Twitter Tumblr FlickrFacebookContact me
This Month Previous Articles Author Title Source Age Genre Series Format Inclusivity LGBTA Portfolio

Rating System

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

Reading Challenges

My Kind of Mystery Reading Challenge 2017 February - January 2017-8




 

 


Anna and the King of SiamAnna and the King of Siam: 03/31/07

Anna and the King of Siam is a fictional account of an English teacher's two volume "memoir" that had long gone out of print. Margaret Landon combined these two books together into a historical novel. As there are so many points of elaboration it is hard to get any real sense of the events that might have actually taken place back in the 1860s. A quick search online will bring up numerous opinions and essays on the story in its many forms: The English Governess at the Siamese Court, The Romance of the Harem, Anna and the King of Siam, and The King and I.

This 1950s reprint of the 1945 novel came my way via the old Bookrelay site. I've seen the musical The King and I a number of times as it was one of my grandmother's favorites and she and I spent a lot of time together. I can't say I agree with grandmother on the film. I've always found it a little boring and off-putting. The book suffers from many of the same problems.

The book is long and dry. There are scenes designed for a melodramatic impact but they often fall flat. Landon's descriptions of the scenes reads more like a book report (or perhaps a dull copying job from Leonowen's books?) that are often tedious to read. After having suffered through 352 pages of minutiae one might has well have read a history book on the same subject and at least come away with having learned something!

Anna for all her "good intentions" comes off as so xenophobic that it is hard to believe she has as much influence as the novel would have one believe. I am not expecting a "politically correct" novel but Anna's distrust of her Siamese hosts is extreme compared with similar books I've read from similar eras (both the 1940s and the 1860s).

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Game of ShadowsGame of Shadows: 03/30/07

The BALCO steroid raid was a local headline news "event" for a number of months. I have to admit that I tuned most of it out. Around the same time as the trial I read and enjoyed The Secret Language of Baseball which among its analysis of hand signals had some chapters on previous baseball scandals. So when Game of Shadows was offered up at the local BookCrossing meeting last year, I had to give it a read.

Baseball while an entertaining sport to play and to watch is not all "Mom and apple pie" pure as some would like to believe. Heck, I'd argue that neither is "Mom and apple pie" but I digress. It's a highly competitive team sport that produces a lot more misses than hits. Those team members who can consistently hit the ball well end up being the stars of the sport. With stardom comes the big bucks. Baseball has a history of turning a blind eye to a lot of the underhanded things players and teams do get ahead in the game.

The BALCO thing is just the latest and most recent public example. Game of Shadows covers the people involved in the trial (owners of BALCO, the managers, the players, the investigators, and so forth). It is set up in three equal parts. The first introduces all the "players", the second piece is the events that lead up to the trial and the final third is the trial itself. The trial piece is by far the most interesting piece of the book and I wish more time had been given to it and perhaps to the investigation.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Lost and FoundLost and Found: 03/29/07

One of my reading goals for 2007 is to read and release the BookCrossing books I've had the longest. I have a shelf of these books next to my bed. The one book that has been catching my eyes for nearly four years is Lost and Found. Prior to the book coming to me, it had been well traveled for about two years and I feel a little guilty about letting it languish on my shelf for so long.

Lost and Found is the memoir of a year worked at an upstate New York animal shelter. With cramped space and a finite budget the shelter has to make life and death decisions numerous times a day.

The book also covers the sorts of situations where the shelter has to seize animals. It's amazing how bad things have to get before they can legally take an animal. There are the animal abusers who later become child abusers; the animal collectors who can't keep up with the demands of their animals, and the "mills" that breed animals under grotesque conditions.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink



The Well of Lost PlotsThe Well of Lost Plots: 03/28/07

The third in the Thursday Next series suffers from the same problems as the first, The Eyre Affair, namely an excessive amount of world building at the expense of plot.

Hoping to protect her memory of her eradicated husband and to convalesce during her pregnancy, Thursday Next seeks refuge inside the world of an unpublished book, accessible via the well of lost plots. So hung up on the possibilities of puns and metathreads, Next is tossed from one contrived situation to another, saving the bulk of the plot for the last fifty pages. Out of 350 pages, it is too long to wait for something to happen.

There were a couple of clever moments earlier on, like the multiple copies of cars Next sees on the street inside of the book version of Swindon and the suggestion that Flatland was the last original plot ever contrived before plots started being recycled.

Overall though, Fforde needs to stop trying to explain every detail of his worlds (fictional and Outlander) and just let his characters live in it. When he actually lets his characters live and go about their lives, he can tell an entertaining story. He needs someone to rein him in on his world building.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink


TrucksTrucks: 03/27/07

Although Sean knew his friend Connor wouldn't be at the last BookCrossing meeting, he still wanted to attend. While there he picked up a copy of Trucks written and illustrated by Byron Barton.

Sean has a number of Barton's books. So far we have: Trucks, Trains, and Jump Frog Jump! He likes his distinct style of strong lines, bold colors and simple shapes. He also likes that the stories are easy for him to read so that we can read them together. I like that the illustrations, while straightforward are still interesting to look at.

Sean likes to stop at each page to discuss the illustrations. What colors were used? What else is happening in the scene? And so forth.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Growing Pains of Adrian MoleThe Growing Pains of Adrian Mole: 03/26/07

I picked up a copy of the second Adrian Mole book at a recent BookCrossing meeting. As I was reading the first book at the time I brought home the second to read.

Growing Pains covers the aftermath of the first book. Adrian loses his status as an only child to be the brother to a sister and the half brother to the child of his father's mistress. His sister might also be a half sister if she was conceived during his mother's brief affair.

