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October 2006

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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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A Chance to See Egypt: 10/31/06

A Chance to See Egypt

The blurb from the New York Times on the back of book claims the story is "deeply moving and [a] stunning exploration of the mysterious ways in which faith and love can heal the human heart." I found it an overly earnest and schmaltzy book that left me wanting to read a Shakespearian tragedy just to balance things out.

Even the sad events in the story are treated with mirth. Everything is a life lesson. Everyone comes away from their own particular bad bit of luck (be it the death of a spouse or living in poverty) a stronger and happier person. Characters easily find love. Characters easily move on. No one has to struggle in this book. What is the point?

Here is my BookCrossing review:

A group of characters come together through a variety of circumstances to a little village in Mexico where they find happiness, new friendships and their muse. It's just so heartwarming that I'm gagging on its saccharine goodness.

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Aunt Crete's Emancipation: 10/30/06

Aunt Crete's Emancipation

Six months ago I picked up Aunt Crete's Emancipation after seeing that it was a reprint of a 1911 book. I love old books and especially those from around 1880 to about 1930. As this reprint includes the illustrations, I had to take the book.

I was also intrigued by the title. I immediately wondered; Who is Aunt Crete? and Why does she need emancipating? I also thought of the women's suffrage movement that was reaching its peak in the early decades of the 20th century. By 1911 thirteen states had granted women the right to vote and the nineteenth amendment would be passed in 1914.

Emancipation in the title also implies slavery. Was Aunt Crete somehow enslaved? Was this in the form of a poorly paying job or elder abuse at home? Who then sets Aunt Crete free? How did she become enslaved in the first place?

As it turns out, Aunt Crete's Emancipation is a fairly light hearted book. If it were a modern book it would probably be classified as either romance or chick lit (although Aunt Crete is much older than the typical chick lit protagonist) but she does end up living the typical plot line: handsome stranger from a distant land takes interest in a poor over worked woman and whisks her away to a life of luxury and adventure. In this case the handsome stranger is her nephew and the adventure is a trip to the beach and a fancy hotel.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

This copy is a reprint (looks like a scanned reprint) of the 1911 edition. I actually enjoyed the book enough to want to keep my eyes out for an original print as the illustrations didn't copy well.

Aunt Crete is the spinster sister "enslaved" by her sisterly duties to a niece and sister who for whatever reason has let them bully her into staying at home and doing the bulk of the chores. When the son of the sister who broke with tradition and left for the Yukon comes calling, the family flees to the beach leaving him "stuck" with Aunt Crete. Unfortunately for them, he takes a great liking for her and has the money to give her the life that the rest of the family has been pretending to have all these years at the expense of Aunt Crete's labor.

One thing that disturbed me about the book is the very last illustration (it's also the frontispiece). While the caption reads: "At last Aunt Crete was emancipated" she is shown dressed as a maid! There is nothing in the text that suggests that cousin Donald's idea of emancipation is to make Aunt Crete be his personal maid but clearly the illustrator and publisher thought it best to make it seem that way. Why else would a young nephew want to travel the world with his spinster aunt? What else could a woman of her years possibly do (or want to do) with her time in 1911?

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The Creature in the Teacher: 10/29/06

The Creature in the Teacher

I received Creature in the Teacher last year as a book relay. It is number thirteen in the Spooksville series. It can best be described as V for children in that the monster this time is a reptile from outer space.

As this book comes so late in a series the characters are established and no time is wasted on reintroducing them or their world. So coming to this book without having read any of the previous was like hearing the punchline without the joke.

Here is the BookCrossing review:

I haven't read any of the other books in the Spooksville series but I can see that I would have probably enjoyed the lot of them when I was in elementary school.

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Happy Birthday Frankie: 10/28/06

Happy Birthday Frankie

I bought Happy Birthday Frankie for Sean's first birthday. I remember liking the illustrations and the bold use of orange. It also had special meaning to me as it's obviously meant as a Halloween birthday book. The last period before I had conceived Sean had started on Halloween and the year before I conceived Sean, I had my first miscarriage on Halloween. As an odd bit of closure on this Halloween thing, I will officially "healed" from my c-section with Harriet this Halloween.

When I first gave the book to Sean it didn't appeal to him so it went on his bookshelf and stayed there through our move to Hayward. Now that he's older, he likes it if we read to him while he's in the bath. I found Happy Birthday Frankie on Sean's shelf and decided to give it another try. This time he loved it and asked me to read it twice.

Sean enjoys the repetition of the story. On each page the scientist attempts to assemble the pieces in the box. He has many failures before he finally succeeds. The illustrations by Warren Linn really makes the book funny.

