Thursday, June 24, 2010

Taking a break

So I'll be taking the rest of June and probably most of July off from the blogosphere. Which means I won't be posting, and unfortunately, I won't be keeping up with feeds either. I need some time off for myself, and hopefully, I can get some good reading in too while I'm gone.

I won't be getting as much sun as this guy, but it's a nice image of summer anyhow. Catch you back here in a couple months...


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Readathon book reflections

Last weekend, I participated in the 48hr Book Challenge, and I feel like I spent this week recovering. I never quite realized how particular I am about how often I read, how often I prefer to read, and how much I can read at once. I've noticed in the past few months of Reading Recaps that I average about 3,000 pages read each month, and this seems like a good number for me. I am definitely a slave to routine and balance, which keeps me sane most of the time. :)

Anyhow, since I haven't done much reading this week, I thought I'd mull over some of last weekend's reads.

Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder
published December 2008 (c2006?) by MIRA
448 pages (paperback reprint), YA

This is the second book in Snyder's Study series - I absolutely loved the first, Poison Study. If you haven't read the first, then spoilers are inevitable, but if you're anything like me, you won't remember them by the time you read it anyway, so please continue.

Yelena is en route to her supposed home in Sitia, but she has no memories of her childhood or family. She is exiled from the only home she's known as well as her former mentor and current love, Valek. With Master Magician Irys' help, Yelena adapts to life in Sitia, reluctant but willing to learn to control her magic. She briefly meets her family--mother, father, brother, and a clan filled with cousins, aunts, and uncles--then immediately sets off to reach the Magician's Citadel where she can begin her magic training. At the Citadel, a rogue magician is on the loose, murdering innocent girls in a way that is all too familiar to Yelena. Of course, Yelena leaps in without thinking, providing much-needed assistance but also revealing a little something about herself that she had yet to discover on her own.

What can I say? It's a complicated book. And I'll admit that I was most interested in the parts where Valek made an appearance. I was shocked at how different this book was from the first, and it took me a little while to get into it. I feel like the first book focused very much on Yelena's character, and this one went for the action-packed approach. Yelena doesn't have much time to reflect on all that she's learned about herself and her past because she's chasing a crazy, serial killer magician. I'm almost halfway through the third book, Fire Study, and my interest is waning because it seems that the same is happening in this book - less about the characters (and so many new characters!) and more plot-based, which is a little disappointing. I think Poison Study is great as a stand-alone novel, and the next two can be considered optional companions.

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
published March 2010 by Random House
416 pages (hardcover), YA

I won't say much about this one. It is the companion novel (second in a trilogy) to The Forest of Hands and Teeth, in that we are introduced to Mary's daughter, Gabry, who this story follows. I've read tons of criticism that Gabry is weak and annoying, afraid and whining, and I suppose that's fine because, well, she is, but that didn't really affect my enjoyment of the story. Not all main characters are strong. They're not all invincible. And they're not all perfect. I'm okay with the fact that Gabry is terrified of breaking the rules, is paralyzed with fear at encountering a Mudo - in a world where zombies roamed the earth, I'd be constantly afraid too. What I didn't initially enjoy was the ridiculous love triangle, but I did eventually get over it because I could see it happening. You love who you love until you don't (or can't) anymore and someone else comes along. Especially in extreme circumstances, this is common. All in all, I liked this book, and I'll probably read the third, The Dark and Hollow Places, when it comes out next spring.

A Spy in the House (The Agency #1) by Y.S. Lee
published March 2010 by Candlewick
352 pages (hardcover), YA

Goodness, how I loved this book! Think Enola Holmes for YA. This is a new Victorian mystery series, with criminal-turned-lady Mary Quinn as our main character, who has joined the exclusive and elusive Agency, an organization of women spies, after completing her education at its cover, Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. Her first assignment is to be a lady's companion to the daughter of a merchant who seems to be losing a few too many cargo ships at sea. She is merely to acquire useful information about the potential fraudulent claims, but Mary is a take-action kind of girl, so she sets out to do some detective work of her own. She finds herself in some sticky situations, with a love interest in a partner in spy, James Easton, who is also investigating this family for his own reasons. This was a delightful read! Mary is anything but a lady, though she does try. She's clever and headstrong with a blossoming flirtatious side. I'm looking forward to more in this series, with The Body at the Tower coming out in August.

