Friday, December 30, 2011

Inside Out & Back Again

Book talk: Ha's mother says that it's luckier for a boy to be the first one to walk around the house on New Year's day so that honor always goes to one of her brothers, but she can't resist secretly waking up just after midnight to touch one toe to the ground.  Perhaps she shouldn't have, because this year everything seems to have gone wrong.  The war is spreading and Ha's family is fleeing to America for safety. Ha was happy with her family in Vietnam but now everything seems inside-out.  She wonders if things will ever go back to the way they were again or if her family will be cursed forever.

Rocks in my socks: The entire novel is written in verse that is sparse and beautiful, and yet conveys so much.  The plot moves along and the reader gets to know Ha and everyone around her through her poems.  Many of her experiences will be new to readers who do not know much about Vietnam, but at the same time there are plenty of familiar situations for readers to relate to, like the way her brothers twist her name around to tease her or some of her birthday wishes: "Wish I could lose my chubby cheeks./Wish I could stay calm/ no matter what/ my brothers say./ Wish Mother would stop/ chiding me to stay calm,/ which makes it worse."  Each poem has a clear subject and could stand on its own, but together they form a bigger picture.  For example, she writes a poem about her mother making shoulder bags to describe their decision to leave Vietnam.  I also loved her takes on learning English, described in a series of poems where she talks about adding 's's to make plurals and concludes that "Whoever invented/ English/ must have loved/ snakes."  A bit further into her English education she echoes a thought I'm sure anyone who has ever had to learn English can sympathize with: "Whoever invented English/ should be bitten/ by a snake."  I love the perspective that this book brings to Americans.  At one point she learns that a friend of hers had a son who died in Vietnam.  She writes "I never thought/ the name of my country/ could sound so sad."  The novel is semi-autobiographical so naturally it felt very authentic, not just in the details, but in the emotions that were captured so perfectly by the poems.  Above all I loved the spunky protagonist and the fact that she couldn't resist touching that toe to the ground first thing on New Year's day.

Rocks in my socks: Nothing comes to mind.

Every book its reader: Fans of poetry will enjoy this book, but those aren't the only ones.  The book reads very similarly to a regular novel so anyone interested in learning about other cultures, and Vietnam in particular will be able to enjoy this book.  Anyone who has ever felt like a fish out of water or who has had to deal with older brothers will be able to relate to Ha.  The war isn't discussed in detail and the story itself is so sweet and touching I'd say it's fine for third and up.

Insisde Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai 

Buy it or check it out today!

Year in Review

This has been a busy year for me.  During the school year I worked full time and attended grad school online.  This summer I was all over visiting friends and family in Scotland, Amsterdam, Oregon, and Southern California as well as attending a wedding here in the Bay Area.  I hope next year my summer will be just as busy but my school year will be a bit calmer because I have finished grad school.

That's right I have finished my last classes to get my MLIS from San Jose State and will hopefully get a letter verifying this soon because I will be paranoid that I forgot something until then.  I am very excited about finally being an official librarian so I no longer have to correct people when they act as if everyone who works in a library is a librarian and say that I'm actually a library clerk.  Also, not going to grad school any more will be nice.  I've been going to school with no breaks other than summer since I was in preschool and have been working at the same time since my senior year in high school so only working forty hours a week seems like semi-retirement to me. 

I have plenty of plans to fill my new-found free time though.  I'll finally have time to do more sewing and crafting and hopefully I'll be able to exercise and cook more as well.   Perhaps I'll even be able to keep up with my languages or even learn a new one.  Maybe I'll learn guitar.  Maybe I'll go rockclimbing.  I'll be able to do all the things I said I would when I had free time.  Or at least some of them. It's all very exciting and a bit intimidating.  

I'm also thinking about doing a bit of an overhaul on the blog.  I like the Sassy Shelver name but now that I can actually call myself a librarian I'm tempted to take advantage of the fact.  Plus, I don't actually do much shelving any more.  We'll see.

