Let's Talk BOOKS, People.

Anything to keep from thinking about the hot weather--oh, and did I mention that the A/C in my car stopped working Sunday morning? It's always fun to find out on your way to church. (You know, 'cause you really shouldn't swear. GOSH!)

Here are a few titles I have read recently, outside of stuff for the book club. I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but you've been warned.

1. 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson
Funny story: I follow the author on Twitter, and I like her quirky humor. It turns out she is fro
m Philly and had a book signing in the area for her newest book. . . and of course it was on the one Saturday out of the month I had to sing. So I called when I got out of church, and I asked if she'd still be there 45 minutes from then (the time it would take me to get there). They said probably not, so I asked if they could have her sign a book for me. They asked me if a paperback was O.K., and while I didn't understand the question entirely, I said Fine. Because they were doing me a favor.
When I got to the bookstore the following day, and the nice cashier retrieved the book from the back office, I realized the paperback was of the previous book. I have no idea why they did that, unless maybe they figured it was not a guaranteed sale and they did not want a personalized hardcover book they couldn't resell.
So, I bought both books. (Very crafty, bookstore people.) But hey, I got a teacher discount, so they were 20% off (as mentioned previously, two books for $22.03). And the author wrote me a funny note about being on Twitter, so that was cool.

Summary: In the first book, Ginny, a thoughtful but somewhat mousy teen from New Jersey, receives a mysterious package from her beloved but recently deceased artsy aunt. In it are thirteen letters that send her on an adventure through Europe that teaches her a great deal about not only her aunt but also herself. The sequel focuses on getting to that last envelope.

My thoughts: Overall, I liked them, although the premise of the sequel was a little thin for me, so I'd have to say the first one is definitely better. But in both I enjoyed the descriptions of Europe and the places Ginny visited, as well, as the intertwining of ideas about art. I found them easy to read and hard to put down.
Yes, it's YA fiction. Yes, as usual, the author shows her penchant for connecting teen girls with older guys--I don't get it, but it did not bother me as much in this series as the other one I've read, mostly because the main character, Ginny, is 17 in the first book and 18 in the sequel. And there really was nothing offensive in it--even a few cautionary moments about traveling in foreign countries. So if you like this genre, these would be up your alley.

2. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Summary: Again, this is YA fiction, but just barely. It's a raw, often brutal, fictional portayal of one family's struggle to survive when Stalin deported many Lithuanians to the outskirts of Russia, and they ended up in Siberia. Not a easy read--or in my case, an easy listen, as I did it in the car on audiobook.

My thoughts: I recommend it and I think it will win awards (as it is on a number of lists already). It was tough to listen to, and I found the ending a little abrupt, but overall it was a real page-turner (well, I was hanging on every word as I listened). I related to the main character Lina's artistic abilities and vision--she draws, in secret, many of the atrocities she witnesses.
In short, it's as close to a present-day Hunger Games as you could get, and a good deal of what transpires in the story really did happen.

3. When Martha's Away by Bruce Ingman
Summary: I was inspired to borrow this from the library by Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a great childrens' book illustration blog, a while ago. This hilarious children's story is narrated by Lionel the cat, who reveals what he does when his owner, Martha, leaves the house. His activities include long-distance phoning his cousin, cooking his own lunch, and inviting kitty friends over for fun things like a piano concert.

Best page: "I play with your toys. Audrey from across the road comes over quite often to play doctor." (Illustration: a white cat with a red medical kit in her teeth trots over a crosswalk. Illustration opposite page: Audrey the cat wears a stethoscope and listens to Lionel's heart.)
What were you thinking?

I always joke with The Cat when I get home that she had all her cat friends over for poker while I was gone. Use your kid (or borrow someone else's kid) so you have an excuse to read this and have a good laugh.

Currently, I am reading The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. It's a look at how the internet has changed reading, including a look back at how the printing press changed reading, too. It seems to be a collection of essays, although in sequence. I'm about a third of the way through. . . and I just realized it's due back on the 18th and I'm out of renewals (stupid interlibrary loan limits). So I guess I'd better pick up the pace on it. It's a little heady, so I'm not really able to just pick it up and put it down a few minutes here and there. But it's interesting stuff.

On the YA side, I am reading Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith. I did not expect to get so into it, because it is centered around teen boys on a California ranch, but it is really well written and has real heart. It's not that fast-paced, but the chapters are on the shorter side and full of detail and action. I keep thinking to myself, This is like the next step up for kids who read Gary Paulsen, if that means anything to you.

As a bonus middle-grade offering, I am listening to Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor, which I found on some book list somewhere that I can't remember. I don't like the actor reading the book, because for some reason she seems to have a Southern accent in spite of the fact that the family moved from Ohio to upstate New York. It's not a Midwestern accent; I know what that sounds like. But I like the tone of the story and its gentle but honest look at a kid who although dealing with divorce, an irresponsible mom, a learning disability, and the onset of adolescence, never loses her ability to just be a decent, very likeable kid.