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Blood Sweat and Tea: 10/27/06

Blood Sweat and Tea

I think Blood, Sweat and Tea is the first book where I've known all the previous reviewers. They are both active BookCrossers, and one of them has read the same copy of the book as I just finished as we are on the same ring.

Blood, Sweat and Tea started as a blog called Random Acts of Reality. The author of both is an EMT for the London Ambulance Service in East London. Having read some of the entries transcribed in the book I realized that I have read them in the blog, though at the time I was not a regular subscriber to the blog. I've enjoyed the book enough to subscribe to the blog so I will be a regular reader in the future.

Therein is the main problem with the book, it is a better blog than it is a book. Without the blog framework of date stamps and comments it is hard to see the natural flow of events from one day to the next. The book also removes most of the "off topic" entries that the blog has. These off topic posts provide a segue between the EMT posts so much of Reynold's personality doesn't come through except for when he's complaining about his job.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

While books and blogs both involve the written word, they are organized differently. Blogs like diaries are organized naturally by the dates on which entries are written. Books don't always work when organized chronologically and Blood, Sweat and Tea certainly would have benefited from some organization. The title itself could have provided inspiration for three separate categories that the blog entries could have been organized under: "Blood" or the actual emergencies, "Sweat" the annoying day to day grind of the job and "Tea" for the humorous or off topic entries. The book's jumble of topics gets in the way of reading the book at a normal pace.

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The Secret Three: 10/26/06

The Secret Three

I picked up this book last year at the friends of the library shelf maintained by the Dublin library in Starbuck's on Regional Road. I chose it because I like Arnold Lobel's illustrations and as it's an "I Can Read" book it's perfect for Sean who is now learning how to read. At the moment it's one of a select number of books in rotation for me to read to Sean while he's taking his evening bath.

The Secret Three is one of the many books that Arnold Lobel illustrated for other authors. In this story by Mildred Myrick, two boys spending the summer at the beach find a third friend by way of a message sent in a bottle. The story has a nice introduction to how tides work and some basic cryptology as the boys send encrypted messages to each other.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

Matobi! It's the story of friendship, secret clubs, codes and exploration, all set along a beach and on an island.

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Stargate: 10/25/06


Right around the time I was married, I saw two films that instantly rose to my short list of favorite films: Stargate and The Fifth Element (which is currently at #1 on my list). Stargate I love because it mixes ancient Egypt with science fiction. The Fifth Element would take to long for me to explain why I love it but for now let me just say, "decoupage" and leave it at that. They were also among the first DVDs I ever purchased.

So ten years after having first seen Stargate a novelization of the film comes into my possession by way of an Egyptian themed book box. Although it hadn't received that great a review from the previous reader, I immediately snatched it from the box. It's been sitting on my bookshelf for a time when I'd need a quick book to read. I finally decided to stop waiting and just toss it into the current pile of books I reading; I'm glad I did.

I am not going to claim that the book is well written; it isn't. But it is better than most novelizations that I've read in terms of content and character development. Most books like this end up being just transcripts of the film. The better ones take the film and flush it out, giving insight into characters' actions, the way their world works, and even sometimes changing scenes to improve the story: Stargate does all of these things.

Unfortunately in the rush to get the book out at the same time as the film, the book's editors dropped the ball. There are numerous spelling and grammatical errors. There are characters who change gender and others who come back to life without the aid of Ra's sarcophagus. These errors were so obvious and jarring that I actually had to correct them in the book.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

I'm knocking it down to 9 because of all the typos. I didn't mind the inconsistencies of the Egyptian religion as it's explained in part by the alien in Ra adjusting it to fit his needs and then later the Egyptian religion adapting with time after they had closed the Stargate. Those sorts of inconsistencies don't bother me; most stories have holes in them, but simple spelling and grammatical errors should have been caught!

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A Century of America's Favorite Foods: 10/24/06

A Century of America's Favorite Foods

The recipes included in A Century of America's Favorite Foods are secondary to the history outlined for each decade. These recipes show how eating habits changed over time as a result of socioeconomic, political and technologic forces.

The wiring of homes for electricity brought new tools into the kitchen: the blender, electric mixer and refrigerator to name a few. Food rationing in World War One and Two gave rise to a market of substitution mixes and convenience foods. The parents of the "Baby Boomers" had grown up on cooking with convenience foods and continued to cook that way after the war even though rationing had ended.

Current food choices seem to be divided into two camps: the all convenience or the all from scratch. Both sides seem to be looking for better tasting and healthier foods than were eaten in recent decades. We fall into the from scratch crowd for a variety of reasons.

