Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rainy Day Musings

Maybe a rainy day can inspire great ideas!
On this dark and gloomy morning I thought I should sit down and work on a blog, but then I thought "I don't really feel like it." Which in turn got me thinking about the craft of writing. If you are serious about being fit, you have to work out regularly. If you are serious about getting a job, you have to look for one and fill out applications. If you want to get a college degree, you have to go out there and work for it. They don't just hand you one! So what would make me think that writing is any different? If you are serious about writing, which I am, then you have to simply sit down and write. Sometimes, even when you don't feel like it.

What I've noticed, is that even when I'm not feeling inspired, simply sitting down and starting is often all I need. It's not that I'm writing Shakespeare every day, but I am doing the important task of making it a habit. It's also therapeutic for me. I have a busy mind. I am a list-maker, and there is always a lot going on up there. Very often I am writing in my head even as I'm going about my day to day tasks. Sitting down and getting all those thoughts out onto paper, or the computer, as it may be, is like doing a big cognitive download, freeing up my brain for other activities. It slows down the spinning, whirling thoughts and allows me to focus.

So, why don't I feel like writing today, in particular? Maybe it's the endless cool and rainy days that are making up our alleged "summer." Maybe it's the pressure I feel to accomplish certain tasks before I head back to work in exactly two weeks. Whatever the reason, I was certainly not feeling the muse this morning. But look! I sat down at the computer and here I have already written three paragraphs that make sense, and have a point!

One of the most important things to consider is, why am I writing? And who am I writing for? If you are writing because you have to, and writing for other people, chances are your inspiration will wane. Writing will then feel like a job instead of a creative outlet. But if you are writing because you enjoy it, and mostly just to please yourself, it will be a joy. Not always, but hopefully, more often than not. So I asked myself these questions this morning. Why am I writing? Who am I writing for? Perhaps my answers would be different another day, but today I am writing because I have thoughts and ideas that need to be expressed. This blog is for public consumption, but I figure I have perhaps five loyal readers, so essentially I am writing for myself. Because I want to. Because I need to. If others enjoy what I write, that's just icing on the cake. So, if you are one of those loyal readers, thank you! But even if you abandon me, I will keep at it!

Of course, there is a book to be reviewed, and today it is "A Crooked Kind of Perfect," by Linda Urban. This is not a new book; it came out in 2007. This is one of the middle grade books I pulled off the shelf at the end of the school year because it just looked interesting. Isn't that a great cover? And those socks actually figure into the story.

Zoe Elias is a great protagonist. She deals with the unusual aspects of her life in a matter of fact and upbeat way. So, you wanted to play the piano and ended up with a wheezy old organ? Master that organ and enter a competition! Perhaps your Dad is a severe agoraphobe incapable of holding a job or driving you places you need to go? Accept him for who he is, embrace his good qualities, and hope for the best! And when your overtired, workaholic Mom forgets your birthday entirely? Even though you're mad, you don't bring it up or hold it against her, and you accept her apology later.

When you finally get invited to the popular girls birthday party and end up feeling completely out of place? Well, you realize those shallow girls aren't worth it and find better friends. Such as the class bully, who keeps following you home and eating your Dad's cookies. What do you do about that? Talk to him, get to know him, and realize he's really a pretty nice kid, who happens to have a rough life. (And maybe that crooked smile and floppy hair of his are kind of cute.)

You'll find yourself cheering for Zoe. And the musical exclamations of her eccentric organ teacher (Handel's Aunt Hannah!!!) will make you chuckle. This little book is a reminder that everyone has problems. Nobody's life is perfect, and everyone, no matter how flawed, has something positive to offer.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Reads for Big and Small People

Last night was a really strange one in our house. Emma is still in California, and the two younger girls slept over at a friend's house. So the only kids home were the two boys. It was so quiet it was almost unsettling. Tonight everyone but Emma will be home, plus Gabe will have a friend staying over, so it will be more like normal with a full house.

I only have a little more than two weeks before I start back to work, so I am holding on tightly to summer. Unfortunately, the summer weather seems to have deserted us. I went out for a run this morning and it was downright cold. I hate to even say it, but the air felt fall-like. I am hoping this is just a brief cold front, but August is fast approaching, and I've got a bad feeling about things! People everywhere else are still roasting, so today I am going to review not one, but two summer books. One is an early chapter book for 7-10 year olds, and the other is a young adult book.  