After these, I will be working my way down the summer reading list for school, starting with seventh going into eighth grade. Probably too ambitious at this point in the summer, but I'm going to give it a try. On top of that, I was tipped off by CCR that Heartless is out, so I ordered that from the bookstore that runs my little summer job and probably will be waiting for me (with teacher discount!) Thursday.

Feel free to share what you're reading, or if any of these titles have grabbed your interest!


Sara said…
Does The Shallows mention anything about the internet destroying the written word? It seems like in recent years it's become acceptable to use "your" instead of "you're," or even... gads... "ur." I don't even bother correcting people anymore, or else I would do nothing else with my time. I get "your welcome" all the time at work. These days I do a double take when I see a word pluralized without an apostrophe. Even a sign for a day care, called Great Expectations (or something of the sort), originally had the sign spelled "Great Expectation's." I would shudder everytime I went past. After a few months, suddenly the apostrophe disappeared. At work, on our production floor, the signs pointing to various machines have apostrophes to pluralize. ARGH. I give up.

Am I the only one attributing this to the internet and horrible grammar out there for the world to see and become used to? My grammar isn't anything to write home about, but at least I can properly use there/their/they're and I know to swat away stray apostrophes.

Perhaps it's just because I'm old and grumpy.
maggie said…
I preordered Heartless on the Kindle, so it just magically showed up the other day. I'm still not finished, but I already like it better than ... shoot, what's the one where she's trapped in Italy? Not my favorite. This one has all the good characters back. I don't think they'll ever be as funny as the first one when Alexia and Conall weren't married yet, but still a fun read.

My problem: what to read next! I told you I love MD online, but not so much in printed form...
ccr in MA said…
Sara, if you're old and grumpy, I am too. That kind of thing drives me NUTS. When there's a wall in a shoe store with the repeated sign, "Kid's shoes"...urgh.

The wrong reader can certainly spoil an audio book for me. On the other hand, a great reader can make me happy to listen to a book I'd never pick up to read. I love audio books--but certainly not all audio books.
Kate P said…
Sara--Well, I'm not sure this book explores the evolution of language--more about the brain and books. However, the internet has provided us tons of places to go to keep grammar alive! Check out SPOGG, Grammar Girl (who does podcasts and just published a book). . . even over at the Coalition of the Swilling, blogger Tree Hugging Sister has moments of railing against apostrophe abuse. We'll keep it alive!

Maggie--yeah, I wasn't fond of the previous book, either. Alexia and Conall were apart so much it just sucked the vitality out of the whole story. I'm picking my copy up at the summer job tomorrow.

I can't remember what "MD" stands for, though. . . Melodrama? Hmmmm. You could always reading "Cutting for Stone" and suffer along with me for book club. No, forget that--I wouldn't wish that book on anyone.
Kate P said…
CCR--I long suspected that you and Sara might be cut from the same cloth (where knitting = horses?). We must join forces to end apostrophe abuse! :)

I tend to do audio for books I would not pick up to read. I don't think I would have gotten through the Hunger Games otherwise--being able to yell stuff at the story while it's being told gets me through.
The narrator of Between Shades of Gray was pretty good, but she's a stage actress and sometimes she would yell lines out abruptly.

It's not good to be startled like that when you're driving, y'know?
Rob said…
I am meandering through Moby Dick. This is my second attempt at this one. I have a terrible habit of putting slow books down forever but I'm determined to fight my way through it this time.

I envy people like you who can read several books simultaneously. I have never been able to do that.

About borrowing a kid: One of the beauties of my Kindle is that I can read Hobbes Leviathan or Donald Duck's Adventures and no one knows. :)
Sara said…


That would be one odd, very nerdy rally. :)
Kate P said…
Rob--ooh, Moby Dick is one I have not read. And I have yet to experience a picture book on Kindle: is it really the same??? I wonder! Maybe I'll download When Martha's Away and see.
Yeah, I do the compartment thing with reading multiple books: one for the car, one for lunch (when I work), one before bed. . . Crazy.

Sara--we should TOTALLY plan a rally. With properly spelled and punctuated signs.
Rob said…
I'm only into my fourth book on the Kindle. Two of them have been very tough sledding and I've also gotten busy around the house. My Kindle is not in color but the grayscale images I've seen on it are quite sharp. I wouldn't read a graphic novel or a comic book on it but I don't read those anyway.
Kate P said…
Rob, that's a good point--my Kindle's not in color, either, and until the color e-readers come down in price (or tablets I guess), I don't think that younger children or people who read graphic/illustrated materials will be all that interested in e-readers.

(I have, uh, one book on my Kindle, and that's last month's book club selection. . . which I didn't finish.)

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