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Hands of My Father 05/31/11
Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg is another one that has been on my list since it was first released. I think I heard about the book on NPR or somewhere similar but I'm not sure. Deafness and sign language has been an interest of mine since high school. I had a friend who was learning ASL for her volunteer work.
Myron Uhlberg was born during the Depression as a hearing child to deaf parents. Though both parents were fluent in American sign (or the precursor of it as Uhlberg explains), their families were not and their Brooklyn neighborhood wasn't exactly understanding or welcoming of deafness. As soon as Uhlberg could walk and talk he became his parents' translator, and later keeper of his epileptic brother.
The memoir is a good mixture of his memories of growing up in Brooklyn, his thoughts on how his parents taught him to talk (they kept a radio running by his crib) and how he in turn taught his brother to talk. Mixed together with all those memories are his observations of how Sign works as a language. As a bilingual speaker he's able to poetically describe the nuances of the language, something most of the text books on the subject I've read don't do (nor attempt to do).
Havana Mañana - A Guide To Cuba And The Cubans 05/30/11
Havana Mañana by Consuelo Hermer and Marjorie May in Havana a book of excerpts compiled by Susannah Clark. The selection I read was called "What to Wear."
The full book is a travel guide for Americans traveling to Havana. This is back in the day before the travel embargo put in place after Castro. It's a fascinating historical document of what life was like in the early 1940s both in the United States and in Cuba.
I'm not sure how much of the specific advice holds water seventy years later. Prices are certainly different; businesses have probably closed up and fashions here and there have probably changed.
That said, there's still some general advice that's useful for travelers. Vacationers should dress for the environment they are traveling too but they should also be mindful of the culture they will be visiting if they wish to fit in. Visitors should do their research: learn the neighborhoods, traditions and whatnot before they arrive.
If I were doing a period piece (either as a film or a novel), Havana Mañana would be an invaluable resource.
What Are You Reading: May 30, 2011: 05/29/11
This week I met my goal of finishing two volumes of xxxHolic, Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend and Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh. They were all excellent reads.
I only read two picture books this week because my daughter was busy re-reading her favorites. She gave me a whole list of books to check out from the library. Her re-reads include Banana by Ed Vere (review coming), Hattie the Bad by Jane Devlin and LMNO Peas by Keith Baker.
This coming week is my last week off before summer session. I plan to finish The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 19 by Hiromu Arakawa and Finders Keepers by Russ Colchamiro.
For fun I'm reading through (and taking notes from) Navajo Made Easier: A Course in Conversational Navajo by Irvy W. Goossen. It's something I've been interested in learning for about twenty years. My interest was rekindled last year when I was working for the Census. In our bag of forms was a language card that explains what the census is in about two dozen languages. One of those languages is Diné bizaad (Navajo). It's a fascinating language. It's descriptive, tri-gendered like German, and tonal (like Chinese).
Finished Last Week:
Early Hayward: 05/29/11
Recently read two books about the local history of the area where I'm now living. The first of those two books is Early Hayward by Robert Phelps.
I grew up in a suburb of San Diego that could trace its history back only about two decades before I was born. It's history is within living memory of my grandfather and father. This lack of history is part and parcel of being the child of baby-boomers in a western state.
As it turns out I'm now living in a home that's only as old as I am but its adjacent to areas that have a longer history being the former ranch of Guillermo Castro and before that native American lands.
With that in mind and being relatively new to the area I crave local history. Early Hayward by Robert Phelps, a history professor at nearby Cal State East Bay, outlines the timeline of Hayward from the time it was just a hotel run by William Hayward on Castro's land at the corner of what's now A and Main, through the city being "Haywards" to ultimately dropping the s and becoming Hayward.
The photographs from the local historical society are the best parts of the book. There are also a few maps and it is fun compare modern day street layout to what it used to be like. For instance, I learned that my street used to be Cemetery Road. That's a much more descriptive name given that the street changes name at a cemetery just up the hill.
I own the Castro Valley book from the same series but Early Hayward I borrowed from my local library.
At Ease: Navy Men of World War II 05/28/11
At Ease: Navy Men of World War II by Evan Bachner has been on my wishlist as long as the book has been in print. I think I heard about the book on NPR. If not NPR, then a similar source.
After being near the start of my wishlist for six years, I decided it was time to track down a copy. I found one via Link+. I knew the book was a collection of photographs but somehow I hadn't appreciated how large the book would be.
The book contains a select subsection of the photographs collected by Captain Edward J. Steichen for the U.S. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit. The photographs show the men in all that down time that tends to get left out of the historical record of battles and skirmishes. Instead of naval battles we see young men bathing, napping, playing cards, stripped bare to avoid the heat and even cuddling.
The book is everything I hoped it would be. It helped make the stories I've heard seem more real than any movie reenactment or history book. The book brings things into perspective. The Pacific Ocean is large, hot and dull. The ships are both huge and cramped.
The Phone Book 05/27/11
When I'm in school I primarily read for school (of course) and books from my wishlist and my personal to be read collection. But I'm not perfect and since most of my reading material comes from the library, I'm constantly tempted by the new books on display right near the circulation desk.
