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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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Bread and Circus: 01/31/08

FSF February

The fifth story in the February issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine is called "Bread and Circus" and is written by Steven Popkes.

Bread and circus refers in this case to the choice Mike must make between paying attention to coaching during the championship game or helping his wife chose a color for the room she's remodeling.

The game versus home theme is a fairly common one and by itself not one that shouts either fantasy or science fiction. It's the game itself that sets this story apart; it is soccer played with miniature dinosaurs.

The concept of DinoBall sounds silly but Steven Popkes sells it. His characters are so firmly grounded in their world and their careers that the story works.

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Tom Sawyer, Detective: 01/30/08

Tom Sawyer, Detective

Tom Sawyer, Detective is the fourth and final book in a series by Mark Twain. The first two books are more well known than books three and four. In order of publication they are:

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
  • Tom Sawyer Abroad (1884)
  • Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896)

I haven't read Tom Sawyer Abroad but of the three I have read, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is my favorite. Frankly, though, this entire series is among my least favorite books by Twain. I much prefer his nonfiction work.

By this final book, Tom and Huck are seventeen. They are old enough to travel on their own on a steamboat. It is as they are returning home that they stumble upon a mystery involving stolen diamonds that later results in a murder.

The edition I read, A 2-in-1 (bound with Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson) volume by Companion Library has illustrations that mistakenly draw Tom and Huck as the would have appeared in the earlier novels. Seeing them illustrated as children makes no sense for the sorts of things Twain has them doing or the way they interact with their elders.

The novel is pretty entertaining until the last (and longest) chapter: "Tom Discovers the Murderers." Then the story drags to its final conclusion. Mark Twain never could figure out how to end his novels and Tom Sawyer, Detective is a prime example of this weakness.

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Petri Parousia: 01/29/08

FSF February

The fourth story in the February issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine is called "Petri Parousia" and is written by Matthew Hughes.

"Petri Parousia" is a classic example of the sorts of shaggy dog stories Isaac Asimov prided himself on. Parousia is Greek for "second coming." This second coming is by way of the petri dish.

The story is narrated by Dr. James Feltham who is conned into going into business with his ex college roommate, Wally Applethorpe. Feltham relays the events in the lab as if he's having a conversation with us, the reader. The tone is up beat and events unfold quickly to a predictable but satisfying punchline.

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Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: 01/28/08

Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire

In the year I started second grade, Rafe Esquith started teaching. Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire contains what he has learned about teaching and why being a teacher is his calling in life.

He divides the book into three parts: There's No Place Like Home, The Method, and finally, The Madness. The first part describes how to earn the trust of students and help them think beyond themselves. Chapter Two, "Searching for Level VI" is especially interesting and useful for anyone who either works with or lives with children.

Part Two, The Method, takes up the bulk of the book. Here he covers the fundamentals of a good education: reading, writing, mathematics, studying for tests, geography, science, art, sports and economics. By the time you finish chapter 11 you may feel overwhelmed by all the things Rafe manages to accomplish with his students but you will also feel exhilarated by his boundless enthusiasm.

Part Three, The Madness, closes out the book with all the extra curricular things he does with his students. These include the Hobart Shakespeareans, the annual trip to Washington D. C., and the Feed of the World project.

Rafe gives concrete examples in each of his chapters. There are plenty of ways for teachers and parents to inspire an teach the children in their lives.

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Memoirs of the Witch Queen: 01/27/08

FSF February

The third story in the February issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine is called "Memoirs of the Witch Queen." It is by Ron Goulart, a regular "ghost story contributor" to the magazine.

Paul Sanson is a ghost writer with a miserable life: allergies, debt collectors, an idiot for an editor and alimony payments. Things start to look up when he's assigned the job of spicing up the memoirs of a self described "witch queen." His allergies disappear, his debts are erased, he gets a new editor, a new girlfriend and an unexpected advance.

Thus begins a short and very funny paranormal story. Unfortunately for Sanson, he isn't the sort of fellow to "sell out." Given who he was working with, he probably should have. Let me just leave off with this bit of advice: if you're working for a witch, avoid the temptation of buying a motorcycle.

