Saturday, August 24, 2013

Biittner's Book Review: An Assortment of Young Adult Fiction

Our book club took the month of August off so I do not have a book review for you. To make up for it I thought I'd make a few comments about some of the fantastic Young Adult (YA) fiction I've read. I've started with the ones I've read most recently and then ended with a few classics that I always mention when asked for some recommendation for young but eager readers. I won't really address plot or content, rather just provide some overall thoughts on each.

The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins
This five book series was written by Collins pre-The Hunger Games. I picked it up for a steal figuring that I enjoyed The Hunger Games so much that it was worth the risk and it most certainly was. The series covers the incredible adventures of Gregor, a young boy who finds himself in the Underland after following his sister through a grate in their laundry room. I really don't want to give too much away other than he encounters an amazing world of bats, bugs, and other beings who live below the surface of our world and gets wrapped up in some prophecies that seem to foretell of his arrival there. The characters are all really well written; Gregor is so likeable and Collins captures the essence of all two year olds in his sister "Boots". I actually laughed out loud at some of the adorable things Boots does and says. Collins does not shy away from some pretty intense situations though and she does a great job of creating some high paced action sequences. I would highly recommend these books, especially for the 9-12 set, as the themes of family, perseverance, and keeping your head up in times of struggle will resonate with anyone.

Also you should read The Hunger Games trilogy if you haven't already. The film adaptation of the first book (The Hunger Games) is actually pretty decent (plus has Lenny Kravitz as Cinna *heart flutters at his gorgeousness*), and Catching Fire looks like it is going to step it up quite a bit.

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
I have just started the fourth book in this series and am hooked. I picked up the first four books again for a steal mostly because the film adaptation of the first book just came out and Lena Headey is in it (I love her!). This is a series for the slightly older crowd (13-17) but, again, is worth a read by anyone. There are some "typical" YA themes (girl caught in the middle of two boys, girl struggling to find out who she is, etc.) but with some really neat interpretations of the supernatural world. So yes there are angels, demons, werewolves, vampires, and fairies but Clare has created a refreshing take on them and their interactions; her secret/invisible world hidden in ours is cleverly done. I actually really liked the characters; much of the teenage angsty parts really spoke to thirteen year old me. It is part of a larger collection of series called The Shadowhunter Chronicles. I am definitely going to check out the "prequel" series to The Mortal Instruments, called The Infernal Devices, as it is steampunk (or at least steampunk inspired) and sounds pretty cool!

The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth
The third book in this series Allegiant will be published shortly - to say that this makes me very, very excited/giddy would be a huge understatement and never mind that the movie for the first book Divergent will hit theatres next year! *squeeeeeeee*. I love this dystopian series. The momentum that Roth builds with each books is heart pounding. I love the whole concept of the factions devoted to particular virtues and how they are each identified in terms of manner and dress. The characters are solid and interesting.

The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan
My husband bought this series for me as he knows I love YA fiction and ancient Egypt. What I really appreciated about this series is the amount of research Riordan did into ancient Egypt. This is not your typical pop culture interpretation of ancient Egypt - Riordan draws from solid archaeological evidence; he actually mentions the Narmer Palette! Of course it is a YA fiction series so there is a whole lot of fantasy going on in the books (the character of Horus drove me crazy).

I've recently picked up his Percy Jackson series but haven't had read it yet. If Riordan has drawn from the archaeological/historical evidence for this series as much as he did for the Kane Chronicles I do not think I'll be disappointed. I also want to note that I really dig Riordan's website; it has some great "Explore Mythology" and "Resource for Students and Teachers" resources.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
This is a YA series tailored for adults. I cannot tell you how many times I laughed out loud at some of the wickedly clever things in these books. So much of the book drips in condensation and sarcasm. Kids will love them because of how silly they are at times and for some of the incredible situations the Baudelaire siblings get (or are forced) into. Adults will love the wry sense of humor and the whole backstory of the "author" himself. I really haven't read anything quite like them before. There is an element of the absurd similar to that in the works of Roald Dahl in them but they really are unique. There are 13 books in the series; all of which the author will encourage you to not read.

The Redwall Adventures by Brian Jacques
I have been reading the Redwall books since I received the first three on my 18th birthday but need to pick them up again as I've fallen behind. Jacques has written almost one book a year for this series since 1986. I love so many things about the adventures of the animal residents of the Redwall Abby: the detailed and delicious descriptions of the feasts, the wonderful poems and songs, the brave and heroic deeds of the smallest mice to the largest badgers, the fearsomeness and horrific deeds of the weasels and stoats. A warning: Jacques does not shy away from dark themes and events in these books. I was surprised at how quickly a lovely little picnic with mice and rabbits can be destroyed by death and fire.

