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2014 February



In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The 50 Page Rule?

On 26, Feb 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I’ve been reading a lot lately. A lot. As I’ve said on several occasions I can pretty much enjoy any book, even if it has flaws that bother me. I’ll get lost in the world and the characters and notice little things, but not let them get in the way. I’m also pretty acutely aware that these books were not written for a thirty-something stay at home mom. My inner tween or teen can connect and I see value in the book or can see what would appeal to the target audience.

But every once in awhile I find a book that just doesn’t click with me. I will want to put it down because it interrupts my reading rhythm. It might take me two or three times as long to slog through it, which throws off the other books I have lined up to read. I get kind of resentful (at a book!), but you know what? I can’t seem to put a book down once I’ve started it.

Now I know Nancy Pearl has the 50 page rule* and in theory I think it’s a great idea. Especially if you have a long list of books you want or need to read. I can’t do it, though! I can’t do it for two reasons. First, I usually feel compelled to finish books once I’ve started them. Second, I can’t help but think it might get better. I have read several books that don’t pick up until much later than the first 50 pages. Jane Eyre comes immediately to mind. But books that just don’t get much better I wish I would just put them down. They just slow me down.

I can’t help but wonder, is there a way to assign a page number that takes into consideration the length of a book and is percentage? That might give longer books (like Jane Eyre) a little longer to develop. Nancy Pearl makes a point to say that you should feel free to return to a book once you’ve put it down, but the chances of me doing that are slim to none. There are way too many other books on my TBR pile and that pile seems to grow daily (another problem of mine).

Just a little musing on my reading habits today. I wonder, though, does anyone else struggle with putting a book down once they’ve started?

*If you aren’t familiar, it’s simply that you read the first 50 pages of a book and if you aren’t engrossed you can put it down and not finish it knowing that you can come back to it later if necessary.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review of The Scorpions of Zahir and Me As a Reader

On 19, Feb 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten


From GoodReads: Zagora Pym has always wanted to be a desert explorer. Her father, Charlie Pym, is exactly that, and she’s always loved to look over his maps of far away exotic places. One day she’d be trekking through the deserts of Africa and China, discovering hidden treasures from lost tribes. But Zagora would never have guessed that her chance to prove herself would come so soon. Like most adventures, it starts with a mysterious letter. Zagora’s dreams of desert exploration are about to come ture, but are she and her father and brother being followed? And will they ever make it back to civilization? How will this adventure end?

I had two minds about this book. As a young adult I was really into archaeology and more specifically Egyptology. While this book isn’t about Egypt, I would still have really identified with Zagora and I would have loved her adventure that is mixed with archaeology and mythology. I always felt there weren’t enough novels out there about these Indian Jones type adventures for kids (and especially girls) when I was growing up. I don’t know if that was true, but I never got very many good books into my hands that were about a subject I was passionate about. And I really needed lots of high interest books as a tween and teen.

I know I read a lot now. A lot. But back then I hardly read at all unless it was assigned for school. I was not a strong reader. In fact I really struggled. Not in learning how to read, but to picture and comprehend a lot of what I was reading. Chapter books were really hard to keep up with.

When I started reading The Scorpions of Zahir I was rather put off by the fact that the writing style is pretty plain. After some reflection, though, I realized this is one of those books that would have met me where I was as a tween. A more complex writing style would have put this book out of my reach and I’m sure there are plenty of other kids that are in the situation I was in. Kids need these kinds of books.

My difficulty with reading has actually given me a great perspective when working with the kids. I know that the weak readers still have hope and I would often share my story with those kids who were struggling. I also recognize that books that may not have great literary qualities still have a lot of value (I’m thinking of those Magic Treehouse Books). They allow kids to practice their skills with books they are interested in.