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641 Reviews: 01/27/08

Book Reviews: A to Z

I am pleased to announce the Book Reviews: A to Z page here at Puss Reboots. This page represents four years of reviewing books with the bulk of the reviews being done in the last two.

If you are doing the A to Z reading challenge you will find books for every letter of the alphabet (except X). There are newly published books, classics, science fiction, fantasy, children's, mysteries and all sorts of other genres and topics covered.

I am currently working on a page organized by author and hope to have it ready in about a month. If you have any suggestions either for how I can make the page better or for books you'd like to see reviewed, please leave a comment.

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Nine Stories: 01/26/08

Nine Stories

It's only in the last couple of years that I've started reading J. D. Salinger but he has quickly earned a spot among my favorite authors. I enjoy his realistic and oft-times mundane characters.

Nine Stories is just that, nine short stories. Nothing earth shattering happens in any of them and yet they are all very enjoyable. They are character studies and brief glimpses into the late 1940s and early 1950s.

It takes a while for each story to explain its title and part of the fun is the sousing out of their meanings. The Laughing Man makes a reappearance from the quote by narrator Holden in Catcher in Rye. Here though the Laughing Man is a mythic figure, disfigured by strange circumstances and the source of inspiration for a bus full of boys.

If I had to pick a favorite, I'd have to go with "Down at the Dinghy." The young girl admiral reminds me so much of myself at that age except I think she has more spunk than I did.

The nine stories are:

  • "A Perfect Day for Bananafish"
  • "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut"
  • "Just Before the War with the Eskimos"
  • "The Laughing Man"
  • "Down at the Dinghy"
  • "For Esmé - with Love and Squalor"
  • "Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes"
  • "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period"
  • "Teddy"

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The Blithedale Romance: 01/25/08

The Blithedale Romance

I fell in love with Hawthorne's books and short stories when I was in junior high school. Twenty years later he continues to be on my list of top ten favorites. His novels strike me as incredibly modern and relevant to modern day life.

The Blithedale Romance has many elements in common with the much sillier novel Tommy's Tale by Alan Cumming. The events at Blithedale (a commune in the woods) are laid out in chronological order by Miles Coverdale who proves to be as unreliable a narrator as Tommy. Cloverdale's omissions are a result of Puritan embarrassment but the sexual tension is hovering just below the surface of his euphemisms.

Like Tommy who lives in a flat with Sadie, Bobby and Charlie, Cloverdale moves into Blithedale to live with two women (Zenobia, Priscilla) and a man, Hollingsworth. Unlike Tommy's flat, the two men and women pair up in more conventional ways but Cloverdale hints that the four are more open with their adult desires than what Cloverdale feels is proper. Nonetheless, he is a willing participant.

Blithedale, though, ends up being a failed experiment. Puritan mores and hot tempers ultimately brings the downfall of the commune and Zenobia, the liberated modern woman, pays the ultimate price.

If you like character driven tragedies like Hamlet, I highly recommend The Blithedale Romance.

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Retrospect: 01/24/08

FSF February

The second story of the February issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine is "Retrospect" by Ann Miller. It begins with a philosophical question: "If you could give a book, any book, to someone who had lived before , what book would you choose and to whom would you give it?" This being a science fiction short story, the question is played out to its full extent.

The events of this bookish tale are told by Sam, a buyer of rare books who falls in with a crowd of booklovers. After he answers the question of which book to whom his world changes. While the book talk at the beginning was interesting I loved the world building of the alternate world and seeing the trade-offs between the old world and world.

As a long time Bookcrosser, I want to end this review with a lovely quote from the middle third of the story: "A good book is like a rare wine. It should be shared with friends."

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Tommy's Tale: 01/23/08

Tommy's Tale

Tommy's Tale is Alan Cumming's debut novel. I don't know Cumming's work as an actor but I thoroughly enjoyed his novel. I tore through it in a day, pausing occasionally to laugh myself silly.

