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July 2006


Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish



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Learning to SwimLearning to Swim: 07/31/06

I normally avoid memoirs of child abuse, especially when presented as poetry. With Learning to Swim I made an exception because it came in a book box and I knew that all of us who had received boxes had received at least one copy. It also was short both in overall page length and in the lines per poem.

The poetry isn't that great. None of it has made a lasting impression to be able to quote lines. All that remains is a general sense of mood and of the events that unfolded that summer.

Here's my BookCrossing Review:

Ann Turner uses poetry to help herself recover from the painful memories of being molested by her cousin, Kevin, one summer. The poetry is not some of the best I've read but it does set the scene, tell the story and develop character. Each poem is also short and to the point. While the book is over one hundred pages, the poems flow quickly and the entire book can be read in half an hour.

The book was clearly part of the healing process for Turner and it is refreshing to read a book where one can see recovery from a tramatic event. It's nice to see that there can be a "light at the end of the tunnel" and a return to normalcy. So often these books focus on reliving the experience rather than moving on from it. I will be wild releasing this book in a week and I hope other readers benefit from it.

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Steps: 3500


Coyote BlueCoyote Blue: 07/30/06

I only have two Christopher Moore books left to read: The Stupidest Angel and Biff. Coyote Blue is one of Moore's earliest books but it has all of the elements of his style that I enjoy: a recognizable small California coastal town, odd ball characters who are some how "normal" where they live, magic, gods, a mystery, and romance. As Moore himself describes it in the inscription on the front cover: "A trick of the tale of the trickster's tail. Enjoy!"

Here's my BookCrossing Review:

I LOVED this book. It has many of the gems of what makes his Pine Cove books so much fun to read. I especially loved his choice of location, Santa Barbara. It's a quirky enough city for Coyote to play his tricks.

The scenes in Las Vegas seemed out of character for Coyote. He seemed too easily baffled by gambling. I found it hard to believe that a god who has spent hundreds of years fooling people and other gods would not be able to do better in Vegas.

My favorite of Moore's books are still his Pine Cove ones: Practical Demonkeeping and The Lust Lizard of Meloncholy Cove. They are a great combination of Pine Cove (a place just above Banning) and Cambria (Moore's home).

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Steps: 3500


Big Red TequilaBig Red Tequila: 07/28/06

On Wednesday I slogged through the rest of Big Red Tequila to the point of figuring out what was going on and how the thing ended. There are times when an obvious book is fun and times when it's just painful. I found Big Red Tequila painful.

The book has a fairly standard plot: main character with a checkered past returns home after a parent dies in a mysterious way. Of course he finds himself in the middle of a number of mysteries and himself in danger. Only the life lessons he's learned while living away (in this case San Francisco) and his quirky habits (tai chi and owning a cat, for example) will help our hero out smart the bad guys, rescue those who need it and solve the mystery! Yawn.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

There's nothing to make Big Red Tequila stand out from other mysteries. The plot and characterization have been stitched together from cliches and perhaps ideas pulled from a hat to randomize elements a little. I never connected with "Tres" Navarre or any of the other characters. The ending held no surprises and felt forced.

Having read through the reviews on Amazon.com, readers seem equally split among those who love and those who hate this book. Chances are there are future readers for this copy that will enjoy it. I just happened to be one that didn't

I'm sure there will be future enjoyers of the book I'm about to release: the reviews on Amazon bear that out. Meanwhile, I will be moving onto other books.

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Lost in a Good BookLost in a Good Book: 07/27/06

Today I finished the second of the Thursday Next books, Lost in a Good Book by Japser Fforde. I have to admit that I didn't enjoy The Eyre Affair as much as I had hoped but another BookCrosser had already sent me the sequel and I thought I should read it before passing it along to another member. I went into reading Lost in a Good Book with low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised.

The second book didn't waste as much time with setting up the alternate world of a 1985 with an on-going Crimean war, time travel, vampires and the ability to travel into books. In Lost in a Good Book the world building is set aside and the characters allowed to live their lives. Thursday Next finally develops as a character and by the end I actually liked her.

