"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Two nonfiction reviews, both recognized by the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction

Last week was a big week for award-book announcements. Among those announcements was the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction.


The winner of the fiction medal is Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. Other books shortlisted for the fiction award were Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. We considered all three of these fiction titles as future book club selections but decided ultimately to only read Lincoln in the Bardo. Perhaps we will go back and pick up the other two titles now that they have been so honored.

The nonfiction medal winner is You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: a Memoir by Sherman Alexie.  The shortlisted titles are The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg and Flowers of the Desert Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. I have more to say about the nonfiction titles than the fiction titles because I have read two of the books and heard the author of the third speak about nuclear war.

My husband and I listened to the audiobook of You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: a Memoir by Sherman Alexie last fall when we were on a car-trip together. We have heard Alexie speak several times and have listened to audiobooks of several of his earlier titles. He reads his own books and the listener is treated to the interesting cadence of his voice as he recounts stories from his own life.

When Alexie's mother died at the age of 78, this famed author did what he knew to do-- he wrote. The book isn't just a straight memoir about his mother's life and his relationship with her, but it is a collection of poems (78), essays (78), and lots of family photos that give the reader a good idea of what it was like to grow up Alexie on a reservation in Eastern Washington state.
"Alexie shares raw, angry, funny, profane, tender memories of a childhood few can imagine--growing up dirt-poor on an Indian reservation, one of four children raised by alcoholic parents. Throughout, a portrait emerges of his mother as a beautiful, mercurial, abusive, intelligent, complicated woman. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me is a powerful account of a complicated relationship, an unflinching and unforgettable remembrance " (Book Jacket).
The book is heartbreaking, funny, and very enlightening. Though we enjoyed hearing Alexie read his own poems and essays, we missed seeing all the photographs by listening to the audiobook and will need to check out a print edition from the library to see them. Though his story, and his mother's story has so many heartbreaking elements, Alexie's ironic humor make the book bearable, even enjoyable. We found ourselves laughing right after we cried.

If you haven't read any Alexie, I suggest you start with his much-awarded, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, a semi-autobiographical/fictional account of a young Indian growing up on the Wellpinit Reservation (Spokane tribe) in Washington state, but going to school off the Res...making him a part-time Indian in both places. Then read or listen to this book You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: a Memoir and the picture of his life will be filled in. I really want to encourage you to read anything and everything by this author but I want to warn you---you will be a changed person when you do. It is impossible to stay neutral about the deplorable history Indians have had to endure in our country.

Thinking about the death of his mother, with whom Alexie had a very complicated relationship, I found this quote from his fictional masterpiece. It seems like a good quote with which to end this review.

When anybody, no matter how old they are, loses a parent, I think it hurts the same as if you were only five years old, you know? I think all of us are always five years old in the presence and absence of our parents.” ― Sherman AlexieThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

On a similar vane is the second of the three books recognized by the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, Flowers of the Desert Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. 

Back in the 1920s the riches people on earth were members the Osage Indian tribe in Oklahoma. Their land, which they had purchased when the government displaced them several times from other ares of the country was sitting on an oil field. Then suddenly one by one the members of the tribe were being murdered and no one could get to the bottom of it. Mollie Burkhart's whole family was killed one by one until all that was left of her family was her own husband and children.
"In this last remnant of the Wild West...virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations... Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history." (Goodreads). 
This true-crime murder-mystery reads like the very best of crime fiction except it is all true. Somehow this very notorious event has been essentially swept clean from our history books. But thankfully the author David Grann decided it was worth  investigating nearly 100 years later and unbelievably he discovers new discoveries and he searched for information about the Osage murders and the mysteries still surrounding the even as he prepared the book.

The book is divided into three parts. Part one is the accounts of life for the Osage in the 1920 and the murders. Part two is the work of the FBI by Tom White and his agents and the court cases that ensued. And part three is David Grann talking about his research and the new discoveries he made while writing the book. We listened to the audiobook and each part was read by a different voice actor, with Will Patton, one of my favorite narrators of audiobooks, reading the middle section.

The book is horrifying in its message and enlightening (again) about the poor treatment that Indians have received throughout our history. Families of the murdered Osage members are still haunted by what happened to their forefathers and by the question of what would have their lives been like if these relatives hadn't been murdered. Just because something happened in the past, doesn't make it any less relevant to those of us living today.

As I said before I consume this book in its audio version. I was completely caught up in the mystery and outraged at what I was learning. This is a book club selection for this month and I am the host and the discussion leader. As I listened, I knew my husband would enjoy (is that the right word?) listening it, too. I handed off the CDs as I finished them. Every night at dinner we would compare notes and discuss the book. Honestly, it is so well written it seems impossible that the details really happened, but they did. I highly recommend this book but warn you, just like I did for the Alexie book, this is not easy, frilly stuff to learn. It is hard and demands that the reader view history wearing a new set of glasses.

