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Light in August: 05/31/08
In William Faulkner's novels, the narration (method of story telling) is more the point than the narrative (the story). In Light in August, the story of Lena's search for her baby's father and Joe Christmas's tragic life is told through a series of oral histories.
Alysson Olivera in her review of Light in August focuses on the importance of memory in narration of the novel. As so much of the book is told as the sort of gossip you'd hear from friends and neighbors, most of the story is told in flashback. Each chapter builds as a separate but connected short story with the punchline in the last couple pages of the chapter being the thing that ties all the chapters together into a coherent narrative.
The book has strong Christian themes, much as the way that Steinbeck's East of Eden is based on the book of Genesis. Joe Christmas is an obvious Christ figure.
Of the William Faulkner books I've read, it was probably one of the most enjoyable ones. He's not a favorite author of mine. I find his experimentation with narration over focusing on building a strong narrative tiresome and often times counterproductive.
Big Jeremy: 05/31/08
Big Jeremy by Steven Kroll and illustrated by Donald Carrick is written in the style of an American folktale but it takes place in modern times on a small family farm.
Big Jeremy is as big as barn an he lives in one. He works for the Terisons who have an impressive apple orchard. He lives in their retrofitted barn an helps with the apple harvest every year.
One day though Jeremy has a very bad day and ends up breaking a number of things. Distressed over the harm he's done to the Terison farm, he floats away on the raft. The book is mostly the after affect of Jeremy's flight from the farm.
Donald Carrick's colorful illustrations help bring Jeremy to life. He's reminiscent of Paul Bunyan minus the beard, the axe and the ox.
A Day with Air Traffic Controllers: 05/30/08
At the start of this decade, Joanne Winne wrote a series of nonfiction "A Day With..." books aimed at children ages 4 to 8. A Day with Air Traffic Controllers follows what a typical day in an air traffic control tower is like.
The day is told with a series of color photographs and first person text that is easy to read but still focuses on introducing new vocabulary specific to the job. For example, the text: "A plane has landed on the runway. I tell the pilot where to park the plane" is followed by a full color photograph of an American Airlines plane on a runway with the tower in the background.
Other books in the series published by Children's Press (now part of Scholastic) include:
The Art of Alchemy: 05/30/08
The first story in the June issue of FSF is "The Art of Alchemy" by Ted Kosmatka. It is a high tech corporate espionage story that promises to revolutionize the modern world.
The protagonist isn't your typical mystery/thriller hero. He describes himself thus: "It's mostly math I do, and something close to metallurgy." (page 6) His skills at metallurgy come into play when he and his girl friend are given a chance to buy proof of a carbon nanotube longer than ever before created and the formula for creating these nanotubes.
These nanotubes will revolutionize the construction of all sorts of things from airplanes, medical equipment, protective clothing, weapons and so forth. If a company could control the patents behind the technology. The company in question will do anything to suppress the technology including killing off the competition. Can the alchemist survive?
I enjoyed this story. It was a good combination of a straight up thriller and a speculative fiction.
Expecting Adam: 05/29/08
I received Expecting Adam by Martha Beck as a gift when I was about 14 weeks pregnant with Harriet. That's the time when one is tested for possible genetic abnormalities like Down Syndrome. Expecting Adam is Beck's memoir of her difficult pregnancy with Adam, her son who has Down Syndrome.
As some one who has suffered through two miscarriages for unknown reasons, I completely understand Beck's decision to continue with her pregnancy even though her son would require extra help at school and would be at risk for heart problems. I would have done the same with either of my children too. Like Beck, I would have used remaining time in my pregnancy to learn as much as I possibly could about my child's condition.
Beck's memoir covers the time just before her second pregnancy, through her pregnancy and shortly after the delivery. She also bounces forward and backward in her life to show what life was like before Adam and what it's like with him. He is bookended by his two sisters.
On top of the stress of a difficult pregnancy (Beck's descriptions of her morning sickness makes mine seem like a cake walk!) she also had the stress of being a graduate student at Harvard and having a husband who was constantly traveling as part of his research. Although I'm not a graduate student, Ian has been through both pregnancies and he had to do a lot of traveling when I was pregnant with Sean.
I usually shy away from parenting memoirs but I really enjoyed this one. I felt a connection to Beck and when I was done with the book I immediately called my mother to tell her about it. In fact I'm mailing the book to her next week.
The book does have a few flaws. The writing is rough in places and sometimes in need of clearer segues. Nonetheless, it's one of the best books I've read this year.
Bleach 13: 05/29/08
Bleach 13: The Undead relies heavily on more bloated spirit energy battles. The biggest battle in this volume is between Ichigo and Kenpachi Zakari who is what Ichigo could have become if his friends hadn't intervened. Kenpachi relies on his brute strength both in his physique and in his spirit energy. Kenpachi is where Ichigo was back in Volume 8 except that he's never advanced beyond that critical point in his training.
In the process of learning about Kenpachi's underlying weakness Ichigo returns to the strange abandoned urban setting where he first learns to meld his strength with that of Zangetsu. His return to this metaworld gives hints as to its true power and to Ichigo's destiny.
I liked Bleach 13 more than the previous couple of volumes. It felt like the story was getting back on track even if the battle with Kenpachi Zakari took more of the pages than I would have liked. At least his battle was a means to further exposition.
The Magic School Bus: The Great Shark Escape: 05/28/08
Ms. Frizzle the vampire promises her class a normal field trip to the local aquarium only to find that it is closed for repairs. What to do? Of course, transform the bus, endanger the students and take them on a deep sea adventure!