The novel is told in diary form akin to the Adrian Mole series, Georgia Nicolson series or the Bridget Jones series. Except that Tommy is an e-popping bisexual suffering from a crisis as his thirtieth birthday looms. It seems that the diary form novel is a mainstay of British humour fiction. This off the cuff style of writing doesn't always carry well to American readers and I've noticed that the book was reviewed more positively among readers than it was among readers.

Although my life is nothing like Tommy's I immediately clicked with him. He recounts a series of benders, a business trip to New York and his desire for a child of his own even if it means growing up.

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Balancing Accounts: 01/22/08

FSF February

The first story of the February issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine is "Balancing Accounts" by James L. Cambias. It is a fun tale of and AI trying to eke out a living on the edge of our solar system.

The robots in Cambia's story pay lip service to Asimov's three laws of robotics but only as willingly as my son takes to doing his chores. They would much prefer to work freelance and send their credits home to the companies who own them or contract with them.

As I was reading, I was picturing a hybrid of the technology of Cowboy Bebop with the attitude of the robots from Futurama. It works remarkably well.

James L. Cambias is a regular contributor to the magazine but as a new subscriber it's the first story of his I've read. I am looking forward to reading more of his stories.

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Pat of Silver Bush: 01/21/08

Pat of Silver Bush

When I was entering my teens I fell in love with L. M. Montgomery's heroines. I started with Emily of New Moon and then moved on to Anne of Green Gables. While those two series still hold special places in my heart, I must say that I am baffled by Pat of Silver Bush.

Most of Montgomery's stories are about young women, usually pre-teen through late twenties, tacking adverse situations with grace and brains. Pat, though, comes from a fairly well to do family. She has a comfortable life and wants to keep it that way, no matter what. She has no desire to change or grow or even to leave her family home. In fact, in the end, she chooses Silver Bush over her long time boyfriend.

There is a long narrative tradition of stories ending almost where they started with the protagonist having grown or learned from the events of the story. Pat's resolute desire to avoid change would baffle even Tzvetan Todorov. Pat grows older over the course of the book but she doesn't grow as a character. She is the most boring and depressing heroine in a Montgomery book I've read.

Pat as a character is apparently redeemed in the last chapter of a follow up novel, Mistress Pat (1935). I however have no desire to spend any more time with Pat and her beloved home.

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Olivia Forms a Band: 01/20/08

Olivia Forms a Band

Olivia Forms a Band is the fourth in the series that I've read to Sean and Harriet. The series by Ian Falconer continues to delight all of us.

In this story, Olivia and her family are preparing for a night of watching fireworks. Olivia asks if there will be a band. When she is told there won't be, she decides to make the night perfect by forming a one pig band.

The book is divided into three parts. The first is Olivia's preparation for the night including making her uniform and her band. The second is the actual picnic. The final third is Olivia at home and the consequences of her earlier planning.

Ian Falconer captures perfectly the way in which children can get carried away with their own clever plans and how the parents are often stuck with the aftermath of these crazy schemes.

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On the First Night of Chanukah: 01/19/08

On the First Night of Chanukah

The first book I finished this year was On the First Night of Chanukah. Sean and I ordered two books about Hanukkah from his school but the orders arrived after the holiday was over. As always my "to be reviewed" pile is longer than my "to be read" pile. We read this for the Jewish Literature Challenge.

I have mixed feelings about On the First Night of Chanukah. I love that it is easy to read being less in depth than The Eight Nights of Hanukkah but I'm irked by the way the book is begging to be sung to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Having the song just constantly lingering makes the story too kitschy.

On the hand, I really like Brian Schatell's illustrations. Except for the Saturday Night Fever cover, Schatell's illustrations are both cute and informative. There is more useful information packed in his drawings than there is in the accompanying text.

I think the two books work well together. On the First Night... can get children in the mood for the holiday while Eight Nights... can answer questions about the holiday.

