Saturday, July 31, 2010

A (Very!) Random Update

Hello, few but beloved readers!

I thought it was time for a (very!) random update. Right now, I'm enjoying my longest break of the year, that one time when instead of the usual one or two weeks off from teaching I get a whole SIX weeks off!!!!!!!!


Do you feel the excitement?


I had been dragging since the end of winter quarter (a whole 16 weeks ago!), so I desperately need the time to regroup.

And I've been spending that time very wisely.

If "very wisely" can mean "very poorly and in a slacker-ly manner.

Mostly, I've been reading a few books intended for adults. *gasp*

Do not fear though, some of them have crossover potential.

The Girl with the Dragon TattooAfter seeing the movie, I'm going through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Yes, I finally jumped on that Swedish bandwagon.)

(Monica Comment: Seriously, Shel, it took you long enough. You were pretty much the last person in America to pick the book up.....)

And I have to say, I'm not fond of the cover. At all. But then, yellow and brown have always been my least favorite on the cover spectrum.

But nonetheless, with this getting distracted by grown-up people's literature, I may be a little post/review light for a couple of weeks.


Of course, this break would also be an excellent time to work on that pesky Dudley-Dissertation thingy. But I have to say, I had so much fun avoiding it in July, I just might have to avoid working on it for another month or so. Won't that make my committee happy? (Actually, I doubt they'll care.)

Or perhaps Dudley would be willing to write itself. Dudley, how would you feel about that?


*Poke. Poke*

Alas, Dudley still seems incapable of...anything. Guess I'll have to do all the work.

But that's what September is for, yes?

In the meantime, I will be heading back to my parents' home for a few weeks in the hopes that my mother will do my laundry for me and that my dad will make me cups of coffee. That's what parents are supposed to do for their adult children, right?

But in the meantime, MEANTIME, I have to clean my place before the parents arrive to judge me and my lack of housekeeping abilities. Of course, I've been thinking about finally cleaning for about a week and a half. My thought process usually begins with, "I'll clean later today." That turns into, "I'll clean tomorrow!" And THAT turns into, "Wasn't there a study recently published about how household cleaning products can cause cancer? I think there was." And THEN THAT turns into, "My cat has a freaky tendency to sniff out any freshly disinfected surface and roll on it. She also does this in dirty cat litter. I think because she likes the hide-the-stink-perfume smell. So, as long as she lives, anything I clean immediately becomes cat-fected. So, I may as well not give her reason to roll on my table." And THEN AND THEN I think, "Someday, there will be cleaning robots. I can wait for those, because the cat will be afraid of them. I'm sure." And THEN AND THEN AND THEN I think about how, "those robots might rebel against humanity and my house-cleaning robot would be their leader. Since I will have had to wait a very long time to be able to afford my house-cleaning robot, so my house will be extra messy, angering my robot to the point of inciting rebellion."

And then finally, I get so confused over whether or not I'm pro or anti-cleaning that I just decided to watch a couple of episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Because that is my proof that the machines HAVE REBELLED BEFORE and what was shall be again!

And then I crash after imbibing too much caffeine.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

REVIEW: Tiny Tyrant (Volume One)

Tiny Tyrant: Volume One: The Ethelbertosaurus
Trondheim, L. & Parme, F.  (2007).  Tiny Tyrant.  New York:  First Second.

63 pages.

So, I was at my (Super-awesome-NERDY!) children's book club meeting and one of the other members raved about the graphic novel, Tiny Tyrant.

Well, I looked on Amazon and saw that the first volume cost less than what I usually pay for a latte (what, I order large and get soy milk?) so I figured, why not?  Buy me it, me!

And so now, Ladies and gentlemen of Portocristo and other lands, i can tell you that Tiny Tyrant rocks!  King Ethelbert is hilarious!

Appetizer:  Ethelbert is the six-year-old king of Portocristo and as the name of the graphic novel suggests, he is a tiny tyrant.  Throughout the six short graphic stories in this first collection, King Ethelbert demands a dinosaur be named for him, tests his new bodyguard by taking a contract out on his own head (and speaking as someone originally from Michigan, I was very excited to see one of the groups of people who attempted to assassinate the king, came from my home state:

Page 20.  The Michiganders are coming!
Side note--how many government organizations just flagged this blog for my use of the words "Glad" with "assassinate"?) and cause you know that's exactly how Michiganders dress these days.)

 Ethelbert also goes on a motor race against a princess with a large vocabulary, insists on meeting Santa Claus to discuss his diet, becomes addicted to reading a comic book series by an author who refuses to meet with a king and decides all of his subjects need perfect children (meaning robot versions of the king).

Sounds pretty entertaining, yes?  It is!

I was particularly fond of the story "Books are Our Friends" because Ethelbert, for the first time ever, expresses interest in a book instead of his usual video games and tv shows.  But some of his staff members are worried about whether the graphic novel series has any value.

That right there raises questions of the purpose of children's literature.  Mmm, good discussion.

But then, readers, BUT THEN!  When Ethelbert isn't able to meet the author of the comic book series, he then bans it throughout the country.

And that my friends is a whole other delicious discussion.

I'm thinking I may have to assign this book to my undergrads down the road (if I can figure out how to magically combine my lessons on graphic novels, censorship and age appropriateness to somehow be discussed in a mere two hours).  But maybe for the time being I'll just scan a few pages here or there as optional reading.

The stories feel a lot like cartoon shorts.  And the pages are structured like a comics page in a newspaper.  So, it should be pretty easy for young readers to ease into reading the graphic novel.

