29 October 2013

National Cat Day! Happy 10th Birthday to my cats!

October 29 is National Cat Day - and my fur babies turned 10 at the beginning of September so here's a little timeline of my babies from ~8 weeks to present.

I think one of the computer crashes wiped a bunch of pictures so I can only find one (ONE! *sob*) picture of the boys as fuzzy little babies in October 2003.

They were so tiny - barely bigger than my hand.  I took this picture the night I got home from the farm where they were born (it was raining like mad, cold, and my friend's elderly father had to come shoot a possum that had got into the barn).
But they adapted to their cushy indoor cat life well and soon started getting into all sorts of trouble like getting stuck under the dishwasher rack.

 And getting stuck in items meant for the recycling.
And had $1500 worth of abdominal surgery for an intestinal blockage as a result of eating thread (and other things on top of that including the spare wire for the mandoline cheese slicer - which was radiopaque, thank god) and then more charges for his wound infection because he licked the incision (the vet didn't make him wear a cone).  Chaucer-kitteh still (STILL) tries to eat strings and ribbons.  He doesn't learn.

And gained a lot of weight.  At his heaviest, the Dante-kitteh weighed 18 pounds.  We're around 13 pounds now, which is much better, and I get to laugh about his poochy little tummy.  It is the cutest.

It helped that I moved to a split-level so they had to learn about (very scary!) things like stairs.  When one has to go up and down the stairs to eat, use the cat box, and sleep on the nice, warm bed you get lots of exercise.  When we first moved, they refused to go downstairs without me for the first few days - they would sit at either the top or bottom and cry for me to come and walk with them.

They're about the most adorable, annoying things ever.  Chaucer is very good at begging (see left).  Dante knows exactly which drawer in the fridge contains the cheese - which is a favorite kitty treat - and comes running when he hears it open.

They drag their favorite toys all over the house and into bed while I'm sleeping (Chaucer likes to carry his around like a baby and make weird "mrower" noises).  They love to snuggle and can purr like a diesel engine.

They get into just about anything I'm doing - working, knitting, reading, etc etc etc.  They were the subjects of my most popular blog post for a while - "Die Katzen sind nicht amüsiert" - which expressed why they don't like spam comments.

Chaucer has become the more photo-ready of the two - he's a bit better at staying still while keeping his cute facial expression.

But Dante has his moments, too (his little face is getting whiter/graying, which makes me sad).

He is obsessed with the kitteh who lives in the mirror.  All the mirrors.

Also, we are extremely vocal when we want something.  Like when I'm having supper and Chaucer-kitteh would like some, too - he sits at the table and meows incessantly.

I love them so much.  Which is why I spent a good 20 minutes taking pictures/video of them with their new catnip hedgehog and green-frog-with-tail (?) toys because they were so funny.

Happy 10th birthday Chaucer and Dante!!

Happy National Cat Day everyone!

ETA: Plz send treats.  Don't tell mommy.

28 October 2013

The Wicked Wallflower (Bad Boys & Wallflowers #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

Maya Rodale's captivating new series introduces London's Least Likely—three wallflowers who are about to become the toast of the ton…

Lady Emma Avery has accidentally announced her engagement—to the most eligible man in England. As soon as it's discovered that Emma has never actually met the infamously attractive Duke of Ashbrooke, she'll no longer be a wallflower; she'll be a laughingstock. And then Ashbrooke does something Emma never expected. He plays along with her charade.

A temporary betrothal to the irreproachable Lady Avery could be just the thing to repair Ashbrooke's tattered reputation. Seducing her is simply a bonus. And then Emma does what he never expected: she refuses his advances. It's unprecedented. Inconceivable. Quite damnably alluring.

London's Least Likely to Misbehave has aroused the curiosity—among other things—of London's most notorious rogue. Now nothing will suffice but to uncover Emma's wanton side and prove there's nothing so satisfying as two perfect strangers…being perfectly scandalous together.

Rodale's books always put me in a quandary when I go to rate/review them.  On the one hand, I find them inaccurate in the attention to detail and language that I prefer in my Regencies/historicals and possibly over-plotted in the lead up to the resolution, but on the other I quite like her hero/heroine pairings and plot elements.