As the book went through each decade, more and more of the recipes were familiar to me. For the 1960s through the 1980s, I knew every recipe listed and all of them were fairly appalling.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

It was fun a book to read, mostly for the historical tid bits and trivia included in the margins. Many of these "favorites" are ones I know and have eaten at many a family get-together. It was also interesting to see how food substitutes during the two world wars and the Depression (to some degree) helped to create the "convenience food" market and a generation of cooks who were dependent upon those "conveniences." The recipes in the 1950s and 1960s are so bland and homogenous at a time when families could afford greater variety of foods and the markets could have provided them.

Our cooking at home is more in the first third of the book. It's done mostly without "convenience" and without a lot of the electric gadgetry. Why? First of all, it's fun! Second we don't have the counter space or storage space for a lot of gadgetry. Third, I hate a lot of clean up, and frankly those gadgets make clean-up take forever (or so it seems), and finally we just don't have the budget to buy all the latest must haves just to use them once or twice. We do have a blender but honestly I can't think of the last time my husband has used it; I've never used it.

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Eva Luna: 10/23/06

Eva Luna

I have to remember that as much as I like the concept of "magical realism" I, for the most part, don't like the genre. I can think of two books I have actually enjoyed: Macunaíma by Mário de Andrade and The Yellow Sofa by Eca De Queiros. Most of the time the genre leaves me cold, confused and somewhat bored. There are often too many tangents and too much extraneous detail: Eva Luna has these problems. I wanted to read Eva Luna after having enjoyed Daughter of Fortune back in 2003 and having had a moderate enjoyment of Zorro in 2005, although I had felt the author hadn't really understood the character. While there are some beautifully written passages in Eva Luna they didn't flow together to create a feeling of a coherent story or a plot that was actually going somewhere. Nor, though, did it feel like it was written strictly as a mood piece. Poor Eva seemed to be forced to tread water in the middle of all that flowing prose, bobbing her head up whenever the story required her to be present in a scene.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

Eva Luna starts as a memoir of an illegitimate daughter of a maid and an indian. While Eva Luna continues to narrate the story of her life, she is but a passive witness to a disparate group of odd balls who end up becoming political revolutionaries. Their stories are so much more interesting than Luna's. Her constant rambling drags down the story and her role in all of this beyond reporter and maybe lover isn't clear.

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Art Work: 10/22/06

Art Work

I enjoy reading books that have real life accounts of how various folks found their vocations. Art Work had potential to be an informative and interesting read. Unfortunately all that valuable information is made impossible to read by a poor layout and ugly choice of font. The paragraphs don't use enough white space. Some are even run together, separated only by selective use of font weight. I could only read this book in small chunks to avoid eye strain and headaches. If the Pasadena College of Art and Design has put out further volumes, I hope they've rethought their design!

Here's my BookCrossing review:

Art Work was created by the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena to help recruit students by showing them real life success stories from currently working artists. The meat of the book is in these two to four page statements by the artists as they contain practical advice. The most recurrent bits of advice are: commercial art pays the bills, even after establishment in the Fine Arts scene; never turn down a showing of your artwork even if the venue is unusual; play safe with commercial art and save the risk taking for your personal art and go with your gut feelings. Art Work has two big problems as a book: the lack of illustrations for the artists' biographies and an extremely ugly and hard to read font for the much of the text. Here is a book designed to encourage new art students but all the best advice is hidden away in a visual boring layout and the advice is obfuscated by a crappy font!

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Little Cloud: 10/21/06

Little Cloud

Sean borrowed this imaginative Eric Carle book from school. Anyone who has seen shapes in clouds will enjoy this story of Little Cloud and his big imagination.

Little Cloud is one of Carle's more recent books. Carle started illustrating and writing books in the late 1960s. Of the Carle books I've read there are only two that I don't enjoy: The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Very Greedy Snake as both are focused so heavily on gluttony.Little Cloud instead teaches through example the importance of being an individual and being a contributing member of a group.

Until the end, each page has a different shape that Little Cloud has created on his own. There's an airplane, a hat, and a variety of other shapes that children will easily recognize. In the end, his hat joins up with the other clouds who have together formed a clown. Comments (0)

Touch and Feel Baby Animals: 10/20/06

Touch and Feel Baby Animals

It's time to review one of Harriet's books! She was given this book back in July when the Dublin / Pleasanton BookCrossers threw me a baby shower. I've shown her the pictures but so far she isn't up to trying to pet any of the pictures. I know that she will want to when she gets older. In the meantime, the photographs of the baby animals are very cute.