The facts presented in this book are almost identical to Cole's older book, Hungry, Hungry Sharks except now they are dressed up in the trappings of The Magic School Bus. I wouldn't have noticed the similarities if I hadn't read the books back to back.
Both books teach about the different types of sharks. Hungry, Hungry Sharks is presented as a straight up reference book aimed at a first grade reading level. The Magic School Bus book presents the same facts as a fantasy adventure. My son likes both books. He can read Hungry, Hungry Sharks without needing much help but prefers to listen to The Magic School Bus: The Great Shark Escape during story time at school.
Hungry, Hungry Sharks: 05/27/08
With Hungry, Hungry Sharks and The Magic School Bus: The Great Shark Escape, both by Joanna Cole, I feel like I'll be reviewing the same book twice. Hungry, Hungry Sharks! written first is a straight forward introductory science book about sharks.
This book is part of the "Step into Reading" series and is aimed at first grade readers. The book covers the different types of sharks, their habitats, their diet, reproduction and other interesting facts.
The section on the goblin shark is especially interesting, so much so that it appears verbatim as a sidebar in the The Magic School Bus book that I will be reviewing on May 28th.
Harriet the Spy: 05/27/08
Since naming my youngest Harriet, I've had a number of people ask me or just outright assume that I named her for the title character from Louise Fitzhugh's novel Harriet the Spy (1964). She isn't named for the book but she did prompt me to read the book.
Many of the books reviews I've read for Harriet the Spy credit it for being ground breaking its brutally honest portrayal of childhood. Maybe it's the first (or among the first) to depict children in then contemporary society. The book though was noteworthy enough to win the Sequoyah Book Award.
I wish I could say I liked the book, but frankly, I didn't. Harriet is an unlikable and unreliable protagonist. She is left in the care of everyone except her ever absent parents who only actively take part in her life when everyone else has given up. She is first in the care of a governess, Catherine, though always called by Harriet's nickname, Ole Golly. She is later left in the hands of the less than sympathetic cook. Her parents are only ever there to be off to parties or to be overheard arguing.
Harriet meanwhile is given free reign to spy on her friends and neighbors. She's filled up 14 note books since her 8th birthday (she's 11 in the book). When she's finally caught spying her compulsive need to write in her note books becomes rather scary to read. Before her parents even try to talk to her, she's sent to therapy.
Harriet's tragic year seems to be more a scathing look at the wealthy rather than childhood in general. Maybe that's what makes Harriet so unusual. Most YA books seem to children from blue collar families.
The Seven-per-Cent Solution: 05/26/08
Sherlock Holmes is among an elite set of fictional characters who has outlived his creator and even his own written death (The Final Problem1893). Holmes continues to solve crimes as written by a number of authors including this 1974 version, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer. The book was made into a film in 1976, which I've enjoyed watching a number of times.
One thing that is universal across all these Sherlock Holmes tales (those by Doyle and these later ones) is that the stories are never told from Holmes's point of the view. In the Doyle style, the job of reporting Holmes's adventures falls on Dr. John Watson. Holmes throughout remains too unusual and too superhuman to understand, though Watson and other characters try.
Another commonality of the post-Doyle stories is the inclusion of famous historical figures and events. Sherlock Holmes is far better traveled and even more famous in these novels than he ever was in the Doyle's short stories. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is a classic example of Holmes-as-celebrity because he meets and manages to solve a mystery with Dr. Sigmund Freud.
In the film, maybe because Sherlock Holmes seems to lend himself to becoming a steampunk James Bond in movies, Dr. Freud is somewhat plausible. The entire cinematic adaptation borders on the surreal as an attempt to visualize the cocaine stupor Holmes is in for the first half of the story. That surreal approach makes Freud just one more aspect of the wackiness that is the 1976 film.
In the book, Dr. Freud seems like a forced detail. The whole business of Holmes's out of control addiction and the trickery that Watson goes through to get his friend to Vienna doesn't work. It's corny and out of character for both Watson and Holmes. It is a ridiculous means to and end to get the two to where the mystery is taking place.
There is nothing about the mystery of the missing heiress that couldn't be done in London or an estate in the countryside. Her ties to the Kaiser could still have been part of the plot without the silly trip to Vienna.
So if you like Sherlock Holmes stories, keep in mind that Nicholas Meyer's novel is flawed. See, though, if you can, the 1976 film adaptation of his novel. It takes advantage of the goofier bits of the novel to make a very entertaining film.
Read the review at Rick's Café Americain.
Space by Carole Stott was originally published in the "Worldwise" series in the 1990s and is now part of DK Publishing's "Eye Wonder" series.
Space is a solid introduction to astronomy. The book covers things like rotation (a planet's day) and revolution (a planet's year), the different kinds of stars, differences of scale of the planets and so forth. Each new subject is expanded upon across a two page spread.
The book is designed for ages 4 to 8 and it is interesting enough to read in one sitting but is solid enough to be used as a reference book for looking up facts.
The Little Baby Snoogle Fleejar: 05/25/08
The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer is the first book I've read by a former president and among the weirdest children's books I've read. The crux of the story is pretty straightforward: it's your classic "don't judge a book by its cover" type story.
The story is told as a fairy tale beginning in the usual "Once upon a time..." fashion. It follows a Jeremy who lives at the sea with his mother. Jeremy spends his days sitting on the beach mostly by himself because he can't walk (and I guess therefore has no friends?)
Jeremy comes into his own though when he can save the beach from a horrible sea monster, who of course isn't really horrible, just different. The monster in question is the title character.
