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Battle of the Kids' Books

I return from the outer darkness of my life these past few months to pass on news which made me think immediately of my livejournal friends.

School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books is about to begin.  Last year's was a lot fun to read about.

here's a link:



trust me ... just read it

Meet Miranda ... a mostly average 12 year old girl living in New York in the late 70s. Her favorite book, bar none, is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle*. She carries a worn, much loved copy with her everywhere, compulsively re-reading it.

The big news in Miranda's life is that her mom's going to be a participant on the $20,000 Pyramid (with Dick Clark!). Otherwise, Miranda goes to school, falls in and out with her friends, and copes with pre-teen life. Miranda narrates When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, and she has a great voice. You keep reading because you like listening to her tell this spare, odd story.

And it is an odd little story she's writing, almost journal style, to a mysterious "you." Amid the relative normality of middle school life, Miranda receives anonymous, cryptic notes and a variety of things go missing. Then there's the laughing man, who lives under the mailbox on the corner and kicks at the traffic. Clearly, something a little off-beat is going on, and clues lay thick upon the ground.

When all the clues came together, I had a "light-bulb" moment - a flash where all the seemingly unrelated bits came together into one, terrific whole. This little gem of a book is going to stick with me for quite awhile. Strangely enough, it's Miranda's favorite book (and one of my own childhood favorites) that provides the solution.

tesser well, children.

The Conference and the Newbie

My wonderful family purchased a registration to the Sirens Conference for me for Christmas last year. They hid the printout beneath hiking socks, so I was surprised almost to the point of tears. I have been anticipating this trip, then, for the better part of 10 months.  It did not disappoint! I was a little nervous, both being by myself and never having been to a conference before. I had spent one day at Balticon when Lois Bujold was GOH, but it intimidated me to a such large extent that I never was tempted to go to another con until Sherwood Smith announced Sirens.

Sirens was a conference and a retreat about women warriors and the fantasy genre - about women who write fantasy, women who read fantasy, and women characters in the stories we love to read. The guests of honor were Tamora Pierce, Sherwood Smith, and Kristin Cashore.  Each of these strong women brought unique perspectives to the conversation, that nonetheless complemented one another. Tammy presented an amazing overview of her life in relation to reading and writing strong women. Kristin discussed the power of words and how to navigate the space between speaker and listener (author and reader) in the understanding of words. Her next book, from which she read a selection, is going to rock! Sherwood delivered a masterful academic talk about the importance of women in literary circles, and the power wielded by French salons and bluestockings. It was, at once, historically interesting and currently applicable.

Beyond the keynotes, the various breakout sessions gave everyone an opportunity to pursue more individual interests. I think my favorite session was a roundtable conversation about how women warriors retain their femininity.  The conversation ranged widely through favorite books and characters, personal experiences, and a discussion of third wave feminism. We all came to an agreement, that whatever choices individual women make in their lives that all their sisters around the world need to support and sustain those choices. I also wrote a Mary Sue just for fun, taught a self defense class, learned about dark ages armor, and discovered online fanfic.

Bedtime stories and signings provided a highlights too. Tammy read from the next Beka Cooper book, Mastiff, and talked about her ambitious and daunting writing schedule for the next five years. Sherwood introduced Banner of the Damned, which is the book that I most want to read next. And, as mentioned above, Kristin teased us with Fire and the book after that. Many great conversations happened while waiting for books and other merchandise to be signed.

Beyond the intellectual exercises, this conference was fun!  I met wonderful folks from all over the country who obsess (and - quite honestly - geek out) about the same things I do. I estimate con membership at about 150 ... perfect for making friends, and still having people to meet on day three. I loved the ice-breakers at the beginning of meals, and just running into people in odd corners and starting conversations. The Night at Court Ball was tons of fun ... even if they closed the bar early. I know I made new friends in the four days we were together, which is such a blessing! Cora and I spent three hours continuing the conference at the Denver airport as we waited for our flights to opposite ends of the country.  cool. Anne O. and I spent many hours talking about lot of things from books to travel to how our moms expect us to raise children. I wish we lived closer than Maryland and Oregon.

I will definitely attend another conference ... especially Sirens again. It was awesome and amazing, and I'm still processing all the experiences from the weekend. On another note, Vail - and Colorado - are gorgeous, even if they are awfully high in altitude for this chick who has lived at sea level for most of her life. 

If you get the chance, join the party next year. I hear the theme is going to be Faerie and the guest of honor will be Holly Black.

middle of the night writing

I was awakened at 1:30 this morning to a violent storm ... and my half-awake brain gifted me with this.  Still not polished (in the extreme), but was glad to be able remember it today. I used to get these sorts of spontaneous poems way more often ... glad to have my writerly brain waking up.

