Jenny's Library

Archive for November 2013

cover image for King's ShieldKing’s Shield by Sherwood Smith

After years of exile, Inda has returned home to Iasca Leror.  His fears of being treated as a traitor are unfounded and Evred, his childhood friend and now king, not only welcomes him with open arms but also with a request that Inda serve him as King’s Shield – the king’s war leader.  Inda, still adjusting to being home, as well the tragic news of his brother’s death, is torn between wanting to serve his king and country, fear that he won’t measure up to expectations, and wanting to spend time with the family he hasn’t seen in years.

There’s always so much going on these books that I’m never quite sure where to begin.  King’s Shield felt a bit slower than the previous two books, I think because so much of the time was spent waiting for the war to begin, and having Inda find out things we already knew.  That said, I loved seeing how both Inda andTau adjusted to life in Iasca Leror and the scenes with the children hiding in the mountains from the Venn were incredibly well done.

Continuing from the previous installment, here are literary gifts for preschoolers, kids just starting school, and other children not quite reading yet.  All of the books on this list should be in stock in most bookstores, so they should work for last minutes gifts.

Books That Should Be In Stock

cover image for Not A Boxinside page for Not a Box

inside page for Not a Boxcover image for Not A Stick

Not a Box, Not a Stick by Antionette Portis

In this pair of awesomely entertaining books, a bunny pretends that a box is not a box but a race car! a volcano! a robot! and that a stick is not a stick but a spear! a fishing rod! a sword!  The covers help make the books extra special; Not a Box has the look and texture of cardboard, Not a Stick the feel of wood.

cover image for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Buscover image for DOn't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late

The Pigeon Finds A Hot Dog!cover image for The Duckling Gets A Cookie!?image for Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App!

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay up Late, The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog, The Duckling Wants a Cookie?!, Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App! by Mo Willems

When the bus driver steps out for a while, he asks readers (and listeners) to watch the bus for him – and to not let the Pigeon drive the bus! Giving little ones a chance to tell someone else “NO!” for a change, as the Pigeon tries all the typical arguments (“I’ll bet your mom would let me”) to try to convince them otherwise.  Willems illustrations are full of energy and personality, but remain still simple enough for children to imitate.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay up Late follows the same formula, while The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog and The Duckling Wants a Cookie?! do not but remain quite charming.

The spin-off app is brilliant as well.  More than just an electronic version of the story, the app also allows children to fill in the blanks (Mad Libs style) and record their own version of the story, and gives them a chance to learn how to draw the pigeon, step by step, right on their tablet.

cover image for Press Hereinside page for Press Here

Press Here by Herve Tullet

This interactive story asks children to press, shake, and turn pages to make the dots multiple, move, and transform.

cover image for Blackoutinside page for Blackout

Blackout by John Rocco

When a blackout means that no one in the city can watch tv, play video games, or use the internet, a family rediscover the joys of spending time outside with each other and friends.  Told in a comic book-like format, the beautiful and very readable sequential art helps prepare children for the process of reading – much like Snowy Day does, only in a more sophisticated way.

cover image for Planting a Rainbowcover image for Eating The Alphabet

Planting a Rainbow, Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert

This pair of brilliant concept books uses bright colors, rhyming text, and shaped pages to capture and keep little ones’ attention.

cover image for The Snowy DayThe Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

A young child explores all the wonders of freshly fallen snow.  A lovely book with engaging pictures that are clear and sequential enough that children can use them to “read” the story on their own when adults and older siblings are busy.

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seegercover image for Green

Lime green, forest green, faded green, sea green…all kinds of greens!  A bit more sophisticated than most color books meant for very young children, Vaccaro Seeger rich illustrations and clever cut-outs will delight older preschoolers and younger elementary age children.

cover image for Frieght TrainFreight Train by Donald Crews

Bold black and white backgrounds are joined by brightly colored train cars in a simple and classic story.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendakcover image for Where the Wild Things Are

Do I really need to explain this choice? I didn’t think so.

cover image for CryoBurnCryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

When a Kibou-daini corporation begins negotiations with the Barrayaran Empire, Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan is dispatched to investigate.  Freezing patients to be revived later, once medical breakthroughs have made longer lives possible, may be the norm on Kibou-daini, but it’s a technique most planets use only in emergency situations.  It’s Miles job to find out if expanding the use of cryotech is only good business sense, of if something more sinister is afoot.  Being kidnapped within a week of setting foot on Kibou-daini strongly suggests the latter, but that still leaves unraveling the mystery of just what precisely is going on in Kibou-daini boardrooms – and how to get back home in one piece.

