Saturday, April 23, 2011

Speed Reviews: The Class Edition

Now nearly 17 books behind in my review, things have gotten so far out of control I must categorize my speed reviews. This week I finished the last of the reading for my YA Literature class. 1 book review, 1 defense paper, 1 discussion and I'm done with school (until I prep for my summer class that I'm teaching and start my LIS summer classes. . . and finish grading the class I'm teaching. It's a good thing I like school.) So to finish up here are the books that I read for class and my thoughts about them:

A Curse as Dark as Gold
The assigned reading for retold fairy tales week. Loved it. The tale of Rumpelstiltskin in expanded and detailed form. Rumpelstiltskin is one of those semi-overlooked fairy tales. Everyone kind of knows it but it's not been made into a Disney classic or anything so it's still really fresh. This version sticks the story in old world not quite industrialized Europe, but could be America, and then spins it out of control with curses and forces beyond our understanding. Sometimes crazy stuff just happens and science and reason can't explain it. This story deals with that. It's good.

Fun Home
Not my cup of tea. Don't read in public. (It has a couple of explicit pages.) I think in general the graphic novel/memoir genre is geared toward the dark comedy. There are mildly humorous parts but a lot of it is depressing and this one in particular just didn't suit.

Toads and Diamonds
Another retold fairy tale for discussion this time. The fairy tale about one sister who speaks jewels and flowers and another who speaks various forms of reptiles is not one who is widely known. It was vaguely familiar to me, but I didn't know much of the story. But this was an interesting variation nonetheless. Setting in an India-like country, the gifts are bestowed by the goddess, Naghali, and can be good. The native culture honors snakes for their ability to keep away rodents while the invading culture of a different religion despises them. It really brings a post-modern, girl power light to general traditional fairy tales.

Every Bone Tells a Story
I totally don't get YA non-fiction. It has some value in the classroom, but I think in general high school students don't need non-fiction at "their level." Books that are particularly aimed at YA interests also make some sense. But I think a general introduction to anthropology would be just as good. As it stands, this book is fine--a nice introduction to four of the skeletons used to understand early hominins.

Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism

This was our YA Lit text. While I think the author refers to his own work a little too much, I suppose he really does have some clout to do so it must be excusable. This covers much of the history of YA lit from SE Hinton to present day favs and special topics within the field. It's a good overview, but pricey...

The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy
Sigh. Joe McCarthy wasn't a good person. I understand him better from this book, but still...
Also, the guy cites Wikipedia as his sources. He uses lots of other good resources too, but still Wikipedia and a print encyclopedia? Explained the right way, it makes some sense, but he doesn't do that. And if this is for YA in an educational setting, I wouldn't encourage youth to use it for a source.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Jenna wakes up from an 18 month coma and tries to make sense of her life. She has no memory of her life before, but her parents have given her all the videos of her life up until the accident. As Jenna tries to piece her life together she discovers all sorts of secrets about her parents, her neighbors, her friends, and herself. While Feed was science-scary, this is science-thought provoking. Pearson allows the reader to come to their own conclusions about the science in the novel. That was a very refreshing take on the sci-fi novel.

And thus ends the 24 books I read over this semester. Looking for Alaska and The Hunger Games were also assigned but since I has such vivid memories of those novels, I wrote the reviews from memory. And I still have 9 reviews to do... :-)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

And in Other News...4/17

In a nod to friends and family who while they love my book reviews would like to know more about life in general, here's what's new in bullets:
  • Am now full-time. After four years of part-time bliss, I have returned to the land of the fully employed. It's bittersweet, but it allows me to stay in my Library Science program and take more classes at a time. (More work AND more school? Awesome.) I'm still working Mon-Thur evenings; I just come in earlier and I have a Sunday shift.
  • Mike's working on his dissertation proposal that will be submitted by the end of the quarter, but probably sooner. This means the verb "to dissertate" will soon be ever present in our vocabulary. Sadly spell-check refuses to acknowledge the existence of such a word.
  • I've learned APA citations require you to only capitalize the first word and proper nouns in titles. This goes against everything I've learned about capitalizing words in titles. I feel a need to return to 3rd/4th grammar. (This is why grammars important, kids! You must be able to rage against the citation style machine!)
  • I continue to read much YA literature. (Despite my speed review, I'm still at least 11 books behind.) But liminal spaces and pilgrimages are also vying for attention. Soon I can immerse myself in theology books!
  • Once I turn in my most recently finished library books, I will be under 10 checkouts for the first time since I started my YA class. I love my library, but I'm really excited about not having to manage several different due dates.
  • I am running. While the treadmill shows I can run for a good 30 minutes, that is not true in real life. Hills and actual body propelling are hard. I'm not sure I'm one who actually *enjoys* running, but it feels good to do something I thought I hated because I couldn't do it.
  • I continue to miss Lenten services due to my work schedule. I miss the opportunity to immerse myself in this season for remembrance and repentance. Fortunately, working in this evenings is only for a season of life as well.
  • In place of community worship for Lent, I've picked up (or worked at picking up a devotion habit). I'm working through a guide from A Little Book of Joy that was made available last Lent. I'm doing this in conjunction with a plan to Maximize My Mornings from It made my running plan work out a bit more smoothly, and next week I'll implement the planning stage. When I do it, I'm much more productive. When I don't... well I'm still in my pjs. :-) Anyway, the daily devotion habit is pretty awesome. It's been something that I've intended to do for awhile, but to see it actually happen is great.
So that's the story from Lake Woebegon... or the banks of the Ohio rather. Man, I still love the river.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Speed Book Reviews