Here's my BookCrossing Review:

The second book in the series is a big improvement over the first. The plot focuses more on Thursday Next and less on her wacky co-workers and the crazy version of 1985 in which they all live. There are still a few annoyances like the characters' stupid names. I realize it's a literary tradition that includes Dickens but Fforde's choice of names are just ham-fisted.

Besides the stupid names (Jack Schitt, for instance), there is a corny ending that was frankly done much better by Douglas Adams. The big secret end of the world wasn't much of a secret to anyone who had paid attention and knew anything about junk food. Yet the book was enough of an improvement that I was to give the third in the series a try.

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The Truman ShowThe Truman Show: 07/24/06

On Saturday it was too hot to think or to do much of anything. I might as well have been sitting inside my oven with the heat on for baking biscuits because that's what the air felt like (outside and inside). While staring outside the front door at the still air and thinking about how it was already over 95° F and it was only the morning, I came across the shooting script for the Truman Show.

This hundred page or so book with stills from the film was one of the first book relay books I had ever received, all the way back in 2003. I remember I had planned to read it quickly and release it but I quickly got overwhelmed by both relays and rings while I struggled to find a new job after being laid off from Oracle. Then in 2004 we moved and I continued to work to get the rings and relays under control. Both finally are and the little book was sitting right there saying "read me." Given that my brain was melting into pudding it seemed like the perfect book. It had the advantages of being a shooting script (meaning short pages) and a script of a film I've seen enough times to be able to play it back in my head.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

I've had this lovely book too long! Today it is 100+ degrees inside my home with no AC and it's probably 110 outside. It just seemed like the perfect day to read the shooting script because it's short and a story I know well having seen the film a dozen times.

I thoroughly enjoyed the script and was interested to find a few details edited out from the film. I don't want to include them here to spoil these gems for future readers.

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Steps: 5000

SpookSpook: 07/23/06

Yesterday it was 105° F. outside and probably just as hot inside. As there was no escaping the heat we hunkered inside and read some books. One book that captured my attention and took my mind away from the oven-like temperatures was Spook by Mary Roach. While I had enjoyed her first book, Stiff, a couple years ago, it did not keep me interested or entertained as well as Spook did yesterday. She has matured as a writer and found her way of mixing information and humor.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

I enjoyed Spook more than I enjoyed Stiff. Between books Roach has found her voice and now writes with a delighful sense of humor while still presenting the facts in interesting chapter long essays. I ended up reading the entire book in one session and was disappointed when it was finished.

It might be that the many uses for cadavers may have been too sensitive a subject for Roach whereas the spiritual world struck her fancy. Her writing style seems freer this time and she puts more of her self into each chapter. If something seems odd or funny to her, she includes us in those thoughts. I liked that chummy approach to the book.

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Mom, There's a Pig in My Bed!Mom, There's a Pig in My Bed: 07/22/06

A hot day requires easy reading, something not too taxing but still entertaining. On days like this I like to read books written for younger readers. There are so many that I missed when I was a kid that there's an endless supply! Mom, There's a Pig in My Bed! is a book I picked up from the January BookCrossing meeting in Dublin.

While I have to admit to being a little put off by the odd title and equally silly cover art, the first chapter had me hooked. The family was refreshingly different and not the typical either too perfect or "After School Special" disfunctional. The three children were interesting individuals and not just cut-outs placed in the story to prove a point or illustrate the "moral of the story."

Here's my BookCrossing review:

Mom, There's a Pig in My Bed was the perfect quick read for hot summer's day. It's the story of a misfit family of five trying to make a living at being entrepreneurs. The father, an inventor by heart, can't keep a steady job because he's too distracted by ideas for inventions. Having lost his current job, he and his family move to Kansas to try something new: raising seeing eye pigs for blind folks who are allergic to dogs. While the parents' story covers the financial worries of moving and making a go at being self employed, the children's story covers the problems that lying to hide embarrassment can cause: rumors travel fast in small towns.

My only complaint with the book is the family's Friday night recipe, Mishmash Surprise. I appreciate the need to use up left overs and have eaten a few caseroles that come close to Mishmash Surprise but some of the descriptions in the book are revolting.

