February was another library heavy month for reviews but I have gotten through more of my personal collection and ARCs. March reviews should reflect the change in my reading. My average rating was three and a half stars and five star reviews out numbered all the other ratings.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang was a recent random pick from my library's graphic novel collection. I finished it last month and I'm still actively thinking about it – the sign of a great book.
It has three stories woven together. Jin Wang is starting at a new school only to be the only Chinese American there. Meanwhile Danny feels like his life is being ruined by his obnoxious living stereotype, Chin-Kee. Finally there's a lovely retelling of the Monkey King legend.
I fell in love with the graphic novel on the first page where Jin Wang describes his parents meeting and falling in love at San Francisco State. It's a place I know well and it was a way to connect with the story. I also enjoyed the retelling of the Monkey King legend although I had trouble seeing how the two were connected.
When Chin-Kee burst on the scene I had to struggle to read through his bits. He's so over top. He's worse than the portrayal of the Chinese in Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang. I stuck with the novel because I wanted to see how the other two plots played out. Plus I was curious why Danny who appears to be a typical WASP kid would have an obnoxious Chinese cousin. I'm glad I stuck with the book because the three plots come together perfectly.
Had I been more observant I would have seen the ending coming. I know from other reviews that it is possible to connect the dots. I was just too busy enjoying the graphic novel to think a more critical level. So read the book, keep your eyes open and see if you can put pieces together.
Apparently Olivia the Pig now has her own television series. There are books now based on that series, or tied to it as part of a marketing campaign (depending on how you look at it) and Jodie Shepherd (who also writes a number of Backyardigan books) has been brought on board to write these books. There's also a new illustrator, Patrick Spaziante. Olivia Acts Out is one of their collaborations.
In this book, Olivia and her class are putting on a play. She wants to be the star but she ends up being a cow. Olivia goes through all sorts of efforts to put on the most memorable performance she can.
On the surface the book looks like an Olivia book and the plot basics are like an Olivia book but it lacks the heart and soul of an Olivia book as written and illustrated by Ian Falconer. Olivia isn't quite as over the top. She's not as spunky. The illustrations while more colorful are lacking the energy of Falconer's minimalist pallet (black, white, red and maybe a little green).
We bought this copy without even paying attention to who had written it. In the future I think I will steer clear of the Olivias that aren't written by Falconer.
My serial experiment is teaching me that I'm not as dedicated a writer as I thought I was. Last week I came down with a stomach bug that had me going to bed early and sleeping late. It also put the brakes on my creativity.
In Chapter Nine the deed is done and the two main characters for the remainder of the novel are born: Zak Pugh and Aurora Leon.
Löth's Childhood Revisited
In Chapter Nine I've added Löth's recollections of his childhood in Hookshire. I also realized that while he can speak kenamese fluently it's probably not the language he first thinks in. He was raised by humans (with Sapsis's help, of course) and had grown up in the Hookshire culture. He would naturally think and speak in UNIGA standard spoken there. It's probably a mixture of UNIGA standard and Hebrew.
With the October / November issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction I decided to integrate my short story reading into my regular review posting. I had been reserving Saturdays to read and review a story from the magazine but my Saturdays recently have been busy and I wanted to take advantage of the pre-written reviews I use throughout the rest of the week. Although I am still reading the stories on a regular basis, their reviews will show up with less regularity as they compete with the book reviews.
The first story in the October / November issue is "The Far Shore" by Elizabeth Hand. The location (a summer camp long past its prime and in the dead of winter) brings its own eerie magic to the story. Philip, a dancer who has been forced into retirement first from dancing and then from teaching dance because of an injury that has left him stiff and requiring a cane, has been given the chance to watch the summer camp while the owners winter in Florida. It's easy to immediately draw connections with The Shining but here the mood is more melancholy than angry.
The resolution is both beautiful and bittersweet. Philip finds a new purpose to his life and a new love. To his friends though, his trip to the woods seems more like tragic end than a new beginning.
I'm now up to page 420 in Within a Budding Grove. The protagonist tired of dinner parties is dividing his time between books and pretty girls. He's avoiding the high society girls for the locals. On one trip out he sees a group of beautiful girls and one in particular catches his attention and he goes completely stupid. His last coherent thought is to compare them to the Norns.
For the remainder of the thirty pages I was picturing the protagonist as Keiichi Morisato, the perpetually embarrassed protagonist from Ah My Goddess! (ああっ女神さまっ). Now I could have easily found a screen shot or wallpaper art of Belldandy and her sisters but the image I picked best sums up the image that popped into my mind.
See you back next week for my thoughts on pages 421-450.
I pick books to read by creative and sometimes random leaps of logic. Her by Laura Zigman had catchy cover art and a title that reminded me by association with She by H. Rider Haggard, which in turn made me think of the Rumpole series. Somewhere in the middle of all that thinking I decided what the heck, I'd check out the book.
What sets Her apart from the other chick lit books I've read is that Elise, the protagonist, is the self described other woman. She is now going head to head with her fiancé's ex-girlfriend. She spies, she schemes, she plots and she seethes inside. It is really easy to get carried away with her perception of the situation and begin hating the boyfriend and his ex until Elise will do something so completely out of the blue to knock one out of the story.
The main drawback for me was Elise's personality. She spends so much of the book being defensive and paranoid that it's hard to like her or get to know her. If she went a little further (like torture, main or perhaps kill one or both of them) then she'd have the same uneasy charisma as Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley. As the book is pegged as a chick lit it's on a course for a happy ending which precludes Elise from embracing her inner Ripley. I would have given the book a five out of five if she had.
Sean appears to be in "read the book first" camp. Rather than go see Monsters vs Aliens in the theater, Sean opted to first get one of the early readers inspired by the film. He chose Monsters vs. Aliens: Team Monster by Gail Herman.
At the time we got the book I wasn't even sure I wanted to see the film. What struck me first were the pictures, not screenshots but hand drawn illustrations with a delightfully 1950s retro feel which makes sense if you've seen the film.