But having said that, there is one big, red flag about using this book with kids.  Like, this red flag is so huge, if you took it off its flag pole it would cover a house and several of your neighbors' houses.  The one potential problem with this graphic novel is the issue of age appropriateness.  Ethelbert is six-years-old, but the vocabulary used throughout the stories could be difficult for even some ten or eleven-year-old readers.

Words like assassination and cloning are used.  And a couple of the stories features a characters who says things like, "An ideal device to warn motorists of your presence on public thoroughfares when, in the evenings, you take your mongrel out for his defecation" (p. 28).

Of course, Ethelbert learns that large vocabularies can be excellent for coming up with insults, a lesson the reader can also take to heart.  So, there is a huge advantage.

And as a kid, I remember just skipping over the pesky "big words" when I read Calvin and Hobbes.  And I still loved those comics.

So, on the grand scale, the vocabulary wouldn't stop me from recommending this series to eight or nine-year-olds.

But, since a lot of humor that appeals to adults as well as kids, this would be a good graphic novel for a parent and child to read together.

Of course, if the kid happens to ask, "What's 'non-Euclidian' mean?" that adult is on his own to explain.

One of the really interesting tensions in this book, especially after learning that it was first published in France and then translated later, is the way that class and the monarchy are represented.  King Ethelbert often makes excessive and ridiculous requests of the prime minister and citizens.

I wouldn't be surprised if one of the later volumes of the series included a national revolution.  (I'm currently awaiting Volume Two in my mail.  Please get your bum to my door a little faster, Mr. Postman.)

And now that I've made mentions of both assassinations and revolutions in this post, I think it's time to hit publish.

Dinner Conversation:

Some times, a picture says more.  Here are some of my favorite images from the graphic novel:

Page One of Awesomeness

Page 33 of fun cuteness.  I'm going to run around talking about how I'm perfectly proportioned too.  I don't think it will be as funny coming from me though.

Page 43.  Isn't this caption feature fun?!

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

REVIEW: The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1)Riordan, R.  (2010).  The Red Pyramid.  New York:  Hyperion Books.

516 pages.

Appetizer: Well, despite my polite request, Riordan has started ANOTHER series.  The Kane Chronicles begins with The Red Pyramid.  14-year-old Carter and his younger sister, Sadie, have been raised apart.  Carter's dad has dragged Carter around the world working as an archeologist.  When the Kanes visit Great Britain to see Sadie on Christmas Eve, their father still can't keep himself from working and takes Sadie and Carter to the British Museum.  There, the siblings witness their father doing some type of magic over the Rosetta Stone, magic that unleashes powerful forces and get their father lost, as their mother had been lost years before.

Sadie and Carter soon learn that they are the descendants of powerful Egyptian magicians.  And if they want to save their father they'll have to learn about their newly emerging powers and find away to capture the five Egyptian gods their Dad unintentionally unleashed, focusing most on the red, fiery one bent on introducing more chaos into the world.

I have to admit, I'm not as knowledgeable about Egyptian myths as I am of Greek ones.  It seemed like Riordan was aware of this possibility since instead of baiting readers to try to guess which gods have just entered the story like happened in some of the Percy Jackson books, this time Riordan just briefly summarized a lot of the myths throughout the narration.  But more often then not, I was still left going "Say what now?  What was that?  What happened in that myth?  How are these gods related?  Siblings or couple?  Siblings or couple?!"  Of course, this confusion can be a jumping off point for young readers to go on and actually read some Egyptian folklore collections.  I, on the other hand, was content with my confusion.

Every two chapters, the narration switches back and forth between Sadie and Carter.  Although, from time to time, I'd forget who was narrating.  Did anyone else have that problem?

Riordan definitely made an effort to have them sound different.  Sadie is supposed to speak with a British accent and there was definitely some British slang.  I also liked her sense of humor, but throughout most of the book there wasn't much else that set Carter and Sadie's voices apart.  (Although, making sure to label the narrator at the top of each page was an easy clue to help me figure things out.)

The book is meant to read like it's an audio recording.  This made me very curious about the audio book.  And they did use a female narrator to give voice to Sadie and a male one for Carter.

I listened to about a third of the first disk and had to stopped.  Both of the narrators had little habits that I found vaguely annoying.  Although, it was very obvious who was narrating.  I guess you win some, you lose some.

I also had a little trouble with Sadie's age.  She felt older than twelve.  But then, that could have also been wishful thinking on my part.  What with her having the hots for the very immortal *cough* old *cough* Egyptian god of funerals.  Wait a few years, chica.  The emo appeal will fade.

It is also worth noting that aside from focusing on family, this series is going to touch on some issues of race.  I love that the Kanes are a multiracial family.  While Sadie looks white, Carter appears black.  He has to deal with worrying that police officers will stereotype him, with the fact that he and his sister don't look like they're siblings, etc.

I have to admit, technically I think I was reading this book for about a month.  I got about halfway and took a loooooong break.  I couldn't put my finger on why, but then my boss (who read it rapidly) explained that she felt the book went too many places.  And she's right.  London.  Paris.  Egypt.  New York.  Washington D.C.  New Orleans.  Texas.  New Mexico.  Arizona.  Washington D.C. again.  New York again.  Sigh.

It was a bit exhausting and I was only reading about it.  Plus, around the halfway to two-thirds point, the Kane siblings are finally given their answer on how to prevent the rise of chaos for the time being.  It involves going over there and getting this thing and then coming back here and doing this thing and oh, you'll also need that other thing.  And I was kind of like, For Serious?  My arms are already tired from holding up this beast of a book.

But then, maybe I'm just lazy.

And so begins the wait for book two.