"Least Likely to Misbehave" is a terrible misnomer when the punishment for stepping outside Society's strictures is ruin and ostracism. The false betrothal announcement was just for fun, it was never meant to be sent to the paper and when it appears in print Emma is particularly lucky that Blake is in need of a very respectable fiancee.

I particularly like Lady Emma in this instance and is very much the stronger character of this pairing. She's allowed to have doubts, as annoying as they are to the reader, right up until the very end. Blake seems more of a stock character at times - the Reformed/Reforming Rake is a very popular type - but he has an interesting relationship with his aunt. (I would have offed the character of Benedict, Emma's waffling long-time suitor, much earlier in the book. What a wanker.) Speaking of Blake's aunt, Agatha, the section of the book that makes up the Fortune Games is a hilarious riff on the popular Hunger Games young adult series and movies. Very imaginative and a way to get her hero and heroine together without parents for a good portion of the book. The Wicked Wallflower is the first in Maya Rodale's new series Bad Boys & Wallflowers that will consist of historicals with contemporary companion novels, the first being The Bad Boy Billionaire's Wicked Arrangement.

27 October 2013

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013

Summary from Goodreads:
A selection of the best writing, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and comics, published in American periodicals during during 2012 aimed at readers fifteen and up.

This is apparently the last Nonrequired Reading volume that Dave Eggers will edit.  It will be interesting in future seeing the new direction for this section of the Best American series.  As usual, Eggers and the 826 kids came up with a really good selection of web pieces, essays, and short stories. It felt much more heavily weighted toward longer essays/stories than the shorter goofy stuff, which is a bit of a shame because those are often brilliant small pieces.

Karen Russell has a great reporting piece about a torero who now fights with one eye, having been seriously injured by a bull (note: accolades are for writing, not subject).

The Sum of All Kisses (Smythe-Smith #3)

Summary from Goodreads:

He thinks she's an annoying know-it-all...

Hugh Prentice has never had patience for dramatic females, and if Lady Sarah Pleinsworth has ever been acquainted with the words shy or retiring, she's long since tossed them out the window. Besides, a reckless duel has left this brilliant mathematician with a ruined leg, and now he could never court a woman like Sarah, much less dream of marrying her.

She thinks he's just plain mad...

Sarah has never forgiven Hugh for the duel he fought that nearly destroyed her family. But even if she could find a way to forgive him, it wouldn't matter. She doesn't care that his leg is less than perfect, it's his personality she can't abide. But forced to spend a week in close company they discover that first impressions are not always reliable. And when one kiss leads to two, three, and four, the mathematician may lose count, and the lady may, for the first time, find herself speechless ...

New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn's enchanting third novel in the Smythe-Smith quartet is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud and tug at your heartstrings in equal measures.

Sarah feigned illness to get out of playing in the Smythe-Smith musicale (which, fortunately for her governess Anna and cousin Daniel, led into the love story in A Night Like This). The only way out of the quartet is marriage or death. Sarah, though, currently doesn't have any prospects of marrying before next year's musicale and wedding season is now upon her, first Honoria and Marcus (from Just Like Heaven) and then Anna and Daniel a week or so later. She's thrown together with the person she holds chiefly responsible for her unmarried state: one Lord Hugh Prentice, who was gravely injured in a duel with Daniel during her first Season and whose absolutely deranged father caused Daniel to flee the country in disgrace. It may be an irrational belief, but it's one she clings to.

Hugh, for his part, has put all the pieces of that night back together and concluded that he was as much at fault as Daniel. He made it possible for Daniel to return to England by holding ransom the only thing his father holds dear: Hugh's own life. If Daniel comes to harm, then Hugh will kill himself. The Marquess of Ramsgate cares only that Hugh live to continue the family line and so the tenuous peace holds.

For now. Hugh and Sarah gradually get past their prejudices. He initially thought she was a flighty, overdramatic ton miss; she let him know in no uncertain terms that she did not like him. Daniel, ever the instigator, coops them up in a carriage with Sarah's three younger sisters.  This is possibly the funniest scene Julia Quinn wrote in a very long time because Hugh and Sarah are forced to read a scene from one of Harriet's plays. Also, if you have any number of younger siblings and spent a long car ride with them you will find the dialogue in this scene to be perfect. When Sarah injures her ankle, Hugh keeps her company...and romance takes off.