Morals abound at the end:
The Miracle on 34th Street: 05/24/08
Continuing on the theme of books and films and their on again, off again relationship, I bring you the cross media collaboration. Most often a film or a book will come first (and more often than not, it will be the book that inspires the film). There are exceptions to that rule where there is no first and instead the book and the film are created at the same time. Among this set of collaborations are: Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and this little gem, The Miracle on 34th Street (1947).
In the dedication of the novel Valentine Davies explains he was inspired to write the screenplay version first and only after his work on the film was done did he feel ready to "invite" Mr. Kringle "within the covers of a book." Miracle on 34th Street, though, is not a quick novelization of a film as say Hook by Terry Books is. Novelizations tend to be more descriptive than these collaborations whereas the collaborations are terse on description and more focused on getting into the heads of the characters.
Miracle on 34th Street is a short piece, exactly 120 pages, so it's not much longer than the companion film (which clocks in at 97 minutes). It like the film follows a man going by the name Kris Kringle who finds himself in a bit of a pickle just before Christmas; he faces eviction from his retirement home room because he insists that he is Santa Claus. Needing a new place to live he goes to an old friend to ask for a place to sleep while he finds a more permanent solution. On his way he stumbles into the job of being Santa for the Macy's parade (Macy's being at the corner of Broadway and 34th, hence the title). He's such a good and convincing Santa that he ends up revolutionizing the whole Christmas retail experience that year: placing the emphasis on customer happiness rather than sales. Of course ultimately Kringle's sanity (resisting the urge to quote A Night at the Opera here) is called into question.
The film and the novel are both cozy, heartwarming things to experience. As a child growing up, the film was a yearly event in our house just as>It's a Wonderful Life (1947) is for so many. My favorite character then and now is Susan Walker (portrayed so perfectly by Natalie Wood in the film). Susan is the daughter of woman at Macy's who gives Kris his job. She's a smart, head strong child of a single mother who learns in the course of the story how to have a little more fun. As a once child of a single mother, I can completely relate to her and to the miracle of the house.
Most of the books I read these days I have plans for either to give away on my blog or to release through BookCrossing but this is one book that is a beloved member of my permanent collection.
Junie B., First Grader: Boss of Lunch: 05/23/08
Although my last two reviews of books from the Junie B. Jones series were harsh, I do still enjoy the series. Junie B., First Grader: Boss of Lunch (#19) is the second book in the series where Junie B. has moved onto first grade.
In these later books she is better settled and more mature. Junie B. loves being in first grade but she misses some of the perks of being a kindergartner, like the cookies she used to get at snack time.
Besides wanting the cookies, Junie B. wants to feel important. She thinks that working with the lunch lady (who always brings the cookies to the kindergarten class) will do just the trick. Unfortunately for Junie, working in the lunch room requires a lot of patience, something Junie doesn't always have.
I liked Boss of Lunch because the story stays within the bounds of day to day school life. Junie B. is the most believable when she's interacting with her classmates.
This review marks #800 for me!
Alphabet City: 05/23/08
Alphabet City is one Sean's first books. I gave it to him for his first Christmas. Now that he's older and learning to read, he has rediscovered this book for its creative look at the alphabet.
Alphabet City is a picture book, made up of twenty-six urban paintings. Each painting is an illustration of a letter from the alphabet. Some are more obvious than others. The letter C, made from the shadow cast along the edge of a rose window is the most dubious letter representation; it would have made a better O than C.
Stephen Johnson's picture book was a 1996 Caldecott Honor Book. There is a companion book called City by Numbers that I would like to get sometime for Sean.
The Road from La Cueva: 05/22/08
The Road from La Cueva by Sheila Ortego is a slim but emotionally charged novel. Ana Howland needs to figure out what she wants from life and if that includes her husband and his long but mostly unwritten list of rules.
The novel follows Ana as she learns to think and feel for herself rather than doing what others expect of her or what she thinks others expect of her. Ana thankfully does grow over the course of the novel and she makes mistakes along the way.
The narrative tightly follows Ana giving no insight into what other characters are thinking beyond what Ana herself guesses they might be thinking. There were times I wanted to know more about the people in Ana's life, especially the two men in her life.
Of course in 140 pages, there isn't much room for deep characterization. We are treated to snippets of Ana's life, her friends and her family and ultimately her transformation.
WLT: A Radio Romance: 05/22/08
WLT: A Radio Romance by Garrison Keillor covers the maverick days of radio much as The Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association by Loren D. Estleman does for the early days of filmmaking in Hollywood. With all his years in radio, Keillor excels at pointing out the oddities of running a small radio station and the dangers of competing against the big networks. WLT's history is believable even down to the detail that the call letters stand for "with lettuce and tomato."
Where WLT falters is in the telling of the romance. The romance is focused on Frank White, né Francis With and his long time love of WLT and how he builds his life and career at the station. He also falls in love with one of the less popular employees. Unfortunately Frank's story is buried under all the long tangential stories about WLT and the folks who work there and how the station affects the community and so forth.
Imagine if you will, a 7 hour Prairie Home Companion broadcast (normally the show runs 2 hours). That's how WLT reads. Even though I love listening to Keillor's broadcasts and love the film that was inspired by the radio show, WLT was too much of a good thing.
I borrowed Catty-Cornered by Cheryl Ware from my local library based on the cover art. Although I sometimes found Venola Mae Cutright's complaining a bit much, I did feel a connection with this adolescent protagonist.
