Thursday, May 26, 2011

The JUV FIC Corner presents “The Great Brain”

I loved reading when I was a kid just as much as I do now. You’re looking at (the webpage of) the Electronic Bookshelf/Accelerated Reader class champ from grades 4 to 6. I used to check out more books from the public library than I could carry! So needless to say, JUV FIC holds a special place in my heart, because it’s what led me to love books.

During my most recent library visit, I decided to take a stroll down the children’s aisles and pick up some of my childhood favorites. And because I’m perpetually in a blogging rut, I decided this blog needed something new. So here begins a special feature, in which I will post every now and then on some awesome JUV FIC, new or old, and we can discuss!

  • Did you read these books? 
  • What do you remember most about them? 
  • Do you think these books would stand the test of time if you read them again? 
  • What JUV FIC books do you want to read/re-read? (The glorious thing about reading JUV FIC as an adult is that you can read them pretty damn fast.)

The first on my list is The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald. The Great Brain is the first in an eight-book series (though I seem to recall they can each stand alone). Set in Utah in 1896, these books follow J.D. and his older brother Tom (aka, The Great Brain) and their day-to-day hijinks as Tom consistently tries to swindle his friends and neighbors and solve problems with elaborate plots thought up by, yes, his great brain.

One thing that struck me now that I didn’t notice then…these stories take place in a very unique setting. Most of the townspeople are Mormon, but there are a number of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews as well. Basically, it’s a very diverse town in terms of religion and lifestyle, and I never noticed as a kid how big of a role that plays in the stories.

I recalled these books containing some kind of moral objective for rambunctious kids who eventually “learn their lesson,” but they’re definitely not has obvious as I remember! In fact, I was a little surprised at how sly and scheming the Great Brain is…and he usually gets away with it. I didn’t expect this since we live in a society that initially criticized “The Simpsons” because Bart disobeys his parents. But in reality (like it or not, parents!), kids think this way. And I think The Great Brain books are really accessible for their target audience. They’re written from a kids’ perspective; they’re funny; and yes, they have some personal growth and lesson-learning involved. There’s value there for readers, and this one was still entertaining to me, 15 years later.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tina Fey, grade 4, room 207

We’ve all heard about Tina Fey’s Bossypants (unless you’ve been living in a cave). We’ve all probably even read it already (unless you waited too late to put it on hold at the library and are still 176 out of 342 on the list). So I am not going to tell you about this book, because you probably already know all about it. Instead, I’m going to post some of he things that made me LOL on the subway.

  • “A heart-shaped ass. Unfortunately, it’s a right-side-up heart; the point is at the bottom.”re: Tina’s stunning physical assets
  • “Don Fey is a grown-ass man! Black people find him stylish!”re: Don Effing Fey, bad-ass father of Tina, who else?
  • “Always on the cutting edge of beauty, I believe this haircut was executed by folding my face in half and cutting out a heart.”re: the best haircut Tina ever got
  • “On at least three occasions, I vomited on Christmas Eve from mixing chocolate, peel-and-eat shrimp, summer sausage, and cheese. No alcohol was involved.”re: remembrances from Tina’s fat phase
  • “By 19, I had found my look. Oversize T-shirts, bike shorts, and wrestling shoes. To prevent the silhouette from being too baggy, I would cinch it at the waist with my fanny pack. I was pretty sure I would wear this look forever. The shirts allowed me express myself with cool sayings like ‘There’s No Crying in Baseball’ and ‘Universit├Ąt Heidelberg,’ the bike shorts showed off my muscular legs, and the fanny pack held all my trolley tokens. I was nailing it on a daily basis. Find something like this for yourself as soon as possible.”sound style advice from Tina
  • “And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.”excerpts from The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter

Tina had me burst out laughing with the one-liners. Or the frequent juxtaposition of a serious statement and a ridiculous picture, like this. (see left)

Her ability to look/sound ridiculous by making fun of herself is unlike that of anyone else I can think of. I have a couple friends who were disappointed with this book because they had the expectation it was going to be some empowering yet humorous memoir on succeeding and paving new ground for women in comedy and entertainment, and they were let down. Maybe if you read between the lines, you can find the “go go girl power” in there, but mostly, it’s just Tina being funny. So go in expecting that. Funny.

With Snooki, Beyonce, and Glee references abundant, I don’t think this book is really going to stay relevant too long (I hope to God that Snooki is not still relevant in 10 years). But you’re probably going to laugh now, which is what matters. Tina Fey is awkwardly candid, which is hilariously awesome.