Sean had another book in the series as a baby: Touch and Feel on the Farm. Both books have the same two problems: the textures don't make much of a match to what the animal depicted actually feels like and there isn't enough variety to the textures in the book. Baby Animals is worse on the variety issue. The same pseudo hair texture is used for more than half the animals pictured. I suppose the idea is to make the touching sensation as pleasurable as possible for babies reading the book but it certainly won't make it very tactily interesting.

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Numbers: 10/19/06


Recently Sean borrowed Numbers from school. It is designed for up to 18 months old and only teaches the numbers 1 through 5. Sean can count up to 100 by now and probably higher if he sets his mind to it. With Ian working towards a PhD in math, numbers have been a very important topic in our family Sean's entire life.

I think he picked this book more for the pictures and for the reading than for the numbers. Ian has been teaching Sean how to read and he started with the small numbers (one, two, three, etc.). Sean has also been reading these DK Baby Genius books to Harriet. She seems to enjoy his attention and will often fall asleep after he's read her a story or sung her a song from preschool. Being able to read a book to his baby sister is a big ego boost. It's also a huge help to me for a few moments of Harriet free time.

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A Simple Monk: 10/18/06

A Simple Monk

Over the summer I joined this very short book ray A Simple Monk. It is a collection of essays and interviews that together paint a picture of the life and works of the 14th Dalai Lama. This coffee table book was published as a means of raising funds for Tibet House in New York. The pieces are interesting but sometimes the glowing and over written text contrasts against His Holiness's humility and moniker of "a simple monk."

As it is a coffee table book, every page has at least one full color photograph. They are colorful and beautiful but often times unrelated to the text on the page. They also seem to come out of order. A greater coherence between the text and the illustrations would have helped to paint a richer portrait of the Dalai Lama.

Here is my BookCrossing Review

I enjoyed the book but had trouble reading it because of its size. My daughter is a new born and loves to held. The book is too large to read easily one handed so I had to sneak a few pages whenever she was napping.

The two excerpts I enjoyed the most were the interview with the late Spalding Gray and the article on the Dalai Lama's journey to Hollywood. The Spalding Gray interview especially touched me for a number of reasons. First I could feel Gray's sadness; he was clearly looking for some way of easing his inner turmoil. Second I enjoyed the spontaneity of the interview; it felt like the best glimpse of the Dalai Lama as a person. Finally the interview took place in a city I hold dear to my heart as it was the first place I lived as an adult and on my own.

The journey to Hollywood interested me for two reasons. The first is that I majored in film so I understand how the business works and found the meeting of cultures fascinating. I can't say we (Californians) did very well with how we behaved while waiting for the arrival of His Holiness. Second, my husband and I had just recently argued over how the Dalai Lama would act in such a situation and my husband couldn't believe he'd even allow himself to be in a situation like a Hollywood pitch party.

Finally the photographs in the book are beautiful. I wish there were more of them!

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The Walking Stones: 10/17/06

The Walking Stones

It seems that the bulk of the young adult fantasy I've read has either taken place in one of three places: the British Isles, New York state, or a fantasy land reachable via magic (usually with the starting point being somewhere on the British Isles). There is one notable exception which is L. Frank Baum who had Oz accessible from Kansas and California.

The Walking Stones falls into the British Isles category with veiled references to an Otherworld, though this other dimension or whatnot is not traveled to, just viewed briefly from afar. It apparently draws on Celtic lore (as many British fantasy books do) but I'm not familiar enough with to say how well the story does. Anyway, it's a classic tale of the passage of knowledge and tradition from one generation to the next. Here the knowledge includes Second Site along with some other magical traditions.

I enjoyed the story for what it was but the characters seemed too one dimensional and their motivations weren't always clear. In real life people tend to react like the Bodach did when their homes are taken via Imminent Domain. I was surprised at how quickly Donald and his parents warmed to the idea of being forced to move out of the glen and into the city to make room for a dam. I suppose their quick submission was in order to keep the story short.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

The Walking Stones is about the balancing act between tradition and progress. Here the tradition is in the form of the stories and magic of the glen and the progress is the brining of electricity to the city at the expense of the glen. Can the old ways of the glen be passed onto the next generation before the glen is flooded?

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Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo!: 10/16/06

Because a Little Bug went Ka-Choo

Theodor S. Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, wrote Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo with Michael Frith and together they published under the name "Rosetta Stone." I was pretty sure it was a Seuss book by the meter of the text and the illustrations but I double checked at the Library of Congress just to be sure. I just don't know why Geisel started making up new pen names for his children's books, since he'd successfully been using the Dr. Seuss name for so many years.