Venola Mae keeps a journal of her time living with her recently widowed Grandmother in the trailer or motorhome in the Cutright's backyard. Venola who hates her Grandmother's thirteen cats more than any of her siblings is the one pegged with the job of keeping Grandmother company while she grieves.
Like Venola I spent time living with my grandmother, although she lived a mile away from my home. I stayed with her after she had a heart attack and I think a couple other times but the reasons why elude me right now. Like Venola's grandmother, mine had a number of cats (five not thirteen but still, a lot of cats). Although I don't hate cats they did add an extra dynamic to staying at my grandmother's house (and extra chores).
Venola also finds herself living under a new set of strict rules: an early bed time, an early wake up call in the morning, no TV except religious shows (brings back memories of Heehaw and Lawrence Welk) and no friends over. My grandmother wasn't as strict as Venola's but I did have to live under a different schedule and different rules.
I think Catty-Cornered could have been a little quicker out of the gate. Venola is given too much time and too many pages to complain early on in her diary. Otherwise, though, I enjoyed the story and the memories it dredged up for me.
Puss in Boots: 05/20/08
Since this website and blog is a geeky pun on "Puss in Boots" it makes perfect sense to review a book adaptation of the classic fairy tale. My son's favorite version of the story is Puss In Boots by Rochelle Larkin for the "Favorite Fairy Tales" series.
Three brothers inherit the worldly possessions of their miller father. The youngest son gets his "wonderful Cat" and ends up the wealthiest of the sons. The cat who has the ability to dress like a man in coat and boots goes in the service of the local king. Of course one of the tasks he accomplishes is the defeat of a local ogre in a way befitting of a mouser.
My sons' favorite part isn't the defeat of the ogre. He prefers the part where the Cat hides his master's clothing while he's swimming in the river.
Larkin's adaptation simplifies the story in parts and she picks words that are easy to read (a bonus for my son who is now reading). The book is illustrated by Loretta Lustig who brings a 1940s feel to the book.
This book was published twice with slightly different titles: Puss In Boots for the Favorite Fairy Tales Series and Puss 'N Boots for the My Very First Storybook series.
A Day in Space: 05/20/08
A Day in Space by Suzanne Lord and Jolie Epstein is a perfect follow up to William Pogue's How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space? Written a year after Pogue's edition, it covers many of the same topics about life in space but from the point of view of living and working on a space shuttle. Of course with the shuttle about to be shelved, both books are now becoming a bit obsolete.
Lord and Epstein's book is also written as a series of questions and answers but aimed at younger readers (4-8 instead of 9-12). At only 32 pages long, it is much shorter than Pogue's more comprehensive volume.
Of the two books, I preferred A Day in Space as a casual read with my children. The emphasis is on the fun and bizarre details of life in space (like how marbles bunch up and the among of time it takes flies to get accustomed to weightlessness). For actual research, Pogue's longer book is better. If you have children interested in space travel, I recommend having a copy of each.
Postcards: True Stories that Never Happened: 05/19/08
I've only just started reading graphic novels and manga but when I read the review of Postcards: True Stories that Never Happened on Breeni Books I knew I wanted to read this book. Breeni surprised me by sending me her copy and I'm pleased to say the book is making its way to a third reader.
Postcards isn't a single graphic novel. Rather, it is sixteen graphic short stories. Jason Rodriguez gave an old postcard to sixteen different writer and artist teams to see what they could create given the information contained on their card. The stories included in this volume are:
From this diverse list, my favorites are "Blue" for its magical take on an old memory, "Send Louis His Underwear" for its gory counterpoint between the humorous text and the pictures, and "A History of a Marriage" for its bittersweet look at widower's recollection of his marriage.
As the postcards used in the book were all very old (mostly dating from the 1910s), the stories frequently deal with death and loss. It's only natural to see ghosts in ephemera.
Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying: 05/18/08
Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying tries to be Harriet the Spy for the younger set. While Harriet's unsupervised spying rounds are almost plausible as she's in 6th grade, Junie's behavior is inexcusable. What parent lets a five year old run around in the grocery store unattended?
For the 4th book in the Series to work, Junie needs free access to see adults behaving poorly while being afraid of getting in trouble herself. Junie finds herself in a moral dilemma: does she turn in her teacher for steeling and admit that she was spying when she shouldn't or does she let her teacher get away with it?
The book would have been better if the set up hadn't been so ludicrous. Junie could have just as easily see her teacher while helping her mother. Then the dilemma could have been one of don't tell because Mother says so versus telling because Junie believes it is the right thing to do. But no, instead we have to have the cliche of the helpless parent and the out of control child on top of the after school special moral that stealing is bad.
The Magic School Bus: Going Batty: 05/18/08
The Magic School Bus: Going Batty teaches interesting facts about different kinds of bats. In the process the children, their parents and of course the school bus are transformed into bats. This book does explain the wherefore behind Ms. Frizzle's magic bus and her apparent ability to brainwash the children and their parents into going along on each of her potentially dangerous field trips. Ms. Frizzle is a vampire. Sure, by the end of book Ms. Frizzle has brain washed everyone into ignoring the fact she was acting like a vampire but I like the pat explanation to the entire series.
On a more serious note, the book does have many interesting bat facts. It teaches about echolocation, how bats fly, what bats eat, where bats live and so forth.
Bruce Degen did the illustrations for the book and they are cute and not too scary, even when Ms. Frizzle is at her most vampirish.
Dark Summit: 05/17/08
Although Dark Summit sells itself as "the true story of Everest's most controversial season" it also tries to a be a more general history of climbing on Everest. While the details of the mountain's history are interesting and perhaps necessary to help readers put the 2006 season into perspective, the presentation of these facts interrupts the core story.
