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October 2010

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

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The Big Rock Candy Mountain: 10/31/10

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When I was reading Wolf Willow by Wallace Stegner for the 2009-10 Canada reads challenge, someone on Twitter recommended with gushing enthusiasm The Big Rock Candy Mountain also by Stegner. Since I've so far had very good luck with Stegner's books and since I love the song from 1928 that inspired the title of this roman clef, I immediately put the book on hold.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain is a big, dense, complicated book. The version I read further exacerbated things by using a tiny typeface. Since it was an old copy and the paper had yellowed, it was really hard to read both from a physical and mental standpoint.

The book has ten parts, each one a different scheme for Bo Mason or someone else in his family to try. It's a different scheme, a different location and a different era. Stylistically the book reminds me of Ulysses and I probably should have treated it the same way by reading a single section a week instead of powering through the entire book in a month.

Thematically though, the book reminds me of the two Polly Horvath books I've read: My One Hundred Adventures and Northward to the Moon (review coming). Both are about families trying to make a go at things by unconventional means. Both also share plots that dance across border between the United States and Canada being novels representative of both countries.

I ended up giving the book a two out of five stars on Goodreads. I was going through a rough patch, trying to find a job in the middle of the worst economy we've had since the Great Depression. Reading a book about a family struggling through poverty wasn't the best thing for my own emotional state of being. The tiny typeface, yellowed pages and numerous pages didn't help matters either.

My advice: take the book slowly.

Comments (2)

Mr. McGratt and the Ornery Cat: 10/30/10

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Harriet goes through cycles of reading. Recently she went through an all princesses all the time phase. Then she went through a Christmas and Hanukkah in July phase. Now she seems to be returning to her roots: cats.

One of her recent cat book choices from the library was Mr. McGratt and the Ornery Cat by Marilyn Helmer. It's one of those "and the cat came back" stories (without the nuclear blast at the end).

Mr. McGratt wants to be left alone. He doesn't the annoying kid going through his pumpkin patch. He doesn't want the neighbor dog to eat his paper. And he certainly doesn't want a cat.

But you know cats. They pick people and often the very person who swears up and down he's not a cat person. Like Jack in Hate That Cat, Mr. McGratt doesn't want a cat. He hates the ornery cat who has picked him and his home.

And yet when the cat is there, the boy doesn't ruin his pumpkins and the dog has stopped eating his newspaper. Maybe, just maybe, the ornery cat is a useful cat. And maybe, just maybe, Mr. McGratt can change his mind and love that cat after all.

It's a cute book. Harriet and I both liked the story. The artwork was a little off for my tastes but the humor and good natured message more than makes up for it. It's an easy enough book to read that after I read to Harriet once, she re-read it to herself a couple more times before we returned it to the library.

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Battlestar Galactica: 10/29/10

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I am old enough to have watched the original Battlestar Galactica. I watched it when it was new and I grew up watching it over and over again in reruns at my grandmother's house. It came on after The Twilight Zone, right during lunch.

When the new series started, I was asked to review the second and third books in the companion book series. I really wanted to read the first in the new series too, Battlestar Galactica by Jeffrey A. Carver. Recently I realized I could get the book via an interlibrary loan and was finally able to mark it off my wishlist.

After years of not seeing the Cylons, they are suddenly back and out for blood. They have decided to kill humanity to make way for their kind. They fail in the goal of complete annihilation and end up having to chase the survivors across space. What the humans don't realize is that there are Cylons living among them. Some who know and some who don't know the truth behind their origins.

The miniseries and the book both begin with an explanation aimed at the folks who remember the original: why don't the new Cylons look like the walking toasters of yore? In trying to make that tie to the original the plot opens up more questions than are possible perhaps to answer. Ones that came to my mind were: is this just a clean retelling from scratch and are the current bunch repeating the war and migration of their forefathers? Those questions aren't addressed in the book or the miniseries but hints are dropped as fan service.

Did I like the book? Yes, slightly more than I did the miniseries. The book is faithful to the miniseries and it seems that adaptations from films to books are more faithful to their source material than when the process is the other way around. I would have liked to have seen things told in a different order than they were shown in the miniseries. The miniseries did a lot of jumping around between locations to show all the events happening simultaneously. In book form, the result is extremely short chapters with very little segue. I think things would have played out better had more time been given to each location.

That said, I'm still glad I went to the effort to find and read the book. I'm glad to have gotten it read while the mini series is still relatively fresh in my mind.

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Bhangra Babes: 10/28/10

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In keeping with my inability to start most series at the beginning, I read the third book, Bhangra Babes by Narinder Dhami first. Auntie is still living at home to provide a female touch since their mother died. The problem is, they'd really like to get Auntie out of the house.

Fortunately though, Auntie has gotten engaged. In six weeks the wedding will be over and life will be back to normal. In the meantime though, they have to survive through Auntie's crazy wedding planning while they'd rather concentrate on the new cute boy a their school.

As it's set in England and is narrated by a teenage girl (Amber) it gives a cursory first impression of being another Georgia Nicholson, except with an Indian family. While it's true that Amber shares certain passions with Georgia (boys and making strange plans) she's not as broadly a comedic character. Part of Amber's grounding as a more believable character is her strong family connection and her two sisters who are closer in age than Georgia and Libby are. Also Amber and her family are part of a larger community so that Amber's story isn't just about her antics as school.

Coming into a series in the final book did leave me a little confused at times. I took me a while to keep Amber and her other two sisters apart and to follow along with Auntie's gossip. I've since read the second book, Bollywood Babes and I plan to go read the first book, Bindi Babes. After that I might come back and give Bhangra Babes a quick re-read.

