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The Red Pyramid: 06/30/11
My husband, son and (to a lesser extent, daughter) and I all enjoyed the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. When the Kane Chronicles were announced I was doubly thrilled: first for having a new tween series by Riordan and second because I have loved reading Egyptian themed books since I was in high school.
The Kane Chronicles begin with The Red Pyramid. In the fashion of the most recent Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters and The Egyptologist by Arthur Philips, the book is presented as the transcripts from Carter and Sadie Kane, siblings who have been separated since the death of their mother.
Carter has been living with their father, living out of his suitcase, going from dig to dig and museum to museum as his father's research leads. Sadie, meanwhile, has been living in England with her maternal grandparents who want nothing to do with Dr. Julius Kane.
As with the Percy Jackson series, Riordan takes the old Gods, the Egyptian ones, this time and supposes that they are real and still among us. The magic that was described on the temple walls and in the old papyrus scrolls works for those who know how to wield it. And like Percy and his friends, the Kane siblings have ties to the Gods.
Riordan has his own take on how Egyptian theology works, some of which he uses to play up the humor in scenes and other times to make things more dramatic. Still, though, like the Percy Jackson series, there's enough there to point interested kids in the right direction if they want to learn more.
Princess Academy: 06/29/11
Miri is small for her age. She lives with her family in a mountain community known for its special quarried stone. Life is a struggle and things are about to get worse as girls of a certain age are forced to go to the princess academy as the king's priests have divined that the newest queen will be living among them. That's the set up of Shannon Hale's Princess Academy.
While it may sound like a traditional set up for a fairy tale where the smallest, least useful member of a town goes off to charm the crown prince and become the next queen, it isn't. It's about the hardships of mountain life, about wanting to contribute to society, the frustration of not knowing the truth behind things and finally the power of education. What Miri and the other girls gain above and beyond the lessons in grace and polite society, is an education and most importantly, the ability to read.
Hale uses the seasons to show the mountain in all its forms and to create a believable sense of place. She also includes folk songs and stories to build an oral history that is later enhanced and challenged by what Miri and the others learn in their studies.
Although the book is set in only a small piece of the kingdom I came away with a sense of a much larger area. Shannon Hale excels at world building while keeping the story flowing and the characters developing.
I listened to the audio version of Princess Academy on our drive to Southern California earlier this year. I plan to go back and read the printed version later.
Bumped by Megan McCafferty says that a virus made everyone older than 18 infertile. The book though opens with Melody explaining that the virus infected 75% of the population. Regardless, it's enough of a problem that teenagers are valuable commodities being the only ones who can keep the human population going.
Bumped is told in alternating voices by twin sisters Melody and Harmony who were separated at birth and adopted by very different families. Melody has gone pro and will "bump" with a specially selected Johndoe for enough money to see her through college and probably beyond. Harmony, though, was raised on the "Goodside" a hyper conservative, Bible thumping commune where teens are married young so they can have their child and raise it together before it's too late. Harmony though has left the compound to bring her sister to God before it's too late.
Bumped is a dystopian in the style of A Clockwork Orange and has two parallel slangs, those used by mainline society teens and that used by the Goodside teens. I didn't find either slang particularly hard to follow but Harmony's seemed better developed and more natural.
With two protagonists carrying the story, each telling her story in first person, both need distinct, believable voices. Here is where Bumped falls short. Melody though self described as smart, beautiful and responsible never demonstrates any of these attributes. At a time when she's expecting the call she neglects to check her messages and doesn't take her phone with her. The last two thirds of the book are only possible because of her laziness and stupidity.
Harmony, though, does manage to carry her half of Bumped. Though presented as the villain or foil of the book, she evolves into a well rounded (no pun intended) and sympathetic character.
Although there is talk of sex and teenagers being paid to have sex I think Bumped could be used in a high school English class. It has themes and talking points that would work well at the same time that Lord of the Flies and The Scarlet Letter are being taught.
eGalley received from NetGalley.
The Way They Wove the Spells in Sippulgar: 06/27/11
There was a time when I was enchanted by everything I read by Robert Silverberg. Over the years though my tastes in books and his approach to writing have drifted apart somewhat. Now I find his science fiction hit or miss.
"The Way They Wove the Spells in Sippulgar" was published in the October / November 2009 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It follows a man on a journey to a far dessert town to investigate the disappearance of his brother-in-law. Sippulgar has always been a place he has wanted to visit so he goes with mixed emotions and is soon enchanted by one of the local cults.
Silverberg does a wonderful just at creating memorable cities and cultures. Sippulgar on paper reminds me of how Liore is shown in the first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist (either anime version). Liore's a sparkling dessert town in the grips of a cult leader and Sippulgar follows magical beliefs and ancient religions that other parts of Majipoor have left behind.
