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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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And Tango Makes Three: 08/31/09

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell  has been the top on the list of the most challenged books in the United States in 2006, 2007 and 2008. When I saw it at my public library (yay!) I snatched it up to take home and read to my kids.

The book is based on facts. In 2000 Roy and Silo were given an egg from a two egg clutch knowing that the original parents had never successfully reared two eggs. Roy and Silo had been sitting on an egg shaped rock so the egg was given to them as a chance to let both eggs develop and for the two male penguins to be parents.

There is nothing overtly sexual or even biological about the way the story is told. The relationship between Roy and Silo boils down to "...Roy and Silo wound their necks around each other. Their keeper Mr. Gramzay noticed the two penguins and thought to himself, 'They must be in love.'" (p. 11).

Most of the story though is about families of all different types who either live at the zoo or come to visit the zoo. There is discussion (with lovely illustrations by Henry Cole) of the two penguins building a rock nest and watching their rock egg and later of Tango's egg hatching.

The language used in the book is completely appropriate for preschool and elementary school aged children. There's no agenda to the book; it's just a sweet story about families and penguins.

Comments (4)

City Lullaby: 08/30/09

City Lullaby by Marilyn Singer and Illustrated by Carll Cneut is a counting book set in a busy and noisy city. A mother is pushing her sleeping baby through the hustle and bustle.

The noise is made up a traffic jam, ringing cell phones, dogs barking, trash cans being bashed about, car alarms, taxis, a two on two basket ball game, some busses and two loud motorcycles. None of this though can wake the baby, whose contented face is show opposite each of the crowded and busy city street illustrations.

There is a lot to look at and the racket can be fun to mimic. I don't see this "lullaby" being a quiet before bed book. It's far too playful and colorful.

Comments (0)

Economancer: 08/29/09

Told in letters from Simon Messiter, Barclays economist, to a Jane, "Economancer" proposes an explanation for why the dollar has fallen so much in recent years. Apparently a sovereign state in the fictional nanoesian islands has developed a very specialized form of magic based on economics and local tribal spiritual beliefs. They call it "economancy" and have hired Simon Messiter to bring the dollar down to make repayment of debts easier.

When Simon though incredulously tries to bluff his way out of this impossible situation things only get worse for him. The letters get longer and the dialogue more frequent in these later sections. The explanations for these fantastic accounts of things is that Simon has a lot of time on his hands.

In true short horror fashion made popular by the Twilight Zone, the last letter to Jane turns everything on its head. It all hinges on the question that is never fully answered: who is Jane?

Comments (0)

Swann's Way: Combray: Liana Telfer: 08/28/09

I'm on my 9th week of readingSwann's Way (Du côté de chez Swann). I cut my usual thirty pages a week short by five pages this week as the first section of Swann's Way ends on page 265.

These final twenty five pages are a look the Duchess of Guermentes and her family's long history. Marcel has grand ideas of how she will be and is disillusioned when he sees her in person.

The mixture of history, Gothic architexture and character study made me think of the character progression of Liana Telfer in The Ninth Gate (1999). She is first an alluring rival for Corso, to a potentially dangerous foe, to being the leader of a huge Satanic cult in her ancestral manor to ultimately being an easily defeated red herring. Her rise and fall is quick and unexpected.

As we're just shy of the half way point, there is time for the Duchess of Guermentes to evolve as a character. Next week I start the section called "Swann in Love."

Swann's Way posts:

Lisa's First Word, Baby Mine, I Sing the Body Electric, The Lady in Pink, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Caturday, Cherry Blossoms, Marge Simpson, Liana Telfer, Bender in Love, Margaret Dumont, Hyacinth Bucket, Rose, Mildred Krebs, Pepé Le Pew, Jack Harness, Cordelia Chase, Saffron, Thomas O'Malley.

Within a Budding Grove posts:

Nanowrimo, Cheers, Robert Langdon, Kif and Amy, Dead Weight, Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Paris is a Lonely Town, And Then There's Maude, A Cafe Terrace at Night, North by Northwest, Top Hat, Chez Deetz, Ah, My Goddess!, David, Auntie Mame, Brunhilde Esterhazy, Gusteau's, Shell Beach.

Comments (0)

The Thirteenth Tale: 08/28/09

"'Once upon a time there were twins—'" (p. 48) begins Vida Winter's thirteenth tale. It's also the story of her life but it's up to Margaret Lea, a young biographer obsessed with twins to sort out the truth behind her tale.

The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield is about family secrets and the ways which those secrets make and break people. The book has many different layers of story telling, from the protagonists own dark secrets to her employer's secrets which are slowly revealed in flashback and dialogue.

Margaret Lea who works in her father's bookshop reluctantly goes to Yorkshire on the request of the reclusive bestselling author Vida Winter. From there the novel unfolds to a reveal the dark history of the Angelfield family, and especially the almost feral twin girls Adeline and Emmeline.

Although the theme of the magical powers of twins comes close to being overwrought, I found The Thirteenth Tale a compelling page turner. The Angelfield family history is steeped in Gothic horror motifs. The book was so good that I ended up staying up all night (something I never do) to finish it.

Similar books I recommend:

<Comments (10)

Kin (Good Neighbors 1): 08/27/09

Kin (The Good Neighbors Book 1) by Holly Black was a Cybils finalist in the graphic novel category. It's an urban fantasy similar in tone to the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but done with faeries instead of vampires.

