In the meantime, I'm trying to let my subconscious swirl around and see what it wants to do next--finish off one of the partials I have (and if so, which one?), or start something new from whole cloth. It's kind of a delicious feeling, to be honest.
I know I'm going to be busy soon enough (we're moving at the end of May), but it just feels very weird not to be stressing about finishing this draft!
Anyway, here are some books I've read so far this year that I liked in some way or another.
A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, by Lisa Papademetriou. A really great middle grade read-aloud. It’s about two supposedly unconnected girls who each go away for the summer to visit family members, and each find a blank book called The Exquisite Corpse. They write in it, and the book writes back. (Well, really, they’re writing back to each other, but they don’t realize that.) One girl is in Texas and one is in Pakistan. And there’s a funeral home. And there is justice for past wrongs, too. And they are all connected.
The Aviary, by Kathleen O’Dell. Middle grade. It reminded me of a book by Sarah Williams. Turn of the century-ish, about a girl named Clara who lives with her mother, the cook, and old Mrs. Glendoveer, who her mother is taking care of. Oh, and five birds who have lived far past their ordinary lifespan. When Mrs. Glendoveer dies, Clara secretly makes a friend, Daphne, and they discover the scandal that happened before. Mr. Glendoveer was a professional magician, only then his kids were kidnapped and drowned. One child, Elliott, the youngest, disappeared. The birds start to talk, and it’s up to the kids to find out what really happened, where to find Elliott, and how to bring the criminals to justice.
The Weight of Feathers, by Anne-Marie McLemore. Interesting Romeo and Juliet retelling. The Cobeau family are a traveling performing family. They wear feathered wings and do an act in the trees. The Paloma family is a traveling performing family. They have a mermaid act. The two families haaaaaate each other, each blaming the other for destroying some family members and their performing location in this one place they always end up at every year. The night the local factory blows, letting loose hazardous chemical rain that can kill people, Luc “Cluck” Corbeau saves the life of Lace Paloma. They don’t know who each other are. But the mark of his feather (yes, they grow feathers under their hair) ends up on her arm. Burned and unable to be in the mermaid act, so goes to the Corbeaus under cover, hoping to even up the score so that the curse of the feather mark can be lifted. But of course, they fall for each other—the rejected ones in each of their clans. (Luc’s mother has never loved him, and his brother regular beats him up.) As they learn the truth about what really happened at the factory long ago, and more importantly, what really happened between the two families, they find the strength to become who they really are.
The Hired Girl, by Laura Amy Schlitz. About a girl in 1911 (Joan Skraggs, only she prefers to be called Janet Lovelace) who runs away from an abusive farm family at age 14 and becomes a hired girl for a Jewish family in Baltimore. She pretends to be 18 but is of course very young, so she makes a lot of embarrassing mistakes, like falling for the charming 21 (!) YO son of the family, and also plenty of religious clashes (she didn’t know much about Jews and she was trying to become confirmed Catholic). Won the youth category of I think the National Book Award. Very well written. Some outcry because of a couple lines showing her ignorance about Native Americans (but that was the POINT—that she was young and naïve).
The Seventh Most Important Thing, by Shelley Pearsall. This was a good one. Maybe fans of Gary Schmidt might like it. I didn’t realize it was based on a true person’s life until I read the afterword, either (which is a good thing—sometimes when you try to novelize something real, it doesn’t feel organic. I read another book recently that didn't quite work for that reason). It’s about a kid named Arthur who is mourning the death of his dad, and in his grief, throws a brick at the Junk Man and breaks his arm. He gets sentenced to helping the Junk Man with his work--which is, indeed, going through garbage cans looking for certain things. At first it's pretty mortifying, but then Arthur starts to understand what exactly the old guy is doing. I loved reading about the transformative power of art and how learning to recognize it changed this kid and his attitude towards other people.
Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America, by Tanner Colby. Adult nonfiction about racism, why it is still around, and what keeps it going. This was a good one. I don’t know that it offers solutions, but it does a great job of pointing out a lot of less-discussed issues in integration. He covers four areas that seem unrelated, but which really underscore the segregation that still exists in our society: school (why is there still a black table and a white table at some school cafeterias?), housing (creepy history of blockbusting and HOAs), worship (once you force out a group of people, they make their own culture, and don't want to give that up later when people come, wanting to integrate), and work (education is great, but personal mentors and connections in the field are what get people jobs. If you have no one in your group in your industry *cough* publishing *cough* it's hard to break in, no matter what skills you have). It's partly the story of what happens long term when you shut out a certain segment of the population, but it's also about the complicated dance between wanting to have the same opportunities as anyone else, but not letting go and losing your culture.
Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos. MG; I think this won a recent Newbery. Funny and…strange. The main character shares an exact name with the author. I think it’s part fiction and part true. Set in the 60s with a pro-Bernie Sanders mother and a pro-Donald Trump dad (not literally, of course--but if they lived today, they would each be posting for their respective candidates with loud voices on Facebook), Jack is caught in the middle. He gets grounded for the summer and ends up typing obituaries for the crazy old lady down the street. Meanwhile, the town's elderly are dying at a suspiciously alarming rate. Weird book. Great voice.
Into the Dim, by Janet B. Taylor. Aaah. This was a fun one. As some have said, it’s a bit reminiscent of Ruby Red (the time travel, the jewels, the conspiracy). But still fun. Hope Walton (author is from Arkansas--yay!) goes to Scotland to visit aunt after mother dies. But Hope doesn’t believe mom is dead, and she’s right—mom is trapped in the middle ages. Mystery and warring factions of time travelers and hot boys, etc. This would be pure escapism when that is what you are looking for!
The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud. Third in the Lockwood & Co series. Not quite as creepy as the last one (which was SCARY), but still good. Lucy can hear ghosts and wants to listen to them, which is rather dangerous when her team is supposed to be eradicating them before they touch and kill people. Her team is trying to find the center of a massive outbreak. Also, they get a new assistant in this book, Holly Munro. She and Lucy do NOT get along. Lucy is a bit jealous of Lockwood’s attention to Holly… Lockwood is a bit of a privileged dude, even if he’s had hard stuff happen to him. I really like the ghost in the jar. He’s got quite a personality! There's a lot of character growth in here, and some developments that make me want the next book NOW.
Symphony for the City of the Dead, by MT Anderson. I grew up on classical music, especially all things Slavic, and in high school, our band did one of his pieces in a concert contest. I also wrote a paper for Russian class (in Russian; I have no idea what the words say anymore) on his 10th symphony. So I came in knowing something about him already, but this was a lot more. (Plus, in English, so I could understand!) Really excellent book about Dmitri Shostakovich's heady young days in the revolution, the scary, scary times of Stalin’s purges (what a person has to complain of when it comes to classical music is beyond me—how can violins be “anti-people,” or how can formalism be punishable by death??). The siege of Leningrad, Shostakovich writing his 7th symphony, the horrors of the siege and the turning point of hope when finally the staggering musicians still alive played his symphony in their city. I cried in that chapter.
A Tangle of Gold, by Jaclyn Moriarty. Ooh. I love it when the last book still manages to have twists and surprises! This was a great ending to the Colors of Madeleine series. This is such a strange and enjoyable series. The writing feels a bit stream of consciousness, but then you wake up and realize that all of it is real. There are spoilers I can't talk about! But it's about of course resolving the plot problems of Worldians and Cellians, and also a bit about people meaning well and messing up (or meaning ill and changing). Very, very enjoyable book!