But... I have problems with Majipoor itself. When I first read Lord Valentine's Castle I didn't notice how massively huge the planet is supposed to be. I only noticed it in a cursory fashion when the action turns to the castle itself which is built in proportions to make the fabled Tower of Babylon seem like a doll house.
Here though the story seems to spend a lot of time describing how big Majipoor is. And yet travel doesn't seem to take much longer than it does here. But Majipoor doesn't have extremely high tech transportation. And all this thought about how things just don't add up geographically got in the way of my enjoyment of the good parts of what happens at Sippulgar.
What Are You Reading: June 27, 2011: 06/27/11
Until Sunday I had only finished four books, a fifth of what I was reading during spring semester. Then two things conspired to make me read more.
The first was two of my checked out books, Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart. Not being able to renew them and having only three days to read them, I set down to finish them.
The second thing that happened was one of my Link+ books came in, xxxHolic Volume 12 by CLAMP. So I had to go to the library. My daughter wanted to go to. After playing a round of Dora Memory with her (and losing 17 to 7 pairs) she made a beeline to the shelves of new picture books. After picking out a small pile of them, we snuggled up on one of the library couches and read three of them: Ribbit Rabbit by Candace Ryan, Jam & Honey by Melita Morales and The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi.
Coming up this week I hope to finish Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman and Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn. If I'm lucky, I'll also find time to finish Cara Mia by Denise Verrico. Books that I might start are Mono Culture by F.S. Michaels, Jane Austen Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford and The Brisket Book by Stephanie Pierson. I will also probably be reading many of the picture books with my daughter that we checked out today.
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For Biddle's Sake: 06/26/11
In reading and blogging, I love making connections, especially to literary inspirations. Stories and books can and should stand alone for those who don't know the literary origins, but recognizing a retelling or an homage makes the experience all the more rich.
In the case of For Biddle's Sake by Gail Carson Levine, I only recognized half of the inspiration: Rapunzel. It wasn't until reading the post on Lyndi's Favorite Books that I learned of the other story behind the book, "Puddocky", and old German tale retold in Andrew Lang's Green Fairy Book.
In For Biddle's Sake, Parsley as an infant will only eat the herb she's named for. Her father is caught stealing from the evil fairy's garden. So, like Rapunzel, Parsley is taken as payment. Unlike Rapunzel, she's put into the service of Bombina, instead of being locked away in a tower.
Parsley enjoys her time with Bombina, and she with Parsley. But she can't control her temper. She lets off steam by turning things into toads. And one day Parsley gets in the way. That's where the Puddocky story takes over.
What makes Levine's books so great is that her female protagonists can think. Parsley doesn't just pine away in the pond waiting to be rescued. She works with the youngest prince to help him solve the problem of his twin brothers while working on her own solution at the same time.
For Biddle's Sake was the first chapter book that Harriet sat through. We read a chapter or two every couple of days. It kept her attention all the way through.
Fever Crumb: 06/25/11
Fever Crumb is the prequel to Philip Reeve's Hungry City series. I haven't read the other books but I plan to check out the first of them, Mortal Engines.
Fever is the adopted daughter of Dr. Crumb, a leading member of the order of Engineers. Fever is the only female in the order, an anomaly. Living in such an ordered society, Fever isn't interested in feminine pursuits, choosing instead to focus on her work and research.
All of that changes though when she is forced to leave to work instead with an archeologist. She must help investigate a site tied to the original invasion by the Scriven.
Coming into an established series, set in the far future of a post apocalyptic London, Fever Crumb seems to assume that the reader is familiar with the world and its history. While I liked having Fever live her life and address her problems, I frequently felt like I needed just a little bit more explanation of things. It is my curiosity over Fever's London that has made me want to read at the least the first book in the series.
Twin Spica, Volume 02: 06/24/11
I was introduced to the Twin Spica manga series by Kou Yaginuma via the 2010 Cybils nominations. The translation of volume 01 made it to the short list. Having so enjoyed the first volume and being interested in starting a new (to me) manga series, I have decided to keep reading the series as I can get my hands on the volumes.
Volume 02 is the first one set in the space academy proper. It's Asumi's first day and she's promised the Lion she won't cry. She's living in a dormitory and is working part time to pay for her expenses.
Asumi quickly learns that she's the odd one out at the school. She's the smallest person ever admitted. The training suits they've ordered are all to big for her and the school doesn't want to spend extra on a custom suit that will probably never be re-used after she either drops out or graduates (an event they don't think is likely).