At the start of the book Rue Silver's mother is missing and her father has been accused of killing her and hiding the body. Rue doesn't believe the official version and feels the answer to her disappearance is out there if she if she just looks hard enough.

In the process of hunting for the truth Rue discovers her mother was a faerie and she is therefore one as well. This new knowledge opens her eyes to a new way of seeing the world which both frightens and amazes Rue.

For such a potentially colorful and magical world the illustrations were a let down for me. They are done with dark thick lines creating an overwhelming gloom in all scenes.

Of course there are dark themes. The fae are dangerous and mistrusting of humans. There is animosity on both sides but it's more a mystery with fantasy elements than it is a Gothic horror. The style of the illustrations though try to buttonhole into Gothic horror when it's not.

Comments (4)

Shannon Hale Wants to Know: 08/26/09

Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale asked some interesting questions on her blog about the process of book reviewing. Suey wrote an answer post on her blog and I like the idea so I'm posting my answers too.

Shannon asks:

1. Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?

Anticipation of reading of a book is enough to change my reading experience. I try to keep those expectations in mind when I'm sitting down to write the review.

2. Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up?

I keep notes of my progress on GoodReads for my thoughts after finishing a chapter or to track a favorite quote. I use these status updates to refresh my memory when it's time to write the review.

3. Does knowing you'll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place?

No. I am still reading for my own enjoyment above all. I hope to connect with other readers out there who share similar likes and dislikes. I am not though trying to pick popular books just to get traffic.

4. Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book?

Sometimes the process of writing the review does alter my initial reaction. Usually it will improve my outlook on a book. Thinking critically about a book will force me to think of its narrative structure and other techniques. Good craft will rank higher even if I don't like the outcome.

5. What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world?

I don't rate books on my blog reviews because reading is such a personal experience. Sites like GoodReads and BookCrossing have a built in rating system so I will add a rating when I post a copy of my review on those sites. I try to follow their site guidelines when picking stars.

6. If you review a book but don't rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer? I'm very curious about all this and hope you feel free to speak freely (and kindly and respectfully, of course) even if you disagree with me.

Since I'm not a professional reviewer, I see myself more as a book fangirl. If I ever change careers from web producer to literary reviewer, I will rethink my role as a reviewer. I leave the ranking off my site to give people the change to read the review and leave with their own opinion on the desirability of the book.

Comments (14)

A Field Guide to Monsters: 08/26/09

My son is a young monstrologist. He's been tracking them, describing them, mapping their habitats and illustrating them for the last two or three years. So when I saw A Field Guide to Monsters by Johan Olander in our public library I had to check it out for him.

The Field Guide is 64 pages of monster sightings, beautifully illustrated. Each of the monsters featured has its common name, scientific name, habitat (if known), diet (if known) and a basic description of what it does and if it is dangerous to humans.

Among the monsters included, Sean and I were most drawn to Hanger. It is a monster that eats leather and human flesh. It hangs in closets, cleverly disguised as a hanging coat or shirt. Before reading the book we had actually discussed spotting a similar monster but we didn't know its name. I guess it's nice to have confirmation!
The book ends with a monster called Wearm. It's a small parasite that climbs into ears, attracted by ear wax. According to the book it has been seen in San Diego. As an ex-San Diegan I can confirm hearing stories of the Wearm. Again, as a kid, I didn't know the monster's name.

A Field Guide to Monsters is a fun book for adults and children who still believe in monsters or like to make up monsters.

Comments (4)

Over Sea, Under Stone: 08/25/09

The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper is one of my husband's favorite fantasy series. I completely missed it as a child and only recently started reading her books (and this series). Although Over Sea, Under Stone launched the series in 1965, it's actually the third book for me in the series I've read so far. I still have Greenwitch and Silver on the Tree.

Simon, Jane and Barney Drew go on holiday to Cornwall with their parents. They meet old Uncle Merry who turns out to be more than just an old Uncle. In their time in Cornwall they learn about the King Arthur legend and its ties to where they are staying.

As many of the reviews point out, Over Sea, Under Stone is more mystery than fantasy. The fantasy elements come to play in the later volumes. Here the book introduces themes, characters and gets things into motion. The book is like a young adult Da Vinci Code.

The three books I've read have all been very different even though they dance around the same legends. That being said, my favorite by a hair remains The Grey King followed closely by Over Sea, Under Stone with The Dark is Rising coming in third.

Comments (8)

Oh, the Things I Know! 08/24/09

Before Al Franken was the elected Senator from Minnesota he wrote a few humorous books on a variety of topics. Oh, The Things I Know! is in the vein of a graduation keynote address with a few nods to Dr. Seuss's Oh the Places You'll Go.

This short book of advice in essay form has twenty-nine chapters, an introduction and an afterword. The advice is aimaed at different parts of a person's life starting with graduation and going through the end life (Oh, the Nursing Home You'll Wind Up In!)
Some of the advice is practical on how to have a happy but realistic marriage and how to not be taken in by investment scams. And some of it is off the wall, like where to hide when your coworker goes postal. Near the end there's a chapter of just long distance telephone codes (Oh, the Places You'll Call) which is useful and off the wall.