That said, I did ultimately enjoy the book. I recommend you start at the beginning if you can.

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Thief of Shadows: 10/27/10


"Thief of Shadows" by Fred Chappell is a prequel to the other numerous Shadow stories published in previous issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine.

"The Diamond Shadow" was the second FSF story I ever read. That one was vaguely novel except for Peter Pan's shadow having a life of its own and all. After that each new story has been a chore for me to read.

So we're back to this magical realm where shadows are real, tangible things. As always, they are potentially dangerous things. Even in this case poisonous.

If like the series you'll like this one. If you don't, go ahead and skip it.

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The Klondike Cat: 10/26/10

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Back when Harriet was going through her cat book phase, I saw The Klondike Cat by Julie Lawson on display at my library. We happened to be re-watching Gay Purr-ee at the same time which has a scene where Jaune-Tom and Robespierre are shanghaied and sold as ship's cats on a clipper bound for the Klondike. So the combination of cats and the Klondike Gold Rush were fresh on our minds. The book seemed like a perfect fit for us.

Noah and his pa are moving to the Klondike. Noah can't bear to leave his beloved cat and smuggles her into his bag. His decision to bring her along has good and bad consequences. Fortunately Noah and his dad are able to reach a compromise over the cat. It ended up opening a conversation about how Ian and I have moved with Caligula cat many times, including from Southern to Northern California.

Coupled with the story's historical setting and a father and son moving out to the wilderness are Paul Mombourquette's gorgeous illustrations. The book is worth a second read just to appreciate the artwork.

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In Search of Manning Coles: 10/26/10

I am a list keeper. I have been since seventh grade. I have lists of things I've done, things I've read, things I want to do and things I want to read. I am not always good about annotating the reasons behind the things on my lists. I am getting better about leaving notes to myself in my lists but I wish I had always been as diligent.

Take for instance my list of books I want to read. I have transferred it from a paper list to to Cliff's wishlist to my own website and into GoodReads where it currently resides. Not all wishlists have had places to make annotations and so what I'm left with for the earliest books on my list are just titles and authors and the date when I entered the wish into the current list.

After letting the list grow on GoodReads to the point where it's almost 500 titles long I decided to start putting the books on hold, oldest ones first, at my library. At first I wasn't having much success. My tastes are eclectic and tend towards out of print books. Then for my academic research I learned how to use the Link+ system and realized (duh!) that I could also get my fun reading this way too.

Thankfully Link+ has made me able to get access to the vast majority of the books I want to read. These last couple months I've knocked nearly a dozen books off my list. Most of them I can remember why I wanted them.

And that brings me to my current Link+ read, A Toast to Tomorrow, originally printed in Britain as Pray Silence in 1940. It's one of the best books I've read this year but I don't remember why or when exactly I added it to my wishlist. The Cliff's date is September 22, 2007 but I have a nagging feeling it's been on my wishlist even longer.

For the last day or so I have been trying to search the internet (Google, Google Scholar, the academic journal databases at San Jose State, the Library of Congress and NPR's website) for clues to what inspired me to add the book.

I haven't gotten anywhere to jogging my memory which is appropriate for the book as it starts with a man having amnesia. Like Klauss Lehman I am waiting for that defining moment where the fog in my memory will clear and I will finally be able to remember why I added the book.

What I have learned in the process is that Manning Coles is actually two people (Adelaide) Manning and (Cyrus) Coles. They were next door neighbors. Both had war experience from WWI and were active in the war effort for the second war. Together they were able to create realistic depictions of the war that meld the brutality of it with a deliciously wry sense of humor. Their first hand knowledge also helped them predict some of the aspects of the war's progression making A Toast to Tomorrow read as if it were written the aid of 20/20 hindsight at times. To learn more about Manning Coles please read the article at Rue Morgue Press.

So as I wrack my brain in perhaps a vain attempt to remember I have some theories behind when and why I might have added the book. I could have heard of the book when I was reading through either Patricia Highsmith's or Alan Furst's books. I might have heard it mentioned on NPR in comparison to Furst's WWII books (as they are very similar in tone). It's possible someone at BookCrossing could have recommended it to me although I don't have any memories of it being recommended by a specific person. It's also possible I started it reading it when I was visiting someone and didn't have a chance to finish it while I was there.

If you were the person who recommended the book to me or remember me adding it to my wishlist, please let me know.

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Pass It Down: Five Picture Book Families Make Their Mark: 10/25/10

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I spend more time in the children's wing of my library than I do anywhere else. It's right by the entrance. There's a shelf of new books, themed books and other goodies there to tempt me. I know I could use the excuse that I'm only looking for books for my children but that would be flat out lie.

Take for example: Pass It Down: Five Picture Book Families Make Their Mark by Leonard S. Marcus. I saw that book on the nonfiction shelf and had to check it out. Not for my children but for myself.

The book highlights five families of picture book authors and illustrators: Crews, Hurd, Myers, Pinkney and Rockwell. There is a short biography for each author or illustrator, along with photographs and samples of their artwork.

The book is a little longer than a typical picture book. The intended audience is probably the children who are currently reading their books but I wanted more.

Other posts and reviews:

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What Are You Reading: October 25, 2010: 10/24/10

What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

A third of the books I read were actually from my personal collection. I finally finished The Red Pyramid and I loved it. Although my list doesn't show much in the way of academic reading, the vast majority of my reading is actually from peer reviewed journals. I have an annotated bibliography due soon and am reading and note taking like crazy for it. This week I will write the bibliography.