I'm a sucker for unusual nonfiction. I like to read the books on topics you wouldn't think had been written about. A prime example is The Phone Book by Ammon Shea.
The phone book is one of those tools that has been part of the telephone culture since shortly after the telephone was first being introduced. At first they were marketing tools to show off the early adopters. They were also aids to help the telephone switchboard operators keep track of a ballooning subscriber list. Later as the telephone became a ubiquitous tool, everyone needed a copy. Now a days with smart phones being minicomputers, the telephone directories are online and there are movements to do away with the printed versions.
Shea's book covers most of the history of the different uses of both types of telephone books: the residential (white) pages and the business (yellow) pages. He even explains how the yellow pages came to be yellow. He explains the pre-l33tspeak language of the phone book and how it was developed to save space. Just imagine those same phone books without the abbreviations; they'd be a long as Shea's other reading project, the OED.
Beyond the history and mechanics of the phone book, Shea includes chapters about collectors of the book, people who change their name to be placed either at the beginning or the end of the book, and the strong men who rip the things in half. There are so many sundry details, tangents and other goodies that I couldn't put the book down once I started it.
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Armchair BEA: We Blog: 05/27/11
As Armchair BEA winds down we are supposed to turn our thoughts inwards and look at the fine art of blogging. The earliest bloggers wrote their updates on flat HTML pages. I've had this website since those early days and dabbled with book blogging although I didn't call it that back then. You can look those old pages up on the internet archive.
The modern day blog (for the most part) is a puzzle made up of a theme (style sheet), a database and xml (either as an RSS or Atom feed). Posts are done in the web browser and parsed by scripts to store the entry, to display it as HTML to a web browser and to send it out as XML to subscribers and aggregators.
My blog though is structurally old school. Yes, it has an RSS feed, a comment form and some widgets, it is still hand coded, flat HTML. By the time I decided to retool my website in 2004 to begin blogging in the modern style (at least in appearance and in content) I had so many legacy pages and little time (as I was working full time). The easiest thing to do was to hand code pages and hand roll the feed. I'm still doing that seven years later.
To blog well you should know your topic. If you're a book blogger, know your books. If you specialize in a genre, know your genre.
Know your audience. Google Analytics can help you get a better idea of who is coming to your blog and why. From Google I know that beyond book bloggers my readership includes librarians and teachers and sometimes students looking for book report ideas. Since I know I have children reading the blog, I keep the language clean and even when reviewing explicit books, I keep the details vague.
Know your voice. While writing to your audience is important, don't forget yourself in the process. Don't get so wrapped up in what others want to lose sight of what you want from blogging. Most bloggers blog as a hobby. If it's a hobby, it should be fun.
In my case, I don't want to specialize in a niche genre. Instead, I approach my blog as a library. Libraries have books for all sorts of readers of all sorts of ages. That means that sometimes I post reviews of books that parents or teachers might not approve of. I leave it up to the teachers and parents to guide their children on how to use my blog. I also expect the children to self censor. They know what they like and what they don't. It doesn't have to be everything I like.
xxxHolic Volume 01 05/26/11
Now that my son's older, his taste in reading is converging with mine (as is his taste in television and movies). One series he and I are both tearing through having watched the anime series together is xxxHolic by the mangaka group CLAMP.
The series begins with Kimihiro Watanuki, a young man living on his own and besieged by spirits. What he wants more than anything is freedom from their constant stalking. Fate brings him to Yûko's shop where he is given the chance to learn how to control and avoid the spirits for a price. He basically becomes her indentured servant and cook.
After their initial meeting, the remaining episodes usually are a retelling of a superstition or well known horror story. The first one is about a woman who is a perpetual liar. If she can't learn to acknowledge her bad habit (as Yûko calls it), she will be destroyed by her lies.
This series is on my short list of all time favorite mangas and it is my favorite translation. Each volume has a back of book explanation on key points in the book. In this one, there is a call back to a popular children's show that was similar to Romper Room. Had I not read the translation notes, I would have missed the parallels.
As Yûko is also known as the "dimensional witch", her abilities give CLAMP the opportunity to keep a parallel story line going in a separate series: Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles. I'm also reading that series but I'm not as far along in it as I am in xxxHolic.
Although Del Rey, the publisher of the translations, recommends the books for 13 and older, I would recommend it third graders and older who are getting interested in horror stories and / or graphic novels. There's no graphic violence, nor adult themes (beyond Yûko and Mokina's taste for saké).
Armchair BEA: Fostering Relationships You Might Not Have Thought About: 05/26/11
Today we are supposed to talk about a relationship we've formed with "particular publisher, author, blogger, or bookstore." Instead of doing that, I'm going to ask you to think beyond the traditional publishing focused bubble of the book blogosphere and think about other book or blogging related relationships you can form.
Book bloggers have two things in common: a love of reading and an understanding of "Web 2.0" technologies. There are other book lovers out there who want to embrace blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, phone aps and whatnot but might not have the resources to do it. I'm talking about libraries, schools, adult literacy groups, book clubs and so forth.
If you have time to volunteer and if your local library (or friends of the library association) or school (etc) is willing to partner with you, you could help them set up a book blog, Facebook page or similar. Ask them what they need, what their time frame is and maybe you could find a new venue to share your love of reading and blogging.