Dinner Conversation:

"We only have a few hours, so listen carefully.
If you're hearing this story, you're already in danger.  Sadie and I might be your only chance.
Go to the school.  Find the locker.  I won't tell you which school or which locker, because if you're the right person, you'll find it.  The combination is 13/32/33.  By the time you finish listening, you'll know what those numbers mean.  Just remember the story we're about to tell you isn't complete yet.  How it ends will depend on you" (p. 1).

"Okay, Sadie is telling me to stop stalling and get on with the story.  Fine.  I guess it started in London, the night our dad blew up the British Museum" (p. 2).

"We were alone in a strange mansion with a baboon, a crocodile, and a weird cat.  And apparently, the entire world was in danger.
I looked at Sadie.  "What do we do now?"
She crossed her arms.  "Well, that's obvious, isn't it?  We explore the library" (p 83).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: White Cat (p.242-310)

White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1)

All right, girls and boys! We've reached the end of our latest Literary Feast: White Cat, by the lovely Holly Black.

I think feelings were generally positive about this one, from both Shel and myself. Let us know if you felt the same way or, even better, if you completely disagree! There's nothing we love more than hashing out different opinions. ;)

Last section, here we come!

Shel: I really wish Cassel had told his grandfather what was going on. He seems like the one decent member of the family. Aside from being a killer, of course.

Monica: Pshaw. He only killed a few people. Seriously, what an awful curse-power to have. That is a power I understand the mob wanting to recruit. Some of these other things, not so much. (Only Barron would think, “I have this brother who can turn things into other things. Let’s have him turn people into alarm clocks and coffee mugs, and then smash the heck out of them! It’s so mobtastic!”)

Shel: You know, mob nonwithstanding, considering how few curse workers there are, this society really has some trust issues. It seems that for most people living their normal lives, their chances of getting cursed would be minimal. Yet they're all glove-wearing, charm carrying paranoid. Are curses the future swine flu?

Monica: I wonder what will happen when curse powers mutate, and suddenly someone can curse someone else by breathing on them. Society will crumble.

Shel: And then we'd be dealing with a dystopian story and the mob would control EVERYTHING!

Monica: Kind of in reference to the grandfather, is it just me, or does Lila’s father seem fairly sensible and normal too? The only real Big Bads in this book are the twenty-somethings – the mob bosses themselves aren’t all that freaky.

Shel: I imagine he's got to be freaky at some level to make it to the top. Maybe that will come out in future books. That or it's that they're old school bad, when they'd save the dark deeds for the back room.

Monica: I did want Lila’s dad to ham it up more when his heart “turned to stone,” and bounce off a few walls or whatever, but I am consoling myself with the amusing knowledge that his Magic Gem of Life turned out to be glass. Honestly, if I ever needed proof that the Brothers Awful were truly dumb, it was the way they bought into the fraud. ;)

Shel: I like that, The Brothers Awful. But as for your actual point, do you think there's a real no-killy-kill gem off somewhere in the wings?

Monica: Maaaaaaybe? I'm finding it hard to focus on *anything* this close to the end of the book, because of the way Cassel’s stupid mother ruins EVERYTHING!! Also, what a smack in the face of an ending. First I was all, “Blech. I loathe Lila. I would way rather he didn’t end up with her. But whatever…” and then it was like, “What? She’s being influenced by a curse and actually probably still hates him way deep down and now everything is ruined forever?!” Can you imagine what this is doing to that poor boy’s sense of self?

Shel: This is what I am saying. Cassel needs a new family STAT.

Monica: Hopefully he'll get a chance in... the Curse Workers Book Two?

Okay, friends! We're done with this Feast -- and a yummy one it was, at that! Shout out some suggestions if you've got ideas for what we should read next; otherwise, we'll pick out of Shel's massive To Be Read pile, and get back to you shortly.

Friday, July 23, 2010

REVIEW: The Secret Science Alliance

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook
Davis, E.  (2009).  The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook.  New York:  Bloomsbury.

150 pages.

Appetizer: Eleven-year-old Julian is excited to transfer to a new school, hoping that instead of being seen as a nerd by the other students that he can be seen as normal.  Julian's plan doesn't quite work out as he planned and he receives an encoded note to join The Secret Science Alliance.

The three alliance members enjoy designing and tinkering with many new inventions in their secret underground lair.  But when the book that contains all of their designs is stolen, the science alliance must string into action to make certain their ideas aren't stolen and used in a theft at the museum.

So, I decided to use this book with my students for two main reasons:

1.  It was a graphic novel (and the majority of my students have no idea what that term even means, so I view it as my teacherly duty to promote their use in the classroom)
2.  This graphic novel in particular features characters who show a love for ingenuity and science.

In my experience, teachers and librarians are always on the search for more books that feature protagonists that love science and math.  (And so imagine my excitement when I found a graphic novel that did this.  It was a squeeeee! kinda moment.)

However, the jokes on me, because the majority of my undergrads didn't seem to enjoy the book (granted, this group also hated Sharon Creech's Love That Dog.  How can you hate Love That Dog?!  That book is made of love!).

When I tried to trigger discussion on the book, all of my questions were met with dead silence.  Although I always encourage my students to express their opinion no matter if it's good, bad, ugly, hot or in direct disagreement to what I'm saying, they would. not. speak.

But I kind of suspect what they're problem is.  I'd even warned them that it might be a problem.  The artwork for The Secret Science Alliance is exceptionally busy.  Take these pages for example:

Where am I supposed to be looking in these?  It can be exceptionally overwhelming.  I was rereading the book, and I repeatedly had to remind myself that I didn't need to take in every single detail (although, as the teacher, I did feel pressured to still look over everything, because you never know what students will ask.  When they speak.).