Meanwhile, the 2nd grader is busy celebrating Read Across America week. In case you're wondering, yes, he DID dress up as a book character today. Jack, from the Magic Treehouse books. Which means he's in jeans and a green shirt and carrying a backpack. Never mind that he looks like that every other day, too. :)
My senior has something like six AP classes this year and in one of them, they lined everyone up and had them take the privilege test. Step forward for every privilege and step back for every one you don't have. He's white and male, so he's got that, but in most of the economic ones, he ended up stepping back. (Note: race and class are horribly entertwined. However, class issues exist quite outside of the race frame as well.) He also got to step back for all of the times when he had to change his accent to fit in, or when he was not a native speaker of the dominant language, etc. The one thing that was really unusual in his class--even the teacher was surprised--was that every single kid stepped forward on the "do you live with both parents" question.
My 8th grader made it through track tryouts and is now doing "throwing things" in field events (I disagree that entry-level sports should have tryouts, but well, I am not in charge, either), and my 10th grader is enjoying running the distance end of track. So even though there is no orchestra here (sniff), the kids at least have something to be involved in. It's been one of the more difficult moves for our family (definitely THE most difficult for some members), but I do think it's good to point out what's working.
The other one was during one of the regular torrential rainstorms we have. The size of trees in relation to the houses is ginormous. At night when people's lights are on, it makes you think of maybe elves living in some Middle Earth forest--they seem so small and twinkly amid all that greenery.
One other nice thing about all the trees is that they blank out the city lights to a great extent. So if you find an unwooded spot, you can enjoy a pretty clear view of the stars, too. (That would be my next photography attempt, I suppose--a shot of stars through the trees.)
So, here is a fun (true) Cinderella story. I've been doing Czech genealogy with this distant relative, who recently ran across Berta Czuber (b. 1879). (Not literally, I mean in the records.) He's pretty sure she belongs to my branch, and I think I know which person she connects to. There are only so many people with that name who are master tailors at that time period in that tiny village.
So, imagine a family of shepherds. They move every year because they're always following the sheep. Eventually one son decides to settle down, marries a village girl and has kids. The next generation (and every generation thereafter), they are tailors. Well, one guy takes his tailoring and moves to the big city of Prague. And all fortunes change. His son gets educated. Actually, he gets so much education that he becomes a bona fide professor at the university. Rags to riches, right? (*cough* -- obviously, riches of the mind, not riches of the bank *cough*). But the story isn't over yet.
Mr. Smart Math Professor (Emanuel Czuber, if you want to find him in Wikipedia) has a daughter, Berta. She goes off to a ball in Prague--and meets a guy named Ferdinand. Archduke Ferdinand Carl of Austria, to be precise. The little brother of the guy who got shot in Sarajevo, thus starting the War to End All Wars. Ferdinand and Berta fall in luuuuurve, and parents flip out. No way, says professor dad. The emperor is not gonna like this, and he's going to take it out on my job. NO WAY! yells Uncle Emperor Franz Josef. But Ferdinand and Berta have a love that cannot be stopped. So they get married in Switzerland anyway, and keep it secret for two years. Then Uncle Franz Josef finds out. Blam! Blam! Blam! That's the sound of Uncle FJ blasting Ferdinand off the family tree tapestry on the wall. (He can't order them to get divorced because they are all Catholic, and that would not exactly go over well when you're the emperor. Plus--they obviously wouldn't do that, anyway. Because love.) Ferdinand has to change his name. Now he's no longer "von Oesterreich" but merely "Burg." And he's not allowed to set foot in the Austrian empire. They did let him come back for a funeral, though... Unfortunately for Berta, he died in 1915--and she kept on living and living, until 1979, when she was 99 and a half. No children, so the line ends there.
Now I'm thinking that I might need to study WWI all over again. Suddenly it seems very close to home!