The second thing that struck me was how much Sean and Harriet both loved the book. To me it seemed a bit disjointed as the book tosses out most of the extraneous plot elements to get the page count down to thirty-two pages with probably only a couple dozen words per page.
The final thing the book did for me was get me curious enough to want to rent the DVD. I ended up loving the film and will probably get a copy for our collection the next time I'm buying DVDs.
Wally is a walking cat fish [Clarias batrachus]. Obviously the real ones don't walk upright like Wally does but they can stay out of water for a long time as long as they still moist.
Wally, Cooper and all the other animals of the forest can talk to each other and Madison. When Madison and Cooper let him go after catching him while fishing he decides to introduce them to some of his other wildlife friends (Betty Beaver, Frankie the Flying Fish and so forth). Their walks through the forest introduce children to the wonders of nature.
I read the book to both Harriet and Sean. Harriet liked the illustrations (especially Wally in his yellow galoshes) far more than she did the story. Sean on the other hand liked how the book was based on actual animals and wanted to look up more information on the animals listed in the book as we read through it. As he's in the target age group (6 to 10) I would say the book is a success.
As Heather mentions in her review the copies we received have confusing dialogue. It's all told as a Socratic discussion between Wally and Madison with Cooper popping in for comedic relief. Unfortunately this early edition doesn't give names to who is speaking. It takes one or two reads through to get the parts down. Apparently later editions have fixed this problem. Had I read a newer edition I would have rated the book higher than the two stars I gave it at GoodReads.
The summer of 2008 I got into reading the shojo manga series, Nana by Ai Yazawa. I tore through volume 1 and volume 2 and volume 3. Unfortunately for posting reviews, my reading for fun often takes a back burner for challenges and books sent for review. I am trying now to change my priorities to bring the fun back into book blogging.
Nana is the tale of two young women both named Nana. Fate has brought the together to share an apartment in Tokyo. One Nana is in a rock band and the other one wants to be an art student. They both have had rocky love lives and part of their moves is a means of escape from those memories.
In Volume 3, things are starting to gel for the girls. Nana Osaki has teamed up again with the guitarist and drummer from her old band. They've found a new bass player and are ready to play some gigs again.
Nana Komsatsu isn't faring quite as well. She's still troubled by the "Demon Lord" whom she blames for her own bad luck and poor decisions. She's found a job but it's not what she expected. Instead of being an up and coming editor, she's basically now Ugly Betty.
In fact, it's the similarity in many ways to Ugly Betty that keeps me coming back to this series. I am reading volume 4 now and have volume 5 waiting in my to be read soon pile.
I picked up a dog-eared copy of Lost & Found via a local BookCrossing meeting a few years ago. I liked the title and the premise.
Sam Washington on a flight home from a business trip to New York realizes she has lost her journal. It contains all sorts of personal and intimate information and she desperately wants it back. Back in New York, Ben Fisher, an American born TV producer who lives and works in London has found her journal and after reading it decides to return it and maybe hook up.
I had a number of problems with the novel. The first are the voices. The story is told from both Sam and Ben's points of view. Their voices though aren't different enough to quickly distinguish who is who and sometimes there's little or no segue between their points of view.
Sam lives and works in London; she should use British words and phrases. To some regard she does but it's inconsistent. For example, she's missing a personal journal which she calls a diary. Given that she's British and an extremely busy professional, my mind kept snapping "day planner" (which is called a diary in British English) instead of a journal (or diary in American English). If anyone was going to call her missing book a diary, it would be Ben but he seems to think in British English more so than Sam does.
Finally, there's the roommate, Gemma, who is only there to complicate things. Her one goal in the book seems to sleep with potential boyfriends before Sam does. She's there to slow down the plot and create unneeded tension. The tension is already there in the form of the secrets revealed in the journal and in Ben's desire to keep his knowledge of Sam quiet. Gemma needs to be kicked to the kerb to give Sam and Ben some time alone.
I like the walk the stacks at my library just to see what jumps out at me. On one of my recent walks I spotted The Woman Who Wouldn't by Gene Wilder. I stopped mid step, thinking, Gene Wilder writes books? I opened the cover to read the back flap and sure enough there was Gene Wilder, actor and author.
The Woman Who Wouldn't is a novella about an unlikely romance at a sanitarium at the turn of the last century. A concert violinist goes to Germany to recover from a nervous breakdown. While there he meets the woman who wouldn't and eventually befriends her.
When I started the book I was skeptical but by the end of the first chapter I was hooked. There's a subtle humor to the book that brings a human face to the patients instead of putting the focus on their conditions.
I've been a Spider-Man fan on and off since I was about Harriet's age. I stopped reading the comic regularly when I left for college. That was right around the time that the "graphic novel" was coming into its own as a genre. Comic book publishers scrambled to revamp their series to fit the longer and darker format. Now a younger generation is growing up on comics and graphic novels (I'd hazard the novels more so than the comics) and there are series aimed at tweens and young adults.
While my local library was still closed for the move to its new location, I was frequenting the Dublin branch instead. It also has a collection of graphic novels but the choices are more limited and haphazard. For instance, they have only one volume of Ultimate Spider-Man. It happens to be Volume 13: Hobgoblin by Brian Michael Bendis (originally issues 72-8). What an odd place to start but I thought I'd give it a try.
Graphic novels are a balance between the artwork and story. Hobgoblin has a good story. It has the competition between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn and the love triangle around M.J. There's also a crossover with Nick Fury for an added bonus. These things I liked.
I guess for things to be "Ultimate" the typical emotional angst of the Spider-Man series needs to be cranked up to eleven. Even that I can handle. It seems to be the direction the series has gone in recent incarnations.
