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Bullying has been in the headlines. It's also been a recurring theme in teen fiction since at least the mid 1970s.
"Silence" by Dale Bailey is a depressing retelling of E.T. The main character is a suffering through school being the target of the bullies. He's a latchkey kid and basically lives his life alone.
The alien he finds is really an after though to the story, an excuse to put it in a science fiction magazine. The alien is injured and dying. It's there as a reminder of just how much worse things could be for the protagonist.
The story is well written but it wasn't one of my favorites from the issue. The whole point seemed to be that bullying is bad. Got that. Check. And then? But there's not then there. Just the message that bullying is bad.
What Are You Reading: January 31, 2011: 01/30/11
My current reads reflect the fact that I'm back in school. Three of the books on that list are text books: Essentials of Children's Literature, From Cover to Cover and Ambient Findability. They are so far all very interesting! The rest of the list consists mostly of manga I'm reading.
The one chunkster I'm still slowly working through is Kraken by China Miéville; I'm on page 170. By next week I should be in the mid 200s. Maybe by the end of March I'll be finished!
The Finished Last Week list looks long but it's mostly picture books and manga. The only books of any serious length on the list are The Canary Trainer by Nicholas Meyer, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart and Who Censored Roger Rabbit by Gary Wolf. Fans of Sherlock Holmes adaptations (like the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King) should read Nicholas Meyer's books.
Upcoming in my reading: more picture books (both with my children and as homework), more manga, more Kraken and possibly The Hunger Games.
Finished Last Week:
Remotest Mansions of the Blood: 01/30/11
When I was working on my Critical Studies masters I took a class on Brazilian film adaptations. It involved a ton of reading of Brazilian literature (in translation) and watching a smaller number of Brazilian films. That class coupled with the literature reading I had to for A.P. Spanish in high school, has been my introduction to magical realism.
Reading "Remotest Mansions of the Blood" by Alex Irvine in the May / June 2010 issue of The Magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction brought to mind both of those classes. The story is magical realism with a Japanese horror atmosphere.
It is the story of a man obsessed with a woman named Maria whom he dreams about every night. These dreams begin after an earthquake. He is drawn beyond his own better judgement to find this woman Maria who has the reputation of being a black widow.
I loved this story. It was the right balance of character, atmosphere, suspense and ultimately horror.
Looking for Lost Bird: A Jewish Woman Discovers Her Navajo Roots: 01/29/11
I am in the process of converting this book blog from one that took review copies to one that tracks my wishlist reading. When I was so focused on writing reviews for authors and publicists, I was stopped having fun with my posts. The writing became formulaic and to some degree, so did the reading. Now that I am back to doing this blog for fun (as it should be) I'm going to go back to telling the stories behind the books I chose to read. These are my stories. They might be nonsense but I want to tell them. You can, of course, skip ahead to when I actually talk about the book.
Looking for Lost Bird, Yvette Melanson's memoir has two stories attached to it. The first part comes with my choosing to read the book. The short version is, the book was research.
An on-going project of mine involves a series of books set in the distant future, on a distant planet. One of my characters is a doctor and a Navajo who has left the rez for his own reasons and will never be able to return. Being that far from home and not being able to return, even if he has some uncomfortable memories, has dredged up a need to return to traditions, rituals and beliefs he had abandoned years ago. I don't want any of my characters to be stereotypes or paper doll cutouts. I want them to be well rounded, flawed, and believable. I also don't want Mary Sues or Marty Stus.
In 2008 I started another round of research. Most of the titles that came up where either ones I'd already read or were college texts that I didn't have easy access too. Then there was Melanson's memoir that had two points in its favor: it was written for a general audience and her being raised Jewish just piqued my interest.
Fast forward now to New Year's Eve 2010. We were driving down to Southern California and Looking for Lost Bird was my current read. While my husband drove I had my nose buried in Melanson's memoir. By the end of the first chapter, I couldn't put the book down.
Yvette Melanson doesn't bog down her story with too many extraneous details. So many memoirs and biographies start with grandparents and only get to the titular subject fifty or a hundred pages in. Melanson jumps right into things: weaving together her decision to move with her husband and daughters to the reservation with her own birth and adoption.
She and her twin brother were stolen from the hospital when she had been jaundiced as a newborn. She ended up as a three or four year old being adopted by a Jewish family but after her adopted mother's death and her father's remarriage she found herself without a loving home and no sense of belonging.
