Jen

Cecil Castellucci Books

 Posted by on October 30, 2012  Reading
Oct 302012
 

I’ve been in the Big City for a couple of weeks and one of the first things I did was visit the library. I exceeded my as-many-as-you-can-get-in-ONE-bag limit and checked out twenty-two books: wire, clay, and embroidery craft books, wild cat books, and a handful of YA novels.

Okay, I didn’t actually read twenty-two books, not cover-to-cover, but I did look at them all and read bits from them all. I read five cover-to-cover.

I really enjoyed the two Cecil Castellucci novels, Boy Proof and The Queen of Cool.I read Cecil’s graphic novel, The Plain Janes,several years ago and have looked forward to more of her work ever since.

I like the themes and characters of all three of these books. The themes are things like finding yourself, being yourself, and expressing yourself—some of my personal favorites. The characters are strong, sometimes quirky (believable, not outrageous), wonderfully creative (yay!) girls. The issues and struggles they face are everyday, real things that I think most girls experience and have to deal with. There’s no extreme problem or uber-drama that steals or carries the show.

I especially like how Libby in The Queen of Cool acknowledges her dissatisfaction with life and comes to realize that she’s bored. She’s following the script of “cool girl,” and finds it dull and empty. I think that’s a great and important message to convey to teens; I think a lot of kids feel it but don’t know what to do about it.

Something else I especially like is Cecil’s storytelling style. In both novels, the sentences and paragraphs are short and lean. We hop from sentence to sentence and scene to scene at a snappy pace. There are no long descriptive passages or lengthy internal reflections. It felt like reading an expanded movie storyboard, not that I have a lot of experience (or any) doing that.

But don’t think the books were short on description, reflection, or story. They weren’t. Those things were just thoughtfully crafted and concise. The style and pace make for quick reads.

Very enjoyable books. I look forward to reading more of Cecil Castellucci’s stuff.

Plunked, by Michael Northrop

 Posted by on October 7, 2012  Reading
Oct 072012
 

This started out as “Jen’s Summer Reading,” a would-be companion to Harriet’s Summer Reading post. But I didn’t get past my first book.

I’m not sure I can be as succinct as Harriet, but I’ll have another go next time. Meanwhile, here’s one of the first books I read and loved this summer.

Plunked, by Michael Northrop

I actually read this middle-grade, baseball book. You know, hard cover, paper, letters on the pages. (As opposed to listening to an audio version, which would make way-yonder more sense if this were the post it was originally meant to be.) I need to add it to the list of baseball books here on the Stitch N’ Pitch page. I highly recommend it as a companion gift with a hand-stitched baseball bookmark.

One of the things I love about this book is that Michael understands colons and isn’t afraid to use them. With so many punctuation rules and tools being demoted to style choices these days and the trend toward minimal punctuation, I reveled in the ease of reading and clarity that good, confident punctuation provides. Best of all, this smartly-punctuated story is targeted to middle-grade boys, traditionally a reluctant reading group, where well-meaning story providers may be tempted to back off complex punctuation so as not to scare the readership. Way to trust and respect those readers: They’re smart enough to handle colons.

Having said that, another thing I love is the consistent use of spot-on middle-grade-boy-isms. “Jerk-butt” comes to mind—though I don’t have the book in front of me to confirm that—as in “The guy is a total jerk-butt for calling me names.” If you follow Michael on Facebook or read blog posts he writes, you might suspect he doesn’t have to reach far for such things. I think he’s in close touch with his middle-grade self.

And Michael knows sports, perhaps baseball in particular, as well as he knows middle-grade boys. The descriptions of practices, games, pitches, and standing in the batter’s box put you there, right beside Jack, the main character. You can smell the leather of a glove and feel the stinging vibration of a poorly-hit ball. I played softball, and I coached T-ball. He nails that experience. (You’re disappointed I didn’t say “knocked it out of the park, aren’t you? Aren’t you?! Uh-huh. I thought so. Just keeping you on your toes.)

Of course Michael knows baseball: For many years, he was a writer and editor at Sports Illustrated for Kids. In fact, while he was planning, creating, and editing high-profile, exciting and important, front-page news, he was also editing my always-entertaining and challenging back-page puzzles. I had a lot of editors there, and Michael was definitely one of my faves. He was funny (he even laughed at one of my jokes!), sharp, and clever. And if the answers ever got separated from the puzzles in the office, he didn’t e-mail me asking for the answer to a puzzle. No, I’m pretty sure that if he lost the answer page, he’d just, you know, solve the puzzle.

