48-Hour Reading Challenge

I began Mother Reader‘s 48-hour Reading Challenge last night (Friday) at midnight, and I’ll finish up tomorrow at midnight. I’m still working on my first book, Doc by Mary Doria Russell.

The 48-hour Reading Challenge is sponsored this year by Miss Yingling Reads, and sh’s got some wonderful prizes and great posts about books and reading. Check it out.

I’ll update this post as I finish books for the challenge.

For the Win by Cory Doctorow

Book #3 for Mother Reader’s 48 Hour Book Challenge
Reading TIme: 5 hours
Pages: 475

Workers of the World Unite! Let the Games Begin! It’s The Sting (Robert Redford, Paul Newman) on steroids and inside/outside a computer game!

Mr. Doctorow knows a lot about economics and about computers and computer games. I don’t know much about either.

Mr. Doctorow also has a gift for telling a good story. And he ties up the loose ends a lot better than the writers on LOST did.

I enjoyed this techno-thriller by author of Little Brother even though unions and computer games are not my thing. I learned a lot about economics and banking and derivatives and hedge funds currency and inflation and deflation, but I still don’t understand any of them.

The characters made the book:

Mala is a brilliant fifteen year old gameplayer from the Mumbai slum of Dharavi. Her nickname is General Robotwallah, and she leads an army of gamers in battle over the internet each day.

Jiandi is the host of The Factory Girl Show, broadcast over the net to twelve million Chinese factory workers every evening.She listens to their questions, give answers, and encourages the factory girl to fight for justice.

Leonard, aka Wei-Dong, is a seventeen year old game-obsessed high school student from Los Angeles who somehow ends up helping the Webblies, a new union of workers from all over the world, who are uniting to fight for better pay and conditions for illegal gameplayers and for other oppressed workers.

Connor Prikkel works in Coca Cola Games Command Central, hunting down illegal gold farmers and monitoring and adjusting the games to work as perfectly balanced economies. Connor is a gamerunner, and he hates “third-world rip-off artists” who cheat and mine the games for virtual gold and other assets.

Matthew Fong lives in Shenzhen in Southern China, and he’s determined to build his own successful gold-farming operation despite threats from the bosses and harassment from the police.

Big Sister Nor is the mastermind behind the Webblies, a union struggling to organize gamers from all over the world and get them just rewards for their labor and safe workplaces.

It’s a good book, even if I’m not so sure about the politics involved. By the way, you can download and read Doctorow’s book for free. Mr. Doctorow believes that he’ll make more money and everyone will be happier if he makes a name for himself by giving away his his books on the internet. My copy came from the library.

The Long Way Home by Andrew Klavan

Book #2 for Mother Reader’s 48 Hour Book Challenge
Reading TIme: 2.25 hours
Pages: 345

Andrew Klavan takes a subtle dig at his own book in a paragraph near the middle of The Long Way Home, the second book in the Homelanders series of YA thrillers.

“I missed Rick and Miler and Josh. I missed having someone to kid around with and talk to. I missed long conversations about girls and sports and arguments about whether Medal of Honor was cooler than Prince of Persia and why part 2 of any trilogy was never as good as parts 1 and 3. I missed being with the guys who knew me best and liked me just the way I was. I missed my friends.”

Yeah. What he said. This book was fun, but not quite as suspenseful as Book 1 of the series, The Last Thing I Remember*, and probably not as satisfying as the last book in the trilogy that comes out in November 2010, to be titled The Truth of the Matter. In fact, I would suggest waiting until November and then grabbing the the set of three books for any pre-teen/teen guys on your Christmas list —and another set for yourself.

Here’s why:
1. The books are suspenseful. Maybe I’m just dumb, but I haven’t figured out yet why Charlie has amnesia and is missing a whole year of his life or why the bad guys in the story think he was on their side and has betrayed them. Nor have I figured out how Charlie West is going to get out of the mess he’s in.

2. The bad guys are bad, and the good guys are good. Not a lot of nuance here. I think that’s a good thing. I think all of us, teenage guys especially, need heroes and a way of seeing the world as a place where they can tell the difference between good and evil and align themselves/ourselves with the good.

3. Lots of action. Several scenes are really violent, bad guys get beat up, and karate is used freely. Also there are car chases and motorcycle chases and on-foot chases, lots of movement. KarateKid, age 13, would like this aspect of the books.

4. In this series, boys are boys, and girls are girls. The protagonist, Charlie, is a boy, and he and his friends tease and mock each other mercilessly. Charlie’s girlfriend, observing all this male bonding, says (more than once), “You guys are so mean.” Also, the girlfriend, Beth, is a girl. When she’s in danger she doesn’t wimp out, but she also doesn’t take over and become the heroine of the story. Charlie is the hero, and Beth is his helper and inspiration.