The book takes him to adulthood (16 in Britain) and rather than behave like an adult and seek out a better life, he runs away. Somehow his parading up and down the sidewalk in front of a police station after a cold couple of nights is supposed to be funny. It isn't; it's pathetic.

I know there are a number more in this series but I'm done. I don't like any of the characters. I don't find the situations funny.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Four Past MidnightGeology: 03/25/07

When we got the Gems and Minerals book for Sean, we also got this 1972 printing of Geology. It's from the Golden Guide set. My grandmother had a number of these books and they were a favorite of mine as a child. So when I saw this copy, I snatched it up for our home library.

Geology is a good follow up for Gems and Minerals as it goes into greater detail. It also shows how geology overlaps with other fields of study. It outlines how the various rocks and the landforms of the earth and sea are created and changed.

Raymond Perlman's illustrations make this book really useful. Every key concept is clearly illustrated and labeled. I often find myself looking at the pictures and reading the captions before reading the text.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Four Past MidnightThe Library Policeman: 03/24/07

Four Past Midnight contains four novellas by Stephen King. For the purpose of my book count, I'm counting each novella as a separate "book" and I'll be posting a separate review for each one.

"The Library Policeman" is the third novella. Librarians are evil. Libraries are too dark and too quiet. Overdue book fines are inherently scary. What Sam doesn't realize is just how bad things can get if he loses a pair of books.

The story of the evil she-devil librarian and her henchman the Library Policeman had its moments but it didn't hold my attention as well as the previous two novellas did.

Near the end of the story there is a lengthy flashback told in first person from one of the locals whose life had been ruined by Adelia the librarian. It was during his monologue that I had to struggle to pay attention. There was just too much info dumping. King usually distributes the back story better or saves it for a tight explanation at the end. As "The Library Policeman" is more of a "monster of the week" type story, the ending is reserved for the great showdown between the protagonist and the librarian.

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Sean helps us pack 7/24/04Storage: 03/24/07

We're toying with the idea of staying local when Ian finishes his degree. If we do, we want to get Sean into a better school district. To do that we have to move into Castro Valley.

While we won't be moving anywhere for at least a year, we've rented a storage locker / garage. Our goal is to offload the books we aren't reading but don't want to wild release (yet) and perhaps a bookcase or two in the process.

Of course with one car and said car being filled with a car seat and a booster seat, the process of getting the boxes there will be a slow one. As there is no rush to get the books into storage, I want to keep track of which books go where. I'll track the books into boxes via my handy-dandy database.

Even if we don't move to Castro Valley next year, we can still use the extra space in our home to do some well needed repairs and improvements. We have some painting to finish and we want to get a chest of drawers for the kids toys, art supplies and our board games and puzzles.

When we get ready to move larger items we'll have to rent a cargo van or something. This whole project is a work in progress.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


DamiaDamia: 03/23/07

Having just read Get Off the Unicorn, Rowan's back story was pretty fresh in my head. It was probably too fresh in my mind as I found myself going from feeling bored to feeling a little icky.

The first 100 pages are basically a recap of the previous versions of the story. It's a long and drawn-out "previously on Young and the Telepathic" and a complete waste of time.

The remainder of the novel shows the Rowan as a conflicted and possibly post partum depressed mother who is overworked and trying to be a super mom. First she pawns off her kids on her coworkers and later when pregnancy number four is causing her health issues and emotional problems, Damia and her siblings are shipped off to grandma and grandpa's house! This book devolves into a melodrama in space.

But it gets better! Damia finds romance (while growing into the family business as her talents are as strong as her mother's) with Afra, her old baby sitter and now mentor. No one thinks this relationship is a good idea and yet no one tries to stop it. Somehow uniting Damia with a man old enough to be her father is happy ending.

|

Comments (0)

Permalink


The Girl in the Flammable SkirtThe Girl in the Flammable Skirt: 03/22/07

I don't normally chose to read short stories but this book's cover and the positive review it got at the BookCrossing meeting intrigued me enough to give The Girl in the Flammable Skirt a try. I'm really glad I did; it's one of the most fun short story collections I've read in ages.

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt is a collection of short stories that are written in a chick-lit style (hence the cover) but with science fiction and horror undertones. Each of these stories is very short, usually around ten or fifteen pages, the perfect length for quick or on the go reading. I mostly read it while cooking dinner and feeding Harriet at the table.

The first story is one of my favorites and sets the tone of the book perfectly. It covers the devolution of a girl's boyfriend from man to ape to sea creature. This sort of story has been done before (think Star Trek Voyager for instance) but this time the story was told in a tongue-in-cheek matter of fact approach that just made me giggle. The girl friend still loves her boyfriend but doesn't fret that he's changing. She just accepts that he is and chronicles the ramifications of his change on her life and what remains of his.

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Gems and MineralsGems and Minerals: 03/22/07

Gems and Minerals is one of a number of science books I bought from the Daly City library discard shelf when Sean was an infant. I always liked these easy to read science books when I was a child and though he might like them too when he got older. This month he's learning about geology in preschool so he took this book to school for show and tell.

Gems and Minerals covers a number of basic subjects and serves as a good early introduction to geology. It covers the different types of stones and has lovely photographs as illustrations. It includes the Mohs Hardness Scale and typical crystalline shapes. The book is a good and quick reference to cover most of my son's geology questions. While it is certainly not the only book he'll ever need on this subject, it is a great starting point.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink



Baby AngelsBaby Angels: 03/20/07

Harriet's doctor gave us a copy of Baby Angels to encourage me to read to her every day. From the looks of things, every parent with a toddler or infant was sent home home with a copy of Baby Angels. I agree that reading to one's children is very important (and fun) but I wish the pediatricians had chosen a different book.