Anyway, Sean borrowed the Little Bug book from school on Friday and we read it a number of times this weekend. It is a classic Seuss story with a plot that starts simple and rapidly gets out of hand. It also serves as a child's introduction to chaos theory. Think of the film The Butterfly Effect but do it with a seussian bug and have it end with a traveling circus pandemonium unleashed on an unsuspecting nearby city.

Sean likes the book for how things quickly escalate. He can follow the logic of a bug's sneeze upsetting a worm and delights as things get crazy (around the time Farmer Brown gets a bucket on his head). He usually likes to stop and ask a question on each page to understand the cause and effect of each action and to discuss alternative reactions. Reading books to him is never as simple of starting with the first page and going to the last page. Book reading with him is more of a discourse.

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Gorky Park: 10/15/06

Gorky Park

Although I love thrillers and "man books" as I often heard them called, I usually avoid the Soviet Union based stories. For whatever reason, the KGB bores me. There are a few exceptions to the rule like From Russia with Love and The Red Fox. Gorky Park isn't exactly a KGB thriller but they are there as foils to Moscow detective, Arkady Renko. In fact it is their role across so many books as foils and cardboard cutout villains that contributes to so much of my boredom in the sub-genre of the KGB thriller.

The bulk of Gorky Park's mystery could have happened anywhere. It is a triple murder where the bodies have had most identifying features removed and the bodies left to freeze out in the middle of a park. Those working on the case must: identify the bodies, determine cause of death, find and interview potential "persons of interest" and hopefully track down a suspect with enough evidence to warrant an arrest. These tasks require time, skill, a degree of luck, and resources. By choosing Moscow at the nadir of the Soviet Union, Smith forces a number of restraints on his mystery: corruption, a meddling police state, and no financial support for a large case.

Over all I liked the change of scenery from the usual cities the mysteries I read take place: London, San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York, but Smith seemed to take much too long building his world and commenting on the bleak life style of the typical detective in Moscow. After a while, all this commentary from various characters on what life in the city was like seemed artificial and a hindrance to the story.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

Arkady Renko is an overworked, underpaid, under-resourced Moscow detective faced with a triple murder. Thus begins Arkady's fight against the KGB, FBI and NYPD and his trip from the Soviet Union to the United States. Everyone has his own agenda and everyone is working at cross purposes leaving Arkady to pick his allies as he best he can to solve the case.

While I enjoyed the intrigue, the story drags in parts where the author spends too much of his time describing just how bad things are for working class stiffs in Moscow under the Communist regime. Especially early on, every new scene begins with a description of the set and how bad things are. While these descriptions are good for creating the setting and building the mood, they also hinder the flow of the story. It also takes the story a long time (more than 100 pages) to introduce all the characters and set up the dynamic of their interactions. The story doesn't really hit its stride until all the players are in place.

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Shapes: 10/14/06

Baby Genius Shapes

I know of many parents who don't like the DK board books. They complain that these board books are just scrap books of photographs with no plot and no educational value. True, the board books for babies are just nice looking photograph collections with each page having a different theme, but Sean and I both like these books. Sean likes to categorize things and I am a very visual person so I like to look at the pretty pictures while helping Sean learn about them and now, read the words describing them.

In the case of Shapes, each page illustrates a different shape. The shapes illustrated this time are square, circle, triangle, heart, star, oval, rectangle and diamond. Square and circle are probably the best pages as they have the most examples and the pictures used are of things Sean has had direct experience with. The heart page is probably the weakest as the things shown don't have to be heart shaped and I don't think Sean has ever seen any of those things heart shaped outside of the book.

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A Mother for Choco: 10/13/06

A Mother for Choco

Sean continues to borrow books from school, including A Mother for Choco. I really enjoyed reading this story to Sean and it gave us the opportunity to talk about something we've never discussed before: adoption. Choco, the adorable little bird on the cover doesn't have a mother an decides to go find one. He asks a variety of animal mothers and they all turn him down for one reason or another until he meets a mother bear. She welcomes him into her life with open arms (in the form of a bear hug, of course).

When Sean saw the mother bear's family which includes a variety of animals (a pig, an alligator and something else), he started asking lots of important questions. He wanted to know why the bear mother would want all these animals when they weren't like her. He wanted to know why she wanted Choco. It gave me the chance to explain adoption and other types of families.