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From Bauhaus to Our HouseFrom Bauhaus to Our House: 07/20/06

Let me begin by saying outright, I like the Bauhaus style of architecture and its influence on other forms of design (interior, painting, etc.) I like the function before form approach, though the "anti-bourgeois" side of things made me laugh, bringing back memories of the 1980s when my parents went on an anti-bourgeois kick.

Having read a dozen or so reviews on Amazon, I see that readers are split on this book. Some love the book for Wolfe's writing style and an equal number hate the book because it is written by someone who doesn't like the subject he's covering. I am among the lovers of the book. I found his rants against the movement amusing and yet I learned more about the subject inbetween my laughing.

Here is my BookCrossing Review:

From Bauhaus to Our House is an interesting history of the Bauhaus school and its effect on modern architecture by a man who clearly hates the style. While I don't agree with Wolfe's assessment of the movement I did find his critiques refreshing and amusing. He writes with a very engaging style and brings the subject matter to life even while ridiculing it.

After reading a number of books by people who were such fans of their topic that they gushed more about how they got involved in the topic than actually writing about it, it was so nice to read a book by someone who had criticisms for the topic and had sense enough to leave himself out of the book!

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Steps: 10000


Tears of the GiraffeTears of the Giraffe: 07/19/06

Last night I finished Tears of the Giraffe, the second of the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency books and have now declared myself done with the series. I just can't take any more of McCall Smith's romanticizing of the simple and noble ways of Botswana. It reads like Kipling but poorly done.

Here is my BookCrossing Review:

I had hoped that the second book would concentrate more on the mystery and a less on the soap opera but I was wrong. The mystery of what happened ten years ago to an American teenager is pushed aside by the main character's engagement, her fiance's trouble with a jealous maid and the future of a pair of orphans. The other problem I have with the story is Smith's use of dialogue. He tends to have his characters repeat themselves in very stilted language so that they all come off sounding like they all have speach impediments. I suppose he's trying to capture the nuances of the language actually spoken in Botswana but it just isn't believable.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the author and found his biography on Random House's web site. He was born in Zimbabwe but educated in Scotland. He later worked in Botswana to set up a law school. He currently lives in Scotland. He has the background to write stories set in south eastern Africa but somehow that expertise doesn't come through for me. The two books I have read have seemed stilted and forced in their language and far too nostalgic in their imagry.

Good Prenatal Appointment:

This morning I had the first of six non-stress tests for this pregnancy. The nurse who ran them was very nice and managed to take care of two of us in the course of the time I was there. I was hooked up to the monitors to track three things: Harriet's heart rate, her movements and any contractions I might be having.

I hade made sure to eat a sugary breakfast (dough-nut) and drink some orange juice so that Harriet would be more awake than she normally is. She was certainly unhappy about being woken up so "early" for a ten o'clock appointment. To show her anger, she did everything the nurse wanted: she kicked, she squirmed, she punched and she wiggled. All of those movements were happily recorded on the strip of paper along with a corresponding spiking heart rate. Meanwhile I was showing no contractions. It was a perfect (and quick) non-stress test. We were finished in half the time, twenty minutes instead of forty.

After the non-stress test, we had another ultrasound to check on her position and fluid levels. The good news is that she is now head down! Her fluid levels are normal. The bad news: I wasn't sent home with any pictures.

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Steps: 10000


Driving Mr. AlbertDriving Mr. Albert: 07/17/06

Lately it seems we are awash in travel memoirs. Perhaps it is the apparent ease at which they write themselves. The author goes on a trip from point A to point B and jots down all the wacky stuff that happens along the way. The trip might even be a source of emotional or spiritual evolution. Travels with Charley and I & Claudius are examples of travel memoirs that work. Driving Mr. Albert is an example of what can go wrong in this genre.