The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler
published February 2010 by HarperCollins
245 pages (hardcover), MG

You know me, I'm a sucker for retold fairy tales. Can you guess this one? Yep, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. In which there is a thirteenth princess named Zita who grows up as a servant in the castle, unknowing of her true parentage until she's twelve years old. When she finds out that she too is a princess, she's elated and she immediately attempts to get to know her twelve sisters, who embrace her and welcome her into their room at night, when the king won't see. Because the king is furious to have thirteen daughters, not one son to be his heir, and not even willing to acknowledge his thirteenth daughter. After all, she is the one who killed the queen in childbirth. While Zita is discovering her new life, the princesses begin to fall ill. They are exhausted and confined to their room, with worn out slippers each night. It's up to Zita and some new friends to find out what's going on in the palace, where magic has been banned but is clearly at work. 

I've recently read Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, which is also a retelling of this tale, so I thought that I would be bored with this one. Not the case at all. Introducing a thirteenth princess was such a clever idea that really worked with this story. I was happy for all of the background information at the start of the book and still wanted to find out how the princesses would be lifted from their spell.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Alison Dare & the Double Blog Dare Tour

Alison Dare, Little Miss Adventures written by J. Torres, illustrated by J. Bone
published May 2010 (c2002) by Tundra Books
96 pages (paperback), middle grade graphic novel

This book is told in three parts with shorter stories within the vignettes. We begin with "Alison Dare & the Arabian Knights," where Alison is introduced on her mother's archaeological site, Indiana Jones-style. She's highly bored and more than a little mischievous, uncovering a magic lamp and unleashing a genie to do her bidding. Her first wish is to whisk her two friends, Wendy and Dot, away from their spring break vacations to her quaint little tent in the desert. The three friends' personalities are instantly revealed - Alison is the adventurous one, Wendy bookish, and Dot a little flighty. The three girls must figure out how to deal with 1001 Arabian knights after Alison's wish for more time in the desert goes awry. This adventure has a very distinct Disney's Aladdin feel to it - I found myself singing Genie's song while reading: "Well Ali Baba had them forty thieves, Scheherazade had a thousand tales..." and can imagine that younger readers will have some context for this story.

In "Alison Dare & the Secret of the Blue Scarab," we meet Alison's librarian-turned-superhero dad, the Blue Scarab. We also learn the story of her parents' courtship through a subcomic, "Daring Romance." Personally, the stories within stories were a bit much for me. In "Alison Dare & the Mummy Child," Alison tries to set up her divorced parents by bringing a picnic basket and mixed messages to the museum where her mother works but gets tangled up in a mummy kidnapping attempt. Little Miss Adventures serves as an introduction to Alison Dare, her friends, and family, and for readers who enjoy snippets, vignettes, or short stories, this is an engaging and multi-layered read.

Alison Dare, Heart of the Maiden written by J. Torres, illustrated by J. Bone
published May 2010 (c2002) by Tundra Books
104 pages (paperback), middle grade graphic novel

Alison, Wendy, and Dot are back at St. Joan's Academy for Girls after summer vacation. The first half of the book serves to introduce the school, the nuns, and some of Alison's summer adventures. In the second half, Alison and her friends learn that the nuns have quite the secret - they're not just fighting evil in the ways prescribed by their vows. No, these are some butt-kickin' nuns! It's a race to find the map that will lead them to the heart of the maiden, that is, Joan of Arc's heart, and the nuns are not the only ones searching for it. Of course, Alison and friends want to find it too, but of course, they should be safely tucked into bed instead of prowling the campus at night. I won't give the ending away totally. :) 

I think I would really like Alison Dare in a different format. I've never been a comic book reader, so the snippets of stories format is foreign to me and a little bothersome at times. I wish that the books were more cohesive in story, that they flowed better and told a single story rather than jumping around, but I realize that that's just not the way they were originally written. Oh well, that's a personal preference. I did quite enjoy Alison's bold, saucy behavior, even though it got her and her friends into trouble. It's wonderful to see an adventurous female protagonist - she's smart and sassy, but most of all, she's curious and action-oriented. It doesn't hurt that both of her parents are pretty cool too. 