"The Year of the Book" is a very short, easy-reading book that I bought for my library because it was a special value book from Junior Library Guild (JLG's books are all great). I also really liked the cover, and this book qualifies for my effort to incorporate more multi-cultural books into the collection.

In this story, we meet Anna, an American-born Chinese fourth-grader, who has recently been jilted by her best friend. She is a little embarrassed of her Mom, who is a nursing student with imperfect English skills. To make matters worse, she also cleans an elderly shut-in's apartment to help make ends meet. Anna tries to keep this information from her friends, thinking they will judge her. Anna struggles with Chinese school on Saturday, because her understanding of the language isn't as good as the other kids'. It's at Chinese school where she meets Camille, with whom she has a lot in common, and who helps ease the sting of her friend's betrayal.

She is a quiet girl who likes to sew and often feels that she doesn't fit in. She takes comfort in reading, hence the title of the book. When the former best friend, Laura, discovers that hanging with the popular crowd is not all it's cracked up to be, Anna is cautious about letting her back in. But when Laura's family goes through some domestic difficulties, it is Anna's Mom who steps in to help out, and their friendship becomes stronger.

I took this book home for the summer because it was a new book that I hadn't read, and it hasn't been checked out much. I always feel that if I've personally read a book and can give a first-hand opinion, I am more able to encourage kids to read it. This book was such a pleasant surprise, and I wish I had brought home it's sequel, "The Year of the Baby," in which Anna gets a new baby brother. I will definitely be pushing this book with kids who are early chapter book readers.

Now for a delicious YA read:

I read "My Life Next Door" in spring of 2013, and loved it so much that I went out and bought it, so that I will be able to re-read it every year. To me, this debut novel by Huntley Fitzpatrick is the perfect summer read. Even though this could be categorized as a "summer romance," it is not at all frilly; there is more here than meets the eye. It addresses serious and relevant teen issues, like cheating in school, drugs, drunk driving, and dirty politics. Well, I don't know how relevant dirty politics is to most teens, but it is definitely a serious issue.

Samantha Reed is one of those girls who has it all, or at least appears to. She is beautiful and wealthy, but her mother has kept her grounded. She is not noticeably spoiled, and is expected to hold down two jobs in the summer. She also has a guilty secret; for years she has spied on her next door neighbors, the Garrett's, curious about their large, loud, messy family, so different from her own. One night she is surprised by one of the Garrett boys, Jase, who climbs her trellis and changes her life irrevocably. A passionate summer romance ensues, but Jase and Sam are both such basically good-natured and decent people that it quickly becomes clear that their relationship has staying power.

There are side stories that complicate their relationship. Sam's mother, an up and coming politician, does not approve of Jase or his family. The sleazy political handler who is managing her campaign manages to insinuate himself into their lives. Sam discovers some unpleasant facts about her best friend, Nan. Meanwhile, Nan's twin brother, Tim, who has been spiraling downward, makes a decision to get himself straight and becomes a steadier and truer friend than Nan ever was. Finally, there is an "event" that changes everything for all the characters involved. Of course I won't tell you what it is, but it's a doozy! This event causes Jase, who has up to that point been almost too good to be true, to show his human frailties. This just makes his character more appealing, though, because it shows that he is for real. I figure pretty much every teenage girl who ever reads this book will end up hoping for a Jase of their own, and if he happens to live next door, even better!

The thing that makes this book so great for me, is that Jase and Sam are just so likeable you can't help but root for them. Some of the minor characters, such as the afore-mentioned Tim, and Jase's younger siblings, are fresh and funny, and deserving of books of their own. Jase's brother, George, memorably gives Samantha the nickname "Sailor Supergirl," and tells Sam that she should move in with Jase because "he doesn't pee the bed." Incidentally, I've heard that Fitzpatrick is writing a follow-up that features Tim as the protagonist. I'll be looking out for it.