As she struggles to fit in and the administration tries to figure out what to do with her, secrets of her past as well as more history on the rocket crash come to light. There are two extra stories at the back of the book that delve further into these backstories that are well worth reading.
I really like plucky Asumi. She reminds me a bit of Betty of Ugly Betty who despite her talent and drive never quite fits in at Mode. Asumi's the same way. She's the most determined, best prepared and often times best athlete but her diminutive size throws everyone off and she's treated like a quixotic child instead of a serious student and future astronaut.
The Odyssey (All-Action Classics 03): 06/23/11
My first introduction to The Odyssey by Homer was from excerpts we read in high school. I took a Greco-Roman classic literature course in college and got a chance to read the epic in its entirety. Thus began my love affair with Homer. I've lost track now of how many times I've re-read The Odyssey or how many retellings I've either seen or read.
For the 2010 Cybils, there were two graphic novel versions of The Odyssey that made it to the long list. I chose to read Tim Mucci's adaptation for All-Action Classics because I liked the cover. I am still planning to read Gareth Hinds's adaptation.
For tweens looking to dip their toes into the classics, the All-Action Classics version is colorful and dynamic. The different characters with the potentially difficult names are drawn distinctly, often times with separate color themes to keep them apart.
Odysseus's long journey home with misadventures with monsters, gods, warriors and suitors lends itself to the graphic novel format. I hope it will get them interested in reading the original. At least it will help give them a foundation of some basic knowledge when reading or watching other adaptations.
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 04: 06/22/11
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 4 by Hiromu Arakawa is the last of the manga volumes that parallels the first anime series. However, the pacing here is more abrupt than what fans of the anime might be expecting.
I'm speaking primarily of Maes Hughes. So much of his character in the manga is built in the after story extras that people reading just the actual chapters will be shocked at how quickly his story arc plays out.
For the most part my favorite version of Fullmetal Alchemist is the original manga, followed by the Brotherhood version of the anime, with the first version of the anime bringing up the rear. The big exception to that rule is in how Maes Hughes is developed as a character. His death in the anime is more shocking and more heroic after seeing him grow as a character through so many episodes.
Here he gets four chapters and some after stories. While he's not exactly central to the plot, his death does galvanize the other characters to take action. His death continues to have repercussions through later volumes in the series. It is that reason that I am grateful for having seen the anime before reading the manga.
Babymouse Cupcake Tycoon: 06/21/11
I've read two or three Babymouse volumes for the Cybils and of them, Cupcake Tycoon by Jennifer and Matt Holm is my favorite so far. In this one, Babymouse and her classmates are fundraising to buy new books after Babymouse's accident while picking a book has resulted in a flood in the library.
In the other books I've read Babymouse doesn't put herself fully into her newest obsession. Usually her reasons for joining in the fun are rather petty or selfish. This time though she really is passionate about books and wasn't trying to cause all the damage she did. While there is a prize for the fundraising too, I think some of her motivation though is still on getting new books.
But like the other Babymouse books I've read, she has to compete. This time it's against Felicia Furrypaws who seems to have the entire cupcake fundraising industry in her back pocket. Her campaign involves outlandish things like radio ads, bus billboards and the like.
Babymouse though comes through not by conning her friends into doing her work and not by throwing a fit. In true screwball comedy fashion at her lowest point she ends up going viral. It's the round the world viral success of Babymouse's pleas for help that made me love the book. There are so many hilarious international pop culture icons and Easter eggs that I was roaring with laughter. My favorite is the panel showing the famous crossing in Tokyo with Pikachu watching Babymouse on the video screen.
Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel, a tween graphic novel was on my wishlist but I read it early when it was shortlisted for the Cybils.
Garth Hale is a critically ill boy, pulled accidentally into the afterlife by a ghost wrangler named Frank Gallows. Like Danny Fenton, Garth now finds himself having some ghostly powers, except he's stuck and doesn't know how to get home. He also doesn't know for sure that he wants to go home since he's probably dying anyway.
So like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Garth has to go to the central city, Ghostopolis to hopefully find the help he needs to go home. Along the way he befriends the bones of a horse, a boy who claims to be his grandfather and ultimately the man who accidentally sent him here.
Ghostopolis has great graphics. They're colorful and surreal and sometimes absurd. There's a logic to how the afterlife works and political divisions, a corrupt government and uneasy truces.
It's a good book for tweens who enjoy Gothic horror, ghost stories and time travel.
What Are You Reading: June 20, 2011: 06/20/11
I'm well. My daughter's well. School is going well. My son has entered a summer reading contest at our local library. Since he's going every other day to feed his addiction (yay!) I'm reading too. Later today I will reach the halfway point of my reading goal to read 600 books this year. I think xxxHolic Volume 10 will have the honor of being book 300 for this year.