I am currently in a virtual library school setting taking classes on the computer and using web technology to complete my degree. But even in this setting, there is a lot of talk about what Web 2.0 but no so much on how or why to use it. Last year I did a research paper on libraries who use blogs and RSS feeds and was shocked to find that there is very little understanding on how blogs can (or should be) used in a library setting. Maybe as book bloggers we can help bridge that gap.
With budgets being slashed at public libraries and public schools wider and wider gaps are being covered through donations of time and money. Grassroot efforts can make all the difference. So if you have the time and like working with people, why not give it a try?
The Neddiad 05/25/11
The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater is the first book of what's now a three book series. In my usual fashion of finding the second book first, I actually learned about the series via The Yggssey (review coming). This time though I learned from experience and found the first book and started from the beginning of the series.
Ned, the titular character, is the son of the shoelace king. On a whim they decide to move from Chicago to Hollywood. They leave by train and that's where the weirdness starts.
Ned's journey into the unusual starts when he misses the train and meets up with a ghost and a crazy shaman. Even when reunited with his family he's still on a path to save the world with the help of a turtle statue.
It would take way too long to try to explain all the wacky characters and tangents this book takes. It's all set against the backdrop of post WWII Hollywood. The magical realism and mysticism fits the setting.
Of the three books, The Neddiad is the least whacky of the three. I recommend starting here or the other two won't make any sense.
Armchair BEA: Getting to Know Notorious Spinks: 05/25/11
Thursday means it's interview time for Armchair BEA. I got the chance to interview via email the owner of Notorious Spinks Talks Books.
Q: You seem to have very strong opinions. Please share your nearest and dearest opinion.
A: Ummmm. To know me is to know that I rarely bite my tongue. I'm most vocal about issues of race relations, infant mortality, prejudice and injustice. In the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Q: What's a favorite recent read and why?
A: I have two most recent books. The first is True You by Janet Jackson. I love how open and vulnerable she is while discussing her life. The second is Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen. This books explores the reality of relationships and how they change even when we don't.
Q: What genres or subjects do you read most often?
A: I read a little bit of everything. My favorites are memoirs, biographies, and historical fiction.
Q: Who is one of your favorite authors and why?
A: My absolute favorite is Zora Neale Hurston. I love her because she addressed issues of race relations with no regrets and no apologies.
Q: How do you pick the books you read?
A: I usually read the synopsis and go from there. I also rely heavily on the reviews of my fellow book bloggers.
Q: What is the most unusual book you've read?
A: I don't have any that come to mind.
Q: Do you have an ereader? If you do, has it changed the way you read?
A: No I don't have one yet. I doubt it will change the way I read. I just want one for when I travel so I don't have to carry hardbacks.
Q: What do you do for fun when you're not reading or blogging?
A: I love to hang out with my family and friends. I'm usually the jokester so I tend to keep those around me in stitches.
Q: If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?
Q: Do you have a favorite place to read?
A: Sitting in my bed and wrapped in a blanket.
Diamond Ruby 05/24/11
Joseph Wallace and I "met" via Twitter. He was talking about his novel Diamond Ruby and described it as a baseball novel set in the 1920s. From that description alone I was hooked and told him so. He was nice enough to arrange for me to receive a review copy.
The book begins on a happy note, a baseball game attended by Ruby and most of her family. After the game she realizes her long arms might be an asset for throwing the perfect pitch. There's just one problem, it isn't ladylike to play baseball.
Instead of taking the warm fuzzy path and showing Ruby coming of age and continuing to practice her pitching, Wallace turns to history and the influenza outbreak that swept through the world after the close of the Great War. Ruby loses most of her family, leaving her the head of house hold an in charge of her two young nieces because her brother is no longer the man he was.
So rather than Ruby becoming a pitching hero through a happy childhood, she does it out of desperation. Her chance to provide for her family comes at price of being a Coney Island side show. The progression from happy child full of day dreams to determined surviver seems real and plausible in Diamond Ruby.
In the final act of the book Wallace takes some poetic license with baseball history and writes things how he wished they had played out. The endnotes include an explanation of what he changed, what historical figures inspired him and why he made the changes that he did.
Five stars. Book received for review.
Armchair BEA: Reading by the Numbers: 05/24/11
At the end of 2010, Patrick Brown, a GoodReads blogger took a look at the reading habits of GoodReads members as a whole. The title for his post said it all: "Almost 2011?! We're Still Working on 2009" and it sums up perfectly how I read and review here.
In 2009 I decided to step away reviewing for publishers and publicists. I felt like I was losing my focus and drifting from my mission statement of sharing the joys of reading. I was becoming too commercial without seeing any benefits. To be a happy blogger and therefore a better blogger I had to go back to reading what I wanted to read, when I wanted t read it. I also had to review what I wanted to, how and when I wanted to.
As a reader, I have never been on the leading edge of trends. I don't know who is the new hot debut or what series is the next best thing. It's just not me. Instead I read things off my book shelves at home (often times bought second hand) or I check things out from wishlist by getting them from the library.