Finished Last Week:

  1. The Adventures of Tittletom by Ellis Credle (library book)
  2. Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace by Pierre Lévy (library book)
  3. Echoes from the Macabre: Selected Stories by Daphne du Maurier (library book)
  4. Internet Freedom: Where Is the Limit? by Ann Kramer (library book)
  5. Kat Kong by Dav Pilkey (personal collection)
  6. Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion by Mo Willems (personal collection)
  7. The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1) by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  8. San Leandro, California by Cynthia Vrilakas Simons (library book)
  9. Tuey's Course by James Ross (review copy)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (personal collection)
  3. Information Seeking in Electronic Environments by Gary Marchionini (personal collection)
  4. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  5. The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon by Robert Whitaker (library book)
  6. The Portable MLIS by Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)
  7. A Thief of Time (Navajo Mysteries, #8) by Tony Hillerman (personal collection)
  8. A Toast to Tomorrow by Manning Coles (library book)
  9. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack (library book)
  2. Batman: Year One by Frank Weeks (library book)
  3. Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman (library book)
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (library book)
  5. Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins (library book)
  6. My Guy by Sarah Weeks (library book)
  7. Pure by Terra Elan McVoy (personal collection)
  8. Virtual Unrealities by Alfred Bester (library book)

Comments (24)


Monsoon Summer: 10/24/10

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I met Mitali Perkins online via Twitter. One day she tweeted her frustration over getting her books into libraries. Curious, I went online to my library's catalog and saw that they had multiple copies of all but her newest book. They all sounded good so I asked her which book I should read first. She suggested Monsoon Summer.

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins is about a family of four going to India for the summer (monsoon season). It's told from the first person point of view of fifteen year old Jasmine (Jazz) Gardner. They are returning to the orphanage where her mother lived before being adopted by a California couple. Jazz is reluctant to leave her business partner (and potential boyfriend) for the summer. She's nervous about the orphanage, about being in school during her vacation and about losing her friend to the more beautiful and popular girl at their school.

Jazz and her brother are ethnically mixed and by far the most believable pair of California siblings I've run across in fiction. I clicked with them immediately and felt as if I were there with Jazz as she went to school, struggled with writing letters to her would be boyfriend and her developing friendship with Danita, a girl at the orphanage who has a fantastic talent for fashion design.

I don't want to give away anything. Let's just say I loved the book. I tore through it in two days in between my homework and research. When things calm down with my classes I plan to go back and read more of her books.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: 10/23/10

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Back in May when I was working for the Census I heard a book review of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Steig Lasson on NPR. It was an especially hot day and I decided to take a little extra time to fill out my paperwork and rehydrate so I could hear the entire review. The Millenium series wasn't one I had planned to read but Maureen Corrigan made it sound interesting and like something I might like.

So I put The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on hold at the library. There were something like a hundred people in line ahead of me. I put the book out of my mind having plenty of others things to read and of course the daily Census work to keep me occupied. Near the very end of my run as a 2010 enumerator, the book came in. And I ended up reading it while waiting for a mandatory Census meeting to start, two hours late! Let's just say it didn't put me in a good mood to read the book.

Going into the book I certainly was well aware of what has been posted already about the book. There are those who love the book and rave about how they couldn't put it down. There are others who hate the book for the violence against women. I certainly didn't love the book and I certainly didn't hate the book either. If anything, I found it a mediocre psychological drama mystery in need of editing.

Lisbeth Salander is the girl with the dragon tattoo and she's one of two people investigating the forty year old disappearance of Harriet Vanger. She went missing during a family gathering on a remote island at a time when the bridge was blocked by a truck accident. Henrik Vanger, her uncle wants Mikael Blomkvist to research her disappearance with hopes of discovering what happened to her and who has been trying to drive him mad by sending yearly reminders of her disappearance.

As many blog reviews have said, the first 50 pages are deadly slow. Even the ones who love the book admit that it has a slow start. By the time I was stuck in a McDonalds waiting for the meeting to start I was past those fifty pages. I was hopeful that things would pick up and capture my attention. For me, they didn't. In fact by about page 120 or so I figured out what had happened to Harriet. After that, I kept reading only because I had nothing else to do.

The big draw for most readers seems to be how different Blomkvist and Salander are. Blomkvist is dull, boring, and doesn't know how to tell any of the other characters to shut up. Which leaves me slogging through paragraphs and paragraphs of dialogue in place of plot or character development.

Then there's Salander, the "kick ass" titular character in the English translation. The original title is Men Who Hate Women which is a better title. Salander comes off as a throw away character. Sure, she has a painful past and tons of secrets and an attitude but in the grand scheme of the libel suit, the disappearance of a young girl, a seriously dysfunctional family and a plot that seems like the miniseries version of a typical night of Criminal Minds, she's like that show's Penelope Garcia.

So no, I won't be bothering with the other two books in the series. I might watch the Swedish film on Netflix but I won't be forking out money to see the American remake that's currently being filmed.

Comments (8)

My Guy: 10/22/10

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I've been reading the Guy Strang series by Sarah Weeks out of order over the course of a year. My Guy is the third book in the series. That just leaves the first book for me to finish.

Guy's mother has decided to remarry and Guy isn't happy about it. Neither is his soon to be step sister, Lana Zuckerman. If they can get over their long standing feud maybe they can work together to stop the wedding.

So far, of the three I've read, My Guy was my least favorite. First and foremost, Guy seemed out of character for me. Mixed marriages where older children are involved are crunchy. Having a marriage that will force two kids who have hated each other since kindergarten together as step siblings was just too much for me to swallow.