There are a lot of lovely beats in this book. Hugh is a mathmatical savant, he counts things almost involuntarily. Sarah and Hugh dancing together when they have only two solid legs between them. But a lot of realism runs through The Sum of All Kisses, chiefly that the law is no protection from a member of the peerage with a sadistic bent. Hugh's father overshadows so much of the story that the ending, while satisfying, is tinged with bittersweet. Characters make decisions partially out of self-preservation when they would have freely made those decisions out of love. This is why I love historicals from Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Tessa Dare, and Sarah MacLean - they are breaking aspects of the genre and it brings up the quality of the storytelling. Speaking of Eloisa James - the cross-pollination that saw JQ's characters in Once Upon a Tower brings Gowan and Edie into The Sum of All Kisses. If you aren't familiar with EJ, I highly recommend her Fairy Tales series (standalones, so you can start with Once Upon a Tower if you wish, but then jump back to the first one, A Kiss at Midnight, which is EJ's take on the Cinderella story).

17 October 2013

The Arrangement (The Survivors' Club #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

Desperate to escape his mother’s matchmaking, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, flees to a remote country village. But even there, another marital trap is sprung. So when Miss Sophia Fry’s intervention on his behalf finds her unceremoniously booted from her guardian’s home, Vincent is compelled to act. He may have been blinded in battle, but he can see a solution to both their problems: marriage.

At first, quiet, unassuming Sophia rejects Vincent’s proposal. But when such a gloriously handsome man persuades her that he needs a wife of his own choosing as much as she needs protection from destitution, she agrees. Her alternative is too dreadful to contemplate. But how can an all-consuming fire burn from such a cold arrangement? As friendship and camaraderie lead to sweet seduction and erotic pleasure, dare they believe a bargain born of desperation might lead them both to a love destined to be?

[Note: I did not manage to save my review of The Proposal, the first book in this series, but I do recommend it.]

Vincent, Viscount Darleigh, has had enough - his well-meaning but overbearing mother has equated his blindness with mental deficiency (not to mention that he is now titled and rich) and has decided that he needs a wife in short order. Vincent escapes to a small village with only his valet as company to enjoy a little peace and quiet. It doesn't last. When the neighborhood nest of viperish social climbers decides to trap him into marriage he is soon rescued - by the quiet, unassuming, and very poor Sophia Fry, who is the companion to the intended young lady (I use "lady" loosely). For her basic human decency, Sophia is flung out onto the streets. Vincent seizes the opportunity - he doesn't really want to be married and neither does Sophia yet a marriage of convenience will protect each of them from relatives (and Sophia from destitution). He proposes the arrangement and offers that they will separate after enough time has passed that the marriage cannot be legally questioned or over-turned. Sophia will have the protection of his name and income and Vincent will have some peace.

Love comes in and upsets the apple cart, of course. Sophia determines that before she leaves that Vincent is as self-sufficient as possible; she devises the Regency version of a seeing-eye dog and a track to enable him to ride his horse unassisted. Vincent gives Sophia the confidence to become an independent woman. Most fascinating is that Vincent's blindness is total, his sight will never recover unlike many other blind/partially blind heroes, and so any love that Vincent feels for Sophia develops from their interactions and her personality rather than her looks.

This is a much stronger novel from Mary Balogh than The Proposal. The plot is a bit tighter, the stakes are a bit higher for the hero and heroine, and the resolution is much more satisfying. However, there are a few minor points that could have been better. The actual agree-to-separate-later portion of the proposal scene sounded quite hollow and years of childhood trauma and neglect seemed suddenly forgotten with a good haircut, nice clothes, an attentive husband, and a well-placed punch to the face (though, the punch was very well-deserved, so that's less problematic). On the whole, a good installment to the Survivor's Club series. I'm looking forward to the next one.

15 October 2013


Summary from Goodreads:
In Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.  Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

If Fangirl had existed when I was a HS senior I would have ate it up with a spoon and asked for more.  It is such a great YA/coming of age story.

I was a bit like Cather when I started undergrad - socially quiet, maybe a little unsure of who I was but definitely sure that I was smart and talented, and I went to a big state university.  My first serious relationships were in undergrad as well as my first major crises of confidence.  Granted, not all within my freshman year as happens to Cath.