But having said that, if you think about the specific (sciency/inventor-minded) audience this book is targeting, then all of these details are perfect.  Wonderful.  Joy.

Sciencey and illustration-oriented readers will love that they can stare at one page for over twenty minutes and are still taking in the creative details of the book.

But also complicating the text is the fact that it also shows some unnecessary dialogue bubbles that are partially covered by other dialogue bubbles because the protagonists are only listening to one of several conversations going on.

I liked this touch because it reflected reality.  But at the same time, it meant I did some unnecessary reading as I figured out what I was supposed to be focusing on.  And plus, who doesn't want to hear about Mesopotamian baklava?  I mean, really?

Now, having rambled about what I used my mind-reading skills to figure out were my students issues, I want to go back to some of the strengths of the graphic novel.

I also like that it challenges stereotypes.  Don't judge my appearances.  People have different talents and skills.  A jock is great at science.  He, a new supernerd at the school and a tough girl are all friends through their love of science.

So you hear that nerd and nerdettes of the world?  Be yourselves!  You'll find friends with common interests in surprising places.

Dinner Conversation:

Julian:  "Hello!  My name is Julian Calendar!  Like many of you, I enjoy popular activities such as "hanging out" at the local shopping mall and watching sports on TV, so I know we'll all be great friends!"  I'm going to fit in for once! (p. 5).

Greta:  "We need a place to experiment and build our inventions in complete secrecy, so none of our work can be stolen by adults" (p. 37).

Julian:  Let's for a team!  We should be a team!  Of secret scientists!" (p. 42).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: White Cat (pages 145-241)

White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1)

Hey friends! Ready for the next section in our White Cat Literary Feast, courtesy of the lovely Holly Black?

Feel free to join in the discussion using the equally-lovely Comment button at the bottom of your screen. ;)

Reader beware, however -- spoilers lurk here.

Shel: Okay, so Cassel's plan to get the cat back from the pound seems overly complicated. Am I alone in this? Couldn't one of his friends just pretend to be 18?

Monica: Here here. Or, heck, just sneak in! I don’t know what kind of security his local Humane Society has, but at mine you just need to climb a fence and open the back door…. But then I guess the plot wouldn’t be as tricksy, and his friends wouldn’t realize he’s a con artist, and we wouldn’t get the Ocean’s-Eleven-Like walkthrough of how to steal a pet from the pound. Which would be too bad. ;)

Shel: You''ve made note of this? Monica, have you stolen animals from the humane society? If so, could you steal me a puma? The kitties need a new friend. Or would that not be possible? ... Forget I asked. Anyway, I totally thought it wasn't going to be Lila in that carrier.

Monica: “Cassel decides the orange-striped tabby in the carrier was actually fairly adorable… and certainly better behaved than Lila Cat. He resolves to give up on Lila, who was honestly kind of an evil brat, and left home for Seattle with the tabby in tow, where he became a barista and lived in an animal-permitting apartment. The End.”

Shel: I would read that book. It seems simpler than this one, though, because wow, there are some plot twisties here! I can't believe the way Barron and Philip are treating Cassel. That boy needs a new family, stat.

Monica: Honestly. Flee, boy, flee! You’re resourceful and clever, and make nice friends! But really, the first minute that I’d realized my brother was basically hypnotizing my sister-in-law (and he’s the nice brother)… that’s when I hit the road and don’t look back.

Shel: And I guess Cassel is officially the awesomest person on awesome street.

Monica: Don’t get too pumped, sweetie. There’s still plenty of time for him to break our hearts. Although no matter what happens, I am sure I will still like him more than Lila.

Shel: So true. I was super surprised by the twist of what Barron's REAL curse was. Well played, Holly Black. That's totally explains his compulsive lying.

Monica: I was so pumped for that! His lying had been worked into the story so early that I’d just accepted it as part of Barron’s personality. To know that actually his brain was turning all holey… absolutely epic. (It almost made up for the fact that Barron was evil – He seems almost too awful. It doesn’t make any sense to me – was he kicked as a kid, or what?)

Shel: I agree. And to be honest, I have no sympathy for either Barron or Philip. Barron's a sociopath. And I don't care that he's left as a gentler version of himself. I wanted him to be left as a pile of memoryless goo in an asylum somewhere. I view what they did to Cassel to be unforgivable. But then, I am an only child. A merciless, vengeful only child.

That's all for now, Faithful Readers -- I need to slowly edge away from Shel and get started on the last section. We'll be discussing chapters fifteen all the way up to the back cover on Saturday. So grab a book, snuggle up next to your favorite furry friend (but, you know, not one who's actually a bratty hateful girl in disguise), and get reading!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

REVIEW: Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl

So, for as long as I've been studying children's literature, professors and other students have regularly commented "Oh, Daniel Pinkwater, superhuman, amazingly, rockingly, brilliant right?"  Or something to that effect.

And I've always had to smile and nod and "hmmm," in reply, because I had a secret.  I'd never read any of Daniel Pinkwater's books.  Ever.

I wasn't completely naive.  I knew of some of the books he'd written (some of the titles he is most famous for were written before I was born).   I'd even heard his voice on NPR on occasion (although I'd noticed that his tastes in children's literature seemed far removed from my tastes).  

But now is the time to cease being a pretending, faking, faker.  I've officially read SEVERAL Pinkwater books.

So there.
Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered GirlPinkwater, D.  (2010).  Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin.

268 pages.

Appetizer:  Big Audrey is from another plane of existence.  She had been visiting Los Angeles but has since relocated to Poughkeepsie, where she works at a UFO bookshop.