A well written memoir will still have a structure to it, usually tied to the geography of the trip taken. The chapter breaks often correspond to specific regions or stop overs. Sometimes these chapters are individual essays and sometimes the book is one long narrative with an over arching structure. Driving Mr. Albert is an odd mish-mash of essay, bad poetry, reporting, essay and narrative.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

I think Paterniti was trying to write some sort of modern-day Beat generation poetry of his trip across the country with Harvey and a piece of Einstein's brain. While there are sections in the book filled with fascinating tid bits of history or local color, for the most part, the author's rambling style doesn't work. There are too many jumps in thoughts, locations and times to give the story of the drive a coherent feel. Then there is Paterniti's rather off putting fascination with touching Einstein's brain. It's a 40 year old poorly preserved chunk of biomatter: whatever is left of it probably won't be the key to universe's mysteries. Although it is a short book, I had to struggle to finish it.

Another flaw in the book is its focus. Paterniti spends far too much time speaking of himself and his history when the book is about Albert Einstein, his life, work, death and the life his brain has had since his death. I was not interested in Paterniti's home life and history. He was the chauffer and the writer, yes, but the story isn't about him no matter how hard he tries to include himself into the narrative. He is not interesting!

Up Late:

Last night the temperature didn't drop below 90° F until well after nine o'clock. Since Sean had taken a siesta during the worst of the heat we had a late dinner and decided to wait out the worst of the heat. We played Mario Party 7 and had a great time. It's one of the few games that the three of us can play together. It's also fair enough in its balance of skill and luck to give Sean the chance to win as often as either Ian or I do.

The downside of our video game playing last night is that Sean didn't get to bed until close to eleven, which on some nights is my bed time! He still wanted a bath so he got a quick one and somehow this morning he was awake when I got up for work. Ian says though that he was tired when he got to school. We'll be better parents tonight and put him to bed at a more reasonable time.

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Steps: 7000


Mr. RipleyMr. Ripley: 07/16/06

Last month I read a three in one volume of mystery/thrillers by Patricia Highsmith. The volume itself is called The Mysterious Mr. Ripley and the three books are: The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Underground, and Ripley's Game. The two books I loved, finding them hard to put down. Although they are more than two hundred pages each I was finishing them in one day each. The third book though was a huge departure from the previous ones. I think Highsmith had been hoping to show what a big fish her Mr. Ripley had become in Europe and therefore set him up against the Maffia: it doesn't work.

Here are my BookCrossing reviews:

The Talented Mr. Ripley

I think I've found a new favorite author. Once I got into chapter two of the book I was hooked. I managed to read most of the book today!

The story walks a fine line between the schemes of Tom Ripley and the people who try to figure out what he has done. There are many times when his plans come close to unraveling and Tom's vulnerability comes to light. Mr. Ripley while certainly tallented is also very lucky.

Ripley Underground:

Ripley Under Ground takes place six years (give or take) after the close of the first story. In that time Tom has matured and settled down. Ideally he would love to live a comfortable life in France with his wife and forget the sins of his past. Unfortunately Ripley's talents lie in forgery and he's been adding to his fortune by selling bogus paintings of a long dead artist. Ripley also hasn't learned to control his temper and he soon finds himself having to clean up after himself again and the police once more investigating his life and his past.

Ripley's Game:

In the third of the Mr. Ripley stories, Tom and his friends take on the Mafia for no obvious reason. While Tom manages to survive because of his luck, things otherwise don't go well. The Mafia is a professionial and highly organized criminal organization. Ripley while clever is an amature. Sure, he's killed a few people and gotten away with it but none of his crimes have been as premeditated as what he attempts in this book. Therefore the story doesn't seem as plausible and it failed to hold my attention as the previous two did.

Sorry about the crappy feed:

I should clearly not trying making updates to my blog when it is too hot to think. I've made two entries with mangled code. So I'm sorry for the ugly feed you've gotten from me in the last day.

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Steps: 7000


CyclopsCyclops: 07/14/06

The Dirk Pitt series of books by Clive Cussler are often my go-to book for when I need something easy to read but still entertaining enough to keep me interested. While Cyclops accomplished that task in certain ways, the concluding chapters were so unbelievable (and not just because they were dated) that I lost interest in everything but the sunken treasure plot.