This was a rare week for me in that I finished a lot of review books. I don't take many arcs for review any longer but I'm experimenting with including a few more into my weekly reading mix. This week my favorite was a reissue of a book I read excerpts from in film school, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello. Junonia by Kevin Henkes was a gentle story that I think should be taught in school.
I'm still slowly plugging my way through Navajo Made Easier. It's a fascinating language but not having any native speakers of Diné bizaad around here I'll only get so far with the book. It's really only a book of phrases with some conjugation and cultural notes tossed in. It's meant to be used in the context of learning the language through immersion.
Coming up this week I want to finish Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 20 and starting more books from my wishlist. I will also be reading The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto.
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Meanwhile by Jason Shiga won the Cybils for the middle grade graphic novels category. It's a graphic novel blended with a choose your own adventure. As with the very first Choose Your Own Adventure book, it's a time travel story.
Imagine if the world could come to an end over the choice of an ice cream flavor. Which is it going to be: chocolate or vanilla? One will give Jimmy the runs and his search for a toilet will introduce him to a mad scientist who is a little too willing to show off his inventions.
In the traditional choose your own adventure book, the options are printed at the bottom of the page with instructions to turn to the page number matching the choice. Here though, one follows colored tubes that go from one box, across the page (and sometimes many pages), out to a tab and onto another page with another box.
Following those little tubes were the most difficult part of reading the book. They are very often colored similar colors and its easy to fall of the correct track. It took me three goes with the book to finally feel like I was actually interacting with it.
My son who is just shy of the age range for this book had a much easier time reading the book. He tore through the major possibilities in about an hour. He loved the book.
Babymouse Burns Rubber: 06/18/11
Babymouse Burns Rubber by Jennifer and Matthew Holm is the twelfth book in the series and the second book I've read. In this one Babymouse joins the soapbox derby but does so by taking advantage of her best friend Wilson.
I don't expect a protagonist to win the big contest or race but I would like to see some effort put into winning. Babymouse though seems to want all the glory of winning with none of the work. She completely monopolizes Wilson's time and doesn't seem to care that she's taking advantage of him.
I'll be frank, I'm not a fan of the series. I also haven't read enough to get a good sense of Babymouse's character but I can tell you that I didn't like her in this volume. I don't like her spoiled princess approach to the race either. For a better version of the story check out Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000 by Eric Wight.
Mercury is Hope Larson's second graphic novel to make it to the Cybils' short list. It's two parallel stories that take place at the same home but centuries apart. The setting is French Hill, Nova Scotia, modern day and 1859.
In the present, Tara is running to the charred remains of her ancestral home. She and her mother lost everything and now her mother is miles away trying to scrape together enough money to provide her herself and her daughter.
In 1859 a grifter comes to the family home and with tales of gold. He also woos the daughter, Josephine, much to the mother's disgust.
Connecting the two stories are the house and a necklace with magical properties. What the necklace is and how it works is the central part of this multigenerational story.
The parallel story structure is tight and engrossing. I'm still not entirely a fan of Larson's artwork. The lines are heavy and the scenery is crowded. I often feel claustrophobic when I read her books. I would, though, love to see what she could do with a full color book as her covers are always so enticing.
Twin Spica, Volume 01: 06/16/11
Twin Spica, Volume 1 by Kou Yaginuma was on the short list for this year's Cybils. I'm glad it did as it is an excellent start to a science fiction manga series that I would have missed otherwise.
In this volume Asumi is roomed with two other girls during a test that will take all their cooperation if they want to pass and make it into the Tokyo Space School.
Intermixed with the test, the setting up of a huge number of dominoes, are flashbacks and insights into Asumi's past. Ever since she was a young child she has wanted to be an astronaut. Her mentor in all of this is Mr. Lion, the personification of the ship that crashed when Japan was first launching its space program.
I loved the psychological aspect of the domino test. While it seemed first too easy and then impossible it was a good test of teamwork and ingenuity. The next thing I loved was Mr. Lion and how he reveals bits and pieces of what happened during the crash.
I have since read volumes two and three and hope to keep going as time permits.
When I started reading David Wiesner's books the one title universally recommended was Tuesday. I have finally taken that advice to heart and read the book.
David Wiesner specializes in wordless picture books. In this one, the only word used (and it's used sparingly) is Tuesday as a reminder that all the events are taking place on a Tuesday night.
Those events involve frogs flying through the town and countryside on lily pads. The illustrations are Wiesner's usual wonderful surrealism. The pallet is rich in blues and greens befitting a night time amphibian adventures.
