jo walton

Library Chicken Update :: 1.31.18

Library Chicken Update :: 1.31.18

On a particularly good Library Chicken week, Suzanne's reading short stories, British detectives, a little Virginia Woolf fan fiction, a charming novel totally worth the library hold list, and more.

Library Chicken Update :: Top 10 Fiction Books Read in 2017

Library Chicken Update :: Top 10 Fiction Books Read in 2017

Suzanne's best fiction reads of last year include more than one addictive series, plus haunted houses, Sherlock homages, classic Hollywood in space, and more.

Library Chicken Update :: 11.7.17

Library Chicken Update :: 11.7.17

Scooby Doo meets Lovecraft, Plato fan fiction, classic and new British mysteries, and some feminist biographies feature in this week's Library Chicken.

Book Nerd: Library Chicken Weekly Scoreboard (8.22.17)

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken.  To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken.  To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!    

PANIC AT THE LIBRARY. For four long days this week my library’s online systems were down, meaning that I could not check on holds or renew books as they came due. As you might expect, this threatened to throw the entire precarious system at Library Chicken HQ into disarray. Fortunately, I weathered the technological storm better than I would have expected—and in the process, discovered that some time ago the maximum number of checkouts per card had been doubled, from 25 to 50 (!!!). Somehow, I WAS NOT INFORMED of this life-altering event, but I’m doing my best to make up for lost time. Meanwhile, my family members have started gathering in small groups to have hushed conversations, and I may have overheard something about an “intervention”...

 

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell

August Folly by Angela Thirkell

Summer Half by Angela Thirkell

Pomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell

Now that we’re back from summer vacation and the high school kids have started school, it’s time for me to really dig into all that non-fiction reading and class prep I have on my to-do list for my outside classes this fall. But instead I decided to read the next five Thirkell Barsetshire books. As I’ve said in a previous update, they are charming and delightful (and only very occasionally racist and/or anti-Semitic) and a favorite comfort read of mine. Thirkell published about a book a year (these five take us from 1934 to 1938) set among various families and villages in fictional Barsetshire. There are eccentric but lovable noblewomen, English country house weekends, obnoxious lady novelists, hapless clergymen, public school intrigues, and, in every book, at least one awkward but good-hearted pair of young (and sometimes not so young) people will end up engaged. (NOTE: All of Thirkell’s teenagers and 20-somethings seem five to ten years younger than their supposed ages. This is especially noticeable in The Demon in the House, in which teenage Tony Morland acts about 8 years old throughout, demonstrating either (a) that our modern youth do in fact lose their childhood innocence much earlier than past generations, or (b) that Thirkell never actually hung out with any young people.  It’s a little weird, but I try not to let it bother me.)  
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)

 

Mother and Son by Ivy Compton-Burnett

After all that sweetness I need some sour. Compton-Burnett, like Thirkell, was a prolific English writer of popular novels during the 1930s and later, but there the resemblance ends. Where Thirkell is warm and gentle, Compton-Burnett is cold and cynical. Her books have a very distinctive style, consisting almost completely of dryly ironic dialogue, forcing a reader to pay close attention since it’s often difficult to tell which character is speaking (they all sound the same) or even which characters are part of the current conversation (since the author rarely deigns to let us know their movements). I think it’s safe to say that she is something of an acquired taste, and when I first read one of her novels, I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to acquire it. But I read another, and then another, and now, every so often, I find myself in a mood for an Ivy—it’s a very particular clear-out-the-cobwebs sort of craving that no other author will satisfy. In Mother and Son, an overbearing matriarch with an overly-attached adult son advertises for a companion, but really, the plot doesn’t matter because I’m in it for all the sharply intelligent, passive-aggressive, calmly hostile conversations that will inevitably ensue.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Sinful Stones by Peter Dickinson

Inspector James Pibble #3. In this mystery, Pibble finds himself (for complicated personal reasons) on a remote island with a cult-like group of monks. Unsurprisingly, all is not well. Dickinson’s Pibble mysteries continue to be bizarre and unlike anything I’ve read before (in the best way!).  
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Green Gene by Peter Dickinson

This standalone novel by Dickinson takes place in a world just like our own—except that Celts have bright green skin (and can therefore be easily segregated from right-thinking Saxons). Our protagonist, an Indian researcher and medical statistician, has been hired by the British Race Relations Board to track down the elusive “green gene,” allowing them to identify carriers even if they’re not actually green-tinged. Although he’s a “Saxon” (at least according to his identity papers), he has to deal with other forms of racism and eventually discovers that the embattled and oppressed Celts can be ruthlessly violent towards their own people when dealing with ideological schisms. Published in 1973, it’s not exactly a cheery book, but it is a fascinating (and unfortunately relevant) take on racism from a unique perspective.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