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The Memory Keeper's Daughter: 10/12/06

Memory Keeper's Daughter

I signed up for a book ring of The Memory Keeper's Daughter last November as the story of a father keeping a huge family secret until his death was something I was using in that year's Nanowrimo novel. Now nearly a year later the book has reached me and it was well worth the wait.

Kim Edwards chose a very cliched set up for her story but the narration is told well enough to make the book a page turner. In the first chapter she uses:

  • A freak storm
  • An unexpected birth of twins
  • A father forced to deliver his own children
  • A twin whisked away to live a separate and secret life.

From this formulaic beginning, Edwards sets up two parallel but ordinary (mundane even) except that one mother has depression now to face and the distancing of her once close husband while the adoptive mother must learn how to raise a child with Down's syndrome and fight for her daughter's rights. It is the emotional evolution of these characters that makes the book interesting.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

The best intentions are not always the best ideas. A young father who had seen his childhood torn apart by the loss of his sister tries to save his wife and infant son from a similar fate when is wife gives birth to a daughter with Down's syndrome. Though he doesn't kill his daughter, he tells his wife that his daughter died at birth and keeps the secret of her life until his own death decades later.

While the set up of the births feels contrived the rest of the story crafted well enough and with such tenderness that the extraordinary circumstances at the beginning are soon forgotten and forgiven. The novel isn't so much about what the characters do in their separate lives but how they grow emotionally and how the burden of the secrets tears at the bonds of family.

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Owl at Home: 10/11/06

Owl at Home

For Sean's third birthday we gave him a bunch of books about owls, including Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel. This book is in Sean's current rotation of favorite books. Although I remember reading it last year when I gave him the book, I don't have any record of having read it, therefore I am counting it towards this year's list of books read.

As with Lobel's Frog and Toad books, Owl at Home consists of five chapters, each one a different short story about Owl and some sort of adventure he's had at (or near) home. The stories are: "The Guest," "The Bumps", "Tear-Water Tea", "Upstairs and Downstairs" and "The Moon." I think Sean's favorite of them is "The Bumps" in which Owl mistakes his feet under his blankets for a bumpy creature waiting to attack him when he falls asleep in bed. My favorite is either "The Guest" in which Owl makes the mistake of leaving the door open during a winter snow storm and "The Moon" in which Owl thinks the moon is following him home and worries that his new friend won't fit inside his home.

While the stories are simplistic and lacking the dynamic humor of the dysfunctional friendship between Frog and Toad, the illustrations still carry the warmth and charm of Lobel at his best. Though Owl is a loner, he's a good natured sort and the illustrations bring life to him. If you read this book, stop to enjoy each of the illustrations.

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Rainbow Fish to the Rescue: 10/10/06

Rainbow Fish to the Rescue

I haven't read the original Rainbow Fish as the reviews have put me off it. Sean, I think, has had the story read to him and he recently borrowed this sequel from his preschool. I do enjoy Pfister's illustrations but I find the mob mentality of the book disturbing.

The story is trying for a story about wanting to belong and the importance of befriending people who are different. Essentially is it a classic story of the Other. This time Rainbow Fish sees what it is like to be one of the group and he has to decide whether to or not to risk his membership by welcoming a new fish into the school.

I think Sean is relating to this story so strongly because of his recent experience with starting a new school. While his teachers are the same and all his friends are still at the new school, his school has merged with another school. Essentially Sean's school purchased the old school and kept the students. There has been a lot of culture clash between both sets of children and they have been reluctant to play with each other. In this case, I can see the value of Rainbow Fish to the Rescue but outside of this special context, I still find the story disturbing.

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Minnie: 10/09/06


Minnie is a Dutch children's story about cross-species friendship. It is another of a number of children's books I received from another BookCrosser at a spring meeting. I took the book because I liked the cover art.

While I did enjoy the story there were many interesting concepts introduced that were never explained or even explored. In fact the entire story seemed too simplified. I realize it is written for a young audience but even as a child I would have been unsatisfied. I'm not asking for pages and pages of back story or sub plot but a sentence or two in most cases would suffice.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

I enjoyed the rather simplistic story of Minnie and her ordeal of being turned into a human. Tibbs the reporter I never quite understood. How does someone so shy end up as a reporter? How did he manage to stay employed by the paper as long as he did when all he wrote about at first were cats? I would also have liked to learn more about the Institute that was next to Minnie's home. What were they doing that could produce garbage capable of turning cats into humans? There is the real story, not the cruelty of Mr. Elbow.

The illustrations I thought needed some work. They didn't seem to capture the characters as I imagined them. Minnie seemed really weird in the drawings. She isn't described as weird looking, just weird (or cattish) acting at times.