The book has won the 1992 Caldecott Medal. It also won two state awards: The Kentucky Bluegrass Award for K-3 in 1993 and the Young Hoosier Award for K-3 in the same year.
Equal Rites: 06/14/11
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett is the third Discworld novel and the first of the witch books. It's also the first hint of the social discourse that has become the mainstay of the series.
The book opens with a wizard wanting to pass on his powers to the eighth son of an eighth son before he dies. In his haste he passes his powers to the daughter of an eighth son. When she comes of age she will need to learn how to use her powers. All young wizards go to the Unseen University. There's just one problem; it's an all male school.
A lot of the book (as the title implies) is a discussion then on the perceived differences between men and women, including for Discworld, differences in men and women's magic. Men become wizards, use spell books and wands, wear funny hats and robes. Women becomes witches and do practical magic (midwifery, healing, and so forth). Esk while she's destined to be a wizard, can't a man be destined to be a witch?
Equal Rites begins Pratchett's exploration of the society he's built in Ankh-Morpork. From this point on (with a few exceptions), the Discworld books will toss in a problem and use it to deconstruct some aspect of society. Later books expand this exploration to other parts of Discworld and other cultures.
The Lost Elephants of Kenyisha: 06/13/11
"The Lost Elephants of Kenyisha" by Ken Altabef was one of my favorite stories in the July / August issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It is a mystery and ghost story set in the near future on the border between Kenya and Tanzania. A woman working to save one of the last remaining elephant herds is trying to figure out the truth behind a series of deaths that appear to be done by a rouge herd.
Being that this is a story in FSF, it's not a simple answer. It's not just elephants on the loose. It's a ghost herd. Why they have appeared and how to stop them is at the heart of the story. It comes down to a plea for euthanasia from a species that knows it doesn't have much longer.
What Are You Reading: June 13, 2011: 06/13/11
I'm finished with my first week of summer session. Class though wasn't what kept me from reading. My daughter and I came down with a bug and I was first busy taking care of her and then I was too feverish to want to read. I mostly slept for the first couple days of the week.
In the middle of my fever, I celebrated my 24th year of keeping a book diary. I wrote a post about it and included some nifty graphs to show how my rate of reading has increased over the years and what the breakdown by genre was for 2010-11.
In all of that though, I did manage to finish six books which is significantly fewer from the two dozen I was reading during the height of spring session. Most of these books were short. All Blacked Out and Nowhere to Go is a poetry collection that celebrates sex, drugs and punk music in the Bay Area. Expletive Deleted is a look at swearing from an Australian perspective. Mio, My Son is a lovely children's fantasy by the woman who wrote the Pippi Longstocking books. Secret Letters From 0 to 10 by Susie Morgenstern is a delightful middle grade French book; I feel in love with it from the first page. Finally, I finished two xxxHolic volumes.
I lost interest in Treasure Hunt by John Lescroart. I loved his descriptions of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area towns but the murder mystery just left me bored. There were just too many characters and too much emphasis on the struggling private investigation firm.
This week I want to finish The Glimmering by Elizabeth Hand. I also want to finally get started on 13 Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. Maybe I'll finish Arcanum. If I don't, then I'll finish City of Bones instead.
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Writers of the Future: 06/12/11
In the far future when the Earth is no more and paper books are no more and the bandwidth for reading is sucked up to the point that people have to wait in line for their turn to experience the next immersive story line, fans will still be fans and authors won't always know how to react to them just as today. That's the basis of the ">Writers of the Future" by Charles Oberndorf.
The story is told over the course of this fan's life and how he grows from being a reader to a writer. Most of the time while I was reading the story I was thinking about my own reading experiences, both as a fan and as a reader.
How immersive and interactive should fiction be? That's a debate on the sidelines right now especially with books being linked to websites. I don't think things will turn out as dire as envisioned in "Writers of the Future" but it's still a thought provoking story.
Breakfast of Champions: 06/11/11
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut at the start of 2010, I had approximately forty reviews I needed to review and post and another forty I had written but not yet posted. Here I am nearly a year later and I'm up to nearly two hundred reviews to write and another hundred and fifty that are written but not posted. If I were to walk away from reading I would still have nearly two year's worth of material for my blog. It's both a scary and an exhilarating thought.
Had I gotten this book reviewed in time, I would count Breakfast of Champions on my ten best "odd ball" books. Formally the book is a satire that pokes fun at American mores but it's presented as a metafiction and is a good companion piece to Blue Food Revolution (another book I was reading at the time).
