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The Others: 10/31/09

Today's story from Fantasy & Science Fiction is "The Others" by Lawrence C. Connolly. According to the introduction the story is a direct sequel to "Daughters of Time." The story was "reprinted" on the magazine's website but I missed my chance to read it.

Thus I am coming to "The Others" as a stand alone short story. As far as I can tell it's the story of a group of warrior clones who are on a mission of some importance. One of them, who has decided to just call herself Cara instead of by her birth order designation, is injured. I suppose she was injured sometime in the previous story. The experience of pain and the shut down of her cybernetics has made her rethink her life.

Meanwhile the local villagers who speak with a language of just clicks and whistles are planning something. They aren't keeping their normal schedule. But what they are planning and what their change in behavior means in the bigger picture, I don't know.

I don't think I got much out of the events of the story but I did enjoy the world in which things take place. One of the challenges the clones face are mountain sized snails who disguise themselves with trees, boulders and other large elements from their natural environment. They use a saliva that hardens like glass and apparently can cut like glass too.

The snails and other unusual creatures made the story readable. It doesn't though stand well as a solo piece.

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The Sky Rained Heroes: 10/30/09

The Sky Rained Heroes by Frederick E. LaCroix is described as a memoir that details a son's six year journey to find the family of a Japanese pilot his father had shot down during the Second World War. The son's goal is to return the Imperial flag to them.

Instead, the book is a history book about the American and Japanese forces written in a stilted attempted at academic language. Intermingled with LaCroix's analysis of American and Japanese culture are the letters his father wrote during the war. The juxtaposition between the father's informal voice and the son's ornate style is jarring. It disrupts the flow of events and takes the focus away from the story of the discovery.

While I'm glad for the author that he managed to accomplish his goal, I didn't agree to review a history book. I agreed to review a memoir. This book isn't a memoir. The blurb needs to be rewritten to be less misleading.

I received the book from Phenix and Phenix for review. I have since released the book through BookCrossing.

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Haunted (Mediator #5): 10/30/09

I really had wanted to start the series at the beginning but the older style book covers don't make the series order obvious. I was at my local library and pressed for time. So I picked Haunted by Meg Cabot, the fifth of the Mediator series.

Coming so far into a well established series it can be hard for a book to stand on its own. I can't say that the book held my attention as much as I had hoped it would but I want to track down Shadowland before I make up my mind about the series.

Susannah Simon and her family have moved to Carmel Beach, California from New York. She's at a new school and in a new home but Paul Slater, a fellow mediator who she sees as an enemy (for reasons probably discussed in a previous book). Slater though has skills that Suze needs and she has to dance between learning from him and staying safe.

Meanwhile there is a dead man, Jesse, who haunts Suze's bedroom and has stolen her heart. There is also the ghost of recently drowned sailing star who wants revenge because his younger, less athletic brother lived.

So much time though is spent on Paul and his competition as a mediator and as a school bully that the interesting plot, namely the dead sailor, is pushed aside. I really wanted a more satisfactory ending. Instead, I got a ridiculously over done fight to the death during a party between Paul, Suze and Jesse. Again, I suppose if I had more invested in this series from having started at the beginning, I would have liked this action packed ending.

The Mediator Series includes:

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Swann's Way: Swann in Love: Saffron: 10/30/09


I'm on my 18th week of reading Swann's Way (Du côté de chez Swann). I'm up to page 540. In two more weeks, I will have finished this book!

The first volume of The Search for Lost Time is wrapping up. Things between Charles Swann and Odette are coming to a head. Swann's getting suspicious of Odette's intentions, her past and her baser desires. What Swann doesn't want to admit to himself (or anyone else, although they probably already know it) is that Odette is his equal in every way, for the good and the bad. She may even best him if he's not careful.

Love, sentimentality and pig-headedness on Swann's part and luck, good acting and perhaps years of running cons has given Odette a slight upper hand. Perhaps with the recent Halloween Castle episode, my mind was primed for this week's comparison. Through most of these thirty pages, I couldn't help but think of Saffron as first introduced in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" on Firefly.

So far Odette doesn't seem quite as bad or quite as scheming as Saffron (or whatever her name really is) but her history is cagey enough and her behavior coy enough that she might be pulling an excellent con on more than just Swann.

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 Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare: 10/29/09

If you are a regular reader of book blogs, you've probably seen the reviews for The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnut that's meant to introduce children to G. K. Chesterton. I turned down the offer to review the book here, finding the indoctrination idea unsavory even if he has been an influence on writers that children and tweens will come across (C. S. Lewis and Neil Gaiman, for instance).

Karma and probably the name stuck in the back of my mind guided my hand during a recent random book selection at my local library. The book I picked was The Man Who Was Thursday. I liked the title and the author's name was familiar though I didn't connect it to the Uncle Chestnut book until I was finished.

The book is about Gabriel Syme, a policeman and poet who goes undercover as "Thursday" to bring down a dangerous group of anarchists. They all go by days of the week. His investigation leads to revelations about the society that surprises everyone involved, including its leader.

Like Father Malachy's Miracle by Bruce Marshall I picked up more on the anarchists as communists theme than I did the underlying religious rhetoric. As a piece of social commentary on the excesses of government, it's a very funny novel. As a piece of theological discourse it's something altogether different. The third of the book is where the anarchy vs theology come head to head. The police hone in on the leader (Sunday, of course!) and seek to take him down to save society.

I think I would have enjoyed the novel more without puzzling over the religious undertones of it.

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Dolphins at Day Break (Magic Tree House #9): 10/29/09

Sean received a box set of the first eight Magic Tree House books about a year ago. He and Ian read through them. Now that he's in second grade he's allowed to check out chapter books from the library. He has decided to continue reading the Magic Tree House Books and has wrangled me this time.

In 067988338XDolphins at Daybreak (Magic Tree House #9) by Mary Pope Osborne, Annie and Jack reunite with Morgan La Fay. She's having so much trouble with Merlin that her library duties are being put on the back burner. She decides to recruit the siblings to become master librarians if they can solve four riddles.