Finally, there’s one more thing I’d like to mention about Michael Northrop. He also wrote Gentlemen which I was initially (needlessly) scared to read. In this, he brings an under-represented population of boys into the spotlight. I really like the kinds of kids he’s writing about and for. I think he strengthens a weak spot in kidlit.

Well done, Michael. Well done.

S4L Book Club – November Book

 Posted by on October 6, 2012  Reading
Oct 062012
 

Read With Me, Please


This may be a smidge premature, but I almost have my eager mitts on The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, so I’m calling it the November book for the S4L Book Club. Remember that—the book club? Ahem.

Harriet piqued my curiosity in her description of it, and unlike most of the other books she read over the summer, I find our library has this one available for download, so I can get it quickly. It’s the audio version, which suits me fine. I will plan to post my thoughts and questions about it in November. I hope you will see if you can get a copy, too, and chat with me about it next month.

Any thoughts on a December book? I’m open for suggestions and volunteer discussion leaders.

Harriet’s Summer Reading

 Posted by on September 26, 2012  Uncategorized
Sep 262012
 

Harriet is going to jump start things here by sharing with us some of her summer reading.

In One Person, John Irving

I did not catch the rhythm of this book at once, and maybe not at all. The language is partly difficult, and how the author tells the story is complex–meandering, passing people interconnecting and mentioning everything small, and “must be noticed” parts to be followed up sometime later in the thick book. Phew!

I chose the book because it is thick. I wanted a book that lasted. Well, it did last. But not in a very memorable way. I do not need to read this book again.

The story is educational in how it presents the political and moral conditions of society in the time the story takes place. And it is educational in ways I do not think I need details about, really. I do not like forensic reports in crime either, which requires a similar level of paying attention to detail. The book highlights something that is unimportant in some areas and in some countries.

However, I like the great theme and the huge aspect of love and friendship across gender, age, and personal differences that shine through in this book.

If you ask me if I want to join a fan club of this author, I will postpone my answer until further notice…

Oh, and the very depressed Norwegian character is not very common. We leave that mood to the Finnish people mostly. ;-)

Jen’s Two Cents

I know the feeling of wanting books to linger, and I suppose I sometimes choose to tackle lengthy books at times when I have ample opportunity to read, but I can’t say I’ve ever chosen a book just because it’s thick. The long ones I undertake have something other than length to recommend them.

What if I selected a thick book and didn’t like it? I tend to slog my way through books I don’t like simply because it feels like a failure to not finish.

Does anyone else deliberately choose a book because it’s long?


Last Night in Twisted River, also by John Irving

This I liked very much when I read it earlier this spring. I like pioneering and stories of how people adapt to new situations forced upon them or due to their own incompetence, with severe consequences at times…if that make sense. Sometimes people are easy and simple and do things that have vast impact on their life. In this book it is like this in several ways.

It was a thick and good book.

Jen’s Two Cents

Oh, I like pioneering stories, too. And I like John Irving (The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany). I will look for these two Irving books when I next go to town.


Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel, by Jeannette Walls

I liked the language at once–how the author caught my interest and curiosity with the first and the rest of her sentences.

I really wanted to know how these people and this feisty, brave woman worked hard, how she adjusted her life situation to improve her skills. Only in her teaching in the last year at work did she improve her skills and adapt. This weakness reflects only how it is to be human and is not a character fault by the author as such.

The book is set in the early times in the USA, and I find it very interesting.

The woman in the book is based on the grandmother of the author. I really like that the book is a story and not a biography/documentary. I like that the facts and the documentary parts are part of our old tradition of storytelling, you make sure that something is true, and you embellish it while telling.

In my opinion, the author writes descriptions that makes me smell the dry sand, the earth lacking water and the rain when it comes, and the trousers (unwashed jeans to make them more sustaining) were almost in my nose, but this was harder to imagine, really. She writes so well, I can see the people the character meets and how they react towards this strong and strange woman.

I wished this book was longer.

This woman can survive anything. I wish we had such role models today. Really!

Jen’s Two Cents

Description. As a writer, I consider description a personal weakness. It’s something I have to think about, and it’s often something that I add in revisions because it’s lacking in the rough draft. It doesn’t pour out of me as it does from some people.

In reading description, I find a little goes a long way. I remember early in my recreational-reading days (that would be my early twenties) being presented with a page-and-a-half of margin-to-margin description. I thought it was awful. My mind bolted around line three or four. It was from a book by an author of some prestige, and I wondered if I was alone in thinking it dreadful. It was the opening of the book, for goodness’s sake!

It was a sort of defining moment: A moment when I decided what kind of a reader I was. If I had been a kid presented with that as an early reading experience, I might have concluded that all books were like that and not at all for me.

I’m intrigued by the praise for the language. That, the time period, and the based-on-a-real-experience are all reasons I’ll add this to my To Be Read list, too.