Normally I can take what ever silliness Cussler dishes at me but he doesn't (or didn't, more accurately) do Soviet driven plots well. I suppose he was trying to do a modern-day Bay of Pigs incident except with space travel instead of missiles but he doesn't appear to know enough about space travel to make the plot believeable enough even for the whacky universe of Dirk Pitt.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

Cyclops has to be the worst Dirk Pitt adventure I've read. The plot is a hokey rip-off of Moonraker which is a hokey rip-off of Thunderball. Somehow a secret moon base and a Soviet plot to take over Cuba are tied together with a missing blimp and some sunken treasure. If that's not silly enough, there is also the space shuttle that can fly to the moon and back! I only made it through the end because I wanted to see where the sunken treasure was.

For the moment I'm taking a break from Cussler. The next book for my purse is Terminal Velocity by Bob Shaw. It is much shorter than Cyclops. Hopefully it will be better too.

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Light on SnowLight on Snow: 07/12/06

Last night I stayed up a little late to finish Light on Snow by Anita Shreve. I don't normally stay up late for books but her's was that good. In all honestly, I'm suprised at how well I liked the book given the subject matter and my usual response to it. I normally don't like reading books where there is a dead child or an abandoned child and this book has both along with a dead mother.

I've been especially over-sensative to books like Light on Snow after suffering from two miscarriages before the birth of my son. I don't know if this second successful pregnancy in a row has cured me of my emotional excesses when reading sad books or if Shreve is just a gentle enough writer that the topic didn't leave me crying and setting the book aside unfinished.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

I wasn't sure how I'd handle the subject matter, that of a girl and her father trying to cope with the recent deaths of her mother and infant sister and the aftermath of finding an abandonded newborn in the snow. I was afraid it would be too melodramatic or too emotionally draining to read. Instead the use of the a now thirty year old narrator looking back at events that happened when she was twelve helped give the story a maturity and detachment needed to create an interesting story around such emotionally charged subjects.

The underlying theme of Light on Snow isn't the over powering feelings of grief but the importance of facing grief. She uses the events of the abandoned baby to underline the consequences of not facing up to one's responsibilities and the potential fallout from difficult turns of events.

Read the review at Reading Aventures.

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Steps: 3500


The Opal DeceptionArtemis Fowl: The Opal Deception: 07/10/06

I enjoyed the first two Artemis Fowl books a great deal and the third one was good enough to make me finish. The forth one (The Opal Deception) my husband managed to finish but I'm going to give up on it. I've come to realization that I don't like any of the characters and the world just isn't interesting enough for me to put up with annoying characters.

Harry Potter had the same effect on me. Books one through three were great. Book four had its moments but the drama of the school competition seemed forced. At book five, I gave up at the halfway point. I put the book down two years ago and haven't had the desire to open it up and finish it. My more forgiving husband went on to purchase book six and read it. I suspect he will purchase and read book seven as well.

My problem with both series is that the characters didn't grow much. Harry continues to be afraid of his aunt and uncle and put off by many of the students at school; Snape remains nasty; Draco is as cocky as ever, etc. In the fourth book some scenes were repeated within pages of themselves so that even the plot refused to move along. How many scenes of detention does one need to get that Prof. Umbrage has it in for Harry?

In the Artemis Fowl books, Artemis managed to grow some over the first three books, going from missing his father to learning about the fairies and finally knowing how to conquer them and having to decide if his obsession with the fairies is worth the effort or if he should humble himself to more mundane capers. Colfer though must have felt threatened by the potential of having Artemis and Holly working on the same side so he hit the reset button in book three and book four starts with Fowl mind-wiped and acting the same as he did in the start of the first book. So he's back to the annoying little prick that I didn't like in the first book. I really don't want to have to wait for him to go back to what he had learned over the course of three books!

Read the review at Bookworms and Tea Lovers.

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Steps: 3500


The Plot Against AmericaThe Plot Against America: 07/09/06

Today I finished reading Philip Roth's alternate history of WWII, The Plot Against America. It's the first book by this author I've read but I enjoyed his style of writing to seek out other books he has written. I have been wanting to read it since I heard the author interviewed, once on Radio 4 and a few months later on NPR.