I've also, of course, done a lot of reading this year.  And I hope to do even more next year now that I don't have homework sucking up my time.  Here's a review of the books I read in 2011.  I am proud to say that I reviewed all of them, although some of these reviews will not come out until next year because I developed a bit of a back log as I was busy wrapping up grad school. 

I read 85 books in 2011.  I've broken it down into audience so I can see how well I'm balancing reading for work and reading for pleasure, genre to see if I'm successfully reading widely so I can recommend different kinds of books, and nationality of author (for the fiction books) to see if I'm reading a diverse mix.  I then whipped up not terribly attractive but very easy to make excel charts of them because it's the holiday season and I've been busy. Without further ado, the stats:

I think I did a good job balancing audience, although with my juvenile and tween fiction classes to take care of I didn't do as much adult reading as I would have liked and I definitely felt it by the end of the year.  I was craving some nice complex adult narratives (and this craving was thoroughly satisfied by Sea of Poppies, which I'll post about later.)

I did an okay job reading widely although it's clear what my favorite genre is.  

I would like to have better percentages on this chart next year.  I read 35% non-American authors, but  I mostly did this by birthplace so some of those authors were born elsewhere and came to America later.  Additionally many of those were from other English-speaking countries.  Only 7 or 9.3% of the authors originated from non-English speaking countries and only 4 of the books I read were originally written in another language.  

I won't make any resolutions for the next year here because it's usually a futile process for me.  My feelings are summed up pretty well by the webcomic sheldon.  I will say that I am excited for the new year though and I hope you are too.  To quote Neil Gaiman: 

"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wild Girls Review

Book talk: Before Joan moved to California she only read stories.  After she moved to California, Joan began to live them.  It all started when she was exploring in the woods near her house and she found what looked like a troll's living room.  It turned out that it belonged to a girl named Sarah who called herself the Queen of Foxes.  Joan soon became newt in turn and newt and fox explored secret grottoes, defended their fort from invaders, and hid in the woods.  Their real life mixed with a fantasy life and they turned their story in to a writing competition.  But eventually they had to return to reality, and the cold hard truths they could not avoid.

Rocks my socks: I would have loved to have been friends with these girls when I was their age!  As it was my friends and I came up with some pretty elaborate fantasies playing in the park on my street.  Reading this novel took me back on a pleasant trip to those days and many readers their age will be able to easily relate.  The novel is set in the early 70s and they go to Berkeley at one point, which was amusing to read about as well.    The novel could have just stayed at this level and been enjoyable but it goes beyond that.  Fox's mother left her when she was a child and Joan's parents are separated by the end of the novel.  It deals with both of these family situations with compassion and thoughtfulness and doesn't try to provide any easy answers, which I liked.  I also appreciated how the characters got to know their parents better and understand them and their motives and that they had lives before they were born. Plus, they bond over throwing rocks at boys and write stories where they save themselves without any princes needing to intervene, what's not to love?

Rocks in my socks: "'She's a librarian,' Fox said, as if being a librarian were a crime."  Clearly this line was meant as a personal affront to me and I took it as such.  At least it gave me something to put in this section because otherwise it would be blank.

Every book its reader: This would be a great book to read at the beginning of a unit on writing.  Fox's dad is a science fiction author and both girls end up taking a class on writing with a great teacher and so a lot about the craft is mentioned in the novel.  Anyone with a lot of imagination and especially those who try to hold on to it when their peers are trying to look more grown up will enjoy this book.  Fifth grade and up.

Bonus quotes: 
"The tough thing about being a mockingbird is figuring out your own song...Too many songs to sing.  How do you know which one is your own?"

"Any liar can make things up.  But a good writer is more than just a clever liar.  A good writer tells the truth by telling lies."

The Wild Girls  by Pat Murphy

Buy it or check it out today!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hurt Go Happy Review

Book talk: Joey can understand some people with ease.  Her mother's words are always clear to her, sometimes it even seems as if they can read each other's minds.  Other people, like her step father, she can't really understand at all: it's very hard to lip-read through facial hair.  Joey wants to learn sign language to express herself, but her mother refuses to let her.  Then one day as Joey is gathering mushrooms she runs into an old man.  At first he yells at her for trespassing, but when he realizes that she can't hear his shouts he calms down and introduces her to a new friend.  Sukari knows more signs than Joey does and they get along well.  Sukari likes raisins and tickles but hates dogs and time-out.  Sukari is playful and mischievous and likes being the center of attention.  Sukari is also a chimpanzee.