After years of dead ends, the internet offered her a new tool. It lead her down an unexpected path and she found family who had been looking for her all her life. I'm not going to go into the details of what she found or how her reunion went. Those parts are the heart and soul of the book.
The book was a page turner. The long trip flew by. Although I'm skeptical about some of the details here and there, I still loved the book. I would some day like to add a copy to my personal collection.
A Barnstormer in Oz: 01/28/11
When I was in the third grade I was nearly held back a year. Although I had tested into the advanced track, I wasn't a very motivated student. My third grade teacher gave my parents an ultimatum. I had to learn my multiplication tables and I had to improve my reading. Multiplication was tedious but doable; it was just memorization.
Reading though, that sounded like torture. But being held back a year sounded even worse. So I agreed to read. I can remember sitting on my brother's floor and reading him all of the Golden Books on his shelf (probably a hundred of them). I can remember digging out my old copy The Hobbit (with the awesome illustrations from the 1977 animated film) and reading it for myself. Before my mother had always read it to me.
My mother of course got books for me to read too, based on suggestions from the teacher. I started to notice something about reading. The assigned stuff was frustrating and and the stuff I read for fun, was well fun. So for every assigned book I read, I also read something I wanted to.
Still feeling unsure of reading, I stuck with stories I knew. I went with books where I had seen the movie: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.
The Baum books were something else. They sparked something in me I didn't know was possible. Each book made me want more. I loved the stories. I loved the illustrations. I had a total crush on Ozma (I still sort of do).
Along the way I began to realized I liked fantasy and science fiction. Also along the way I noticed in the adult section of science fiction, some covers sporting characters I knew like Alice. These characters were on books by Philip José Farmer.
The first book of Farmer's that I ever tried was A Barnstormer in Oz. I had run out of Oz books and I knew about barnstorming from the stories my grandmother had told of her old barnstorming friend. So over the summer before 4th grade (yes, I passed!) I made my first attempt at A Barnstormer in Oz.
In the twenty-seven years since first reading it (and probably not understanding much beyond Dorothy's son flying an airplane through a green cloud to Oz and meeting Glinda) I forgot the plot and decided to re-read it last year when Farmer passed away at age 91. All the time I read the book I had nagging feelings of deja vu as bits and pieces flashed into my memory.
This time around I couldn't help but compare Farmer's book to two other Oz inspired stories: Tin Man (a three part miniseries) and Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Farmer's version of Oz feels more closely tied to the Baum books than Maguire's version. In fact Farmer through Hank Stover's observations while in Oz makes it clear what details from Oz he is working from and which ones he has tossed aside.
If you've read the Oz series you know the series changed over time. As Dorothy's popularity with fans increased Baum gave her a permanent home in Oz (along with her aunt, uncle and of course Toto) and she was elevated to being a "Princess of Oz." Baum also provided more and more fan service, working in suggestions from the fan mail he received. The final Oz books weren't even written by Baum but by then Oz was basically an early 20th century franchise. So Farmer in his book drew a line in the sand with the first book on one side and all of the others except for a few tidbits on the other.
A Barnstormer in Oz though isn't just Farmer having a sentimental romp through Baum's creation. Farmer takes the time to think about how Oz and the other kingdoms work, what their language might be like and the ethical issues of inanimate objects gaining sentiency.
There is also a discussion of war and weaponry. First there is a war between the witches of the south and north. This though is only a precursor to a larger planned invasion from Earth. Here is where the book lost me, and I suppose it did the last time as well. The method of making the invasion possible and motivation behind the invasion seemed forced to me. It felt like filler when Farmer ran out of ideas for his social discourse.
Otto's Orange Day: 01/27/11
My library had Otto's Orange Day by Jay Lynch and Frank Cammuso on display as a recommended read. I was instantly taken in by the bright orange and blue cover.
Otto's Orange Day is a cautionary tale, as many genie stories are. Otto loves the color orange above all other things. He wishes for a world in which everything is orange. He quickly though realizes that there might be such a thing as too much orange. Otto needs to find a way to undo his mistake without making things worse.
The best part of Otto's Orange Day is the artwork. The illustrations are wonderful. It's one of those books that can be flipped through just for the artwork. Unfortunately the artwork is not enough to make the book a must re-read.
For beginning readers, the story's probably just about right in terms of complexity and vocabulary. For more advanced readers the plot is somewhat lacking and the moral at the end of the story is too heavy handed.
Ten Tiny Babies: 01/26/11
Ten Tiny Babies by Karen Katz is yet another one to ten counting book for the pre-K set. Harriet chose to the book to read to herself on a recent library book.