As luck would have it, I was able to pick up a copy of the book from the January BookCrossing from a member who goes by the name kenj. He and I seem to have very similar tastes in reading so I'm often coming home with books he has registered.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Plot Against America even with its hokey ending. I heard Roth interviewed about a year ago and he explained that he didn't want to his alternate WWII story to upset the rest of recent history's timeline. At the end of the book therefore, he has to do some fancy footwork to get Lindbergh out of office in time for things to settle the way they way they were at the actual close of WWII. For those interested, Roth includes a timeline of actual events to compare against those described in the book.

Before reading this book I read two others that really enhanced my enjoyment of the story: Dr. Seuss Goes to War and Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. The Dr. Seuss book is a catalogue of the artist's political cartoons from WWII. The other book takes place in a re-education camp in China during the Cultural Revolution. Just as Roth uses his own family and experiences (including himself) but in a ficitonalized form, Sijie draws on his experiences in a camp to write his novel.

The reason I'm including Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is that Kentucky as a relocation point for certain Jewish people and families is a central piece to the plot of Roth's book. First it starts with just sending the youth down there from the cities and later, entire "elite" (aka politically active against Lindbergh) families to Kentucky and other similar places. While Roth's father calls these programs American concentration camps, their goal and execution reminded me more the re-education camps. People did actually return from them and communication with them was possible as shown by Sandy Roth's time down there and Sheldon's relocation to there.

The Plot Against America takes a national view of what could have happened in the political climate at FDR's campaign for a third term and compares it against the effects a very different outcome (Lindbergh for president) would have on one family as they are ultimately torn apart by their own political differences.

One piece of the war not covered is the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the concentration camps for Japanese Americans. I don't know if Roth left them out because Pearl Harbor didn't happen in his book or if he wanted to keep the plot focused on the experiences of his Jewish characters. I have the feeling that he left it out for a combination of those two reasons.

Steps: 3500

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Dr. Seuss at WarDr. Seuss Goes to War: 07/07/06

I grew up reading a lot of Dr. Seuss. A favorite of mine was (still is) One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Between my brother and me, we had most of his children's books. Now that Sean is nearly four, he is discovering the joys of reading Dr. Seuss (and has reciting favorite lines from One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Although Seuss had published a pair of children's books in the 1930s his career as an author was decades away. During WWII, he worked for PM as a politcal cartoonist. Dr. Seuss Goes to War chronicles these years and provides some interesting analysis of his work.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

Dr. Seuss at War is a comprehensive history of Dr. Seuss's wartime career as a political cartoonist for PM magazine. Each section of cartoons starts with a brief history and an in depth analysis of Seuss's symbolism. The bulk of the book is made up of his cartoons (though not all of them are included).

His work at PM clearly inspired future books and animated cartoons (and these are discussed in the final chapter of the book) like Yertle the Turtle and Horton Hears a Who. Proto Yertles can be seen in a number of cartoons dealing with Hitler in Europe. Horton shows up in a few cartoons depicting the war effort in India.

I also noticed a few other potential future characters that aren't mentioned in the final chapter. Seuss often depicted Germany as a daschund and that dog looks like a sibbling of Max (the dog from the Grinch stories). As Hitler rides on the daschund and the Grinch rides on Max, I'm now seeing a similarity between the Grinch and Hitler. Unlike Hitler, though, the Grinch is redeamed at the end of the story.

The final character I see developing over the course of the cartoons is the Cat in the Hat. Here though it is mostly an evolution of style and not so much a birth of a character. He uses cats to show the infighting among the various allies and politicians and these cats over time look more and more like the cat from the Cat in the Hat (minus the hat). Put an Uncle Sam hat on him though, and there he is.

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Jane of Lantern HillJane of Lantern Hill: 07/06/06

Over the Independence Day holiday I read Jane of Lantern Hill, one of the lesser known novels by L.M. Montgomery. Like many young girls, I "discovered" Montgomery's books in my early teens. I read Emily of New Moon in Jr. High and later fate introduced me to Anne of Green Gables.

Emily was a gift and I devoured the book in hours. Emily's diary writing inspired me to keep my own journals, though with the advent of the internet, I've switched to bloging.