My Real Children by Jo Walton

I never know what I’m getting with a Jo Walton novel but I always enjoy the journey. Here, a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s realizes that she seems to be switching back and forth between two distinctly different timelines, each with its own set of memories. In one, she marries the man she shouldn’t have and suffers a great deal of personal sorrow; in the other, she has a lovely and fulfilled life, but the world is going to hell. Which one should she choose to live in? (NOTE: If ambiguous endings drive you crazy, be warned that Walton doesn’t tie everything up neatly here, though I felt fairly satisfied with my own interpretation of events.)  
(LC Score: +1)

 

Frederick Douglass: Autobiographies edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read Frederick Douglass before now, though I’m glad I tackled McFeely’s biography before diving into Douglass’s autobiographies. This Library of America edition collects Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845); My Bondage and Freedom (1855); and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, 1893). Following his first published autobiography, Douglass’s practice was to use the text of the previous book, virtually unchanged, in each subsequent book, updating it with chapters describing the most recent events in his life. Narrative describes his life in slavery and is the emotional core (along with being the shortest and most successful of his works). I’ll be adding it to our own homeschool curriculum. HOMESCHOOL RECOMMENDED.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Having read Between the World and Me, I’m already a devotee of Coates, and this memoir of his childhood (his first book) just confirms my admiration. Here we meet Coates’s unconventional family, including the older brother who taught him the Knowledge he needed to survive the streets of Baltimore, and the ex-Black-Panther father who raised him to be a Conscious black man in racist America. In passing, he casually (and constantly) references everything from the pop culture of the time, the fantasy worlds of D&D and superhero comics, and the by-words of Knowledge and Consciousness, leaving me slightly dizzy (since I didn’t understand more than half) but always swept away by his narrative.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

Joe Gould’s Teeth by Jill Lepore

This odd little book (by the always-interesting Lepore) explores the life of Joe Gould, a bizarre little man who was somehow discovered by (and won the patronage of) notable writers and intellectuals of his day, including e.e. cummings and Ezra Pound. He claimed to be writing a massive oral history of the world (though it’s not clear if it ever existed) and became semi-famous after a New Yorker profile by Joseph Mitchell. He was also mentally ill and weirdly obsessed with race, with a history of stalking and harassing women. It’s a fascinating story, though I was left not quite sure what Gould ever did to merit his 15 minutes of fame. I suspect that Lepore was similarly puzzled.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

A House Full of Daughters: A Memoir of Seven Generations by Juliet Nicolson

The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power, and Intrigue in an English Stately Home by Natalie Livingstone

Nicolson’s paternal grandmother was the writer Vita Sackville-West, whom she highlights in her engaging history of her fascinating female ancestors and the well-known English country homes they lived in. Meanwhile, Livingstone is the wife of the current lessee of Cliveden (now run as a five-star hotel), another famous home that played host to Restoration-era scandals, the Cliveden Set, and the 1960s Profumo affair, all explored in her entertaining book. Donations to the Library Chicken travel fund (so I can visit all these places myself) will be happily accepted!  
(LC Score: +2)

 

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

1980s mixtapes and magic—didn’t get to this one, but I’ll be checking it out again soon. RETURNED UNREAD. (LC Score: -1)

 

Lincoln and the Abolitionists: John Quincy Adams, Slavery, and the Civil War by Fred Kaplan

I really should know better than to check out nice thick history books from the new releases (due back in two weeks, no renewals) section. RETURNED UNREAD.  (LC Score: -1)

 

Library Chicken Score for 8/22/17:  7
Running Score: 87

 

On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (PRINCESS LEIA WILL LIVE FOREVER)

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey (final Alan Grant mystery)

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan (bookstore in the title = I’m sold)
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen (both for pleasure and for prep as Middle School Lit approaches)


Library Chicken Update CABIN-EXTRAVAGANZA 2017: THE CABIN-ING

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

CABIN-EXTRAVANGANZA: As you might imagine, weeks of prep are required for the Annual Family Trip to the Cabin Where Mom Gets a Glass of Wine, Puts Up Her Feet, and Reads the Entire Time. I have to make a list of all the books I want to bring and then carefully time my library hold requests so that I can pick up the books before we leave. I start working on my list weeks ahead of time: I especially like to get nice thick new releases (that I might not otherwise get to before they’re due back) and I don’t want to bring any potential duds (though of course there are always surprises). Over the years, my cabin memories have gotten mixed up with the books that I’ve read there (Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, and The Three Weissmans of Westport by Cathleen Schine, to name a few), so it matters to me what I bring, meaning that it’s important to carefully winnow the list. Or not. I’m not so good at the last part. This year was a record: I brought three bags of books, wildly overestimating (as usual) how many I would be able to get to. But as Amy reminded me, that’s the entire point of Library Chicken, right?