The book features babies doing different things like eating, playing and getting ready for bed. The illustrations are bright and colorful. The text is easy enough for a beginning reader to handle without help.
Harriet loved the story. She likes books with babies. She also likes counting books. I'm glad she was able to read the book on her own because it didn't have a lot to make for an interesting re-read for me.
Northward to the Moon: 01/25/11
I saw Northward to the Moon by Polly Horvath on the newly acquired shelf at my library. Before even realizing that it was the sequel to My One Hundred Adventures I realized I wanted to read it.
The book begins with the family being forced to move from Saskatchewan when the school Ned's teaching at figures out he doesn't know a word of French. They had moved the summer before when Jane's mother had married Ned but Jane isn't happy with her new life and is thrilled to be hopefully on the way back to Massachusetts.
Instead of heading to her home, Ned takes the family on a search to find his magician brother. The trip takes them to a First Nation's village in western Canada and then to the family homestead near Las Vegas.
The only annoying part of the book (and not so bad to warrant dropping a star from the rating) is Maya's on going know-it-all attitude. What's revealed in the trip is just how little Maya actually knows and some hints as to why she always wants to be right. While it's nice to see character development beyond that of the main character at times the approach felt heavy handed.
The book has the similar episodic chapters of the first book but they are more closely knit together. Throughout Northward to the Moon there is the goal of finding Ned's brother. Although the book ends on a cliffhanger, I felt that more was accomplished in this one than in the first. I hope the ending means there is another book in the works.
Patricia Von Pleasantsquirrel: 01/24/11
Back when Harriet was going through the worst of her pretty princess book phase, I slipped in a few "subversive" books just to add a little variety and maybe, just maybe, make her reconsider her assumptions about princesses. One of the subversive books I chose was Patricia Von Pleasantsquirrel by James Proimos.
Patricia is an average girl and as princess crazy as Harriet was a few months ago. She is determined to become a princess and she gets her wish. The only problem: her subjects are hippopotami. Worse yet, there's a lot of work involved with being a princess.
It's a cute and bizarre book. The hippos remind me of George and Martha taken to new extremes. Patricia is also prone to extremes and the combination is surreal and entertaining.
I think I liked the book more than Harriet did. Being a princess of hippopotami didn't strike her as a good idea. The book also wasn't quite in her vein of humor.
Shortly after reading it she stopped requesting nothing but princess books. So maybe Patricia Von Pleasantsquirrel did the trick.
What Are You Reading: January 24, 2011: 01/24/11
I finished my Cybils reading. This week beings my Spring Semester so soon I will be back to reading text books and articles and books for research.
My finished list looks large but I had a bunch of books I was slowly reading all finish at the same time. Seven of the books were very short, being either graphic novels or picture books.
You'll see that most of my current reads are from my own book shelf. I have finished most of my library books but will be picking up some new ones (text books on hold while I wait for the copies I purchased to arrive). I don't want to get carried away with library checkouts when I know my semester will be crazy and busy.
Last week's reviews are heavily slanted towards non-fiction. It's not something I planned but that's how the reviews ended up lining up for posting. Many of them are the result of last semester's reading. Yes, I reviewed my text books.
Finished Last Week:
The Egg and I: 01/23/11
Although I can read fast, I don't tear through every book I'm reading. Take for instance, The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald. I read it slowly, only about ten pages a week for ten months.
I read a review of The Egg and I at the start of 2010, I think on The Pioneer Woman blog, but I'm not sure. Shortly after adding it to my wishlist I spotted a copy at the Friends of the Library sale. Bonus! (Yes, I really think like this when finding books.)
So anyway, the book is a memoir and was made into a movie. Chances are I've seen the movie but I don't remember seeing it. The memoir is about life on a run down chicken ranch in Chimacum, Washington. There's the stove that works only when it wants to, the house that needs constant repair. And so on and so forth.
The book's divided into seasons and each one goes into lengthy detail about how the seasons affect the work on house, the work in the garden, the attitudes of the neighbors and the author's basic attitude towards life.
While I enjoyed the book, reading it at about a pace of two pages a day, I can't say it's perfect, or even close. The author is annoying and whines throughout about one thing or other. She takes out her frustrations on everyone and everything but never bothers to admit that she made the mistake of agreeing to move to that run down farm in the first place.
Information Seeking in Electronic Environments: 01/22/11
Information Seeking in Electronic Environments by Gary Marchionini was published the year I first started grad school. It was a time when the internet was still relatively new and Google was still a graduate student project. The book covers ways of finding information with the aid of computers and was a supplemental textbook for my Information and Society course.