5. No sex and no foul language. There is some chaste romance; Charlie and Beth eventually kiss. But these are good kids with their priorities in place, and they respect each other. Not all teen guys are thinking of one thing only all the time, and they don’t need to be told endlessly that every other teen guy is thinking of that one thing all the time.

6. Author Andrew Klavan also has his priorities in place, and I can trust him to deliver a good, fast-paced, satisfying ending to this series. That’s why I feel comfortable recommending the third book in the series before having read it. Thirteen or fourteen is about the median age for this series, and guys will like it better than girls, mostly because of Reason #3.

*I read The Last Thing I Remember during my Lenten blog break, and I wrote in my journal at that time: “Yeah! A middle school boy book! A book that celebrates faith, karate, self-defense, and American values without being didactic or cheesy!”

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Book #1 for Mother Reader’s 48 Hour Book Challenge
Reading TIme: 2.5 hours
Pages: 378

So Countdown is a “documentary novel” taking place in the fall of 1962 near Andrews Air Force Base. Franny Chapman is in fifth grade, and she has a lot going on in her life. Her best friend Margie is suddenly not a friend anymore. Franny’s sister Jo Ellen is hiding something and spending way too much time at college when she should be at home helping Franny. Chris Cavas has just moved back into the house next door, and he’s somehow grown up to resemble Del Shannon instead of Beaver Cleaver. Uncle Otts is trying to build a bomb shelter in the backyard, and everyone is worried about the Russians. What if the air raid siren goes off for real, and the Communists drop the Bomb and end the world as Franny knows it? Will “duck and cover” really be enough to save Franny and her friends and family?

I was born in 1957. In the fall of 1962, I was five years old. Our schools didn’t have kindergarten, so I wasn’t in school yet. I wondered as I was reading if that was why I didn’t remember anything about civil defense shelters or air raid drills or Bert the Turtle or “duck and cover.” So I asked Engineer Husband who’s a few years older than me and would have been about Franny’s age in 1962. He remembers civl defense shelters with the yellow triangle, but he didn’t really know their purpose. And, like me, the only drills he remembers were fire drills and tornado drills (in which you did find an inside wall away from glass and duck and cover your head). I suppose the the powers-that-be in West Texas where we grew up were a lot more worried about fires and tornadoes than atomic bombs. (Engineer Husband does remember being scared silly because his older brother told him that if Kennedy were elected in 1960, he and all his friends would be forced to go to Catholic school.)

Still, even though I don’t remember any bomb scares, I did find a lot of the cultural references in the book familiar. Ms. WIles writes about 45rpm records; I remember those. And I recognized all the songs: Runaway, Moon RIver, Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, and Monster Mash. (I wondered where the Beatles were, but apparently they didn’t “invade” until 1964.) It was fun for me to read about all of the brands and fads and events of my childhood, even if the book does take place a little before my time.

Interspersed between chapters of the fictional story about Franny and her search for peace in a chaotic world are photographs, news reports, excerpts from speeches, documentary-style reports on famous people like Truman and Kennedy and Pete Seeger. Coming from the conservative side of the aisle, I thought the reports were a little biased toward the left, especially making Kennedy into a King Arthur of Camelot. For instance, the Kennedy bio says that Kennedy “had to deal with a problem he inherited from Eisenhower: the Bay of Pigs invasion.” Yes, training for the Bay of Pigs began under Eisenhower, but Kennedy knew all about it and allowed, if not ordered, the invasion to happen under his watch. The biographical piece on Kennedy generally presents an idyllic picture of him and his presidency, saying that he “made hard decisions” and “dreamed of peace” and served for “three glittering years.” It’s not blatantly biased, though, and as an introduction to President Kennedy and the early 1960’s, it will do.

I liked the characters and the story as much I did the newsy informative sections that were sprinkled throughout the book. The fiction and nonfiction portions of the book complemented each other well. I’m planning a twentieth century study for my homeschool students and for me sometime in the next few years in which we study through the twentieth century year by year. I think Countdown would be a great introduction to the year 1962 and to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. After reading the book, we could take a look, and a listen, at the primary sources that Ms. Wiles used to inform her fiction. And then it should still be possible to interview some people who lived during 1962 and remember those times. I’m getting excited, and nostalgic, thinking about it.

Countdown website.
Deborah Wiles’ website.
Scroll down to the previous post for a link to the a book trailer and an excerpt form chapter 1 of Countdown.

Mother Reader’s 48-Hour Book Challenge

I waffled back and forth and over and under about whether or not to join in on Mother Reader’s 48-Hour Book Challenge. I can’t really participate for 48 hours during the time of the challenge, but I decided to start at 12:30 today, June 5th and finish on Monday morning for my own 43 1/2 hour challenge.