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Pure: 10/21/10

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Pure by Terra Elan McVoy was one of two young adult books I had to read for the Nerds Heart YA brackets. It's not a book I would ever chose for myself. The idea of purity rings makes my skin crawl. And here's a book with five friends who have been wearing them since they were twelve. They're now fifteen, boy crazy and one of them has changed her mind. Tabitha, the narrator of this novel does her best to hold the friendship together while the most religious harpy in the group wants to cast her out of their close knit circle.

Despite my own personal squicky feelings about girls being taught to preserve their "purity" for marriage instead of teaching teens of both genders how to protect themselves and take charge of their bodies while staying healthy, Pure was better than I feared. It's not as preachy as I feared it would be and it does try to cover different problems teenage girls might face, especially those in a clique.

Tabitha's an interesting character with a strong voice. I think some of her potential though is wasted. The way the book is set up with Tabitha getting interested in a boy and kissing him outside of a youth group gathering, I expected her to be the one to start a sexual relationship. She wasn't but she would have been a far more interesting character as the outsider in the clique.

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Batman: Year One: 10/20/10

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I have a wishlist that stands at just shy of 500 books. These aren't books I want to own, just read. Since obviously the book fairies aren't going to drop books in my lap, I need to seek them out and actually get them read. Odd ball that I am, I'm working my way from the first books on my list through the last.

One of those earliest books was Batman: Year One by Frank Miller. Although I grew up enjoying the various TV and to a lesser degree film versions of Batman I never really got into the comics even after they were republished as graphic novels. It's not that I was anti comic as a child, there just weren't any comic book stores in walking distance of where I lived. So I didn't hear about Batman: Year One until after the film Batman Begins which was inspired by Miller's work.

Everyone who's heard of Batman knows the basic's of his origin story. Batman: Year One looks at the early days of Batman's vigilante work. More so than just a rehash of how he develops his gear and so forth, it asks the question: how did the Gotham police force come to work so closely with him. A better title than Batman: Year One would be Gordon: Year One as it follows James Gordon's transformation from overworked beat cop into someone who would some day be Commissioner.

That said, I enjoyed the story but found the artwork sometimes trying too hard to be edgy. Although it didn't annoy me as much as the Robin Hood artwork did, there's a heavy emphasis on monotone palettes: browns and other muted colors for the drabness of Gordon's life and the darker, more saturated blues, purples and reds for Batman's scenes. It works but sometimes it gets to be a bit much. There aren't enough moments to pause and catch a breadth. Without those moments, the action begins to lose its meaning.

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Virtual Unrealities: 10/19/10

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Virtual Unrealities is a collection of Alfred Bester's short stories published over the course of his career. The last story in the set, "The Devil without Glasses" was previously unpublished. It was on my wishlist after a book blogger was raving about his works and I had only read one of his books.

Bester's stories remind me of Twilight Zone episodes, the originals, not the remakes. They start simply and then something becomes into focus as being off. One small detail will set everything off kilter and that's where the stories come to life.

For instance, "Disappearing Act" starts with a teacher trying to return a paper to a boy who has gone missing with his family. He recognizes brilliance in the boy's writing and expects the rest of the. When he fails to find the boy and his life is put in danger in the process he suspects the government. The solution to the situation ends up being much simpler and delightfully hair raising at the same time.

The book contains the following stories:

  • Disappearing act
  • Oddy and Id
  • Star light, star bright
  • 5,271,009
  • Fondly Fahrenheit
  • Hobson's choice
  • Of time and Third Avenue
  • Time is the traitor
  • The men who murdered Mohammed
  • The pi man
  • They don't make life like they used to
  • Will you wait?
  • The flowered thundermug
  • Adam and no Eve
  • And 3 1/2 to go (fragment)
  • Galatea Galante
  • The devil without glasses (previously unpublished)
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Angus and the Ducks: 10/18/10

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After Harriet and I enjoyed Angus and the Cat a couple readers recommended Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack.

Angus continues to be a curious dog. This time he hears quacking from the other side of the hedge. He wants to find out what's making the noise. His curiosity gets the best of him and he learns that ducks aren't always nice.

Everyone who suggested the book were right. Harried loved the book. Marjorie Flack's books hold up over time. I grew up with Ask Mr. Bear and now I'm enjoying the Angus books with my daughter.

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Crazy Hair: 10/17/10

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Just around the time I was rediscovering Neil Gaiman, he started writing children's books. I try to snag his picture books when I'm at the library. The latest one I grabbed was Crazy Hair with the deliciously twisted illustrations by Dave McKean.

Crazy Hair started as a poem in the vein of Shel Silverstein. But with McKean's illustrations the poem becomes a strangely delightful picture book.

Essentially the book is a dialogue between a young girl (perhaps a teen, perhaps just shy of being a teen) and a man with crazy hair (authorial insert?). She asks him about his crazy hair and he explains about all the marvelous and scary things that live in there.

In a typical story of this sort, the book would just be a hairy dog story or a tall tale. Gaiman though, he tends to take things to the next step. If there is an alternate world inside in the crazy hair, the girl should experience it first hand. And so she does.

So I showed the book to both my children. It's shelved in the books aimed at kids my daughter's age. She, though, wanted no part of the book. Her response was: "Ugh, that book is so you, Mama." Sean, on the other hand, grabbed the book out of my library book bag for a quick read. He and I loved it.

Comments (4)

What Are You Reading: October 18, 2010: 10/17/10

What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

All of my finished books this week were from the library. Five were for research. Four were picture books Harriet and I read together. The rest I read for my own fun. I'm really glad to have finally finished Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris. I've been attempting to read that book for most of this year. I would get through about fifty pages and have to send it back to the library. Now there's a third book out which I plan to check out. I wonder how long it will take me?