As an adult reading these books, my mind spun with all of the pop culture and literary references - Indiana Jones, Ferris Bueller, Dick Tracy, Elvis, Alice in Wonderland, and a little bit of Groundhog Day there at the end, and that's probably not even the half of it. They'd probably go unnoticed by the intended audience, but I certainly got a kick out of them.

Oh! I almost forgot! There's a contest going on over at Tundra Books to take Alison Dare around the world to experience all sorts of adventures. More details on the blog over there. Here's my adventure:

Alison takes on Thor ... with French and Russian back-up

Check out the rest of the Double Blog Dare Tour line-up here!


Monday, June 7, 2010

Jack and the Beanstalk

Today was the last official day of school, and even though I've done a TON of outside reading, my mind is still there. For the past month, I've been reading Jack and the Beanstalk stories to third grade students. They all knew the story already, of course, but we read two different versions, and then ended with a readers' theatre.

I began with E. Nesbit's retelling of Jack's story, with pencil and watercolor illustrations by Matt Tavares. This is a hefty book - a thirty-minute read-aloud, in fact. Because it delves deeper into Jack's story than I remember ever reading before. We learn about the land in the sky where the giant lives, told by a fairy who serves as a guide to Jack on his first trip up there. Jack's father had opposed the giant long ago and was killed by him for it. Thus, Jack's killing of the giant at the end of the story serves to avenge his father's death. Originally written in the early 1900s, this version is dated, of course, with references to trousers and I can't think of what else, and the language is rather flowery, if you will. It begs to be read aloud, but it requires a patient and attentive audience. But the full-color, full-page illustrations make up for what may be lost in translation in the text. Personally, I loved it, and I think some students appreciated it as well.

However, most students were instead fans of Waynetta and the Cornstalk: A Texas Fairy Tale by Helen Ketteman and illustrated by Diane Greenseid. Perhaps it was the silly accent I used (native Texans would most certainly be appalled by it) or the bright, vibrant illustrations, or the cowgirl feel to the story, but I definitely saw a difference in engagement with the book - students loved this one. In this version, Waynetta must sell the last longhorn in order save the family ranch, meeting a man along the way who trades her some magic corn, hence the cornstalk. Instead of a hen that lays golden eggs like in Jack's story, Waynetta finds in the giant's possession a cow who produces (or excretes, rather) golden cowpats. We also have a magic lasso as well as a magic bucket, whose uses are better suited to the setting of this story. What I most loved about reading this book was the natural comparisons that students made to Jack's story which we read the week before. Yep, it was Venn diagram time.

Honestly, I could have read Jack and the Beanstalk stories to third grade for weeks on end. But I stopped there because they get a little antsy after hearing the same story multiple times. For the next two weeks, we worked on a readers' theatre of the story, adapted by Lisa Blau. I enjoyed this script because it has eight parts, which meant that I could have two groups of students in each class and every student would have a speaking part. Overall, they did a great job, even though we could have used more time and probably a little more direction from me. Thirty minutes is just not enough time for readers' theatre, in my opinion.

So, that's all the Jack that my students got to see. But I have to tell you that I read many more versions of this tale, some of which I'm sure I'll forget to name.

Jack and the Beanstalk by Richard Walker
my thoughts via Goodreads:
This version intrigues me because of its jewel-toned color palette and Tim Burton-esque (think Nightmare Before Christmas) illustrations - so different from the typical greens and browns and realistically drawn scenes in most Jack books. But the story is chopped up - Jack only visits the giant once, with the goose and the wife following him back down the beanstalk and the giant soaring into space.