Oh, the Things I Know! is perfect bathroom reading. The short chapters are easy to read and the book is small enough to slip into a magazine rack.

Comments (0)

City Above the Sea: 08/23/09

City Above the Sea by Stephen Alan Saft is a slim volume containing a number of poems written over a period of thirty four years.

The poems use a variety of rhyming schemes and some are free verse. What they do share is a strong visual sense, bringing to mind either the fantastic (as is the case of the "City Above the Sea") to the mundane "Tomatoes."
The collection is a quick and delightful read and easily accessible even to people who don't normally read poetry.

Comments (2)

Sooner or Later or Never Never: 08/22/09

The classic reprint for the June/July issue ofThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has me scratching my head. Yes, it's funny as the introduction claims. Yes, it's character driven as the magazine always promises. But it has nothing to do with science or fantasy. It did though get the fiction part right, I'm guessing.

The story in question is "Sooner or Later or Never Never" by Gary Jennings. It is yet another tale of a missionary's misadventures among the "savages." In this case it is the Anula tribe of aborigines who live in the outback somewhere vaguely in the region of Darwin. The unfortunate missionary is Crispin Mobey who apparently has gone on to have adventures in a great number of stories.

So Crispin Mobey in the late 1960s heads to the outback based on outdated information. He goes with two truckloads of beads and his enthusiasm. Along the way he tries to learn the Anula language from a defrocked German and learns absolute rubbish. He's also so obviously in over his head that the local Australians have fun pouring on the Strine. Perhaps if he'd had a copy of The Australian Slanguage by Bill Horadge he would have done better.

The problem I have with the story is one of genre. As far as I can tell, it's not set in the near future; it's not an alternate history; there's no unusual technology, no aliens, no robots or anything else usually found in science fiction. On the fantasy side of things there isn't even magical realism or a hint at the Dreamtime. Nothing unusual happens beyond what usually happens in these sorts of missionary stories. Heck, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad has more fantasy in it than "Sooner or Later or Never Never" does.

If you like this sort of story, I also recommend: Fiction by Ara13.

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Talk to the Hand: 08/21/09

Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss offers to do for manners what her book Eats Leaves and Shoots does for grammar and punctuation. She has six topics: basic manners, who should be doing it, personal space, rude words, respecting authority and personal responsibility.

I really hoped to learn something about the history or cultural differences of her six topics but the book doesn't follow through. Instead the book has six loosely themed rants about society today and the inconveniences of her life.

Instead of learning about manners I learned that Truss hates technology, holds a grudge against anyone who doesn't play by her version of polite behavior, spends enough money on her credit card while traveling to cause her bank to panic, and hates the forced politeness at places like Walmart. None of these rants are especially funny.

Comments (2)

Swann's Way: Combray: Marge Simpson: 08/21/09

Evil Marge

I'm on my 8th week of readingSwann's Way (Du côté de chez Swann).

From pages 210-240 the novel finishes up with thoughts on the weather moving from beautiful sunsets to torrential rainstorms. Being cooped up makes everyone a little stir crazy.

Mostly though the young protagonist remembers Mlle. Vintueil. She goes against her dead father's wishes by carrying on an affair with a woman. The same sex love brings on thoughts on sadism and the nature of evil.

Now by the lesbianism alone I could have gone with Lois or Meg Griffin but this quote had me turning for a second time to Marge Simpson: "Sadists of Mlle Vintueil's sort are creatures so purely sentimental , so naturally virtuous, that even sensual pleasures appears to them as something bad, the prerogative of the wicked." (p. 231). Lois is never apologetic for her actions. Marge though is constantly taking the side of the virtuous.

The thoughts on Mlle Vintueil's personality and her transformation into something evil made me wonder about Bart Simpson and where he gets his evil tendencies from. In the early episodes it was implied that his bad boy ways were the juvenile version of Homer's antics. Now though I'm wondering if Marge is hiding something in her over done virtue.

Swann's Way posts:

Lisa's First Word, Baby Mine, I Sing the Body Electric, The Lady in Pink, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Caturday, Cherry Blossoms, Marge Simpson, Liana Telfer, Bender in Love, Margaret Dumont, Hyacinth Bucket, Rose, Mildred Krebs, Pepé Le Pew, Jack Harness, Cordelia Chase, Saffron, Thomas O'Malley.

Within a Budding Grove posts:

Nanowrimo, Cheers, Robert Langdon, Kif and Amy, Dead Weight, Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Paris is a Lonely Town, And Then There's Maude, A Cafe Terrace at Night, North by Northwest, Top Hat, Chez Deetz, Ah, My Goddess!, David, Auntie Mame, Brunhilde Esterhazy, Gusteau's, Shell Beach.

Comments (0)

Cat Skidoo: 08/20/09

Cat Skidoo by Bethany Roberts and illustrated by R. W. Alley is a cute picture book about two enthusiastic kittens who are caught up in the chase of some birds. If you have cats, you know how hopped up cats dash around.

The book is a quick read and fun for anyone who likes cats. Some of the rhymes are a little awkward and sometimes the meter is off. Anyone reading out loud should probably practice the book first before reading for an audience.

What really makes this book a delight are the illustrations. R. W. Alley's kittens are adorable. They skitter around just as real cats in play do. Their exuberance takes them places they shouldn't go and it wears them out.