Anne of Green Gables was my first BookCrossing experience, way before BookCrossing even existed. I was walking to my grandmother's house after high school (I was a sophomore). About at the halfway point, I spotted a paperback lying in the middle of the street. From the looks of things it had been run over a few times by passing cars but the spine was remarkably still intact and the book had all of its pages. The book was Anne of Green Gables. I picked it up and started to read it as I trudged up the remainder of the hill. I still have that battered copy.

Last year via the Book Relay site I received a copy of an L.M. Montgomery book that was new to me, Jane of Lantern Hill. I almost immediately promissed the book via the Relay site to another BookCrosser and then promptly forgot. The book has been sitting next to my bed in plain site for a year, nagging me. I finally took the time to look the book up in BookCrossing and realized my error so I sat down and read the book.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

Jane Victoria, or just Victoria to her stern and spiteful grandmother, goes from being a cloistered and pampered wealthy Toronto girl to a happy-go-lucky and overly domestic free spirit on (of course) Prince Edward Island. While living with her father she grows a well needed backbone but also suddenly feels the need to learn how to cook, clean and sew among other things. Truely keeping house is the source or all happiness in women! Blah. Jane lacks the spunk and spirit of my two favorite PEI characters: Anne and Emily.

It started out interesting enough with a divorce and life in Toronto but the story drags once Jane gets to Prince Edward Island. Jane of Lantern Hill failed to capture my imagination in the way that Emily and Anne managed to (and still do).

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Deception Point by Dan BrownDeception Point: 07/06/06

I inherrited my love of cheesy adventure novels from my step-dad. When we would go on a family car camping trip and I'd run out of things to read I would often borrow books from my parents. Mom at the time was reading historical romances (which I would also borrow) and dad was reading either biographies or cheesy adventure stories. He was the one who introduced me to Clive Cussler, though by now I think I've read far more of Cussler's books than he has. The Cussler book in question was Raise the Titanic, the second of the Dirk Pitt series.

It is my love of the ridiculous adventure plot that makes reading Dan Brown's books fun. He's not writing literature (although from listening to some of his interviews it appears he thinks he is). He's writing formulaic adventure stories that have an element of mystery to them (just as the Cussler books do).

The most recent Brown book that I finished is Deception Point which I think is his first novel. Of all of his books, Deception Point is the most like the prototypical Cussler novel. Both have governmental conspiracies that appear to point to the president (but don't), secret un-named military squads hell bent on taking out the main characters, and a plot that ultimately involves a twin hulled research vessel.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

In this book [Deception Point] Dan Brown tries for a Clive Cussler type story involving ice floes, deep ocean trenches, NASA and a presidential coverup. Corky and Mike are almost stand-ins for Al and Dirk and the Goya a rip off of one of the NUMA ships. The book for all its faults and completely silly plot (including an ending akin to Angles and Demons and Digital Fortress) I enjoyed the book. Brown though lacks the bravado and tongue-in-cheek humor that makes Cussler's books so entertaining.

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Steps: 5500


Travels with CharleyTravels with Charley: 07/03/06

This afternoon I finished reading John Steinbeck's memoir of a trip around the contintental United States, Travels with Charley. I have a rather conflicted view of Steinbeck. I respect him as a fellow Californian but I am not a devout fan of his books. His stories tend to get preachy or the presentation of the themes is too heavy handed.

Travels with Charley as a non-fiction allowed Steinbeck greater freedom to cover a variety of topics in a variety of styles. It was refreshing to read his thoughts on the politics and happenings during the time of his trip. He covers light hearted topics like the tacitern nature of the typical New Englander to the more serious ones like the early days of desegregation.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

Steinbeck may have been living on Long Island at the end of his life but he was still a Californian through and through. His travelogue, Travels with Charley of a trip around the continental United States in 1960, is written from a recognizable Californian perspective. Take for example his description of his custom built truck and camper shell which he dubs "Rocinante" and has the name painted in gothic lettering on the sides of the truck. Cars and trucks (especially) are still decorated with names in such a fashion.