From the blurb at Amazon, the book is meant as a "heartfelt, reassuring gift to every parent who loves a child more than arms can measure." While I certainly love my children more than my "arms can measure" I certainly not "reassured" by this book. The story follows an unsupervised toddler who gets out of his crib, out of the house and walks towards a river before his clueless parents finally notice and rescue him. All the time he's being "watched" by baby angels who seem to be goading him on. I can just hear their little voices: "Join us. Join us." Certainly if the tot falls into the river and drowns, he too can be a baby angel!

I know. I know. I'm reading too much into the story. I'm sure the guardian angels are there to help worried parents feel like their precious children are always being watched and always safe from harms way. I suppose also these guardian angels are also there to show young children that they will be safe even when adventuring but these "reassurances" are false hope. I would rather teach my children basic survival skills and common sense (like not leaving the house without permission).

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink


The PlayerThe Earth: 03/19/07

I started reading Émile Zola's naturalist novels back in 7th grade. Germinal was on the list of books we were to read for independent study (as part of the English seminar class). I devoured the book in one night (one of those rare times where I will stay up to read a book to completion). That year I read every single book my local library had of Zola's.

It's now been about 20 years but I still remember those books with fondness. When a BookCrossing friend of mine offered up The Earth as a book ring, I jumped at the chance to read another novel by Zola. Had grown up commitments (like work, chores and my children) gotten in the way, I could have easily finished this book in one day. Not because it's short (it's 500 pages) but because Zola had such a way with words.

As the title implies, Earth is a story of the land more so that it is about any one person. While families come and go and land is passed from generation to generation (divided up, bought, sold and built over), the earth continues on its own schedule. There are years of feast and years of famine and these events don't happen at the convenience of the people living off the land.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink


The PlayerThe Player: 03/18/07

The Player is one of my favorite films and probably one of Robert Altman's best films. I've read the screenplay for college (back in 1994) so was curious to read the book that inspired the film. Interestingly Michael Tolkin wrote both the book and the screenplay and produced the film.

With Tolkin having worked on both versions of The Player it is interesting to see how different the two versions are. While the basic plots are the in that a producer murders a writer and gets away with it, there are some significant changes to the nuances of the story.

Take for instance June. In the book her last name is Mercator, not Gudmundsdottir. She works for a bank but once dreamt of being a painter. In the film she's a mysterious painter and claims to be the dead writer's sister (instead of his lover in the book). She goes from being a rather plain love interest for Mill to being one of the most interesting and mysterious characters in the film.

Reading the book was like reading a rough draft of the film. Plot threads that were introduced but allowed to drop in the book are followed to conclusion in the film. While it was interesting to see the grain of sand that would become a pearl of a film, The Player as a novel falls flat as a parody of the Hollywood film industry. It needs the medium of film to really come alive.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Lying AwakeLying Awake: 03/17/07

Lying Awake is a book I received during one of last year's BookCrossing meetings. It is one of the most engrossing books I've read this year. It is a short book, only 181 pages (and with a large font). Each short chapter reads like a prayer, a perfect fit as it follows a nun who is facing surgery to cure her of her headaches. If she has the surgery she will be pain free for the first time in years but she will probably lose her feeling of rapture.

As a long time sufferer of migraines, I felt connected to Sister John and her desire to live with her pain and not let it rule her life. As the pain progresses and her migraines are rediagnosed as a form of epilepsy I was further engrossed. The descriptions of her episodes matched what I've been told they are like.

Lying Awake is also a book about inner struggles. Sister John wants to be true to her calling. While suffering through the headaches and seizures she feels closer to her god but the pain keeps her from helping with her duties at the convent. The cure will give her back her peace of mind and free her of her pain but she will lose that sense of union. What is the best solution for her to take for the betterment of her community and for herself?

Read the reviews at Dog Ear Diary, Galway Public Library Blog.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Barometer RisingBarometer Rising: 03/16/07

Last year I received three boxes of books that were library discards that would have been recycled for their paper if they were not taken. In other words they had failed to sell at the normal "friends of the library" type sales and were taking up precious space. Among those books was Barometer Rising, a romance set against the events of the Halifax explosion of 1917.

Barometer Rising is one of those books I've heard of but haven't read. It is considered as a classic of Canadian literature though perhaps not as well known outside of Canada as MacLennan had hoped it would be. Having now read the book I have conflicted feelings about it. One the one hand, I learned about the Halifax explosion and was inspired to read more about it from other sources. On the other, the romantic bits of the book bored me to tears.

The descriptions, actions and dialogue of the main characters were wooden. The heroine came of as a weird blend of the stock L. M. Montgomery protagonist and "Rosie the Riveter". Although she was like Penelope pining for her lost love at a time of war I didn't like her enough as a character to emphasize with her.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink



Morgan's PassingMorgan's Passing: 03/14/07

I picked up a copy of Morgan's Passing on the mistaken impression that I had read another of Anne Tyler's books and enjoyed it. Having gone through my records I realize that I must have been mistaken. Nonetheless, I'm glad that I took a chance and read the book.

Morgan's Passing refers to Morgan's passing into old age and of his obituary that he reads in the paper, put there by his ex wife. The story covers the highlights of 12 years from 1967 to 1979. The events are book ended by birth and death: the births of Emily's daughter and son; and Morgan's reading of obituaries (first other's and then his own).

Morgan Gower is the sort of person who plays along with people's misconceptions. This quirk of his seems to be the driving force in his life; that and his fascination with Emily and her simple life. Morgan's life is one of chaos and clutter. His home is full of relatives (seven daughters, a sister and a mother and his wife) and clutter (because he's a packrat). Emily's life is just the opposite and he envies her. Through his envy he falls into a weird sort of love with her.