The novel's plot, such that it is, follows parallel characters: Kilgore Trout, an impoverished science fiction author who has no idea of his success, and Dwayne Hoover, a Pontiac salesman convinced that Trout's words are true and the word of God.
One of Kilgore's stories involves petroleum consuming aliens who have convinced humanity to make vehicles in their image, thus creating the automobile. My first thought was "Oh, now Cars makes sense." There are many other glimpses of Trout's stories throughout the book and they are one method for Vonnegut for his satire.
Queer Phenomenology: 06/10/11
>It's confession time. I like to read books on theory, philosophy and semantics for fun. One of my recent fun reads (and taken off my lengthy wishlist) was Queer Phenomenology by Sara Ahmed. Since I read this book for fun over a three day weekend, this will be an informal post only and not anything meant to be construed as academic.
The cover image of Queer Phenomenology explains quite succinctly what the book is about. Phenomenology is the study of structures and space from first person point of view. It is related to other studies such as ontology and epistemology. So it's the why is this space the way it is and how does it affect me or more generally people in the space.
Sara Ahmed's four chapter book starts with a dining room scene with a table and chair and asks the questions: what does it mean to be oriented? What does it mean to be sexually oriented? What does it mean then to queer? Is it disorientation?
From a casual reader's point of view, the first chapter was fascinating. Looking at a spatial set up often taken for granted, even if the decor may differ from room to room, and applying it to the language of sexual identity was mind blowing. But as the book progressed and the same room and the same table and chair were reevaluated over and over, I began to want something more. I wanted analysis of different rooms, or different interpretations of what a dining room space is or even just a table and chair. I wanted some examples of queer space (if there is such a thing) or be challenged into imagining such a thing.
So for me, the book was a good starting point. I noted down some of the more interesting sounding references and have added them to my wishlist. I hope to get to them as I progress through that list.
The Green Ripper: 06/09/11
The Green Ripper by John D. MacDonald is the 19th Travis McGee mystery book. It was on my wishlist, on their early enough and for long enough I don't remember why I added it. But that's part of the fun of reading through the list.
The book follows on the heels (from what I've read) on The Empty Copper Sea where Travis had fallen in love with a woman named Gretel. She though dies mysteriously in the first chapter and sends Travis into a rage. First he wants revenge and then, coming to his senses, he wants to stop whomever is behind this deaths.
The book starts in Florida, on a yacht. It set me up with expectations for a mystery that takes advantage of the Florida setting. I was completely taken aback by the abrupt change in tone when Travis's research takes him to a commune in Ukiah California, of all places. I just wasn't expecting it to end up in my backyard.
So the book goes from being a murder made to look like natural causes, to infiltrating a domestic terrorist compound dressed up to like a hippy commune. While the second half was well written and thrilling, I never quite recovered from the genre whiplash I felt when the book changed locations and tone so abruptly.
Twenty-Four Years of Reading: 06/09/11
Twenty-four years ago when I was just barely a teenager I heard from a number of trusted adult sources (news media) that children today (so mid-1980s) would read at most 1,000 books in their life time. Even though I wasn't reading very much back then, meaning I wasn't reading much for pleasure, I thought that sounded like a small number. The number implied that people my generation were lazy or illiterate or maybe both. I decided this was a call to action, a chance to prove them wrong. I would do this by keeping a list.
So on June 9th, 1987 I started my list of books or short stories read. Later it would include academic articles as I entered college. As I became a parent the list started to include picture books too.
On May 15, 1995, just months before I got married and a month shy from graduating college, I read my 1000th thing. It was a long academic article called "Vegetation of Santa Cruz Island" by Richard Minnick. I was taking a marine biology class at the time in which I learned a ton but was nearly crushed under the weight of the class reader, comprised of poorly photocopied academic articles. Now-a-days it would be a folder full of PDFs and probably just as hard on the eyes!
I am now about six months away from finishing my 6000th item. Since I'm back in college again it may very well be another academic article.
What has changed over the years, besides the balance of what I read, is how much I read. My first year I read 72 books. My next year it jumped to 216. A decade ago when I was depressed by work and a pair of miscarriages, that number fell to 42 books. Then two years later I only managed 34 books because I was busy as a new mother! Despite the peaks and valleys, the number has been increasing.
In 2004 I turned my website into a blog. In the fall of 2006 I turned the blog into a book blog. In 2007 I challenged myself to post a review each and every day. That set my reading at a floor of 365 books a year. What I didn't expect, was to have it raise the number up to a high of 600 or more. Last year I read 675 books and this year I finished 600.
I also put together a pie chart of the types of books I read from June 9th of last year through June 8th of this year. The largest piece of the pie goes to picture books. That's in part because I read with my children and because I took a children's materials for ages 5 to 8 class which required reading around sixty picture books.