What turned me off though was the artwork. Every character seems to be in a perpetual state of saying "Duh!" with their lower jaws jutting out and their lips puckered and turned in impossible directions. I suppose it's to show their emotional states but they look like cavemen! The treatment on MJ was especially unflattering. She's not necessarily supposed to be supermodel gorgeous but her artistic treatment just seemed cruel to previous incarnations.
Why I Will Never Ever Ever Ever Have Enough Time to Read This Book: 02/20/10
When I was a child, my all time favorite book was a book of poetry and drawings by Remy Charlip called Arm in Arm. I still love the book and will read through it whenever I need a pick-me-up. Charlip has written many other books but for some reason I didn't read any of his others in my childhood. Now though when I see one of his books, I grab it. My most recent find was Why I Will Never Ever Ever Have Enough Time to Read This Book.
Besides the lure of it being written by Remy Charlip, the title had me in stitches. It must be the book blogger in me. Or maybe it's my obscenely large to be read pile. Or the wishlist that's two or three times as long as the to be read pile. Let's just say I completely relate to the title.
Better yet though, Charlip's picture book is a metafiction (just as Hand in Hand is metapoetry). The book is story and the story is the book. Whether or not the main character reads the book doesn't preclude her from experiencing everything contained within it's covers. Recursively, the main character within the book is also experiencing the same events and so on and so forth.
I read the book with my son. We took turns reading pages and I know he got some of the silliest and most blatant examples of the self referential plot but I haven't won him over yet to the awesomeness that is a Remy Charlip book. I loved the book; he merely liked it.
I had the pleasure of reading Rapunzel's Revenge for the 2008 Cybils. Shortly after the Cybils ended, Nathan Hale, the illustrator, posted sketches of the sequel, Calamity Jack. Thus began my year long obsession of waiting for the sequel.
On page 50 of Rapunzel's Revenge Jack gives a quick explanation of why he's hiding out in the badlands of Gothel's Reach. It's a throw away line, two sentences long. Calamity Jack fills in the blanks of that story as Jack and Rapunzel travel to the city to set things right.
Before Jack and Rapunzel arrive in town to stop the ant people and bring down another tyrant Jack reveals his past. His story as expected is a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk but in an urban setting. Jack also goes into his history and transformation from schemer and petty crook to the character we meet in the first book.
Most of Jack's transformation is told through Nathan Hale's excellent illustrations. I especially like the panels on page 13 that begin to show Jack's insecurities.
From page 40 onwards the focus is on Jack's return to the City with Rapunzel. Quickly they are in the middle of trouble with the Ant People terrorizing the train they're on and later the City itself. The trolls are using the ants as an excuse to run the town with an iron fist. With the help of a plucky and technology obsessed newspaper man they decide to put an end to Blunderboar's monopoly over the City.
I loved Calamity Jack. I have to admit to having a literary crush on Jack. So having a graphic novel centered on him was two days of pure reading joy.
The comic ends on a romantic cliff hanger and I'm hoping it means that there might be a third adventure in the future.
Oh the nom de plume... tool of authors everywhere. Source of endless frustration to the librarian and book reviewer. To add to the mess, authors as they get popular with one name or perhaps start writing under their actual name, sometimes have their old books released but without the nom de plume.
In the case of Meg Cabot, she started having all her books published by one publisher instead of three and opted to use her own name.
Back when The Mediator series was first published, the author of Shadowland was Jenny Carroll. I vaguely remember reading on her blog but I read that fact long before I started reading her books. Since I've already reviewed one Mediator book under the Meg Cabot name I will stick to reviewing them that way.
Shadowland begins The Mediator series. Suze is newly moved California to be part of a blended family now that her mother has remarried. Suze has a new step-father and step-brothers. She also has an unwanted but hot ghost haunting her room.
At her new school there's a vengeful ghost out for blood unless Suze can help her on her way to the afterlife. The book is somewhere between The Ghost Whisperer and Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a little dash of The Sixth Sense. Suze explains her long history of seeing ghosts including her own father's shortly after his untimely death. I liked these dark glimpses into Suze's past and wished Shadowlands had more of them.
Where the book falls short for me is Suze's characterization. Although she seems more like a teenager in Shadowlands than she did to me in Haunted her voice still seems to miss the mark.
I think the famed family dinner parties with all the rich, famous and noble members of society are a bit of a let down for the protagonist. Sure, he's been to a number of high society events in Paris but these the parties he grew up wishing he could attend. Now that he's here, he sees a tableful of freaks and phonies. So he bides his time by mocking the guests in his head.
Throughout these thirty pages I kept thinking of one scene, the dinner party in Beetlejuice (1988). Sing with me now... "Day-O! Day-O!..."
See you back next week for my thoughts on pages 391-420.
I grabbed The Cat Who Wasn't a Dog by Marian Babson while doing a quick walk through of my local library's mystery section. I liked the cover and title. The book is actually the last of the Trixie and Evangeline mystery series.
Trixie and Evangeline as far as I can tell are old theater stars like Miss April Spink and Miss Miriam Forcible of Coraline and I have to admit to picturing them in my head like Neil Gaiman's pair. While trying to get Dame Cecile Savoy's Pekinese stuffed at a local taxidermist's they run into a dead body and a very much alive Japanese bobtail cat.
While trying to sort out who Cho-Cho-San belongs to and what's happened to a missing housekeeper Trixie and Evangeline end up embroiled in one more mystery. The way the mystery unfolds and the focus on the domestic aspects of day to day life make it a cozy mystery reminiscent of the Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie. In that regard, I liked the book.
Coming though at the end of a series, I have a feeling that many of the relationships in this large cast of characters has already been well established. Not much time is spent explaining who is who or expanding on their personality traits. After a while many of the characters started blending together in my head and I had to take notes to keep track of who was who. I think if I had started earlier in the series I would have found The Cat Who Wasn't a Dog a light and easy read.
The Jesse Bear books seem to be weighted towards moral over anything else (plot, basic entertainment value). In this case the story serves to remind parents (while teaching children about the seasons of the year) that their children love them. Maybe it's also to teach children the importance of saying "I love you" to parents.