 

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

This one was a lot of fun. A writer of Agatha Christie-like mysteries finishes his final book and commits suicide--or does he? And what happened to the last chapter of the manuscript? We get two mysteries for the price of one as the tale of the editor investigating the author’s mysterious death bookends the text of his final novel.
(LC Score: +1)

 

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

A semi-famous artist and animator, now a full-time mom, deals with depression and anger during one very long, very bad day. I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy this novel given my mixed history with Semple’s other books, but this one is funny and heartfelt and goes in the YES column. NOTE: The main character will be easy to identify with for those of us (I know I’m not the only one!) who are married to super-nice spouses while being not-always-so-nice (even though we try, we do!) ourselves. And if you happen to be the super-nice one in the couple, you could always read this to see what it’s like being the other half.
(LC Score: +1)

 

Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum

After having completed the Bertie and Jeeves oeuvre I wanted to read a Wodehouse biography. This one is solid and entertaining and deals well with the international scandal at the center of P.G. Wodehouse’s life, when, as an interned Englishman stuck in France during WWII, he agreed to broadcast on Nazi radio, even though he was in no way a Nazi-sympathizer himself. McCrum does a good job of explaining Wodehouse’s behavior (which was seen as providing traitorous propaganda to the enemy) without trying to excuse or defend it.
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Four adult siblings squabble over the disbursement of the family trust, which has been gutted as a result of the eldest’s irresponsible and immoral behavior. (Though maybe not in the way you expect.) At the beginning, the family seems to be made up entirely of mean-spirited jerks and pathetic losers, but new connections are forged and relationships shift, leading to a surprisingly sweet ending.
(LC Score: +1)

 

Ha’Penny by Jo Walton
Half a Crown by Jo Walton

The second and third books (following Farthing) in the Small Change trilogy, set in an alternate Britain (where the Nazis made an early peace with England and won the war on the continent) circa the 1950s. In Ha’Penny, following closely on the events of Farthing, we see England slip closer to fascism, while in the background a plot is hatched to assassinate the new Prime Minister and his guest, Adolf Hitler, on the opening night of a new London production of Hamlet. I had major issues with one of the relationships in this novel (and if you’ve read it, email me, because I would like to discuss it AT LENGTH), but it won me over in two ways. First, the actress involved in the assassination plot is one of the “famous Larkin sisters”, who are clearly and unashamedly based on the Mitfords, and yes, I’m up for reading anything and everything involving the Mitford sisters. (I may even occasionally cackle with glee while doing so.) Second, the Mitford-I-mean-Larkin actress is playing the title role in the production, a gender-bent Hamlet, and I found the backstage conversations about the motivations of a female Hamlet fascinating. (Also, I would now like to see this production. Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern, could you please make that happen?) Half a Crown jumps the action forward 10 years, to 1960 and an England with its own secret police force and soon-to-be-opened concentration camps. While the depiction of Britain’s fall into fascism felt scarily realistic, I thought the ending of the series was a bit too pat, though overall I enjoyed the trilogy.
(LC Score: +2)

 

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Secrets and lie detectors! Polygamy and Margaret Sanger! Feminism and bondage fetishes! The creation of Wonder Woman is one of those you-couldn’t-make-this-stuff-up tales, brought to life in this well-researched history by Jill Lepore, who always chooses interesting and unique topics to write about. (I’m also a big fan of her Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin.) It’s a great read, especially if you’ve just enjoyed the new Wonder Woman movie. (And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?)
(LC Score: +1)

 

Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

This novel consists of a cleverly linked series of narratives from various people connected with the doomed revival of a popular children’s stage musical, Mister Monkey. Though a very different book with a very different style, I was reminded of The Nest, in that it starts out rather sordid and grim, but ends up with a bit of sweetness and hope.
(LC Score: +1)

 

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Fifteen years ago, a reality show depicting an exorcism performed on a 14-year-old girl became a pop culture phenomenon. Now her younger sister is 23 and is being interviewed for a book on the events of that show and their shocking aftermath, declaring in the process that she believes her sister was actually mentally ill and was denied needed treatment. I don’t want to give too much away, but Tremblay owes a large debt to Shirley Jackson in this creepy and occasionally disturbing novel.
(LC Score: +1)