Nick Heil recreates the 2006 season on Mt Everest and focuses mostly on the climb lead by Russell Brice's Himex team. He breaks the book up into two parts: David Sharp (the expert who died) and Lincoln hall and Thomas Weber (Hall being the man who was pronounced dead but managed to survive the night). He further breaks up the book into chapters named for the different camps along the climb. The David Sharp half takes up 2/3 of the book leaving Lincoln Hall's amazing survival to round out the book in breakneck speed.
The pacing problems come in the David Sharp section. Just as Brice's team is setting out on their climb Heil begins dumping massive amounts of Everest history into his chapters. I think since David Sharp died on the climb and was an Everest celebrity, Heil felt compelled to include a mini biography of the man. Unfortunately Dark Summit isn't set up to be David Sharp's biography. It's supposed to be an examination of what might have gone wrong in the 2006 season or more precisely: what factors were different with Sharp's climb versus Hall's climb that made it possible for one to survive and not the other? With the bulk of the book bogged down with Sharp's life, there isn't much time to actually look at the climb or the 2006 season.
I liked the initial chapter "Katmandu" which sets the stage for the 2006 season and explains the business behind these expeditions. I also enjoyed the entire second section dedicated to Lincoln Hall and Thomas Weber because of the analysis of the rescue methods and the aftermath of the season. If more of the book had been like this final part, I would be raving about this book rather than giving it a luke warm review.
Despite Dark Summit's flaws I did learn a thing or two about Mt. Everest.
The Crew: 05/16/08
The Crewis a mystery set in rough neighborhood in London among a gang of teenagers. The story is told from the point of view of Billy, the leader and Ellie, the youngest member.
Billy and his crew look after themselves because the local police don't seem willing to their part even when there is a missing bag of money, a pair of kidnappings and other related crimes. Billy isn't perfect; he's done his fair share of petty crimes but he's trying to do the right thing in this book.
Unlike (Un)Arranged Marriage, the parents and adults in this novel have good relationships with their children. This isn't a book about the power struggle between adults and teens and the way tradition can be used as a disguise for abuse. Instead, this is a social commentary on life in the inner city.
The city here is London so many of the cultural references are specific to that city but on a broader sense, the book is about the hardships and frustrations of living in any city center. Billy describes the poverty, the drugs, the apathetic (and sometimes corrupt) police force, prostitution and gangs. Billy running commentary often includes the why behind a character's actions which makes The Crew less of a collection of cliches and more of a living breathing microcosm.
Seduction by Design: 05/15/08
Sandra Brown is one of those super prolific authors. If I'm counting correctly, she's written seventy-two books. To complicate things further, she has been published under a variety of names: Rachel Ryan, Laura Jordan, Erin St. Claire and finally Sandra Brown. She's obviously most well known as Sandra Brown and many of her early novels have been republished under the name Sandra Brown. For example, the 2001 edition of Seduction by Design was originally published in 1983 and listed Erin St. Claire as the author.
Seduction by Design isn't one of Brown's better books but it is among her earliest published works. It does show hints at how she likes to play with genre expectations and cliches but in this novel she doesn't pull it off.
Hailey Ashton may be a successful business woman but the shit she puts up with from her boss is creepy and abusive. In a modern Brown novel I would expect the heroine to quit her job and get a restraining order against her boss, sue him and hook up with her lawyer but not in this one.
Then there is the added ick factor of Tyler (the boss) being a single father and using his daughter as a bargaining chip. Again, in a modern Brown novel, Hailey would probably call child protective services but not here.
I read the book cover to cover mostly for the amazement at how much Brown has improved as a writer. If you're a fan of her writing and want to read everything she's published, then go ahead and read Seduction by Design. If not, feel free to skip it.
Nettie's Trip South: 05/15/08
Nettie's Trip South by Ann Turner and illustrated by Ronald Himler is one of the most depressing children's books I've read. It's up there with Ganzy Remembers except that this book is based on the actual diary of the author's grandmother.
Nettie's Trip South covers her family trip from Albany New York to Richmond Virginia before the Civil War. The book covers her accounts of slavery and how she is sickened by watching a slave auction.
To go with Turner's chilling descriptions, Ronald Himler provides somber drawings of all the people and places Nettie sees.
Although the book is a difficult subject to read, it's a necessary one. The book is written for grades 3-5.
Bleach 12: 05/14/08
Bleach 12 is basically Bleach 11 The Revenge. It's more fighting, more bloodshed, more posturing over spirit power and an explanation as to what it takes to be a captain in the Soul Society.
For most of this volume I was pretty uninspired but it all. There's only so much escalation of violence one can take before it gets repetitive and silly. Bleach 12 hit that point for me.
The best parts of the volume were the scenes that explained Ichigo and Chad's friendship. Chad's back story explains a lot about him and why he is so loyal to Ichigo.
Stone Gods: 05/13/08
I like to give myself a few days between finishing a book and reviewing a book to reflect on my reading experience. The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson is a perfect example of why I do this. My initial reaction was "is this all there is to it?" but the book continues to come back to me.
The book is somewhere between a collection of short stories and a novel. The best explanation is in the book itself on page 146:
Except it isn't quite. Events repeat but the locations are different. The character names are the same: always Billie and Spike but the times and locations are always different.
With a protagonist named Billie Crusoe, it's obvious that Stone Gods is influenced in part by Robinson Crusoe but there are also nods to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Barsoom series among others.