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No, Never! 08/19/09

No, Never! by Sally O. Lee is about a Daisy the Dalmatian who is going through the terrible nos. Every kid seems to go through this phase of life where no matter what the question, the answer is always, "No, Never!"

My youngest is getting into her "No, Never" phase of life and she took immediately to the book. My oldest also likes the book. Both of them love Sally O. Lee's bright and colorful illustrations.

Stylistically the book reminds most of Harriet's Recital, another favorite of my children. For the storyline, I'm reminded of Too Tall Alice for its life lessons about growing up.

In this book, Daisy only wants to do what she wants to do. She has grand visions of being world famous and those plans don't include chores, homework or vegetables. She only agrees once her mother patiently shows her that the mundane parts of life are the building blocks of the bigger adventures.

I would have loved to see the mother give a more in depth or personalized explanation to Daisy. Her explanation ultimately comes down to "because these things are good for you" without backing that up with how or why. If Daisy is anything like my two kids, she'll want to know how or why chores, homework and vegetables will help make her world famous.

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The Loved One: 08/18/09

The Loved One is the first novel by Evelyn Waugh I've had the pleasure of reading. I've had it for quite some time, attracted to it for the Edward Gorey cover art on the 1965 edition.

The book reminds me most of Six Feet Under without quite so much of the family dysfunction. The story starts with a young poet going to Hollywood to live with his uncle who works at a film studio. When the studio cans the uncle he commits suicide, leaving the bewildered and bereaved nephew to plan a funeral.

The remainder of this short, dark comedy is focused on the funeral home at Whispering Glades, a huge cemetery clearly inspired by Forest Lawn. A romance (based on false pretenses) develops between the nephew and a young beautician who works at Whispering Glades.

The book looks at the some of the more absurd rituals of death for both people and their pets, the excesses people will go for remembering their loved ones and the stresses of working under tight deadlines.

The Loved One is funny and tragic many times through. I'm glad I read it. I have now also read A Handful of Dust, also by Evelyn Waugh (review coming).


Skim: 08/17/09

Set in the early 1990s, Skim by Mariko Tamaki is about Kimberly 'Skim' Keiko Cameron and her time at an all girls academy in Toronto. She's a Goth and a Wiccan and half Japanese. She wants to fit in somewhere but she's not sure how or where.

Skim deals with many of the same themes as Emiko Superstar, also by Mariko Tamaki: self acceptance, lesbianism, and growing up in a biracial family. This book though delves deeper and includes discussion of suicide, a more frank discussion of teenage sex and the ways in which teens can be taken advantage of both by other teens and by adults.

Of the two books, I prefer Emiko Superstar for the balance between the teenage and adult problems. By having Skim experience first had all the issues the book becomes one long angst filled slog-fest.

Like Emiko Superstar, Skim was nominated earlier this year for a Cybils in the graphic novels category. It lost to Emiko.

Comments (2)

Grimm's Grimmest: 08/16/09

The brothers Grimm collected and published over two hundred fairy tales. Grimm's Grimmest has nineteen of the most bloody of them with gory illustrations by  Tracy Arah Dockray.

My two favorites were "Hans my Hedgehog" and "Rapunzel." "Hans My Hedgehog" has made me rethink Sonic the Hedgehog. The illustration on page 39 really looks like him except with less sexy shoes.

"Rapunzel" caught my attention because the first two pages are recreated so closely and so well at the start of Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale, Nathan Hale and Dean Hale. I actually read this collection for this one story because I couldn't remember the original very well.

The rest of the stories are bloody, violent and often times nonsensical. The high amount of nonsense bothers me more than the grim nature of the stories.

Comments (8)

Adaptogenia: 08/15/09

I love that the apocalypse begins with a Girl Scout selling cookies door-to-door. Her ugly twin is the first sign of things to come. What starts out as a sometimes amusing and sometimes horrifying set of apparitions soon becomes something much worse.

Think if you will of the film Mimic (1998) or perhaps an even older one, The Wasp Woman (1960) but keep the insects small and make them as organized as a swarm of bees without a hive. Then give them an appetite to rival locusts. That's the apocalypse in a nutshell.

For the most part I enjoyed "Adatogenia" and I think the short length (only 15 pages) works well. The starvation of the humans though leaves me with one question: why didn't they eat the bugs? We already eat bugs. They may not be a main course item here in California but bugs are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world.

On that note, I leave you with Iowa State University's "Tasty Insect Recipes."

Comments (2)

Neil Gaiman: 08/15/09

When Ian and I were still living in Southern California I picked up a book at random from the new arrivals section of my public library. The book in question happened to be Stardust. I loved the book but the author's name didn't stick with me. I wrote the book down in my book diary (#2084).

I came across Neil Gaiman's name again in 2003 when I was reading Smoke & Mirrors by Barbara Michaels. Everyone who heard I was reading it wanted to know if I was reading the latest Gaiman. I didn't actually read another of his books until 2005 when I read Anansi Boys (#3063). I read the book not because it was by Neil Gaiman but because I happen to like the Anansi folk tales. I ended up loving the book and still count it as my favorite Gaiman novel.

After that I went on to read American Gods (#3206) and it was an absolute chore to read. I ended up skipping huge sections of it and speed reading other sections. Had I started here in Gaiman's books I probably would have stopped.