It's not just me who feels I Love You, Mama... is approaching a message of love bass-ackwards. Harriet and Sean both reacted with "of course the baby loves his mama. But does she love him?" I don't know. In Better Not Get Wet Jesse gets an entire book of being scolded for playing in ways that might get his sailor suit wet and very little in the ways of affection from his family.
When I read, I often tweet about what I'm reading. I made a comparison between Project Anastrophe and The Thin Man (1934). See the characters in both are called Nick and Nora (not Norah). Anyway, on one of my tweets I called the ARC I was reading "Nick and Nora in Space." For clarity I should have called it "The Thin Man in Space" but in the "tweet of the moment" I didn't.
My tweet got a response recommending Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. I don't know if it was a recommendation for the book or the film adaptation. From the description of the film, I think I would like it more than I did the book. Anyway, I happened to see the book at my library and thought I'd give it a try.
The novel is cowritten by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Rachel took Norah's parts and David took Nick's parts. Cowritten books like this seem like a good idea in the abstract but they rarely seem to work as planned. The competing voices don't blend as well as they should and the book ends up feeling disjointed.
Beyond the wildly different voices, there's the problem of two "too perfect" characters having a wildly out of control in Manhattan over the course of a night and morning. Marty Stu (Nick) and Mary Sue (Norah) end up together after Nick asks her to be his five minute girl friend to avoid a painful confrontation with his ex. From there they hook up and go on their adventure, one which is punctuated by their own personal soundtracks.
Many of the negative reviews cite the swearing. The use of fuck and all it's variations doesn't bother me. I can safely say it's the only thing that doesn't bother me about the book. What ultimately had me tossing the book aside was Norah worrying about being frigid. She's what, a teenager? And a straight-laced one. And here she is not even an adult (or barely an adult) and she's repeatedly using an out of date word to worry about her sex life? What teen (ever?).
When Nick and Norah are talking about, listening to, or playing music, the novel is at its best. The rest of the time they act like sexually dissatisfied thirty-somethings in teenage bodies. It doesn't work.
One of my favorite names is Zak. Zach, Zack and Zac are okay but Zak just tickles my fancy. I chose the picture book Zak: The One-of-a-Kind Dog by Jane Lidz just for the dog's name. I checked it out for myself but Harriet ended up wanting to read it too.
As it turns out, Jane Lidz is a local artist. She specializes in abstracts, geometrics, hearts, landscapes and horses. Her colors are bold and although Zak: The One-of-a-Kind Dog is a departure from where her art seems to be now, I can see how they came from the same creative mind.
Zak is a typical looking mutt dog. From the other children's books that feature dogs, Zak reminds me most of Ralph from Alice, the Cat Who Was Hounded by Jules Rosenthal. He's an ugly Benji. He's a small dog with floopy triangle ears and wiry fur.
Zak decides he needs to know what kind of dog he is. The book chronicles his search for his heritage and identity with photographs that appear to be hand tinted black and whites. He discovers his own unique gestalt and with it an inner peace.
Jane Lidz's book was read on an episode of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. You can read about it on the Neighborhood Archive.
"Blocked" by Geoff Ryman is presented as a dream. In the dream there's a blended family of two Europeans living in Vietnam. The narrator (dreamer) is a man who has married a woman who has four children from a previous relationship with a Vietnamese man.
Something goes awry with the world and like everyone else, the family is driven underground. Huge cities have been built to ride out whatever is going on. These underground cities are built to have all the modern conveniences, including shopping. From how they are described they remind me of subterranean versions of the Axiom ship in Wall-E.
Since the story is a dream the horror of being forced underground was lost. It goes from being something potentially terrifying to being an off-beat mood piece.
On one of our recent trips to the library, Sean picked out Little Bo by Julie Andrews Edwards for me to read to Harriet. Although she loves books about cats she took one look at the book's length and decided it wasn't for her. I don't blame her. It's a 96 page chapter book (that's the same length as the early Magic Tree House books). She's still at the stage where she wants her books to be done quickly.
I still thought Little Bo looked like a cute book with it's lovely illustrations by Henry Cole. He also did the illustrations for one of Sean's favorites, Fright Night Flight. So I sat in my car and read the book while I waited for the library to open.
Little Bo is the runt of a litter of kittens born to a pampered Persian cat and the black alley cat. Rather than having the love and attention of woman who owns the mother (ala Aristocats), she allows them to stay only long enough to be weaned. Then they must be sent off to the pet store to be sold.
Before that time begins, all the kittens receive names from their mother, with the exception of Bo who gets her name from her father. He names her Boadicea to honor her for the struggle she has already completed by being the runt and still managing to grow strong.
Mostly though the book is about Bo finding her forever home and fate brings her together with a sailor. Bo isn't a natural ship cat like Henry of Henry the Sailor Cat by Mary Calhoun (review coming). I liked that the sailor sticks with his commitment to Little Bo and she to him.
I think I'll reintroduce Harriet to the book in a year or two when she's mature enough to sit through a chapter book. I know she will one day love this book as she loves cats and loves to hear about how Caligula came to be our cat.
When I was making the PDF for Chapter Eight I realized I should have put the introduction of Susan and Sapsis in the end of Chapter Seven. When I put all the chapters together in the final ebook I will probably move this scene to where it rightfully belongs.
The remainder of Chapter Eight is ten years later. Alfred and Elizabeth are now king and queen. Eric and Susan are now married and parents of three rambunctious girls. The King and Queen though are childless. Alfred desperately wants (and needs) an heir.
I wrote the initial draft of Devil to Pay for my 2005 Nanowrimo. With having to write quickly I wrote chronologically but I jumped through big gaps in time as the muse guided me. For instance, the ten years Löth spends with the Dinurs could have had a chapter or two all by itself. How did Sapsis and he adjust to their new life? How did the villagers react to having kenam living amongst them? These are questions I would like to answer at a future date, maybe as stand alone short stories.