Riddle number one takes Jack and Annie to a small coral reef probably somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. There they get distracted by an abandoned two man sub. Most of their adventures in this volume take place under water.

Annie in the pair is the doer. She jumps in feet first while Jack does the book work: taking notes, reading through the whatever book Morgan gives them and so forth. They make a good team.

The riddle in this book was pretty easy for me as an adult to figure out but was enough of a stumper for Sean to add something extra. Jack's notebook provides chances for Sean and me to talk about the main topics in the book. We discussed coral, research submarines, octopuses, dolphins and of course the solution to the riddle.

The only thing that really bugs me about these novels is the way "said" is used at the end of questions. Example: "What's that?" Jack said. When I'm reading out loud to Sean I always edit those on the fly to "asked" from "said." This complaint though is a minor pet peeve of mine. I am despite my pet peeve enjoying reading through the series with my son and I do plan on going back to read the first eight.

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Real Sofistikashun: 10/28/09

Real Sofistkashun by Tony Hoagland is a collection of essays on how to read and write poetry. It's broken up by technique and each essay contains numerous examples.

Avid readers or writers of poetry will get the most out of the book. Hoagland expects readers to have read the same poets he has and he makes no effort to introduce the poets, their poems or the concepts they illustrate. You will either get his point or you won't.

Since I'm not an avid reader or writer of poetry, I didn't get much out of the book. I had hoped I would but I didn't make it past the fourth essay.

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The Dancers' War: 10/28/09

Like Twin Starsis a collection of three science fiction short stories that center on bisexual characters and the interplay between sexuality and society.

The first story, "The Dancers' War" by N. K. Jemisin is set in a matriarchal tribal society. Before men can be married they must prove their worth to potential brides by a public show of prowess. The young man who must prove himself today is going against an outsider, a member of an enemy tribe.

To prove themselves, they must dance just as male birds often dance to win a mate. The moves they perform have names based around the forest in which they live. The dance is intense and demanding. It's also invigorating, creating a sexual tension between the two would be grooms.

While there are probably private moments between couples in Jemisin's society, displays of sexuality can also be public, and certainly are for the course of this story. The sexual act is described in the same terms and moves as the dance and the goal is the same: winning the right to marry well. But there are other reasons too which are explained at the end of the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed "The Dancers' War" and I am looking forward to completing the second and third stories in the collection. When I have finished reviewing the other two, I will post my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

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Precious Jeopardy: A Christmas Story: 10/27/09

Precious Jeopardyby Lloyd Douglas is a Christmas story from the worst years of the Great Depression. The story starts with an out of work business man considering suicide while his wife frets over not being able to provide nice Christmas gifts for their two children: Junior and Polly. A misstep on a sewing needle stops Philip from taking his life and gives him a reason to live.

The needle breaks and Shirley can only pull out half of it from his foot. Rather than spend money they don't have on a trip to the doctor, Philip decides to let the needle seal his fate. If it kills him, his wife and children will benefit from his insurance. While he waits, he will live in the moment and enjoy what remaining days he has.

Mostly though the story focuses on how the Depression forces Philip and Shirley to change. They like the characters in The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans end up finding work with a wealthy benefactor. The Garlands go to work on a farm that is hoping to bring back the old ways of doing things for a higher quality of product at a cheaper production price. The work though not great in pay revitalizes their marriage, puts food on the table and raises their self respect.

In a time when I'm unemployed and we're suffering with a tight budget and bills to pay and I'm dreading this year's Christmas, A Precious Jeopardy spoke to me. It is a relevant now as it was in 1933.

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Synarchy Book 1: The Awakening: 10/27/09

I vowed this year to read more science fiction. So when I was asked to review 0615196756Synarchy: Book 1: The Awakening I said yes. I probably should have said no. It's one of a handful of "did not finish" books that I am reviewing this year.

The book is one of those stories involving two powerful families with a feud going back to the beginning of time and across dimensions. It's a feud that involves the well being of the world and perhaps the universe. Of course everything will come to a head on December 12, 2012. Because no end of days, science fiction disaster story can ignore the Mayan calendar these days.

The Awakening begins with the death bed proclamation of Marcello Terenzio. He is the head of a mafia style family who reigns over a secret and private island compound. This family is so powerful that it has many enemies.

The Anunnaki, though, see his impending death as a chance to make their move. They can possess humans to do their bidding in this dimension. So besides a huge and rather boring mafia family to keep track of, there is an equal number of aliens who are equally indistinguishable to keep track of.

After about eighty pages I skipped ahead to read the last fifty pages. The ending was predictable given the set up and confirmed for me that I didn't need to waste my time reading the pages in between.

I think fans of Robert Jordan who are looking for a science fiction series to read will probably get a lot more out of it than I did.

I received the book from the author for review. I have since released the book through BookCrossing.

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The Wild Wood: 10/26/09

To me, Charles de Lint is primarily the book reviewer for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Although he started writing fantasy at the time I was completely addicted to the genre, I somehow missed his books. It's only through the magazine that I have discovered de Lint's fantasy.

I picked at semi-random 0765302586The Wild Wood because I loved the cover art by Stephen T. Johnson and the book design by Heather Saunders that mimics his painting of the stick people before the forest. I read the first chapter while standing in the bookstore and liked what I had read and so I bought the book. I'm glad I did.

In The Wild Wood Eithnie has hit artist's block. She has impending deadlines and can't find the inspiration to paint or draw. The remote Canadian woods that have for so long been the source of her creativity are now fueling feelings of fear and claustrophobia. She feels as if the woods are encroaching on her cabin and that fair folk are following her.

A trip to Arizona to see long time friends and hopefully rekindle her creativity only leads to an acceleration of her experiences with the faeries. Fortunately for Eithnie she finds help in her friends and family. They believe her stories and have ways to either help or the tools she needs.