On the positive side, I'm proud of the hard work my kids HAVE done throughout it all. And glad for all the teachers who have worked with my kids. Herr Zündt, my son's math teacher and principal at his German school, just retired this year. He reached out to this kid who didn't even understand the language, and saw that he was good at math, and gave him a voice through numbers. Coach Allan, who gave my older kids a lifelong guide for personal excellence and the importance of teamwork. Mr. Hansen, who took in kids who joined orchestra late--really late, like YEARS late--and helped them catch up and excel. I'm hoping my kids can somehow write this moving experience into their college entrance essays. Because it takes just as much effort to move frequently, catch up with the weird educational theories du jour in each new place, make new friends, change sports/music, have dreams interrupted, have to build respect from teachers all over again, etc. as it does to be captain of your cheer squad, or be student body president, or whatever the Very Important Extracurricular Activities that applications want in order to Prove You Are Special!!
So when you see new people show up once everyone else is already well established, please reach out. Please remember that while they might be new and time might be short, they probably have something to offer, too. Even if they're just "the rental people." Or the migrant workers. Or the I-don't-know-what-the-parents-were-think
*Nearly 70% of current US university faculty are now contingent. This doesn't mean the absence of cushy tenure positions where a horrible professor can do no wrong. This means severely, dangerously underpaid positions that come with an end date stamped on them the first day you show up. It's bad for the professors, it's bad for the students, and it's bad for academic freedom.
My very polite, very respectful 10YO daughter got talked to sternly today while in the pick-up line after school today.
"Is that your car?" the older teacher asked.
Daughter raised her eyebrows, confused. Maybe the teacher didn't hear her? "Yeah."
"Yes, ma'am," the teacher reprimanded.
*both people in conversation are blown away by the utter rudeness of the other person*
I think that one of the big culture shocks going from the north/west to the south is how people show niceness/meanness. I'm from a very egalitarian culture, where you are nice to people and show respect by putting them on your same level. In my "home culture," even if you have a system that looks hierarchical--the LDS church has a worldwide, centralized leadership, for example, and that's certainly part of my home culture--the idea is not one person at the top dictating everyone's choices. It's someone putting their trust in another person as they delegate responsibility: "Here, this is your job, do it the best you know how, I trust you to use your resources and to take care of it, and then we can talk over the results as colleagues." Or, "Let's do this together. I know your brain is different from mine, but we'll work together and complement our differences and something good will come out of it." Any leadership structure is for the sake of efficiency, cohesion, and ease of transmitting information. To me it's a bit rude for one person to decide whose ideas are worthy and whose aren't based on status--and I expect people to speak up when they have something to say, and if they don't, that they don't. Things that point out explicit power structures can seem rude--if a northern kid said "Yes, sir!" to his dad, his dad might (as my dad would tell you) feel like the kid was back-talking. (This really bothered my NJ-born dad when we moved south, BTW. He had to tell himself every time that they were being polite.)
The south, OTOH, is an authoritative culture, which shows respect by putting everyone on a hierarchy, and you are required to give proper obeisance (in words--sir, ma'am, Miz Lizzy--and in exact, unchallenging obedience) to those higher up on the ladder than you are. In Southern, someone who doesn't do this is being very rude and mean. But to a westerner/northerner, the hierarchy thing feels like a smackdown and a power grab, and therefore mean. And sirring and ma'aming your parents? No way! that would be like waking up and finding that your parents don't love you anymore and are turning you into a child soldier! But to a Southerner going north, they feel that the lack of honorifics is a sign of rudeness. Lack of "proper" respect for those higher up the authority chain (by contradicting their ideas or approaching as an equal) is also rude. That close, almost parent-child setup is gone, and it feels very cold and disconnected. Lonely and unfeeling, like people don't care about others, just their own ideas.
After living in the north and west for so long, this setup feels very much in my face, and I have to consciously remind myself that it's not "wrong," and it's certainly not meant to be mean--it's just a different way that people in a different place have used to work for them. So yeah (ahem, not yes, ma'am!), I think we'll be having quite a lot of discussions on this at home...
1. I'm pretty sure there has been more paperwork involved to move to Alabama than there was moving to either Germany or Chile.