 

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Smith tells the story of two young girls growing up in the housing projects of London, who meet in a dance class and become on-again off-again best friends. One of them becomes a professional dancer and the other, our narrator, becomes the personal assistant to an international pop star. For what it’s worth, this is one of those novels where I felt I missed the point somewhere along the way, but that didn’t actually hamper my enjoyment.
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

An extended family vacation in Mallorca leads to all sorts of secrets being revealed, with relationships upended and characters having to figure out a way to stay together—or not. This was a quick, entertaining read, but I was a little disappointed by the cliche nature of the family problems. Basically, all the men (with the partial exception of the nice gay couple) are sleeping around, and (DEEP SIGH) the 18-year-old daughter wants to lose her virginity before going home and starting college. (Is that still a thing? Really, is that a thing we’re still talking about as an important life goal? Could we maybe decide not to have it be a thing anymore?)
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)

 

Howards End Is on the Landing by Susan Hill

In this memoir, subtitled A Year of Reading From Home, accomplished author and publisher Susan Hill devotes herself to reading and rereading the books on her own eclectic bookshelves. I’m always in the mood for a book about books, but I found Hill to be a bit of a lit snob, just a smidge smug and condescending. To be fair, I was probably never going to get along with someone who dismisses the Wimsey-Vane romance as ridiculous and has an entire essay on how she finds Jane Austen boring.
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)

Library Chicken Score for THE CABIN 2017: 10
Running Score: 82

 

On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Coates’s memoir of his father)

The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi (need to finish reading Oyeyemi’s backlist) 

The Sinful Stones by Peter Dickinson (Inspector James Pribble #3)

Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie (the final Tommy and Tuppence)

Book Nerd: Library Chicken Weekly Scoreboard (7.4.17)

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken.  To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments! 

Happy Fourth of July! Today I will be enjoying the traditional re-watch of the musical 1776 and hissing and throwing popcorn at the screen whenever Thomas Jefferson shows up. I might also read a bit. I’m still in a reading slump, meaning that I find it hard to focus on anything and have at least half a dozen partially finished and temporarily (I hope) abandoned books lying around. When I’m feeling like this I have a hard time dealing with any kind of fictional conflict, so when I see it approaching I put down the book and pick up something else—typically a reread and/or something with very low stakes. Bring on the Jeeves and Wooster!

 

Jeeves in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse

The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse

Bertie Wooster Sees It Through by P.G. Wodehouse

How Right You Are, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse 

I’ve been reading and rereading Wodehouse for decades, but before now I’ve never tried to read through all ten Jeeves and Wooster novels in chronological order. (Mostly because the joys of Wodehouse are not dependent on “story arc.”) I’m enjoying the experiment, of course, but I’m also finding that it allows me to appreciate Bertie’s voice even more—his verbal tics and repetitions, the way that the story of his winning the Scripture Knowledge prize at school works its way into every single narrative. These are books #4 through #7—three more to go!
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)

 

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

Tommy and Tuppence #1. Young Tommy and Tuppence, childhood friends just demobbed from their service in The Great War, run into each other in London and (through the usual series of unlikely coincidences) find themselves caught up in a mystery involving the sinking of the Lusitania, Bolshevik spies, and a missing girl named Jane Finn. It’s all utterly ridiculous plot-wise, but great fun, especially if this if your first introduction to the Beresfords. I’ve read it before and remembered The Big Twist, but still enjoy reading it as a romance, even if the mystery is a bit silly.  
(LC Score: 0, Kindle)

 

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Another reread! Inspector Alan Grant, flat on his back after an in-the-line-of-duty accident, revisits the murder of the Princes in the Tower. This novel consistently ranks as one of the best mystery novels ever written and I’ve read it at least a couple of times before, but it’s actually the fifth novel with Inspector Grant. Last year I went back to read the beginning of Tey’s series (the first one is The Man in the Queue) and found that I really enjoyed them (though fair warning: they are typical detective stories, so don’t go in expecting something like the historical conundrums of The Daughter of Time). When I got to The Daughter of Time in the sequence, I wasn’t in the mood for a reread (too many great library books on the stack) and it’s taken me until now to get back to it. One thing that struck me was how much more I enjoyed the book now that I understand more of the historical context, having read more English history in the interim. I also think it makes a great homeschool read, not just because of the history, but because the whole point of the book is to develop your critical thinking skills and look at history (or more specially, historians) with a skeptical eye. It’s a great way to introduce students to the idea that history is written by the winners. Since it helps to have context, it would be a good side-by-side read with for anyone studying that period, and I highly recommend it for anyone who’s doing Shakespeare’s Richard III. HOMESCHOOL RECOMMENDED.  
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)