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Blake's Therapy: 01/18/08

Blake's Therapy

Blake's Therapy is another book I've completed for the Jewish Literature Challenge. It was also the very last book I read in 2007, bringing last year's total of books read to 411. I have never managed to read this many before in the 20 years I've been keeping track of my reading.

Although Blake's Therapy is a short book it is one that needs pondering over. It is difficult to discern reality and truth among the conflicting narrative voices. The book opens with a lecture from an unnamed therapist who proclaims that we are here to help Graham Blake. What follows is what appears to be the therapy where Blake, a CEO of a huge multinational company is at the verge of a breakdown and must learn to weigh his power over the personal comfort and freedom of his employees. From there things get sketchy: are the people Blake is interacting with real or just actors? Has his therapy ended by the close of the book? The last chapter is a report from our unnamed therapist to Blake's ex-wife but the details here are still fuzzy.

If you enjoy clear cut plots and well defined characters, Blake's Therapy isn't for you. If however you like to be challenged and enjoy stories with multiple realities, then I recommend Blake's Therapy to you. In terms of tone and general themes, the novel reminds me of the Argentine film Hombre mirando al sudeste (1986). If you haven't seen the film, then I recommend a weekend combo of watching the film and reading this book.

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Mad About Madeline: 01/17/08

Mad About Madeline

Mad About Madeline is a lovely hardbound collection of the six Madeline tales published during Ludwig Bemelmans's lifetime. He wrote a seventh story called Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales that was published posthumously in 1999. Besides the Madeline stories, there is an introduction by Anna Quindlen on how the stories have enriched her life as a parent and at the end of the volume, there are sketches and a brief history of the Madeline stories.

The six stories in this volume are:

  • Madeline (1939)
  • Madeline and the Bad Hat (1956)
  • Madeline's Rescue (1953)
  • Madeline and the Gypsies (1959)
  • Madeline in London (1961)
  • Madeline's Christmas (1965)

My favorite stories from the book are Madeline and Madeline's Rescue because the are the most grounded in reality. Madeline's life may be filled with routine but it seems believable and something that a little girl living at a boarding school in Paris might do. Her world while exotic my children living in California is nothing beyond what and her classmates can walk to.

With the introduction of "the bad hat", Madeline's world opens up to places beyond Paris. In Madeline and the Bat Hat, the story stays to the form Madeline and Madeline's Rescue the introduction of an ambassador's son is a jumping off point for the next two stories.

The next two stories involve travel to places outside of Paris. In Madeline and Gypsies, the travel is to affect the rescue of Madeline and the Bad Hat. In Madeline in London it is to attend the birthday party of the now relocated Bad Hat. Outside the confines of Paris these stories seem to lose some of their charm.

In the Christmas story, Madeline seems noticeably older. Though she and her classmates are back in the house, the story is out of character for the previous ones because Madeline is now in a position of authority. She is left to care for Miss Clavel and the other girls who are all suffering from winter colds. She also appears noticeably older in this story. The Christmas story almost works as a fitting end to the book except for the inclusion of flying carpets. Until now there has been no evidence that magic might actually be real in Madeline's world. For that reason alone, I can't recommend the story as much as I otherwise would.

Overall, though, I enjoyed Mad About Madeline and I recommend the book to fans of Madeline. It is interesting to see how the stories evolve and it is nice to have all but the last one in one convenient volume.

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Women of the Ukiyo-e: 01/16/08

Women of the Ukiyo-e

Over Christmas I gave myself a break from my reading schedule and instead enjoyed reading through and coloring in this Dover coloring book of Women of the Ukiyo-e by Ming-Ju Sun. This thin book contains thirty line drawing reproductions of women drawn in the ukiyo-e style.

The copy I was reading was actually a Bookcrossing book ring, so I could only color one page. I liked the book enough that I might get myself a copy so I can color all the pages. My husband is a fan of the ukiyo-e woodblock prints, though he prefers the landscapes.

If you like to color an want to learn something at the same time, I highly recommend Dover's series of coloring books.

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Velocity: 01/15/08


Velocity starts with death by garden gnome and gets weirder from there.