Dark Matter, by Michelle Paver

First of all, this title seams wrong because the title in Norwegian, “Mørketid,” = polar night, or as we all use it when wintertime is long and daylight short: “The Dark time”. The English title seems a bit about something else. The cover is also better on the Norwegian book, seen from both the meaning of the title and as an artist.

Norwegian book cover for Dark MatterI like this book because it is about going out on an expedition and to Svalbard in the Arctic area. Every Norwegian goes on expeditions. It is odd if you do not have some heavy nature achievements on your CV (Curriculum Vitae)!

The book is quiet and written as if the author knows this experience in her own frozen fingers and bones. The theme about one little man in darkness is recognizable, but not so easily understood. We can look for monsters under our beds when we are children and know that the grownups will fix things if there really would have been monsters there… But how to be alone in this very cold and totally dark environment and not be affected by it somehow?

Would I go with my head in a bucket? Would I go crazy? Would I see visions and hallucinate? Would I survive as a person not affected at all by the vastness of being on my own and still not significant in the big picture? Would I survive by routines?

I know I will not go on such an expedition! I would rather walk in the mountains or forest and camp.
But the book is teasing me about what we, a great many of us, see as typically Norwegian. As an ordinary human, who will cope with such conditions?

Is it like climbing high mountains a bit lower than Mt. Everest: You really do not know in advance who would get mountain sickness and who will not be affected.

It is a small and quick read, but this book lasted longer than “In One Person.”

Jen’s Two Cents

I think Norwegians and Alaskans have similar views of and regard for outdoor adventures. And this sounds a bit like caretaking. ‘Nuff said. I’m sold.


Les Yeux Jaunes des Crocodiles (Le Livre De Poche) (French Edition), by Katherine Pancol

It is about people written in a French quirky manner that I like very much. It is both ordinary and not so at the same time. It is feeble and weak personalities and strong, mean ones.

The main character is a woman struggling with her life, with believing in herself, her inner self. And a lot of people around her make it hard to be her, and a few give her blooming possibilities.

I like the way the characters in the book are normal by way of being a bit odd and have secrets that are important to keep or not. I like the language. I also like that I get provoked by how some of the people interact or solve or don’t solve their problems. It is an advanced feel-good book, even though that is not giving the book really good credit. It is not a “kiosk book” as we tend to call easily-written literature, with lots of love and happiness and some conflicts. Not at all.

I hope she writes another book about this woman’s life and the confetti of people that surround her.

Jen’s Two Cents

WHAT???! You read in French, too?! Harriet, you are a language over-achiever. I think that’s way cool!

If there isn’t currently an English version–my quick search did not find one–I read that one is forthcoming.

So what did you read this summer that you really enjoyed? Harriet and I both want to know.

Book Club Question Posted

 Posted by on June 14, 2012  Reading
Jun 142012
 

The S4L Book Club discussion this month is on The Hunger Games.There’s a new question in the Book Club Forum and the start of a discussion, to boot! (Thanks, Harriet.)

You have to register, and I have to approve you. I’m already getting lots of SPAM registrations, which I’m not approving, so use a name that will look familiar to me, or let me know if you use something totally random.

It will take some getting used to, but it is a nice way to organize the related posts and keep them accessible.

Go on. Go register in the Forum and join the discussion!

Jun 072012
 

The S4L Book Club discussion this month is on The Hunger Games. We’re going to try out the new Book Club forum. I just posted the first question.

So far, only Harriet and Becca are registered in the forum. I have a dozen other requests for registration, but I’m not giving them access: I think they’re spammers. When you register, use a name that I recognize or give me a heads up on the name you choose. You can email me at mail AT funkandweber DOT com. I can’t tell you how much spam I deal with in blog comments, email, and now forum registration. I’m pretty quick with the delete button when it comes to anything that looks remotely like spam. I’m sure I make mistakes, so if you register and don’t get approved, give me a holler.

I’m still getting used to forum administration, but…well…some sort of progress is being made. I mean, we have a forum, right? And I just posted the first question for The Hunger Games. If we don’t like it, we can always come back here. I now know how to enable you to get select blog comments via email, so you can know when someone posts a comment on a Book Club thread, but the posts will still get buried, as blog posts do. The forum keeps books and topics indexed, which will make it easier to post on previous books and to know when someone does just that.

See what you think and let me know your preference.

No, I’m not going to repeat the question here. Go to the Book Club forum and read it! Click the Book Club link in the navigation bar above. Be brave. You’ll figure it out. Or shout here if you’re stumped. Surely, between us we can figure it out, right? And let me know if you want to be a forum moderator. Not that I know what that means.