 

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Shockingly, NOT a reread! This YA fantasy is one of the books I’ve been picking up and putting down for a couple of weeks now and I decided to power through. I love the beginning: there’s a modern-day town on the edge of a forest and everything is perfectly normal, except for the unbreakable glass casket in the forest where a horned prince has slept for decades. And a changeling attends high school with our protagonists and every year a couple of tourists get eaten, but yeah, other than that everything’s perfectly normal. This novel has a lot going for it—there’s a great scene where the high schoolers are partying and drinking in the woods around the glass casket like they do every Friday night because of course that’s what teenagers would do—but (and this may be the slump talking) it turns out I’m kinda over Faerie at the moment. I’m also definitely not in the mood for YA teenage kissing, and there’s a LOT of YA teenage kissing in this book. (Diverse kissing, though, so thumbs up for that!) I think it’s a case of wrong book, wrong time for me, but I’d have no hesitation in passing it along to my favorite YA readers.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

So YA fantasy isn’t working for me; let’s head back over to the mystery section. Claire DeWitt is a very unusual private investigator who has been hired to find out what happened to a missing lawyer in post-Katrina New Orleans. I really enjoyed this book. I also am now completely freaked out about ever visiting New Orleans, since Gran vividly depicts it as a lawless violence-ridden Third-World city that you need special skills to survive. (Seriously: my daughter’s freshman chorus trip was to New Orleans and if I had read this book before then I might not have been able to sign the permission slip. Fortunately she and her fellow singers had a great time and all returned unscathed.) Alongside that, there’s an incredible amount of love and respect for the city and its inhabitants here. If anyone out there is from New Orleans please read this and let us know what you think—I’d love to see a reaction from someone who knows the city.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

Farthing by Jo Walton

A murder has taken place in a country house in 1949 England, getting us comfortably back to the world of Wodehouse and Christie—except that in this version of 1949, England made an early peace with Hitler (as a result of the Hess Mission, which, yes, I will happily read ALL THE BOOKS, fictional and otherwise, about Rudolf Hess and his bizarre flight to Scotland) and so now exists in the shadow of a Third Reich-controlled Europe. The owners of the house and their friends make up the “Farthing Set,” a group of powerful pro-German politicians who helped broker the peace. Things do not end well. I don’t want to say too much, except that it’s a great book and I recommend it, but the book does have a strong political viewpoint and I was surprised to see that some reviewers thought it heavy-handed. I did not, which may be an unfortunate side-effect of the times we are living in. It’s the first book in a trilogy; as soon as I work up the emotional energy I look forward to tackling the next two books. 
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Glass-Sided Ants’ Nest by Peter Dickinson

In her introduction to Farthing, Walton thanks Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, and Peter Dickinson for getting her on the right track regarding British mysteries. I had not read Dickinson, but of course I have to check out anyone mentioned in such illustrious company. This is his first novel, written in 1968, and first in a series with Inspector Jim Pribble as our detective. Here’s the setup: During World War II, a (fictional) New Guinea tribe called the Ku were slaughtered by the Japanese. The handful of survivors now share a home in London, along with the anthropologist daughter of the white missionary couple that had lived with them in New Guinea, and their chief is murdered. When I first saw the cover of the library edition, featuring a cartoonish African man, I was...concerned. You might be thinking that all this sounds like a great opportunity for a lot of casual racism and general offensiveness, and you wouldn’t be wrong. The Kus are described as primitive and child-like, definitively alien and Other, and characters more or less continually comment on the blackness of their skin. One character also suggests that the anthropologist, who has been accepted as a member of the tribe, is keeping them as her own private project, a personal “ant farm” that she can tend and watch. That said, Dickinson gives depth to the story and the characters, and the Kus that we meet (the few with speaking parts) come across as distinct individuals. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this novel, but I can tell you that I read it more or less in one sitting and that I’ve got the next one coming. I’m hoping for no more cartoon African covers.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu   

The nice thick sequel to The Three Body Problem.  Nope, not this week.  
(LC Score: -1, RETURNED UNREAD)

 

Library Chicken Score for 7/4/17: 3  
Running Score: 57

 

On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

Ha’penny by Jo Walton (sequel to Farthing)

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran (sequel to City of the Dead)

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey (next Alan Grant book) 

The Old English Peep-Show by Peter Dickinson (next Jim Pribble book)


Book Nerd: Library Chicken Weekly Scoreboard (5.23.17)

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

NOT BOOK RELATED: Is anyone else listening to The Black Tapes podcast? I saw it described in a BookRiot post as Serial crossed with The X-Files and that’s pretty much exactly right. I’m only a few episodes in, but it’s my new favorite thing to do while not reading. (Or sleeping. I’m a big fan of sleeping.)