To me, one of the hallmarks of a good book is how long the characters stay in my head, and several weeks after finishing this, I was still thinking a lot about Samantha and Jase. When I re-read it late this spring (twice), it did the same thing for me. The writer in me has given me the habit of underlining all my favorite lines (if I own the book!), and I have to mention my favorite in this book. This is Sam talking about her childhood, and her image-obsessed single mom:

"The lullaby of my childhood was my mom running the vacuum cleaner, making perfectly symmetrical lines in our beige living room carpet . . . she'd turn on the machine as Tracy and I were eating breakfast, then slowly follow us to the door as we pulled on our coats and backpacks. Then she'd back up, eliminating our trail of footprints, and her own, until we were outside." This line really resonated with me, and made me think about the "music" of my own childhood, and what that might be. I've come up with the sound of the ever-present wind blowing though the trees in my hometown, and the creak of the woodstove doors as my Dad stoked the fire late at night. What is the music of your childhood? Comments welcomed!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Confessions of a Fan Girl

The Haiku Librarian being Fan Girly
I have a confession to make: I am not always the most objective of book reviewers. If I didn't like a book, I can usually point out why. If I merely "liked" a book, again, I can usually pinpoint the reasons. But when it's one of those books that's so well done, it literally transports you into another world, I find it nearly impossible to come up with words to describe the experience. When I love a book, when I adore it, I am reduced to a blathering idiot, with a toddler's vocabulary. I end up gushing inarticulately and sounding like (shudder!) a total Fan Girl. Which is what you are not supposed to sound like when you are reviewing a book. You are supposed to look at it dispassionately, examining the voice, the characters, the plot. You are supposed to give reasons, not emotion.

When you think about it, though, maybe that is the sign of an excellent book; when it comes together so seamlessly and viscerally that there are no words to describe it. You can only experience it. Because that's what I do when I love a book. I recommend it to every friend I have, and even strangers in bookstores, yet I have little to say about it. I give a basic plot outline and then say "You just have to read it yourself, I can't even do it justice. Read it, you won't be sorry! Read it! READ IT!!!" I imagine that at these moments I might even appear a little unbalanced.

The books that really do that to me all seem to be YA series, which makes me think that YA authors have a particular gift for hooking readers into their worlds. They include, of course; The Hunger Games trilogy and Gregor the Overlander books by Suzanne Collins, The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series' by Cassandra Clare, the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie, and The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. But the particular author that inspired me to make this confession is Veronica Roth. Of course I've read all three of the Divergent books, and right now I am reading "Four," which is the newly released set of short stories written from the character Four/Tobias' point of view. I love this particular device, because when I read a book I often think that I would love to know another character's mind. After reading the closing pages of "Mocking Jay", I wished Collins would do the books again from Peeta's perspective. I loved how Condie expanded the world view in each of her Matched books by including a second narrator in the second book, and adding a third narrator in the final book. In the Divergent books, Roth set this up perfectly by telling the third book partially from Tobias' point of view, which paved the way for the short stories. Perhaps that wasn't her original intent, but it works.

I'm not quite done reading "Four," so I can't review it yet. But it's giving me that Fan Girly feeling. I promise when I do review it, I will endeavor mightily to come up with some actual words to describe it instead of just squealing and grinning. The book I am actually going to review today is the best-selling and popular "Wonder," a middle grade novel by R.J. Palacio. I am reviewing my summer reads in order, and it's interesting that it has fallen on a day when I'm talking so much about perspective, because "Wonder" is told from the point of view of not one or two, but six different characters.

August Pullman was born with serious facial deformities. Despite many surgeries, his face is still far from normal. At the point the story begins, he is ten years old and has been home-schooled his entire life. He has, understandably, been coddled and protected, and is well loved and accepted in his family and his immediate neighborhood. His parents think it's time he ease his way from the nest, and enroll him at a small private school. Naturally, he is initially met there with fear and suspicion, but as people get to know Augie, he slowly gathers a group of loyal friends.

The bulk of the book is told from Augie's perspective. He can be stubborn and immature, but he is also frank and funny, with a self-deprecating sense of humor that quickly puts his classmates at ease. He has developed a pretty thick skin, but he is not above being hurt. We also hear from his sister, Via, who feels overlooked and unimportant, but who also understands that things have to be the way they are. She is not bitter, but as she enters the big high school, she enjoys the relative anonymity, where few people know anything about Augie. She no longer has to be "the deformed boy's" sister, she can finally just be Olivia. Augie's two closest friends, Jack and Summer, also chime in, as does Olivia's friend, Miranda, and her boyfriend, Justin.