I don’t know that this is my least favorite Vorkosigan book, but it’s certainly in the running.  It’s not just that so much was left unexplored, but also that the plot felt like an attempt to bring back the old pre-Memory/pre-Komarr Miles.  But Miles has changed, he’s no longer the Miles he once was.  Plopping him back down in the same kind of adventure and mystery feels like stuffing him into an ill-fitted suit; it’s an entertaining story, but nothing seems to fit quite right.

cover image for Diplomatic ImmunityDiplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles and Ekaterin are meant to be finishing up their honeymoon, and soon heading home for the birth of their twins.  Instead, Miles has been ordered to stop by Graf Station to investigate the Quaddie’s claim of unprovoked violence on the part of the Barrayan military.  Also, there’s a small matter of a missing Barrayan officer.  As always, chaos and complications multiply when Miles is on the case.

I liked seeing the Quaddies again – and in Quaddie-space even! – and I appreciated the discussions about gender and indentity.  Unfortunately, all of that was overshadowed by the fact that Miles and Ekaterin – the latter in particular – seemed to be lesser versions of themselves rather than the characters I’ve come to enjoy reading about.

Giftmas is creeping ever closer!

Which means it’s time for another “literary gifts” booklist.  Today’s booklist is for pre-readers.  As in: kids that are no longer toddlers, but are not yet reading aloud themselves.

As before, I’ve divided the main list into books that you have to order and books that you can probably walk into a bookstore and buy off the shelf.  If you choose from the first group of books, you are less likely to duplicate someone else gift, or give a child a book they already have.  But the books in the second group can be bought at the last minute.  Probably.

However, partway through typing all this up I realized that this list was getting way too long for one post, so this time I’ve broken the list up into several parts.

Today, you get:

Books You Will Probably Need to Order:

cover image for The World Is Waiting For YouThe World is Waiting for You by Barbara Kerley

National Geographic has some amazing picture books for children, and this is my absolute favorite.  Lyrical in a way that non-fiction picture books rarely are, filled with breathtaking photographs, and expertly designed, The World is Waiting for You encourages to children to explore and treasure the world around them.

It’s also not the kind of book most kids would pick up for themselves, yet it is the kind of book that becomes a cherished favorite over time, making it a perfect gift book.

cover image for Kitten's First Full Mooncover image for Old Bearcover image for A Good Daycover image for Little White Rabbitcover image for My Garden

Kitten’s First Full Moon, Old Bear, A Good Day, Little White Rabbit, My Garden by Kevin Henkes

Henkes initially made his name with some great picture books meant for elementary age children, but I absolutely adore these newer, more preschool friendly books.  In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a sucker for illustrations with high contrast, gorgeous colors, and thick lines.  All four of these books also have great stories for younger children – ones that engage their imagination and encourage them to predict what will happen next.

cover image for Wavecover image for The Zoocover image for Shadow

Wave, The Zoo, Shadow by Suzy Lee

Suzy Lee’s wordless picture books are incredibly beautiful and clever. Her wonderful use of color and contrast keeps the illustrations readable while allowing her to include the kinds of details that reward repeated viewings.

cover image for Hondo and Fabiancover image for Bark, George!cover image for Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime

Hondo and Fabian by Peter McCarty

While not a wordless picture book, the illustrations are readable, informative, and expressive enough to work as one.  McCarty also has a very gentle and distinctive style as an illustrator, making his books both intriguing and memorable.

Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer

This story never fails to make any crowd I read it to giggle and laugh hysterically.

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime! by Bob Shea

Particularly good for younger preschoolers, children will love roaring along with Dinosaur, and parents will love the fact that Dinosaur “wins” by getting everyone to roar with him.  I mostly love how silly and cute the books are.

cover image for Dogscover image for Orange Pear Apple Bearcover image for Blue Chameleon

cover image for The Odd Egg

Dogs, Orange Pear Apple Bear, Blue Chameleon, The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett

Gravett’s books are clever (Orange Pear Apple Bear works as an “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” for kinders) and the illustrations are elegant, even when the subject matter is comedic.

cover image for Thank You Bearcover image for Don't Worry Bearcover image for I Miss You Mouse

Thank You Bear, Don’t Worry Bear, I Miss You Mouse by Greg E. Foley

These are probably the most “typical” books for preschoolers on this list, but they are so very well done.

cover image for Little Peacover image for Little Hootcover image for Little Oink

Little Pea, Little Hoot, Little Oink by Amy Krause Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace

For some strange reason, you can get this series more easily as board books than as picture books, but I think they are better for preschoolers than toddlers. They also work really well for younger elementary school students, so the picture book format is a more useful investment, in my opinion.

cover image for The Handiest Things in the WorldThe Handiest Things in the World by Andrew Clements, photographs by Raquel Jaramillo

A lovely, lovely book about what it means to be human – and all the new things little hands are learning to do.