While visiting the local insane asylum, she befriends a girl named Molly who has a tendency to notice things that others don't.  They go in search to find aliens and while meeting a number of quirky characters (including an old wise woman, a giant, a family of trolls a wolluf and the much-dreaded Muffin Man), they wind-up on the path to their destinies and to Audrey learning more about where she comes from.

The best way to sum up this book:  Weeeeeeeeird.

It plays with absurdism and as I read I felt myself being pushed to question the way reality is constructed, to question the way that the insane are often perceived, to see the outsiders of society in a new way.

And while all of that is nice...this book was maybe a little too weird for me.

It is also worth noting for the overprotective parents out there, there is mention of getting high toward the end of the book.  Several characters ingest magic bean soup that leaves them in altered states for a time.  (I didn't find this scene in any way offensive.  But it did make me start to wonder whether Pinkwater himself was high while writing.)

I kept trying to figure out if I would like this when I was a middle grade student.  My conclusion is that younger (often impatient) me probably would have put this book back on the shelf after reading the first few pages.

Adult me probably would have done the same if I didn't feel obligated to finish due to everyone everywhere raving about how humorous Pinkwater's books are.

I guess I just don't find the humor in this book.  One of the five or six moments I kanda-sorta found amusing was:

"But it's spooky and scary."
"We'll go in the daytime.  It's not so scary then, is it?"
"Maybe not as" (p. 56)

That made me go "ha."  Silently.  In my head.  Not out loud.  Even after a glass of wine, I still wasn't laughing.  And now, rereading it out of context, I realize you TOTALLY need the context to get anything out of that.  Sigh.

I was amused with the Harold the Giant character who is a short giant, standing at only 5'7''.  But then, it's not polite to draw attention to a person's physical deficits.

I also liked a reference to the classic version of The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Pinkwater quotes my dad's favorite scene.  So I actually had to call my dad and read aloud a portion of chapter 61 (very short chapters!).

Logically, I did know that the book way playing with some excellent concepts (like finding a sense of belonging) and the book remixed some folkstories and touches on American history in inventive ways.  And trying to explain the content of the book is a humorous endeavor all it's own.  I can see why someone could fall in love with this book or other of Pinkwater's 100-ish publications.  His writing just doesn't seem to be for me.

And now I'll be forced to feel like an outside among all my peers and teachers because I may be the only one whose immediate reaction to Pinkwater's books is WTF instead of YAYZ!

Dinner Conversation:

"It surprises me how many people don't know there are different planes of existence.  Well, it's not really surprising that you don't know if no one ever explained it to you, so I will do that now" (p. ix).

"I myself came from another plane of existence to this one...Well, it's true that I can't absolutely prove I come from another plane.  However, if you go to the library and get ahold of encyclopedias and National Geographics and certain books, you can find an article with pictures of a typical-looking Inuit, a typical-looking Northern European, a typical-looking Mongolian, a typical-looking Banut, Korean, Australian, Moroccan, and so on...all different types.  All different in minor ways, and all similar in most ways.  It is interesting.  What you will not find is a picture of a girl with cat whiskers and sort of catlike eyes.  That is, until they take a picture of me" (pp. x-xi).

"...Did they make you come to this hospital because you notice things other people don't?"
"No.  I'm actually nuts," she said.  "They put me here hoping to cure me of it."
"And are they doing you any good?" I asked.
"Not really.  I'm hoping it goes away by itself.  My name is Molly" (p. 11).

"Now, it is a fact that even if you have worked out logically that the odds are vastly in favor of life on other planets, even if you have had experience that supports the idea that travel between worlds is not only possible but common, and even if you have actually seen or otherwise had personal experience of spacecraft or flying saucers, when someone else claims to have had an encounter your first thought is to check out whether they are crazy" (p. 32).

Tasty Rating:  !!

1.  Adventures of a Cat Whiskered Girl
2. The Red Pyramid
3.  Children's Folklore
4.  The Invisible Man
5.  Hate List
6.  Plum Spooky

Monday, July 19, 2010

TBR Readathon Photos

So, this week I'm participating in Bookworming in the 21st Century's week long TBR readathon.

To kick it off, I thought I'd show you the TBR piles that are scattered throughout my bedroom.  I tend to keep all of my unread books in my room because...I don't know why.

First off, we have the main, priority, to be read as soon as humanly possible pile:

It is worth noting that the Kindle is in this mountain, meaning that, technically speaking, it is the unconquerable stack of love/doom.

Then we have the second pile that gets scanned whenever I'm trying to add to the main pile after managing to shorten one of its stacks:

The dissertation (AKA Dudley) related pile:

Next is the pile of award winners and classics that would be in the main pile if there way space for the books:

Next NEXT, is the saddest of the piles.  The closeted don't let my family realize how many unread books I have in my room pile.  As you can see, these stacks are actually in the bottom of my closet.

Then last, and I'm sad to say least, are the actual book shelves that consist mainly of unread books that I plan to some point...someday...hopefully...most likely...maybe...ish.

Want to place bets on how many books I'll get through this week?

Right now I'm going through:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

REVIEW: A Match Made in High School

A Match Made in High SchoolMy streak of reading romantic comedies continues!  (Although, I think I may need a break from all the confusion and false love interests soon.)

I had a lot of trouble writing this review.  I had strong emotional responses to this book based on my knowledge of how high school politics and how policy changes work.  That having been said, I liken my engagement with this book to the way I reacted to Twilight:  somehow being completely amused and entertained while at the same time being completely pissed-off at aspects of the story.

More details below.

Walker, K.  (2009).  A Match Made in High School.  New York:  Razorbill.

278 pages.