My first book is Countdown by Deborah Wiles, a review book kindly sent to me by the publicist working with Scholastic.

Countdown is the first in a new trilogy of “documentary novels” set in the 1960s- a fascinating historical documentary in a unique style and format. Filled with photos, news clippings, and songs of the era, this novel tells the story of Franny Chapman, an eleven-year-old girl living in Washington, DC, set against the backdrop of one of the most politically and culturally defining periods in history.”

48 Hour Reading Challenge: Finis

Total reading time: 20 hours
Total blogging time: 3.5 hours
Total time spent on reading challenge : 23.5 hours
Total pages read: 1622
Number of books completed: 8

I actually finished my reading challenge last night (Saturday). From about ten until after midnight, I treated myself to the tenth book in Alexander McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Tea TIme for the Traditionally Built. It was a delight as were all the other books in the series. In this particular episode, Mma Ramotswe’s beloved white van has developed an ominous noise in the motor. Mma Makutsi’s fiance Phuti Radiphuti unknowingly hires the glamorous but predatory Violet Sephotho to work in the beds department at his Double Comfort Furniture Shop. And the local football (soccer) team may harbor a traitor who is causing the team to have a losing season. Mysteries are solved; personal problems are resolved. And The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency continues to be a haven of common sense and comfortable conversation and old Botswana tradition and custom. I love these books.

So, if you’re stopping by and you also finished Mother Reader’s Reading Challenge, leave a comment and tell me how you enjoyed it. Was it worth the effort to clear your schedule? What one book did you read that made your weekend?

Two Novellas for the Elementary Set

Reading Time for both: 1.75 hours
Combined pages: 193
Total time spent reading and blogging for the 48-Hour Reading Challenge: 20 hours
The Arrow Over the Door by Joseph Bruchac,
Family Reminders by Julie Danneberg.

Both of these historical fiction titles for elementary age children would be great curriculum choices for a study of U.S. history. In fact, the first, The Arrow Over the Door is already on the Sonlight reading list for next year for my World History class covering 1500-1900. That’s why I had it in my stack to preview/review.

The Arrow Over the Door is based on a story told among Friends (Quakers) about a group of hostile Indians who came to a Quaker Meeting House during the Revolutionary War and seeing that the people gathered there were peaceful and non-threatening, went away without harming the assembled worshippers. In fact, as the story goes the Indians and the Quaker settlers became friends and ate together and promised not to fight each other. Bruchac’s version of this story is told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Samuel, a Quaker young man who is unsure about his commitment to nonviolence in the face of war, and Stands Straight, an Abenaki young man who is confused about why his tribe is considering fighting on the side of King George and the British in this “white man’s war.” The story is short, only 80 pages long, but it should provoke discussion about pacifism and cultural rapprochement and give students some rudimentary insight into the many facets and perspectives involved in the American War for Independence.

Family Reminders takes place in Cripple Creek, Colorado over a hundred years after the Revolutionary War in the late 1800’s. Everything changes in Mary’s family when her beloved miner father loses his leg in a mining accident. Although the events of the story are fairly predictable to an adult reader, a child would probably find the story suspenseful enough and want to know whether Mary’s father will be able to recover physically and emotionally from his injury.

I liked both stories enough that I’ll be recommending them to Betsy Bee (10) and maybe Karate Kid (12). Or we may read the stories aloud so that Z-baby (7), whose reading abilities still aren’t quite up to “chapter books,” can listen and enjoy, too.

Joseph Bruchac’s Author Website:For over thirty years Joseph Bruchac has been creating poetry, short stories, novels, anthologies and music that reflect his Abenaki Indian heritage and Native American traditions.”

Julie Danneberg’s Author Website: “First of all, being a writer has given me the chance to learn all sorts of new things, go new places and meet new people, including all the kids I meet at school visits. Also, being a writer gives me the excuse to read, read and read some more!”

A woman after my own heart!

Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez

Reading Time: 2 hours
Pages: 194
Total TIme Spent on 48 Hour Reading CHallenge so far: 18 hours

“In her first novel for young readers, Diana Lopez creates a clever and honest story about a young Latina girl navigating growing pains in her South Texas city (Corpus Christi).”

Not a bad synopsis. Not a bad tween novel. I requested this ARC from the publisher because I thought it might possibly fit into the class I’m teaching next year at our homeschool co-op on Texas history and literature for sixth and seventh graders. It won’t. It’s much too girly, a little too boy-crazy, romantic, and way too light for a class assignment.

However, it’s a good light read from a fresh perspective: a South Texas Latin American girl whose father is an English professor and who seems to effortlessly combine her Latin cultural heritage with a very American life. No cultural angst, no agonizing over who she is or where she belongs, just lots of girl talk about boys, scheming to help divorced mom and a widowed father, sports, and general middle school issues and solutions.