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Arthur & George: 10/08/06

Arthur & George

I have really mixed feelings about Arthur & George by which Julian Barnes was short listed for the 2005 Man Booker Price. It makes a wonderful audio book. I was first introduced to it as an audio book read on Radio 4. Intrigued by what I had heard, I joined a book ring. It arrived last month and I've since then been struggling to read it even though I've already experienced the story in a different medium.

The problem I'm having with the book is that it lacks chapters in the conventional sense and the plot rapidly fluctuates between the characters Arthur and George. For the first two hundred pages the two characters are completely separate. Without knowing how these people line up at first and as a foreigner not being familiar with the places mentioned, I find myself not able to keep track of what is happening. I hate books that make me feel like I'm reading at the event horizon of a black hole, hoping to snatch up a few words as the text flies into oblivion.

As this book is based on actual events and is historical fiction, I have the feeling that the author was trying to put as much of each person's life in the book as possible. A lot of the early details could have been left out. The ultimate story of Arthur's aid in George's legal case is undermined by a whole bunch of padding.

When I wrote my initial review I had decided to give up on the book. The night after I wrote it, I had an epiphany on how to read the book. I would have to read it from one character's point of view and then go back and read the other character's story. That is what I've done the last few days. The original review is posted below:

I enjoyed the Radio 4 version. Whatever editing job they did to the book improved the story greatly. The story in its original book form is not as engaging. I don't like the bouncing back and forth between characters, nor do I like the book report approach to each scene. I know things will pick up somewhere past the halfway point but frankly there are other books I'd prefer to read.

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Viva Las Buffy: 10/07/06

Viva Las Buffy

Graphic novels aren't something I read often but a few of them have come my way via BookCrossing and the Bookrelay site. Viva Las Buffy is one such book. Over all it is well drawn and well lettered, although Giles doesn't look much like Anthony Stewart Head but in this story he's a minor character so it really doesn't matter what he looks like.

Although I don't have many graphic novels (or comic books) under my belt I know that they often branch off each other creating alternate versions of events, worlds and characters. Just look at the numerous incarnations of Batman and Superman over the years! This Buffy story has some points of diversion from both the film and the television show (which by themselves don't quite match up) and I'm not sure if these are specific decisions to make a different Buffy or are errors on the part of the authors who came to the story late in the course of the series.

The most obvious difference between the film and the series is the inclusion of Dawn, aka the annoying key from season five. I don't like Dawn!

Here is my BookCrossing review:

For the most part, Viva Las Buffy is an entertaining and typical Buffy the Vampire Slayer story, although having Angel tracking the vampires to Las Vegas reminded more of the Angel TV series than either the Buffy series or film. Yes, Buffy's parents are still married and Buffy's original watcher is mentioned but that's the extent of the story's reliance on the film.

Most of the story is non-canon but still fun. First and foremost: Dawn did not exist in 1996. Sure, her existence was forced into the memories of everyone involved but that doesn't mean she actually existed retroactively. Her inclusion in this graphic novel is the story's weakest point.

The other thing that annoyed me were the conjoined fraternal twins. I'm willing to believe that some sort of weird vampirism mojo made fraternal twins become conjoined twins in a botched turning or I'm willing to believe that the one of the twins is a cross-dresser but neither of those seems to be the case. Therefore the brother/sister conjoined twins don't make any sense!

Although these two details annoyed me, I'm still rating this graphic novel highly because it was entertaining and well drawn. It was fun to read during a middle of the night nursing.

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Alice in La-La Land: 10/06/06

Alice in La-La Land

I bought Alice in La-La Land from the Daly City library three years ago because I liked the title and the bold cover art. I then sent it around the world on a book ring. It came home after we moved and I've now finally read it. Was it worth the wait? Yes and no.

The book is a sequel and it is set in the seedier parts of Los Angeles (Hollywood and Vine, aka "La-La Land" and Venice Beach) and it revels sometimes in its crassness. It often times takes too long to explain all the different ways of being a hooker and all the different forms of sexual identity but more for shock value and less for plot or character development.

The setting , language and characters did not bother me but repetition of "shocking" things did bore me. After a while I just wanted the story to get on its way.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

For all its crass language, sex, debauchery and murder, the book ended up reminded me of an old episode of Charlie's Angels, namely, "Angel Trap" (Season 1, episode 13), in which Jill befriends an assassin, Jericho, in order to set a trap for him. I even pictured Connor Spinnernan, the antihero detective and assassin, as looking somewhat like kitten-loving Jericho.