I really liked how Rowell contrasted Cath's outgoing immersion in the Simon Snow fanbase with her tentative interactions among the student body in the real world.  Add to that Cath's support - her twin Wren - has decided that she no longer wants to do the "twin thing" and not only changes her social group but also her appearance.  Rowell allows Cath to make mistakes as she goes and to learn from them.  And Cath slowly learns that she is strong enough to take life on her own terms.  This leads me to wonder why the "New Adult" category is so narrowly defined because Cather's story is definitely one in which a new adult learns to be an adult.

Now, mixed in with all this are snippets of Simon Snow novels - a Harry Potter stand-in - and Simon Snow fanfic as written by Cather.  All of it is great fun.

Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane #6)

Summary from Goodreads:


Twenty years ago Maximus Batten witnessed the brutal murders of his parents. Now the autocratic Duke of Wakefield, he spends his days ruling Parliament. But by night, disguised as the Ghost of St. Giles, he prowls the grim alleys of St. Giles, ever on the hunt for the murderer. One night he finds a fiery woman who meets him toe-to-toe—and won't back down . . .


Artemis Greaves toils as a lady's companion, but hiding beneath the plain brown serge of her dress is the heart of a huntress. When the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her from footpads, she recognizes a kindred spirit-and is intrigued. She's even more intrigued when she realizes who exactly the notorious Ghost is by day . . .


Artemis makes a bold move: she demands that Maximus use his influence to free her imprisoned brother-or she will expose him as the Ghost. But blackmailing a powerful duke isn't without risks. Now that she has the tiger by the tail, can she withstand his ire-or the temptation of his embrace?

[Note: this is another where I had a lengthy review at BR, now lost]

Maximus Batten, Duke of Wakefield.


Artemis is no dummy - when the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her and her feather-brained cousin Penelope from footpads in St. Giles (because Penelope had a bet with another idiot aristocrat to drink a cup of gin in St. Giles at midnight) he leaves a distinctive signet ring in her hand.  Only one man would wear such a ring...Artemis uses this knowledge to force Maximus to save her twin brother, Apollo.  The wretched Apollo is locked in the "Incurables" ward at the terrifying Bedlam asylum, accused of a triple-homicide.

Maximus (grudgingly) agrees and, as the Ghost, spirits the maimed Apollo out of the asylum and into the cellars of Wakefield House.  Along the way, he considers marrying Penelope (she's a duke's daughter and wealthy as they come, even if she's an idiot and unkind) and persuades Artemis to move into his house as a temporary companion to his nearly-blind sister, Phoebe.

Now, this is where all the good bits happen and I won't spoil it for you.  Suffice to say, there is a lot of plot left in Duke of Midnight and it has a fantastic final chapter.

(And an Epilogue! This won't be the final Maiden Lane book!)

14 October 2013

The Novel Cure

Summary from Goodreads:
A novel is a story transmitted from the novelist to the reader. It offers distraction, entertainment, and an opportunity to unwind or focus. But it can also be something more powerful—a way to learn about how to live. Read at the right moment in your life, a novel can—quite literally—change it.

The Novel Cure is a reminder of that power. To create this apothecary, the authors have trawled two thousand years of literature for novels that effectively promote happiness, health, and sanity, written by brilliant minds who knew what it meant to be human and wrote their life lessons into their fiction. Structured like a reference book, readers simply look up their ailment, be it agoraphobia, boredom, or a midlife crisis, and are given a novel to read as the antidote. Bibliotherapy does not discriminate between pains of the body and pains of the head (or heart). Aware that you’ve been cowardly? Pick up To Kill a Mockingbird for an injection of courage. Experiencing a sudden, acute fear of death? Read One Hundred Years of Solitude for some perspective on the larger cycle of life. Nervous about throwing a dinner party? Ali Smith’s There but for The will convince you that yours could never go that wrong. Whatever your condition, the prescription is simple: a novel (or two), to be read at regular intervals and in nice long chunks until you finish. Some treatments will lead to a complete cure. Others will offer solace, showing that you’re not the first to experience these emotions. The Novel Cure is also peppered with useful lists and sidebars recommending the best novels to read when you’re stuck in traffic or can’t fall asleep, the most important novels to read during every decade of life, and many more.

Brilliant in concept and deeply satisfying in execution, The Novel Cure belongs on everyone’s bookshelf and in every medicine cabinet. It will make even the most well-read fiction aficionado pick up a novel he’s never heard of, and see familiar ones with new eyes. Mostly, it will reaffirm literature’s ability to distract and transport, to resonate and reassure, to change the way we see the world and our place in it.