Jack and the Beanstalk by John Cech
my thoughts via Goodreads:
These watercolor illustrations make me smile, they're so vivid! For a contemporary take on an old tale, this one might be my favorite. I appreciate the repetitious Fee Fi Fo Fum rhyme of the giant's, and the three trips Jack takes up the beanstalk. In the end, the giant's wife comes down the beanstalk with Jack, they cut the stalk down and feed it to the cows, and the giant is still stuck up in the clouds (the only sore point for me - I wish the giant was killed). While Jack still has a few magic beans left in his pocket...
Some others that I just didn't feel like delving into, but that I know students also enjoy...

Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osbourne

First grade girls love this one. The gender switch is obvious, but apparently the rest of the story is pretty close to the original. Not that I would know because I have not read it. It's always checked out!

Paco and the Giant Chile Plant by Keith Polette
Set in the Southwest, this Jack tale is told in both English and Spanish, and boy, does it have a lot of flavor! It reminds me of The Runaway Tortilla in its infusion of Latin culture to a traditionally American tale.

Jack and the Beanstalk: The Graphic Novel by Blake Hoena
I love the Graphic Spin series by Stone Arch Books. They're kind of like easy readers but in a graphic format, which really appeals to kids. I haven't read this one, but I am sure glad it exists.

Okay, do you blame me for saving Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale for last? I just don't know what to say about it. It defies everything I think about graphic novels. Even though I read and like them, I still have preconceived notions of what they should be or what they normally are, and this one just doesn't fit - in a good way. Perhaps it's just because I don't read too many original graphic novels, meaning quite literally, original novels in a graphic format. The story is so creative and clever - oh, how I was laughing aloud! And I can't, no, I won't describe it for you because it's not so much about the story but more about the full experience of taking in the characters, the setting, the gorgeous illustrations by Nathan Hale, and also, the ridiculous story. Giant, man-eating ants? Yes, it's ridiculous. But Jack's original story is interspersed throughout this fantastic creation - you definitely have to search a bit to uncover it though. My students loved Rapunzel's Revenge, so I'm wondering how they'll respond to Jack's story.

Okay, that's enough of Jack and the Beanstalk for one day. Unless you have a favorite I haven't mentioned to share. Please do share!


Sunday, June 6, 2010

48hrs later...

Well, my challenge has ended. Thankfully! I must confess that I'm a bit of a weakling, as you'll see in my final total of hours at the bottom of this post. But it was a challenge, nonetheless. I'm currently suffering from a headache, which I am sure is due to too much reading. I didn't believe there was such a thing!

Below you'll note my time spent reading during the challenge, which is all I allowed myself to do on my blog. Perhaps at some point I'll comment on the books I read, but at the moment, I'm not feeling up to it.

Begin Friday, June 4, 2010 at 5:00pm CST
5:00 - 5:30pm // read Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder
6:15 - 8:10pm // read & finish Magic Study
2 hours 25 minutes total

Saturday, June 5, 2010
8:30 - 9:45am // read The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
10:30am - 12:00pm // read The Dead-Tossed Waves
12:45 - 1:00pm // listen to Seven Up by Janet Evanovich
1:30 - 2:40pm // read The Dead-Tossed Waves
3:10 - 5:00pm // read & finish The Dead-Tossed Waves
7:45 - 8:45pm // read The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
7 hours total

End Sunday, June 6, 2010 at 5:00pm CST
9:00 - 9:30am // read The Agency: A Spy in the House
10:00am - 12:10pm // read & finish The Agency: A Spy in the House
2:30 - 3:15pm // read The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler
3:30 - 5:00pm // read The Thirteenth Princess
5 hours 25 minutes total

TOTAL TIME SPENT READING: 14 hours 50 minutes 

So, what else did I do with my time this weekend, you ask? Sleep! Sleep until my heart's content. And then sleep just a little more. I have not been sleeping well this past week, not at all, so I welcomed the chance to indulge in a good ten hours per night. That means 20 of my 48 hours were spent unconscious and half of the rest of them reading, which I think is not too shabby. Because I did in fact shower and eat too, not to mention play some video games and watch some TV. But oh, how much self restraint it took not to lose myself in those activities! I even managed to do a bit of housework, which I really must be finishing up.