The main point of the story to me is that Augie is just a ten year old boy, like any other ten year old boy. He loves Star Wars, he has a beloved dog, he has to do his homework and keep his room clean. He has feelings just like any other boy; he hurts and grieves like anyone else. But people fear things they don't understand, and they don't understand Augie. It's a poignant message to not judge people based on outward appearances, which we all do, despite our best intentions. This is such a real and heart-warming story, and it had me in tears on more than one occasion.

The title of the book is pulled from the Natalie Merchant song, "Wonder," which is quoted in here, along with several other songs. I knew and loved this song before I read the book, and it is so perfect in setting up the story. I "wonder" (pun intended!) if the book was inspired by the song, or if Palacio started writing the story and then realized how well the song fit with the book. I'm including a link so you can hear the song, if you don't know it. This is not the version that was played on the radio, but I like it.

Wonder by Natalie Merchant, YouTube

Monday, July 14, 2014

My First Newbery of the Summer

It was windy during my morning run, so I took off my earbuds when I was cooling down in order to listen to the wind in the trees. Having grown up in Delta Junction, wind in the trees is the background music of my entire childhood. I love it.

Running with earbuds is a very new thing for me, and I'm of two minds about it. The music actually makes running easier, because it distracts you from any discomfort you might be feeling. It's also an opportunity to listen to whatever music I want without kids telling me to change the station. However, it also keeps you from hearing anything going on around you. You can't hear the birds sing. Safety can be an issue, because you can't hear traffic, and you can't hear bikes, dogs or other runners coming up behind you. (Yes, I'm slow enough that I can be passed by other runners!) Just last week, a woman south of Anchorage was mauled by a bear while she was out running. Undoubtedly, part of the reason why is the earbuds she was wearing. Perhaps there was a warning sound she could have heard if she'd been listening. I'm sure I'll continue to wear them, but I have to remind myself to make my other senses more alert when I do.

As I've mentioned, one of my summer reading goals was to read three Newbery Medal winning books that I hadn't before. I brought three home from the library at random. "I, Juan de Pareja," by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino, was one of them. I can understand why it won the Newbery Medal. It's a beautiful and well-written piece of historical fiction, with luminescent and admirable characters, and an engaging story line. I can also see why it's not popular with today's young readers. Unfortunately, historical fiction seems to have really fallen out of favor with the readers of today. Even third graders are begging for Dystopian, and if it's not that, then they want fantasy or adventure. In historical fiction, often the action is much more subtle, and for the less accomplished reader, there is not as much to draw them in.

This story, though fictionalized, is based on the life of an actual man, Juan de Pareja, who was a slave in the household of Diego Velazquez, official painter of the Spanish court in the 17th century. Juan becomes Velazquez' assistant, and becomes an invaluable and cherished part of both his studio and his home. Written in first person, it follows Juan's life from early childhood, through a tumultuous change of ownership, after which he ends up with Velazquez. Then we continue with Juan through his many years of service to the painter, in which he becomes an accomplished artist in his own right, earns his freedom, and eventually finds love.

This book is beautifully written, and very obviously a labor of love for the author. I was the first person to check this out from our library in years. I will recommend this to my advanced readers at school, and have high hopes that I will get someone to read it. Part of the trouble with these older books is that kids think they have a "boring" cover. They are not even getting picked up and perused. I often think that if they reissued some of these older books with a snappier cover, they might draw in a new generation of readers. Much as I love many of the newer series, there are so many other wonderful titles out there that kids are missing out on.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

More About Us, and Some YA

It occurs to me that most of you who are reading this probably know who I am, but just in case some complete strangers start following this blog, I should tell you a bit more about me and my little tribe.

Here we are: that's my husband Jack, myself (Kristen), Emma (16), Gabe (13), Blythe (10), Clara (8), and Henry (5). For the curious, yes, they are all our natural born children. Yes, we know how and why babies arrive. Yes, we love having a big family. Yes, we are done now! In this photo we are standing behind the dam that has done a tremendous job this summer in keeping the Chena River from flooding our fair city.

Jack is a planner with a local economic development group while I, naturally, am an elementary school librarian. Emma is a serious classical ballet dancer, Gabe plays competitive soccer, and they both like running. The three littles all play soccer as well. Blythe is following in Emma's footsteps with ballet, and Clara loves gymnastics. Henry will start playing hockey this year. They are all pretty good students, and yes, they all do love to read. We have read to them since babyhood, we have always haunted the public library, and I would have been surprised if any of them didn't love to read, although it took a while for Gabe to become interested in anything but comic books. Outside of my own reading and writing obsessions, I like to run, bike, play volleyball, and do archery. I used to do scrapbooking, but once the third kid arrived I pretty much ran out of time for that. Jack runs and bikes as well, and plays hockey when he can. He's also really handy with carpentry and car repair, which are wonderful talents to have! We tend to be active in our church, but since we have just started attending a new one, we aren't too involved yet. Which may be just as well, because our lives are pretty busy anyway.