The last book of the three honored nonfiction books The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg I haven't read. But last fall I attended a lecture where Ellsberg was the keynote speaker. What he has to tell us about nuclear war is not pretty. At the time of his lecture, Trump was threatening Kim of North Korea and made statements like my button is bigger than your button (meaning the button he could push to start a nuclear war.) What Trump doesn't seem to understand, or he wouldn't make glib comments like that, is that one hydrogen bomb will not be enough, and that exploding one will likely lead to the end of mankind. It will cause a nuclear winter which will lead to the starvation and annihilation of almost all living things. Sounds grim, I know, but I still want to read the book.

Tough stuff but excellent, possibly life-changing reading.



Monday, February 19, 2018

Sunday Salon, a day late

Weather: It snowed yesterday and it is still blanketing the ground since the temperatures are hovering below freezing. The photo is of our chain-bell down spout. The water in it froze overnight. Lovely, don't you think?

Politics: In light of the the thirteen indictments that were handed down to Russians/Russian companies and the school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people, this blog post will be dedicated to politics. We can no longer ignore what is going on. I urge you to click on the hyperlinks. Read up on these topics, and take action.
  • For months Trump has been saying the "Russian thing" is a hoax and has been unwilling to condemn the Russians for meddling in our elections and attempts to aid his campaign. With the 13 indictments issued by Bob Mueller's team on Friday Trump's hoax rationale has fallen apart. (13 Russians Indicted-NYT) Of course, this has not kept Trump from tweeting that he is completely innocent. He, however, has not said anything bad about the Russians in defense of the country. (Trump lashes out at Mueller-Politico) This has led Jonathan Chait writing for the New York Magazine to conclude there is a high possibility that this means that Trump is being blackmailed by Russia. (Blackmail-New York Mag.) It certainly does seem like a possibility since he is and has been so hesitate to say anything bad about Russia, but horrible things about just about everyone he disagrees with, even in his own administration.
  • There is a must-read article by Thomas Friedman in the New York Time yesterday titled "Whatever Trump is hiding is hurting us all." Friedman also believes that Trump is being blackmailed by Putin or he is completely unfit to be President. He compares the way that Trump is behaving to Bush after 9/11. What if Bush had said that the event was "No big deal. I'm going golfing. It must be the Democrats fault"? He concluded his article with this alarming note:
"This is code red. The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office" (NYT).
  • H.R. McMaster, Trumps National Security Advisor, said the 13 indictments provided incontrovertible proof that Russia meddled in our elections. (McMaster- CNN) Naturally Trump takes to twitter to lash out at McMaster for this statement. (Trump lashes out- Newsweek.) It is as if Trump has no ability to talk to his own advisers in person. He has to air all his laundry in public. 
  • Trump may not be willing to stand up to Russia but he sure doesn't seem to have any problems standing up the the FBI or the media/free press. When an FBI agent texted a message to a friend which was negative about Trump, Trump called his actions treasonous. (FBI-Washington Examiner) Treasonous? Really? If someone disagrees with him he thinks that person should be put to death? Does he even know the legal definition of treason?
  • About the press/media Trump loves to call everything that is negative about him as "fake news" but everything from the FOX channel as the god-given truth. Sometimes it feels like the only thing that is standing between us and Trump as dictator is the free press. As soon as people stop believing in the free and impartial press they become susceptible to power plays by despicable leaders. This is so frightening to me. (Trump finds freedom of speech disgusting- ACLU)
  • As an example of how despicable folks at the White House are right now, an official said that the mass shooting in Florida provided a reprieve from their scandals. Oh please. Can things be any worse? (Washington Post.)
  • Political scientists recently took their presidential survey and the results were announced this week. Trump is at the bottom of the survey, from last to 5th to last place, depending on the political party which the respondent identifies. He is down there with Buchanan whose actions led to The Civil War, and Warren G. Harding who had the Tea Pot Dome scandal. (How does Trump compare- NYT) The reasons they cited for his bad ranking: an his "ignominious debut". He picks fights with everyone, is completely focused on himself, not the good of the country, against freedom of the press, defaming his own security services like the FBI and CIA, while refusing to stand up to Russia, picking fights with the likes of the dictator of North Korea which could lead to nuclear war.
  • Trump seems unwilling to even try to do anything to bring the country together. When he goes out to make a speech, they end up being like campaign rallies, where he still vilifies Hillary and Obama. In December, thirteen months after he won the election, supporters chant "Lock Her Up" at a Trump rally. (Trump rally- The Hill.) As if Hillary is the enemy and that is the biggest problem we have in this country right now. What Trump found so troubling about Clinton was her email server, yet his own daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law were at fault for the same security violation they accused Clinton of. The hypocrisy is huge in my mind. (Jared and Ivanka Trump email scandal-Independent)
Guns. I am so upset about what happened in Florida this past week. Another shooter kills seventeen people at a high school with an assault rifle.