What this means is that i'm always months, if not, a full year behind the leading edge of what's new or popular. For instance, this year, I've only read seven books published in 2011. As I don't review as soon as I finish a book, there's an extra lag built into when I post things. I haven't posted a review for a single book published this year. Most of the reviews I've published in 2011 are of books published last year.
Compare my chart to the one posted on the GoodReads blog. You'll see it has the same year behind spike.
With that in mind, what have my favorite reads been this year?
What about you? Are you on the leading edge of reading or a year or so behind like me?
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 02: 05/23/11
After having watched the first anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist last year I decided to read the manga series. While I enjoyed the quicker pace of Volume 1, that same quick pace caught me off guard in this volume.
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 2 covers the entire arc of Shou Tucker, the Sewing Life Alchemist. In the 2003 anime Shou Tucker and his daughter are introduced over the course of a couple episodes. Here the entire plot takes half the volume.
While that brevity does cut out a lot of the cornball sappy filler it also lessons the shock value of how Shou Tucker is accomplishing his alchemy. It's a look at the awful things parents sometimes do to their children for petty reasons.
Meeting Shou Tucker is one of the first tests of the Elric's brother's conviction to undo their mistake without committing further crimes against the natural order of things. They could easily become another Shou Tucker were it not for their strong moral conviction.
Armchair BEA: Welcome to Puss Reboots: 05/23/11
Welcome to Puss Reboots: A Book Review a Day. If you're new here, welcome! If you're a regular, welcome back.
I am currently half way though my second round of graduate school. This time I'm learning library and information science. I hope to become a children's librarian in a public library. Reference librarian would also be good; I love trying to answer questions. I'm also qualified to run a corporate / intranet library; that's what I was doing before I went back to school.
Some book blogs specialize in a specific genre; I don't. While I would love to say that I read everything, that wouldn't be honest either. Although I would never tell someone not to read something, there are something that I personally have little to no interest in reading. I don't see the point in writing a negative review that is probably mostly a reflection of my own personal bias.
My blog is completely self built. Since the website it's sitting on dates back to 1997, the book blog isn't a blog in the most formal sense. It isn't using a blogging platform (wordpress or similar). This mostly means that all comments have to be moderated as there is no mechanism for them to self post. I try to get the comments approved, posted and replied to in a timely manner. Please don't panic if your comment doesn't show up immediately.
Unless I'm ill or traveling (and don't have access to the internet), I post a review each and every day. I've managed to post at least one review of either a book, picture book or short story each and every day (including holidays) since 2007. I have posted over 2000 reviews and you can see the entire alphabetized list by title or by author (currently more than 1400 authors represented).
The Seven Things I Review Most:
Since children's literature comprises everything for ages 0 to 17, I break up the reviews into three sub-sections: chapter books / older readers (ages 9 and up), monster books (because my kids love them so much) and picture books (ages 0 to 8).
What Are You Reading: May 23, 2011: 05/23/11
I finished ten books this week which actually surprises me because I hardly did any reading during my usual fun reading time. I finished one manga over coffee as well as one tween mystery, The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer.
Although Ranma 1/2 is a manga I read it at home while I was recovering from a cold. It's a much older manga and the translation was mirrored so that the book will read from left to right. Ranma 1/2 was one of my earliest introductions to anime but I've never bothered to read the manga. Turns out I like the manga better than the anime.
My daughter of course still loves story time before bed so my list includes my reading with her: Babyberry Pie, Miss Lina's Ballerinas and Fancy Nancy: Poet Extraordinaire! Our favorite by far was Miss Lina's Ballerinas. We're both fans of the Madeline series and Miss Lina's Ballerinas is written and illustrated in the style of the books.
This week I hope to finish two volumes of xxxHolic, Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend and Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh.
Finished Last Week:
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie 05/22/11
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff started off the very popular If You Give series back in 1985. I'm surprised I didn't run into at that time. My brother would have been the perfect age and I read a ton of picture books to him. Whatever the reason, I completely missed this book until I had my own children.
Like all the books in the series, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is a classic pattern book. It's also circular. Things progress through all the different things that the mouse will want after being offered a cookie, only to return to the mouse wanting another cookie.
As a parent I see the humor in the boy's futile but earnest attempt to keep the mouse happy. Parenting is exactly like that. Round and round and round! The only way to get out of the cycle is to wait for the little ones to grow into a new one!
The Avenue of the Dead 05/21/11
The Avenue of the Dead by Evelyn Anthony is the second of the Davina Graham series of books. The first book, The Defector, I haven't read. I'm also not quite sure how I heard about this series or why I added this particular book to my wishlist. Mystery books (meaning those I no longer remember adding to my list) are the reason I'm now making an effort to read and review books from that list while I can still remember adding them!
This book opens with the death of Davina Graham's lover, an ex-KGB agent. Her desire for closer puts her on a case involving the ambassador's wife who insists she's in danger. Everyone around her says she's just high strung. Davina's investigations though give credence to her story and leads her to a small town in Mexico.
The book is a complex thriller and in the vein of an Ian Fleming or Robert Ludlum novel. There are times when it feels dated but it's well paced that those moments don't matter.
I liked it well enough that I want to go back and read the book that started the series.