Rocks my socks: As I mentioned in my Half Brother review, I have a special place in my heart for the great apes.  I have an interest in American Sign Language as well and even studied it in high school. So, right off the bat I was set to like this book.  It didn't disappoint either.  I loved watching Joey as she went from her mother's insistence that she stay entirely in the hearing world to becoming part of the Deaf community. Several communication styles are used in the book, but they are clearly differentiated with bold itallics for written notes and all caps for sign language.  There were times when I could tell this book and Half Brother drew from similar source, like that they both made a point of talking about how the chimpanzees liked washing dishes, but overall the books are very different with different tones and focuses.  The book does show some of human cruelty, especially in the animal testing scene, but Rorby is always careful to remind the reader that the world is mostly full of compassionate people so it doesn't get too dark and it's never cynical.  Both books are more about the main characters than the chimpanzees and Hurt Go Happy had more of a focus on sign language and deafness and Deaf culture while Half Brother had more of a focus on the experimental side of teaching a chimpanzee and the effects of and ethical questions around raising one as a human.

Rocks in my socks: The narrative goes along at a pretty fast clip which meant that sometimes a character would disappear just as you got to know them.  There's a love interest and I was enjoying watching their relationship blossom when suddenly the narrative jumped and he was written out with a brief passage.  They have images of hands forming the signs for the numbers 1-9 at the appropriate chapters which is nice until it got to ten and the pictures showed 'one' and 'zero' instead of just showing the sign for ten.  It looked so wrong to me and it drove me crazy.

Every book its reader: Anyone with an interest in ASL, Deaf culture, or chimpanzees (or all three!) will enjoy this novel.  People who like stories with the broader theme of an outsider finding her place will enjoy it as well. I'd give it to fifth grade and up.

Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

Buy it or check it out today!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Goliath Review

Book talk: It's the conclusion to the Leviathan Trilogy.  The same whale airship and clanker devices you know and love but this time they visit Hearst Castle, drop in on Mexican revolutionaries, and save Tesla.  And oh yeah, Alek finds out Deryn is a girl, finally!  If you've read the other two books you'll need no incentive to read this one and if you haven't read the first two you should really start with them.

Rocks my socks: I read this book in one sitting when I probably should have been doing homework, but no regrets.  I love the world, I love the characters, I love the narration style, and I love the pictures.  And I've been waiting for Deryn's big reveal for far too long (although thankfully Westerfeld is no Coville when it comes to making you wait for sequels!)  This conclusion was worth waiting for, though.  It was very satisfying both on a gut level and a brain level, which can be hard to accomplish.  "'We save each other,' Deryn whispered. 'That's how it works'"  and that is precisely the way it should be.  I also appreciate the fact that Westerfeld can laugh at himself.  When Alek is introduced to the idea of a cliff-hanger he thinks it "an underhanded scheme" which I thought rich coming from Westerfeld at first, but then in the afterward he awknowledges that he owes a great debt to the man who invented cliff-hangers.  It almost makes up for the end of book one...almost *shakes fist*

Rocks in my socks:  I was super excited when I found out Tesla was in the novel because he is one of my favorites, but I was a bit disappointed with the portrayal of him.  It was like how the portrayal of Victoria and Albert let me down in Prisoners in the Palace.  It's probably more accurate than my romantic imaginings of history but still he was not the most sympathetic character and I wanted him to be.  Also, it talks about him being a great showman and good at pulling people into his schemes for financial support and I do believe this goes against what I have heard. I was under the impression that it was Edison who was the great showman and that's why Tesla almost lost the ac/dc battle.

Every book its reader:  It's really for those who have read the first two books already.  For those who haven't, see my review of the first one.

For those who have already read it, check out the bonus chapter on Westerfeld's blog:

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

Buy it or check it out today!