Appetizer: On the first day of her senior year, Fiona and her best friend Marcie along with the rest of the class are informed that they must participate in a marriage preparedness program or they won't graduate.  To make a bad situation worse, Fiona is randomly paired up with Todd Harding, a guy she hates instead of her crush, Gabe.

Todd seems equally upset by their pairing and the two begin pranking each other and making one another's lives miserable.  As Fiona becomes a little obsessive with hatching pranks and reflecting on her and Todd's hate-filled relationship, her one and only friend, Marcie, gets fed-up with her behavior, causing their first ever major rift.

I have to admit, when I started this book I had A LOT (think a garbage truck full) of trouble suspending disbelief and accepting that a principal, no matter how upset over a divorce or no matter how cooky the district or community, or how conservative the school board, would EVER be able to randomly pair-up seniors for a year-long mandatory marriage preparation course and exercises (that required the students earn money that they don't get to keep themselves) without extensive debates, references to studies and permission slips sent out beforehand.

Come on.

First off, what about gay and lesbian students?  The school eliminated the possibility of any other type of domestic partnership.  And what about students who have no intention of marrying?

At the very least, I wish the book would have made some casual mention of permission slips being sent home to parents.  Then that garbage can of disbelief could have been emptied of a few bags.

Now, a lot of my issues are addressed later in the text:  A casual mention that the school board is conservative, the inclusion of a gay character, etc.  So, eventually, I was able to calm down and just enjoy the funny Pride and Prejudice inspired romantic comedy.

Having said that though, I was right there with Fiona, feeling injustice at her situation.  (And also, having officially ended my rant, it was this unlikely premise that made me want to check the book out.  It was the details of how it was presented that set me off--mainly the overly resentful female principal freaking out due to her personal life and forcing her students to pay the price on such a grand scale.)

The book has a lot of fun humor.  And there are a lot of great foils for Fiona to try to understand the way that marriage works.  Some of the pranks are a little too over the top for my taste (literally, if this weren't a comedy, a character could have been seriously depressed by some of the ways she was tortured early on in the text), but there were a lot of moments and lines that made me chuckle.

I think if I'd read this book as a fifteen or sixteen-year-old, I would have absolutely loved it.  I know I would have imagined what it would be like if I'd been randomly paired with that one popular, hot guy that I'd secretly had a crush on for some program similar to this one.

Dinner Conversation:

"I should have known.
I should have known the minute I went to get my favorite White Stripes peppermint tee and found it not in the drawer, but temporarily forgotten in the back of my closet, curled up in a crusty ball.  Caked with two-week-old, nuked syrup that had shot out of the bottle, bounced off my waffle, and splattered me like a sweet paintball.
I should have known when I came downstairs and found my parents tasting each other's tonsils in front of the kitchen sink, and nearly barfed on my sneakers.
Or when my best friend, Marcie--actually she's my only friend, which is fine; you only need one--called to say she was running late and couldn't pick me up.  So I had to ride my freaking bike to school for my first day as a senior.
I should have known right then that I was pedaling toward disaster" (p. 1).

"Obviously, with these statistics facing us, we, as educators, cannot ignore the pressing need for instruction in the area of marriage.  So as a new prerequisite for graduation, seniors must complete a yearlong course in marriage education."
We unfroze pretty quickly here.  I mean, this was a new low for ECHS.  I thought the cafeteria food that tasted like navel lint was plenty bad.  Or the eye-watering stench of the third-floor girls' bathroom.  Or the gym uniforms that looked like they were leftover from the 1970s porno flick.  Weren't those humiliating enough?  Apparently not.  Our groans rolled through the auditorium like a thundercloud.  But it wasn't until she said the next thing that the lightning hit.
"Each male and female senior will be paired up and 'married' for the duration of the year.
WHAT THE HOLY HELL?" (pp. 7-8).

"Marcie pulled me again and we ducked into the girls' bathroom.  "Did you see that?" I cried.
"I'm sorry, Fee," Marcie said.  "You cannot possibly complain to me."
"Todd Harding?  How am I supposed to spend the year with that no-necked Neanderthal?"  I leaned over the sing, willing it to suck me down the drain.  The fluorescent light buzzed above us.
Marcie said, "He has a neck.  And an ass and abs.  Nice ones.  And even if you haven't noticed them, pretty much every other girl has" (p. 14).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: White Cat (pages 74-144)

White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1)Hello again, cool (white) cats!

So, Monica and I are both enjoying White Cat and we hope you'll be able to say the same (in the comments section.  *points*  Do you see it?  Click there and let us know your thoughts on the book).

But to get ideas about what you might want to say, read the conversation Monica and I had below.

Be aware, there are spoilers for the first nine chapters.  So, reader beware!

Monica:  Eeuw.  EEEEUW.  I don't care what else happens in this book -- I am NEVER going to get the image of him shoving rocks into his thigh out of my mind.  Sick and wrong, dude, sick and wrong.

Shel:  I am with you.  I was cringing.  Although I was already feeling a little cringy at the ear piercing scene.  Does that make me a wimp?  
Monica: My mother is fond of telling the story of how she got her ears pierced by a friend – they numbed it with ice, stuck a potato behind her ear, and then jammed a sewing needle into it.  The point of this story is that apparently many people are much more brave than us, but at least we are sensible.  ;)

Shel:  Eeeeeh-huh-huh.  I would never willingly allow someone to use a potato to pierce my ears.  I'm not opposed to being pierced by any means (I have four myself), but I'm all about letting a professional do it.  And then not having a girl show me my blood on her tongue.  Lila, I took issue with that.

Monica:  Sam and Cassel bring up a good point -- how *do* people know when they're workers?  Like, death workers?  Do they not know it until they're pissed off at their math teacher for giving them a bad grade, and the next thing you know the teacher has collapsed and their arm is slowly turning to ash in front of their eyes?