Although the specific programs and screenshots used as examples in Information Seeking in Electronic Environments are out of date (and in many cases, nonexistent), the methodology behind those programs is still in use in modern day programs. I suspect the methods will continue to be useful even as future generations of programs and services are created.
The book covers topics like browsing versus searching, the reasons behind information seeking, the process of finding information, mechanisms to aid searching and the continuing evolution of information seeking. These are all topics we covered in both of my classes this semester and continue to be topics of interest in library science.
Pages 124-37 of the "Why Browse" gives the best snap shot of where internet technology was in 1995. Of especial interest to me is Figure 6-11 on page 137 is a Semantic map display of files searched on a computer. Boxes are drawn around the different topics and the larger boxes represent the topics of most interest. In other words, it's an early version of a tag cloud, something that is being used more and more in Web 2.0 applications.
So while the book was supplemental reading and has out of date screenshots, it's still a fascinating and useful reference book that I plan to hold on to.
Here Are My Hands: 01/21/11
Now that my daughter can read, her library book choices are changing. Although she still likes to be read to and for those will opt for her favorite themes: cats, princesses and characters named Harriet, the books she picks to read for herself most often reflect what she's currently learning in school.
When she was learning anatomy in school she chose Here Are My Hands by Bill Martin Jr. The book features the basic parts of the body, each one doing some sort of action. The models for the action are children from various ethnicities.
Although the book isn't specifically an early reader with carefully selected vocabulary, it was easy enough for Harriet to read aloud to me with very few mistakes. She would read a page and then she and I would act out the page together. It was a good book to listen to.
Textual Poachers: 01/20/11
In the middle of my Patron 2.0 research I came across Fans, Bloggers, and Games: Media Consumers in a Digital Age by Henry Jenkins (review coming). Knowing his books from my previous life as a film theory student, I added the book to my research pile. As that book is in some regards a sequel to Textual Poachers, I also checked it out to compare texts.
Textual Poachers is an examination of fandom, or the fen as they sometimes call themselves. As this one was written in the days before blogs, it looks at the fan fiction shared in the days of usenet and before.
There are long chapters on slash and to my disappointment a recurring assertion that men and women are fundamentally incapable of reading the same text the same way. Apparently my ovaries make me want to see a homosexual relationship between Kirk and Spock. Um no. You know how I spend most of my time watching Star Trek? I spend my time wondering why the male actors are all wearing blue eye shadow. It seems so illogical.
So anyway, I read this book primarily for fun. It wasn't on topic for my Patron 2.0 paper. It was interesting but it felt dated. It also felt too simplistic in some of its conclusions. If, though, you are a reader or a writer of fanfic, you should read Textual Poachers.
The Lace Reader: 01/19/11
The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry for a book club. It is not a book I would have chosen for myself. Please keep that in mind while reading this post.
From the very first page I knew I would have to struggle to finish the book. The opening line: "My name is Towner Whitney. No, that's not exactly true. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time." Right there, with an opening that sounds like a rehash of the Knight and Knave logic puzzle, I was losing interest.
Those lines were warning alarms for me. Knowing immediately that there was going to be a whole bunch of mental anguish amongst a modern day setting only to be ended with the floor dropping out when the riddle is finally answered, I skipped to the end and read the trick ending first.
Having gotten the "surprise" out of the way I went back to reading the rest of the book. I struggled with the first thirty or so pages while Towner sets up the foundation of her elaborate riddle. I suppose I should have cared about her mental breakdown and her shock therapy and her gaps in memory. But I didn't. It all felt like a literary gimmick to me, window dressing to hide the trick ending. The problem is she showed her hand at the very beginning.
As I said, it wasn't a book I would have chosen for myself. I stuck with it to the end but I did it with lot of skimming. Every time Towner gets into one of her moods, I started skimming. If you like unreliable narrators, then you'll love this book. If you don't, pass on this book.
Other posts and reviews:
Gallop is the first of Rufus Butler Seder's "scanimation" books. Each page features a fluid black and white animation of an animal in motion. The movement is fluid and beautiful and as captivating as the old Muybridge motion study films.
Not to be confused with the scanimate analog video animation system of the 1960s-1980s, Seder's images work more like the kinetoscopes and zoetropes of the turn of the last century. Raquel Jaramilla discovered Seder's artwork at a trade show where he was displaying greeting cards using the technique.