I’ve reached the point once again where the books I’ve read vastly outnumber the ones I have reviewed. Since I’m still blitzing through them (6 weeks until the end of the semester!), it’s time for speed reviewing. Here we go:

Hex Hall
Cutey, cute. It’s what happens when you take Bella Swan and give her magical powers and send her to Hogwarts Reform School for no good reason. Except Bella has a spine and picks good friends, and while yes, she falls in love with someone who wants to kill her, he’s not a morose stalker so... Go Sophie! It’s good clean fun and worth the afternoon. The sequel, Demonglass, is sitting on my "To Be Read" shelf.

Almost Christian
It’s not YA, but it is about young adults and their spiritual development. While it is using the results of the National Study of Youth and Religion to suggest ways to more effectively pass on a meaningful faith to youth, I found it a personally challenging book. Since by far the most significant indicator of a youth’s religious commitment was that of their parents, even before I become a parent I am working to build up my own faith so my children will realize that the salvation I have through Jesus Christ is something important that I want them to also have and grow in. I don’t want them to only think Christianity is a way to be nice to people and God isn’t significant enough to make a priority in their lives. While faith only comes through the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life, I don’t want to provide any roadblocks to that process. I recommend it to anyone who may have any impact on children.

Feed was required reading for my YA Lit class. It’s science fiction set in the future where everyone has direct access to the internet via a neurological implant called the feed. When Titus meets Violet, he learns not everyone has had the feed running since birth, and that while the feed seems incredibly necessary for any attempt at engaging in the world, it has a dark side as well. More than any dystopian novel I’ve read Feed made me want to flee from technology. I’m glad I read it. It’s very thought provoking. But it hits a little too close to home for me to remember it comfortably. Read it, but prepare to be disturbed.

The House of the Scorpion
Matteo Alacran is the 9th of his kind, but he doesn’t know it. El Patron, dictator of the land between Mexico (now Atzlan) and the United States, has been raising clones of himself so he could live to his present age of 140. We follow Matt as he encounters a world that doesn’t accept him and struggles to find his place in it. It’s another really thought-provoking book. However, the second half of the book when Matt escapes the Farm kind of fell apart for me. The tight interesting story just spiraled out of control and the author had to do some pretty extreme literary gymnastics to bring the story back together again. I still think it’s a story worth reading, just be prepared for the ending to go wacky.

Organized Simplicity
I’m on a Spring Cleaning, organize my life kick. Probably because life is kicking up a notch coming out of Winter and just going to keep going and Uncle Uno’s house (which I helped clean out) made me want to disavow all worldly possessions. Organized Simplicity just provides a nice little outline to get your home in order. I’m not sure it could be done in 10 days like she suggests, but the steps are pretty easy to break into several days. I want to buy this book for her resources in the back, including homemade cleaning supplies.

Persepolis and Persepolis 2
I was going to use these books are my memoir/graphic novel for my YA class, but I think they hit a little older. Marjane Satrapi came of age during the time of the Iranian Revolution in the 70s. She remembers not wearing the veil, and then wearing it, and all the changes in climate that the veil symbolized. Her parents decided to send her off to Austria to escape some of the harsher changes, but her status as an outsider merely drives her to dangerous behaviors and people. Styled in the slightly humorous, but mostly dark interpretation as other historical graphic novels like Maus, Persepolis is an inside look into Iran and into the heart of a person desperately looking for a place to belong.

The 100 Thing Challenge

In the “organize my life kick”, I read this book hoping for motivation (while realizing I would never own just 100 things). Bruno is an all-right narrator, an interesting Christian voice on a generally secular subject, and he works at Point Loma so I’m uber-jealous. It didn’t change my life, but with Organized Simplicity, I have cleaned out my closet and dresser. :-)

Deus Ex Machina

In the place between The Hunger Games and Survivor, you find this book. It’s the brutality of the dystopian fantasy, but it has the reality of... well... the reality tv show. The Deserted is a reality tv show that has pushed the limits. In HG fashion, the producer has created an island that responds to his every whim in an attempt to get an authentic reaction from his characters/contenders. However, as the show has progress the producer feels authenticity gives way to sensationalism. Despite some really crude scenes (almost thrown in to make it "more adult" though I'm sure the author would tell you it's just a physical manifestation of the vulgarity the show produces), it was an interesting read.