Each chapter or story is one of travel and isolation. Billie is either a loner and non-conformist in society, or trapped in a snow storm, or on an island, or in a burned out society. Some how at her side is the faithful Spike.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven: 05/13/08
The Five People You Meet in Heaven is one of many books that follow the protagonist as he or she travels into the after life. In this case, it's a maintenance man from a local carnival named Eddie and he dies after being crushed by a falling ride. From there he learns the ropes of Heaven from five mentors whom he knew in his life.
These books can either be mind blowing explorations of the human spirit and imagination (The Inferno by Dante Alighieri), fantasy romps that straddle the morose and the fantastical (What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson) or like this book, smaltzy and rife with cliches.
The best thing about The Five People You Meet in Heaven is its length and its simplistic vocabulary. The book can easily be read in a couple of hours. The book starts off well, building suspense with Eddie's impending death but it is unable to stay interesting. By the end of the first lesson the book settles into a predictably annoying pattern of flashbacks and lessons with Eddie being gobsmacked by each one until the end when the last mentor has to hit him over the head with the moral of the story.
Are You My Mother? 05/12/08
I grew up with P. D. Eastman's books. As a student of Dr. Seuss and with his books being published under the Dr. Seuss brand, it's kind of hard to read one and not the other. I still have my ragged and beloved old copy of Eastman's The Cat in the Hat Beginner Dictionary. Still somehow, I missed Are You My Mother? when I was a child; Sean and I read it for the first time together just recently.
A baby bird newly hatched goes in search of his mother, not sure what his mother looks like. He asks a everyone and everything he sees: "Are you my mother?" The creatures are a kitten, a hen, a dog, and cow. When they can't help, he tries machines: a car, a boat and a plane. Help ultimately comes from an unexpected source. Since the ending is the best part, I'll save it for parents and children to discover together.
The final story in the May issue of FSF is "Circle" by George Tucker and it makes up for the two previous stories.
"Circle" takes place in Miami during the recent real estate boom and it is written with a similar mixture of cynicism, humor and environmentalism as Carl Hiaasen's books are.
Billy Black, the protagonist, is the grandson of a Seminole shaman who decides to use the apparent haunting at a local construction site to his advantage. The way in which Black balances his heritage with his own desire for a piece of the real estate boom pie is what reminds me most positively of Hiaasen.
As Tucker explains in his interview, "The Circle" is based on actual events and he wrote a lengthy back story for Billy Black before finally settling on the twenty pages that make up this story. Having so enjoyed this short glimpse at Billy Black's life, I'd love to see George Tucker expand things either as a series of short stories, or as a novella or perhaps a full fledged novel.
To learn more, please read the interview on the FSF blog.
City of Light: 05/11/08
City of Light is a historical drama set during the time that Buffalo New York was converting to electricity with the building of turbines at Niagara Falls. I read the book primarily for the setting and I loved the way Buffalo and Niagara Falls were described. It is in the building of the setting that Lauren Belfer excels.
Peal away the interesting history and what is left is a rather dull and obvious Agatha Christie type mystery mixed together with a Victorian melodrama. Louisa Barrett, the head mistress of a local girls school finds herself in the middle of a series of murders related to the new power station at Niagara Falls. As the father of her god daughter is the owner, she feels compelled to solve the mystery to protect the people she loves.
If the mystery wasn't enough, there is also Barrett's own personal tragedy and the truth behind her fondness for her God daughter who appears to be clinically depressed after the death of her mother.
The relationship between Louisa Barrett and Grace is where I started to lose interest in the book. I know I was supposed to feel empathy for Louisa for all the heartbreak she has suffered but I never really connected with her. Her personal story is buried under all the historical descriptions and the clues for the mystery to such a degree that it doesn't make sense for the novel to end on her personal tragedy because it feels like an after thought.
Ghost Cat: 05/10/08
Ghost Cat by Beverly Butler takes its inspiration from "Annabel Lee", Edgar Allan Poe's last poem. The young protagonist is named for the ill fated girl in Poe's poem and while staying with relatives she barely knows, Annabel Lee dredges up memories of a 40 year old feud.
While Poe may have been the starting point for this mystery, the book reminds me most of Be Buried in the Rain by Barbara Michaels but aimed at a younger audience. Although I enjoyed the 40 year old mystery and the ghost story bits, the family tension at the farm dragged the pacing of the book down.
The biggest problem with the book is Annabel herself. She's not a well defined character. Her only point seems to be to dredge up the past to bring closure for her family. Since she is mostly a plot device, she doesn't make an interesting enough character to tell the story. Her grandfather who actually knows what is going on is a far more fascinating character but he can't be the narrator since he knows too much. Butler's set up started with the plot painted into a corner.
After our trip through the Oregon bit of the Great Basin Desert, Sean wanted to learn more. We checked out Deserts by Seymour Simon from our local library.
The book has beautiful full-color photographs. The book is short, only 40 pages but has enough information for young readers to learn the basic facts about the desert environment, where they are in the world, what makes a desert, what sorts of plants and animals live there and what the climate is like.
Sean found the information on the deserts here in California and Oregon the most interesting because he has actually seen them. He also liked the information about the Sahara because he has studied that desert in school.
The sixth story in the May issue of FSF, "Traitor" by M. Rickert and it's the second story by her I've read. I preferred "Don't Ask" to "Traitor."
"Traitor" is basically a mood piece set in a near future or alternate reality America where the environment is shot and terrorism is common place.
Half of the story is told from Alika's point of view, a child who seems too happy for the hardships she and her "mother" are enduring. The second half is told in a disembodied fashion by Pauline who hints at the truth behind her relationship with Alika and her plans for the child.
