Posts Tagged With: Maya Van Wagenen

Summer Reading List, 2014


Tomorrow is orientation day.  I will be checking Freshman into dorms and handing parents welcome packets.  That means that summer is officially over, I think.  I don’t know why that should be such a sad thing.  After all, summer doesn’t mean anything different than the rest of the year when there is a full time job to work.  But there is something about knowing that the days will get colder and darker that makes the end of summer seem like the end of something bigger.

Here is the list of all the things I’ve read this season with a brief review.  28 titles for just three months is pretty good, I think!  That’s a few more than last year.  Also, you’re not allowed to judge me for my love of smutty fantasy literature.  That is in the (invisible, hypothetical) contract we have together.  

Summer Reading List:

  1. Bon Courage by Ken McAdams – It really wasn’t written well, but there was something about the idyllic life fixing up a house in the French countryside that made me want to know what happened. Old people sex advisory…
  2. The Dark Lord of Dirkholm by Diana Wynne Jones – Hilarious because I know the D&D genre, but at times a bit slow. Magical creatures and this fabulous world make it worth the read, though. Dragons, griffins, and flying pigs!
  3. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson – From the Blitz at the Fitz to the Mid Day PDA, to the awesome way these kids run a heist to make sure Gaby wins the school election, I fell in love. Can I have a Jr. High career as cool as these guys do?
  4. Popular by Maya Van Wagenen – Watching her navigate 1950s world in today’s less tolerant (supposedly) version was hilarious, mostly thanks to her great sense of humor. Bonus points for giant girdle pictures and 4-butt diagrams.
  5. Clever Maids, the Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiz –I never realized that these stories were never for children, nor did I realize how much women had a part in collecting them. A great, easy to read history.
  6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott –When I read the bit where Amy cries over her math problems, I remembered why I fell in love and binge-read this book in my early teens. We may be 150 years apart, but I know those feels, Amy. I really do.
  7. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott – It’s like ointment for the crazy writer in my soul. Plus, it’s funny, and I’m beginning (to my chagrin) realize that it’s all true. All of it. Even the neurotic bits that I don’t want to be real.
  8. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons– A novel published in the 1930s to make fun of the popular country novel style of the time, and oh, so funny in the quirkiest way! I was laughing aloud enough to keep Brian awake. Sorry, dear.
  9. The Philosophy of Composition, by Edgar Allen Poe – It took me a minute to get into the Victorian style again, but it was a VERY interesting look into his process. It’s so methodical, despite the high emotional content of his writings.
  10. Typhoid Mary by Anthony Bordain – Lots of fun, but… He’s goes overboard just to shock and disgust, and judges Mary by modern standards. Both are taboo when analyzing History. I loved it, recommend it, but wouldn’t take it too seriously.  
  11. Train by Tom Zoellner – Beautiful and languid and not at all compelling. I like that I can put it down and pick it up at will. I can revel in beautiful language and scenery, and not think too much. But I liked A Safeway in Arizona better.
  12. Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J. B. West– Simple, but interesting to see what it was like to serve everyone from the Roosevelts onward. He concentrates on the families as people, not politics. I couldn’t put it down.
  13. The Raven Ring, by Patricia C. Wrede – I’m a fan of hers. This one had a bunch of tropes that usually annoy the crap out of me but didn’t seem to in this incarnation. It was essentially a D&D campaign, but it didn’t read like that at all.
  14. The Twisted Tower, by Patricia C. Wrede – Okay, I’m totally hooked on the Lyra novels now. I might need to stop soon, so I don’t spend every night up until 1 am because I can’t put the books down. There are a ton more…
  15. Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King – yup, I’m re-reading this one because it’s so helpful. I’m suffering from a lack of ideas right now, which means I bone up on technique until I have some. No rest for the wicked.
  16. Shadow Magic, by Patricia C. Wrede – Not as charming as the others. I actually stopped about 1/3 of the way through because I still couldn’t tell what the plot was and, unlike her others, the writing wasn’t compelling. Unpleasantly surprised.
  17. Chalice, by Robin McKinley – A re-read. I love this book so much it’s unquantifiable, because nothing and everything happens. It’s all internal. There is a half fire demon Master, grieving land, and so many bees. I want to move here.
  18. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine– I think she sometimes goes a little off the deep end disproving a point or two that laypeople don’t care about, but overall it’s been fascinating to learn how much expectation influences brain performance.
  19. Looking for Alaska, by John Greene – I knew I couldn’t handle TFIOS, but I wanted on the bandwagon. HOLY CRAP. Totally good, but still super sad. I laughed, I cried, I loved those boarding school boys and their antics. I loved Alaska too.
  20. The Hero and The Crown, Robin McKinley – Another re-read about damaged Aerin and her damaged horse, who eventually take on dragons of many kinds. The ending is interesting, too, because she gets her prince and she doesn’t at the same time.
  21. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green – Oh John Green, you’re books are SO GOOD. This one has a grand theorem of dumping, a pig from hell, the body of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, anagrams, Islam, 19 Katherines, and a dark cave.
  22. The Graveyard Book, Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman – I love this book, and the graphic novel is a delight. I recommend reading the book first, but the expressions and art in this one! Each chapter is by a different artist. I can’t wait for volume 2.  
  23. The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green – Fun and quippy, even as it’s also the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever read. This is the only book this season that struck me and changed the way I think of things forever. I did not expect that.
  24. The Elements of Style by William Struck Jr. – This is so much more of a reference book and not an outright reading book. I’m glad I have it, but I didn’t finish it. I’ll go back and peruse when I need specific answers on formatting, etc.
  25. Cupcakes, Trinkets, and Other Deadly Magic by Meghan Ciana Doidge– A self-pub and I liked it! Language wasn’t polished and it was definitely a paranormal romance. But the story line was so good that none of it mattered. I bought book 2.
  26. Graveyard Shift by Lana Harvey – Another with language that isn’t super polished, and the end was slow in arriving, but the world this book is set in!! So cool! The main character is quippy, there’s plenty of underworld “celeb sightings.” So fun.
  27. Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian– the writing is beautiful, the story concept is interesting. I had to stop reading it, though. Graphic war descriptions where no one dies are not good for lunch hour. And that’s all the time I have to read right now…
  28. Trinkets, Treasures, and other Bloody Magic by Meghan Ciana Doidge– Full of gratuitous sex, but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. It was exactly what I expected it to be. Lots of fun, lots of adventure, and lots of supernatural twenties angst.
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Book Review: Middle Grade Goodness