That's us in a nutshell. Obviously our lives are much more complicated than I can possibly tell you here. After all, there are five kids doing different things, and all the logistics involved occasionally require the precision and planning of running a small country. But life is mostly good, and to the casual observer, probably quite boring. So I won't numb you with endless details of our day to day life, but I will share interesting tidbits that happen.

Today I am reviewing a young adult novel by Sarah Dessen, called "Lock and Key." Sarah Dessen is rather the queen of the teen "relationship" novel. You could never classify her books as straight romance; there is always some more serious element involved, whether it might be domestic violence, date rape, or drug abuse. The first Sarah Dessen book I read was "Just Listen," and I loved it, but then "Dreamland" left me cold. I didn't even read the whole thing. Knowing her popularity in the YA world, and on recommendation from my daughter, I agreed to read "Lock and Key."

Dessen's characters are so engaging. They are human; they make mistakes, they hurt others and sometimes themselves, they are flawed and utterly human. Ruby Cooper has had a rough life, and her first interest is in protecting herself. It's not until her mom abandons her, and she lands in the care of Cora, her older sister, that she is finally able to let her guard down and care about someone besides herself. She realizes that even those with seemingly perfect lives have problems, as exemplified by Nate, who is quite literally the boy next door. He is gorgeous, smart and popular and seems to have the world at his feet, but like Ruby, he has secrets. As you might imagine, there is a bit of a romance with Nate, but it's certainly not the focus of the story.

Ruby eventually learns that the sister she thought had simply walked away had been trying to track her down for years, and she and Cora are able to repair the rift between them. When her missing Mom is located, Ruby is unsure whether she wants to reconnect with her. She is bitter since discovering how hard her Mom worked to keep her away from Cora. She evolves from survival mode to the point where she is th one reaching out to others in need. She gathers in a small and eclectic circle of true family and friends.

An interesting side to the story is Ruby's year-long English thesis assignment where she has to define one word. The word she draws is "family," which is difficult for her, given the truly dysfunctional nature of her own. Over the course of the school year, she asks people to define what family means to her, and she gathers pictures and images that represent family. By the end of the story she has arrived at a definition of her own that encompasses the family and friends she has come to hold dear.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Umbrella Summer

Yesterday was like Christmas in July for this librarian! A fellow soccer mom and Pearl Creek parent had weeded her family bookshelves, and offered me first pickings for the library. Got a bunch of Jake Drake books I didn't have, some Magic Treehouse, and more of the Rainbow Magic fairy books. I honestly can't stand those fairy books, but the little girls love them, and whatever gets them to read is fine with me. Later I can turn them on to some finer books! The biggest find, though, was three hardback Mouse Guard books in excellent condition. I have multiple copies of them in the library, but they are in terrible shape. Thank you so much, Jill!

Today's review is of "Umbrella Summer," by Lisa Graaf. Upon re-reading my old reviews on Goodreads, I have discovered that I frequently use the word "sweet" to describe books. I really need to expand my vocabulary, because it was once again the first word I thought of when I began writing this review. I'm going to use it just one more time, and then I promise I'll find some better descriptors.

"Umbrella Summer" is a sweet little book about the grief process, as seen through the eyes of ten year old Annie Richards. Annie distracts herself from the grief of losing her brother by focusing on preventing accidents and illness. It has developed into an obsession for her; she even steals a medical book from a neighbor so that she can pore over every possible symptom. She reasons that Jared had been healthy, and had still died in a freak accident, so she must be extremely cautious. She won't participate in any activity that might put her at the slightest risk, and her friends start to think she isn't much fun anymore. Meanwhile her Dad is forgetting things constantly, and her Mom locks the door to Jared's room, refusing to think about him or talk about him.