I did have a couple other minor complaints about The Scorpions. Primarily that Morocco felt a bit romanticized. More like the author had read a lot of travel books and Victorian travel journals rather than actually finding out what the country is like. My other complaint harkens back to my thoughts last week on typos. They details have gotten hazy since I’ve read it, but there was a moment in the beginning where they spell a name of a town or something in Arabic letters. Except they didn’t actually use the correct letters. (I spent three years in college studying Arabic and a semester abroad in Cairo, so I was able to recognize the mistake.) If I’m remembering correctly, they chose Arabic letters based on their similarity to the shape of an English letter. They were also backwards or something too. It appeared not only in the text, but in an illustration so it happened twice. I would be surprised if a kid would catch the mistake, but it really irritated me that they didn’t bother to find someone who would know and just have it in there correctly.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review of Between Two Ends and Typos

On 12, Feb 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Between Two EndsFrom GoodReads: When Yeats and his parents visit his grandmother’s creepy old house, Yeats reunites a pair of pirate bookends and uncovers the amazing truth: Years ago, Yeats’s father traveled into The Arabian Nights with a friend, and the friend, Shari, is still stuck in the tales. Assisted by the not-always-trustworthy pirates, Yeats must navigate the unfamiliar world of the story of Shaharazad–dodging guards and tigers and the dangerous things that lurk in the margins of the stories–in order to save Shari and bring peace to his family.

This was a book I came across quite by accident. I saw it on the shelf when I was dusting in the library where I volunteer and picked it up. The cover plus the promise of pirates were the deciding factors. I also have a soft spot for The Arabian Nights, which is charmingly called Alf Laylah wa Laylah in Arabic which translates exactly as One Thousand Nights and Night. Fortunately you don’t need any knowledge of the classic, although I wouldn’t be surprised if some kids picked it up after being immersed in a very exciting way in its world. This is definitely a book for kids who like to read and like fantasies. It wasn’t the most literary of books I’ve read lately, but it had likable characters, an interesting idea behind it, and a very exciting plot. I wish there was either a sequel or more exploration of the house where Yeats grandmother lives. There is a lot of magic about and I would have loved to hear more about it.

Between Two Ends, however, brought up an issue for me and that is typos. I haven’t ever held the fact that a book has typos against it, but it irks me when they do. Once I really started reading a lot of books I started finding typos all over the place. Everywhere. Some books will only have one or two, but far too many have a lot more than that. Belly Up was by far the worst. I lost count of how many that had.

By typos I mean misspelled words, extra spaces between words, sentences that are missing words or even sentences that it seems have been edited but fragments of the original are still there. I am not a punctuation person so I rarely catch those if they’re there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they happens considering how many of the other types I see. Between Two Ends only had two that I found, but they were egregious. In two instances the word “then” was printed instead of “than”. That’s bad. Really bad. I remember back when I was teaching second grade this was a hard concept to teach the kids because people don’t enunciate and it was hard for them to hear. But a professionally printed book making that mistake? Wow.

I don’t know if this is something that is peculiar to YA/MG or why it happens. I am not familiar enough with the publishing and editing industry that I know why exactly this happens. Do they not read the book before it goes off to the printer? Oftentimes I wonder if it’s the fact that they haven’t read the book in its final form. But seriously, simply taking an extra couple days to read through it would catch these little errors. I am not a good speller, I don’t have a grasp on punctuation rules, I even have typos on my blog from time to time (or probably in each post :)), but these are professional level novels.

As I said, though, I haven’t ever let it get in the way of my enjoyment of a book. Does anyone else find typos in books? Do they bother you?

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Morris Award Nominee Reviews

On 05, Feb 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

I can’t remember when I read all these. Either at the end of December or sometime this month. I definitely read a couple this month. Is this a sign that I read too much? 🙂 As with my post last week, because these all have the award nomination in common, I’m going to write a longer post to review them all together.

Debut Novels

This was a disparate set of books both in content and in how much I enjoyed them. I am always a little baffled by what gets picked for awards and this set was no different. And why were these books all so depressing? Can we have a happy debut next year, please?