A theme of both stories is that even "bad" people have their reasons and have their reasons for how they ended up doing what they do. Jericho and Connor come off as sympathetic characters even though they can both kill quite coldly when needed.

Although I enjoyed the book, I found the story dragged in places, especially in the many scenes used to show just how deserving Roger Twelvetrees is of his fate. It doesn't take more than a scene or two to show that he is a foul, misogynistic and violent control-freak. It also doesn't take long to figure out that he may be the target, rather than the one paying for a hit. Fortunately there are other more interesting twists, those of which I won't share here.

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A Color Clown Comes to Town: 10/05/06

Color Clown

Sean borrowed A Color Clown Comes to Town from school. It's another of the "Word Window" books. What bloody idiot decided children are too stupid to know what a book is? Why does everyone of these books have to start with a definition of a book as a "word window"?

Anyway, this book is supposed to teach children about colors. This annoying clown comes to town with open paint buckets on his head and starts pestering a girl to paint with him. She agrees but only for certain things. Later he teaches her how to mix secondary colors and she makes a rainbow.

Since this book purports to be "educational" I would expect it to get the order of the rainbow correct. Once red is placed in the middle (between yellow and green) and twice purple is put after red at the top of the rainbow. Argh!

Unfortunately Sean currently adores this book and I suspect he'll be bringing it home a few more times. Since I love him and don't believe in censorship, I will read it to him again if he asks.

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The Seven Dials Mystery: 10/04/06

Seven Dials

When I was in my teens I discovered Agatha Christie's mysteries. The first one I ever read was Postern of Fate, a mystery published the year I was born. It struck me as the most frightening mystery I had ever read and I was hooked. The second Christie book I read, And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians) also gave me chills.

After having such success with Christie's books, I started collecting them to read as many as I could. When I started I hadn't appreciated just how many she had written! Joining BookCrossing made the process easier (too easy!) and I was soon awash in Chrstie mysteries, including some duplicates (in part to the U.S. editions often times having a different title).

In the last few years I've been making an effort to read and release my collection of Christie books and The Seven Dials Mystery. As with many of her books that I've recently read I found the plot rather obvious and the characters annoying.hile there are gems among her many books, I haven't enjoyed most of the ones I've read.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

The Seven Dials Mystery is a sequel (more or less) to The Secret of Chimneys in that it takes place again at Chimneys and has Bundle and her friends getting into trouble (again), uncovering international espionage plots (again) and helping the local authorities solve the mystery behind the crime (again). A few times through the book I had to double check that I wasn't rereading the first book under a different title (since many of Christie's novels have different titles in the United States than in Britain).

From reading the introduction by Val McDermid, I was expecting a lighthearted parody of the detective thriller genre that was just gaining popularity at the time. Keep in mind that Seven Dials is contemporary with The Maltese Falcon. Both books suffer from the same flaw: obvious and oblivious criminals. Two characters in both act so odd compared to the other characters and are so keen on sticking close to the protagonists to "help" them that they stick out as obvious candidates for being the criminals. While by page 146 I still wasn't quite sure what the ultimate crime was in Seven Dials beyond the ubiquitous Christie murder by poison, I knew who was behind the plot. So when Battles sums it all up in the penultimate chapter, the whole thing was rather anticlimactic for me. Where are the twists and turns that McDermid praises in the book?

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The Stupidest Angel: 10/01/06

The Stupidest Angel

After my lukewarm enjoyment of Lamb, I was a reluctant to read The Stupidest Angel but I've owed to another BookCrosser since July and was way overdue for reading it. I'm glad I finally did; it was one of the funniest Moore books yet and were it not for having to tend to Harriet, I could have finished it in one sitting.

The Stupidest Angel returns to Pine Cove a few years after The Lust Lizard and unites characters from that book along with those from The Island of the Sequined Love Nun and Lamb. As with the other Pine Cove books, the small California town has to cope with supernatural events after being visited by a very unusual traveler; in this case, it's Raziel come to grant the Christmas wish of Josh Baker. Truth be told, God should have sent someone else to do the grant wishing!

The book is full of wonderful lines that had me laughing and carrying the book with me from room to room so I could read it any time I had at least one hand free. One of my favorite lines is: "Santa was dead. Christmas was ruined. Josh was hosed." (page 37)

Here is my short but enthusiastic BookCrossing review:

Great book! The Stupidest Angel was everything I had hoped Lamb would be but wasn't. To be fair, I enjoy the Pine Cove books more than his others. This book is a classic Pine Cove story with a dim-witted angel, a talking bat and brain eating zombies lead by Santa Claus.

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