I have a bit of a bone to pick with the blurb - the concept of The Novel Cure is nice, rather than brilliant, and the execution is in no way satisfying.  The authors apparently have a bibliotherapy service (?) which is interesting but I don't think I'd be making use of it based on this book.

The nicest thing I can say about The Novel Cure is that it added lots of books to add to my TBR pile.  There's a really good range and selection of titles but the authors undercut everything with an uneven tone. Are they being flippant, witty, or sarcastic? Earnest? Serious?  I can't tell.  I also think the layout of the book didn't quite work.  I would have much preferred longer chapters by broad subject (relationships, aging, birth, death/dying, etc) rather than an a-to-z run down with really silly alphabetical categories i.e. "Bad Blood", "Beans, Temptation to Spill", etc.  There's even a header for"Broken China"....huh?  Carnivorousness (which ails us)?  There also a moment where "new novels" are dismissed in favor of novels that have stood the test of time yet the authors later recommend Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings for the section on Mr./Mrs. Wrong - it had only been published in April 2013, less than six months prior to the publication of The Novel Cure.

Perhaps this isn't a book for me.  Too late - I read the whole thing.

11 October 2013

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013

Summary from Goodreads:
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee, a leading cancer physician and researcher, selects the year’s top science and nature writing from journalists who dive into their fields with curiosity and passion, delivering must-read articles from a wide array of fields.

I loved Siddhartha Mukherjee's book The Emperor of All Maladies and was thrilled to see that he was the 2013 guest editor for The Best American Science and Nature Writing.  A good collectionon the whole. I would have liked more "science-y" articles particularly since Mukherjee made a point in his Introduction of saying that he looked for articles that explained the technicality of science.  It felt very pop-sci to me. For example, I couldn't quite get a take on the essay about shipping Russian iron ore to China via the Arctic and the Bering Strait - sort of about global warming and globalization, but then not very science oriented either.

There is an excellent essay by Jerome Groopman on new advances in cancer treatment with immune therapy and David Quammen has a chapter from Spillover in here as an essay from PopSci.

08 October 2013

The Best American Essays 2013

Summary from Goodreads:
Selected and introduced by Cheryl Strayed, the New York Times best-selling author of Wild and the writer of the celebrated column “Dear Sugar,” this collection is a treasure trove of fine writing and thought-provoking essays.

Cheryl Strayed is probably the best choice as this year's guest editor for the Best American Essays collection.  Between Wild and Dear Sugar she's in just the right place to sift through the many essays published in the previous year.  And this is a very readable collection.  Each piece seemed to be chosen to showcase some aspect of personal growth or challenge and I really appreciate how her preferences went into her editorial process.  Standout pieces include Alice Munro's "Night", Vanessa Veselka's "Highway of Lost Girls", and Zadie Smith's "Notes on Attunement".  There was also the ultra-weird "Keeper of the Flame" - Matthew Vollmer gets some props for the research on that one because I don't think I could have stomached being in the same room with all that Nazi paraphernalia. Ick.

04 October 2013

The Best American Infographics 2013

Summary from Goodreads:
The rise of infographics across virtually all print and electronic media—from a striking breakdown of classic cocktails to a graphic tracking 200 influential moments that changed the world to visually arresting depictions of Twitter traffic—reveals patterns in our lives and our world in fresh and surprising ways. In the era of big data, where information moves faster than ever, infographics provide us with quick, often influential bursts of art and knowledge—on the environment, politics, social issues, health, sports, arts and culture, and more—to digest, to tweet, to share, to go viral.

The Best American Infographics captures the finest examples from the past year, including the ten best interactive infographics, of this mesmerizing new way of seeing and understanding our world.

It's Best American time and, guess what? There is a new addition to the series - The Best American Infographics!

Statistics and pictures, yay!  I've been learning more about data visualization (adding to the job skills, yo) and it was fun to see how the compilers used the intersection of information and art. My only issue, and it likely will be hard to correct when converting newspaper-sized or web-page-sized graphics to print, is that the binding cuts through the middle of the graphic and makes it hard to read. Only a serious problem with one or two graphics, though.  I'd love to see this as an enhanced ebook to get the interactive graphics working (might make the file size too big, though...).

'Tis the Season: My child has a Lexile score of...