But I had liked Anansi Boys and I heard he had co-authored a book with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens (#3737). I decided I would give him one last go (having still forgotten about Stardust) before making up my mind. I loved the book and decided I would have to read more of his books.

At the same time I was reading Good Omens, the film version of Stardust hit the big screen. Just like Dory getting her memory back when she reads the word "Sydney" at the end of the film, the name Stardust brought back memories of having read a fantastic fantasy of an alternate world hidden behind a gap in a wall. I went through my list and fell over when I found the book years before I remembered ever reading a book by Neil Gaiman. It was then that I went into full fangirl mode.

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I Feel Skitty: 08/14/09

I Feel Skitty by Tracey West and illustrated by Katherine Knoll is a short novelization of the Season 7 episode of the same title. I haven't seen the episode so I can't speak to how good of an adaptation the book is.

As a picture book, it's cute. It's less plot heavy than the chapter book adaptations that Tracey West has written of multiple episodes. The basic plot is one of an adorable pink kitty type Pokémon (a skitty) in need of help. It's May and Brock to the rescue.

Since it's such a short book there's not much to say. Unlike the longer Pokémon books, the illustrations aren't pulled from the episodes. They appear to have been re-drawn and are much crisper than average.

My kids though like the book. They are both Pokémon fans and Harriet is nuts about cats. It's therefore a perfect combination.

Reviews of other Tracey West Pokémon books:

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Swann's Way: Combray: Cherry Blossoms: 08/14/09

I'm on my 7th week of readingSwann's Way (Du côté de chez Swann).

From pages 180-210 the novel focuses on nature: sunset walks and flowering trees and how the passage of time was marked with each walk. It's a restful section full of lengthy descriptions of beautiful scenery.

The description of the lilac trees dropping their petals reminds me most of the cherry blossom episode (#19) of Azumanga Daioh. In that the students wish to be older while the teachers wish to hold onto their youth.

"Springtime of youth" is the central theme to both the anime episode and to this thirty page section of Swann's Way.

Swann's Way posts:

Lisa's First Word, Baby Mine, I Sing the Body Electric, The Lady in Pink, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Caturday, Cherry Blossoms, Marge Simpson, Liana Telfer, Bender in Love, Margaret Dumont, Hyacinth Bucket, Rose, Mildred Krebs, Pepé Le Pew, Jack Harness, Cordelia Chase, Saffron, Thomas O'Malley.

Within a Budding Grove posts:

Nanowrimo, Cheers, Robert Langdon, Kif and Amy, Dead Weight, Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Paris is a Lonely Town, And Then There's Maude, A Cafe Terrace at Night, North by Northwest, Top Hat, Chez Deetz, Ah, My Goddess!, David, Auntie Mame, Brunhilde Esterhazy, Gusteau's, Shell Beach.

Comments (0)

The Cat Barked? 08/13/09

If you have more than one child or have a brother or sister, you'll understand sibling rivalry. The Cat Barked by Lydia Monks is the story of a cat who wants to be dog.

The cat sees the dog of the family going out for walks and doing basic dog things and decides that he has the ideal life. Being a dog means freedom. Dogs are cooler than cats.

The owner of the cat and dog explains to the cat all the pros of being a cat. The cat then learns all the wonderful things that a cat can do. Unfortunately for the owner, the dog was listening to this heart felt conversation.

The illustrations in The Cat Barked are bold, bright and simplistic. The cat is a neon orange tiger cat and the dog is a black terrier of sorts. The pictures are similar to those in Nick Bruel's books.

For my two kids The Cat Barked is a perfect story. They are very different people (as they should be) but want to do everything together. This can cause arguments when one wants to do something that the other hates.

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Shipwreck of a Nation: 08/12/09

The Shipwreck of a Nation by H. Peter Nennhaus is more childhood memoir than a history of World War II from a German's point of view. The author was five when Hitler came to power and sixteen at the end of the war.

While he has included a short bibliography and notes from diaries of older relatives, ultimately the book's timeline comes down to childhood memories. I got through the first seventy pages (about three chapters) and I had to set the book aside. The overwhelming impression the book gives in that short amount of time is one of warm-fuzzy nostalgia. He had a happy childhood and he in a not so round about way thanks Hitler for it.

When the book isn't steeped in nostalgia it switches to a more apologetic tone, trying to reconcile the happy memories with the actual events of the time. Unfortunately these attempted moments of historical analysis didn't strike me a genuine.

If anything, The Shipwreck of a Nation helps to prove the thesis of the second chapter of Going Postal. Happy, well adjusted people don't revolt but they are easily caught up in the fury when a crackpot does, no matter how off his rocker he is.

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The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days: 08/11/09

The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days is one of a large number of self-publishing how to books by Fern Reiss. I should preface my review by saying I have no immediate desire to self publish but am not opposed to the practice. I do however, feel that the advice given in this book is completely back to front.

Rather than focus on the book or even the topic of the book, The Publishing Game begins with setting up the personal publishing house first. There are long chapters on getting ISBNs, distributors and markets before even thinking about to actually write about! In this regard the book has the same slimy feel that most "internet marketing" and "social networking life coach" sites have.