While Steinbeck did cover most of the continental states in the course of his trip, he doesn't provide a blow-by-blow itinerary. Instead he lets the events of the trip inspire his writing. Sometimes he writes a faithful description of a place he has seen or a person he has met. Other time he writes an essay on a politics, or economics, or some other topic inspired by that point in the trip.

There are a couple chapters that focus on some medical problems that Charley the dog (a French poodle) suffered over the course of the trip. These chapters reminded me I & Claudius, a travelogue written by Clare de Vries about her trip across the United States with her cat. What is it about people traveling with their pets?

Now that I'm done, I'll be passing this book along to another BookCrosser. I owe it as a book relay offer. Comments (0)



Steps: 3500


Balzac and the Little Chinese SeamstressBalzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: 07/02/06

When I first joined BookCrossing in 2003, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was one of the most popular books being read. I liked the title and since so many other folks were reading it I signed up for a ring. Unfortunately the ring stalled or was lost in the mail. Then last year sometime I received a copy by way of Cliff's wishlist site. Until a week or so ago the book sat on my BookCrossing shelf next to our bed. This year I've made a better effort to get books read off that shelf and then to release them. Now that I've finished the book the book and the buzz around the book has died down (at least at BookCrossing) I will be taking to the July 11th meeting to either give to another member or to wild release after the meeting concludes.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

I enjoyed the book up until the last few chapters. The bulk of the book is written with humor as it outlines the experience of two young men sent to country for "re-education." They find little ways to rebel at first: toying with an alarm clock's settings, for example. Later they read forbidden books by Balzac, Dickens, Dumas, etc. The last fifty pages or so the story turns dark as it lets Luo and the Little Chinese Seamstress speak for themselves. What had been a comedic look at a dark part of China's recent history, turns suddenly to tragedy or at least melodrama. Without better character development for Luo and the seamstress, their insights and actions at the end seem out of character.

In other words, the author seemed to get bored with his story and decided to take a wildly different narrational approach to finish the book. The last few chapters seem rushed and the characters act in ways that so far they haven't acted in. I found this tangent disorienting and unsatisifying. I rated the book 7 out of 10 stars because of the ending.

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Homeschooling on a ShoestringHomeschooling on a Shoestring: 07/02/06

Ian and I have no intention to home school our children but we like to provide as many opportunities to make learning fun and interesting. Also with Ian finishing up graduate school we've been on a tight budget. This book coveres both aspects. While I didn't agree with all the points made, I did enjoy reading the book.

Homeschooling on a Shoestring was another book relay book that I received last year that ended up sitting on my bedside shelf. Yesterday Sean was helping me organize that shelf and take some extra books down to it. In the cleaning up process we found this book and I decided it was time to read it.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

Interesting book. Save for one of us actually quiting our job to home school, we are already following many of the tips in this book. I found the chapter on the importance of books fascinating. Books are not considered clutter (a relief to most BookCrossers, I'm sure).

The "BookCrossing" chapter is called: "The Frugal Home Library and Its Many Branches." The first point this chapter makes is that books don't count as clutter. When decluttering a home, don't throw away the books! That's not to say that it is against getting rid of books but the methods suggested are right in line with BookCrossing: taking books to leave at the docotor's office, giving them to friends, giving them to shelters, etc. If this book has a new edition, I hope it includes BookCrossing by name.

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Steps: 10000


Teasing Secrets from the DeadTeasing Secrets from the Dead: 07/01/06

Last night I finished reading Teasing Secrets from the Dead by Emily Craig. She is a forensic antropologist who specializes in facial reconstruction. Her memoir covers how she entered the field and some of her more memorable cases (including helping with the aftermath of Waco, Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center).

Here is my BookCrossing review:

It was an interesting book over all and I preferred the chapters that didn't deal with her biggest cases (Waco, Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center) because they seemed more focus on the specific challenges of each case. Sometimes though she gets a little carried away in her enthusiasm and begins to sound cocky. I don't doubt her skills but it gets tiresome to be reminded every few pages just how good she is. Let the work done during the investigation speak for itself!

While I didn't always like the tone in which the book was written, the topics covered were fascinating and overall I felt the book was worth reading. I rated it an 8 out of 10 stars on BookCrossing.

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