More fun Tina Fey linkage!
Every Liz Lemon Flashback Scene From ’30 Rock’
Meet the Hand Model Behind Tina Fey’s ‘Bossypants’ Cover [you know you’re curious]

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Some pretty awesome YA ladies to get to know

Man, guys. I have been on a reading frenzy. I’m reading faster than I can keep up with blogging. (It helps that I’ve been reading some short and/or quick reads lately.) I read the following three books, though, and realized they’d make a great compilation post because they all feature kick-ass young ladies (“kick-ass” in the sense that I’d want to hang out with them).

Flavia de Luce is back in A Red Herring Without Mustard, round 3 of the Alan Bradley mystery series. I’ve already given the run down of the first two Flavia de Luce mysteries, so I won’t reiterate here why she’s awesome. This installment involves a bludgeoned fortune teller, the mysterious death of a local swindler, and an infant who went missing years ago. Are these circumstances related in an act of revenge or is there a new mystery to solve?

I definitely enjoyed this one more than the second in the series, and it may even be my favorite. Flavia’s precocious manner of investigation with Gladys, her trusty bicycle, is never lacking of excitement. One of my favorite lines in this book involves a match of wits between Flavia and Inspector Hewitt, who is constantly trying to keep Flavia’s meddling out of his criminal investigations. She states:

“How I adored this man! Here we were, the two of us, engaged in a game of chess in which both of us knew that one of us was cheating. At the risk of repetition, how I adored this man!”

Outwitting authority and loving it; this is Flavia in a nutshell.

The narrator and namesake of The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman by Louise Plummer, Kate, sees herself as a tall, gangly teenager who’s blind as a bat, and that’s probably how you would see her at first glance, too. She’s 6 feet tall and wears coke-bottle glasses, but she’s smart and witty and has an extraordinary ear for linguistics. She also has a bit of a penchant for romance novels…a penchant for poking fun at them. Kate’s been in love with Richard, her brother’s best friend, since they were kids, so she decides to tell their story in the spirit of a Harlequin-esque romance novel.

Kate is pretty much a quirky girl’s heroine. She doesn’t have a ton of confidence, thanks particularly to her “friend” Ashley who is the glamorous, flirty, shallow type. But during one Christmas at home with Kate’s brother, his wife, and friends from college (including Richard!) Kate learns that her quirks can be assets, too. This was a fun book. Really enjoyed!

Last but not least, Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace—a standalone YA novel by the author of Betsy-Tacy. Emily is younger than Betsy and her “Crowd,” and there is some character overlap, though not a ton. However, everything feels familiar, and Emily provides a new perspective to life in Deep Valley, exhibiting a completely different personality than the characters we know from Betsy-Tacy. Emily’s lives with her elderly grandfather and is more independent than part of a “Crowd.” She’s not interested in boys or popularity or parties or the latest fashions. She feels awkward at times while trying to find her place in the world.

Truth be told, I liked Emily much more than Betsy. She’s more relatable to me, while I often found Betsy’s frivolousness to be annoying. Emily has just graduated from high school and longs to go to college with her friends but is instead staying in Deep Valley with her grandfather. With nothing new on her horizon, Emily has to figure out what to do and how to keep on living without friends to lean on. She’s in a rut, both literally and mentally. She’s in the awkward phase between childhood and adulthood when she kinda wants to grow up but sorta wants to remain a carefree kid. As Emily resolves to “muster her wits” and seek out new opportunities, she discovers that she doesn’t need college to keep learning. Definitely my favorite of Lovelace’s (so far; I still have two Deep Valley books left!).

Monday, May 16, 2011

I knew this library school thing was a good idea.

Though I have a sneaking suspicion that public librarian salaries bring the average down, because I haven’t seen any positions on my Library School’s job list that reach this average!
Source: (poplibrary)
Any of you book bloggers also Tumblrs?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Empathy for the hopeless ones

Thank you, Blogger, for crashing and LOSING this post, despite you claiming you’ve restored all posts. Lucky for you, I found a cache of it, so I didn’t have to rewrite.

Elegies for the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen has been on my reading queue for a long time. In landed there partly because of a glowing review by a former library coworker and partly because, to be honest, I dug the cover.

This book is a series of five elegies Mary Murphy is writing to to five people in her life she will never forget—a drunk uncle, a “walking joke” high school classmate, a poor and cynical college roommate, a middle-aged piano prodigy, and her impulsive mother.

I really thought this was an amazing concept for the content and format of a book. The language is winding; because it’s structured as Mary talking to these people (with direct use of the word ‘you’), it has a natural flow in which one paragraph will end in a place completely different from where it started. If you think the premise sounds like one that will overly sentimental and lame, you’d be completely wrong. It’s, in fact, kind of devastating. The characters introduced are ones that just made your heart hurt. It’s not that they’re pathetic, per se; they’re just constantly striving for something else, something better, but with a defeated mentality, and you just know they’re never going to get out of it. Our narrator Mary isn’t much better. We learn her story though her elegies to others, see how her interactions with the people around her shape her own life. We can only hope that as she observes the lives of others, she learns something—maybe becomes self-aware, which seems the first step in helping yourself.