Coolies by Yin is about two brothers who leave China and arrive in California to seek a better life. The only work available is on the transcontinental railroad. They face hardship, danger, poor working and living conditions and mistreatment by the Americans.
The vibrant watercolor illustrations make up the best part of the book. By themselves they paint the story of the Chinese who built the railroads and the terrible sacrifices they made in the process.
The story of Shek and Little Wong would stand alone fine but it's framed with a modern day scene where a child asks her mother or grandmother (I forget exactly) a grumpy question about a shrine set up to honor the ancestors. This part of the book feels forced and weakens the poignancy of Shek and Wong's story.
Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang: 02/14/10
I watched Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang before I read the novelization by Terrance Dicks. The Doctor and Leela go to Victorian London and discover a plot involving a secret Chinese cult and a sewer full of giant genetic abominations.
To be honest I don't really like the story in either form. As it's set on Earth and not that long ago the period piece of it doesn't feel genuine. Now in the television series some of that problem stems from their low budget. The book though doesn't expand on Victorian England to make it seem any more plausible or lived in than the series does. I realize that the books are constrained by a fixed number of pages but the other novelizations I've read have done a better job of bringing the episodes to life.
The other thing that irks me is the depiction of the Chinese in the series. I realize they're a cult and their leader is a typical Doctor Who monster but they aren't very convincing Chinese. Concurrent series, The Avengers, for instance, did much better jobs of depicting Chinese and Japanese characters. Again, the book fails to improve upon the characterizations of the Chinese, making them just as two dimensional as they are in the television series.
Of all the Doctor Who novelizations from this era I've read, Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang was the most difficult and frustrating to read.
Nancy Carlson began her "Nancy's Neighborhood" series of books back in 1982 when she transitioned from being an illustrator to an author & illustrator. She started with Harriet and Walt and moved onto to other characters. Loudmouth George and Henry the Mouse seem to be her most popular characters from the sheer number of titles featuring them.
Henry's Show and Tell is one of her most recent books, published this decade and there's a big change in Carlson's illustration style between the Harriet books (from the 1980s) and the Henry books (from the 2000s). They are more colorful but more loosely drawn. My daughter's biggest concern with the book is in spotting Harriet the dog. It took us a little bit to find her because she like all the other characters has changed.
Henry is in kindergarten and he needs to do a show and tell. Unfortunately he's got stage fright. Finally the teacher finds the right pep talk to give him and he comes to school ready to present his pet to the class. There's just one problem, the pet escapes.
In the case of Henry's Show and Tell the escape of the spider is pretty much the end of the book. There's a quick follow up gag to close out the book. The spider though plays a much larger and funnier roll when the show and tell scene is reprised in Henry's 100 Days of Kindergarten.
The Henry books still aren't as fun as the Harriet books (but Harriet and I are naturally biased) but are much better than the Loud Mouth George books in terms of plot and humor.
Ghost Ship by Dietlof Reiche is a young adult mystery with paranormal themes. Vikki plans to spend her summer waiting tables in her parents' restaurant, a must see stop in their seaside village. A summertime friendship with boy visiting the town with his parents and the mayor's renewed interest in the figurehead that sits in prominent display in the restaurant sparks a series of events that forces the village to relive the events that brought the figurehead to shore.
The book has some fantastic moments like the bay running dry and the appearance of the ghost ship. Unfortunately these dramatic moments are spread thin across an otherwise slowly paced novel. I realize a teen working in her parents' restaurant will be tied to her job but so much time is spent in the restaurant when the exciting and scary parts are happening outside.
I struggled to finish Ghost Ship. It lacks strong characterization, a well thought out timeline and dramatic pacing. Too much effort is spent describing the mundane and not enough on the extraordinary.
Sugar Time by Jane Adams is the story of an actress over the age of 50 who is on the verge of a comeback if her television script is picked up. She's also helping her son and daughter-in-law with their new baby. And she's worried about her health.
Sugar Time by Jane Adams opens with a wonderful visual of an octopus squeezing the life out of Charlotte "Sugar" Kane. It ends up being angina and a wake up call to take charge of her life and her health if she wishes to live long enough to see her career relaunched and the birth of her first grandchild. The octopus makes a few more cursory appearances but isn't developed into the robust motif and metaphor he should have been.
The octopus should have been on the cover. There is an octopus at the start of each chapter which serves at reminder of how much stronger Sugar Time could have been. There's a lot to this novel that felt like a series of original but undeveloped ideas.
Having an older protagonist is refreshing but she never gets a chance to prove she's been in the business as long as we're supposed to believe. There are a few throw away lines sprinkled throughout the book but no truly memorable scenes that I can point to as a concrete example.
Behind the scenes plots can be fascinating and humorous portrayals of the madness that is Hollywood. Instead of putting a personal spin on the television part of the industry, Sugar's days mostly show the drudgery. If this is television, why does she love it so?
I received the book for review from the author and have since released it through BookCrossing.
In the Cat in the Hat Comes Back the children are left home to shovel the snow while the mother is out shopping. The Cat in the Hat makes a reappearance and proceeds to make a mess with the building absurdity similar to the Laura NumeroffIf You Give a — a — books. But Dr. Seuss's mayhem isn't circular. It just gets worse and worse, requiring more and more man (or cat) power to fix.
Things get out of hand immediately when the Cat decides to take a bath while eating pink frosted cake in the tub. The frosting leaves a ring around the tub and thus begins the boy and girl's long exasperating day of trying to fix the problem and trying to stop the Cat before he makes things worse.
The ring around the tub and the magical spreading spot of pink frosting have stuck with me all these years. As a child I had to bath in a tub that invariably had a soap ring around it when the bath was done. Since I loved to play with soap crayons in the tub the ring was typically some weird color too. So I felt a connection between my life and the book.