  • NRA and GOP claim that we remove the rights of people if we restrict their ability to buy assault rifles.  Bernie Sanders says that AR-15s are not designed for hunting animals. They are designed to hunt humans. (Bernie Sanders- Huffington Post.)
  • After the shooting, students from Parkland, Florida were interviewed on Fox News. Within minutes of their interview the Fox News commentator invited criticism of the students by putting conservative Rush Limbaugh on to dismiss their plans and to condemn them for their "political agenda." The students want action so that the tragedy they lived through won't happen again and Limbaugh is calling them out for being political. Limbaugh told Chris Wallace that "marches were not going to solve anything." Nothing like throwing cold water in the faces of students deep in grief and demanding action from legislators. (Immediately after interview-AOL)
  • "Thoughts and prayers." We need more action than just thoughts and prayers to fix our gun problem in this country.
I don’t want your condolences you..., my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But gun control will prevent it from happening again.  https://t.co/UZPgcPoPUX— sarah (@chaddiedabaddie) February 14, 2018
  •  
    Mike Peters, Dayton Daily News
Hypocrites and Evangelicals: A large percentage of evangelical Christians voted for Trump. They were willing to overlook his womanizing, his crass language, his sexual abuse, his lies, his bullying, and vote for him because he said he was against abortion. As a Christian myself, I do not understand the thinking behind this type of voter.
  • Francis Fitzgerald, who wrote a book called White Evangelicals, said they voted for Trump because: 
“The simplest explanation was that those evangelicals who voted for Trump had affinities with the Tea Party,” she writes. They seemed to care more about shrinking the government, creating jobs, and deporting illegal immigrants than about enforcing Christian morals.  (The Atlantic)
  • I'd say that the white evangelicals have lost their moral authority. A vote for a man like Trump can't be a moral vote. Right after the election my aunt, who falls into this category, told my sister that God wanted Trump to be our president because she prayed about it. To this I call Bu##s^*t. If she had prayed the same prayer and Trump lost she wouldn't have said that God wanted Hillary to be president. I love my aunt but that is a very hypocritical position.
  • Right before the election one of my high school friends shared a inflammatory article about Hillary on his Facebook page. I checked the link and also checked it against Snopes. The
    article was not true. I commented about this, sharing the link to Snopes. He replied back that he didn't believe in Snopes. He was willing to believe nonsense about Hillary but not the truth. We now know that the vast number of these types of articles were created by Russians intending to drive the vote to Trump and cause strife between American citizens. (Facebook Trolls-Washington Post).  I have thought of this friend often since news of the 13 indictments hit this week. I wonder if he has thought back on our interaction of a year before realizing that he was a victim of those Russian trollers?
  • And what, please tell me, is the relationship with Evangelical Christians and guns? Why do Christians not support gun control? In my mind Christ stands for love and peace, not more guns.
Other topics of grave concern:
  • Nuclear War. This past fall I attended a program where Daniel Ellsberg, author of the Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner and famous for the Pentagon Papers, was the speaker. I left the lecture terrified. Trump and Kim of North Korea are both so unstable. Trump taunting with, "My button is bigger than your button." Not good. Nuclear war would likely mean the end of mankind. Read more, "Don't Wait Until the Bombs are Falling" (Time). 
  • What happens to DACA recipients next? Why did Trump remove protection for the Dreamers? Why won't Ryan and Mitchell allow for votes on saving DACA? Over 72% of people support it. Doesn't it seems like the GOP are just mean-spirited people?
Book: What Happened by Hillary Clinton (click the hyperlink for my review). Here are a few of my takeaways:
  • Clinton not only had to fight against Trump and the Republican party but also interference by the Russians and the FBI. She also had to fight against the way people view powerful women. The more powerful that a woman is, the less people like her, while the opposite is true of men.
  • When you hear someone say, even today, that Hillary should just go away now that she lost, remind yourself that no one says the same thing about Romney or McCain. They also lost.
  • Hillary was prepared to win. Trump was completely unprepared to win. She already had a list of over 200 people that needed security clearance ready to go before the election. Over 100 of Trump's people still do not have clearance over a year after the election. Even his son-in-law Jared. Sigh.
  • I was inspired to action by reading the book and I highly recommend it. This blog post is part of my determination to speak up and to be vigilant. 
Thank you for putting up with me, on my birthday, as I vent and rant. I am seriously very concerned about my country. Very. Concerned.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

What Happened (and is still happening)

Yesterday Robert Mueller's team indicted thirteen Russian individuals and companies for efforts to influence our election for Trump and against Clinton. Finally a report that proves what we've known for over a year and should silence Trump who keeps saying that the "Russian thing is a hoax" and Putin himself assured Trump that they did not meddle in our elections. Finally GOP efforts to shut down Mueller and Rosenstein should stop as they can no longer have their heads in the sand blaming Democrats for being sore losers. (Click this link for more details.)