Shel:  I imagine it's kinda like how the X-Men discover their powers.  Something vaguely traumatic happens a few times and you connect the dots.  And since I mention that, I'm getting a X-Men vibe with all this talk of testing and registering with the government.
Monica: Yes!  And laws being passed to restrict their ability to move within society!  And, of course, the way the government is all anti-worker, but all the kids really desperately wish that they had powers.  ;)  In further news, I've decided that part of the reason I love this book so much is that Cassel sounds *really* authentic.  I mean, not everything he's doing seems authentic, as it were, but his internal monologue and the way he interacts with those around him seems genuine.  (And no lie, "If I was, I would make you beg to blow me" is one of the greatest things I've read this week.)
Monica:  I've decided that part of the reason I love this book so much is that Cassel sounds *really* authentic.  I mean, not everything he's doing seems authentic, as it were, but his internal monologue and the way he interacts with those around him seems genuine.  (And no lie, "If I was, I would make you beg to blow me" is one of the greatest things I've read this week.)
Shel:  That makes sense to me.  I feel like I'm with him in his experiences.  He amuses me.  And I feel sympathetic for how sucky his family is seeming to be.

Monica:  Shel, have you decided yet whether or not you like Lila?  I am torn.  She seems sweet, but she seems evil, and she's got that whole "I do what I want and string poor little boys like Cassel around" thing going, but at the same time, she's also a cat.  (Spoiler!  SPOILER!) Which makes it hard to say anything *too* nasty about her.
Shel:  I'm pretty 'meh' about her.  I mean, I sure hope Cassel didn't really, REALLY kill her, but that's mainly because I'd like him to be free of the guilt.  In Cassel's memories of her, there's nothing that really grabs me or entertains me about her.  She just comes off as being mean and more than a little screwed-up.  Plus, I'm not really picking up on "I'll turn this crime family around so we can save the puppies of the universe instead of commit crimes" vibes.  So, I'm not caring too much about what happens to her.

Monica: No, she much more seems like a “I’ll take charge of this crime family and destroy all who oppose me” kind of person.  Blech.

Shel:  Although, I did feel awful that Barron wasn't changing her cat litter/newspaper though.  Not cool!  Barron, I will come and get you!

Monica: Yeees, although to be fair, she probably would have taken out an eye….

Shel:  I hadn't thought about that.  She is a wee-vicious kitty.  So, I'm totally getting addicted.  No more of this stopping business.  Sound good?

Monica: Ha!  Two more sections at least, please.  I need time to sleep!!!

What did you think, cool cats?  We want to hear your thoughts.  Or you might be like me.  I'm off to keep reading. 
We'll be typing about chapters ten through fourteen on Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: White Cat (pages 1-73)

White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1)Hey, Cool cats!

Sorry we're a little late on this post.  Would you believe I was sleepwalking?  That a cat ate my homework?

On to our discussion of Holly Black's White Cat.  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

SHEL: So, what did you think of the beginning? I have to say, I was won over by page four with "The whole school can see his tighty-whities. I realize abruptly that I'm wearing only boxers. If he looks ridiculous, I look worse."

Monica: I *loved* the beginning. I think it was the way he thought the cat was going to suck the breath out of his lungs -- isn't it fun when folklore works its way into modern stories?

SHEL: Oh, folklore.  It's sneaky like that.  I'm having trouble with the name "Cassel." It just feels like a misspelled "Castle." Which makes me think of Nathan Fillion. Which makes me think of Firefly.

Monica: Which makes me think of Jayne, which makes me think of silly names, which makes me think of Cassel! It's the ciiiiiiiiiiiircle of liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife!

Monica: I'm pretty much way intrigued with the history of this world. They're shooting workers in South Korea? They banned curse working right before the stock markets crashed? They willingly put on Pippin in high school?! (It's sort of like the Chrestomanci books, don't you think? Where everything is almost the same, but noooot quite?)

SHEL:  I know, and I like how gradually it's all being revealed.  There's no information dump.  Instead, we're following breadcrumbs through the dark woods.

Monica: Can we all pause for a moment to reflect on how *ridiculously* creepy Maura is in that stairway scene? When she said that the music was "like angels shrieking [her] name," I totally got the heebie-jeebies (45).

SHEL: I just feel awful for her.  Her relationship with her husband is clearly far from ideal.  On a lighter note, I kinda wish I'd started a betting pool in high school. Except I suppose my school didn't really have the extra cash to place bets. Plus, I wouldn't really want to contemplate which teachers were hooking up.

Monica: Seriously, this school seems much more like... I don't know, pick an unrealistic high school. The one from 10 Things I Hate About You, maybe. I'm just having a hard time imagining a massive betting pool, involving the vast majority of the student body, not blowing up fairly quickly.

SHEL: I'm not particularly fond of the cover. I know part of the point of the book is that the characters have to wear gloves to avoid curses. But since I was raised on political and crime dramas, whenever I see someone wearing leather gloves, I assume they're about to commit a murder. Therefore, I think the guy on the cover is about to kill the cat. And I like kitties.

Monica: ::: laughs ::: You're totally right! I hadn't even thought of that, but it totally looks like he's about to give kitty some cement shoes and throw her off the pier!! I was fixated more on the fact that he does not particularly look (assuming he's Cassel) like the descendant of "a runaway slave" or the great-grandson of "a maharaja of India." To be fair, though, apparently he's also Italian / Iroquois, so I suppose I can't get too up in arms about the whitening of YA cover characters. ;)

Shel:  I know what you mean.  It reminds me of the cover drama over Liar.  When will book designers realize we'll pick up books that don't just have white people on them.  But on an unintentional representation note, before I started reading, I thought the two guys on the back cover with their heads together like they're sharing a secret in the shadows was a couple.  I'm only now realizing those are supposed to be Cassel's brothers.