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets: I loved, loved, loved this one. Poor James he’s got a messed up home life and I really felt for him. But he’s also a really cool kid or at least he will be once he’s in college and works through some of his anxiety issues. He’s into literary poetry (as in not writing crappy, whiny, angst-y poetry) and photography. He can quote Whitman who isn’t really my favorite, but I can appreciate the level of interest or obsession he has for something that most high schoolers couldn’t be bothered with. He also is self aware enough to know that he needs someone to talk to and has invented a therapist in his mind that is a pigeon. That was kind of funny too, because the nonfiction book I read this month was actually about pigeons. He also gets it together to get a job and earn money to see a real therapist. All in all, he’s just a much more mature high school student. The kind of kid I would have been friends with or would love to have in my library. In terms of the writing it felt very polished. I would be happy to see this one win the Morris.

Charm & Strange: I’m not sure why everyone was so surprised by the twist in this one. I saw it coming from miles away. I really don’t want to spoil anything for anyone though, so I can’t talk too much about the actual story. Even this may be a spoiler, but I will say it was an amazing portrayal of a kid who is horribly damaged and shows to what great lengths the mind will go to block out that damage. The book was beautifully written and I like the alternation in chapters between past and present, although using the matter and antimatter (and also the title) felt a little unnecessary and just plain pretentious. There was little connection between quantum physics and the actual story. I wish it had been more hopeful at the end for those kids reading this who have experienced similar trauma, but sometimes life isn’t happy. Another I would be happy to see win.

Sex & Violence: I thought this one was a really beautiful story about healing and about how men can be just as impacted by sexual violence, even if they were not the ones raped. I know some people have complained about Evan, and even though he could be pretty cavalier about his sexual relationships, I think he mostly didn’t attach to people. I don’t think it made him a dirtbag, just showed his baggage from his parental relationships and questionable early relationships. Sadly it took a violent attack to make him realize he does care, deep down, even when he won’t admit it. All around a well-crafted and well-written book. I wonder if this one won’t win the Morris because the content is so explicit

Belle Epoque: This one was not my favorite. The concept was interesting, but it rang rather historically false to me. Especially how Maude suddenly feels very at home with the upper class. People were very aware of their social class and I have a hard time believing even some one as idealistic as Maude would think she could be mistaken for an upper class/nouveau riche girl or would fit in. There was an really fabulous story of friendship in here, though, that I don’t think we get to see often enough in YA. And for those kids that like historical novels and are interested in Paris, this is a good one. In terms of the award, I think the first three novels above were much better written and more nuanced.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds: This was my least favorite by far. The writing felt stilted to me, it was awfully long, and despite the fact that it’s marketed as a book about spiritualism there is very little of it. I wondered about the historical accuracy of this one too. Some of the influenza information in it didn’t sound right to me and upon checking the author’s note at the end she lists a lot of (pop-science and history) resources she lists no flu resources. There is a fantastic book by Alfred Crosby (America’s Forgotten Pandemic) about the 1917/1918 outbreak that is incredibly detailed and includes a ton of statistics, analysis and historical information. I would have liked to see that listed. I would also have liked to see a reference to Unraveling Freedom, a middle grade nonfiction book about how Germans and Austrians, etc. were treated in the US during WWI. It’s an excellent eye-opening book that would be right at the right reading level for kids reading Blackbirds.

I also thought Mary Shelley (who didn’t not really need to have both names used all the time) was a bit too free for the time period. She was, however, incredibly plucky and determined so she was a likable character despite the book’s flaws. Her aunt was also really great. And this is a time period that doesn’t get written about all that much (WWII is much more popular) so I think it’s good to see something about it in YA.

I do wonder if these issues occur all the time in historical fiction and I am both bothered by them and don’t read enough to understand it doesn’t matter. That entirely possible. I would suggest reading The Diviners instead or in addition to this one.



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