Birth, growth and loss are woven together as central themes to The Wild Wood. There are stillbirths, a miscarriage, a child. They are combined with the losses that the woods are suffering from logging, pollution and changes in the environment. At first I was put off by what felt like forced parallels but de Lint does manage to pull the two together for a satisfying and credible ending.

The Wild Wood ended up being one of the best fantasies I've read in a long time. I plan now to read through as many of de Lint's books as I can. 

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Horrible Harry and the Green Slime: 10/26/09

Although my brother would have been young enough to read the Horrible Harry series when they were new, I don't remember him reading them. I was too old for them at the time and was going through my "no kids books!" phase.

That being said, I know nothing about the Horrible Harry series except for having heard the titles rattled off by parents who are torn between being glad their kids are reading and worried about what they are reading. 0140389709Horrible Harry and the Green Slime is a chapter book that covers a number of Harry's "horrible" ideas that end up making for an interesting day at school.

The green slime ends up being a typical kitchen science experiment combing water, corn starch and green food coloring. It's really not that horrible.

There is a Charlotte's Web inspired decoration of the school. Harry decides his class should design spider webs to hang every where. Again at first the idea is frowned upon but when it's tied to a book everyone gets behind the project, even the grumpy principal.

The book reminds me most of the more recent Junie B. Jones, First Grader except that Harry is a grade or two ahead of Junie B. They share a similar odd ball approach to school, although Harry seems more  mature for his age than Junie B. does at her worst. I think I have another Horrible Harry book somewhere in my collection, although how I got them, I'm not sure. I think I'll give it a read when I find it.

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A Matter of Feeling: 10/25/09

Pauline Moreau and her sisters live in a cozy house at the edge of Paris. They are distinct individuals with parents flexible enough to let them live as they see fit. The story is set in modern times but shares a kinship with Little Women and Pride and Prejudice. That being said, I enjoyed 0449700011A Matter of Feeling far more than either of the classics.

Pauline, the narrator balks at her name, wishing to be anyone else and not pleased with the burden of being named for grandfather. Claire is the oldest and most beautiful and goes by the nickname "princess." Bernadette is the tom boy of the family. Cécile, the youngest has a fascination with all things deadly and is forever referred to as "the Poison-Pot."

This novel is mostly a coming of age story for Pauline who has a relationship with a much older man. She has to sort out her teenage life with his adult responsibilities. Think of it as Lolita but written from her point of view. Boissard doesn't weigh in on the relationship. She lets it play out for the good and the bad and let Pauline find her own way.

In some ways the book reads like historical fiction instead of contemporary. Pauline and her sisters tend to use old fashioned language. It's part of their attempts at acting older than they are. The exception is Claire who is twenty-two and has adjusted well to adulthood. Were it not for the pop-culture references (like Top of the Pops) the book could easily be set in the 1870s instead of the 1970s.

I went into this book expecting to put it aside at 50 pages. I ended up enjoying it and feeling a little sad when I had finished it.


Icarus Saved from the Skies: 10/24/09

Today's story from Fantasy & Science Fiction is "Icarus Saved from the Skies" by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud. It was translated by Edward Gauvin.

The story follows a man through his romance and marriage to a doctor named Maude. She is fascinated with the wings he is spontaneously growing. She measures them every day as they grow (and sometimes shrink). Although the wings brought them together, they are a sore point in the relationship. The protagonist just wants them to go away whereas Maude hopes to see him fly some day.

I liked the story. It's short and to the point. The ending packs a wallop and has the sort of twist I normally associate with Stephen King. I think this was my first time reading a story by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud but I hope to read more of his stories.

"Icare sauvé des cieux" was first published in Le kiosque et le tilleul.

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Swann's Way: Swann in Love: Cordelia Chase: 10/23/09

Cordelia Chase

I'm on my 17th week of reading Swann's Way (Du côté de chez Swann). I'm up to page 510. In three more weeks, I will have finished this book!

Much of the thirty pages from 480 to 510 are centered on the Princess and her friendship with Charles Swann. The Princess is written as a shallow but powerful woman. What thought pops into her mind slips out her mouth without any pause. Remind you anyone? How about Cordelia Chase from Buffy the Vampire Slayer the TV series and it's spin-off Angel?

I had fun recasting the characters in Swann's Way against the Scooby Gang. The two obvious choices beyond the Princess being Cordelia since she can't be seen with certain people or visit certain homes just because are Swann (Xander) and Odette (Anya). That's right, Odette just might be vengeance demon who is slumming it among the humans.

I'm going to cut this week's post short. I'm still getting over the flu and I just can't concentrate on doing a more in depth reading. Maybe that's why I connected so easily between the Princess and Cordelia.

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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A Knight in Shining Armor: 10/23/09

I didn't grow up reading romances. The few I read were during camping trips when I had run out of my own stash of books and was desperate to read anything. I'm still not much of a romance reader but I picked up 0671678574A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux because all the other women in my local BookCrossing group had read and loved the book.

The set up is fairly standard 1980s "strong female" type plot: young woman on holiday with her fiancé ends up for the shock of her life and finds herself alone in an unfamiliar place (in this case England). This time, the heroine is Dougless Montgomery. She's put upon but equally as whiney and childish as her would-be fiancé and step daughter. I hated her from the very first page – not a good start for a book.

Once abandoned, the heroine must fend for herself. Thankfully an ornery but dashing man materializes to  help her on her way to being a stronger and independent person. In this case, he's transported from the 16th century for reasons unknown. He's the late Nicholas Stafford, Earl of Thornwyck. Dougless had been weeping at his tomb but he is no ghost!

The novel goes onto to tell the same story twice, once with Nicholas adapting to the 20th century and once for Dougless adapting to the early 16th century. Both times are distressing and challenging but they muddle through it and both characters end up better people for the process.