While I didn't find myself especially liking any of the characters, I enjoyed reading the book. It is bittersweet. No one really seems happy, yet everyone seems to be trying to find happiness.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Four Past MidnightSecret Window, Secret Garden: 03/13/07

Four Past Midnight contains four novellas by Stephen King. For the purpose of my book count, I'm counting each novella as a separate "book" and I'll be posting a separate review for each one.

"Secret Window, Secret Garden" is the second novella and probably the story I was most looking forward to reading (followed closely by "The Library Policeman"). I came to this story having seen the Johnny Depp film Secret Window (2004).

The story was as fun to read as the film was to watch. King leaves the plot more opened ended than the film does, allowing for imagined fears to become real (a popular theme for King).

Mort's fear stems from a deep seeded sense of guilt. Does he deserve the success he's had as a writer or has he just been plagiarizing but covering his tracks well enough to get away with it? John Shooter says he's a thief and gives him three days to prove otherwise.

The film (as I recall) opts for the reality is what you make of it theme (a popular one in horror films). Although the film did cast two different people for Mort and Shooter so I guess they were hedging their bets in that sense. (Of course Depp could have pulled off playing two characters and I have to admit to picturing Depp in both "roles" while reading the book).

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Get Off the UnicornGet Off the Unicorn: 03/12/07

In an effort to clear my shelves I am "forcing" myself to read books I've had for just about forever. Take for instance Get off the Unicorn, I think I've had this copy for 20 years! That would have made me 13 or 14 when I bought it — right at the peek of my love for Anne McCaffrey's books. I should have read it back then; I would have enjoyed it more.

This book contains a dozen short stories, many of which exist in the worlds of her various series. Of her series I've mostly read the Pern books so most of the stories in this book didn't grab my attention on familiarity nor did they keep me interested enough to want to seek out their series.

Collectively they seem to center on ideas of gender, age and the burden of power. There are only so many times I can stand to read about how hard it is to be a girl, or how hard it is to make grownups listen, or how hard it is to control one's psychic power, or how hard it is to be the youngest (or smallest), etc. If I were still an angsty teenager this book would probably speak more to me than it does now.

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Sunday's ChildSunday's Child: 03/11/07

Sunday's Child appealed to me for the problem of disposing of a body (sort of like the Panama canal in Arsenic and Old Lace) but the book disappointed. The disposal of the body is almost secondary to the rest of the book which seems to be a never ending monologue from the protagonist. If only his thoughts on life and love were more interesting!

For the first few chapters, hearing Geoffrey Chadwick's thoughts on being gay and how different generations of men act differently to being gay. By the time the book starts to include flashbacks to Chadwick's wife and daughter which are supposed to poignant and tragic I just didn't care any more. Chadwick can't complete a simple task without waxing on about some sort of flashback or some sort of theory of sex for a minimum of five pages.

Character development is important to well told story but in a thriller, there has to be some plot too. Sunday's Child is unfortunately off balance with too much emphasis on character at the expense of the plot. Take out all the monologue and the book might count as a novella.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Kings of AlbionKings of Albion: 03/11/07

I got Kings of Albion off the old BookRelay site because the book sounded interesting from its description. I also liked the title and the cover art. Unfortunately I didn't realize it was the sequel to a book I ended up putting down after about fifty pages (The Last English King). I did manage to finish this sequel but the process wasn't exactly an enjoyable one.

The book follows a group of travelers from the orient who travel to England (or Ingerlond as it is written in the book) to rescue a kinsman from these barbarians. There in lies the problem. A historical fiction ends up reading like cliched high fantasy with each of these exotic characters taking one of the roles so often seen in Tolkien rip-offs and books spun off of RPGs.

To make things seem even more exciting, the descriptive language throws in foreign words at random or gives funny spelling to things when the rest of the language a character is using is rather modern. Either write in a dialect or don't. Please don't pick and chose at random.

When things still fail to stay interesting, the plot will stop for a gratuitous sex scene with the one female character. Her only purpose in the book is to get the interest of readers who would normally read erotica.

I know there are fans of this type of historical fiction. I am not one of them. I have made a note to myself to avoid reading any more of Rathbone's books as I'm sure to not enjoy reading them beyond admiring their cover art and the blurbs on their backs.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink



A Man in a KiltA Toad for Tuesday: 03/10/07

A Toad for Tuesday is one of four books we picked up on our trip to Oregon back in February. As Sean is enamored with owls we both agreed this looked like a good book for him. I was immediately drawn to it for Lawrence di Fiori's illustrations. They are reminisicent of Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad series and his Owl at Home book.

The story is one of an unlikely friendship and redemption. Warton Toad finds himself the prisoner of an owl who plans to save him for his birthday dinner on the upcoming Tuesday. In that time Warton tries to make his remaining days as pleasant as possible while he either convinces the owl to let him go or he finds a way to escape.

What neither character expects is to actually enjoy the company of the other. The owl comes to enjoy his conversations over tea with Warton and Warton realizes the owl's tree house can be homey once it is given a well needed spring cleaning.

Both characters change and grow over the course of this 64 page story. The book thankfully ends without giving a summary moral at the end.

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


BookshelfBrowsing without Buying: 03/10/07

Today we drove to Pleasanton to visit The Bookstore, the place I bought The Golden Fury. This time though the only person to get a "new" book was Sean who got another introduction to geology (as he's studying it in preschool right now). This is the second bookstore I've been in where I have enjoyed looking at all the books but haven't wanted to purchase anything. Even at my latest rounds of releasing books at the Starbucks in Dublin, I haven't picked up any "new" books for myself from the shelf.