Congratulations to those of you who immersed yourselves in this challenge and to those like me who still pushed further than usual but maybe not as much as we'd have liked. Timing is everything, and I am forever reminded that I cannot bend the world to my own will. Sigh. Anywho, thanks to MotherReader for an excellent excuse to stay in and read this weekend - I needed it!


Friday, June 4, 2010

48hr Book Challenge

I didn't plan on joining this challenge, but you know, everyone else is doing it, so... And I happen to have a free weekend all to myself.

MotherReader is hosting this excellent challenge, which begins anytime today and lasts for a consecutive 48 hours. Hours spent reading are what's measured in this challenge, and I honestly can't think of how many I'll add up. 10? 20? 30? I like to sleep. And eat. And shower. So, we'll just see.

I'll be starting at 5pm CST today and finishing at 5pm CST on Sunday.

I have many books sitting on my desk awaiting my attention, but I don't want to reveal them because I'm feeling a bit superstitious. Anytime I share my loot, I immediately lose interest in it - so I'll just surprise you all at the end. :)

Oh fine, I'll let you know what I'll be starting with since I'm already about halfway through it - Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder. It's the second book in the Study trilogy, and I am enjoying it quite thoroughly. Though I must say that it is very different from Poison Study, which threw me for a loop. 

Happy reading, everyone!


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

May Reading Recap

May is always a blur. Don't have much to say about it

Books Read in May:
  1. Changeless by Gail Carriger - read 05/02/10
  2. Count Silvernose: A Story from Italy by Eric A. Kimmel - read 05/02/10
  3. The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood - review - read 05/04/10  
  4. Calamity Jack by Dean and Shannon Hale - read 05/05/10
  5. Franklin's Library Book by Sharon Jennings - read 05/10/10
  6. Miss Daisy is Crazy! by Dan Gutman - review - read 05/12/10
  7. Mrs. Roopy is Loopy! by Dan Gutman - review - read 05/12/10
  8. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder - review - read 05/12/10
  9. Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon - read 05/15/10
  10. Rampant by Diana Peterfreund - read 05/22/10
  11. Robot Zot! by Jon Scieszka - read 05/22/10
  12. Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead - read 05/26/10
  13. Princess Hyacinth by Florence Parry Heide - read 05/28/10
  14. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems - read 05/28/10
  15. Today I Will Fly! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems - read 05/28/10
  16. Pigs Make Me Sneeze! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems - read 05/28/10
  17. I Am Invited to a Party! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems - read 05/28/10
  18. There is a Bird on Your Head! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems - read 05/28/10
  19. I Will Surprise My Friend! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems - read 05/28/10
  20. Are You Ready to Play Outside? (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems - read 05/28/10
  21. My Friend Is Sad (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems - read 05/28/10
  22. Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems - read 05/28/10
  23. Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems - read 05/28/10
  24. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins - read 05/29/10
14 picture books
7 YA/MG fiction
2 adult fiction
 1 MG graphic novel

May Favorite - Picture Book: Count Silvernose: A Story from Italy by Eric A. Kimmel

May Favorite: Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead AND Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Because it's my birthday month and Spirit Bound was my birthday present to myself, I get to choose two favorites this month. :) If I have time, I may gush about Spirit Bound this weekend. Man, I love this series. 

May Challenge Progress:
24 Library books (103 total)
1 Graphic novel (11 total)
5 Middle grade novels (12 total)
Also, check out how I'm doing in the Once Upon a Time Challenge

May # of Pages: 3,509 (16,482 total)

June Aspirations:
Focus on adult fiction. I'm still looking for recommendations! And really, I just want to read read read. Hopefully all of that reading will inspire more blogging too. :)

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