From my own limited experience with writers (and self publishers) most write for a self-driven passion. They have to write. Those who have books that don't quite fit a niche will sometimes end up self-publishing until they do build an audience. To me, this seems like the sensible way to do things and the passion for the craft will show in the final product (the book).

The ones who have self-published just to make money are pretty obvious (Rich Brother, Rich Sister comes immediately to mind). The books that result from a drive to make money quickly are just as bad a read as The Publishing Game is.

Let me put to you another way... If you want to bake a pie, do you build the pie factory first? Probably not.

Comments (8)

Yoko Writes Her Name: 08/10/09

A month before my son began the emersion program at his new school, the latest Yoko book by Rosemary Wells was released: Yoko Writes Her Name. It's the story of Yoko now old enough for kindergarten and full of excitement. Unfortunately two of the other girls thinks Yoko is still a baby because she's writing and counting in Japanese and everyone else is doing it in English.

Rather than this book being about Yoko conforming, it ends up being a perfect introduction to emersion programs. My son happens to be in a Chinese / English program but Yoko's experience parallels the experience of one of Sean's classmates. Now they didn't tease her like Olive and Sylvia tease Yoko she did come to the dual emersion program to learn English while the other students were there to learn Chinese. Just as Sean learned Chinese from his classmate, she learned English from him.

In Yoko Writes Her Name the kindergarten class ends up being a dual emersion English / Japanese class. The other students learn some basic Japanese and Yoko learns the basics of English.

To entice children who are being read the story, the top of each pair of pages is the English and Japanese version of a number of words, like top, box and so forth.

We borrowed this book from our local library but I might have to get a copy for our personal collection.

Other books in the series include:

  • Mama, Don't Go
  • The School Play
  • Halloween Play
  • Be My Valentine
  • Doris's Dinosaur
  • The Germ Busters
  • Bubble-Gum Radar
  • The Secret Birthday
  • Make New Friends
  • When I Grow Up
  • Read Me a Story Practice Makes Perfect
  • Yoko Writes Her Name

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Harriet's Recital: 08/09/09

Harriet's Recital by Nancy Carlson is one of Harriet's favorite books because it's a about a dog who likes to dance named Harriet. Harriet, though, has a problem; she hates the yearly recitals. She gets stage fright. Her parents and her teacher though have every confidence in her. This year she has a dance solo and she's petrified!

The wiggly lines in Harriet's legs show just how scared she's feeling. My Harriet especially likes the progression of illustrations from Harriet being too scared to dance, to being pushed on stage and growing more confident after her feet remember the steps even though the rest of her is still scared.

My son who has had to put on a few school performances also likes the book. He relates more to the need for practice and to her feelings of stage fright than to the thrill of dancing.

This book was featured on Reading Rainbow. (Reading Rainbow's last air date will be August 28, 2009).

To learn more about Nancy Carlson or her books, please see Nancy's Neighborhood.

Other books featuring Harriet:

  • Harriet's Halloween Candy
  • Harriet and the Roller Coaster
  • Harriet and the Garden
  • Harriet and Walt
  • Harriet and George's Christmas Treat

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The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: 08/08/09

I borrowed The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop from a dear friend and savored the experience of reading it over the course of a week. It is part memoir and part love letter to books and the publishing industry.

Lewis Buzbee is a Bay Area native. He was born and raised in San Jose about the same time my mother was growing up in the Bay Area. Many of the places he describes are places I've heard about from relatives or visited as a child on the trips I took to the south Bay with my grandmother.

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop was therefore a very personal memoir for me. I felt most connected with the memoir parts. I have the feeling that I was supposed to find the history pieces the most compelling but I didn't.

The history pieces cover the creation of paper in China and the move from scrolls to the creation of traveling book sellers and libraries. Mixed in with all of this is some book terminology and other trivia.

From the history pieces, my favorite part comes near the end in "Not My Doolittle You Don't" which covers banned books, censorship and other legal troubles that booksellers, authors and publishers have faced throughout the ages. In this chapter Buzbee includes a lengthy discussion on Ulysses and Shakespeare & Co, the bookshop turned publisher that helped get the novel published despite numerous obscenity charges and banning around the world.

My least favorite part of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop comes near the middle where Buzbee tries to defend books against other forms of story telling. He falls into the trap of saying that books are better for you because your eyes move when you're reading and don't when you're watching a film. This passage led me (as an ex-film major) and my husband to mock this part of the book into the ground for about an hour.

Despite one idiotic passage, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop was a delight to read and one I will probably add to my personal collection.

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Paradiso Lost:

"Paradiso Lost" by Albert E. Cowdrey takes place in the same universe as "The Tribes of Bela" (August 2004). The story is told in flashback as an "uncle" relates to his nephew the circumstances that lead to him and the boy's father becoming friends.

Think of Paradiso Lost as a WWII story except set in space. Robert Kohn, one of the few survivors from the disaster on Bela is now in his "anecdotage" and living in the Great American Desert. Bored one day while his wife is visiting relatives in China, he sets down to write about the mission to Paradiso where he met the boy's father.

Paradiso is another failed colony. It's distance from the "prime real estate" left for mining missions makes it hard to get to and an undesirable mission. The colony was started by a charlatan who had formed his own cult. The secretive nature of the colonists reminds me again of Operation Starseed (review still coming!) and of "The Price of Silence" by Deborah Ross.

