Surprise Me Challenge: February ’16

In 2016, I am continuing to let random.org choose a book from my TBR list, to be read sometime during the month. I currently have 318 books on this list?!?

thebasiceightJanuary’s randomly generated number is 142, so, SURPRISE!, I will be reading The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler, which is great since I have it on my bookshelf.

Here is the Goodreads description:

Flannery Culp wants you to know the whole story of her spectacularly awful senior year. Tyrants, perverts, tragic crushes, gossip, cruel jokes, and the hallucinatory effects of absinthe — Flannery and the seven other friends in the Basic Eight have suffered through it all. But now, on tabloid television, they’re calling Flannery a murderer, which is a total lie. It’s true that high school can be so stressful sometimes. And it’s true that sometimes a girl just has to kill someone. But Flannery wants you to know that she’s not a murderer at all — she’s a murderess.

2016 Challenges: January Progress

  • Goodreads goal of 130 books: 18 this month, 18 total — a whirlwind month of reading has put me ahead of schedule on this challenge, but I need to focus on a few of the challenges below
  • 2016 Horror Reading Challenge  goal of 16+ books: None this month, zero total
  • Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge (24 specific categories of books): Five this month, five total – categories 2, 5, 11, 15, 24
  • Panels’ 2016 Read Harder Challenge (26 specific categories of books): None this monthzero total
  • Surprise Me goal of one book per month: None this month, zero total


2017 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award Nominees

rcyrbalogoThis is the post where I usually list the new nominees, but the re-vamped Rebecca Caudill website is so cool, you should click here and look at it there instead. The list is plain, but the website itself is wonderful. The site is still all dressed up for the 2016 award, as voting will take place from today until 2/28, but the new list, resources, etc. will make their appearance on April 1st.

For those of you new to the Rebecca Caudill Award, it is Illinois’ children’s choice award for 4th-8th graders. The award is in its 28th year and going strong. Especially notable is the diversity of this year’s list, which developed naturally from a strong pool of books originally nominated by young people (mostly) and their teachers and librarians.

In 2014, I posted about a 2015 nominee every week with my Rebecca Caudill Roundup series. I had intended to do the same last year, but life got in the way, so they say. So this is my official pledge that I will bring back the Roundup for the 2017 list. Like the Caudill website, it will debut in April. Hold me to it folks!


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 2/1/16

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme started by Book Journey. The folks over at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers have given it a children’s/YA spin. I thought it would be a fun way to recap last week’s reading and give a sneak peek of my TBR pile.

I had a busy reading week last week!

Last Week’s Books:

Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi just didn’t do it for me. It’s the story of 12-year-old Pete Collison who lives in Brooklyn in the 50s. His dad is a college professor who gets accused of being a communist, and Sam-Spade-Loving Pete decides to try to investigate to find out who his dad’s accuser is and unlock some secrets from his dad’s past. I guess what bothered me most was the FBI agent who keeps harassing and following Pete and the fact that Pete sometimes shares these encounters with his parents and sometimes not. Believability was stretched past its limit, in my opinion.

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata is a story about international adoption. Eleven-year-old Jaden was adopted four years ago after many years of being a neglected child in Romania. It is heart-wrenching to know that Jaden’s past abuse and abandonment have prevented him from fuly loving and accepting his adoptive parents. Jaden thinks about the many therapists he has worked with sfter behavior problems such as hoarding food and setting fires. Now, his parents and he are traveling to Kazakhstan to add a new baby to the family, and many, many unexpected things happen. Jaden starts to bond with a toddler, Dimash, even though he is not the child his parents expected to adopt, and that makes Jaden think that he might be able to love his parents, too. I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. Although the ending was touching, as Jaden’s parents decide to adopt Dimash and a baby, it seems unlikely that all will be easy and that Jaden will be magically “fixed,” as some readers might imagine.

In The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani, the main character is Sonia Nadhamuni, a half Indian and half Jewish American girl. When her father loses his job, Sonia must leave her tiny, progressive private school and attend a public one for the first time. She is immediately welcomed by a very popular girl who encourages Sonia to try out for cheerleading; however, her friends are not so welcoming. It takes a while for Sonia to decide that while being in the in-crowd is tempting, being true to yourself and befriending those who will always stand up for you is better. The twist to this familiar story is Sonia’s dad’s depression and short-term disappearance. This is another book that I liked, but didn’t love. Good for middle school, but not a must-purchase.