Bone Volume 09: Crown of Horns 05/20/11
Jeff Smith took a decade to write the Bone series. It took me nine months to read them; I had the advantage of waiting until they were republished with the color artwork. The last book in the original series is Crown of Horns.
Crown of Horns wraps up everything. It also ends in a parallel structure to the first volume, Out from Boneville. After the battle in the kingdom is resolved and the ghost circles vanquished, it's time for the Bone cousins to say goodbye to the people they've been living with.
When I started the series I wasn't very impressed. I liked bits and pieces of Out from Boneville but revisiting familiar locations and themes helped me better appreciate how the story started.
Ten Little Mummies 05/19/11
Counting books are great for children who are just learning to read. They are predictable and rhythmic and thus fairly easy to read. They are typically done with cute things: ladybugs, monkeys, bunnies, kitties.
Ten Little Mummies by Philip Yates bucks the trend a little (although his mummies are cute too). Ten entombed mummies get bored with staying put and decide to explore. One by one they disappear, one by one.
I have to admit I got this counting book more for myself than my kids. They know I've had a thing for all things ancient Egyptian since I was a kid. Some of my enthusiasm is rubbing off on my son so he had fun reading the book to his sister.
The book would work well for an Egyptian themed shelf or a Halloween one. As well as the counting shelf!
Bollywood Babes 05/18/11
Bollywood Babes by Narinder Dhami is the second in a trilogy that I'm reading backwards. It didn't mean to do it that way but that's how it worked out. I still need to read the first of the series, Bindi Babes.
In this middle volume, the three sisters have been roped into helping plan a fundraiser for their school by their well meaning but sometimes smothering Auntie. A chance meeting with former Bollywood starlet Molly Mahal gives them the inspiration they need; they'll make her the star attraction.
Molly was the character that really sold the story for me. She's like so many former stars who have fallen on hard times. Growing up in California, I can remember similar stories of one time screen idols living in flop houses and struggling to pay bills.
But being a comedy, the sisters' offer of help is taken to the extreme and they begin to doubt their decision. It's familiar story especially in comedies. It's fun to see how the sisters cope with their demanding guest and how they try to stay focused on the fundraising at the same time.
Hattie the Bad 05/17/11
Harriet likes books with characters who have her own name. We don't call her Hattie but she uses it when playing video games. So I had to check out Hattie the Bad by Jane Devlin.
But then I felt guilty about it. What if she thought I thought she's bad, I worried. I read the book myself and found it hilarious. Hattie's got a thing for orange paint and frogs, but I still didn't read it to Harriet.
Instead, I chickened out and put the book amongst the other library picture books. I didn't mention it was there; she can read well enough to read the titles. She quickly found it, read it herself, giggled and then insisted that I read to her (in case she missed anything).
Hattie gets bored of being bad and decides to be good. She's as good at being good as she is at being bad. She's too good for her own good and in her moment of triumph comes to her senses and regains her bad streak.
Hattie the Bad ended up being a hit with both Harriet and Sean and got many re-reads before it had to go back to the library.
Shark vs. Train 05/16/11
Shark vs Train by Chris Barton was a 2010 Cybils finalist. It's the story of a rivalry between a shark and train. The are constantly competing... racing, diving, playing video games and all sorts of other ways.
Sometimes shark wins. Sometimes train wins. Sometimes both do. And sometimes neither does.
The illustrations completely sell this outlandish story. When I first heard the title I ignored the book thinking it sounded too ridiculous or too gimicky. But the pictures of them competing are as silly and wonderful as a classic Warner Bros.'s cartoon.
I think we ended up reading the book three or possibly four times. The second time around my children kept score to see who ultimately won. I won't divulge the score here. Go read the book and find out for yourself!
What Are You Reading: May 16, 2011: 05/15/11
I'm on a brief vacation between spring and summer terms. I'm only taking one course over the summer so I should still have some time for fun reading. I am, however, also doing free lance writing and looking for a job.
This week I finished up the manga I had on hand. I typically read an issue over my morning cup of coffee. I also read some more from one of my back issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. I'm working through two issues: September/October and November/December both from 2010.
My upcoming reading will be a mixture of books from my wishlist that I've checked out from the library and books from my personal collection of "to be read" books. I have a small pile of books I would like to finish in time for the June Bookcrossing meeting so I can pass them along to someone else.
Two books I know for sure that I'll be reading this week are The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer and Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend by Carrie Jones. Beyond that I'm not entirely sure.
Finished Last Week:
The World at Night: 05/15/11
I am terrible at following series or sometimes even knowing that a book is part of a series. In the case of Alan Furst, I've read three books now out of his "Night Soldiers" series and until I looked Furst up on GoodReads tonight I didn't even know they were part of a series! Take my cluelessness as a compliment; I love it when books can stand alone and be good self-contained stories.
The World at Night is set in Paris right before and later during the occupation by Nazi Germany. The main character, who reappears in Red Gold (a book now on my wishlist) is a film producer persuaded into spying. His film company can travel where others no longer can.
As an ex-film major I found the film connection fascinating. It also felt real. The book fits well with To Be or Not to Be (the original version of the film) and Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (or the film directed by Carol Reed).