My favorite parts of "Paradiso Lost" were Kohn's explanations of how old maritime traditions were translated into space travel traditions. I'm working on a series of novels that also build on maritime traditions so it was fun to see what Cowdrey had done with them.

I enjoyed reading another adventure of Robert Kohn and would like to see him again in a Cowdrey story.

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Handy Farm Devices and How to Make Them: 08/07/09

Published originally in 1909 and reissued in 1996, Handy Farm Devices and How to Make Them by Rolfe Cobleigh was once a helpful how-to manual on the basics of running a homestead. It's now an interesting look back in time for the most part.

The book was reissued by James R. Babb when he decided to give up urban life for something far more rural. He needed something to guide him and Hand Farm Devices... was one of the books he found. Thinking that there might be other ex-urbanites looking for some help and guidance he got the book back into print.

Handy Farm Devices has ten sections:
1. Workshop and Tools
2. The Steel Square
3. In and Around the House
4. Barns and Stock
5. Poultry and Bees
6. Garden and Orchard
7. Field and Wood
8. Gates and Doors
9. When We Build
10. Worth Knowing

At the time I was reading the book I was also reading Little Heathens and Angels of Morgan Hill. Handy Farm Devices... helped me put both these books into perspective.

People living in rural areas or who have space to build things will get the most out of the book. Authors who are researching turn of the last century farm life will also benefit.

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Swann's Way: Combray: Caturday: 08/07/09


I'm on my 6th week of readingSwann's Way (Du côté de chez Swann).

From pages 150-180, the novel seems to focus on relaxation and on malingering. Near the beginning of the section a quote stuck in my head and forever fixed my personal (albeit goofy) interpretation of it: "The surprise of a 'barbarian' (for so we termed everyone who was not acquainted with Saturday's special customs..." (p. 154) brings to mind the great lol cat tradition of Caturday.

Besides the special treatment by Marcel's family of Caturday (Saturday), he speaks of the ways different family members treated illness. There is a funny scene involving one sick relative and a maid sent to get the family medical book. Unfortunately she gets so taken up in reading the forbidden bookmarked pages (on certain gruesome sounding aches and pains) that Marcel has to be sent to retrieve the book from her.

Much of the illnesses described in these thirty pages are not serious and are more just excuses to lounge in bed on non-lounging days. It was this wish for it to be Saturday when it wasn't that made me pick the "OK, I NOT RLY SICK" lol cat for this section.

Swann's Way posts:

Lisa's First Word, Baby Mine, I Sing the Body Electric, The Lady in Pink, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Caturday, Cherry Blossoms, Marge Simpson, Liana Telfer, Bender in Love, Margaret Dumont, Hyacinth Bucket, Rose, Mildred Krebs, Pepé Le Pew, Jack Harness, Cordelia Chase, Saffron, Thomas O'Malley.

Within a Budding Grove posts:

Nanowrimo, Cheers, Robert Langdon, Kif and Amy, Dead Weight, Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Paris is a Lonely Town, And Then There's Maude, A Cafe Terrace at Night, North by Northwest, Top Hat, Chez Deetz, Ah, My Goddess!, David, Auntie Mame, Brunhilde Esterhazy, Gusteau's, Shell Beach.

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The Yiddish Policemen's Union: 08/06/09

Meyer Landsman is a detective going through a messy divorce and stuck living in a fleabag motel. He just want to drink himself to death and forget about the stresses of his job and his life. Unfortunately for him there's a murder in his hotel and his exwife is now his boss. That's the set up to the murder mystery part of The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon.

The mystery takes place in a very different (an alternate) Sitka Alaska. It is in the last few months of a sixty year lease as a temporary refuge for Jews fleeing Europe in WWII. The alternate history part of the novel has earned The Yiddish Policemen's Union a number of science fiction awards but it certainly doesn't read like science fiction; alternate histories rarely do.

Michael Chabon's novel is smack in middle for me of two other altnerate histories I've read: Philip Roth's The Plot Against America (which I loved) and Vladimir Nabokov's Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (which I didn't finish). Chabon's alternate version of things is interesting and easy to follow. The murder mystery isn't especially clever but would have made a nice cosy 250 page novel.

Together though, the alternate history and mystery compete too much for attention. Chabon focuses so much on pointing out just how well he has thought things through that he doesn't give Meyer Landsman time to investigate or the other characters to live their lives.

Finally there is the culture aspect of the novel. Although different sects are mentioned the characterization is rather flat. In trying to prove the legitimacy of this alternate Sitka Chabon's characters end up trying to out-Jew each other. I get that in this version of things Yiddish is a thriving language and in closed communities people tend to let everything hang out a little more but there is no true sense of sixty years having passed.

These descendants of the original refugees are stereotypes of old world Jews. There's very little influence of Alaska or native Alaskan culture on any of these people. There's no sense of the local geography, geology or weather. Sitka is not Austria, Poland, Germany, Russia or any of the places these refugees would have been coming from. The land and the other people nearby must have had an influence on their culture and traditions after sixty years. This fictional Jewish metropolis might as well have been set on the moon; there is almost nothing Alaskan in the book save for the delightful cover art on the edition I read.

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Mama, Don't Go! 08/05/09

Mama, Don't Go!