Okay, guys.  It's your turn now.  Share your thoughts.

And we'll be back to discuss pages 74-144 (chapters six-ten) on Friday.  Probably on time.  Maybe.

Monday, July 12, 2010

REVIEW: My Invisible Boyfriend

My Invisible BoyfriendDay, S.  (2009).  My Invisible Boyfriend.  New York:  Scholastic Press.

275 pages.

Okay, so this is another book that got my attention before it was even published and then post-publishing it kept slipping to the far side of the mountain of books in my To Read As Soon As Possible Pile.

But look, here I am, getting to it!

Appetizer: Fifteen-year-old Heidi is in love with Mycroft Christie, the protagonist of her favorite cancelled TV series.  So with the start of a the new school year, she's excited for another year of watching her favorite show and hanging out with her four best friends.  However, when the new year begins, Heidi is in for a shock when all of her friends seem a little more...boy fixated than they were last year.

A small misunderstanding leads to her friends thinking Heidi has a boyfriend too.  A deception she goes with that only leads to more and more misunderstandings and problems comparable to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (which by the way, also happens to be the play Heidi and her friends are working on for the end of the term).

I initially had a little trouble getting into My Invisible Boyfriend.  I found Heidi's voice a little off-putting.  I had to reread a sentence or phrase here and there to make sense of them.  But as the plot started to pick up and Heidi was developing the story behind her imaginary boyfriend, I started to get used to the voice and eased into it.

I did really like a lot of the tensions of the books.  What was Heidi to do?  All of her friends suddenly had boyfriends.  Heidi wasn't ready to be kissed by any random guy.  So, why not re-imagine her favorite TV character has her boyfriend?  She just wanted to belong.

I hadn't anticipated that Day would be using the fan-girl angle to inspire Heidi's characterization for her imaginary boyfriend.  I thought that was a nice touch, especially as a person who is prone to having literary crushes of my own.  (My imaginary boyfriend would also be British...and we'd meet by him apperating right beside me.  Sure it'd be awkward at first, what with him having to explain to me that magic existed, but then we'd have an awesome snarky conversation over a latte (me) and tea (him).  (Sigh.*)

Ahem, Refocusing...Plus, since Heidi contemplates aspects of her favorite show and has imaginary conversations with one of the characters, the story forms a meta-narrative, encouraging the reader to think about the qualities of a book or show in the same way.

It's also worth noting, that despite Heidi's imagined conversations with Mycroft.  She never feels like a character who has lost touch with reality.  She's just adapting to the situations at school using what she knows best.

Also, the way she creates her boyfriend's personality online is very interesting.  It reinforces the small ways that personality is shared and includes the subtle message about online stranger danger.

One of the minor characters was nicknamed "Peroxide Eric" for his dyed hair.  I couldn't help but think of the name Eric and how it seems to attract some type of adjective, description, marker-thing.  For example, I have a friend who has a boyfriend named Eric.  He is regularly called "Eric the Swede" by everyone.  In my head, this guy's name is Eric the Swede.  Although I think I have yet to say that to his face.  Mainly because I don't get to see him that often.  Then there's Eric in the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris.  Viking Eric.  Eric the Vampire.

I'm just wondering.  Is it because the name is so short?

Dinner Conversation:

"You know your life is not exactly normal when you're sitting on the steps on the first day of school, sugar-high giddy from knowing they're about to unlock the doors.
But then no one at Finch is normal.  They only send you here when you've been kicked out of every other boarding school on the planet--if your parents can afford it" (p. 2).

"Mycroft Christie, in case you live under some kind of rock, is the most brilliant person in the universe, and totally my boyfriend.  Sort of.  Technically, he's not real.  Technically, he's the debonair twenty-third-century time-traveling hero of the best!  TV show!  ever!  Mycroft Christie Investigates is not actually going to turn up on my doorstep anytime soon to whisk me away to fangirl heaven" (p. 3).

"I realize I'm not dealing with zombie robot doppelgangers.  It's the love potion episode.  Every TV show has it sooner or later.  Magic spell, monster bite, something in the water:  romantic Kryptonite that makes people lick faces with people they shouldn't.  Mycroft Christie ended up snogging a vampire, an evil old lady who trained exploding hamsters to break into banks, and Jori Song (twice) while under the influence of bad mojo.  Hilarious consequences generally ensue.
It's not so entertaining when you're in the middle of it" (p. 15).

"It's like being undercover.  I could be exposed at any moment but only if I miss up and say too much.  It's a total thrill" (p. 46).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Literary Feast Invitation: White Cat

Hello all!

Excuse the silence but we wanted to give you time to become hungry for a new good read.

But Monica and I are ready to begin a new Literary Feast.

White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1)This time around we're going to take on Holly Black's White Cat.

This book has been getting some rave reviews and we thought it was about time we discovered what all of the fuss was about.  I hope you'll join us.

Here's the jacket flap blurb to tempt you:

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers--people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands.  And since curse work is illegal, they're all criminals.  Many become mobsters and con artists.  But not Cassel.  He hasn't got magic, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family.  You just have to ignore one small detail--he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crown.  But his facade starts to crumble when he finds himself sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something.  He's noticing other disturbing things too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers.  They are keeping secrets from him.  As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories.  To find out the truth, Cassel will have to outcon the conmen.

So, join us on Sunday when we'll post our discussion over the first 73 pages of the book.


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