The back of the book has the message: "If you don't take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher. If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work. You have four hours to decide. The choice is yours." Going on that piece of information alone, one might think that Velocity will be a typical "ticking time bomb" type thriller; it isn't.

Bill Wile is more of an antihero than protagonist. He wants nothing to do with this secret person taunting him and framing him for murders. Because of his own shady past he doesn't feel comfortable going to the police even though he wants to.

For observant readers, Koontz leaves lots of clues. They are hidden in plain sight. This is not a connect the dots mystery but one a second reading, the clues are there, popping out from the most unexpected places.

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Mystery Hill: 01/14/08

FSF January

The final story in the January issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine is a light-hearted science fiction piece by Alex Irvine called "Mystery Hill." While it was a relatively easy story to read, it wasn't one of my favorites from the issue.

Mystery Hill is your typical mystery spot where water runs up hill and whatnot. The owner of Mystery Hill is Ken Kassarjian. He's been constantly debunked in his thirty-three year tenure and sometimes called a lizard-man. It isn't until a physicist starts to take readings on the fluctuating gravity at Mystery Hill that things get interesting.

It basically comes down to everything that the crackpots have been saying is true and all of this being tied to string theory. Against this is the romance between the proprietor and the physicist but there just isn't enough chemistry between them to keep it interesting. Likewise the revelation of the truth behind the lizard-men doesn't bring the story to a satisfying ending. Things just sort of draw to a close. Irvine seems hesitant to be as silly as he needs to be to tell a broad parody of science fiction. It would have been better if it had sillier.

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Four Wives: 01/13/08

Four Wives

Four Wives, the debut novel by Wendy Walker hits bookstores next month. I was fortunate enough to be offered an advanced reading copy for review. I don't normally say this in a review but: PRE ORDER YOURS NOW! The book is that good.

Four Wives pokes fun at Ira Levin's Stepford Wives but without the robots. Chapter Thirty is even called "Stepford Wives." But it's more than just a well-written parody about the bedroom communities of the upper middle class. These Stepford wives manage to escape their artificial world an make something of themselves.

The four wives in Walker's novel are Love, Marie, Gayle and Janie. Each woman has her own story but Walker brings these four interesting threads together at the end to provide a satisfying and thought-provoking ending. I really don't want to go into these four stories together to risk spoiling anything.

Most importantly, Walker's novel is a women coming together to bitch about how clueless men are. They may start off believing that nonsense but as the novel progresses, the four wives start to see beyond this stereotype. Walker also gives the men in the book the chance to give their points of view to round out her novel.

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The Eight Nights of Hanukkah: 01/12/08

The Eight Nights of Hanukkah

Hanukkah ended a month ago but the books I ordered through Sean's school came after the holiday. The timing of their arrival plus the chaos of the Christmas and New Year's holidays is why this review is so late.

The Eight Nights of Hanukkah is one of two children's books I got for Sean this year to help explain the holiday to him. Of the two, it is my favorite.

Besides the story of a family celebrating Hanukkah, the book contains inserts of useful information that includes the prayer to say while lighting the candles, an arts-and-crafts instructions for making a menorah, an explanation of the Hebrew calendar, some songs to sing and so forth. It's a nice basic primer for the holiday.

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The Quest for Creeping Charlie: 01/11/08

FSF January

The fifth story in the January issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine follows a man's quest to find "the smartest of all the animals", the elusive megamensalopes. Muir, though, just calls them Creeping Charlies.

As with all quests, the search for the Creeping Charlies takes Muir around the world only to bring home. The quest though costs him his marriage and ultimately his life. While the story was cute, I'm not a fan of this type of story.

If you'd like to learn more about "The Quest for Creeping Charlie", I recommend the review and interview on the John Joseph Adams Blog.

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A Little Twist of Texas: 01/10/08

A Little Twist of Texas

A Little Twist of Texas is a delightful and quirky memoir of a solo bike ride from California to Texas. Linda Moore rode "Beastie" to attend the BookCrossing convention held in Texas in 2005. For active BookCrossers or bikers or BookCrossing bikers, Moore's book is a must read.