October has arrived.  Cool weather, pretty fall color, yummy drinks composed of apple cider or hot cocoa, and I get to wear scarves (I like scarves as an accessory).

And standardized testing, if you are or have a school-age child.

In my area of the country, it seems school districts have chosen testing that calculates a Lexile score for a child's reading level with an associated score range.  Lexile is a company that uses a software program to analyze books for word usage, sentence length, etc. and produce a Lexile Text Measure for each book (I copied the description from the Lexile Analyzer site):
The Lexile ® measure of text is determined using the Lexile Analyzer ®, a software program that evaluates the reading demand—or readability—of books, articles and other materials. The Lexile Analyzer ® measures the complexity of the text by breaking down the entire piece and studying its characteristics, such as sentence length and word frequency, which represent the syntactic and semantic challenges that the text presents to a reader. The outcome is the text complexity, expressed as a Lexile ® measure, along with information on the word count, mean sentence length and mean log frequency.
Generally, longer sentences and words of lower frequency lead to higher Lexile ® measures; shorter sentences and words of higher frequency lead to lower Lexile ® measures. Texts such as lists, recipes, poetry and song lyrics are not analyzed because they lack conventional punctuation.
I'm not a huge fan of putting a "score" on a book based simply on a computer generated metric because the software doesn't take into account context or content of a book.  Or form, cf poetry.  But this seems to be accepted by the educational powers-that-be, so it's here for the time being.  However, I don't know how well or often the scores are explained to parents, because I wind up in a lot of parent-bookseller conversations like this:

Parent: My child has a Lexile score of XXXX.  She has to read books in the range of XXXX-XXXX.  Will this work?
Bookseller [thinks]: Fuuuuuuck.
Bookseller [says]: Well, lets pull up the Lexile site to see what it suggests for that range and go from there.

The major problem here is that the parent hasn't THE FOGGIEST IDEA what books go with the child's Lexile score or how score ranges line up with likely grade-levels.  They don't have/haven't been provided with a list of suggestions for the range.  They haven't looked up Lexile on the Internet to get a handle on what this thing is (I mean, hello, the Internet is the Information Superhighway, Google it).  And their poor child is off in the corner trying desperately to read another Warriors book by Erin Hunter or Wimpy Kid or the new Babymouse before the "grown-ups" force her into reading stuff that she thinks she doesn't want to read.

As booksellers (and by extension librarians, a population I am not a member of but respect greatly), we are the information gatekeepers the parents turn to in this situation.  We are the ones to take an abstract range of numbers and turn it into a physical pile of titles and authors.  We have to differentiate between editions because scores can fluctuate wildly and Lexile isn't very informative (type "The Sun Also Rises" into Lexile - the old Scribner edition has a score of 610L, the ISBN for the reprint isn't found, and the Modern Critical Interpretations edition is listed with a score of 1420L....confusing, right?).  And we are the ones who have to know what stories lay between the covers of those books so we can explain the contents to the parents. 

In almost every customer interaction regarding Lexile, I have had to find books for a child who reads significantly above grade level (at grade level is generally pretty easy and parents with children under grade level often have a list of recommended titles as a starting point; for some reason, those children who read above grade level don't have many recommendations).  For reference, Lexile gives a grade approximation for the score ranges:

Even though the approximate ranges are pretty wide, a book or series that is popular among peers isn't often in the "right" score range for an advanced reader.  Some titles are marked "NC" meaning a non-conforming score (higher than intended audience) but it's hard to tease those out of a range during a search (I've tried).  It can get pretty emotional when the child cannot find anything he or she wants to read or that parents will allow them to read that "counts" for their Lexile score.

The biggest grade-to-score discrepancy I've come across was a seventh grade boy (and a bit young socially for his age) who had a Lexile score greater than 1100.  His Lexile range was approximately 1150 - 1210.  The boy had to read at least five books that semester in his range to pass English and he was already behind. His father had done some online research and was at a loss - he was having trouble finding content-appropriate books in that score range (there was also a religious consideration, so a lot of recommended fantasy titles were automatically out).  The boy was very open to reading Stephen King, who has a lot of high-Lexile score titles, but the idea was vetoed by Dad due to language (and probably the religious consideration as well).  Dostoevsky was perfectly acceptable to Dad, but the kiddo really couldn't get excited about it (he was into Gary Paulsen's Brian series, but that wasn't even close).  Some Dumas was in the right range but not the more appealing titles (The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask are both under 1000).  Gary Paulsen's My Life in Dog Years was just in range, so I was able to interest both parent and child in that.  I sold them on The Hound of the Baskervilles and then hit paydirt with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  The boy had a friend with an Asperger-like syndrome and they were friends in their advanced math classes. Whew.  Finally, three books and a reasonably happy father.  But I couldn't help but think - what are they going to do as the child continues through the school system?