Finished Last Week:

  1. Babymouse #12: Burns Rubber by Jennifer L. Holm (library book)
  2. Boundaries of Home: Mapping for Local Empowerment by Doug Aberley (library book)
  3. The Chick and the Duckling by Mirra Ginsburg (library book)
  4. Early Hayward (CA) by Robert Phelps (library book)
  5. Ground Truth: The Social Implications of Geographic Information Systems by
  6. John Pickles (library book)
  7. Harriet's Halloween Candy by Nancy Carlson (library book)
  8. Sharing Geographic Information by Gerard Rushton (library book)
  9. Sugar Would Not Eat It by Emily Jenkins (library book)
  10. Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R.L. LaFevers (library book)
  11. This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson (library book)
  12. A Tree Is Nice by Janice May Udry (library book)
  13. Web 2.0 for Librarians and Information Professionals by Ellyssa Kroski (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. Echoes from the Macabre: Selected Stories by Daphne du Maurier (library book)
  3. The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (personal collection)
  4. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  5. The Portable MLIS by Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)
  6. The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1) by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  7. A Thief of Time (Navajo Mysteries, #8) by Tony Hillerman (personal collection)
  8. Tuey's Course by James Ross (review copy)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Bone: Treasure Hunters by Jeff Smith (library book)
  2. Coast to Coast by Catherine Donzel (library book)
  3. The Dyodyne Experiment by James Doulgeris and V. Michael Santoro (review copy)
  4. The Emergence of Maps in Libraries by Walter William Ristow (library book)
  5. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (library book)
  6. More Flanimals by Ricky Gervais (library book)
  7. The Quest for Merlin's Map (The Jumper Chronicles) by W. C. Peever

Comments (26)

The Quest for Merlin's Map (The Jumper Chronicles): 10/16/10

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The Quest for Merlin's Map by W. C. Peever is the first of the Jumper Chronicles. It takes two traditional story types: the magical boarding school and the Arthurian legends and blends them together into something refreshingly new.

Twelve year old best friends Charlie Burrows and Bailey Relling are visited by a mysterious man who warns them that they are in grave danger. He can offer them protection and an education to help them hone their awakening magical powers. They are taken by QILT (Quick Instant Light Travel) to Thornfield school (appropriately inside an old castle) where the mysterious Lord Grayson is headmaster.

Quickly Charlie and Bailey learn their part in a history of magic that goes all the way back to Merlin. What fascinated me most about the book was Peever's take on the Arthurian legends. Arthur is so typically a tragic hero, a well meaning boy who is ultimately overwhelmed by the enormity of his role as king, tied magically to his kingdom and his land. Not here. No. Arthur is a very different sort of leader and quite frightening.

Whenever I've described the book, I've been asked if it's like Harry Potter. Yes but I liked this book better. Although Charlie is from a family affected by the last round of attacks, he still has his mother and he's part of a loving extended family, with Bailey being part of that support. Harry's under the stairs experience was contrived to make Hogwarts seem all the more special, when it is in fact, a poorly run and dysfunctional school.

So when I'm asked to compare The Quest for Merlin's Map to other books, I usually go with Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books with a little bit of Jasper Fforde worked in.

Now that's not to say the book is perfect. There is a lot of exposition to wade through early on. It's interesting but it does put a pause on the action.

I received the book for review.

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Coast to Coast: 10/15/10

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Summer vacations at first meant camping in the mountains just east of San Diego, typically Green Valley Falls or somewhere nearby. Later it meant hooking up the popup trailer or piling into the R.V. and heading out for the open road.

For one reason or another we rarely took the interstates. Instead we kept to the "blue highways." We took the old state routes (often following the remnants of route 66, or old highway 395, the Pacific Coast Highway, and so forth). The heyday of these roads, for the most part, is over, though historians and local civic groups have helped to renew interest in them.

When I saw Coast to Coast by Catherine Donzel on prominent display at my library, I had to read it. It is a visual history of the American road trip as recorded in travel brochures and postcards. It's a coffee table book, oversized and teeming with things to look at.

The book is organized into itineraries. The book seems biased towards the East Coast. There are more trips and longer descriptions of places covered in these chapters. I was eager to see what would be covered in the west coast and it was just a single chapter with only a few stops put in an illogical order. One of the stops covered is my home town, San Diego, but none of the spots we visited in my childhood were covered even though they were on the same historical routes.

I don't know if the oversight was from a lack of source material (not enough west coast postcards) or an authorial lack of interest in the Pacific south west. I would like to see a follow up volume with more coverage of my corner of the United States.

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Bone: Treasure Hunters: 10/14/10

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Treasure Hunters by Jeff Smith is the seventh book in the Bone series. The Bone cousins, Bartleby, Thorn and Rose have made it to Atheia which is currently suffering hard times made worse by the ghost circles.

While Rose prepares for war, Phone Bone sees a way to make a fortune. Unlike most of his previous attempts, he's dead to rights this time. Phone thinks like a conman and can out think other conmen. It's the one thing he's genuinely good at.

Treasure Hunters is one of my favorite volumes out the series. It's full of adventures, castle politics, family secrets and of course, buried treasure. It was interesting to see Thorn and Rose's home and to see how the city had survived in their absence.

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The Dyodyne Experiment: 10/13/10

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The Dyodyne Experiment by James Doulgeris and V Michael Santoro is an international medical thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton or Robin Cook. A biotech firm has developed a way to track a person by his own DNA, nano transmitters and cell phone technology. The Department of Homeland Security needs their invention to track down terrorists intent on destroying several U.S. cities.