What Happened is the book where Hillary Rodham Clinton talks about her campaign and what she thinks happened leading up to her defeat. In addition to taking responsibility for decisions she made which may have been counter-productive, she talks about the interference from the Russians, the obsession the press had with her emails, and the last minute letter from James Comey saying that there may be more to the emails even though there wasn't. Of course she talks about Trump and his ugly campaign but a lot of the details trail back to the interference from Russia.

Months ago I placed a hold on the library's audiobook copy of What Happened. I was way back on the list, like 81st, so I wasn't sure when I would finally get a chance at it. When my turn did come up I was in the middle of another audiobook so I set this one aside for two weeks while I finished the other. With only a week to finish the book before it automatically returned to the library I launched into listening, preparing myself for an emotional experience. As I listened to the very first disc the tears started flowing. I had expected to be emotional but I hadn't realized how deep my grief. How did this nightmare happen?

In the first few chapters, before we get to all the ugly details, Hillary talks a lot about what it is like being a female in a male dominated world. She talked about being criticized for things like her voice, her passion for topics, for getting louder when she is excited...all things that men are admired for. By the end of the third disc I was determined to have my daughters listen to the book, too. Every female in America should read/listen to it. I was so inspired by her determination to make the world a better place by using her great skills for the public good.

As the campaigns went along it became clear to Hillary and her team that they were not just fighting against another campaign and his team but the press, another hostile country, and unfair/untrue accusations.  At one point during the campaign Trump even said that the first thing he would do when he became President was to arrest Hillary. Crooked Hillary became the mantra of the Right. The media would focus on the dump/terrible/despicable things that Trump did and said during the campaign and rarely covered all the policy topics and positive aspects of Hillary's campaign. One example of this was after the Democratic convention Hillary and Tim Kaine went on a bus tour to the mid-west to get their message out to the people. The media barely covered what they were doing because during that same week Trump was picking a fight against Kazir Khan, a gold star father who spoke at the Democratic Convention and challenged Trump to read the constitution. No matter what good thing that Hillary was saying and doing, Trump was getting all the press for the dumb things he was doing and saying.

What Happened details and outlines the efforts by the Russians to throw the election to Trump. As the election neared more and more Facebook and Twitter traffic started showing up with horrible and untrue stories about Hillary. Some of it was aimed at Bernie voters, others at people in the states where the election would likely be close. I even remember seeing these articles and wondering what was happening. One of this hit pieces I decided to run through Snopes which said it was untrue. The high school friend who had shared it said he didn't believe in Snopes. Really? He was willing to believe nonsense that was clearly untrue but didn't believe Snopes for discrediting it. Ugh. Things were getting uglier. We now know these hit pieces were created by Russians, under the ruse of being Americans, and bots increased their likelihood of showing up on user's pages.

As I got angrier and angrier listening to this portion of the book all of my feelings and thoughts since the election coalesced into a strong decision to do everything I can to help the 2018 be different. I was surprised, therefore, to find myself crying again as I listened to the last disc where Hillary talked about what her life is like now and what has given her hope for the future. Reminders of so many moments of inspiration since the fateful election, too. Like the reminder of Kate McKinnon singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" on SNL while fighting back tears.
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch 
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you 
And even though it all went wrong 
I'll stand before the lord of song 
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah
Questions that Hillary poses near the end of the book are ones I have been wondering myself. "Where is their [the Right] empathy and understanding? Why are they allowed to close their hearts to the striving immigrant father and the grieving black mother, or the LGBT teenager who is bullied at school thinking of suicide? Why is the burden of opening our hearts only on half the country?" She goes on to answer her own questions, "And yet, I've come to believe that for me personally and for our country generally, we have no choice but to try." Here she references the Pope Francis TED talk where he calls for a revolution of tenderness. He goes on to define tenderness as "using our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future" (443). Inspiring stuff.

So you think that you don't want to go back and relive the terrible 2016 campaign by reading this book? I challenge you to rethink those thoughts. For one thing you will learn much more about the challenges that women, not just Hillary, face in politics and other positions of power. The book sets the details of the campaign aright and shines a light on all the facts which got lost among the "alternative facts" proposed by Trump and the GOP. The book was very, very helpful for me and for moving me from a person stuck in my grief and fear toward one willing to make a difference in any way I can. I heard people in the media saying they wish that Hillary would just shut up and go away now that she lost. But other Presidential losers have not been treated this way. Think Romney and McCain. This is part of the whole anti-female attitude we have in this country. Hillary had a lot of topics she was passionate about. She still is and she still wants to make a positive difference even if she isn't President.

I went ahead and purchased the audible version of What Happened, since I had to return the library copy, and then invited my daughters and husband to listen to it when their schedules allow it. I recommend that you do the same. Find a copy of this book and read or listen to it. You'll be surprised how much it helps. I mean it!