I credit the Book Traffic Control database. Although I'm only about 1/4 through with the data entry phase, it has already opened my eyes to what books I have and at what rate I'm taking them versus getting them read and passed on to other readers. I was able today to look around and think happily of all the great books at home I still want to read.

Also by giving myself permission to purchase a new book or two a month with the caveat that I read them right after purchasing them has made me a more discrimating buyer. Rather than buying cheap used books instead of feeling guilty for buying one new book at the same price of a stack of used books that I may or may not enjoy, I am now able to look forward to getting the book I actualy want.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink


A Man in a KiltA Man in a Kilt: 03/09/07

I picked up a copy of A Man in a Kilt at one of last year's BookCrossing meetings. The ghost in a kilt part of the story intrigued me. It sounded a bit like an updated version of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The first third lived up to my expectations but then it changed from a paranormal romance to a historical romance with the aid of some unsatisfactorily explained time travel.

Beth Pudding goes from being an unhappy Manhanttanite fish-out-of-water to finding happiness and belonging 600 years in the past. Her new and improved self reminded me too much of Angie from Gordon R. Dickson's Dragon-Knight series.

As with so many time travel stories, it ends on a paradox. The last of the line becomes the beginning of the line. But in A Man in the Kilt this ending is too predictable and paved with too many cliches to make it a satisfactory conclusion. To see this sort of romantic paradox done better, watch Red Dwarf.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Tree RingsVacation: Part 16: Avenue of the Giants: 03/09/07

Our last stop as tourists before hitting the bay area (and having lunch again at the Owl Cafe) was the visitors' center at the southern end of the Avenue of the Giants. It was a chance to show Sean the timeline of a redwood. It has dates marked along its rings to give a sense of just how old these trees can live to be.

Sean though didn't want to look at any more trees. He knew we had a long day of driving and that this would probably be his last chance to run around for the rest of the day. And run he did. Ian tried to take some photographs of him (while I changed Harriet and quickly nursed her to fill her up for the long drive). Sean normally stands still for photographs but not this time. He was having too much fun running around and hiding and letting off steam. All Ian managed to get were a few blurry photographs or ones where Sean's head was out of frame.

Although we were only gone couple of days we've all come home refreshed and happy. While it's been nearly three weeks since we arrived home, I'm still dreaming of redwoods most nights. It's like I'm still on vacation.

I haven't dreamt like this since I was Sean's age and my parents would take me up to Idyllwild. The sites and sounds would be so strong and lasting that I could see them projected in front of me in the darkness as I was slipping into sleep. It's nice to be experiencing that sort of recall thirty years later.

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Four Past MidnightThe Langoliers: 03/08/07

Four Past Midnight contains four novellas by Stephen King. For the purpose of my book count, I'm counting each novella as a separate "book" and I'll be posting a separate review for each one.

The first novella is "The Langoliers" which I have to admit I was reluctant to read from the few minutes of the made for tv movie I've seen a few times on late night TV. My whole preconception of the story was of a group of people stuck on an airplane while angry hair balls barked at them from the tarmac. Thankfully there is more to the story than that!

"The Langoliers" is an homage to the Twilight Zone and that mixes in with it the classic Stephen King theme of childhood fear come to life. As with most King stories, the bulk of the plot is set in Maine. It's a surreal tale full of pop culture references that are flavored with foreboding. What is the noise? What are the langoliers? What has happened to flight 29?

Save for a brief description of the langoliers near the end of the story, King leaves most of their purpose and features up to the readers' imaginations. Even having seen the made for TV movie, I found myself scared at points in the story, something that wouldn't have been accomplished if the langoliers had been more thoroughly described.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Brown Bear...Brown Bear...: 03/07/07

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? breaks with a rule I've had about posting reviews of re-read books. Brown Bear was Sean's favorite book two years ago when he was at his last day care (before starting preschool in April 2006). It was one of those books he had memorized and Ian and I were able to purchase a copy based on his recitation of it (his memory is that good).

After our trip to Eureka and points north I found Sean's copy of Brown Bear while unpacking. I set it aside for him to read in the bath and took the time to reread it myself (out of mommy nostalgia).

Brown Bear is one of those list type stories where one item (or animal) leads to another. The list is told through the pattern: "(x) color (y) animal, (x) color (y) animal, what do you see? I see a (m) color (n) animal looking at me." The newly introduced animal is then asked the "what do you see" question to introduce another new animal and so on until the conclusion which first surprises by a break with the pattern and the tests by asking the reader to recite along with the narrator the entire list.

To go with this ear worm of a list, each page is colorfully illustrated with Eric Carle's painted tissue paper animals. I remember having trouble following along with Sean's recitation until I read the book and could remember Carle's animal creations.

Read the review at The Well Read Child.

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Hershey barWell Baby: 03/07/07

Today was Harriet's six month well baby appointment and her last round of immunizations until her first birthday. Except for her first shot, she was a chatty and giggly girl. She wanted to get her hands on all of her doctor's equipment. When the doctor and I were talking, Harriet smiled when she recognized words (like the names of her favorite songs and mention of the cat).

Like Sean, Harriet is a tall, skinny baby with a big head. For height she comes out dead center on the growth chart (50%). For weight she's slipped a little to the 17% but the doctor isn't worried because Harriet is "all muscle" as she put it. Then there is Harriet's head; her growth chart for her head is a straight line. It's not following the growth curve, it's just shooting straight up. She's clocked in at 95% for head size.

As Harriet has a cold, she had her ears, throat and chest checked out. Her ears are fine (by now Sean was on his forth ear infection) as are her throat and her lungs.