I liked the set up and the basic plotting. It as another review mentioned, would make a great movie. Unfortunately the version I read suffered from too many editing gaffs. The errors got in the way of my ability to lose myself in the plot. The one that bugged me the most was BETA test for beta test. It isn't an acronym. It's a step in a software development cycle.

My other complaint is one with the genre and isn't specifically aimed at The Dyodyne Experiment. I'm tired of super short scenes that jump between all the players (or potential players) in the novel. I'm tried of getting first hand knowledge of what the terrorists are planning because their plans always sound stupid. They are so typically cookie cutter stereotypes that anything they say or think is laughable. I wish these books would stick with one side because my imagination is better at inventing an antagonist's motivations. Surprise and mystery seems to be dead in the international thriller.

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The Emergence of Maps in Libraries: 10/12/10

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Walter William Ristow had a long career as a map librarian and cartographer. He worked as the head of the map divisions at the New York Public Library and later at the Library of Congress. Over the course of his career he wrote a number of articles on the challenges of working with maps in a library setting and aspects of cartography (Martin, 2006).

Many of those articles were reprinted in The Emergence of Maps in Libraries. I came across the book as a reference in Integrating Geographic Information Systems into Library Services: A Guide for Academic Libraries by John Arbresch, Ardis Hanson, Susan Heron and Pete Reehling (2008). I decided to track down a copy of this influential volume as I worked on building a foundation of understanding of how map keeping, cartography and geographic information services (GIS) come together under the library and information science heading.

Originally for my GIS term paper I was planning to write a basic history of the field and my experience using it when I worked briefly for the Census earlier this year. The Emergence of Maps in Libraries while not specifically about GIS save for a few early discussions about automated cartography, the cataloguing of maps and the scanning of map data, was pivotal for my understanding the seeds of GIS and why it remains so closely tied to library science.

What I didn't expect when I read the book was the great range of dates included in the book. The earliest articles are from the late 1940s and they go all the way through to the late 1970s. The book contains moments of contradiction, where in early articles Ristow says something can't, won't or shouldn't be done because it's too expensive, too difficult, not useful enough or just plain impractical. Then the next article, or one shortly thereafter will address the same problem and talk about how much easier the newer, cheaper technology is making the process of addressing the problem and providing solutions to researchers.

I loved how the librarian side of Ristow comes through in the inclusions of these contradictory articles. He demonstrates how he and his colleagues learned and adapted with technology.


Abresch, J., Hanson, A., Heron, S., & Reehling, P. (2008) Integrating geographic information systems into library services: A guide for academic libraries. Hershey, New York: Information Science Publishing

Martin, D. (2006, April 17). Walter Ristow dies at 97; Populist curator of maps. The New York Times.

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The Little Stranger: 10/11/10

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I read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters for the #TuesBooktalk book club on Twitter. It's the third of her books I've read, the other two being Affinity and Tipping the Velvet.

The Little Stranger returns to the paranormal of Affinity. It's set in 1940s, at a decaying manor haunted both by bad memories and a restless spirit. Dr. Faraday is called to the home when one of the servant girls feels poorly. Her story of strange happenings at the home begins the doctor's somewhat skeptical investigation of the possible haunting.

The book is Gothic horror rich in tension, emotions (guilt, regret and sadness) and ambiguity. It reminds me favorably of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield.

The book also shares a kinship with Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh when looking at the interaction of memory and physical spaces. Dr. Faraday has a history with the manor, having visited as a child. He recounts a time when he pried on of the decorations off the woodwork. Looking back at the decline of the family and their home, he feels his act of juvenile vandalism may have been the start of it all. For me, Faraday's misguided guilt was the reason behind his unhealthy and unhelpful obsession with the haunting.

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More Flanimals: 10/10/10

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One of my son's favorite series right now is the Flanimals series by Ricky Gervais. Of the books he's read, More Flanimals, is the one he likes best.

The first book introduced the Flanimals but left them pretty much as stand alone jokes. More Flanimals looks at their life cycle, food chain and evolution. Sean as a hobbyist monster creator loved reading about all these Flanimal factoids.

There is some gross out humor in the book and some other jokes that went over his head (thankfully). That said he and I do like the series and would like to own the complete set some day.

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What Are You Reading: October 11, 2010: 10/11/10

What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

More than half of last week's books were picture books. Most (except for two personal collection books) were library books. Three books were for research.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken by Daniel Manus Pinkwater (library book)
  2. Equal Rites (Discworld, #3) by Terry Pratchett (personal collection)
  3. Fundamentals of Geographic Information Systems by Michael N. DeMers (library book)
  4. GIS Online: Information Retrieval, Mapping, and the Internet by Brandon Plewe (library book)
  5. Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer (personal collection)
  6. Paula Bunyan by Phyllis Root (library book)
  7. Pokemon Adventures, Vol. 8 by Hidenori Kusaka (library book)
  8. Sector 7 by David Wiesner (library book)
  9. Six Impossible Things by Elizabeth Cadell (library book)
  10. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture by Henry Jenkins (library book)
  11. Uh-oh! by Rachel Isadora (library book)
  12. Yo, Jo! by Rachel Isadora (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. Echoes from the Macabre: Selected Stories by Daphne du Maurier (library book)
  3. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  4. The Portable MLIS by Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)
  5. The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1) by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  6. Sharing Geographic Information by Gerard Rushton (library book)
  7. Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R.L. LaFevers (library book)
  8. A Thief of Time (Navajo Mysteries, #8) by Tony Hillerman (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Finding Marco by Kenneth C. Cancellara (review copy)
  2. Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin (personal collection)
  3. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson (personal collection)
  4. Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine by Ann Hood (personal collection)
  5. Texas Tomboy by Lois Lenski (library book)
  6. Wildfire by Sarah Mickem (review copy)

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Texas Tomboy: 10/09/10

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>Lois Lenski died shortly after my first birthday. My mother's collection of picture books from her childhood had a many a Lenski title. So her books were part of my childhood. Recently I discovered her longer books at my local library and I've been checking them out as a I have the time.