When a traumatized Annie runs away from the funeral of her best friend's hamster, it sets off a series of events that will, in the long run, be to her benefit. Her friend, Rebecca, is angry about her behavior and ditches her for a time. This prompts Annie to behave so badly at a car wash that people finally realize she needs a little help. While she and Rebecca aren't speaking to each other, she befriends an elderly neighbor who is grieving the loss of her husband. This kind woman finds a way to help Annie and Rebecca patch things up, while showing Annie that she has the power to close her "umbrella of sadness," and enjoy life again. Annie in turn challenges her to move forward as well. As Jared's birthday approaches, Annie wants to think of some way to commemorate the day. She and Jared's best friend devise a way to remember him that provides comfort to everyone, and Annie and her parents finally begin to heal together.

Although this book portrays a rather extreme reaction to grief, it feels very real. The characters are well drawn, and imperfect enough to be believable. This would be a wonderful book for kids who have suffered any kind of a loss. Grief can manifest itself in many different ways, and this book could help show kids that almost any reaction to grief is natural and normal, but that help is available if it becomes too difficult.

Well, it's raining again here in River City, so I'm hoping to finally get my room cleaned. It's so involved; our bedroom becomes the depository for anything in the house that doesn't seem to have a home. Does anyone else experience this? Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Kristen Actually Reads Another Grown-up Book!!!

That's right, ladies and gentlemen! I actually read a second book for grown-ups! When a children's librarian finds time to read, we are generally reading children's books. On the rare occasion I'm not reading picture books and juvenile fiction, I'm usually reading young adult, because I got hooked on it when I worked at West Valley High School. 

As I mentioned before, one of my goals this summer was to read some grown-up books, and also to read at least one biography. I can't decide whether I should allow one book to fulfill two goals, because I have now read TWO grown-up biographies. Should I count them as two grown-up books, one grown-up book and one biography, or should I cheat and count one book in two categories? It's a dilemma. What say you, fair readers?

"Invisible Girls," by Sarah Thebarge, caught my eye at the Fred Meyer West checkstand. Despite my frequent avowals to not buy any more books until I read the ones I have, I threw it on the belt with my groceries. I mean, it had a 25% off sticker on the cover; what could I do? It sat on my bedside table for several months before I found the time to read it. I read it once myself, and am currently reading it out loud to my husband, which is a habit we have when I read a book I know he'd like.

This is a touching and inspirational story, all the more remarkable for being true. Sarah Thebarge was raised in a strict, fundamental Christian home. She wore only baggy thrift store dresses and was never allowed to cut her hair. When she was four years old, her grandfather declared that she was "too pretty," and would end up being a loose woman if she was not raised with a particularly heavy hand. Despite these low expectations, she became the first woman in her family to go to college, then to graduate school. By age 27, she was a physician's assistant seeking a second degree in writing. She had a handsome boyfriend who shared her Christian faith, a great job, and a promising future. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer which, when it strikes younger woman, is particularly aggressive. Sarah's case was no exception. A double mastectomy was followed by a recurrence, and than radiation and chemo. With her family living far away, she was abandoned by her friends, and eventually even her boyfriend. She decided to move to the opposite coast and start over.

She ends up in Portland, Oregon, and not long after her arrival, has a chance encounter on the train with a family of Somalian refugees. She recognizes their poverty and barely concealed desperation and, on a whim, gets their address and decides to follow up with them. She finds that Hadhi is single-handedly raising five girls under the age of ten with virtually no resources. Her first visit to the apartment finds them living with no furniture, no extra clothing, no toilet paper or cleaning supplies, and the five girls sharing a meal of pop and moldy bread dipped in ketchup. She has to take action, and what follows is a story of grace, redemption, and healing. In the course of helping Hadhi navigate the intricacies of a new culture, Sarah realizes that she too grew up as a second class citizen within her own small, sub-culture. There had been no expectation from her family that she would do anything but marry, attend church, and produce children to do the same. She too had been invisible, just like Hadhi and her girls. In the course of helping them, she find solace from her own emotional and spiritual scars.

As a side note, all proceeds from the sale of this book go to a college fund for the girls, so if you want to read it, try to buy it new. There is also an address in the back of the book to send additional donations if you are so inclined.