This One is Mine by Maria Semple

So I loved Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, but sadly I did not love this novel. Semple is an engaging and entertaining writer, but these characters were so incredibly vicious—shallow, self-absorbed, mean-spirited, and spiteful—that I read most of it wincing and holding the book as far away as possible. The character I ended up liking the most (or disliking the least) is the husband who was hateful to his stay-at-home-mom wife because she didn’t do a good enough job of taking care of him, so that should tell you something. At the end, after they’ve done a whole bunch of utterly unforgivable things, the three main characters come together for a little bit of hope and redemption, but I don’t know. I’m worried they’ll just end up carving a swath of horribleness through the innocent bystanders in their vicinity.
(LC Score: +1)

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

After a disappointment like that, I was delighted to find Elinor Lipman’s latest novel on the new release shelf. Lipman writes warmly affectionate stories about screwed-up but still loving families, both those we are born into and those we create along the way. In this one, our heroine moves into a new home and soon gets caught up with (1) a decades-old possible murder mystery, and (2) a handsome new housemate. Lipman’s characters are funny and actually try to be nice to each other and she’s never let me down—highly recommended for comfort reads (and getting over any mean-spirited and spiteful novels you may have accidentally read).
(LC Score: +1)

Among Others by Jo Walton

This Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel has been on my to-read list for years and I’m so glad I finally got to it. (It’s Amy’s fault because she read it so I immediately had to.) It’s a girls’ boarding school story told in diary entries (two of my reading sweet spots, right there) by Mori, who ran away from her abusive mother after the death of her identical twin sister. Plus there are fairies (not quite like fairies I’ve encountered elsewhere) and magic (maybe?) and most of all, BOOKS. 15-year-old Mori is a science fiction fan and watching her discover various authors and series is like jumping back in time and visiting with 15-year-old me. (Mori is writing in 1979; I was about 5 years behind her, but there’s quite a bit of overlap in our reading lists.) This is a quiet book, a love letter to science fiction fandom (which we don’t often get to see from a girl’s perspective), and most of all an appreciation of what we can find in books.
(LC Score: +1)

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

I love the concept here: it turns out that bartenders are secretly alchemists, whipping up magic (alcoholic) potions that give them special powers to defeat demons (called tremens) that would otherwise infest the human world. And the most secret, most magic potion of all? The Long Island Iced Tea. It’s a very fun idea, but lacked something in the execution.
(LC Score: +1)

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

This speculative fiction novel is set in a steampunky alternate-present with zeppelins and mechanical men built by a technological genius called Prospero. Our narrator, Harold, gets mixed up with Prospero’s daughter (who’s named Miranda, naturally). There’s a lot here about machinery vs. humanity, knowledge vs. mystery, and science vs. miracles. It’s beautifully written and even though I’m not quite sure I ever really figured out what was going on I certainly enjoyed the ride.
(LC Score: +1)

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

Lots of sf/fantasy this week! Smaill’s novel is set in a dystopian future England where some past catastrophic event has destroyed buildings, killed all the birds, and left people without the ability to read. Music has become the main way to communicate and pass on knowledge. Daily ‘Chimes’ rung throughout the land bring communities together—and may also have the sinister effect of destroying people’s long-term memories. It’s an... interesting choice to write about a world where all the characters have trouble remembering what happens from day to day, but fortunately it turns out that our hero (for reasons never explained) has special memory powers. The writing is smooth and lyrical and Smaill creates a hazy, impressionistic sort of world where the plot is less important than the vision she is trying to convey. I’m glad I read it and I appreciate the originality of Smaill’s creation, but I’m a plot-girl—I always feel like the author is cheating when too many details are glossed over or have clearly not been thought through, and I’m easily distracted by all the questions raised when a fictional world is not fully realized.
(LC Score: +1)

Georgia: A Brief History by Christopher C. Meyers and David Williams

I may be ready to take a break from Georgia history. This is a good one to go out on—a nice complement to Cobb’s Georgia Odyssey—and it does an especially good job of explaining the economic consequences of slavery, King Cotton, etc. Recommended for all you Georgia scholars out there! (It’s only me, right? I’m the only one reading these books, aren’t I? <sigh>)
(LC Score: +1) 