You're probably wondering where I'm going with all this since this isn't quite the usual tone for a "'Tis the Season" post.

Well, I really just wanted to put this out there to maybe help save parents, children, and teachers (and possibly other booksellers and librarians) some grief.  I would like to ask school administrators and teachers to work with children and parents to come up with lists of possible books appropriate to both grade-level and Lexile range (and I understand if you do this and the parents forget, are obstinate, or leave the list at home when they head to the bookstore).  For parents, Lexile provides a map with lists of titles for score ranges.  It's a good place to start when trying to find books.

I would also like to ask teachers to be less rigid when assigning Lexile-related reading assignments because this seems to be where children have the most trouble.  I have so often helped kids who love, love to read but have found that none of the books they find appealing "count" for a reading assignment because they aren't in the "right" Lexile range or have no score because either the book is too new or has an un-evaluable format.  These kids feel disheartened, that they're failing, that the things they love are unimportant, and I hate seeing their disappointment when I've gone through the entire stack of books they've picked out and not a single one was in the right range.  I had a little girl just burst into tears once when I told her The Last Olympian  - the book she so desperately wanted to read - had a score of 620L; she had to have books greater than 700 or her teacher wouldn't count them at all.  Please let children with high Lexile ranges count some of those lower-scoring books toward their reading assignment (say, an exchange of two non-Lexile books for one Lexile book, not to exceed half the assignment) or perhaps give them extra credit for those books as long as they're keeping up with the Lexile assignment (if you're already doing that, bravo!).  These kids are reading because they love reading and they're already reading outside of school, which is sort of the point of those types of assignments.   I rarely hear of a child being penalized for reading above his or her range so I think there's a compromise that can be reached for those kids who want to read but have trouble finding books due to age or content.

So bring your Lexile ranges to me and I and my fellow booksellers and librarians will do our best to find what you like to read as well as what you need to read - if we're very good, that book will fill both requirements.  'Tis that sort of season.

03 October 2013

Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America's Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Summary from Goodreads:
“Mad Men for the literary world.” —Junot Díaz

Farrar, Straus and Giroux is arguably the most influential publishing house of the modern era. Home to an unrivaled twenty-five Nobel Prize winners and generation-defining authors like T. S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Susan Sontag, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Philip Roth, and Jonathan Franzen, it’s a cultural institution whose importance approaches that of The New Yorker or The New York Times. But FSG is no ivory tower—the owner's wife called the office a “sexual sewer”—and its untold story is as tumultuous and engrossing as many of the great novels it has published.

Boris Kachka deftly reveals the era and the city that built FSG through the stories of two men: founder-owner Roger Straus, the pugnacious black sheep of his powerful German-Jewish family—with his bottomless supply of ascots, charm, and vulgarity of every stripe—and his utter opposite, the reticent, closeted editor Robert Giroux, who rose from working-class New Jersey to discover the novelists and poets who helped define American culture. Giroux became one of T. S. Eliot’s best friends, just missed out on The Catcher in the Rye, and played the placid caretaker to manic-depressive geniuses like Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Jean Stafford, and Jack Kerouac. Straus, the brilliant showman, made Susan Sontag a star, kept Edmund Wilson out of prison, and turned Isaac Bashevis Singer from a Yiddish scribbler into a Nobelist—even as he spread the gossip on which literary New York thrived.

A prolific lover and an epic fighter, Straus ventured fearlessly, and sometimes recklessly, into battle for his books, his authors, and his often-struggling company. When a talented editor left for more money and threatened to take all his writers, Roger roared, “Over my dead body”—and meant it. He turned a philosophical disagreement with Simon & Schuster head Dick Snyder into a mano a mano media war that caught writers such as Philip Roth and Joan Didion in the crossfire. He fought off would-be buyers like S. I. Newhouse (“that dwarf”) with one hand and rapacious literary agents like Andrew Wylie (“that shit”) with the other. Even his own son and presumed successor was no match for a man who had to win at any cost—and who was proven right at almost every turn.