Now all these years later I'm reconnecting with an old favorite as my son giggles over things going from bizarre to bad to worse to surreal as the Cat in the Hat keeps finding smaller and smaller versions of himself under each hat to help clean up the mess.
I'm now up to page 360 in Within a Budding Grove. The new section is still getting in gear leaving these thirty pages heavy in description and light in plot.
The protagonist has made his way to his grandmother's home. Having arrived he's struck by how different her home is from his cozy life in Paris. Her place is big and old. He finds its ornate details and echoing halls a distraction; he can't lose himself in his thoughts like he can at home.
This section coincides with a fantasy book I just finished, Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple (Jane Yolen's son). So why then do I have Fred Astaire from Top Hat as my image? Somewhere in my back and forth between the two books I was reminded of the ornate hotel set in Top Hat (1935) when the film moves to Venice.
Although they are in Venice, most of the plot stays inside the hotel. From a production standpoint it was easier and cheaper and safer to build a set on a sound stage instead of schlepping everyone to Venice in the middle of the Depression and the political unrest in Europe. The set though isn't just any run of the mill hotel; it's a post modern masterpiece with its own in door canal. It is as eye catching and awe inspiring as the grandmother's estate is to the young protagonist.
See you back next week for my thoughts on pages 361-390.
My first Connie Willis novel was To Say Nothing of the Dog back in 2005 before I had started book blogging in earnest. Recently I noticed that my library has a nice collection of her novels. As I was in the middle of reading for the Cybils I chose the shortest book I could find, D.A.
D.A. is an 80 page novella what was first published in a collection and then separately. It's by far the silliest Connie Willis story I've read to date. While she can write very serious novels (Doomsday Book for instance) she really shines when he embraces her off the wall sense of humor.
The novel follows Theodora Baumgarten who wants nothing more than to get into UCLA. While everyone else is gaga to go into space as an IASA cadet she wants nothing to do with space. Imagine her surprise when she's chosen to be the cadet from her school that year! Especially when she didn't apply.
Can Theodora and her hacker friend back on Earth set things to right? I loved the quick pace of this novella and the way that Willis was able to create a believable and charming teenage voice for her protagonist.
Detective Small and the Amazing Banana Caper: 02/10/10
Detective Small in the Amazing Banana Caper by Wong Herbert Yee was one of pile of books my children picked out from the library. They were going through a run of watching and reading Curious George and picked it out for something else involving an ape.
In the picture book someone has stolen all the bananas. Detective Small is hired to find the thief. He must follow the clues to solve the mystery. Children can follow them too as they are provided in the illustrations.
For adults, there are many visual gags included along with the clues in the illustrations. For instance in the police line up you'll find The Man in the Yellow Hat. Later there's a King Kong parody among many others. For me the best part was the complexity of the mystery. It's not a straight-forward who done it and the detective has to "follow the evidence" as the say in C.S.I.
In the end though, I enjoyed the book more than my children did. They didn't get most of the visual gags and didn't want to sit through me explaining all of them. Without the visual humor the book is just a complex mystery and that alone didn't hold their attention.
Albatross is another term for a double eagle. The derivation of the name is one of many interesting pieces of golfing lore tucked away in the WWII historical fiction, Shooting an Albatross by Steven R. Lundin.
It's 1943 and the PGA tour has been canceled for the year. The The 170th Field Artillery Battalion of the U.S. Army have taken over a golf course in Los Angeles while they're waiting to ship out. In their spare time the Army General and a Navy Admiral have decided to go head to head on a round of golf. There's just one problem: neither one of them plays. No problem; they'll train up their best men to play for them.
In the middle of the golf rivalry there is also a love triangle with a beautiful Angelino who lives with her father at the edge of the course. Although the course if formally closed she still likes to sneak in a round or two in her spare time.
The novel though beings in the present with a man set on revenge. Why he wants revenge is revealed slowly, piece by piece as the tale of this golf rivalry unfolds. I enjoyed the book, finding it a quick and compelling read. It brings together two of my favorite settings for fiction: the golf course and WWII.
I received my copy from the author and have since released it through BookCrossing.
Harriet loves cats. Whenever I'm at the library or I'm buying books for her, I'm looking for books about cats. Among my recent library finds was Henry the Sailor Cat by Mary Calhoun. It's the sixth book in a series of picture books featuring an adventurous Siamese cat.
Henry stows away on the sailboat while the Man is teaching the Boy how to sail. Henry is discovered too late to return to shore and is allowed to stay above deck as long as he doesn't get in the way. The cat spends the day learning along side the Boy. Later they will both need to put their new skills to the ultimate test.
I have known cats to love water and cats certainly have been on ships. I can't say I've ever known a water loving Siamese but that's besides the point. Henry's actions on the ship are plausible, albeit a bit extraordinary at times, and the pages are sumptuously illustrated.
The pieces are almost in place. Eric and Sapsis have reached the Hookshire. Eric is there to see Susan. Sapsis is there to seek guidance. She wants to do something useful to help the Shadow Kenams come home. They accept her offer but the help they ask for is well beyond what she can do by herself.
For Susan Eric's arrival signals a change in her life. She firmly believes her life is on a new path. Although she'll someday be Duchess of Hook and through her station be expected to interact with Alfred when's king, she thinks these will be momentary inconveniences.
But the Everything has a different pattern in mind for everyone as it brings the Children of Alsiekipsie home.
Writing and Mapping
When writing its easy to get caught up in the fun and to start throwing around place names willynilly. It's just as easy to forget where these places are relative to each other. To keep thing straight I started mapping my world last year. The map is still a work in progress.
At the state level, especially for Capital State, I want to include major highways. At a global level, I want to figure out the time zones. Right now I have 26 areas marked out but they don't follow any of the geopolitical boundaries as the time zones on Earth do. To make Albion a little different from Earth, I've added two extra hours meaning that midnight and noon fall at 13 o'clock.