Now to my comment on my header "What Happened (and is still happening)". In case you think the Russians are done messing with us, think again. Computer bots from Russia were found on Facebook about the school shooting in Florida with pro-NRA messages and anti-African-American messages about the movie Black Panther.  These messages have nothing to do with elections but everything to do with dividing us up as a nation. We must stay vigilant and question everything we see on-line.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts

This coming week I turn 61. Let's pretend that I live to the life expectancy of an American woman which is 81.1 years. Give or take a month, that means I have a likely twenty more years to live. Now let's also say that I keep to a rather rigorous reading level of 100 books per year on the average. That means I have only, hang on while I do the math, 2010 more books to read in my lifetime. 2010. That is all.

My age: 61

Average life expectancy of US females: 81.1

Average number of books I read per year: 100

Doing the math: 81.1-61=20.1 number of years expected to live

20.1 x 100= 2010 books left to read


With that thought in mind it is time I get really picky about the books I choose to spend time reading:
Boring? Ditch it.  
Poorly written? Forget it. 
A classic but super long? Consider the abridged version. 
Everyone is reading it but it is not my style? Who cares? Don't read it.

I mean it folks. The number of books I have time left to read is finite. I will be choosing wisely as I move forward.

Protecting a library with book curses found in medieval documents
Highlighted from this article

"May the sword of anathema slay
If anyone steals this book away." 

“If anyone take away this book, let him die the death; let him be fried in a pan; let the falling sickness and fever size him; let him be broken on the wheel, and hanged. Amen.”

“May whoever steals or alienates this book, or mutilates it, be cut off from the body of the church and held as a thing accursed.”

Pretty serious stuff.  Think again if you plan on stealing a book! Ha!




Cybils Awards announced yesterday and the winners are:

Cybils (Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards) winners were announced yesterday. This past year I participated as a round 1 judge for Junior High/Senior High Nonfiction books. After reading or previewing around 65 books the round 1 judges culled down our lists to 10-14 books for the round 2 judges to read, evaluate and to ultimately select one winner. It was a very satisfying and challenging duty. Nonfiction judges had many fewer books to evaluate than those who were judging the fiction categories.

The nonfiction winners:

Junior High Nonfiction:
The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Foundby Martin W. Sandler
Candlewick Press
"Whydah: a Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found is a well-documented, action-packed story about the pirate ship the Whydah, the men who lived and worked on her, and the efforts to find her treasure. But this book is not merely the story of a specific pirate ship. It overturns stereotypes and will appeal even to those who do not believe they are “into” pirates. The men of the Whydah were not just thieves and slave runners, but men who felt they had no other way to make a living and truly cared about one another on their ships. It’s a great look at why people turned to pirating and helps the reader separate fact from fiction. Within each chapter are short sections that look at related topics like “living the pirate life” and “dressing like a pirate.” The Whydah sank off Massachusetts where it lay for almost 300 years and the final part of the book tells the story of the search for the treasures; the author doesn’t shy away from the controversy regarding the excavation and the treasure hunters. This non-fiction book is full of adventure and excitement."
I am thrilled with this winner. This is a perfect nonfiction books for teenagers. It is exciting, interesting, and opens up the imagination. And it is very well-written, a rare bonus in teen nonfiction books. When I finished reading this book I was sitting in the family room with my husband. I remember turning to him as I snapped the cover shut and said, "Ah, at last a well-written book." After reading so many interesting yet rather dry nonfiction books, it was a pleasure to be immersed in this one.

Senior High Nonfiction:
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothersby Deborah Heiligman
Henry Holt
"Vincent and Theo: the Van Gogh Brothers is a beautifully written book based on letters between the two brothers; it is narrative non-fiction that reads like fiction. It has an appealing layout with short chapters. This book is not just a book about a painter and his brother, but a book about mental illness and its impact on Vincent Van Gogh’s life, his art, and his relationships; it has themes of love, resilience, and influence. This book shows the importance of Theo in Vincent’s life and that without Theo, Vincent wouldn’t be the man and artist that he became. Although this book is over 450 pages, it will lure readers in and keep them turning its pages."
I've always loved Vincent Van Gogh's art but more so after reading this wonderful piece of narrative nonfiction where the reader meets not only the artist but also the brother who encouraged and supported him. This book has been well regarded in the literary world this past year. It earned six starred reviews by professional publications. It also won a Printz Honor, and the YALSA Nonfiction Award, both of these were just awarded earlier this week. It is rare when a nonfiction books wins a Printz award. I am thrilled with this Cybils selection. If the 450 pages seems daunting, look for it in audiobooks, but be sure to pick up the print edition to look at photos to the art.

Other YA Cybils winners

Young Adult Graphic Novel:
Spill Zoneby Scott Westerfeld
First Second Books
Nominated by: Anne@HeadFullofBooks
Spill Zone is a fun graphic novel that captivates the reader with its mystery, kick-ass female lead and vibrant art. Alex Puvilland’s art is loose, a little off-kilter and great with its colors when differentiating the psychedelic world of the Zone with the world outside of it. Along with Scott Westerfeld, the two creators have perfected pacing and will have teens wanting the sequel immediately. 
Notice who nominated this book? Tee-hee! Me! I think this imaginative Sci-Fi story is fun, mysterious, and even a bit creepy. It is the first book in a series by a favorite YA author, Scott Westerfeld, so keep your eyes peeled for the sequel, too.