I listened to Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby, which turned out to be a fortunate decision–as it contains many stories within a story. In Viking times, Solveig and her older sister and younger brother have been whisked away to safety while their father, the king, and his armies battle a powerful enemy. At first guarded by a few trusted men, the party is soon joined by a band of berzerkers sent for extra protection. While Solveig is enjoying working with the skald (storyteller) Alric to learn his craft, traitors are working to poison those protecting the royal family. The many stories that Alric and Solveig tell, not only inspire those around them but also give insight into Norse culture and legends. Aagin, especially great to listen to.

I am reading Fables by Bill Willingham with my best friend for the Panels Challenge. Somewhere along the way I got behind so I will reread from the beginning and finish the now-complete series by the end of the year. Wonderful stuff for fairy tale fans. Adult fairy tale fans, as I would rate it an R if it were a movie.

Currently Reading:

On Deck – My neglected random reads:




It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1/25/16

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme started by Book Journey. The folks over at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers have given it a children’s/YA spin. I thought it would be a fun way to recap last week’s reading and give a sneak peek of my TBR pile.

Last Week’s Books:

Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen is a satisfying middle school fantasy with elements of mystery and lots and lots of riddles to help solve it. Hagen has built and exciting and intriguing world, and it is fun to root for Gabriel and his friends. Plus, there are talking ravens!

The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine is set in the 1950s in my hometown, Downers Grove, Illinois. When Tommy tries to get revenge on store-owner Mr. McKenzie by planting a communist newspaper in his store, he ends up regretting the consequences of his actions. Meanwhile, Tommy’s sister is recovering from accidental severe burns in the hospital, and his mother is becoming more withdrawn and angry than ever before. My description does not do justice to how beautifully Levine weaves in all the threads of Tommy’s story and paints a clear picture of life and sentiments during that time. I loved this book, as I did her previous works The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had and The Lions of Little Rock.

Gregory Maguire’s Egg & Spoon is an epic (475 page) fantasy set in Russian around the turn of the 20th century. As expected, he weaves in many Russian folk and fairy tales, most notably Baba Yaga, as he recounts the adventures of royal relative Ekaterina and peasant girl Elena as they switch places one fateful day. There is a monk narrator who speaks like a storyteller as well. This is a difficult book for me to place, as I think most middle grade readers would not have the stamina to see this one through. Yet it is not quite YA. And, in fact, I think the best audience may be adult fans of Maguire’s work.

I also have mixed feelings about The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis. I must start by saying I have not read Elijah of Buxton, and while this book is not a sequel, it does take place in Buxton, also near the turn of the 20th century. Half of the book seemed very much like Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago, as it was very episodic and it felt like Red and Benji’s chapters could have stood alone as short stories. The two do meet up halfway through the book and forge a friendship, even though Red is an Irish immigrant to Canada and Benji’s family descends from escaped slaves who fled north from the U.S. The madman’s legend is an interesting one, and the real madman ends up bringing people together in a very unlikely way. This one was a “like” for me, not a “love.” I listened to this one, and the audiobook was excellent, with dual narrators.

Currently Reading/Listening To:

Note: Fables is an adult comic series that I am reading for the Panels Challenge. It is way too mature to put in my middle schools.

On Deck:

The one where the Universe tells me I need a samovar

samovarSince the new year began, no less than three books I’ve read have featured characters who brew and serve tea using a samovar…a Russian one. The beautiful antique at left is currently available from Ebay for a mere $11,500 (although I could make an offer).

There are several available for quite lower prices on Amazon, even electric ones (egad). Any of them would certainly be a better financial choice for me, but they are definitely not as majestic as the one I have imagined in my head.

As a tea lover, I feel compelled to at least find a place that would serve tea to me from such a device–but what are the chances of that in Central Illinois?

Here are the books I blame for this current obsession:

It’s a good thing it’s the weekend–plenty of time to drink tea in a much less dignified way–and figure out how a samovar could become mine….

That is all.