You'll also notice that most of Greater Albion is south of the Equator. When I was first rolling around plot ideas in my head I was in Australia as an exchange student. So much of fiction and science fiction I've read has a very northern hemisphere approach regardless of where their story is set. Being a northern hemisphere person I have to admit it's hard to instantly remember what season it should be. Now of course, Greater Albion isn't Earth and won't have the same degree of tilt to its access so the southern hemisphere thing is just a starting point a reminder to think about the details.
Below is a small detail from the much larger map I'm working on. Not every place on the map has been mentioned in the chapters I've posted but they will be. The red line is route of the bullet train that connects most of the northern cities to Kings City.
I pre-ordered Zombie Queen of Newbury High in the fall of 2008 at the same time I ordered You Had Me at Halo. I was (and still am) a subscriber to Amanda Ashby's blog and bought both books together on the basis of her posts. Although I read You Had Me at Halo in the summer it took me until December to review it. Likewise I didn't actually read Zombie Queen of Newbury High until my New Year's holiday.
Mia's blissfully happy. She's dating her own special love god, Rob the high school football quarterback. She envisions the perfect prom where Rob takes her and she has the perfect dress. All that comes crashing down when Samantha, aka miss popularity, begins to make a move on the love god.
Love God isn't Mia's term for Rob, I'm borrowing it from the Georgia Nicholson series because the set up is the same until Mia learns that magic is real and the wrong magic can turn people into zombies. Worse yet, she's been tricked into to performing just such a spell and if she can't reverse it, her classmates will all become zombies through a four step transformative process.
So often the zombie stories focus so much on the upcoming total annihilation of humanity as the undead feast on brains and turn their victims that the reason behind the zombie outbreak is never explained nor is any thought on the mechanism for spreading the infestation beyond the ensemble cast given. It's just taken as fact that all the world will become zombied if the heroes can't stop them. Shaun of the Dead thinks through containment and now Zombie Queen of Newberry High answers how zombies are created and gives some thought to why the world hasn't fallen prey to hordes of zombies yet.
All of this happens in the setting of a typical American high school with the prototypical characters played up for laughs. The dialogue and descriptions aren't as over the top as in Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicholson series but it's still goofy, lighthearted and fun with enough underlying pathos of a Mia knowing that if she doesn't succeed in undoing the spell the authorities will have to kill all her friends before they can spread the disease beyond the high school.
Next year her third book is coming out, Fairy Bad Day. I'm looking forward to it.
I remember reading The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright in elementary school. It must have been right around the time when it was first published. I remember liking the idea of a haunted dollhouse but being annoyed by the book. When I saw the book at my library I decided to give it a second try. I liked it a lot more as an adult than I did as a child.
Amy needs some free time from her sister, Louann. Her sister is special needs, having suffered brain damage although I don't think how that happened is explained. Regardless, Louann needs extra help and Amy is stuck being the one always providing that extra care because their mother needs to work and money is tight. There isn't a father so their mother has the extra stress of being a single mother.
In the middle of all that family drama is a chance to get away for a birthday party at Aunt Clara's home. It's at the old family home where the ghost story takes center stage. In the attic is a model of the home with dolls representing the family as it was some fifteen or twenty years earlier. The dolls in the house replay the scene of a grisly murder that has been buried in family secrets all these years.
The ghost story by itself is chilling and terrifying. It though gets lost in the parallels the author is trying to draw between Clara and her brother and Amy and Louann. Add in Louann's problems, the added difficulties of being a single parent and basic sibling rivalries and the ghost story gets lost in the shuffle.
I said at the beginning that I liked it more as an adult. I did and I think it stems from me being now able to relate to the adults in the book. They are realistically portrayed even if the book as a whole is more complicated than it needs to be.
The Knight at Dawn (Magic Tree House #2): 02/06/10
The Knight at Dawn by Mary Pope Osborne is the second in the Magic Tree House series. Sean and Ian originally read the first eight together before I took over reading them with Sean. I am now reading the first eight in my spare time to "catch up."
In The Knight at Dawn Jack and Annie still don't know the true power of the tree house or who is behind it's magical powers. They have, however, figured out the basics to make it take them places and bring them home. This time they are drawn to a book about castles and end up experiencing one first hand.
The second book is still shorter and more simplistic in terms of plot and vocabulary from later books in the series but it starts give hints of things to come. At the moment the only mystery (introduced in book one) is the identity of the person leaving the M marked items behind in the worlds they have explored.
Time and Time Again was James Hilton's last novel. It was published the year before he died. It covers the rather ordinary life of a rather ordinary man. It's very much like Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.
Told in flashbacks, a diplomat outlines the big events in his life. They are basically a series of humiliations and disappointments.
The section that sticks with me most is the first one where as a young college student he meets the woman of his dreams. She is reading a book in a cafe and he's forced to sit with her for a lack of seating on that busy day. They get to talking and find that they enjoy each others company. They decide to marry except parents intervene.
I have to admit that the middle of the novel is a bit of a blur in my memory. It's a bit like "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin. Now in the both the novel and the song, I feel that the sons have ended up better than their fathers.
A Busy Day on the Farm by Doreen Cronin is the most recent of the Click Clack Moo books. It covers a day in the life of the farm now that the animals are more or less liberated.
Duck eats everything in Farmer Browns fridge. Other animals have busy work out schedules. Some drink lattes. Somewhere in the middle of all this yuppy life style they manage to do the farm chores too.
This addition to the series hasn't stuck with me like the other ones have. It also hasn't been requested for night time stories as many times. It's a more generic animals acting like people on a farm than the other stories.
Whenever Proust begins or ends a section he gets lost in the scenery. The last section ended with thoughts of Paris in April and how beautiful the city was despite his break up with Bergotte. Now it's some time in the future and he's tired of Paris. He's decided to travel ala grandmother via train.