This book is one to suggest to young girls (age 10 or 11 and up) who maybe don’t enjoy reading so much, but who would enjoy a story about a girl like themselves: reasonably intelligent, struggling with the changes that come with growing up, and using a sense of humor and a bit of forgiveness to get them through it all.

I enjoyed Appolina, or Lina as she’s called by her friends, and I found her and her friends and family to be believable characters with endearing quirks. For example, here’s the opening paragraph of the book in Lina’s voice:

“Some people collect coins or stamps, but I collect socks. I have a dresser with drawers labeled DAILY SOCKS, LONELY SOCKS, HOLEY SOCKS, and SOCK HEAVEN.”

Nice, don’t you think? The publication date is June, 2009, so it should be available in bookstores now or soon.

Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem

Time Spent reading: 2 hours
Pages: 218
Total time spent on 48 Hour Reading Challenge so far: 16 hours

Set in Ethiopia, this story reminded me of Camel Rider by Prue Mason, a book I read in 2007 for the Cybils. In Camel Rider the spoiled son of an Australian businessman gets lost in the desert; in this story the spoiled daughter of the American ambassador to Ethiopia is kidnapped and escapes to the Ethiopian savannah/forest.

Lucy is over-protected, bored, and anxious to experience the wildlife and the culture of Ethiopia, her erstwhile home. However, Lucy’s mother won’t let her leave the American compound except to go to school, to the museum, and on carefully chaperoned “game drives” in the Menagasha National Park. Unfortunately for Lucy, when she disobeys her mom and sneaks out to a restaurant with her friend Tana, Lucy gets more experience and exposure to African wildlife and culture than she bargained for. (By the way, this book features the second over-protective and controlling mom for the day, and BOTH OF THEM turn out to be right about the dangers they’re trying to protect their snotty daughters from. Just saying.)

The book gets a little too educational at times, particularly in the first third of the story. After the kidnapping, the pace picks up, and Lucy’s escape and experiences in the forest are calculated to appeal especially to animal lovers and young naturalists. According to the author,

Escape Under the Forever Sky was inspired by a true story. In June 2005, a twelve year old girl was kidnapped from her village in southwestern Ethiopia and held captive for a week before she managed to escape. Running through the forest, the girl happened upon three wild lions. The lions surrounded her and chased off her abductors, standing guard for several hours until the police arrived.”

Eve Yohalem’s website with more information about the book and the author.

Things Change by Patrick Jones

TIme reading: 2.5 hours
Pages: 216
Total time spent reading and blogging for the 48 Hour Reading Challenge so far: 13.5 hours

Since I bailed on the last two books I tried last night, I felt some internal pressure to actually finish this one. It took some self-discipline to do so since I already knew what would happen from the very beginning.

As bibliotherapy for teenage girls caught in an abusive relationship, I think it would work, although I’m no psychologist. As a stand-alone story, it’s cliched and predictable. Johanna is the smart girl, straight A’s, never had a real boyfriend, perfectionist with perfectionist parents. Paul is the class clown, starving for attention, abandoned by his deadbeat alcoholic father and ignored by his overly-religious mother. The two get together out of need and stay together out of need. Johanna needs someone to help her rebel against her controlling parents and tell her that she is pretty and loved. Paul needs sex, a girlfriend who will make excuses for his lack of self-control, and a target for his anger.

As I said, the book is one big cliched parable: This Is What Happens In Abusive Relationships, Beware! Although in one sense I found the characters of Johanna and Paul to be believable because, yeah, this sort of relationship happens all the time, in another way, the details just didn’t work. Paul is headed for Stanford, but his mother tells him they don’t have enough money for him to go there. They live in a trailer park, but Paul acts as if he’s never thought about the lack of money to pay for an education at Stanford in spite of their obvious poverty. Then, it turns out that one of Paul’s friends thinks Paul could have saved enough money for Stanford from his part-time job, and he’s really just afraid to face the real world. Does this author know how much it costs to go to Stanford? Or to the Bible college that Paul’s mother offers as an alternative?

That’s just one minor example. In an interview in the back of the book, the author says he wants to write about working class teens because “these kids need a voice.” He should get to know a few more of those working class teens who also don’t have the money to go to a private school across the country for their post-high school education. Also I don’t believe that Christianity is a substitute for alcohol or any other addiction, but Mr. Jones obviously does. From his interview: “Paul’s mother had to be someone who was totally absent, and rather than have her be consumed by alcohol, I gave her religion.” Yes, Mr. Marx, religion is the opiate of the people.

Not my favorite YA novel, but as I said, perhaps it would be useful as a handout in a youth counseling center.