My most recent Lenski read was Texas Tomboy. It's the story of a rough and ready girl who can ride a horse better than anyone and has a temper that needs reining in. She and her family are going through a rough drought (spelled drout in the book) that's likely to kill their cattle and lose them the ranch.

Texas Tomboy should have been a slam dunk for me. I normally love this sort of story and it certainly brought to mind other excellent novels: namely, Buffalo Grass by Frank Gruber, Dude Woman and Arizona both by Clarence Budington Kelland. Somehow though I never connected with the story or the main character. She seemed inconsistent and completely oblivious to the hardship her family was facing. And that lack of empathy or basic awareness made her too unlikeable a character for me.

That said, the book does have Lenski's delightful illustrations and it does provide a glimpse of the hardships of raising cattle and homesteading in drought prone Texas.

Other posts and reviews:

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Wildfire: 10/08/10

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Last year when I was offered the chance to review Wildfire by Sarah Micklem, I was told it was the sequel to Firethorn (2004). I asked if Wildfire would stand by itself because I wouldn't be able to give a fair review if it couldn't. I haven't read the first book. Instead of a yes or no answer, I received Wildfire in the mail.

The book does not stand alone. It begins in media res with the main character, Firethorn, being struck by lightning. Without knowing her from the first book how can I possibly know what she has lost of feel for her plight? The lightning strike goes from being a tragic moment to being a plot hook and little more.

Then there's the war. Firethorn apparently disobeyed her lover's wishes and followed him into battle. Of course in her scrambled state, where the words come out wrong and she apparently now has visions, she quickly finds herself in a world of trouble. But along with the battle there is also the movement of the troops and the long haul to get to the front line. It may be more realistic to include these long marches, the dirt, the squalid conditions and other depressing details but it makes for a very slow book, especially when one isn't emotionally invested in any of the characters.

That leaves Firethorn and her condition. She apparently goes from being a strong and competent woman to being touched. She speaks in riddles even though she apparently thinks clearly. To me, she becomes a pale shadow of River Tam from the Firefly series.

Perhaps if I had been able to read the first book I would have preferred the second. Keep that in mind.

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Lavinia: 10/07/10

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When I was in college I took course on classic epic poetry. We had three books to read: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid. Homer's stories kept me up at night. The language was difficult at times but the action kept me turning the pages. Virgil, though, was a different matter. I had to force myself to finish the book.

In all the adventures of the Trojan War and the travels through what would become Rome, Aeneis pauses briefly to marry Lavinia. For all her political importance to Aeneis, she is a minor character, a mere blip in the epic. She doesn't have a single spoken line. She does now with Ursula K. Le Guin's Lavinia.

Five years ago Canongate began a series of novels based on well known myths, written by well known authors. I read the first two: Weight by Jeannette Winterson and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. Lavinia isn't one of the Canongate books but its connection to The Aenid made me think of the series. Also, Ursula K Le Guin is one of my favorite authors and I was curious to see what she would do with Virgil's work.

Le Guin writes in a prose that carries the same spirit as Virgil's poetry. It's light on dialogue and heavy on imagery, though told through Lavinia's point of view. There are some scenes even where Lavinia speaks with Vergil, teasing him for making her such a minor character.

Although it wasn't my favorite Le Guin novel, I did appreciate her take on the epic. I think any misgivings I had go back to my remembered frustration with the translation I read in college.

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Room on the Broom: 10/06/10

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Monsters, ghosts, witches and Halloween stories favorites of my children. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson is a perfect example of what they like. It's the story of a witch and her cat who fly to different monster friends' homes. They "broom pool" together to a party.

As you can imagine, a broom doesn't seem like it would be big enough for a whole cast of characters but somehow everyone manages to hang on. The cat, much like our cat, isn't fond of traveling. She howls through out the trip and looks more and more put out by the journey.

The book works for its extremes. It's ridiculous in set up and funny to watch as the plan unfolds. Axel Scheffler's colorful illustrations help bring this comedy to life. The repetitive text is easy to follow although there are a few places where I sometimes stumble. For younger kids who are "reading" by themselves, the pictures tell enough of the story to keep them entertained.

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Finding Marco: 10/05/10

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Since I am in no financial position to travel right now, I do my traveling through books. I have book club friends who go to Italy on a regular basis so we tend to swap a lot of Italian themed books. Combine those to aspects of my life with description and gorgeous cover of Finding Marco by Kenneth C. Cancellara and the book seemed like a perfect read to snuggle up with.

Mark Gentile is a Canadian corporate lawyer on a career fast track. The first half of the book is full of his Marty Stu goodness. He's smart. He's dedicated. He's happily married. He's good at his job.

It's the most boring first half of a book I've read in a long time. Mark for all his perfection is a dull protagonist. There's no emotion, no conflict, no motivation to the plot.

Then just about the halfway point Mark suddenly remembers, announces for the sake of the blurb on the back of the book that he's Italian. He's actually named Marco and he moved to Canada as a young child. Now he suddenly wants to go home.

I'd find this change in events more plausible if it had happened sooner in the book and if his early childhood had been mentioned at the start of the book when he's a child. Every other nauseatingly dull piece of his childhood is there. So why isn't the relevant part included?

I didn't bother with the trip to Italy half of the book.

I received the book for review.