I am a regular reader of Raven's Roads, the blog that inspired the trip that in turn inspired the memoir. Besides Raven's Roads, she also runs Raven's RV, Raven's Rides, Raven's Range, and the Markeroni Site and blog. One of her goals for 2008 is to sell 1000 copies of her book. You can buy it at any of the major online vendors or you can buy it directly from any of her websites. If you buy it directly, she will autograph it for you.

I enjoyed riding along and seeing the photographs and maps. Unfortunately, I've been spoiled by her recent blogs. She has grown as a writer and A Little Twist of Texas isn't as strong as her recent posts. There are times when I wanted more: more about the towns she was visiting, more in the way of introductions to the people she was either riding with or visiting, and more on what it takes to be a biker.

What I'd really like to see if a follow up book. The tag line of Raven's Road is "Living an interesting life" and I know there's another book or two in there.

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Click, Clack, Splish, Splash: 01/09/08

Click, Clack, Splish, Splash

Click, Clack, Splish, Splash is the third Doreen Cronin book Sean and I have read. As with the previous ones, this one is full of humor that parents and children can appreciate.

Click, Clack, Splish, Splash is aimed at younger readers than either Click Clack Moo or Diary of a Worm. This book is an introduction to counting but it is also another funny story of the animals getting the best of the farmer. This time, they are liberating the gold fish.

Harriet and Sean both like this story. Sean likes it for the animals being sneaky. Harriet like the illustrations by Betsy Lewin and the rhythm and the rhymes.

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Mars: A Traveler's Guide: 01/08/08

FSF January

The fourth story in the January issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine is one of the best short stories I've read in ages. "Mars, a Traveler's Guide" by Ruth Nestvold turns the typical world-building story on its head.

"Mars: a Traveler's Guide" reads at first like a series of encyclopedia entries about Mars. Clearly as these entries are being read out by some sort of computer, ala the "book" in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. It's only in the reading between the lines and the progression of subjects that the real story comes to light.

Nestvold's martian story is the perfect parody of everything that is wrong with the computerized phone systems so many companies now use. I especially hate the ones that except callers to talk to the computer on the other end. These things never work as advertised. Now imagine that sort of set up in the wastelands of Mars.

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Boys and Girls: 01/08/08

Aladdin: boys and girls

With all the rain the school has been keeping the children in doors. During their usual play time, they've been watching videos. Today they watched Aladdin (1992). It's funny having my son watching a film Ian and his parents took me to (they had scored preview tickets) when we were dating in college.

Anyway, Sean seems to have inherited my love of Disney movies (although I think I've outgrown it). He likes to hang out with a clique of girls at school I call "the Disney Princesses" because they are nuts for the various Disney heroines.

Aladdin hough has resurrected an old argument that Sean and the leader of the Disney Princesses have had off an on for the last 18 months. She is convinced that girls have to only like things from one list and boys from a different list. Sean doesn't fit into her view of the world and refuses to conform. Today he countered her arguments with: "But my Daddy likes princess stories too."

It's true, too. Ian probably likes the more than I do. I'm just proud that Sean has the wherewithal to stand up for what he likes.

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Ladder of Years: 01/07/08

Ladder of Years

I read Ladder of Years after having so enjoyed Morgan's Passing. The premise seemed similar except this time with a female protagonist. While I enjoyed the first hundred pages, the last three hundred left me wishing I was rereading Morgan's Passing instead.

The Morgan in this novel is 40 year old Delia Grinstead who decides one day while on vacation to steal $500 from her family and walk away. The promised adventure from the back of the book ends up being a rather dull account of her 18 months living on her own in a small town where she works as a secretary and lives in a boarding house.

Of course, to be completely heartwarming and schmaltzy as possible, Delia ultimately goes home to her family and brings along her "family" from the small town where she has been living only to enrich the lives of everyone she knows.