Olivia Helps with Christmas 05/14/11
I thought we had read all of the original Olivia books but then Harriet found Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer at the library. In a rare (for us) bit of coordination we read the book just before Christmas.
It's Christmas Eve and Olivia and her brothers are anxious for things to start. In her enthusiasm to speed things along she takes things to her usual extremes, including harvesting part of the Christmas tree for the table decoration.
The book has Falconer's usual limited pallet, with a little more green than usual. But like so many holiday books with the focus being on the goodness of the holiday and the importance of family and what-not, the book lacks its usual high level of mayhem.
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 01: 05/13/11
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa is one of the most popular shonen manga series. It's also a damn fine anime series, so good that it was redone to better follow the manga. The first time around the anime ran quicker than the manga (a fairly common occurrence) and so the two plots diverge. Last December Ian and I watched the first anime series. Now as we're reading the manga we are also watching the newer Brotherhood series which is like a director's cut version.
Volume 1 begins with Edward and Alphonse Elric arriving in a desert town that worships the Son God Leto. They're under the control of a charlatan named Cornello who claims to be able to able to resurrect the dead.
Ed and Al know first hand that can't be done. They bear the scares of their attempt to bring back their mother. And while it's important to know what happened to Ed and Al and the choices they made, how that part of the story is told differs from the manga and the first version of the anime.
The first anime uses every single piece of the story, probably to buy more time as the manga was released. The earliest episodes suffer most for the decision to expand everything. The Leto, for example, gets drawn out to painful extremes.
The manga, though, keeps things brief and doesn't pull any punches. Most of Ed and Al's history is left for later episodes. Only enough is told for the reader to catch on that the Leto miracles are smoke and mirrors.
Instead of focusing on the gore of what happened with their failed transmutation, the story sets up the basic themes and plot threads:
While there are a few times in later volumes that I prefer anime's pacing, for the most part I think the manga's close to the cuff approach is better.
Welcome to Monster Town 05/12/11
When I was a child I was fascinated by ghosts. Where some children have invisible friends, I had an entire parallel ghost city to my own home town. My son seems to have inherited my love of the paranormal but his architectural dream involves a monster city, not ghostly urban sprawl.
Monster Town by Ryan Heshka bridges the gap between the ghosts and the monsters. It follows a typical "day" in Monster Town, which starts at sundown and goes to sunrise. The ghouls go to school. The vampires go to work at the blood bank. And so forth.
For old children and parents there are puns and visual jokes. Younger children can compare their typical day with the residents of Monster Town. The artwork is colorful and playful and not too scary nor gory.
Dodo and Momo are moving to San Francisco with their family. For the ride from Los Angeles, they are each given a blank sketch book. Dodo decides to turn her's into a diary. Doodlebug by Karen Romano Young is Dodo's diary.
What caught my attention first was the plot, namely the move they were making. Having gone through that move myself, though not with children and not as a child, I was hooked. The diary part also got my attention. When I was in high school I briefly kept a doodle diary.
Some of the pages are very crowded with Dodo's artwork. It takes a couple pages to get used to her crowded, conversational style. Younger readers might need extra time to work through all the words crammed onto a page. Older readers though should find the story engaging enough to not mind the busy pages.
It was fun to see San Francisco as rendered in ball point pen doodles. Fans of Smile will recognize many of the same locales. I think the characters even go to the same school at one point.
Best of all though, was its appeal to my children. My son actually borrowed the book from me for about a week to read it himself. My daughter wanted me to read it to her.
The Nightmarys 05/10/11
I took a break from reading off my wishlist to read The Nightmarys by Dan Poblocki. I was drawn in by the cover of these twin girls standing at the edge of a bed. They look like a mix of grudge ghosts and the twins from The Shining. Add to it that they are on the cover of a tween horror book, I had to read it!
The book opens with Timothy worried about his brother who was injured while serving in Iraq. Frustrated with his best friend, he ends up volunteering to working with the new girl, Abigail. That's when things get strange. His nightmares seem to be coming to life and later she explains about her flight from the Nightmarys.
The book though isn't a simple grudge ghost story. There's more of a mystery behind the horror that crosses generations. Dan and Abigail have to work through the clues laid out in an old book and other places to stop the source of the nightmares and, of course, save the world.
There's lots of mixing of reality and illusion, making for some great horror scenes. Although I'm an adult, I found the book creepy and nightmare inducing. There's some hinted violence and gore but mostly things are left to the imagination.
Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Waking Up? 05/09/11
Now that Harriet can read she is taking a more active role in choosing her library books. She is returning to old favorite authors, like Bill Martin Jr. A recent find of his is Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Waking Up?
This book explores the morning routine of a young kitten as he gets ready for school. Parents and school aged children will recognize the speed bumps in the routine: it's hard to get up, it's hard to pick out the right outfit, food is more fun to play with than eat, and so forth.
Bill Martin Jr. has a knack with rhythms and making a short list of easy to read words fun to read. His poetry is also memorable. The combination of phonetically easy words and memorable lines made for a hit with Harriet. She read the book about a dozen times before we had to return it to the library. Weeks later she is still quoting from it.