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Okay, everyone settle in because I have some thoughts. (Warning: rant approaching.) After careful consideration, I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that it’s time to BURN IT ALL DOWN. I mean, maybe that’s a slight overreaction, but right now it’s hard to believe that women aren’t being forced to take a giant step backward, fighting all over again for the basic rights and protections we thought we’d achieved decades ago. This certainly wasn’t the world I thought I’d be living in. I am extremely grateful to my parents (and a series of really wonderful teachers) who helped me grow up believing that my gender was no obstacle to anything I might want to accomplish, believing that the fight for women’s rights was over and we WON—woo-hoo!—and it’s nothing that sensible people need ever worry about again, but I wish someone had made me read this when I was 16 or so. Certainly, growing up in the 80s I felt no need to revisit the dry and dusty tomes of of the 60s women’s movement, and so I missed out on Friedan’s engaging narrative voice and her straightforward analysis of how the 50s and early 60s were a complete horror show for women—particularly any woman who might not be emotionally and intellectually and sexually fulfilled by scrubbing the kitchen floor. (Of course, we know that the idealized American 1950s beloved of so many politicians and social commentators were a nightmare for anyone who wasn’t white, straight, and male, but still.) Maybe it wouldn’t have done me any good to get angry at 16, but at least I would have had a better understanding of where we were coming from, how hard we had to fight to escape the narrow confines of “femininity," and the cycles of progress and stagnation/backlash that seem to come in regular waves. Now, when I see that picture of old white men deciding what healthcare (for example) should look like with nary a woman or a person of color in the room, when I see them trying desperately to drag us back to the 50s—yep, I’m thinking it’s time to BURN IT ALL DOWN. Friedan’s 1963 book shows its age—in particular, her discussion of “the male homosexual” goes beyond ridiculous all the way to offensive—and, as many others have noted, it’s limited by exclusively addressing the problems of straight white middle-to-upper-class women. Friedan follows the outdated thinking of her time in blaming nearly all psychological problems in children on incompetent mothering, which in her thesis is due to lack of maternal self-fulfillment, plus she, like everyone else in the 60s, seems to be utterly obsessed with the female orgasm. (What did the Kinsey Report do to these people? When did the female orgasm become the sole measure of personal fulfillment? How even--? ...On second thought, never mind. Forget that I asked. Some things should probably be left alone.) We also learn that some things never change: Friedan expresses concern about the early sexualization of young girls through revealing clothing, describes the 1963 version of “helicopter parents," and has a whole chapter on how “kids today” are unmotivated, entitled, and allergic to hard work. Despite the issues, I found The Feminine Mystique a very readable introduction to the “a woman’s place is in the home” thinking of post-WWII America, a philosophy that lives on through many of the politicians and social commentators who grew up in that era. I’ve ordered a copy to give to my 16-year-old. (End of rant.)
(LC Score: +1)

Paper Girls Vol. 1 written by Brian K. Vaughn and illustrated by Cliff Chiang

I am still a newbie to the world of graphic novels and comics, but I LOVE Brian Vaughn’s Saga and so I was very excited to read this series about a pack of pre-teen newspaper delivery girls in 1988 who get caught up fighting a scary and mysterious invasion from the future. In fact, I bought a copy for my 14-year-old graphic-novel-loving daughter (who hasn’t read Saga yet because it’s extra-hard-R-rated, seriously not for kids I mean it). I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to Vol. 2, but the 14-year-old preferred the next entry...
(LC Score: 0, borrowed from my daughter)

Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy

Lumberjanes Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max

written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis and illustrated by Brooke Allan

More pre-teen girls kicking butt! Stevenson (of Nimona fame) co-writes this comic about a group of best friends who fight monsters (and the occasional Greek god) while earning merit badges at Lumberjane Camp. Sillier and more cartoony than Paper Girls (which gets violent and may be too much for younger readers), it’s diverse and funny and a complete delight and my daughter is zooming through the collections as fast as she can get them. Me too.
(LC Score: 0, borrowed from my daughter) 

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

A modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I know better, I really do—these things never go well. I nope’d out early on, once it was revealed that Liz (a New York City magazine editor/writer in this version) was having an affair with her married ‘best friend’ (the Wickham character), who she’d mooned over for years, never quite able to give up on him even as he dates girl after girl, keeping her on the side. THIS IS NOT THE ELIZABETH BENNET I KNOW AND LOVE. It goes rapidly downhill from there. For those of you in the market for an actually quite good update of P&P, I recommend The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the funny and clever YouTube series. Also, the 14-year-old is having a great time with Pride and Prejudice: Manga Classics (adapted by Stacy King). She’s reading it on the side during our current mother-daughter read-aloud of P&P and aside from being entertainingly ridiculous in all the ways you’d expect a manga version of P&P to be ridiculous, she says it’s helping her keep track of all the characters and understand what’s happening a bit better.
(LC Score: +1)