Currently I am reading two books which will make it in to my blog later. To fulfill my non-fiction goal, I am reading "The Greatest Generation," by Tom Brokaw. This book has sat on my shelf for years, but because Jack and I recently watched Band of Brothers, World War II has been much on my mind. I am also reading "The Fourth Stall," a piece of juvenile fiction by Chris Rylander. I plan to race through that one so I can start another book I bought just yesterday. Yes, you read that right. I bought another book. If you are one of those friends who knows how much I love the Divergent Series, you will understand, because the book is "Four," a series of short stories told from Tobias' point of view. I'll be reviewing that one soon, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Haiku Part (and another review)

It occurs to me that I have neglected the haiku part of this blog, an oversight which I will remedy today. This blog came about thanks to my daughter, Emma, and my old boss at the West Valley High School library, the lovely Janet Madsen. It was the middle of winter, and Emma was going through a stage of spouting ironic and depressing haikus about the weather. She and I both shared them on Facebook because they were truly funny, and I was inspired to write more of my own. Janet read them and thought someday I should start a blog called "The Haiku Librarian." Fast forward a couple years, and voila, here we are.

When I first told Emma about my blog she was annoyed because "haikus are my thing." Then I told her I had been inspired by her awesomeness, and she was appeased. We have additionally been having fun with a set of magnetic haiku words that appeared on the fridge. For those haikus, you are limited by a strange assortment of words, including very few conjunctions or pronouns. I wish to share with you today two haikus. One is Emma's from the fridge magnets, and the other is an original of mine that I have mulled over for a couple of years.

Emma's Fridge Haiku:

In it is mushroom and fish
Me be howl and cry

Kristen's Haiku about Blogs:

To blog is human
To blog well a task divine
Thus I endeavor

Emma is much on my mind these past few days, since we stuck her on a plane last Saturday night, and she will spend the next month at Anaheim Ballet doing a dance intensive. My little girl is nearly grown up, and now she is totally jazzed that she will finally get to go to Disneyland. She was never into the Disney princesses much growing up. Sure, she had her obligatory princess party when she turned five, but really, they were not a big part of her young life. Now that she is sixteen, she has had a princess re-awakening, to the point that she has asked me how much money the people who play Disney princesses at the resorts make (not much, I think, and not a career path, I suspect). Her first couple days there have been great, and she has been able to attend a genuine California pool party. They were probably shocked that an Alaskan girl could have such a nice tan.

And now, on to my review. Today I am writing about "The Path of Names" by Ari Goelman, a piece of juvenile fiction. This summer I have been actively trying to read more juvenile fiction so I can give honest opinions to students about the books. I brought home two full boxes of books from my library that I am plowing through. This is the first book from my boxes that I completed this summer. It was, to coin a phrase, a real page-turner. This modern-day mystery featured a summer camp with an abandoned maze, mean girls, ghosts, a golem, math and numerology, and kaballa. This book winningly combines the topics of modern Jewish culture and old world Jewish mysticism.

Dahlia Sherman does not want to go to summer camp, where she will have to live in the shadow of her popular camp counselor older brother. She likes magic, math and reading, and figures she will be bored with crafts and nature hikes. Within minutes of arriving, however, she sees a couple of girl ghosts, and soon begins to have frightening dreams that seem all too real. The characters are well developed and realistic. The captivating story line leaps back and forth between the 1930s and the present. Young readers will need to be aware when following the time shifts, or they may end up confused.

This book is probably best for age ten and up, both because of it's length, and it's subject matter. There are several murders that have taken place in the past (why do you think there are ghosts?), and attempted murders in the present. They are handled tastefully, but still. Dahlia's older brother Tom and a friend buy and drink beer illegally. I'd let my ten year old read it, but perhaps not the eight year old.

Up next on today's schedule - finish organizing my disaster of a bedroom!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

City of Heavenly Fire

The rain continues here, yet last night we were all geared up to go watch soccer. Rain doesn't stop soccer games, but apparently "lightning" does. We pulled up to the fields to find everyone leaving. Someone had allegedly seen lightning and all the games were cancelled. It was such a low drizzly rain - not the kind of rain that involves lightning, and we hadn't seen any all day. Here's what I think happened: some parent did not want to sit in the rain for a couple hours so they called in a lightning report. It's a shame. Our season is so short anyway, and the kids were all there, in uniform, and ready to play. 

This morning, the rain has finally let up, though it's still a bit drizzly. I should be able to accomplish a lot inside, yet somehow that doesn't happen. So I'll blog instead.