Although the book didn't hold my attention and I didn't connect with either of the main characters, I did like a few things. First of all, the minutiae of the 16th century is correct as far as I can tell. Deveraux also worked through the possibilities of paradoxes and changes to the timeline so it stands up as a time travel story as long as you accept that they go from era to era just because the plot requires it.

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Fat Tuesday: 10/22/09

I've read five Sandra Brown novels. Three of them I loved, one of them bothered me (Seduction by Design) and Fat Tuesday I could not finish.

As the title implies, the novel is set in New Orleans. It's supposedly a tale of love borne out of revenge but I didn't get far enough in the book for any of that to happen. I couldn't get past page sixty.

Officer Burke Basile is out for revenge after he mistakenly shoots his partner in the head. He sets out to destroy the life of Pinkie Duvall. He'll do this by kidnapping Duvall's wife and of course a romance will develop.

I didn't get far enough to see if the Stockholm syndrome played out as squicky as it sounds in the set up but some of the reviews I've read on Goodreads implies that it's as bad or worse than I could imagine. What made me stop were the clichés and the cardboard cut out characters. I didn't like the hero. I didn't like the heroine. Pinkie seemed ripped off from Dreamland by Clarence Budington Kelland and I didn't find Kelland's Pinkie all that believable either. A second iteration of him wasn't any sort of improvement.

Other Books by Sandra Brown

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I'd Rather We Got Casinos: And Other Black Thoughts: 10/21/09

Larry Wilmore is currently the senior black correspondent to The Daily Show. He has written for The Office, The Bernie Mac Show and a bunch of other things I haven't watched except for clips here and there. I read his book, I'd Rather We Got Casinos because it was offered at a recent Bookcrossing meeting and I liked the title.

The book contains a collection of his "Black Thoughts" essays. They discuss important things (race, discrimination, profiling etc) and silly things (why UFOs are only interested in whites) with the same semi-serious semi-comedic tone. Put together these essays form a mosaic of what it's like to be black in the United States.

My only complaint is that some of the essays are repetitive. The same jokes and talking points show up in different essays. After the first half of the book I went from carefully reading to skimming. If I had been a regular watcher of The Daily Show or otherwise a fan of Larry Wilmore's work I probably would have enjoyed the book more than I did.

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On the Wings of Heroes: 10/20/09

I saw the review of On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck at Maw Books Blog. I had enjoyed Past Perfect Present Tense and wanted to read something else by the author. I'm glad I took recommendation and picked this novel about growing up during World War Two.

Davy Bowman narrates the novel, recounting the way the Second World War affected his town, his family and his life. The book begins at Halloween with his older brother shipping off to learn how to be a B-17 pilot. While the older brother reports on his courses (including learning elementary math all the way through trig in a couple of weeks), Davy is having air raids in school, having to collect scraps after school and is learning to live with rationing of basic staples, gasoline, rubber and other things.

At school, tensions rise. Old teachers leave for better jobs in factories and the new teachers are sometimes too young to handle the students and too inexperienced to teach them. Class bullies take advantage of the situation.

Peck though doesn't leave the bullying as a way to foil Davy. He goes deeper to flesh out these bullies. He gives them personalities, families and stories. He brings in the mother of the ring leader. Her reaction to her daughter's poor behavior is believable and for me, heart wrenching.

Although On the Wings of Heroes is short, it manages to cover the entire length of the United States's involvement in the war. In that time, Davy and his friends grow up.

For children who probably don't have many living relatives who have first hand experience with WWII, On the Wings of Heroes brings to life what it would have been like for families back then. It does it with humor and humility.

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Painting the Invisible Man: 10/19/09

"Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, 'Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.'" (p. 110). This Emerson quote best sums up the central theme of Painting the Invisible Man by Rita Schiano. It's a roman à clef about a writer who in the course of researching her novel begins the painful process of investigating the truth behind her father's 1976 death.

The novel begins with the head shot of Amy Tan talking to Anna Matteo, telling her to write! Anna has been struggling for seven years to write a novel and has reached the point where she's procrastinating more than she's writing. The odd experience of having an author's photograph talk to her spurs her back into writing but she's not sure of the direction it is taking her.

Most of the book ends up focusing on Anna's childhood, her relationship with her father and the clues that she might have missed as a child that he had mob ties. I'm not normally a fan of mob stories. So often they seem over written and full of cliches. Perhaps because Rita Schiano was drawing inspiration from her own life, the events and characters seemed plausible. Underneath the crimes, they were still people and not just cookie cutter mobster characters.

In some of the reviews I've read there are complaints about the ending – that it's not tight enough. I like the way it ends. It ends by folding in on itself, thus connecting with the magical realism elements that pepper the present day events.

I received the book from the author for review and have since bookcrossed it.

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Fairy Hunters, Ink: 10/18/09

Fairy Hunters, Ink by Sheila A. Dane is most like Gnomes and the numerous Monstrology books that seem to be coming on the market now. It is presented as an oversized heavily illustrated encyclopedia / fictional memoir of fairy hunting.

The book mostly focuses on fairies in domestic environments: pockets, teacups, sock drawers and so forth. With the bright color illustrations and the inclusion of every day items Fairy Hunters, Ink attempts to bring magic and whimsy into the mundane.

Fairies though outside of Disney and Barrie are usually dangerous and sneaky creatures. Having read a large number of Neil Gaiman books this year, I came to Fairy Hunters, Ink seeing fairies in their traditional fashion.

The "button" fairy ends up being very creepy in light of Coraline. They have an unhealthy fascination with buttons, stealing loose ones off clothing and hoarding them for their own use. Button Fairies only hang out with "True Friends" who are creatures who sport buttons. Can anyone say "button eyes?"

Another unfortunately named type of fairy is the "blue bottle." "Blue Bottles" make me think immediately of a large type of fly whose larvae are often found on corpses and other rotting meat. Again, this may be true to spirit of traditional fairies but probably not the direction the book was aiming for.