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

Gregory is one of those why-haven’t-more-people-heard-of-this-guy? novelists. He writes sf/fantasy (with the occasional dash of horror) and I’ve read and enjoyed two of his novels: Afterparty and We’re All Completely Fine. I’m looking forward to reading the rest, including Spoonbenders (due to come out later this year), but I couldn’t get to this one in time. EXPIRED HOLD.
(LC Score: -1)

 

The Age Altertron by Mark Dunn

Hey, the guy who wrote Ella Minnow Pea also wrote a middle-grades kids’ novel! I should put that on hold and read it! But maybe not this week when I’m busy with the 60’s women’s movement and bad Austen fanfic and entirely too much sf/fantasy! EXPIRED HOLD.
(LC Score: -1)

 

Library Chicken Score for 5/23/17: 7 (it helps that I was finished with Eligible in about 20 min) 
Running Score: 32

 

On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (Atwood does The Tempest)

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead (the debut novel from the recent Pulitzer Prize-winner) 

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (just started this one but so far it’s excellent)

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (yep, still catching up on books I should have read in school)



Stuff We Like :: 5.5.17

home|school|life’s Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.&nbsp;

You know how some weeks, it's like "Wow, is it Friday already?" and other weeks, it's more like, "Holy cow, I cannot believe we actually made it to Friday." Yeah, this is the latter. :)

around the web

Because food doesn't have to look good on Instagram to taste good.

I am now completely obsessed with the Chicago squirrel class divide.

Relevant to our interests: Death Made Material: The Hair Jewelry of The Brontës (If you’re not yet obsessed with the Brontes, Suzanne can help you get started.)

If you have the time and the emotional space to read this essay, it is worth your time. It’s a really lovely, nuanced account by the mom of a child with a rare chromosomal deletion but also about the things society expects of women and mothers, the challenges and rewards of motherhood, ideas about what it means to be healthy and normal—it’s just a good read, and it made me cry a little but the good crying.

Stephen Fry + The Hitchhiker's Guide + free audiobook!

 

at home/school/life

on the blog: If you’re interested in my own personal homeschool methods, you can read all about how we put together 3rd grade this year

one year ago: This house is a mess!

two years ago: Living and learning on wilderness time

 

reading list

Suzanne warned me, but how could I not take a chance on the newest Connie Willis? As usual, she was right: There were some great moments in Crosstalk, but it was overall kind of meh (and the plot holes—ugh!) and just not what I want from a Connie Willis novel. So maybe the moral here is that I should listen to Suzanne?

I finished Seveneves, part of my quest to read more genre books that aren’t Katie Fforde romances. (Though I do have Second Thyme Around going in the upstairs bath.) I loved the idea: The moon explodes, effectively ending life on Earth but leaving just enough time for the planet to secure humanity’s future on the International Space Station. Everyone’s scrambling to science and politic their way to a successful survival of the species, and there are lots of technical and personal challenges that threaten the project. I really enjoyed this part, the apocalyptic part. The second part of the book—set roughly 5,000 years later when the Earth becomes habitable again—was less satisfying, a problem that I often run into with sci-fi stories in general and with Stephenson in particular. There’s this great idea, and it gets set up brilliantly, but then it’s like the author’s not totally sure what to do with said great idea. Overall, it was a fun read.

I also finally read Among Others by Jo Watson, who wrote my favorite dragon comedy of manners. It is not so much a story with a plot as it is a love letter to books (especially science-fiction books), and it was weird (there’s magic—well, kind of, probably anyway) and lonely (the heroine ends up separated from her family at an English boarding school where she really doesn’t fit in) and full of references to so many wonderful books. I’m coming down firmly on the side of being a fan, though I can appreciate that it might not be for everyone.

 

in the kitchen 

My favorite weekend dinner is a bunch of different appetizers from our Chinese/Thai delivery joint, but when I want to feel particularly virtuous, I add something homemade to the mix, like these salmon and egg wraps.

These baked sweet potatoes are the perfect easy dinner. (I like them with a big spinach salad.)

Cookie of the week: molasses cookies (better with ice cream)

 

at home

I think no one will be surprised that I CANNOT WAIT to watch Victorian Slum House.

I’ve been knitting a bunch of these to give as holiday presents this year. 

Our outside classes are almost done for summer! I am looking forward to logging some poolside summer reading time in the very near future.