Mostly though we talked about what Harriet's day is like and what sort of activities she and I do together. The doctor seemed pleased at how things are going and the milestones that Harriet has reached. She was especially impressed with Harriet's social skills. When we were saying our good-byes and the doctor offered her hand for me to shake, Harriet offered hers in return. So the doctor ended up shaking both our hands!

Harriet's next checkup is in June.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink


My CarVacation: Part 15: Humboldt: 03/07/07

After another great night's sleep, we packed and checked out early, deciding to get breakfast on the road. We stopped in Fortuna for breakfast. Again Harriet managed to stay in the highchair for most of the meal and ate a jar of food.

Just outside of the Avenue of the Giants we pulled off to admire the overlook of the Humboldt state park. While we were admiring the view and taking photographs, a man from Oregon offered to take our photograph. So now we have a rare family shot. Sean had a sudden case of the shyness and turned away from the camera and Harriet was too busy chewing on my hand to smile but I still love the shot. It's quintessentially us.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Dinosaurs' HalloweenDinosaurs' Halloween: 03/06/07

Dinosaurs' Halloween is one of four books we purchased at Gold Beach Books on our recent trip into Oregon. Sean and I picked it out because he had been studying dinosaurs at school. We were both drawn to the book almost simultaneously and having read it together a couple of times, we're glad we decided to grab it.

Dinosaurs live among us in Dinosaurs' Halloween and their children enjoy trick-or-treating just as much as the human children. The hunt for candy and the fun of wearing costumes brings together a human, a dog and a dinosaur for a night of fun and a lasting friendship.

At the back of the book the author lists two pages of information about dinosaurs (real and imagined). Some of the information is out of date (brontosaurus instead of brachiasaurus, for example) and some of it is completely made up (but is at least marked as such). These two pages are a fun stepping stone to encourage young readers to ask questions about dinosaurs and hopefully seek out other books to read about them.

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Hershey barA Little Bit of Heaven: 03/06/07

When I was a child my grandmother would sometimes treat me to a Hershey's milk chocolate bar. I would slowly work my way through the bar, taking days to finish it. That little bar of chocolate might as well have been gold. Today while running errands I treated myself to a 69¢ bar of milk chocolate heaven. I can't remember the last time I've had a bar all to myself but it was a wonderful treat.

I know there are other fancier brands of chocolate and I've heard the rants against American chocolate but I don't care. When I think of chocolate I think of Hershey's milk chocolate. If I were to name one "comfort" food, I'd name the Hershey milk chocolate bar. Special Dark is nice in small quantities but the milk chocolate is a consistent, reassuring, sweet and smooth treat.

So today after running my errands to mail some packages and to purchase mundane things like cat sand and baby wipes I sat in my car drinking a bottle of water and savoring a chocolate bar. It was a nice way to end the day.

|

Comments (0)

Permalink



My CarVacation: Part 14: Second Night in Eureka: 03/06/07

After our stop to pay our respects to Big Tree we drove back to Eureka. I had thought of stopping to refuel in Arcata but it was getting dark and the rains had returned. I don't like driving in the dark and with the rain all I wanted to do was to get us back to Eureka so we could get dinner and then retire to our hotel room.

We all agreed that the best place for dinner would be Denny's because we vaguely knew where it was and we knew that it would be within our budget and would have something we'd all like. The toughest problem with Eureka is that the central section is all one way streets. Heading north the traffic passes by Denny's but heading south as we were, Denny's is over by one block. We had to count streets and take a guess as to when to turn. Fortunately we found it on the first attempt (something we failed to do on our way home from Redding in 2005).

Harriet thankfully sat in the highchair and chowed down on a jar of food. After our long drive, many hikes and small meals, we were all very hungry. While it wasn't a fancy meal, it was a fun one and a perfect end to our busy day.

We then retired to our hotel room where I gave Harriet a bath in the sink (which she only grudgingly put up with) and put her to bed in her crib. We then stayed up to watch the first episode of The Amazing Race. Harriet complained a little about the noise but eventually fell asleep. She would sleep the entire night through again and we all woke well rested for our long drive home.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Ducks in MuckDucks in Muck: 03/05/07

Ducks in Muck is another from the set of books we got from herebedragons at the February BookCrossing meeting. It is designed for beginning readers so is perfect for Sean right now.

Like many early reader books, Ducks in Muck uses short rhyming words and very little punctuation to tell its story of some ducks, some trucks and a big puddle of muck.

Ducks in Muck reminds of the Sheep series (Sheep in a Jeep, et al ) by Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple. Both place animals in unusual situations for the sake of rhyme but do pay off with cute, albeit simplistic, punchlines.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Play-DohSchool Stuff: 03/05/07

This morning got off to a late start because both children were still asleep when the alarm went off. Harriet slept until work started for me at 7:30 and Sean slept until almost 8:00. Since Sean slept in late, we ate breakfast late and Sean and Ian got out the door late. With their thoughts only on getting to school on time, they forgot Sean's owl backpack and a newly washed napping blanket for school.

Ian iChatted me from where he was studying that he and Sean had forgotten a new blanket and the backpack. At ten once I had my morning's list of to-do items crossed off for work, I found Sean's backpack, swapped out the old blanket for a new one (Spider-man this time) and grabbed Harriet. She and I delivered the backpack to school in time for Sean's nap.

On the way home we stopped at the cafe where Ian does a lot of his studying to tell him not to worry about the blanket. We stayed long enough to get a blended mocha coffee. Then the three of us caravanned home.