Young Adult Fiction: 
Piecing Me Togetherby Renée Watson
Bloomsbury USA
"In Watson’s sophomore YA novel, we meet Jade, a girl who’s determined to get out of her neighborhood in order to have a better future. She’s done everything she can toward that end, including enrolling in a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. But that’s not really who Jade is, and being in the program only highlights for her what people see when they look at her: a Black girl on the bigger side from a poor neighborhood. Even her mentor, who’s also Black, doesn’t seem to get who she really is. And that just helps push Jade to show the world what she can do.  Not only is this a beautifully written and poetic book, but it’s infused with a quiet strength in the way Jade finds her power, her voice, and her identity in a world that doesn’t make it easy." 
This is the only book of the bunch I haven't read, but I want/need to now! It also won multiple awards at YMA announced this week: Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor.

Young Adult Speculative Fiction:
Scythe (Arc of a Scythe)by Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster
"While all the novels in the YA Spec Fic shortlist are well told and exciting, Scythe is spell-binding and grapples with the darkest themes in literature. The world is rich and complex. Scythe develops every facet, from the powerful leaders to the apprentices. The cast of characters is diverse, convincing and three dimensional, from the scythe who kills with wisdom to the one with blood lust."
Scythe was published after October 15, 2016 making it a possible candidate for the Cybils this year. But it won a Printz Honor last year because the YMA use different dates for inclusion. I read this book as soon as it was published back in 2016 and found it to be very disturbing, yet intriguing. I believe it has a sequel which was just published this past month called Thunderhead. I hope to get to it some day since I think this first book was done so well.

For the whole Cybils list of winners go to their website: CYBILS.

Happy Reading!

Monday, February 12, 2018

TTT: Love freebie


Top Ten Tuesday: favorite couples in YA literature (My LOVE freebie this week)

1. Marin and Mabel in We Are OK by Nina LaCour (winner of the Printz Award, announced today!)
Marin is an orphan, who thought she knew her grandfather. Mabel is her best friend and her lover. Mabel's support is so sweet.
2. Julia Beaufort-Stuart and Euan and/or Ellen McEwan in The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein
Julia is granddaughter of a Scottish Lord. Euan and Ellen are twins. They are Travelers who spend part of each year on the Stuart land. Julia and Euan have a sweet relationship while Julia and Ellen have a very fiesty yet sexy relationship.
3. Monty Montague and Percy in The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee.
Monty is so excited that he gets to go on a Grand Tour around Europe and his best friend and crush Percy is going, too. But both boys have a lot to learn and a lot to share.
4. Lazlo Strange and Sarai in Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (winner of a Printz Honor, announced today). Lazlo is so happy to be in Weep and then he meets the blue-goddess, Sarai in his dreams.
5. Jonah and Vivi in When We Collided by Emery Lord. Jonah has been brought low by grief. Vivi is exciting and fun, but maybe too exciting...brought on by bi-polar mania.
6. Jane and G (Gifford) in My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, et al. Jane and G are married at the insistence of her cousin, King Edward. But it is hard for a romance to develop because G keeps turning into a horse.
7. Madeleine and Elliott in A Tangle of Gold (The Colours of Madeleine series) by Jaclyn Moriarty. They live in two worlds with only a slip of space big enough to pass a paper between until they both accidentally slide into each other's worlds. They love each other but can't survive away from their own world.
8. Sam and Miel in When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. Sam hangs lanterns he makes all over town. Miel has roses growing out of her wrists. Sam is hiding a big secret. They accept and help each other.
9. Sammie and Coop in The Memory Book by Lara Avery. Sammie is losing her memory due to a disease. Coop, a friend her whole life steps in to help and ends up becoming her great love.
10. Blue Sargent and Gansey in The Raven King (Raven Boys series). I love all the characters in the series but Blue and Gansey have that special something.

To make this list I looked on my Goodreads account going backwards from the books I've read most recently. That is the reason I left off obvious choices like Eleanor and Park in the book by the same name; Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark in The Hunger Games series; Karou and Akiva in The Daughter of Smoke and Bones series. Never fear. I love them, too!


And the YOUTH MEDIA AWARDS go to...