The problem is, Delia never explains her actions. Tyler doesn't give enough insight into Delia's motivations to build that all important empathy. Without that connection, Delia comes off as shallow, unlikable, and boring.

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Bleach 8: 01/06/08

Bleach 8

Bleach 8 is a pause in the action, a deep breath before the entry into the Soul Society.

Although Bleach 8 lacks the action of the previous couple of volumes, it has one of my favorite scenes: Ichigo becomes a Soul Reaper but at a tremendous price. He also learns the name of his zanpaku-tô.

There are also brief glimpses into the Soul Society but so far we are uninitiated voyeurs. Characters are introduced and back stories hinted at. This volume will be fun to go back and reread with a few extra ones under my belt.

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Eric Carle's Opposites: 01/05/08

Eric Carle's Opposites

Opposites is a new children's book by Eric Carle. This book is aimed at very young children as it teaches some fundamental opposites, all of them beautifully illustrated in Eric Carle's unique style.

Each pair of opposites is divided by a flap. Harriet and Sean both enjoy lifting the flap to see the second picture. The flaps, though, are a point of weakness in the book that can be prone to ripping during enthusiastic reading. I recommend only reading this book with parental supervision for the younger children.

The opposites taught in this book are:

  • day / night
  • up / down
  • young / old
  • short / long
  • awake / asleep
  • high / low
  • wet / dry

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Pride and Prometheus: 01/04/08

FSF January

The third story in the January issue brings together Pride an Prejudice an Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus to retell the final third of Mary Shelley's novel from Mary Bennet's understanding of things.

I must admit that I am not a fan of Jane Austen an have never managed to read more than about 50 pages of any of her novels although I have seen a large number of adaptations of her work. I am though a fan of Frankenstein an enjoyed that half of this weird story more than the revisiting of the characters from Pride and Prejudice.

So far Pride and Prometheus is my least favorite story from the January issue. The narrative seems uneven going from deliciously Gothic to dull and book reporty. It could just be me zoning out during the most Austenesque bits. Fans of Jane Austen who are also Mary Shelley fans will get the the most of this story.

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Death's Acre: 01/03/08

Death's Acre

The body farm is a forensic tool invented by Dr. Bill Bass in 1971. Cadavers donated to science are allowed to decompose under a variety of environmental conditions. The progress is documented for use in future forensic investigations.

Death's Acre recounts the career of Dr. Bill Bass and the early years of modern forensic science as it evolved from anthropology. The first hundred pages of this three hundred page book is spent on Bass's early career. As I was most interested in the Body Farm, i found this portion a slog to get through. I did learn a bit about anthropology and working in the desert and on avoiding snakes but it wasn't what I had set out to read.

Fortunately things pick up on page 100. The remainder of the book is a series of fascinating chapters on how environmental factors affect decomposition and the mistakes criminals make when trying to hide or destroy bodies.

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Olivia... And the Missing Toy: 01/02/08

Olivia... And the Missing Toy

Olivia ... and the Missing Toy is the third story that I've read to Sean and Harriet. The series by Ian Falconer continues to delight all of us.

In this story, Olivia is missing her favorite toy. She searches everywhere: under the rug, the sofa, the cat and so forth. She tries interrogating her brothers; it doesn't work.

In the end she finds the toy but finding it brings heart-break. Olivia, though, in her usual way, bounces back and the book ends on a happy note.

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It's a Wonderful Life: 01/01/08

FSF January

The second story in the January issue is a holiday story aptly called "It's a Wonderful Life." It follows the day to day drudge of a janitor an film buffed named Cal (who just as aptly happens to work for Berkeley labs).

On a bleak day just before Christmas, Cal asks a couple of "lab rats" what they should do if they are working on time travel. Do they go for the big events like Genghis Kahn or they spend their efforts on making the little things in life more livable like better casting calls in movies?

When it becomes obvious to Cal that yet another experiment has failed and they will soon be closing down the program, he takes matters in his own hand. So what does Cal decide to change and was it worth the effort? Cal seem to think so but then he's a Superman fan too.

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