It's a rather sobering look at how adults can take advantage of children and the effects of war on society.
A Church of Her Own: 05/08/08
A Church of Her Own by Sarah Sentilles is part memoir and part look at the struggles women face when they decide to become priests or ministers.
The book is divided into three main parts: Vocation, Incarnation and Creation. Vocation covers the why behind woman choosing ministry even in the face of the on-going sexism in the different sects and denominations. Incarnation looks at how women ministers are scrutinized for their bodies, their dress, their makeup (or lack of it). Creation finally looks at the art of being a minister and a woman.
Since sexism is such a wide reaching problem for women who feel called to ministry, Sentilles spends a lot of the book deconstructing gender roles and talking about gays, lesbians and transgender ministers. Her discussion of gender against the bible, church traditions and modern beliefs in America is where the book really comes into its own.
A Church of Her Own starts slowly. The first few chapters are rather dry but it picks up and stays interesting to the end. When I finished the book I was angry for the women who have put up with such outrageous behavior from their colleagues and congregations.
When I need a mental vacation like to travel with Dirk Pitt. I haven't read all of the series and what I've read hasn't been order but I still enjoy the books. My most recent read was Treasure (1988).
Treasure has all the usual adventure story stuff: buried treasure, sunken treasure, espionage, kidnappings, car chases, and so forth. In the Dirk Pitt novels there are typically two different plots: the A plot being whatever word crisis NUMA somehow has to fix and the B plot where NUMA is actually looking for treasure and basically doing its real job. I like both parts but I prefer the treasure hunting aspects of it (I'm the same way with Indian Jones too).
Since I enjoy the treasure hunt bit most, I always skip the prologue where the treasure is lost. I don't like going into the adventure knowing more than the NUMA crew. I only go back to read the prologue after I've finished the book.
In Treasure the treasure in question is tomb of Alexander the Great and the remains of his famous library. Meanwhile a trio of power hungry brothers have turned to terrorism to bring down the governments of Mexico, Egypt and Brazil bringing Senator Pitt into the fray.
How all these things come together is silly. It's fun. It's completely over the top. Think James Bond at his silliest and multiply it by two. So if you're looking for a serious adventure story, look elsewhere. If you're looking for escapism, I highly recommend treasure.
Mercury and Venus: 05/07/08
Sean has been learning about the solar system at school. He suggested checking out Mercury and Venus by Robin Kerrod to learn more about the two inner planets.
The illustrations are the best part of Mercury and Vensus. They are mostly maps and photographs taken from the various scientific missions that have been sent there.
The book covers the basics of both planets, their days and years and how both compare to earth, Mercury's geology, Venus's atmosphere and surface and how it is being changed over time.
Like Under the Microscope: Insects, there was almost too much information presented for casual reading. I think in a few years when Sean is older he'll be able to go back and further enjoy this book but for a kindergartner, the book is slightly too long.
Lost and Found: 05/06/08
Sean, Harriet and I know Mark Teague's work through his collaboration with Jane Yolen on the How Do Dinosaurs? series. So when I saw The Lost and Found written and illustrated by Mark Teague, I snatched the book up to add to our collection.
In The Lost and Found, Mark Teague creates a wonderful alternate world where all the lost and found things go. The way into this magical world is, of course, through the lost and found bin. Thematically then, Teague's book is like Attic of the Wind except less sappy.
The story follows three explorers: Wendell, Floyd and Mona who go in search Mona's lucky hat and find their own luck and friendship along the way. As Mark Teague is an illustrator, he only tells half the story in the text. The remainder is told in his whimsical and slightly retro illustrations.
Thrilling Wonder Stories: 05/05/08
The fifth story in the May issue of FSF, "Thrilling Wonder Stories" has made me realize that Albert E. Cowdrey is my least favorite of the magazine's regular contributors. I liked "The Recreation Room"; I tolerated "The Overseer" and I hated "Thrilling Wonder Stories."
Once again Cowdrey's story takes place in New Orleans. This time it's set in the sweltering summer of 1950 as hinted by the inclusion of "Mona Lisa" sung by Nat King Cole. Cowdrey seems to be trying for a Stephen King type story ("The Body" comes to mind) but he doesn't pull it off.
The story is told from Farley's point of view. He's a teenage thug in an unhappy family and he knows his mother's husband isn't his father. Farley is convinced that his father is a man from Mars but the truth is much more mundane than that. This story tries for the clever ending of "The Recreation Room" but it's too little too late. All that really happens is an unhappy boy from an unloving home evolves into a cold blooded killer.
Thankfully the story was only about twenty pages but I still feel like I wasted my time reading it.
Peace: 50 Years of Protest: 05/04/08
Peace: 50 Years of Protest by Barry Miles is a coffee table book well worth reading but best taken in small pieces and read at least twice to take everything in. First time through, just look at the photographs that tell the history of the CND symbol, now known more commonly as the peace symbol. Then go back and read the text. Be prepared to be depressed, disgusted and outraged by the different atrocities mankind has inflicted on itself over the years.
The book makes its way more or less chronologically from the bombings of Japan through the creation of the CND symbol to its evolution into the universal symbol of peace through a foreword, an introduction and eight chapters. The chapters cover the man behind the symbols creation and its various meanings, its use in the cold war, the symbol's coming of age, the Aldermaston March, the world wide adoption of the symbol to mean peace, its use in fashion, post apocalyptic stories and how the symbol has been used in modern protests.