Mama, Don't Go! by Rosemary Wells is the first in the Yoko and Friends School Days series. It's Yoko's first day of preschool and she's mortified. She wants to play with the other kids but she doesn't want her mother to leave. Mama, with the patience of a saint, agrees to stay with Yoko at school not one but through three days of school!

The story is about separation anxiety and the fears that some young children might have about going to school. Yoko's biggest fear is that her mother won't come back. As the older kids tell her, "after awhile, you have ask them to stay home." (p. 16) Yoko does eventually learn the importance of going to school and giving her mother some free time.

I picked up this book for two reasons. First and foremost were the illustrations. Yoko and her mother are cats and Harriet adores books about cats. The second reason is that Harriet sometimes goes through crying jags at school and she certainly sees the new kids to her school crying when their parents leave. It therefore covers a topic that is relevant to her.

Other books in the series include:

  • The School Play
  • Halloween Play
  • Be My Valentine
  • Doris's Dinosaur
  • The Germ Busters
  • Bubble-Gum Radar
  • The Secret Birthday
  • Make New Friends
  • When I Grow Up
  • Read Me a Story Practice Makes Perfect
  • Yoko Writes Her Name

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Grey Seas Under: 08/04/09

In recent days I've read books that seem to defy genre. First there was Outside the Lavender Closet by Martha A. Taylor (review coming) that makes a convincing nonfiction (except it's a novel). Now Grey Seas Under by Farley Mowat is just as equally convincing as historical fiction, except that it's nonfiction.

Grey Seas Under chronicles the career of the Foundation Franklin, a salvage tug, a salvage tug that worked in the rough seas off the eastern coast of Canada from 1930 to 1948. It had begun its life as the HMS Frisky in 1918 but was repurposed as a salvage tug and renamed in 1930.

In the early years of the depression, there wasn't much work in saving ships at sea or salvaging those that had run aground or sunk. Frankly, there weren't as many ships at seas and a surplus of salvage ships to do an ever dwindling job. The crew of the Franklin were often outmanned by the larger, newer ships coming up into Canadian waters from the United States where job prospects were even worse.

The history of the Foundation Franklin is told in prose, written like a novel with sparse dialogue but with no footnotes or endnotes. The book reminds me most of Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan, minus the romantic subplot.

I chose Mowat's account of the Foundation Franklin, for the random reading challenge. With its location and well known Canadian author, it also qualifies for the Canadian Reads challenge.

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Project Anastrophe: 08/03/09

Project Anastrophe (or project turning about) by George Karnikis is a science fiction environmental thriller that tries to set to rights the damages done to the earth from years of radiation poisoning.

Nick Papas leaves his wife and family to go fishing and sees a strange light shimmering on the water. Next thing he knows he's far in the future and being treated for radiation exposure. Rather than freaking out at his current situation he eagerly embraces his new home and falls head over heels for the lovely Norina Anderson, the woman put in charge of him. He then further agrees to help these future people undo the events that lead to the radiation poisoning of the Earth.

What works for me:

Project Anastrophe has cast of characters made up of different ethnicities than your usual Americans, British or Canadians (and sometimes French if you're reading Jules Verne). The book has a fairly tight time line which is important in a time travel that blips between present day and the future. The future is different but still recognizable.

What doesn't work for me:
The book suffers most from pacing and point of view problems. It starts off as a first person account of Nick's adventures into the future. By about page 80 as lots of extra characters and plot elements are introduced the novel suddenly switches to third person even when Nick is in the scene. It further digresses from the original POV ending as a third person omniscient. Without adequate segues these changes in POV are very disconcerting.

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Grumpy Cat: 08/02/09

Grumpy Cat by Britta Teckentrup is one of the books in Harriet's beloved cat stories collection. It's the story of an alley cat who lives on his own and is shunned by the other cats. He's called grumpy by the others (to which Harriet always makes a "humph" sound) but he's really a lonely cat.

Grumpy Cat though isn't so much about this loner cat. It's about Kitten, a new stray to the alley who sees a trusted friend in this old cat. Grumpy Cat doesn't think he's up to parenting a kitten and does his best to avoid the kitten. Kitten though has other plans.

All of the story is told beautifully between Teckentrup's words and illustrations. Her illustrations use bold colors and simple shapes with a hint of texture. They are done in a style similar to Eric Carle and Denise Fleming (Mama Cat Has Three Kittens ) both author-illustrators.

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Corona Centurion™ FAQ: 08/01/09

In my twelve years as a web designer and producer most of my jobs have been heavily tied to marketing. I even briefly worked for the marketing wing of a high tech firm. While I've thankfully never had to write marketing copy, I've certainly read bucket loads of it. I rarely mean to read it but I'm a compulsive speed reader (now you know how I get through so many books on this blog) and I in veritably end up reading what I'm posting to the website.

"Corona Centurion™ FAQ" by Terry Bisson while purely science fiction takes to heart (haha) the typical online marketing approach: the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page. The questions addressed in the overly chipper marketing speak bring to mind questions that sensible people should be asking about the medical device being sold.

As the review on the Morning of Dypstopia points out, Terry Bisson's FAQ is in the style of Ruth Nestvold's story "Mars: A Traveler's Guide." It also reminds me of the sales pitches that are woven throughout the original Gateway novel (Frederik Pohl) and Robert Sheckley's Immortality Inc. (review coming).

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