the "Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman" series starts pretty much where the first one left off. The Bingleys are in London, and Darcy is on his way to Pemberley for Christmas, and to see Georgiana.

Since this is the time period in Pride and Prejudice where the Bennets are in Hertfordshire, Jane visits London, and not much is said of the Bingleys or Darcys, Aidan could more fully explore her character, his thoughts and actions, and his fashionable set. The result was a bit more mixed for me than the first book. I thought her character's actions and thoughts were completely believable. Georgiana, too, is excellently fleshed out in the beginning of the book; she is shy, but has left behind her depression as a result of her companion, Mrs. Annesley, and her new-found faith. Darcy sees this change in Georgiana, and must choose between this and a decidedly darker path, one that appears to me (and in all honesty, this may be my partly due to ignorance of the time period in which the book is set) far too black and white, good or evil. There is a mystery introduced about halfway into the story, but in all honesty I was never in doubt about the ultimate cause, only ignorant of the particulars. All this being said, I enjoyed the story thoroughly, read it quickly, and am looking forward to reading the next one.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

YA Through the Decades Challenge Wrap-Up

Way back in December 2009, I signed up for the YA Through the Decades Challenge hosted by Youth Services Corner. I said I would read one YA book from every decade from 1930s (or earlier) to the 2000, with an additional book in 2010.

Until today, I thought I had not completed the challenge because I had a book from the 1980s left. But when I was looking through my blog posts from 2010, I realized that I had read a YA book from the 80s and had forgotten I could include it because my original intention was to go without rereads. So here is the list (finally) of my completed challenge with links to my review of each book:
All in all, this was quite an interesting experience. I was most struck with how situations changed while much of the characteristics remain the same: dealing with difficult issues, coming-of-age/growing up themes, regular use of first-person or close third-person accounts are all common throughout the decades. Humor and play could be found in the 2000s or the 1960s, and issues like prejudice are still present in the 1990s, not relegated to the past. At the same time, some stories such as Fifteen, are rooted very much in their times can come across as dated or quaint, making them feel like a much younger story for kids of today or nostalgic parents rather than teens. What an interesting mix it turned out to be!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Plain Kate

by Erin Bow
New York : Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010.

Katerina was always known as Plain Kate, ever since her father introduced her, as a baby, to the butcher. She has eyes of different color, and her features are rather plain. Her father teaches her to carve, and carve well, but the townspeople are suspicious of her abilities. Then her father dies in a plague that the people blame on witches. Alone and poor, Plain Kate is again under suspicion when a sleeping sickness moves through the towns. A real witch offers to give Kate the desire of her heart if she gives him her shadow. Only after she makes this bargain does she begin to learn the cost.

This debut offering has an interesting premise and wonderful writing. I enjoyed the descriptions, which used a few well-chosen words to paint a picture in my mind leaving me to fill in the details. Kate and her cat, Tangle, are delightful characters, though I wished more was made of the secondary characters, like Drina, Behret, and Linay. I wanted to know them better than I did, but instead felt like I was never quite sure what they were like, what they would do or choose. Tangle, on the other hand, was great. The very fact that he is a cat is never forgotten, and he made me laugh several times. I will definitely be looking for more by this author.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Fascinating "Reading Life"

My Reading Life
by Pat Conroy
New York : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, c2010.

"In a reading life, one thing leads to another in a circle of accident and chance."

Taking a quote from the final chapter in Conroy's book was the closest I could come to describing the book itself. I suppose it's most accurate to call this a book of vignettes, all tied to the reading, writing, and most of all life of Pat Conroy, all three of which are closely related for him as he makes clear in this collection.

I came to this book having never read Conroy's fiction, or in fact any other book he's ever written. I found an author interview in a magazine that intrigued me, so I put the book on my list to read. I picked it up ready to rush through - enjoy, of course, but read quickly - because it was due back at the library soonest, and I love books about books. But Conroy wouldn't let me rush. I read quickly, yes, but because I had chunks of time here and there and I put aside my other reading to make time for this, because each part of his story wanted me to give my full attention. Every sentence wanted to be considered. One essay made me cry, another made me laugh, and I had to wait before I read the next so that I could separate them out and give each its due. Conroy made me want to pick up War and Peace to read right now, and maybe to add Military Brats by Mary Edwards Wertsch to my list of books to check out from the library. He made me want to read at least one of his novels to see if I like his fiction as well as his nonfiction. I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse of his love for literature, for story, and for language.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year...and a Reread

Considering how little of my reading (approximately 10% in 2009, not sure of the exact number last year) is rereading, I'm a little surprised that the first book I finished in 2011 was a reread.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by J.K. Rowling
New York, NY : Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.

I'm going to skip over the summary and jump right into my thoughts. As I mentioned earlier when I started my reread of book 4, I would always start to reread the series and peter out somewhere around book 3 or so and never continue with the stories I was less familiar with. So I haven't reread this book since it came out in the summer of '05, and not surprisingly I forgot many of the details. I found that the movie was much closer to my memory, and elements that had not made it into the film were rediscovered in the rereading. I started with the audiobook, found myself getting too impatient to read on (it helped that my sister was rereading at the same time and I wanted to be able to keep up with her) and read over half the book to finish it. I enjoyed the memories especially, and liked the fact that adolescent relationships, while present and believable, are not at the forefront quite as much as the movie made them out to be. I was still pretty emotional by the end, even though I knew what was coming. This is definitely one of the best, if not the best, in the Harry Potter series.