Greene Popular

I’ll admit it.  I struck gold last weekend.  Have you been following the #weneeddiversebooks hashtag on Twitter?  It blew up probably three weeks ago now, and it’s been pretty great.  I found an amazing resource for people wanting to write diverse characters that are outside their experience, here:, which was only one among many things I learned.  I also learned about The Great Greene Heist, and Popular.  Basically, these books were a fest of stuff outside my experience, and I loved them.  After all, experiencing new things is the best reason to read ever.

The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson:

There’s a movement behind this book founded on a single principle: in America capitalism rules – we all have to put our money where our mouths are in order to ensure that diverse books keep being published.  If we could get one on the Bestseller list, that would be even better.  That’s how I came across The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson.  In a bid to show people that diverse books can make money, publishers, booksellers, and authors are banding together behind this book to make it a best seller.  Kate Messner’s website has more on this, here:  It’s a story with a Black protagonist, a Hispanic love interest, and a very diverse cast of characters pulling a heist for the good of the school.  Most importantly it features the protagonist, Jackson Greene, prominently on the cover.  It does a great job of including all the things people say they want when they want diverse books.

If I read middle grade, I usually read fantasy.  I will admit that I wouldn’t have purchased the book without urging.  Still, I figured that it was worth the ten bucks just to support a movement that only good can come from.  I was rewarded tenfold.  Ten bucks was more than worth it for the entertainment I gained.  I loved, loved, loved the book.  Can I say loved one more time?

The basic plot is this: Keith is trying to buy his way into becoming class president, and along the way he has plans to slash the budgets of every club that isn’t his beloved Gamer Club.  Gaby, the gal who should be president, isn’t sure what to do.  Especially because she has an honest and smart platform that Keith keeps stealing.  It’s all up to Jackson to stand up to middle school authority and  run a heist guaranteeing Gaby a win – despite her protestations that he shouldn’t and his certain expulsion if he fails.

From the Blitz at the Fitz to the Mid-Day PDA, to all of Jackson’s gutsy ideas, I was hooked so fast.  If the Thomas Crown Affair and Ocean’s 11 happened in a junior high, this book would be it.  There is even a set of con rules.  If I could have been half as confident or as fun as these kids are at that age, I bet Junior High wouldn’t have been as terrible.  Johnson’s characterizations were spot on as well, avoiding cliche and treating racial issues with maturity and respect.  This is a book about people in a school that feels so real, with just a smidgen of utopia thrown in to make it irresistible.

The bonus part of this equation is Varian Johnson.  I didn’t know about his writing before picking up this book.  Most of his older stuff is the kind of thing I read: books for adults.  I can’t even tell you how happy that makes me, because probably 75% of the new stuff I read is just not worth talking about.  This is good new stuff, guys!

So the long and short of it is that I would have told you to go buy the book anyway to support diversity, but the quality of the work makes me say it WAY more emphatically: this one is worth your time.

Popular, by Maya Van Wagenen:

At the urging of her mother, Maya Van Wagenen decides to follow the advice of a self-help book her father unearthed from the attic.  The book was written in the 1950s by a woman named Betty and she’ll follow it all to the letter, keeping a diary in between.  While the concept is a cute one, it’s really Maya’s situation that makes the book unusual.  She’s living in a town on the Texas/Mexico border where there are constant drug dogs and alarms where they have to shelter in the multipurpose room and keep silent because of police activity. That’s a lot of pressure for middle school.  Maya is chipper throughout it all.

This book is just great.  I was attracted by the paper dolls on the cover (I’m a sucker for paper dolls), but I cracked the spine and couldn’t put it down because of Maya’s strong (and often funny) voice.  The book started with the sweetest forward by Betty about Maya which swept me off my feet.  Despite the huge differences in circumstance, Betty’s words ring true and are still helpful to Maya.  That’s what was most mind-blowing to me.

The pictures in the book were my favorite parts, as were the times when Maya had to follow anything that clearly wasn’t applicable advice anymore.  Like her cotton gloves, huge straw hat with a bow, and pearls that she has to wear to church all the time.  Or the gigantic girdle.  The diagram she draws of how the girdle rides up and gives her four butts is especially amazing.

So, in short, this book is another one I highly recommend.  I burned through it in only a day because I couldn’t put it down.  It’s rare these days that I read two books in a single weekend but I just did.  I wish I had this kind of luck with all the new books I pick up!

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