Finally I'll wrap things up with a list of must reads that many people will already be familiar with:
- the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (I'd be shocked if you haven't read them; if you are holding out only because you don't believe the hype then just get over yourself as they are as wonderful as you have heard over and over again).
- His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman (Man I love this trilogy. It almost serves as the antithesis to C.K. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia).
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.K. Lewis (I'll never forget bawling my eyes out in the wee hours of the morning when I read the final book - devastating!).
- The Chronicle of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (forget the horrible Disney adaptation of The Black Cauldron and read the whole series instead).
- The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper.
- The Time Quintet by Madeleine L'Engle.

I'd even venture that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit can be undertaken at a relatively young age if you have a really keen reader; I think I first picked them up around 11 or 12 and was read The Hobbit by my fifth grade teacher (last thing every Friday - he did voices for all of the characters!). Even A Song of Fire and Ice (a.k.a. The Game of Thrones series) could be picked up by a mature YA; I was reading Stephen King and Anne Rice at 11 and they both include a lot of sex and violence (to say the least) so it depends on your kid. Otherwise I'd, of course, highly recommend these even if they don't quite fit the YA category.

I cannot wait to share these books with my daughter as she grows so I can experience these wonderful tales again through her.

Let me know in the comments if I missed any!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Academic "Project" To Do List

I recently posted a Creative Projects To Do list to help motivate me to get them done. I realized that I need to do the same for some academic projects I have had sitting on the back burner as well. You'll note that most of these relate to writing, which is something I have always struggled with (*six years to do my PhD ahem*). I plan on tweeting my progress as a way to try to be accountable.

The (Academic) Projects:
- Update my World Prehistory (Anth219) course. I start teaching this again in the Fall so this needs to be done as soon as possible. Deadline: August.
- Update personal website. I would like to make all my conference posters and presentations available on my website. This requires some additional small projects: I will need to record my 2012 CAA Pecha Kucha style presentation, update course syllabi, update CV, etc. I do not need much time to do this so am setting myself a short deadline. I will also be scheduling reminders to update monthly. Deadline: End of September.
- Paper for the African Archaeological Review. This paper will also be based on my PhD work but will focus instead on the implications of my research for Africanists. Deadline: End of October.
- Research what it would take to get all of my lithic characterization data online. Deadline: November with goal of making this happen by this time next year (would like to coincide the launch of this for shortly after I publish).
- Paper for the Journal of Archaeological Science. Based on my PhD research, this paper will focus on the lithic characterization (mineralogy, petrography etc.). Deadline: End of January.
- Update my Introduction to Archaeology (Anth206) course. I will be teaching this in Winter 2014. Deadline: End of December.

I will be going back to work part time in February, once my parental leave is up, so I need to have all of these completed before then as I just don't think I'll have the energy to really crank out any significant work until that new work/stay-at-home mom routine is well established. Wish me luck! 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Creative Project To Do List

I am not super creative but I do enjoy taking on simple knitting and sewing projects. Before I had the babe I was constantly knitting and had even sewed a few projects for her nursery. I definitely do not have as much time for projects as I did before the babe arrived but I do have a number I am determined to get done. I am hoping by making my To Do list public I'll actually follow through on them. I will also try to post on their progress and maybe even do a tutorial or two (if I remember to take photos during the process).

The Projects:
- Baby blanket and matching sweater. My brother and sister-in-law are having their second at the end of September/beginning of October. I knit blankets and sweaters for all the babies in my family so this is a must to-do. However, I'm giving myself a little slack on this one. Sweater Deadline: September 21st. Blanket Deadline: December 25th.
- Knit dolls x 5. I also try to knit dolls for the babies in my life. I have been doing a Batman series for my nephew so have another one to do for him. I would also like to knit a doll for my daughter - I'm leaning towards Indiana Jones for hers. The new niece or nephew will also get one as will two other family babies that have not yet received theirs. I'm giving myself two deadlines to correspond with birthdays and Christmas. Deadlines: November 12th December 25th.
- Birthday Banner. Inspired by my dear friend The Deliberate Mom I would like to sew a Happy Birthday banner for my babe. Deadline: February 2nd.

I may add additional projects as I go but the ones currently listed are definitely my top priorities. I have a closet full of yarn and a giant bin full of fabric - all I need it the motivation to crank out some projects.