Harriet and her grandmother are huge fans of Seder's books. Harriet owns Gallop and Waddle and I'm sure she'd love to own the others.
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A Short History of Rudeness: 01/17/11
I put A Short History of Rudeness by Mark Caldwell on my wishlist shortly after it came out. It's been on the list so long that I can't remember the reason behind adding the book or even what my initial impression of it was. When I spotted the book, a reissue, at my library I snatched it up.
A Short History of Rudeness from the outset looks like it will be a slightly off color romp through a history of Americans acting poorly. While that's certainly there, it's mostly a scholarly look at the evolution of manners and morals in western society with an emphasis on recent American history.
The book's chapters focus on a specific taboo or point of etiquette with examples from points of history with citations of historical commentary along with modern day analysis of the same event across a broader social rubric. In other words, it's a very academic book. Had I not been in the middle of a small mountain of other reading commitments I would have read it very carefully and taken copious notes. As it was, I scanned through for names I recognized and focused my attention on those choice bits.
So go into the book expecting to spend some time with it if you really want it to soak in. Or scan the index and look for your favorite famous names from history and go from there.
What Are You Reading: January 17, 2011: 01/17/11
I have two Cybils graphic novels to finish. My goal is to finish them this week so I can be done with them before school starts up again.
My other reading has been short stories as I'm terribly behind in my issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, wishlist reading, reading for fun and reading with my children. Ghostopolis has the distinction of being both a Cybils book and a wishlist book.
On my currently reading, I am very slowly going through Kraken by China Miéville. I am reading ten pages a night before bed. The Canary Trainer is another wishlist book and it starts with the same Sherlock Holmes book as the Beekeeper's Apprentice does. Reading Meyer's book brought back fond memories of first starting King's series so I have checked out the first book to re-read.
Finished Last Week:
The Frog Comrade: 01/16/11
After Rapunzel, enchanted frogs seem to be hot ticket items. The most recent one of these stories I've read is "The Frog Comrade" by Benjamin Rosenbaum.
In this story, much like The Frog Prince, Continued by Jon Scieszka, the frog in question doesn't want to be human. I don't know if Scieska's frog could talk before he was transformed, but Rosenbaum's can. This frog is adamant: there will be no kissing!
Meanwhile, there's been a revolution. The frog has been given to the younger daughter of a deposed king and queen. Rather than be kissed and transformed, the frog takes up politics in the new government.
After all this hilarious political wrangling which had me imagining Michigan J. Frog running for office, the story ends with a delightful twist. It's really almost a shaggy dog (shaggy frog?) story but I wish the twist had been played out a little longer.
Foiled is Jane Yolen's first graphic novel. She is a prolific author, having written 300 books and her books cover as many genres and nearly as many age groups as Neil Gaiman's books do. Yolen writes about being a fan of Gaiman's in her post about writing foiled so the comparison is a fair one.
As Yolen ex plains in her blog, she started the story when her grand-daughter took up fencing. Her experiences brought up memories of fencing in college. My brother briefly did fencing too so the fencing details seemed spot on and knowing the history behind the book really brings it together. Even the set up of losing the foil in Grand Central Station has its roots in Yolen's life.
Now of course the book is fantasy but I don't want to spoil the big reveal. What I will tell you is this: pay attention to the artwork. It provides important clues to what's really going on.
Indigo Blue: 01/14/11
Indigo Blue by Cathy Cassidy was on the recommended shelf at my public library. I can see why they added it but I'm not sure how review the book.
Indigo is twelve when she is abruptly moved from their comfortable but somewhat broken home into a damp, cold and moldy flat. Her mother has had enough of her abusive relationship with her current boyfriend and has to flee to save herself and her children. After that though the mother and her daughters are too stubborn and too proud to ask for help. So of course things go from bad to worse until they reach a breaking point.
So back to the why the book was on the shelf. The shelf tends towards fantasy or uplifting stories. For children going through something similar to Indigo's situation, a book like Indigo Blue could be reassuring. That said, the book lacked something its storytelling. I never really connected with Indigo even though I felt sorry for her situation. The book needed something to connect everything together.
Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature: 01/13/11
I spotted Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature by John Mullan at the library right after I had been part of a couple interesting discussions on male vs. female authorship. What had come up in all the discussions was that it's not always easy to guess the sex of an author especially if the author is writing either anonymously or under a pen name. So in light of those online discussions, I checked out Mullan's book.