If you have a less jaded view of fairies you will probably like this book more than I did. I have since released my review copy to a bookcrossing friend.

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The Bones of Giants: 10/17/09

Today's story from Fantasy & Science Fiction is "The Bones of Giants" by Yoon Ha Lee. Her visual writing style always takes me a few pages to fall in step with her story.

Lee's stories seem to be ones filled with extremes. In The Bones of Giants there is an abundance of death to the point that necromancy has become a means of adding bodies to the work force. Ghouls are used as servants. Ghoul steads take the places of long dead horses. There is so much death that there seems to be little reason for the main character to live.

His suicide though is prevented by a mysterious woman who offers him a job. She also offers him an education, teaching him reading, writing, math, the arts and of course, ultimately necromancy. He has all these skills already but they are primative. In their time together he learns the reason behind her advanced skills and her specific interest in him.

If they work together they might be able to put a stop to this over abundance of the living dead and make room for life itself.

While reading "The Bones of Giants" I was most reminded of Poe and Lovecraft. There's a tiny bit of Pratchett and Gaiman in there too.

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The Night Villa: 10/16/09

I picked up a copy of The Night Villa by Carol Goodman from my local library. I chose it with my tried and true method of closing my eyes and picking at random. I liked the title and the cover art. The blurb sounded interesting so I took it home. The beauty of the library is the ability to try new authors and titles without a huge financial commitment.

The Night Villa blends contemporary fiction with literary historical fiction. By literary I mean the book is about a fictional study of something well known like Melville's books, or Da Vinci's art, and so forth. Here the story revolves around new scrolls discovered in the Herculaneum.

Typically the protagonist is an expert in the field: a professor (although sometimes it's a grad student or bibliophile). The Night Villa goes for the first and second options. Sophie Chase is a professor of the Classics at the University of Texas. At her side is a graduate student, Agnes Hancock who has the potential to revolutionize how the Greco-Roman texts are translated.

The foil for the expert protagonist is never anything as simple as a jealous colleague or poor data or something else mundane. No; it must be a secret and ancient society. The Night Villa comes through with the Tetraktys, a cult that dates back to Pythagoras.

Finally of course, there is a hidden message that has been hidden from history for centuries. Here the message is hidden in the scrolls that Sophie an Agnes are translating. Frankly the lengthy passages Iusta's life as a slave drag the plot. I realize they are included for a certain parallelism between Carol's life and her life in ancient Greece but they felt over done to me.

The Night Villa is best suited either for fans of literature set in Italy or for readers of literary adventure thrillers. Similar books include:


Swann's Way: Swann in Love: The Many Faces of Captain Jack Harkness: 10/16/09

Captain Jack Harkness as he first appeared

I'm on my 16th week of reading Swann's Way (Du côté de chez Swann). I'm up to page 480. In four more weeks, I will have finished this book!

In the thirty pages from 450 to 480, there are two distinct scenes. The first follows Charles Swann from his point of view as he attends an event. I think this is the first time we've been this deep into his head. The second scene (which will continue with next week's reading) is at a party where Swann isn't attending but is the topic of conversation.

Charles Swann it would seem has just as many secrets as his beloved Odette. He is a man of independent means who has an insatiable sexual appetite. So far his tastes have been for women, any woman but now in seeing things through his eyes, one begins to wonder if his tastes are broader than that. On page 459 he pauses for a long time to take in the sight of the "pack of tall, magnificent, idle footmen." One of the footmen returns his look with a ferocity that is tempered by the "softness of his cotton gloves." (p. 460)

With those exchanged looks I snapped on Captain Jack Harkness who first appeared in "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" episodes of Doctor Who. He has since appeared a few more times in Doctor Who and is a main character on the spin-off Torchwood. Besides the Doctor whom we've seen go through nine regenerations and therefore evolve over the decades as a character, Captain Jack is the next character to have changed so much. Just as Charles Swann begins in the book as an incurable play boy who is broken by Odette over the course of the book, Jack is never quite the same after his adventures with the Doctor. Both characters are fundamentally changed by their time with the people they love but don't love them back.

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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No Elephants Allowed: 10/15/09

Elephants seem to inspire oddball children's picture books. My most recent library find is No Elephants Allowed by Deborah Robinson. It's drawn a similar style to The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars by Judith Merrill and that's what got my attention.

Once again the elephant is the antagonist. This time he is invading the bedroom of a young boy at bed time. He likes to smash up the bedroom as the boy tries to sleep.

The boy's family jumps to rescue trying a number of different things. They try a new toy for him to cuddle. They build him a new bed. They put a night light in. None of this works. In fact each new thing just invites in more animals!
Ultimately the boy has to come up with the solution. His solution is cute and practical.

My children like the absurdity of an entire zoo trying to fit into a tiny bedroom. It's the same charm as Goodnight Gorilla.

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The Navajo (True Books): 10/14/09

The Navajo by Alice Osinski is one of True Books series of books that looks at different Native American nations. They are aimed at students in grades 3 to 5 but are a decent starting point for learning the basic cultural differences and important historical facts. I chose The Navajo because of an almost twenty year fascination with the Diné culture. 

In 1990 my brother and I spent our spring break on a road trip with our grandmother. We went to Phoenix and then up north to see the Grand Canyon. En route we stopped at a rest stop where various artisans were selling jewelry and other small things to tourists, right under the signs saying that vending wasn't permitted.

My grandmother and I ignored the signs as a bit of civil disobedience as she called it and we bought necklaces from a pair of women. The older one was on the look out for police and they were speaking mostly in Spanish. At the time I was in AP Spanish so I had almost no trouble understanding them. All the local dialects of Spanish have some native words thrown in so part of the game of understanding is to get the context.

The grandmother said to the granddaughter, "Uhoh esa Bilagáanaa  nos entiende." After that the Spanish words became infrequent even with the younger woman's protests of "Oh abuelita!" While I'd never heard the word Bilagáanaa before it took the spot of "gringa" and it was obvious they were talking about me.