The next largest piece is nonfiction which reflects the research I've done for class papers and my textbooks. But there are quite a few nonfiction books that I read for fun as well.
Next comes graphic novels and manga. I started reading them in earnest a couple years ago when I was first invited to be a graphic novel panelist for the Cybils. This year though I've been reading through a couple of series for fun: Fullmetal Alchemist, Twin Spica and xxxHolic. Comments (18)
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 03: 06/08/11
I had been reading manga regularly back about five or six years ago but I lost the momentum. Part of my problem was I really didn't want to have to buy volume after volume for something I was reading so quickly and the old branch of the library didn't have enough shelf space to show off their collection. The library has since moved to a much larger location and I've found that mangas make the perfect quick reads for when I need a break from my library science homework.
I currently have six (at last count) manga series I'm following. The one though that has most of my attention is Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. At the time of writing this article I'm waiting for volume 20 to arrive to the holds shelf but by the time this review gets posted, I could very well be done with the series.
As I mentioned in the reviews of volumes 1 and 2, the pacing is intense. If you're like me and are coming to the manga by way of the first anime series, be prepared for those multi-episode arcs to be over in about a single volume or less. Much of the character building that was done in the first series was drawn from Arakawa's back of book extras.
By volume 3, the divergence between the manga and the first anime series really becomes apparent. Ed and Al go back home to get the automail fixed up by Winry. This is the series' introduction to Winry. It's also the longest flashback so far to how Ed and Al came to be in their current situation.
The journey home though under Major Armstrong's careful watch gives them their first new lead on the Philosopher's Stone when he recognizes a former State Alchemist now working as a country doctor.
The events though at the Central Library are in my mind the pivot point where the manga and the first anime series spin off to their separate directions.
It's a fun read. Very satisfying with a good mixture of mystery, adventure, magic and horror.
Bite Me: 06/07/11
Bite Me by Christopher Moore is the third installment of the Tommy and Jody vampire series set in south of Market, San Francisco. It's also the most madcap and funniest one in the series.
Much of the book is told through the hilarious diary entries of Abby Normal, a vampire groupie. She is recruited to be Tommy's minion via Craigslist, a detail that is both funny and plausible. I mean, if there were vampires in San Francisco, they would advertise on Craigslist. Nearly everyone else does.
Amongst all the silliness, there's actually one of the most frightening vampire plots I've read in a while. Chet the cat who was drained in the previous book, You Suck, has come back as a vampire and the demon inside him has made him something more than a cat. He in turn vamps all the stray cats in the neighborhood and they are a blood thirsty force to be reckoned with.
But I have one small detail to complain about. BART doesn't go to the Sunset District; MUNI does.
Other posts and reviews:
Alone on a Wide Wide Sea: 06/06/11
Alone on a Wide Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo for the longest while had the honor of being the second book on my wishlist. It had been on there I think since the book was first published. For whatever reason it doesn't seem to have been published here in the States even though many of Morpurgo's other books are in print here.
When the book came out I was very active in BookCrossing especially with book relays, rings and RABCKs (random acts of BookCrossing kindness). Although I don't remember receiving the book via the site, I did, a couple years ago. At the time I received the book I wasn't actively trying to read wishlist books. Thus, out of sight, out of mind.
Flash forward to June 2010. I am participating in the On My Wishlist meme. At the time I had 309 books on my wishlist and Alone on a Wide Wide Sea was number two. Except I had forgotten that I had a copy!
Go forward to the end of the year when I was culling my shelves for books I realized I would never read and should donate to the Friends of the Library. What does my hand fall on? Of course... Alone on a Wide Wide Sea.
The book takes its title from Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It's a poem I've read in pieces many times but still need to sit down and read as an epic poem. The poem itself provides the warp which the plot is woven through.
The book is told in two parts: Arthur Hobhouse's story of life in Australia as a transplanted WWII orphan and Allie Hobhouse's solo sailing trip to England to find her aunt. Arthur's story is one of trying to find a sense of family and belonging. Along the way he grows up and gains the skills he needs to return to England, namely, ship building.
The journey home though isn't Arthur's to take and must instead be taken by his daughter. At the time I was reading the book, there was a girl of similar age making a solo sailing journey around the globe. To keep herself sane on the trip she memorizes the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
At the close of the book Morpurgo explains that the book was inspired by actual families who were split up during the war and adopted off to families in Australia and Canada.
What Are You Reading: June 06, 2011: 06/06/11
Summer school begins for me so my reading for fun will take second place to reading for homework.