What Are You Reading: May 09, 2011: 05/09/11
This week's reading was mostly for fun. I had a few "did not finish" books: Nick of Time and Time Pirate by Ted Bell. I just couldn't get into a time travel / historical novel series that mixes up Nazis and pirates.
Life After Joe was a skimmed book but I did finish it. It was a lot like Tim and Pete and suffers from similar problems.
The list is inflated again with picture books, but this time because I was reading with my daughter. Or she was reading to me. We went to the library on Tuesday and we read a bunch of books together. She continues to be addicted to Mo Willems's Frog and Piggie books.
So tossing out the did not finish books and those that were read to me, that leaves manga and two science fiction novels. The manga I finished includes: Black Butler Volume 1 by Yana Toboso, Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 15 by Hiromu Arakawa, Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 2 by CLAMP, and Zodiac P.I., Volume 1 by Natsumi Ando. The novels, both of which were very good, were The Kingdom of Ohio and Through the Triangle.
Then today being Mother's day, I pretty much got a day off from usual responsibilities. I decided to spend half of the day reading for fun. It gave me a chance to finish Wesley the Owl and xxxHolic Volume 5. The other half of the day I worked on the last test I have spring semester.
Finished Last Week:
The New Gay Teenager 05/08/11
I heard Savin-Williams recently on NPR's All Things Considered discussing his 2005 book, The New Gay Teenager. Intrigued by his assertion that most teenagers are happy, even the gay ones, and that bullying wasn't the guaranteed fate of LGBT youth as the media reports might have us believe, I decided to read his book.
For this review I'm pointing to two journal reviews of the book along with my more usual blog review posts as I'm not an expert in LGBT issues or child psychology. As I continue with my library science education, these journal review citations might become more of a feature of future reviews.
The thesis of The New Gay Teenager is that "gay youth" is a social construct, an artificial box created by researchers who needed somewhere to put teenagers who were becoming sexually active. It's an interesting idea and one I would have liked to have seen fleshed out a bit more in the book. The background is laid out in the first chapter and set aside as the focus turns to contemporary teens.
On the part of bullying and depression in the gay teenage population, Savin-Williams cites self selection as the problem. The people doing the research were making their observations from teenage populations who have already sought mental health help. The extrapolations didn't adequately consider the remaining population of teens and what percentage might fall into the LGBT categories.
The next big point of the book is that today's youth isn't self categorizing. They aren't calling themselves any of the alphabet soup that's been used to identify orientation or gender identity. On the one hand, I agree with this observation. On the other hand the book doesn't seem to test that observation to the fullest. By this I mean, is there any documentation to show how previous generations of teens self identified (or didn't)? Maybe that lack of conformity is more a product of age than of a specific generation? The book doesn't investigate.
The part of the book that bothered me the most was the assertion that despite teens refusing to conform, they do anyway at least in terms of their biological sex. No matter how much teens rebel, girls and boys (regardless of sexual interests) are still fundamentally different. After reading Pink Brain, Blue Brain, I have to strongly disagree with this piece of the book and I feel it does a great disservice to the teens the book is supposedly trying to help!
The Android's Dream 05/07/11
John Scalzi is best known for his hard science fiction like Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades but I've so far only read his satyrical science fiction: Agent to the Stars and The Android's Dream. While The Android's Dream isn't a sequel to Agent to the Stars it feels like it could be a far future follow up to the present day satire.
The book opens with a human diplomat insulting and then killing an alien dignitary with his flatulence. Now the world's governments have to come together to stop an all out interplanetary war. The only way to do that is to find a rare breed of sheep used in the alien's coronation ceremony.
If the book had stayed focus on the task at hand, namely the coordinated effort of different nations trying to find the sheep while other factions are doing their best to keep the sheep from being delivered, the book would have been as tight and as funny as Agent to the Stars.
Unfortunately with the plot set in the far future when there are many different extra terrestrial groups interacting with the Earth, there's just too much temptation to include commentary on all these different groups, their cultures, quirks and history with the planet. The asides interrupt the flow of the plot and ultimately got in the way of my enjoyment of the book.
How to Crash a Killer Bash 05/06/11
Presley Parker is back in How to Crash a Killer Bash by Penny Warner. She's hosting another huge shindig in San Francisco, this time a fundraiser at the de Young Museum. When the curator and host, Mary Lee Miller is found murdered with museum property in the middle of the pary, Penny's best friend is fingered for the crime. Can she figure out who did it before she becomes another victim?
As with the first book in the series, How to Host a Killer Party, San Francisco is as much a character as Presley. The main points of interest are the museum, Treasure Island and points in between. I haven't been to the de Young but reading the book has made me think about getting tickets.
The characters are also entertaining. I'm quite fond of Presley's mother. She's forgetful thanks to Alzheimer's but helps keep the plot grounded at times when it seems like it's about to fly out of control. On the other extreme, there's the cleaning man who Presley's still trying to figure out. He has an air of mystery about him and I'm just as curious as Presley to learn his back story.
So then there's the mystery itself. I had the killer pegged on page two. Usually Warner's mysteries keep me guessing all the way to the end. Even though I was sure who would commit the crime and later who had committed the crime, I still enjoyed the book. But I'm knocking one star off the rating for the blatant bad guy.