So these first thirty pages of the new section read like a sentimental travelogue. In looking for a good image of a train, I ended up with North by Northwest.Within a Budding Grove is not a thriller but there's a good bit of American travel nostalgia in Hitchcock's film. The "web of intrigue and deceit" travels through a number of American landmarks: the United Nations building in Manhattan and Mount Rushmore being the most notable. The main character crosses the country by train and bus, seeing the small places between just as Proust's narrator does via his train trip out of Paris.
See you back next week for my thoughts on pages 331-360.
I chose Rules of the Net by Jennifer Guess McKerley back when the CORA Diversity Roll Call was asking for us to recommend early readers that highlight diversity. It was one of three books that I posted about.
Rules of the Net appealed to me first and foremost for the volleyball game. In school volleyball was one of my favorite PE sports. I was never very good at it but it was still fun to play.
Now the point of Rules of the Net isn't diversity; it's to teach trustworthiness. The diversity of the characters is secondary to the plot. Carlos, the boy with the arm in a sling on the cover, is benched because of his injury. To include him in the training, the coach asks him to keep score and watch for fouls. Carlos wants his best friend to make the starting line up for tomorrow's game but he doesn't want to fudge the score either.
In terms of plot, it's nothing too complicated but it is after all an early reader. It is the sort of "helping hands" story that my son likes. Since it appeal to him and he's in the target age group, I'd call the book a success.
When the Weekly Geeks asked for our top reads of books published in 2009, I included The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Although I don't like to call any of my reading "guilty pleasures" if I were forced to, then Dan Brown would be one of my "guilty pleasures."
Robert Langdon is back for his third adventure. This time he's in Washington D.C. trying to help rescue a friend whose severed hand is left in the capitol as a dare and invitation to Langdon.
Anyone who knows anything about Washington D.C. already knows it's a city full of Masonic history and symbolism. Just look at the back of the dollar bill and you'll see the Masonic temple. It's not exactly a secret part of the United States' history or culture.
So before even cracking open the book I had a pretty good idea of what would be contained within. First there's the crazy and dangerous quest done against a ticking Mickey Mouse watch. There's a fanatically evil villain who is closely related to the victim (in one way or another). There's the pseudo-science which is there to remind everyone that the book is fiction and finally there's the (mangled) symbology and art history.
To put it another way, Dan Brown writes capers. They're art history themed capers through famous landmarks: Vatican City/Rome, Paris/London and now Washington D.C. When you add in the symbology puzzles these books begin to resemble a grown up version of the old Encyclopedia Brown series of mysteries. A big part of the fun for me is figuring out the solution to the biggest riddle and the location of the treasure long before "expert" Robert Langdon does.
The I Spy books come in three reading levels: board books, early readers and the regular challengers. Typically the board books and early readers use the same images from their counterparts in the challengers. In the case of I Spy School Bus by Jean Marzollo, the images are taken from I Spy School Days.
I Spy a School Bus has only a close up of each original two page spread and more simplistic riddles. The object to be found is also shown as a pictogram as part of the riddle.
My son who started with the challengers first found the level one readers too easy. His sister though enjoys them tremendously. They allow her to play I Spy at her own speed. She also likes the board books.
I heard about Nation by Terry Pratchett when I was doing one of my runs of reading through his Discworld series. At first, assuming it was yet another from the series I wasn't interested. I love the series but I'm over whelmed by it. It wasn't until I started reading the many enthusiastic reviews on my favorite book blogs that I realized it is a stand alone novel.
I bought my copy at the start of 2009 but life got in the way and before I knew it, the year was almost over by the time I read it. I wish I had read it sooner because I loved it. I haven't felt this strong a connection with a Pratchett novel since I read Colour of Magic on board the Rotterdam off the coast of Alaska.
Mau and the other boys have gone to nearby island to learn how to be men. They never get a chance. The volcano blows its top and nearly everyone is killed by the resulting tsunami. Normally they would be smart enough to run to high ground but they had been waiting for the boys to return.
It's not just a survival tale of Mau who believes he is the last of his kind. It's also a meeting of cultures. Daphne was aboard ship when the tsunami hit. Now she's washed ashore with Mau and the sole survivor of her ship. She and Mau have to learn to live together, communicate with each other if they are to survive.
Nation is a short book compared to some of his Discworld novels but it's just as complex and just as magical. Daphne's story and Mau's story together paint an alternate history of Earth.
Although Nation is not set on our Earth and place names are different, a basic understanding of historical events in the South Pacific will enrich the reading experience.
Viking Ships at Sunrise (Magic Tree House #15): 02/01/10
I'll probably be wrapping up my series of reviews of books from the Magic Tree House soon. My son has become a strong enough reader that he now reads these books by himself. With all my other reading I'm not sure I can keep up with them as he tears through this series.
Viking Ship Before Sunrise is the third book in the lost works series. This time Jack and Annie have to go back to an island off the coast of Ireland to rescue an illuminated manuscript before the island is over run by Vikings.
There's a lot of history and art history tossed into this volume but at 75 pages there just isn't much time to go any sort of detail. Jack and Annie learn how to live like monks (briefly), learn about the process of making an illuminated manuscript (briefly), learn about the Viking invasion and nearly experience it first hand. With the emphasis put on the danger there's little time for anything else. The adventure here didn't feel as well integrated as it is in a later volume, Tonight on the Titanic.
When it comes to DK books, Harriet is following in her brother's foot steps. A few years ago I was reading (and re-reading!) many of the "My First ... Board Book" series to Sean. Now Harriet has discovered her brother's old books and a stash of them at our local library.
My First Time Board Book by Elizabeth Hester uses the typical brightly colored DK photographs that are always somewhat retro to teach concepts of time. It has pages that show a typical day including waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, taking a bath and going to bed. There's a page to compare day and night and a page per season.
The book is thirty six pages and nearly everything on every page is labeled. While the text will take less than 30 seconds to read, the labels add a few extra minutes. Sometimes Harriet can drag out the book to a half an hour by asking questions about each and every thing or telling stories about them.