Each chapter covers a different reason for writing anonymously. The chapters include examples of authors who fall into the category being illustrated. There are lengthy notes and citations to back up the examples.
In fact I have to admit to being surprised by the scholarly nature of the book. The cover's light-hearted illustrations of all sorts of authors and the blurb in the dust-jacket set up an expectation of an informative but quick read. The book ended up requiring more time than I had budgeted.
Sometime when I have more time and I'm in the right mood to really think about the nature of authorship, pen names and anonymity, I would like to revisit the book. If you are interested in the topic and are considering reading the book yourself, I recommend you read the review posted on The Daily Waffle Blog (included below).
A Touch of Dead: 01/12/11
The Sookie Stackhouse series is very popular with my Bookcrossing book club friends. As I'm reluctant to start a new-to-me series and am not that interested in edgy Southern vampires, I have been ignoring the novel length books as they've been passed back and forth. When the short story collection, A Touch of Dead by Charlaine Harris appeared containing all of the Sookie Stackhouse short stories in one volume, I decided that would be my compromise and a chance to see what the hoopla is all about.
Sookie turns out to be a very talkative character. The protagonist who likes to chit chat is a chicklit feature (no matter which subgenre). Sookie acts as if she and the reader are BFFs and that super chumminess gets old fast.
The stories themselves follow the timeline of the novels so familiarity with larger plot points probably helps. While the stories could have stood alone better than they do, not having read the novels wasn't that much of a hinderance to following along.
My favorite of the five short stories is "Dracula Night." I liked the idea of trying to lure out the real Dracula to a cheesy vampire bash.
The rest of the book though made me appreciate what my book club friends see in the novels. It also confirmed that I probably wouldn't enjoy the novels.
The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts: 01/11/11
The Portable MLIS edited by Ken Haycock and Brooke Sheldon was the main textbook for my Information and Society course. It is a collection of essays on different aspects of librarianship and policies and laws that affect libraries and librarians.
Each week we had to read an essay or two and post an answer to a question posed by our professor. Later in the week we would then have to respond to two other posts by fellow students. All of that extra writing and thinking about that book has left me feeling split-brained between enjoyment and exhaustion.
Let me explain. The individual essays are by themselves academic papers full of tips, insights, research and generally useful stuff. But the constant need to analyze the essays and respond to others' analyses has left me burned out. I need to let the book sit on my shelf of textbooks until I am ready to re-read the most interesting essays without the stress of a grade hanging over my head.
What Are You Reading: January 10, 2011: 01/10/10
I had every intention of making this post earlier today. I wanted to blog while my son was doing his homework because I knew we would be busy tonight. That plan didn't work out though. My husband misplaced his cell phone and he, my son and I ended up spending homework and blogging time looking for the phone. We found it but it took our homework and blogging time to do it.
This week begins my Cybils reading. You will see through the rest of January the rest of short list of graphic novels for tweens and young adults. This week I finished two short list books: Meanwhile by Jason Shiga and Smile by Raina Tegemeier.
Finished Last Week:
Peakaboo Bedtime: 01/10/11
Rachel Isadora is one of Harriet's current favorite authors. She loves the playful illustrations and the fact that books are easy enough for her to read by herself.
Peekaboo Bedtime is a bedtime story staring the same child as Uh Oh! (Review coming). It's also apparently a follow up to Peekaboo Morning but we haven't read that book yet. The book goes through the routine of getting a toddler ready for bed but with the peekaboo game thrown in for laughs.
What the boy is looking at is revealed with a turn of the page. Being familiar with him and his family as characters helps in making the peekaboo game more fun. I think if this book had been our first we wouldn't have found it as entertaining.
Baby Proof: 01/09/11
Baby Proof by Emily Giffin poses a question: what does it take to be a family? More specifically it asks do a married couple have to children to be happy? Yes, no, maybe.
I read the book not because I needed answers to these questions. My husband and I had already made our decision. I read it because it was an orphaned book. No one else at the monthly book club wanted to.
Claudia Parr doesn't want children. She never has. She figures she'll never get married because the men she dates all seem to want children. That is until she meets Ben. They fall in love, get married and that should be that. Except that a few years down the line, Ben has a change of heart.
The book is fairly typical of American chick lit. It's set in Manhattan with a well to do, hardworking Caucasian protagonist. There's a lot name dropping and location dropping and it's no different than Presley musing about San Francisco and Treasure Island. Claudia is as madly in love with Manhattan as she is with Ben.
What kept me reading though was Claudia's steadfast sense of self. She doesn't want children and she has her reasons and won't be bullied into compromising even though all around her friends and family are deciding to become parents.