The YMA Awards were announced last night and the YA winners are: (For the full list click here)

1. Michael L. Printz Award (Best YA literature of the year) 
  • We Are OKay by Nina LaCour- Award
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas- Honor
  • Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman- Honor
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor -Honor
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
2. Schneider Family Book Award (Teen living with a disability)
  • You're Welcome Universe by Whitney Gardner (Ages 14-18)
3. Alex Awards - 10 Best adult books that appeal to teen audiences   
  • All Systems Red (Wells)
  • The Clockwork Dynasty (Wilson)
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones (McGuire)
  • Electric Arches (Ewing)
  • A Hope More Powerful than the Sea (Fleming)
  • Malagash (Comeau)
  • Roughneck (Lemire)
  • She Rides Shotgun (Harper)
  • Things We Have In Common (Kavanagh)
  • An Unkindness of Magicians (Howard)
    4. Margaret A. Edwards Award (An author who has made a significant contribution to YA or Children's Lit)
    • Name of author : Angela Johnson 
    5. Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature (LGBT) :
    • The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater -Award tie
    • Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert- Award Tie
    • A Gentleman's Guide to Virtue and Vice by Mckenzie Lee- Honor
    • As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman - Honor
    6. William C. Morris Award (First YA novel by author)
    • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas- Award
    7. YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults 
    • Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman- Award
      8. Coretta Scott King Book Award (African American Author) 
      • Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson-Award
      • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds-Honor
      • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas -Honor
      • (The third honor book goes to a children's book)
      9. Pura Belpre (Latino Author) 
      • (The award  and honor books are all for middle grade readers)
      10Odyssey Award (Audio Book)
      • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, read by Bahni Turpin- Award
      • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, read by the author -Honor
      • The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, read by Michael Sheen- Honor
      • (The other two honor books are middle grade or children's books)
      11. Sibert Informational  Book Award (Distinguished Informational books)
      • Twelve Days in My: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner -Award (Ages 10-17)
      12. Mildred Batchelder Award (Translated into English)
      • (Both the winner and the honor books are middle grade or children's books)
      13. Laura Ingalls Wilder Author Award (An author or illustrator whose work has had a substantial and lasting effect on Children's literature)
      • Author name: Jacqueline Woodson
      14. Newbery Medal (Most outstanding contribution to children's literature)
      • (The award book and one honor book are for middle grade or children readers)
      • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds- Honor 
      • Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson- Honor
      Comments: I am generally very pleased with this year's winners and honor books. I have read a lot of the titles, which I have highlighted in yellow, and I have heard of most of the others. Books marked with the aqua highlight were part of the Bethel School District Mock Printz list of books. Every year we try to divine which books will be those that receive awards. We didn't do too bad this year! As in the past, many of the awards did not honor any YA titles, but this year many more categories than usual DID give an award or an honor to at least one YA title. I was really, especially pleased to see that the Newbery Medal, the oldest and most prestigious of all book awards for children's literature, gave honors to two YA titles. 

      Surprises: I am surprised to see We Are Okay as the Printz winner. I read the book and really didn't like it. I know that happens sometimes. When I would hear other people praise it I would wonder if we actually read the same book. Maybe I'd better go back and try it again.  The other surprise was the honor for Strange the Dreamer. I just told someone this past weekend that I hoped it would win something but I doubted it would because it is the first book in a series. Well, I was wrong and I am glad about it. One more surprise. I have not even heard of any of the Alex Award books. These are the adult titles that have crossover appeal for teens. I used to try to purchase a few of them for my library. The new librarian may have to do some deep research to determine if she wants any of these titles. I can't say anything about any of them.

      For the complete list of awards and winners, including middle grade and children's titles, click here.

      Now I guess we'd all better get out our list of books we want to read and add a few more titles to it. Happy reading.



      Sunday, February 11, 2018

      My favorite YA titles of 2017. Will any of them win the Printz Award?

      On Monday the Youth Media Awards will be announced at the end of the ALA Midwinter Conference. While I was a high school librarian I spent a lot of time promoting these award winners and tried to figure out the winners each year before the big announcement. This past year I didn't read as many YA titles that are potential Printz winners. Retirement was the reason. But of the books I did read, here are my five-star favorites. The quotes come from my reviews of these books. Click on the hyperlinks if you want to read more.


      The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
      "If you truly want to help make our world a better place for everyone, you need to read The Hate U Give.

      I will be shocked if The Hate U Give doesn't clean up when all the book awards are given out at the end of the year. In fact I will be surprised if it doesn't win them all: The National Book Award, The Printz Award, The Coretta Scott King Award, the Boston-Globe/Horn Book Award, The Morris Award, and The Walden Award. For that reason alone, you need to read The Hate U Give."



      "It is possible that Jim Thorpe is the greatest American athlete to ever live. What makes this statement even more remarkable is that many, possibly most, Americans have never heard of him...
      Will it win a book award this year? It very well may. Sheinkin is not unfamiliar with the award podium, having won the YALSA Nonficiton book award, a finalist for the National Book Award, a winner of the Seibert Medal, and a Newbery finalist for past books, it is possible this book will also be honored with an award, or two. Let's hope so. That way more people will read about Jim Thorpe and his amazing athletic endeavors."