Eighteen months later I was in a non western art history course in college that to my amusement had a long focus on Native American art. Two cultures from the area we studied at length were the Diné and Hopi. In doing the reading I came to recognize that the necklaces were of Diné designs and that the word Bilagáanaa meant white person (with much of the same derogatory connotations as gringo/a does). Since I had to learn about them anyway for the class, I went a little overboard and checked out every single book my university had and read them over course of the quarter.

So nearly twenty years later my fascination with their history and culture hasn't abated. When I saw the collection of books I instinctively picked the Navajo one.

As the book was written in 1987, the "modern ways" section is probably outdated but it was an interesting trip back in time to when my curiosity had first been piqued. Most of the book covers their recent history and The Long Walk which inspired the novel She Who Hears the Sun. There isn't much on their actual cultural beliefs but that's to be expected. They hold their traditional and spiritual beliefs as too sacred to share willy-nilly.

For a book aimed at city kids, it does a good job of trying to stay balanced especially in the history where both sides had people who didn't follow the treaties.

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Goldilicious: 10/13/09

In Goldilicious by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, Pink's brother, Peter finally comes into his own as a character. The title character is an imaginary unicorn that only Pink (and sometimes Peter) can see.

Although Pink wants to play by herself as a princess with a magical unicorn but little brother Peter wants to play too.

It's fun to see how Goldilicious changes over the course of a day of Pink and Peter playing. She goes from just being invisible to being able to roller skate, having a mermaid form and all sorts of other magical abilities.

As with the previous two books, my kids and I love the collage style illustrations. On a second or third read through the book, take a moment to enjoy the different textures that make up the backgrounds. There are always snatches of words, musical notation and other details that enhance the pages without competing with the story or the characters.

We bought our copy from a local book store.

Other Books I've Reviewed from the Series

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Robot Dreams: 10/12/09

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon is a graphic novel about a dog and a robot and their tenuous relationship. Things fall apart after a trip to the beach on the Labor Day weekend when the water rusts the robot to immobility. He ends up stuck on the beach for the majority of the novel.

The novel is like an adult Boy, Dog and Frog book. It is heavy on the illustrations and light on the text. That doesn't make the story any less moving. Goofy as the set up is of a dog building a robot from a kit I was a little teary at the bittersweet ending.

From a friend's description of Happy Days by Samuel Beckett, I jokingly compared it to Robot Dreams. In all fairness to the dog, though, he does not intentionally strand the robot on the beach but he doesn't do enough to get the robot back in working order.

The graphic novel also reminds me of "The Godfella" Futurama Season 4, episode 8) where Bender ends up adrift in space. While out there he becomes the home to a miniature world where he plays god. Now the Robot in Robot Dreams doesn't have life forms growing on him but he does have time to dream of exotic adventures including flying.

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Secret of the Pink Pokémon: 10/11/09

The Secret of the Pink Pokémon takes place in the middle of the plot arc of the Orange Islands season. It covers these episodes: "The Crystal Onyx", "In the Pink", "Navel Maneuvers" and "Snack Attack." It skips a few other adventures like the resurrection of the Kabutos.

If you're a fan of the Pokémon cartoons, Tracey West's novelizations are fun. They include stills from the cartoons. West tries to get to the reason behind different characters' actions which adds an nice and unexpected depth to these sorts of books.

As with the other West books the stories are grouped thematically at the expense of chronology. She doesn't put things out of order but she does skip whole plot arcs to bring together similar stories that might be separated by weeks in the original airing.

Other Pokémon Books I've Reviewed

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The Goddamned Tooth Fairy: 10/10/09

Today's story from Fantasy & Science Fiction is "The Goddamned Tooth Fairy" by Tina Kuzminksi. It's the "classic" reprint. I'm putting classic in quotes because this story was first published in 2000. The choice to reprint it came from a forum comment involving someone getting a tattoo inspired by the story. (See notes on pages 94-5)

I'm feeling really ambivalent about this story. I like the main character. I sort of pictured him as Nathan Fillion playing Richard Castle. He's a little goofy but his heart's in the right place. He's a single father (a widower) with a teenaged daughter and he's finally trying to date.

The date involves a day at the races (greyhounds). About a third of the story centers around the dogs and their silly names. It's a musing but not exactly something I'd consider either fantasy or science fiction. Things don't really pick up in that direction until the protagonist meets the title character. Why he's called what he's called is never adequately explained.

There are also horror elements. The Tooth Fairy seems like more of a threat than a friend. Part of that is filtered through the protagonist's own tragic past. Again, I felt that all this information comes too late in the story. By the time things are being explained I was going from confused to frustrated and grateful to only have two or three more pages left.

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Candy and Me: 10/09/09

Candy and Me

I have to admit to being a sucker for a quirky memoir. A previous favorite of mine is Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the author of Little Pea. Where she wrote her life story as a series of encyclopedia entries (in alphabetical order, of course), Hilary Liftin has looked at her life according to all the different types (and vast quantities) of candy she has eaten in her memoir Candy and Me.

Liftin begins her book by describing how she would sneak cups of powdered sugar which she would mix with butter to make little powdery lumps to eat. She'd keep eating even beyond the point of her mouth feeling like chalk. She later pays her brother to buy her stashes of candy which she eats in bed. She hides the wrappers behind her bed.

As she grows up she has money and greater access to candy. She prefers the sugary ones. I personally can't imagine being this addicted to sugar. My weakness if chocolate my consumption is no where near as high as the 12.1 pounds per year for an average American and I can't fathom eating 12.6 pounds or more of "non-chocolate" candy per year. I just can't. (For numbers see

So part of reading Candy and Me was the freak show aspect. I gawked at what and how much she was eating at any given point in her life. My husband can attest to me reading some of the descriptions out loud to him. The book fascinated me and horrified me at the same time.