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Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine: 10/04/10

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In an interview on Suite 101, Ann Hood describes writing her debut novel, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine long hand during long flights. She was working at the time as a flight attendant. Knowing the circumstances of how the book explains for me the dominant theme of the book: the resurfacing of memories, good and bad in a time of personal reflection.

The novel begins with Sparrow, a teenager, wanting to know about her father. To her, he is only a man in faded photograph. She wants to meet him. She wants to get away from home, from her mother who has decided to start calling her Susan. Sparrow's not the only teen in this book looking for something. There are others, all of them children of women who went to college together in the 1960s.

The book then goes back in time to the mothers to tell their stories. At first I was reluctant to continue, afraid that the book would lose its meditative tone in lieu of nostalgia. Thankfully it doesn't. These moments in the pass are fleeting, the years jumping from memory to memory.

Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine can be read either a chapter a night or in one long sitting. The chapters stand apart, working almost as self contained short stories. Together though they do build a portrait of friendship, memories, loss and grief over twenty five year's time.

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What Are You Reading: October 04, 2010: 10/04/10

What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

Most of my finished books were picture books. Two of them were review books: Just Breeze by Beverly Stowe McClure and The Quest for Merlin's Map by W. C. Peever. On top of what I finished reading I have a ton of research books going too.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Alex and Lulu: Two of a Kind by Lorena Siminovich (library book)
  2. Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox (personal collection)
  3. Belinda the Ballerina by Amy Young (library book)
  4. Donorboy by Brendan Halpin (library book)
  5. Just Breeze by Beverly Stowe McClure (review copy)
  6. Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks (library book)
  7. The Octonauts: & the Frown Fish by Meomi (library book)
  8. Oops-a-daisy! by Claire Freeman (library book)
  9. The Quest for Merlin's Map by W. C. Peever (review copy)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  3. The Portable MLIS by Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)
  4. The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1) by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  5. Six Impossible Things by Elizabeth Cadell (library book)
  6. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture by Henry Jenkins (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (library book)
  2. Bone: Ghost Circles by Jeff Smith (library book)
  3. The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen (library book)
  4. Elena's Serenade by Campbell Geeslin (library book)
  5. Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo (library book)
  6. The Little Rascals by Leonard Maltin (library book)
  7. Queen of Candesce by Karl Schroeder (library book)

Comments (24)


The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang: 10/03/10

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I grew up watching the Our Gang (aka The Little Rascals) shorts at my grandparent's house. I'm not old enough to have seen the in the theater but my grandmother would share stories about how she knew the kids who acted in the Our Gang shorts. I wish I had paid more attention to her stories because I've forgotten most of what she's told me and she's no longer living.

Around the time that I was first watching the Our Gang shorts while lying on my stomach and coloring in oversized coloring books, Leonard Maltin wrote The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang. It was published in 1977 and he must have been working on it throughout the 1970s. It was a decade when film historians were coming to the realization that a lot of the old films and television shows were being lost to poor storage and general laziness on the part of the studios.

Maltin has written a number of excellent film compendiums which I've referenced many times (especially when I was in film school). The Little Rascals book is one of his earliest ones and it shows. The analysis and annotations of the films isn't as robust. Instead of analysis we get a lot of moaning and groaning about how under appreciated the films are. Maltin's newer books are sometimes prone to emotional outbursts but he has matured as a writer over the years.

The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang will still make a good reference for anyone studying the shorts. It does have all the release dates, original titles and new titles that were sometimes used for the televised versions. But I recommend that it be used with other books that must have been written about the series in the last thirty years.

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Bone: Ghost Circles: 10/02/10

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In Ghost Circles by Jeff Smith, the mountain explodes spreading ash across the valley and leaving everything in ruins. Worse yet, ghost circles have begun to appear, taking everything in them somewhere else. Thorn, the Bone cousins and Bartleby have to make their way across this desolation to Atheia, the kingdom Thorn and her grandmother fled years ago.

It seems that readers of the series split over Ghost Circles. They either love the nonstop adventure or hate it. I loved it. I especially loved the brief glimpses into the ghost circles.

The artwork depicting the destruction is fantastic. As it happens, I was reading it during the weeks that Eyjafjallajökull was erupting. I will forever connect the book and the news together.

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The Devil's Arithmetic: 10/01/10

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The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen was on my wishlist for a long time, long enough that I don't remember when or why exactly I added it. I'm a fan of her books so it's not a complete surprise that any of her books would be on the list. One of my resolutions for 2010 and the future is to work my way through the wishlist. The Devil's Arithmetic was one of the first ones I crossed off the list.

Hannah's an American child with a Jewish mother and a Christian father. It's time again for family gathering for the Passover Seder. She doesn't want to go because she's tired of hearing the same stories of the Holocaust. She feels like she's heard it all and it's time to move on. With apathy she opens the door for Elijah and finds herself transported back in time to Poland. She and her family are captured and sent to a concentration camp.

In some of the reviews I've read the set up compared to The Magic Tree House series. I disagree. Jack and Annie for the most part go on their missions willingly and with a brief idea of what to expect when they arrive. Hannah though, travels back in time without expectation and completely unwillingly. Her journey comes as unexpectedly as it does in Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce and not like Jack and Annie's quick journeys back in time. Her journey is life threatening, scary and at times horrifying.

For rating this book out of five stars, I'm struggling. While reading it, I would have given it a two. Hannah comes off as an overly self centered child in the beginning and over the course of the book transforms into a Mary Sue. But it ends with an afterword by the author explaining the personal nature of the book and her own family story that inspired it. For that I briefly gave the book a four. In thinking though about the flaws of the book, despite the awards it has earned, I am dropping the rating down to a three.

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