2. I miss the Canadian flag (they flew it everywhere in ND), but the Alabama flag is strikingly NOT like a lot of other state flags (ahem, it's essentially a reverse-color image of the Confederate flag, and looks really odd plastered all over).
3. Speaking of flags, the neighbor down the street does not have a US flag, but has a gigantic confederate flag on a pole out front.
4. The schools all lead out with What Your Child Will Probably Do Wrong and What the Punishment Will Be. It's a little discouraging. The teachers, OTOH, are nice in person.
5. It is soooooooooooooooooooo hot!
6. There are a zillion Koreans in town, due to some Korean car plants here, I think. My kids have all come home from school saying they need to learn Korean so they can undersatnd their peers.
7. It is WAY more diverse here than in ND. My one blond son's teacher couldn't remember his name and called him "the blond kid" the other day. Because he was the only one. Lol. That is NOT a distinguishing characteristic in Norwegian North Dakota! It's kind of fun to have a larger ethnic mix--I think it's a lot easier on individuals. You don't have to feel like you represent your ENTIRE race or ethnicity by every move you make. You can just be "regular." (That said, my son's AP classes are unusually UN-diverse. Except for stats, in which he's one of the few non-Koreans.)
8. Thanks to the Koreans, there is a massive Asian grocery store in town that has some fruits I have never heard of (and I am rather wide in my culinary range). Jackfruit, anyone? (It has spines and is as large as a baby. And you have to grease it before cutting because latex??)
9. Every famous African-American you've ever heard of is from Alabama. You probably know this. But not having any ties to the state before, I never put it all together. Also, the courthouse in To Kill a Mockingbird? Real place, in this state. Some kids in my son's class have been there. (Oh yeah, and there's Helen Keller, too.)
10. Football. Oh, my. We've lived in the SEC before, but I'd sort of blanked that part out. I'm already looking for alternate routes out of my house if necessary (the main connector from our subdivision also connects to a primary highway people use to come into town for games.)
11. A southern accent after a ND/MN accent is almost like another language.
12. The trees. THEY ARE WONDERFUL! I knew I missed trees, but I didn't realize just how starved I was. HUGE pines and oaks and sweetgum. Beautiful. Alabama is a very beautiful place!
13. Our house is wonderful. We moved in sight unseen, and are very relieved that that it worked out. It's larger than our ND house (and doesn't leak!), but it doesn't have a garage, so we have to figure out what to do with things like the lawnmower and garden shovels and bikes, etc. However, it is NINETY YEARS NEWER than our last house, and has things like modern outlets, and water pressure, and level floors. It's kind of wonderful.
I'm sure I'll have more things to say about Alabama, but right now I need to make the daily taxi run, plus unpack more stuff.
So because we just had that large book-gift-giving holiday, I've read a few things this year already. Yay! I'm a paper book girl, definitely, but there are a few things that are only available in e-book format, so I am now also the owner of a Kindle (Paperwhite--which is easy on the eyes, but sort of awkwardly designed in other ways. I can borrow kindle books from the library, but I have to have a separate computer to check them out with, for example--I can't just check them out directly on my device. Which is a large flaw, IMO. But whatever, once they're on there, it's fine.) Anyway, it turns out that Overdrive gives you access to a larger pool of books, outside just your particular library. Which is nice, because every library has their own purchasing biases, and this way you can expand out a bit.
ANYWAY. Here's what I've read so far this year, between Christmas books and Overdrive. Not every book is for every person, and that's okay. But it's always nice to hear of new and interesting books, and who knows, maybe this will help the right person find the right book. Oh, and all of these are YA fiction.
Stravaganza: City of Swords, by Mary Hoffman. I like this series. It's got time travel and an alternate world Italy. Modern teens travel to Talia (Italy at the time of the di Medicis, only in this alternate version, they're di Chimici, instead) by way of talismans. These travelers are called Stravagantes. There is intrigue and mystery and romance and history. Each book stars a different character, although they all interact with the main characters of other books. The first is my favorite, though--I like Lucien and Ariana and have a hard time changing loyalties! Anyway, this is the last of the series. It's been enjoyable.