The Octonauts and the Sea of Shade 05/05/11
The Octonauts and the Sea of Shade by Meomi is the second book in the series. It's also the odd ball in the series in that it's not based on a real creature of phenomena of the sea.
In this book the Octonauts notice that the shadows have disappeared from everything. They decide to investigate and go into the sea of shade. The ruler of the sea of shade has decided he doesn't like his shadows being treated as second class citizens. The Octonauts have to negotiate with him and the shadows themselves to come to a solution.
The book is a good story about segregation and treating people fairly regardless of their job, appearance of position in life. But all the other books in the series deal specifically with ocean topics and this one doesn't. It's allegory and fantasy and doesn't lead naturally into science discussions.
Brain Camp 05/04/11
Brain Camp by Susan Kim made it onto the long list of Cybils nominees for 2010 in the teen category. I read it before the short list was announced and have to admit that I was hoping it would make it to the next round. Unfortunately it was a year of some excellent books and the competition was fierce.
Dreamy Jenna and slacker Lucas meet at summer camp. Both have been sent to this SAT crash course in the wilderness by their families who feel they have no other options if their children are going to get into college. They don't expect to become friends but they have too when students go missing and others start acting strange.
Brain Camp is a wonderful combination of mystery, like Nancy Drew or Hard Boys, and horror, like Christopher Pike mixed with some H.P. Lovecraft. The artwork brings the details of the story to life and there are some gross moments and some scary ones. It was a great page turner.
The Octonauts and the Only Lonely Monster 05/03/11
Giant Squids seem to be making a comeback in literature. Maybe it's the recent news of squids, like the one that sank a fishing vessel off the coast of Japan. Maybe it's just a weird literary coincidence. One of those at the forefront of this trend is another delightful picture book from Meomi called The Octonauts and the Only Lonely Monster.
Of all the books in the Octonauts series, The Only Lonely Monster is my favorite. The team discovers a lonely monster who wants to go home. They search north, south, east and west in hope of finding his home.
The book and cartoon illustrations are completely synchronized. Readers have to turn the book in the direction that the Octonauts are headed, giving an added bit of playfulness. As they travel the oceans, the sea life speak the language of the neighboring countries.
As with The Octonauts and the Frown Fish, Sean and I read up on the giant squid after we finished our second reading of the book. A book that encourages further reading is a wonderful thing.
Bannock, Beans and Black Tea 05/02/11
Seth, a Canadian graphic novelist, grew up listening to his father's stories of growing up in extreme poverty on Prince Edward Island. In 2004 he put his father's stories together in a slim volume called Bannock, Beans and Black Tea
The title refers to their basic diet, when they had money for food. Bannock is a fry bread, similar to the American biscuit but fried as a flat bread, sort of like pita or na'an.
The book is a rather bleak memoir. Gallant's family was always struggling for money and it took its toll on everyone. This is not the idyllic PEI of L.M. Montgomery. This is a harsh and cruel island divided into the haves and have-nots.
The memoir begins and ends with some of Seth's illustrations in comic form. I wish there were more of them peppered through out the book, or even comprising the entire volume.
What Are You Reading: May 02, 2011: 05/02/11
My big project is turned in and I'm winding down the semester with two smaller papers. I've finished the reading for those papers.
You can see things winding down reflected in what I read last week. There are finished text books (From Cover to Cover and Reference and Information Sevices in the 21st Century) and a whole heap of manga.
In this coming week I will be finishing Nick of Time by Ted Bell and possibly strating the sequel. I will also be reading more of Fullmetal Alchemist because I am totally addicted to the manga. Beyond that, I'm not really sure what I'll read.
Now that the summer heat has arrived I'll probably be spending some of my free time swimming laps. Swimming means less reading.
Finished Last Week:
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart 05/01/11
Jane Austen's books in their pure unadulterated form aren't my cup of tea. I would like them to be. I have tried to read them. I have failed at reading them. But tucked away in those books are good stories but I tend to like them as adaptations, Austenlite, I suppose.
One recent addition to the Austen adaptation ring is Beth Pattillo. Last year I read and loved Jane Austen Ruined My Life. So when I was asked to review her second Jane Austen inspired novel, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, I jumped at the chance.
Now as you know from my review of Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange, I don't swoon over Mr. Darcy and I can never remember what Colin Firth looks like. That said, by the title alone I probably would have skipped the book. I chose to read it because I had enjoyed the author's previous one.
From the first chapter I already liked the book better than the first. The main character in Jane Austen Ruined My Life is a diehard Austen fanatic and is gaga for Mr. Firth. This time the character isn't an Austen fan and is only going to England to present a paper as a favor to her sister (the Austen expert in the family).
Now of course Miss Bennett didn't like Mr. Darcy either for most of the book either. So as an adaptation the set up works too, especially when the one man at the conference begins to get under the main character's skin. Fortunately for me, modern day Darcy (aka Neil) is a little more likable than his counterpart, though his character development is flawed in places.
Ultimately though what sent me over the edge to full fledged squeedom was the return of Harriet and the other members of the secret Jane Austen society.