      "This YA book has heart, and I assure you it will touch your heart. Often it seems that YA novels deal with such small, first-world problems. That is not the case with The Uninterrupted View of the Sky.
      This book opens the eyes of the reader to much bigger and life-threatening problems that exist elsewhere in the world. It does it gently and thoughtfully, with a touch of poetry, so the reader doesn't end up feeling clubbed over the head with the information. I highly recommend it for both teen and adult readers."


      The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

      "In case you think you recognize the name Julie Beaufort-Stuart, if you read Code Name Verity, a Printz Honor book published in 2012, she was the protagonist of that book who was working as a British spy and was captured by the Nazis. The Pearl Thief is considered a prequel of Code Name Verity, but it very easily reads as a stand alone, though we do see the beginnings of Julie's skills as a first rate snoop and the makings of a spy. It is a very different book from CNV, in a lot of ways I liked it better, and that is saying a lot. In The Pearl Thief we meet a girl who is just coming into her own. She is trying to figure out issues related to friendship and prejudice, class and privilege, sexuality and manipulation. In a lot of ways Julie is an unreliable narrator but as she learns things, we do too. I loved her voice and seeing things through her eyes. The climax, which comes very late in the story, was a shocker to me, one I didn't see coming at all. Amal El-Mohtar, writing a review of PT for NPR said this about the two books, "It's an enormously different book from Code Name Verity — but across time, space, and genres, they slip off their gloves and hold hands." Isn't that a lovely description?"



      "Kay Frydenberg in her aptly named book A Dog in the Cave pulls together all kinds of research from paleontology, biology, and the social sciences on dogs and their relationship to humans. The book is fascinating." I told more people about this book than any other book I read this past year.



      "I have been a John Green fan since I read his first book Looking for Alaska. He is so literate and adds so many quotes and thoughts from literature, this time there is is a lot of Shakespeare included, that I feel refreshed or renewed just reading his books. This book has a very serious topic, though, mental illness and its treatment, hence the on first page we find Aza thinking of herself as fictional.  It is very well done."



      "I cannot begin to tell you how much I like this book. It is superbly written and researched. The photos added to an understanding of how much devastation was done to a race of people even though they were American citizens. I highly recommend it to all readers, not just to the target young adult audience. May this book serve as a reminder that we will never again do such a dreadful thing to our own citizens."



      "I am so grateful for authors like Ann Bausum who continue to write about events from our past so that we can hold them up to examine and, hopefully, make some needed changes. After the election of 2016 when Trump was elected and the events that have followed it is very obvious that we cannot ever take out eyes off the prize. We must all hold voting as dear and not abdicate our responsibility to vote and allow others to do so, too."


      La Belle Sauvage (#1 Book of Dust) by Philip Pullman

      "One of the things that makes La Belle Sauvage so special is that it quite clearly gives a nod to children's literature that came before it. Set in Oxford, we are left with the feeling that Alice is likely to pop up at any time. And, as you know, C.S. Lewis lived and wrote in Oxford. The adventures into Narnia with the supernatural elements weren't far from my mind as I read this book, too. One cannot embark on a water journey without giving a small nod to the Odyssey. It is as if Pullman wanted his readers to know that this book, this series and his characters fall safely into the confines and rules of good storytelling."


      All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

      "What I like about All the Crooked Saints is all the magical realism that is used to highlight points. If you aren't comfortable reading magical realism because it confuses you, think about the magic as a literary technique that is showing the reader a truth without being obvious about it. On the the Bicho Raro Ranch all the Sorias are bound up in their own issues so much that they are living very small lives to the point that interacting with the pilgrims is dangerous. When Daniel Soria falls in love with a pilgrim he thinks of it as a death sentence so he wanders off into the desert to die. While in the desert he goes blind. Even as he feels the presence of the curse creeping up on him, he is given water by long dead family members who encourage him on. Now stop and think. Is he really blind? Is really given water by dead people? No. This is the magical part of the story. The reader has to take a moment to see the blindness and the thirst for what it is. He is blind to self and he thirsts for what his ancestors had---normal relations with pilgrims that didn't involve death. See? Reading magical realism is fun. It just takes time to let the brain kick in and help untangle the messages hidden within."



      "This book is a treasure in its self. It is perfect for the young teen boy or girl who likes to read about real life adventures or who is obsessed with pirates. But it is also fascinating for anyone, adults included, who likes to read to find out new information about topics which they thought they already knew plenty."


      Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

      "Strange the Dreamer is the first book in a new series. There is tremendous world-building, colorful (literally) characters, unique plots and twists, and a love story, to boot. The only problem--- it ends on a cliff-hanger. A big one, in fact. Argh! All I have been thinking about for the past few days is wondering how things are going to work out for Lazlo Strange and his love interest. Laini Taylor have you written the second book yet? If so, why don't you just go ahead and publish it right now? That would be really lovely and timely because I want to know what happens next and I want to know NOW!"

      It is unlikely that the Printz committee will select one of the nonfiction selections but it has happened. I read so many nonfiction selections this past year as a Cybils judge and many of those books were my favorites of 2017.