At the center of the story, always, are the writers themselves. After giving us a fresh perspective on the postwar authors we thought we knew, Kachka pulls back the curtain to expose how elite publishing works today. He gets inside the editorial meetings where writers’ fates are decided; he captures the adrenaline rush of bidding wars for top talent; and he lifts the lid on the high-stakes pursuit of that rarest commodity, public attention—including a fly-on-the-wall account of the explosive confrontation between Oprah Winfrey and Jonathan Franzen, whose relationship, Franzen tells us, “was bogus from the start.”

Vast but detailed, full of both fresh gossip and keen insight into how the literary world works, Hothouse is the product of five years of research and nearly two hundred interviews by a veteran New York magazine writer. It tells an essential story for the first time, providing a delicious inside perspective on the rich pageant of postwar cultural life and illuminating the vital intellectual center of the American Century.

Well...after that jacket copy there isn't much to say!  Haha.  I was pointed toward Hothouse by Josh from Bookrageous and it sounded quite interesting, a history of a specific publishing house that has published some of the great literature from mid- to late-twentieth century America.  It seems very timely since the television show Mad Men spans some of that same era - the fifties and sixties - and even seems to echo some of the office politics.  I really have to give Kachka for portraying the main players in the publishing house evenly, showing both the good sides and the warty sides, without demonizing or glorifying anyone.  If there was any imbalances, I think that had more to do with the personalities and historical evidence available. Straus left an oral history behind and was the most outspoken partner while Farrar and Giroux were much quieter so the "flavor" of the book falls more to the Straus side.  I was very interested in the insider-baseball information pertaining to the Jonathan Franzen/Oprah's Book Club mess - informative.

One drawback of the book came from the author's sort-of non-linear timeline. He would often refer to future events without using strict dates so sometimes a paragraph didn't make quite as much sense as it should have. But definitely a book to recommend for those interesting in the history of publishing

01 October 2013

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Mackenzie/McBride #6)

Summary from Goodreads:

Second Sight And Seduction…

Daniel Mackenzie lives up to the reputation of the scandalous Mackenzie family—he has wealth, looks, and talent, and women love him. When he meets Violet Bastien—one of the most famous spiritual mediums in England—he immediately knows two things: that Miss Bastien is a fraud, and that he’s wildly attracted to her.

Violet knows she can’t really contact the other side, but she’s excellent at reading people. She discerns quickly that Daniel is intelligent and dangerous to her reputation, but she also finds him generous, handsome, and outrageously wicked. But spectres from Violet’s past threaten to destroy her, and she flees England, adopting yet another identity.

Daniel is determined to find the elusive Violet and pursue the passion he feels for her. And though Violet knows that her scandalous past will keep her from proper marriage, her attraction to Daniel is irresistible. It’s not until Daniel is the only one she can turn to that he proves he believes in something more than cold facts. He believes in love.

[Note: my original review on Brazen Reads was much longer and contained more reasons why I loved this but had serious problems with many plot elements, but I didn't save it to Edelweiss, only the review link so this is just a mini-review based off what I remember]

It's nice to see Daniel the tinkering teenager moving onto larger things: namely combustion engines, cars, hot-air balloons, and motors.  It's part of what intrigues him about Violet: he wants to know where she got the contraptions she uses during her "seances".  Danny isn't an idiot, he doesn't believe in all that claptrap, and he just wants his drunken friends to leave her alone.  When he's cracked over the head while asking Violet about her engineering designs/seducing her, Violet fears that she's killed him and flees to the Continent with her mother (who can actually channel, to some degree).

Enter here my issue number one:  Daniel, by all rights, should be dead and and instead was brought back to life from a virtual coma by Victorian CPR....  There are a number of small, unnecessary things like this scattered throughout the book that take away from the actual marriage plot, which is quite good and has an excellent twist.  My second major issue is that Violet is so much like Beth in description and background and, combined with Danny's genius for engineering that mimics Ian's mental capacity, it gets a bit unnerving.  But still a fabulous entry in the Mackenzie series, I loved it a great deal (and we get a visit from Ainsley, Cameron, and a very charming, naughty Gavina who is now about eight or so).