Despite her addiction to sugar, Liftin comes off as an otherwise normal, happy and well adjusted individual. Her writing style is charming and I'd probably love talking to her if we were to meet in person.

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Swann's Way: Swann in Love: Pepé Le Pew: 10/09/09

Pepé Le Pew

I'm on my 15th week of reading Swann's Way (Du côté de chez Swann). I'm up to page 450.

The focus of Swann's Way has turned again to Charles Swann and his growing obsession with Odette. He switches between chasing her and fleeing from her. When Odette wants him, he has his doubts. When she doesn't he chases after her (with limited success).

All of this back and forth and chasing brings to mind another besmitten French lover, Pepé Le Pew. The amorous but love deprived skunk first appeared in the short "Odor-able Kitty" in 1945. He typically pursues a black cat who has had the misfortune of having a white stripe painted down the top of her body. She flees from Pepé because of his stench and his stalking.

In Swann's Way Swann and Odette don't have the problem of being a skunk and cat but they do seem just as incompatible for their own reasons. Just as Swann mostly chases after Odette, sometimes the gag gets reversed in the Pepé Le Pew cartoons and the cat takes up the chase. Pepé ends up just as befuddled being the prey as Swann does when Odette changes her mind.

For more on Pepé Le Pew, please see the Wikipedia article and for more on his creator, please check out Chuck Redux, run by the late animator's family.

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 Shepherd of the Hills: 10/04/09

Some how I ended up with two copies of The Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright, a story that has become an outdoor play in Branson Missouri. It was also a John Wayne film (1941). It was apparently the first book in the United States to sell one million copies. Despite all that praise, I wasn't able to finish it.

The novel set in the Ozarks has a similar set up to Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore. There is an orphan boy with a long dark history. Now though an old man, known as the Shepherd has come to ask questions and stir up painful memories.

All of this though is told through a heavy Ozark dialect and purposely vague plot progression. While the goal may be to set the scene and keep the reader guessing, it turned me off completely. After two attempts I didn't make it past about page 50.

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Winter Walk: 10/07/09

Where we live it snows maybe once every thirty years or so. It has come close to snowing but hasn't actually since we've lived here. My son has seen snow once. He didn't like it and he doesn't remember the experience. My youngest has never seen snow.

Winter books even here though all seem to feature snow. One that Harriet is currently "reading" is Winter Walk by Ann Burg. It is a shaped board book about a cat who goes on a walk through the snow. She has to dress up in a snow suit and find the process awkward. Then there is the ubiquitous snow angel scene that all kids picture books seem to have.

Harriet likes the main character because she's a cat. She likes seeing how the cat plays but she has no special connection to what it means to play in snow.

The text though is sweet. It's a quick out loud read. The illustrations are adorable and colorful. Children who do grow up in snow will probably enjoy it most.

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I Spy School Days: 10/06/09

I Spy School Days by Jean Marzollo is another of the early books in the series. Harriet has been reading the simplified version, I Spy School Bus and has now upgraded to the full version.

She isn't reading the book but she prefers the harder picture riddles. She has a very good eye for finding things, often finding them before Sean or I do.

My favorite I Spy Books have a hint of a plot to them and their photographs are tightly themed. School Days fits this bill perfectly, being about a day in school. The photographs are beautiful and sometimes deceptively simplistic.

There is a playground scene near the end of the book that at first glance is nothing but a piece of playground with a forgotten four-square ball. It takes a second and third look to see all the goodies hidden in plain view. I Spy School Days and I Spy Spooky Night are my two favorites.

Reviews of other I Spy Books on this blog

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Falling into the Sun: 10/05/09

When I read a book, I set it aside before writing my review. Reading a book or watching a film for that matter muddles my brain. Sure, I'll have an initial gut response but I need time to fully absorb the experience of reading or watching. Sometimes a story that I didn't connect with sneaks up on me and after due reflection I come to like or even love it. Falling into the Sun by Charrie Hazard is one of these books.

Christian fiction (and perhaps other religious fiction as well) and horror share a border. On that border are books like Rosemary's Baby (Ira Levin), The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty), The Amityville Horror (Jay Anson) and The Sentinel (Jeffrey Konvitz). While Falling into the Sun isn't a horror novel and isn't completely a Christian novel either, it experiments with both genres.

Kate Nardek teaches horror at the local community college. She has come home from a class and discovers her neighbor has just committed suicide in his garage. The shock of seeing his death haunts her and brings into question her own uneasy family life. She realizes that if things don't change her son might end up following a similar tragic path or doing something worse if he can't keep his violence in check.

In the process of recovering from seeing the suicide Kate turns to religion along with counseling. The way in which the neighbor haunts uses many of the horror conventions but the book is otherwise a novel about mental health and spirituality.

When I first read the book I got too distracted by the competing themes: the horror of suicide, the son's mental illness and long discussions on the nature of good and evil. My preliminary notes were rather negative because I was too focused on the weakness of the book to not see its strengths.

I didn't see how everything comes together until about a week after finishing the book when I came across an attempted suicide. Things turned out better for this person in that he was alive and able to be rescued but it was just as traumatic. It was then that I clicked with Falling into the Sun. I too have been haunted by the attempted suicide and since my children were also involved, they have too. I have had to answer their questions and help them deal with their uneasy feelings.

So while I still see the flaws in the book and think the transitions between themes could have been more even, I have gone from thinking of the book as "just okay" to recommending it my friends. If you have had any sort of traumatic experience in your life, read Falling into the Sun.

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The Frequency of Souls: 10/04/09

My local library is full of many gems. Recently as a I strolled through the fiction at end of the alphabet the bright colors of The Frequency of Souls by Mary Kay Zuravleff cover got my attention. The combination of electrical extension cords (one male and one female) with the title had me flashing Bunny Modern.

Bunny Modern and The Frequency of Souls are contemporaries and both combine metaphysics and electrical engineering. While Niagara Spense is trying to discover an electrical record or "audible fossils" of life after death, I kept imagining her experiments as a contributing factor in the disappearance of electricity in Bunny Modern.