Thankfully not all the baby plots are happy ones. There's an unplanned pregnancy, and another couple struggling with infertility. Both of these stories play against Claudia's separation from Ben over her refusal to have a child.
I was afraid I would hate the ending. Either Claudia would give in or she would some how be punished for not giving in. Thankfully neither of those outcomes happens. Instead there's something different that took me by surprise.
Fort Clay, Louisiana: A Tragical History: 01/08/11
In my earlier rant in lieu of review of "Waiting for the Phone to Ring" by Richard Bowes, I mentioned my love/hate relationship with Albert E. Cowdrey's short stories. "For Clay, Louisiana: A Tragical History" goes into the hate category.
First and foremost, I don't especially like framing stories in literary fiction. When there's a narrator who is hanging out with characters and they all snuggle up to hear his story, my eyes start to glaze over. It feels like I'm hearing it third hand or something. There's nothing for me to connect to, no personal point of contact with me and the characters, no matter how many amazing plot points there might be.
Take for instance, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Looking just at the plot: a man in search of another man presumed lost in the upper Congo, the novel is both a mystery and a study of the human psyche. But it's presented in a lame framing story with a bloke on a ship stuck in a storm telling about his adventures to a bunch of bored passengers. They're bored and I'm bored.
That's exactly what happens with the Fort Clay story (and many of the other Cowdrey stories I don't like). There's a photographer who has recently taken a bunch of fantastic shots of an old forgotten fort that had a minor role in the Civil War. A bloke comes over to see her photos and begins to tell its "tragical history" to her. Even though there are mysterious and horrific events in the past (and later in the present), the framing story has put me into full on bored mode.
The other problem I had with the story is it's title. See it's very similar to the excellent Neil Gaiman and David Keene, The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch. So part of me was wishing the story had David Keene illustrations. It probably would have been better that way in the same way that Apocalypse Now is a more compelling story than Heart of Darkness is.
Fundamentals of Geographic Information Systems: 01/07/11
Fundamentals of Geographic Information Systems by Michael N. DeMers is another of the GIS books I read early on in my research for a term paper I had to write this semester. I had been working with a couple of GIS sites when I was working for the Census so I picked GIS as my topic to learn more about the tools I had been using with no training.
The book does exactly what it says, it outlines the fundamentals of GIS. It has the theory behind the tool, the history and the physical demands of setting up such a system (computers, software, networks and so forth).
There are also discussions of making and using maps, layers, themes and other data that can be stored in such a system. The book is a little dry in parts and a little basic in others but it just what I needed when I was first narrowing down my topic from GIS to disaster response using GIS.
Bastard Tongues: 01/06/11
My reading of Bastard Tongues by Derek Bickerton coincided with getting hired by the Census. It ended up being a mental preparation for the wide range of languages I might face in the field. Now nearly a year later, my review writing lines up with my husband packing for a business trip to New Orleans, a place where Creole is spoken.
Derek Bickerton's book is that perfect blend of memoir and research I crave in my nonfiction reading. I mark this book among my favorites, along with Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin and The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson.
He begins his book with his arrival to Ngemelis Island where his first big linguistics research position. But before he jumps into what makes Ngemelis Island linguistically interesting he steps back in time to how he got interested in linguistics. Normally I would roll my eyes at an a flashback so early but in this case, the flashback belongs there. Ask any academic how they got to their chosen field of expertise and there is always a story. Bickerton's is one of the more fantastic ones.
Bickerton's story goes back to South Africa and a chance to change directions. If he was willing to study linguistics, he could transfer to Cambridge and live with a small stipend. It's the sort of story I could completely relate to and it put me in the mood to love the book.
The book is a region by region study of creoles and pijins and creoles. Bickerton looks for grammatical links between different languages for some larger human connection. Is grammar in born or a result of complex interactions? Are we reinventing the same patterns over and over again because we're programmed to? Or are we following the same pattern learned and passed down over the ages?
Bickerton has his opinions on those questions. He discusses the pros and cons of his theories in a fascinating, clearly outlined chapters interspersed with his own experiences as his linguistic career has progressed. If you are at all interested in language, you must read Bastard Tongues.
On the Bluffs: 01/05/11
On the Bluffs by Steven Schindler is another review book that fell through the cracks of my review schedule. It's a shame too, because I enjoyed the book.