(aka, the week I read only books by Bujold)

cover image for MemoryMemory by Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles is used to proving people wrong, especially when it comes to what they think about him and what he can do. Since before he was born he’s been escaping death and ignoring all “rational” assumptions about what a body like his is capable of.  But when Miles disregards – and hides from others – the physical effects of his latest brush with mortality, he ends up almost costing his team their mission and another officer his life.  For once, Miles has gotten himself into a mess he won’t be able to talk his way out of.  As if that wasn’t enough, now Miles’ mentor, security chief Simon Illyan, has fallen ill and doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  Even worse, Illyan is being kept under guard at Imperial Security, and Miles no longer has the security clearance to make sure Illyan is being cared for as he ought to be – and that his demise isn’t being sped along by someone inside ImpSec.

Memory is just absolutely superb.  Quite different in tone from the Miles books before it, Memory nevertheless works precisely because of the way it builds off of Miles’ earlier adventures. That Miles completely deserves the consequences he’s given doesn’t change the fact that they feel like punch to the gut – if anything, that makes it hurt all the more.  Bujold could have gone for the easy way out here, but instead she holds Miles feet to the fire and forces him to realize that some mistakes can’t be forgotten, even if one must eventually move on.  And it’s this that makes Memory such a wonderful and heartbreaking book, worthy of all the praise it’s been given.

cover image for KomarrKomarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

When a freak crash leaves Komarr’s orbiting solar mirror damaged, and the planet’s decades long terraforming project in jeopardy, Lord Miles Vorkosigan (along with fellow Imperial Auditor Professor Georg Vorthys) is sent to determine if the tragedy was an accident or sabotage.  Miles being Miles, chaos ensues – including murder, kidnapping, the kind of secret weapons that are best left to mad scientists, and falling in love.

More serious than most of the previous Miles books, Komarr is similar in tone to Memory.  But where Memory had Miles flailing for much of the book, Komarr shows Miles settling in (yes! settling! in!) to his new role of Imperial Auditor, and the mature responsibilities that job entails.  It also has one of my favorite love stories ever, a romance made awesome not only by Ekaterin being shown as having intelligence, determination, and personality to spare, but also because of the respect that Miles shows her and her son (and the fact that she dares to call him on it when he slips).

cover image for Winterfair GiftsWinterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lord Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorsoisson are finally getting married.  Naturally, between the preparations for the ceremony, reception, and all the guests, the house in chaos.  Among those coming to wedding are Elena Bothari-Jesek, Baz Bothari-Jesek, and Sergeant Taura. Miles’ old partner Quinn declined her invitation but sends her love, along with a string of pearls that causes Eketerin to fall mysteriously and dangerously ill.  Is it revenge, or is Quinn being framed?  Sergeant Taura and Armsman Roic, eager to redeem himself after the butter bug incident, are on the case.

Roic and Taura are both absolutely excellent in this short story.  Which is good, since the plot – and the chemistry between Miles and Ekaterin – often leaves much to be desired.  Fortunately, watching Roic deal with his prejudices, and seeing Taura learn to be confident even in social situations, makes up for any other shortcomings this story may have.

cover image for A Civil CampaignA Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

Love is in the air.  Miles is in love, again.  This time around, the object of his affection has recently made it out of a disastrous marriage and isn’t eager to be courted again.  Mark is also in love, but now that they’re back on still-recovering-from-the-Time-of-Isolation Barrayar, he and his sweetheart can no longer be lovers in truth – unless they marry. Assuming her father would give permission. Gregor is in love as well, but at least he’s already engaged and soon to be married – which has the entire capitol in a frenzy over the preparations.

I may have possibly enjoyed this book slightly more than it deserved, as I loved watching Bujold play with Romance tropes.  It was rather entertaining to see the many ways in which couples got together, not all of them traditional.  There were plenty of funny and clever bits as well, and all of the characters felt very much themselves.