After work Ian and I had a parent-teacher conference about Sean's progress in school. He's doing very well with his numbers and with his reading but he's stubborn about doing his penmanship. I remember writing exercises at this age being a drag too. We have to give Sean some pep talks to get him excited about writing. He loves to type; just not writing by hand. I don't want him thinking that he can get away with doing everything on the computer!

Otherwise though his teacher had high praise for Sean's work and his enthusiasm for school. It was a nice and relaxing parent-teacher conference. Harriet came along too and happily played on my lap while we chatted with Sean's teacher. The conference ran a little late and the school had closed. We could hear Sean worrying as his other teacher tried to reassure him. Boy was he glad when appeared from the back classroom!

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Play-DohZero and a Half: 03/05/07

Today Harriet is six months old, or "zero and a half" as Sean calls it. She is on the verge of being able to sit unsupported by herself. She is now old enough to play by herself if I bring toys (or often times baking utensils) for her to play with while she's in her highchair. Since she can play like that I'll often times have her sitting next to me while I'm at work, rather than having her in her crib or in her bouncy seat.

Harriet and Sean act as if they've always been roommates. They look out for each other and recently Sean has even started hugging her (without being asked). When it gets close to the time to pick up Sean, Harriet starts to fuss and look towards the door. Picking up her brother and seeing all the other boisterous kids is one of the highlights of her day.

Another thing Harriet has started to do is meow. She has always liked Caligula and she thinks that animal noises are very funny. Her first attempt at an animal noise is the meow and it's very convincing.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Big TreeVacation: Part 13: Big Tree: 03/05/07

Over the Presidents' Day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

I drove us back to the hotel in Eureka. I stopped once in the parking lot of the "Trees of Mystery" (home of a Paul Bunyun and Babe statue) to adjust the front seat. The pedals just weren't where I was expecting them and that was making me nervous on these winding roads.

Ian woke up from his nap just in time to request the scenic route through the forest. I had been planning to take it anyway as it has been years since the last time I was on it. I can still remember trying to trace our route on a page of paper as I watched the road fall behind us from the RV window. I think I still have that wiggly path. Maybe I should scan it and post it.

Just as we were nearing the end of scenic route (which happens to end near where the elk viewing is) I saw the one thing I had hoped to show Sean: Big Tree. Big Tree was the one thing that really sold Sean on this trip. I described it to him from my 1991 trip with my family but since I wasn't driving I wasn't really sure where it was.

I actually squeed in the car when I saw the sign. I told Ian we should wake up the kids because we had found the whole point to our trip. So we parked, woke up Sean and Harriet and took the short trail into the forest to see Big Tree. Before we even got into the forest we could see Big Tree towering above the other redwoods.

It was wonderful to see Sean's excitement at seeing Big Tree and remembering my own. We tried taking some of the little hikes around the area but the loop was closed from some recently fallen trees so we had to turn around at the 3/4 point.

We stayed probably half an hour. I took some lovely photographs as did Sean. I think we took more photographs at Big Tree then we did anywhere else on our trip.

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Dinosaur RoarDinosaur Roar! 03/04/07

Dinosaur Roar is another from the set of books we got from herebedragons at the February BookCrossing meeting. I was sure it was a duplicate copy as I know Sean and I have read it before but now I realize it must have been a book we borrowed from one of Sean's schools; I just can't remember which one. Nor can I find a listing in my book diary. All I know is that Sean and I have read a copy of this book before.

Dinosaur Roar! is a book of opposites. Each spread illustrates an opposite with the help of two dinosaurs. The text uses simple rhymes and the illustrations use bold and exaggerated colors. While the book won't by itself teach about dinosaurs (as the emphasis is on the opposites like big and small, etc) it is a good starting point for discussing dinosaurs.

The book reminds me of Tails by Matthew Van Fleet. The larger than life illustrations and the humorous rhymes are similar. Children who like Tails will like Dinosaur Roar!

| | |

Comments (2)

Permalink


Play-DohSpring Cleaning Round 2: 03/04/07

We had a very busy day although we didn't get the remaining two pieces of furniture built. Ian needed time to study so we said goodbye to him shortly after breakfast.

Breakfast though was a funny one. Ian tried to make biscuits but we didn't quite have enough ingredients so he tried to make due. Unfortunately his experamention turned out awful. I think its the first made up recipe of his that has been an all-out failure. Over all he's a good cook but not these faux-biscuits! We gave up and had toast and eggs; they were very good.

Before Ian left for his study-session he finished setting up Sean's computer. He had to update the operating system and that took about an hour.

Meanwhile I tackled the kitchen. It had gotten a little out of control. I lugged the garbage out, put everything away and scrubbed everything. Sean pitched in by sweeping the floor.

While Ian was out Sean, Harriet and I went to the park. We had planned to walk so that Sean could ride his bike. Unfortunately his head has grown too big for his helmet. Instead we put the tricycle in the car and drove there. I'm glad we did because Sean's trike has gotten out of alignment in the few months it's been in storage. Ian and I will have to have a look at it to see if we can tighten things up to control the alignment problem.

At least Sean had fun at the park. He climbed, slid, swung and ran around. At one point he face-planted off the swings but got up unhurt and laughing. Harriet spent half the time at the park sitting (yes, she can sit up now) next to me on a bench and the other half sleeping in her sling.

It was a busy and tiring day.

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink

Vacation: Part 12: Arch Rock: 03/03/07

Over the Presidents' Day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

Our final stop in Oregon was to the Arch Rock overlook. It's a cross between a rest stop and a nature trail. Sean and Ian raced up the trail with Harriet and me trailing behind. Harriet had fallen asleep in the car so I had to take extra care to see that she was comfortable in the sling. Arch Rock is part of Rockaway Beach.