Brian DeLouise is burned out from his graveyard shift job at a conspiracy theory heavy radio talk show. His wife has been cheating on him and he's reached a breaking point. A Google search brings up the current information of his first love and he decides to leave everything he hates about his life behind and go to Cape Cod to reconnect with her.
If the gender roles were reversed and Brian was instead a thirty-something woman named Brianna, On the Bluffs would comfortably fit in the chick lit genre. It reads like chick lit. It has the bad relationship set up, the lover who got away, regret over poor decisions and the change of scenery. For all of those reasons, I found the book to be a page turner.
There are unfortunately points in the book where the emphasis moves away from the character driven plot to extraneous details. While a little bit of detail is great for developing setting and relating it to characters, too much stalls the action. On the Bluffs needed tighter editing in spots to really shine.
The Osiris Alliance: 01/04/11
I received a copy of The Osiris Alliance by Jack Ford a little more than a year ago. I liked the title, which I admit is a shallow reason to pick a book.
The novel is about nuclear weapons being smuggled from the United States to Russia. The investigation stirs up ties to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.
The reviews I've read have been fairly positive except for complaints about an unnecessary relationship between the main characters and an excessive amount of swearing. Both are just triller tropes. They're to be expected in the genre.
The book though really feels like it has two competing mysteries vying for the reader's attention. The modern day nuclear arms mystery has been done to death. It's hackneyed. Then there's the Lindbergh mystery which really felt like it wanted to be a novel all by itself but was crammed into this one instead.
Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris: 01/03/11
Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R. L. LaFevers was actually my first introduction to Theo and the rest of her family. But by the end of the second chapter it was clear I was missing a lot by reading this book before the first in the series. So I did something I don't normally do, I returned the second book unread and checked until I had read the first book.
So nearly a year later, I returned to the book and cracked it open with a wary anticipation. I had enjoyed the The Serpents of Chaos but I was worried the first couple of chapters would still fail to draw me in. I was wrong. Coming in its proper order, the book was a delightful Gothic mystery.
In this volume Theodosia's parents return from Egypt with the Staff of Osiris. Shortly thereafter the mummies on display in London go missing and to Theodosia's consternation, end up in their basement.
Theodosia has to find a way to remove the staff's power while keeping it out of the hands of different secret societies who lay claim to it. The plot is more complicated than the first book but rewards for the extra work of keeping the different threads straight.
What Are You Reading: January 03, 2011: 01/02/10
Over the Christmas and New Year's holidays I caught a cold. Between having a cold and being busy with my relatives, I didn't get much reading done. But that's okay. It felt good to have a break. Instead of reading I was going through my digital photos and I was updating my Zazzle store.
Finished Last Week:
Pinkalicious: Tickled Pink: 01/02/11
Pinkalicious: Tickled Pink by Victoria Kann was a fortuitous find. Ian had taken the kids book shopping while I was doing a presentation for school. Sean chose a joke book and Harriet chose Pinkalicious: Tickled Pink, a story about Pinkalicious learning to tell jokes.
Pinkalicious ends up in a joke telling contest with one of the Goth girls from Purplicious. She goes home, much like Anne Shirley does in many of the Green Gables chapters, to panic over the contest and struggle to come up with the perfect joke. The book shows how one can be creative and true to one's self while still being entertaining. It's also nice to see the adversarial relationship between Pinkalicious and the Goth girls evolve into something more positive.
My children are Pinkalicious fans. We own the original three picture books and have read them more times than I can count. Now that my daughter is learning to read, the shorter early reader paperbacks are perfect for her and her brother to share. She can read most of the book with him helping on the words she doesn't know. It's great way for them to spend time together on a car trip.
Pinkalicious books reviewed here:
Lucifer Rising: 01/01/11
Lucifer Rising by Barbara Fifield is a slim novella about the dangers and allures of cults. I received it in late 2009 for review and like so many books, the review slipped through the cracks. Although I read the book in April, I am only getting to the review more than a year after receiving the book.
The book begins in media res with Elsa having decided to join the cult run by the enigmatic but devilishly charming Tyrell. They quickly become lovers and nearly forgets her goal to infiltrate and expose the cult for what it is.
In an ending reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, it's hinted that Tyrell may very well be Lucifer but the hint is abrupt and not allowed to play out to its full potential. What Lucifer Rising needs is more time to let the story unfold.
More time needs to be spent explaining why Elsa is so set on exposing the truth behind the cult. There should be a longer set up showing the cult moving in and its affect on the community. As it is, we are forced to take Elsa at her word. It's too long to be a short story but it's too open ended to really connect with the characters.