If I had one complaint about the book it would be over its presentation of the text. Since the photographs are clearly the selling point of this book, they often times break up the text in disconcerting ways. I had to go back a page or so frequently to retrace my steps before I could be sure I had read a sentence of a paragraph to its conclusion.
In the Hall of the Dragon King: 05/04/08:
I really enjoyed the first two thirds of In the Hall of the Dragon King. The story happens on a fully realized world filled with different cultures, different belief systems and complicated politics. The young protagonist, Quentin, sees a way out from his humdrum life and takes it without worrying too much about his own safety.
For those first almost 200 pages, I was enjoying a book happily situated amongst other enjoyable adventures like The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope or the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. And then my enjoyment came crashing down around my ears as the power behind the plot revealed himself. The book went from being something I was eager to finish to a scary flashback to the Malorian series by David and Leigh Eddings or any of the later books in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.
See, I don't like books centered around a one true god or "Most High God" as he's called in Lawhead's book. All the scheming and counter plots and backstabbing of the other characters ceases to be important, relevant or material to the plot when there is one puppet master orchestrating everything through is chosen golden boy be it Quentin or Garion or Jesus or whomever you want to call the star of the moment.
Read the review at Never Got That Memo.
Under the Microscope: Insects: 05/03/08
Under the Microscope was a series of reference books published by Grolier Educational. We checked out the volume on Insect Homes. Scholastic has since bought Grolier and the series appears to be out of print but your local library might have a copy.
Sean liked the photographs in the book. They're vivid and often times bordering on the gross if you're squeamish about insects. We both agreed that there was too much information packed on each page (with a super tiny font). As a reference book where facts would be looked up piecemeal from the index, the book (and others in the series) would be very useful. As a book to read cover to cover in one sitting, it doesn't work. Don't be deceived by its' thin profile; the book is dense.
The Butterfly Alphabet Book: 05/03/08
Remember how I said Sean is currently really into alphabet books? The Butterfly Alphabet Book is another of Sean's recent selections from the library. It was doubly interesting to him because he was also studying butterflies and moths at school.
Butterflies have exotic names especially when you take their latin names into account. Each letter of the alphabet is represented by beautifully drawn butterflies and is followed with short but interesting descriptions.
If you have a budding lepidopterologist or alphabetologist (or in my case, both), I highly recommend this lovely book.
Firooz and His Brother: 05/02/08
The fourth story in the May issue of FSF is "Firooz and His Brother" by Alex Jeffers. So far it is my favorite and it reminds me fondly of "Exit Strategy" by K. D. Wentworth (FSF, March 2008).
"Firooz and His Brother" is a fairytale and a love story set along the caravan roads between Samarkand and Baghdad in some distant time. The story is more about Haider than it is about Firooz and the remarkable way that he enriches Firooz's life. I don't want to say more and risk spoiling a beautiful story.
According to Jeffers, "Firooz and His Brother" is a small piece from a novel he's working on called Dreamherder. I hope he finishes it some day and gets it published because I want to read it! In the meantime I am adding Jeffer's novel Safe as Houses to my wishlist.
Demons Are Forever: 05/02/08
The best part of Demons Are Forever is its title and maybe the cute cover art. It's the third in "Confessions of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom" series and the only one I've read (and am likely to read).
The reason I didn't enjoy the novel has nothing to do with it being midway through a series. The problem stems from: concept, setting and the execution of the mystery.
I don't know why Kenner felt compelled to add in all the back story about Kate Connor's training and life as a demon hunter for the Vatican if this is a well established series. It was distracting and frankly so far removed from Kate's current situation that it was completely unbelievable. Some things are best left to the imagination.
Then there's the setting: San Diablo which is some weird hybrid of San Diego and San Dimas but renamed ala Santa Teresa in Sue Grafton's ABC books. Sure, I can understand the fun of using Diablo for a town over-run by demons but the San (or Saint) has to go. It doesn't make sense.
The mystery itself would have been fine for a Three Detectives or Nancy Drew type mystery but for an adult book it was too obvious and silly. When teeny poppers can drop useful hints about the upcoming demon show down and Kate can't connect the dots until much further into the book, something is wrong because it makes for 100+ pages of waiting for the experienced semi-retired demon hunter to get a clue.
I know there are huge fans of the series but I am obviously not one of them.
Eating the Alphabet: 05/01/08
My son and daughter picked out Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert at the library. Harriet liked it for the colorful illustrations (including the banana on the b page) and Sean liked it because it was alphabetical.
I have to admit that I expected not to like the book. There are so many different messages out there by well meaning adults for children to eat more fruits and vegetables. Even Sesame Street has gone from teaching life skills to pushing the "eat the rainbow" message sometimes above all.
That being said, I also want to encourage my children to think for themselves and part of that is encouraging them to pick their own books. The three of us sat together and read the book. I have to admit to enjoying it despite my initial reservations. Ehlert's illustrations are delightful and colorful. Except for the letter X, each letter had one or more beautifully done fruits or vegetables.
Bleach 11: 05/01/08
Bleach 11 picks up the pace now that all the members of the Soul Society (and their aunts and uncles) have been properly introduced. Now that we know who they are; let the blood shedding begin!
In the process of fighting in their scattered way and trying to reconnoiter, Ichigo and his companions learn more about the Soul Society, it's different companies, the layout of the compound and most importantly, where Rukia is being held.
While the relationship between Renji and Rukia is set up to be the big dramatic reveal of "A Star and a Stray Dog," I much preferred the comedic scenes with Hanatarô Yamada of the Fourth Company and the tour through the sewers.