Captain Vorpatril's AllianceCaptain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

If Captain Ivan Vorpatril had his way, his life would be free of both drama and politics.  Unfortunately for Ivan, he’s related to the Vorkosigans, none of whom – his cousin Miles in particular – could be considered restful or a-political.  On top of that, his mother is putting even more pressure on him than normal to settle down and give her a grandchild or two.  So Ivan is less than pleased when Byerly Vorrutyer shows up on his doorstep with a special project for him: befriending a young woman who may be in danger.  He really doesn’t need to get involved in anything that might result in being shot at. Again. But Ivan has never been one to turn down a damsel in distress.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is occasionally ridiculous, but generally entertaining.  It’s also rather nice seeing things from Ivan’s point of view for a change.  That said, I have no idea why this novel was nominated for a Hugo.  (Other than fan affection for the author and series.)

cover image for Falling FreeFalling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

Leo Graf arrives at Cay Habitat expecting it to be much like every other job he’s done as a GalacTech employee.  And it’s true that he’ll be welding and teaching and supervising, as always.  But this time his students and subordinates are quaddies – people genetically modified to “adapt” to work on space stations, including having four arms and no legs.  Leo doesn’t have a problem working with the quaddies, people are people no matter how they look, after all.  What he does have a problem with is how GalacTech treats the quaddies, which they consider to be property rather than employees.

Bujold raises a lot of interesting questions in this prequel, and manages to create a scenario in which Leo’s choices are among the very few moral ones available to him, without making it seem like the answers are always so simple.  It’s a fun and thought provoking book, and makes me wish for more stories about how we got from now to Miles era.

cover image for The Mountains of MourningThe Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold

When Harra Csurik arrives at the doorstep of the Vorkosigan country estate, seeking justice for an unsolved crime, Miles sends her along to his father.  Aral Vorkosigan then turns right around and puts Miles in charge of the case; Harra’s infant daughter was murdered because of her mutation, an old practice that is no longer legal, but still common.  The hope is that Miles presence will make how the law now views “mutes” abundantly clear, and that the newly graduated Miles will keep himself busy and learn something useful about the people he will one day be responsible for as well.

A beautiful and heartbreaking story, and one of my favorites about Miles.  So much of Miles life has been about proving himself to the people around him, but in this story he starts to understand what it means to fight on behalf of others as well.  And it’s especially nice to see him deal with a problem that he can’t simply bluster his way out of, and where he has to learn how to show some grace and compassion rather than simply cleverness and generosity.

cover image for Brothers in ArmsBrothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles’ visit to Earth was supposed to be simple.  Uncomplicated.  Shore leave for the Dendarii mercenaries, and a stop by the Barrayan embassy for Miles so he can collect their pay.  But when is anything involving Miles ever easy?  Particularly now that there are two of them running around, Miles and…a clone!

This ought to have been the the story that jumped the shark – a secret clone? Really?  Instead, it’s a great story about the meaning of family and the horrors of war.  With Miles being Miles – times two.  It’s not quite as brilliant as some of the other Miles books, but it’s anything but disappointing.

cover image for Borders of InfinityBorders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold

When Barrayar hires the Dendarii mercenaries to rescue a general from a Cetagandan prisoner of war camp, Miles appoints himself to the person on the inside.  After being beaten and relieved of his clothes by the welcoming committee, Miles realized that this isn’t going to be as easy as he thought; the entire camp is in disorder, brought on by appalling conditions and psychological warfare employed by the Cetagandans.

There’s a lot in this story that I love.  As usual, Bujold handles questions of morality with respect, nuance, and compassion.  And the way that Miles plan comes together in the end is absolutely perfect.  However, I also happened to be reading this around the time that fandom was discussing the gendered reality of rape in combat, and – as Liz pointed out – the fact that rapes in this story are limited to male on female rapes is not at all accurate for such situations, which affects some of the emotional truth of the tale.

cover image for Mirror DanceMirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Mark, Miles clone, no longer hopes to kill Miles – but his latest scheme might just do the job anyway.  In an attempt to rescue the clones on Jackson’s whole, Mark impersonates Miles and commandeers a Dendarii Free Mercenary ship and it’s crew.  When the plan goes south, and Miles finds out, he stages a rescue of the rescue operation – and plans on giving Mark what for as soon as he gets the can.  But will he get the chance?

As wonderful as this book is (and the scenes between Mark and both Aral and Cordelia are particularly wonderful) I have to admit that this book now mostly sticks in my mind for what it sets up later.  It’s awesome!  It’s also just a bit overshadowed by the stories that come before and after.

cover image for UnderneathUnderneath by Sarah Jamilla Stevenson

When Sunshine Pryce-Shah’s beloved older cousin Shiri commits suicide, Sunny is shocked devastated.  And when Sunny beings “underhearing” the thoughts of people around her, she begins to wonder if she may have found the real root of Shiri’s pain – and if she may be driven to kill herself as well.

This book was just kind of a mess. Not well written, not very engaging, and – as you can see yourself – the kind of book that randomly comes up with new terms for old and well-known ideas.