This book put me in a weird mood while I was reading it. The characters are drawn so well, with so much detail, that you feel yourself empathetic to their pain, sucked into this feeling of hopelessness. Luckily, it was a quick read so I didn’t feel that way too long; you can’t start one story without finishing it, so you find yourself getting through all five very quickly.

I don’t mean to turn you off by painting a picture of a very depressing book, because it’s certainly not all bad. Somehow, Hodgen managed to throw a twinge of optimism in there, so you’ll finish without feeling an overwhelmingly, depressing sense of hopelessness. Promise!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ahwooooooo Revisited: The hunt is on!

The Incorrigibles are back in The Hidden Gallery, the second title in Maryrose Wood’s middle grade mystery series, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. [For a quick catch-up on the first in the series, read here.]

After Lady Ashton’s disastrous Christmas ball that ended Book 1, during which a rogue squirrel caused a bit of an uproar with the Incorrigibles, Ashton Place is left in a state of disarray and requiring repair. Seems like as good a time as any for the Ashtons and the Incorrigibles, accompanied by their faithful, loving governess Penelope Lumley, to head to London. Armed with a unique London guidebook, “Lumawoo” has great expectations for the big city, a place to expand the education of her charges—Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia.

But London just means more space and more opportunities to get into trouble. An encounter with a menacing stranger on the train, ominous words from a Gypsy woman, a fortuitous encounter with a helpful young man, and the reunion of Penelope with her former teacher, Miss Mortimer, indicate that nothing is as normal as Penelope would hope. Our heroine makes her way through London, attempting to avoid trouble, educate the children, and investigate the mysterious past of the Incorrigibles. Perhaps Lumawoo is in over her head!

Trouble seems to find the Incorrigibles, which makes for an exciting, fast-paced story. Yet, Wood draws out the mystery of the Incorrigibles very, v e r y  s  l  o  w  l  y. Some readers may be disappointed to finish and realize that no questions have been answered and even more have been asked. What’s the significance of the British Museum’s hidden Gallery 17: Overuse of Symbolism in Minor Historical Portraits? Why does Miss Mortimer insist Penelope use a hair-dulling shampoo? And what’s the real story behind Penelope’s long-lost parents?

Miss Lumley, though, is a resourceful, energetic governess—and only a mere teen! The musings of the Incorrigibles are just too entertaining to not enjoy. How do you respond to a group of children who can’t fully shake their animal instincts and mistake British Bearskin hats for wild animals (as seen on the cover)? With a giggle and enthusiasm to read the next in the series. MORE PLEASE!

Monday, May 2, 2011

World Party: When ‘freedom’ doesn’t really mean ‘free’

For April, the World Reading Challenge country was Jamaica, and I wanted to pick something historical. The most recent novel of note having to do with Jamaica is probably Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women. However, it’s pretty long and, to be honest, pretty graphic—something I did not want to read.

Therefore, I went with Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, a story of Jamaican slavery and its abolition in 1834 as told by Miss July, a “resourceful and mischievous” slave on the Amity sugar plantation.

July is the daughter of a slave, Kitty, and a white overseer. She was separated from her mother as a young child and moved into the plantation house to work as the personal slave of Miss Caroline Mortimer, the sister of Amity’s owner and a widow recently come from England. July, dubbed ‘Marguerite’ by Miss Caroline because it sounds better, learns how to keep herself in the good graces of her mistress and become an indispensable hand. When a new English overseer arrives at Amity to handle the newly “freed” slaves, July’s world shifts as she meets a new kind of white man, unlike any she’s met before.

The format of this story is that of a novel within a novel. July is writing her story for publication for her son Thomas, a well-known publisher in latter half of the 1800s. Her style always reminds the reader that they are, in fact, reading HER story. She tells her story through her own perspective, based on memories and relationships. July’s voice was simple, straightforward, without reflection, and with a wry sense of humor. Though the perspective is that of July’s, Levy created a more complex novel with the inclusion of Richard Goodwin, that new English overseer. The son of a minister, Goodwin has a somewhat humanist approach to dealing with the former slaves, but his views become conflicted the longer he’s at Amity and the more he has to deal with.

I was surprised at the amount of cruelty and brutality described in this book, especially since all comments I had seen before reading noted the humor in its narrator’s voice. But I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise; it seems that all books I found on Jamaica that were exemplary of its history and culture focused on slavery. I am glad I read a book about an important aspect of Jamaican history, but I hope next month’s country of choice is a little less depressing. (It’s Pakistan, so my hopes aren’t too high on that one.)