Fox and Phoenix, by Beth Bernobich. I couldn't help feeling like there was a book prior to it that I missed, but all I could find was that it was the first youth book by this author. So... I don't know. I could follow it just fine, so that wasn't a problem, but a lot of things were referenced, and it would be nice to go back and read about them in more detail. Anyway, it's sort of steampunk, and sort of fantasy, only set in a place inspired by China. There's technology and magic both. I liked this (and my 9YO REALLY liked it)--the Chinese aspect was refreshing, and it had a lovely sense of place to it, especially in the mountains. Story: Kai and his friend Yun and their spirit animals travel out of the mountains to the Phoenix empire to get their princess back because her father is dying under mysterious and suspicious circumstances.
Starry Nights, by Daisy Whitney. I wouldn't say this smacks of realism, but sometimes you just need something light and entertaining, which this is. It's about a French guy named Julien whose mom is an art curator. He loves art, too--and he can see when the paintings in the museum come alive at night. Then a family donates their own painting to the musuem--a previously unknown Renoir--and the girl in it is very interesting indeed. At the same time, all the other paintings start to have things go wrong with them--things that other people, and not just Julien, are able to see, too. So they have to stop what's going on. It's fun.
The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides, by Ben Tripp. I think the author usually writes adult books. This has some of that flavor, I think--a tall tale for the young'uns. It's told in old fashioned (like Robert Louis Stevenson) language, a swashbuckling story of a boy named Kit Bristol whose highwayman master gets killed, leaving him to take over the job of rescuing a fairy princess. I couldn't help thinking while reading that this is the sort of story that begs to be told. It has adventure and magic and a plucky young hero and plenty of action--for the right reader, this will hit the spot.
Ondine, by Ebony McKenna. Okay, this book is candy. Sometimes you need something very silly and entertaining. (Really. Sometimes you do--if you are going through something major, you need something light to give your brain a bit of a breather.) It's about a girl, Ondine, who lives in a fictional European country called Brugel. It's modern day (they watch Eurovision, although they've never won it), but they do magic, too. There is a talking ferret (who used to be a man), and there is a plot against the duke. And much admiration of boys. (Actually, Ondine is a *little* young in that she's more influenced by a boy's appearance than what he's actually like. But--she has a bit of growth there, too.) It's a good book to give a reluctant reader because things happen without having to wade through a lof of irrelevant stuff.
No Life But This, Anna Sheehan. This is the sequel to A Long, Long Sleep that came out a couple years ago (although from different publishers--I got this via thebookdepository.com, which takes a looooooong time to ship, but OTOH, has free shipping all over the English speaking world.) The series is clearly sci fi (not dystopian), set in the future, and the first book is a futuristic, thriller setting of Sleeping Beauty. Rose's parents ran the UniCorps company that now runs the solar system--very wealthy and important, but they also had the nasty habit of putting their daughter in stasis whenever they didn't want to deal with her. The last time, they forgot about her, and died--and sixty years later, she wakes up. That was book 1. This book is about her friend Otto, who looks human (aside from being blue), but who has DNA from the native one-celled organisms from Jupiter's moon Europa. Otto can't talk like a normal person--but he can touch someone and communicate directly with their mind. Many of his "siblings" (created like him) did not survive, and now his body is breaking down, not to mention what all the thought sharing is doing to his mind. So to save his life, they take him to Europa and see if someone there can help him. One of the things that Sheehan does so well is to allow for real consequences. She doesn't try to save her characters from their own actions, or the actions of others. It gives the story a lot of weight, and makes the reader curiously attached to the characters. I reeeeeeeally hope there is a sequel to this one. It's set up for one. If you like books by Jackie Dolamore or RJ Anderson, and you like sci fi, give these a whirl. They have a fresh feel to them that is very welcome!
What have you read this year so far?