The novel though, isn't about Niagara Spense's experiments. Instead it's about how Niagara forces long time ice maker engineer, George Mahoney, to reexamine his own life. The man he had been sharing an office with was recently forced to retire and his replacement is the young, very tall and equally unconventional Niagara Spense. She's so different that she's alluring to him.

George though has a suburban life: wife, son and daughter. He's atypical for the neighborhood in that he's the only one who isn't a lawyer or stockbroker. He's equally atypical among the other engineers at his company because he makes an effort to be home in time for his family and even helps with the chores, the cooking and their children's homework. His family isn't perfect (no family is) but he seriously has to consider if it's worth jeopardizing just because Niagara is so very different.

I won't give away George's decision. The book is worth reading. It's one to take slowly, a chapter a night. Let the chapter sink in. Mull it over before moving on to the next one.

The novel was on the long list for the Orange Prize in 1997.

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Hunchster: 10/03/09

Today's story from Fantasy & Science Fiction is "Hunchster" by Matthew Hughes. This short story reminds me most of the "Mind Over Murder" episode of Family Guy.

In "Mind Over Murder" most of the episode centers around Peter building a bar in his basement while he's under house arrest. The B-plot though has Stewie building a time machine. Here the plot isn't about beer; it's about poker. The narrator and his buddies are taking advantage of someone who wants to be called the "Hunchster." He's good with technology but is probably on the highly functioning end of the autistic spectrum.

The Hunchster is a victim of the dot-com crash. Once upon a time he'd had a career at an up and coming start-up that promised to change the world. Except it didn't. Now he's on disability and his "roommates" need his regular checks to pay the rent. That's about all they need him for.

Stewie and the Hunchster are both ignored — Stewie because he's a baby and the Hunchster because he's not exactly social. Both are perfectly happy to be left alone. They use their time to build things. Stewie's family is probably too dim to understand most of what he does but the Hunchster's roomies are just smart enough to see potential in what he has created.

Poker themed stories usually make my eyes glaze over and my brain turn off. I just don't care for the game. But Hughes pulls it off for "Hunchster" by peppering in enough dialogue to give a hint at what's really going on. So when the big surprise comes it's a rewarding end.

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Color is Everything: 10/02/09

Color is Everything by Dan Bartges is a short and focused color-theory book. It emphasizes the importance of the color wheel and insists that readers make their own color wheel and buy one that has the standard pigments laid out for help with planning colors schemes.

On the color wheel there are primary, secondary and tertiary colors. There are six "best" color schemes: monochromatic, analogous, complementary, split complementary, triadic, and tetrad. The book includes examples for each from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The book also quizzes readers on key concepts throughout.

For a very practical and useful color theory book, the book suffers from some odd color design choices. Important lesson plans are highlighted with green, orange and sometimes purple. Against the white glossy pages these colors in block texts are hard on the eyes!
That being said, I plan to hold onto the book for my son who is interested in art. I think he'll like learning about color theory.

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Swann's Way: Swann in Love: Mildred Krebs: 10/02/09

Mildred Krebs, Laura Holt and Remington Steele

I'm on my 14th week of reading Swann's Way (Du côté de chez Swann). I'm up to page 420.

The last two weeks (or sixty pages) I have been reminded (to the point of laughing a few times) of Keeping Up Appearances. Now that the focus of Odette and Swann's relationship seems to be on the Verdurins' meddling my thoughts are on another favorite of mine, Remington Steele.

In the first season of Remington Steele, Laura Holt had two employees, a fellow detective named Murphy Michaels and a secretary named Bernice Foxe. Together they tried to keep the identity stealing "Mr. Steele" out of trouble while reaping the benefits to the business by having him around.

The Verdurins originally see Charles Swann in a similar light. He brings notoriety and the attention of very important people. At the same time though he's prone to cause trouble. His attention on Odette seems amusing and harmless as she's a bit of a trouble maker herself. They don't really expect anything to come out of it just as Murphy and Bernice don't think Laura will be attracted to this stranger who has single handedly turned her life upside down and inside out.

When near the end of the first season the show started to take a new direction and there was an obvious sexual tension between Laura and Mr. Steele (as she always calls him) Murphy and Bernice had served their purpose as characters. The show stopped being an ensemble and was more a screwball mystery-comedy. Mildred Krebs, an older character was brought in to act as a foil for their on again, off again relationship.

In Swann's Way the relationship of the Verdurins to Swann and Odette has started to change. They actively meddle in their romance now. They try to bring them together. Then they change their mind, horrified at seeing them as a couple, and try to split Swann and Odette apart. So I'm collectively calling the Verdurins the Mildred Krebs 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.

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The Twenty-One Balloons: 10/01/09

In The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène Du Bois, Professor William Waterman Sherman, an eccentric retired school teacher is rescued on a raft of twenty-one balloons somewhere over the Atlantic. He had last been seen some months earlier leaving for a trip across the Pacific Ocean in his own carefully designed balloon craft.

Sherman is taken back via train to San Francisco where he will be met with parades and other special events. Although the San Francisco scenes serve as a comedic outline for Sherman's adventures in the Pacific, they make for a fascinating comparison to modern day San Francisco. I kept imagining Gavin Newsom in period duds.

Most of the book though is told in flashback. It covers his flight over the Pacific with scenes that will bring to mind Up (minus the stowaway) and his time on the island of Krakatoa.

Krakatoa of course blew up in 1873 and readers will be waiting to see how Sherman and the families he meet on Krakatoa survive the blast and how Sherman ends up alone and adrift. Before the explosion though, Sherman experiences a food based economy that is supported by a large secret diamond mine.

The inclusion of the diamond mine has caused some controversy for the book over the years. It is superficially similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz." The diamond secrecy though is just one small part of a very creative and entertaining children's adventure story.

The book won the Newberry Medal in 1947.

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