Today I'm reviewing a young adult book; Cassandra Clare's "City of Heavenly Fire," which is the sixth and final installment in her Mortal Instruments series. It came out in the end of May. If you haven't read the first five, this won't mean as much to you, but my enthusiasm may inspire you to start with the first one, which is called "City of Bones." While this series is not what you would call fine literature, it is fun, suspenseful, and engaging. Perfect summer reading.

If you've been reading this series, finally, all your questions are answered. Will Clary and Jace save the world from her psycho brother? Will Magnus and Alec get back together? Will Simon and Isabelle define the relationship? Will poor Luke and Jocelyn ever actually get hitched? I'm not telling all here, because that will spoil the story, but I am going to give one very necessary *SPOILER ALERT*. I must assure anyone who might be concerned, that Cassie Clare does not pull some kind of sick Veronica Roth trick here. After six books, people are so invested in the characters, it would be downright cruel to kill off the protagonists. It's a war, and people die, but the most important characters DO NOT. So you can read this book and this series free from that kind of fear.

I enjoyed seeing the final arc of character development in this sixth offering. Jace and Clary have both grown up considerably. While Jace's sarcastic wit remains intact, he seems much more at peace than he ever has been, even given their precarious situation. Their maturations seem natural, and have progressed both gradually and logically. At some points in the series, I just wanted to smack Clary and tell her to grow up, but by this book she really has. Obviously she loves Jace fiercely, but she has also realized there are things that are more important than her relationship. She is willing to sacrifice, if necessary, for the good of her friends, and indeed, the entire world. 

I loved the final developments with Sebastian. Everyone, including Jocelyn, gets some measure of closure. I always thought Sebastian was a delicious villain, but this book manages to make him sympathetic as well. The poor guy never really had a chance to be normal.

The ending has enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. I knew Jace and Clary had something up their sleeves, but I didn't know quite what it would be. There is a final twist regarding Simon  (don't worry, he doesn't die!!!) that I did not see coming.

Thanks to Cassie Clare for another awesome series. She uses this final book to set up what I believe will be her next series, where we find out what happens to Emma Carstairs, and to Julian and Mark Blackwell. I'll be looking for them!

Alright - now to do the dishes, fold the laundry, and clean my bedroom. During the summer, the Haiku Librarian is more like the Haiku Housewife.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me???

I'm so glad I went for a run yesterday, because today is looking like a great day for coffee and pajamas. Rain, rain and more rain. We were planning on staying in and watching the USA-Belgium World Cup game, and I'm not feeling inspired to do much else. Being the Pollyanna that I am, though, I am remembering that this rain is preventing wildfires, and feeling glad that Jack mowed the lawn last night. Having been mowed for the first time, the new lawn actually looks like a real lawn now, instead of a chaotic jumble of grass and weeds.

The book I am reviewing today is "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)" by comedy writer and actress, Mindy Kaling. One day in May, Emma and I went to Barnes and Noble, and she really wanted this book. Being the indulgent book-loving mother that I am, I bought it for her. I am also savvy enough to realize that once she is through with a book, I will get a chance to read it, which is what happened here. A book that I never would have looked at, much less bought, was a hit at our house.

I am now officially a Mindy Kaling fan. This girl is brilliantly funny, observant, self-deprecating, and honest. I swear to you, if she lived in my town, we would be best friends. She gets me. She probably gets you too. Read this book, ladies (Sorry men, but you just won't appreciate this book the way a woman can).

The funny thing about reviewing a humor book (pardon the pun), is that it's hard to say much about it without either giving away punch lines, or being so much less funny than the author. So, let me just outline the tale for you, and save the jokes for Mindy.

Mindy Kaling, if you do not know her, is a writer and actor in the American version of "The Office." If you don't find "The Office" to be a funny show, you can stop right here, because you probably won't think it's a funny book. Of course, Kaling has done other things besides "The Office," including a less than successful stint on Saturday Night Live, but you will have to read the book to get her full C.V.

Kaling covers her life as the bright, non-athletic daughter of Indian-American parents. From bad sweaters and bowl cuts, disastrous attempts to ride a bike, and on through her early career as a struggling writer, she tells all. You will get her opinion on food, fashion, disposable jackets, one night stands and yes, chest hair. But Mindy is not shallow, and she talks also about the solid ground her parents provided, her simple desire for home and family, and the importance of good friends.  

If you're looking for something that's funny without being raunchy, this is a good bet. Enjoy!!!