Night Thunder

here at the edge of the Piedmont
where red clay slowly becomes
soil becomes sand
running down to bay to ocean
the storm rages downhill
like greek kindly ones
with lightening whips
picking crabs and souls in the dark
thunder like the train
running past colonial landings
through the backyard
rain lashing
angry beats across playground and grass
washed clean
when morning comes

Recent and current reads

Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey:  just yummy. All I like about Jacqueline Carey without any "can I close my eyes for this scene" moments. Moirin is great character, but I think Snow Tiger stole the show.

Treason's Shore by Sherwood Smith:  is simply wonderful. I'm about 3/4 of the way through. I expected to inhale this one, but forgot Sherwood Smith's books (with a one notable exception*) resist inhalation. I have to read, and digest, and then go back a day or two later. Evred is worrisome to me in this book ... I so want a happy, sane ending for him.
*Stranger to Command ... finished it in a day and a half

Jhereg by Steven Brust. Lent to me by a friend with glowing reviews. I totally agree: this one is pure fantasy fun. No surprises: just action, adventure and snark galore. I'll be looking for the next couple of Vlad Taltos books.

My Father's Roses by Nancy Kohner: is a memoir and a labor of love. The author pieced together her Czech Jewish family's correspondence from 1917 through 1939. The chapters alternate between the correspondence of the older generation and her reminiscences and suppositions of her family. It's lovely and heartbreaking, because you know from the beginning that while some of the family escaped to England, for others the story ends in Treblinka.

A Favorite Poem

By Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

Pied Beauty
GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        5
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        10
                  Praise him.

What I love most is that this is a poem devoted to spotted things!  Plus, it's impossible to read aloud quickly ... the language slows you down and makes you enjoy the words and the images fully.

A Library in Need

The main library in Louisville, KY ended up underwater after recent extreme rainfall.  They are in need of all sorts of help, check out this article.  So many here love the published word, maybe we can generate a little support.

Books v. Movies

Recently, the girl-child and I watched Inkheart on demand. I had tried to read the book a couple of years previously. By which I mean, I really wanted to love this book because the basic premises were so totally awesome. For those not in the know, the Dad character (aka Silvertongue) can bring the characters from books literally to life, which talent has spawned all sorts of trouble.  However ironically, I couldn't finish the book because there were So Many words.  I did a speed-read to find out what happened, but didn't really commit to the second 2/3 of the book. Perhaps this is an effect of the book having been translated from German ... because Dragon Rider also suffered from over-wordiness.

So, the movie seemed to be very much a "good parts version." As in, it was almost all action and very little exposition ... indeed, almost the opposite problem of the book. As much as I enjoyed the movie (because I enjoy just about anything with Brendan Frazier), I kept wondering how much of the book I brought to the movie. I don't know if someone who hadn't read the book would have enjoyed the movie as much because it was such a rush all the way through. The screen version needed more words.

So, how much knowledge of the primary material do screenwriters and directors have to assume? Whoever worked on Inkheart seems to have assumed that the movie audience had read the book, or just edited for action thinking that would keep any audience engaged. I suspect that adapting books for screenplays is a version of dancing with the devil.  who leads?

I do know that I usually prefer the book, which probably goes back to the exposition v. action problem.  Matilda is one of the few movies that definitely surpassed the book. It did such good job of retaining the wonder while thoroughly updating the story.  Inkheart comes close, but I suspect the movie succeeded mostly because I was familiar with the book.

Enchantment Emporium

Just finished reading this fun, urban romp by Tanya Huff ... yummm.  It's got everything: kick-butt heroine, dreamy good guys, dapper dragons, magical aunties who make pie, and cousins galore. Mix in great characters, snarky dialogue, and a non-stop plot: just what I want for summer reading.  Highly recommended, y'all.

a review

by me, recently posted at hclibrary.org

I don’t usually read memoirs, especially ones about recovery. I don’t watch docudramas about medical or emotional trauma either. I tend to become horrified and depressed, instead of edified and entertained. However, Cooking & Screaming: Finding My Own Recipe for Recovery by Adrienne Kane found its way onto my reading stack. This fascinating and honest book might even have converted me into reading other memoirs (but not watching them).

Just before graduating from UC Berkeley at age 21, author Adrienne Kane suffered a major stroke. In this memoir, Kane recounts the frustrations of physical therapy and her gradual reintroduction to independence. As she takes the reader through her road to recovery, she mixes family anecdotes, California atmosphere, and medical prognoses into an upbeat concoction, all about a strong-willed woman facing life’s challenges.

Each chapter begins with a recipe, which relates somehow to the chapter’s theme. The first chapter opens with a pasta and zucchini dish (which I have copied to try myself) from Kane’s college days. Throughout the book, recipes vary in complexity from basic spaghetti sauce to a duck dinner made in memory of Julia Child. It was fascinating to see how each recipe reflected an important chapter in the author’s recovery.

Kane discovers her passion for food and feeding people as she copes with her disabilities. Cooking and sharing her thoughts about food come to define her vocation, almost by accident. This was a delightful read…the author’s voice is highly personal, the topic astounding on many levels, and the meals mouthwatering-ly inspiring.