The wind had really picked up when we stopped at Arch Rock. I took a spare cardigan and tucked Harriet in to her sling with it so she could stay warm and continue her nap if she wanted.

Once we were done admiring the arch in the ocean and taking the loop trail around the cliff we were ready to head back into California. Ian and I also swapped spots as he had done all the driving so far. For the next hour or so Ian, Sean and Harriet would all be napping while I drove.

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


(Un)Arranged Marriage(Un)Arranged Marriage: 03/03/07

I can't remember why I added (Un)Arranged Marriage to my wishlist but I'm glad I did. The book is written in the style of the Adrian Mole or George Nicholson books except that Manjit (aka Manny), the protagonist, actually does something to improve his life beyond writing about how awful things are.

This short book (270 pages) covers in flashback Manny's upcoming arranged marriage, his abusive family, his conflicted feelings over being British and Punjabi and his desire for a better life. At first Manny seems no different than the typical British teen in one of these diary style books. His family is dysfunctional and he hates sharing his room but it's not until the middle of the book that the tone darkens and Manny's need to escape from his family takes on a new-found urgency.

Half of the book takes place in England and the other half takes place in India. While the English bits are glossed over a bit in their descriptions to focus more on the plot and character interactions, the India section comes alive with a wonderful attention to detail.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink


TargetSpring Cleaning Round 1: 03/03/07

Ian and I had a number of things we wanted to accomplish today and of our list we managed to complete half. The biggest hindrance to our chores today was exhaustion. For stupid reasons Ian and I didn't sleep well last night.

The two important things we accomplished were the hanging of a row of hooks for our jackets on the stairs and the building of Sean's new desk. Sean now has a computer set up next to his bed. Tomorrow we will install the software he has been using on his machine. No internet for him for awhile though!

We have also bought a small set of drawers for our upstairs closet to use for our linens and towels. We still need to put it together. We also have a towel rack and shelf thing to build for our downstairs bathroom.

Our final task is the bolting of our bookshelves to the walls. We've been meaning to this now since we moved in and haven't gotten around to it. Earlier this week we had a 4.2 earthquake in Lafayette and it was a stern reminder.

| | |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Behaving Like AdultsBehaving Like Adults: 03/02/07

I picked up Behaving Like Adults at the July BookCrossing meeting. Until recently I had shunned "chick lit" but I also don't believe in completely ignoring a genre because of personal prejudice. I chose to read this book for two conflicting reasons that in themselves sum up the book beautifully: the sleek cover art and because of the "tougher issues" addressed in the book.

The book for the most part is a typical chick lit: a thirty year old successful woman in a glamorous job tosses aside her long time boyfriend/fiance for her own shallow insecurities. Having given him the heave-ho she realizes that there are men worse than hers and this realization nearly destroys her business, friendships and self esteem. In the end those around her conspire to get her back on her feet and together with her one true (albeit not perfect) love. Had the book only been about that plot I would have tossed it aside.

Instead Maxted tosses at her shallow and self absorbed protagonist a variety of issues: rape, law suits, unwanted pregnancy, clinical depression, and adoption among others. For all of this crap that Holly is faced with I wish I could say that she follows the title of the book and behaves like an adult. But she doesn't. She repeatedly makes things worse for herself by hiding from the unpleasantries of her life. While at times these scenes are poignant and understandable, after awhile I had to side with Holly's friends and coworkers at their frustration with her behavior.

So why did I keep reading it? I read it for Nick, Holly's much maligned boyfriend and sometimes fiance. The only thing I could figure out is why he kept taking her back but people are stupid about love in real life so I can't quibble. Nick for all of Holly's bitching and moaning is actually the more mature of the two.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink



Dragon in LyonesseThe Dragon in Lyonesse: 03/01/07

Back in the mid 1970s, Gordon R. Dickson took time off from writing science fiction to write a quirky fantasy about a modern day man trying to rescue his wife who had been transported to a strange medieval world. The only problem; the man was stuck in the form of a wizard's dragon! The Dragon and the George was a humorous aberration from Dickson's normal writing until 1990 when he turned the one-off into the "Dragon-Knight" series.

The Dragon in Lyonesse is the penultimate in the series and it lacks the humor and clever plot twists that the earlier ones in the series had (and none of the series can best the original). The book is yet another quest and yet another battle of wits against the "Dark Powers" but it reads like a reunion of old friends who are trying for one last moment of glory before retiring. Every character has to be reintroduced including their back-story and how they fared on previous quests. With a half dozen characters and locations to reintroduce the book upwards of a hundred pages to even get started on the quest.

The quest itself reads like Dickson trying to parody a Piers Anthony parody of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon (if one exists). The writing goes for cheap puns and absurd situations to the expense of plot and character development.

| |

Comments (0)

Permalink


Vacation: Part 11: Buena Vista State Beach: 03/01/07

Over the Presidents' Day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

Now that I've filled you in on the Roosevelt elk we saw on the way northward, let's blip back to Oregon for the return trip to Eureka.

We finished lunch and our book purchases by 2 PM, so we were on schedule for starting our trip down the coast with enough time to stop at a number of sites we had skipped on the way north.

Our first stop on the way was Buena Vista State Beach. We parked at a large turn out bookended by a pair of huge boulders.

Harriet needed both a diaper change and some milk to wash down her lunch so she and I spent most of the time in the car. I took turns between watching the huge white waves crash into the rocks and rereading chapters of Treasure of Khan while Ian and Sean went out to explore.

Ian told me later that he and Sean found a trail behind the southern bolder that lead down to the beach. From there they could see all the way south along the beach probably back into California. He and Sean didn't have the camera so I don't have any photographs of the view they saw but it sounded wonderful.

| | | |

Comments (0)

Permalink