I finished two review books, one new and one that's been sitting on my to be reviewed pile for ages. I have severely cut back on how many books I accept for review. Even though electronic galleys are convenient for the publisher or publicist, I have found that the experience of reading electronically tarnishes my over all reading experience. I have had a couple books that were just impossible to read either because the format didn't fit the medium or because the book didn't have chapter divisions or any easy way of tracking where I was in the book. I will probably pass on all the books I expressed interest in at Net Galley and in the future I won't accept any more ebooks. I don't have an e-reader and I'm just not set up to provide reviews of ebooks or galleys presented in electronic format.
Now that I'm nearly finished with Fullmetal Alchemist I'm having to put the final volumes on hold and wait my turn. I'm not the only one wanting to see how things turn out.
Most of my reading last week turned out to be wishlist books, either those I had purchased (like The Lost Hero) or picked up from the library. There were also a couple picture books that I read with my daughter: Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit by Il Sung Na which has some of the most beautiful illustrations I've seen and Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers, a book that would make a great Ardman animation.
Gave Up On:
Finished Last Week:
Why YA Matters to Me: 06/05/11
On June 4th the Wall Street Journal published an article bemoaning the darkness in young adult literature. It starts with a mother of three trying to find a book for her thirteen year old at a certain big box book store and seeing nothing but "'nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff.'" The article goes down hill from there with a sentimental look back at a more innocent 1960s that was apparently 40 years ago. The article points to S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders (1967) as the book that opened the flood gates to all the depravity that's apparently in young adult literature.
I'm not going to tear apart the article, enough of that's already been done. Instead I want to talk about what I read and why I read it as a young adult and why I read YA fiction now as an adult.
I haven't been a teen or a young adult for twenty years. In a couple more years, I'll be 40. When I was a teen, I was only just discovering reading for pleasure. I suppose I should say, rediscovering. As a very young child I had loved picture books but something happened in elementary school that stopped me from reading. It might have been the bullying — I was teased by a trio of boys and ended up having to break the nose of the ring leader to get them to stop. It might have been the birth of my much younger half brother. Although I love him now; it was hard going from being an only child to a big sister. It was also hard being the child of a previous marriage.
Anyway, by seventh grade, I was addicted to reading. How that addiction started is a whole different story that will take too long to post here. Part of that addiction though involved keeping a list of everything I read. The list, which I am slowly putting into GoodReads, reflects my evolving tastes, assigned reading for school, reading for work and reading with my children.
The very first book on my list: To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer. I chose it because I liked the cover art. I loved it for its strange mixture of death, afterlife, alien abduction and depravity. I read through the entire series and other Farmer books. I learned how to self-censor while reading some of his books.
My reading back then was a mixture of science fiction, fantasy, romance (borrowed from my mother), thrillers (borrowed from my step-father), mysteries and classics. I read for entertainment but I came to realize that no matter how frustrated I was with my life, I had it pretty good. I had a safe home. I wasn't being abused. I had access to a good education. I also got to discover good books and good authors through my own process of growing as a reader.
Sometime in my mid twenties probably on the popularity of Harry Potter, fiction for tweens, teens and young adults exploded onto the scene. There is so much more variety than I remember seeing as a child — so much so that there's a separate YA room at my local library. I read it now because: the stories are well told; it's entertaining; my own children will be reading it not too long from now; and it covers the wide range of issues that real teens go through and if I plan to work as a children's librarian some day, I need to be familiar with the literature.
Looking at my own two children, I have three rules for them when it comes to reading. The first rule is: any book in the house is free for them to read but I can't guarantee that they will like it or find it appropriate. They can either stop reading the book or skip the parts they don't like. The second rule is they can check out any book at the library or make requests for any book they can't find on the shelves but the book have to be checked out on my card so at least I know what they are reading and know when their books are due. The final rule is that either child can recommend a book to me and I will read it but in return, they have to seriously consider reading the books I recommend to them.
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey: 06/05/11
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart the second in a three part series. Reynie, Kate, Sticky and Constance are reunited when Professor Benedict goes missing. It's assumed he's Mr. Curtain's prisoner. All they have to go on is a series of cryptic clues, clues that will take them across the ocean.
All in all I loved the book but it took a little too long to get started. The book opens with a reunion of most of the major characters. It's played out to be a happy time on the farm where everyone is living happily ever after. But I just wanted to get to the good part!
Fortunately once the foursome get to the ship that's on the cover the story takes off. It has a similar flow of clues as a Dan Brown book or even The Club Dumas but aimed at middle grade readers. As all good puzzle mysteries should be written, the riddles and clues before the children are things that alert readers can solve too.
A Fine and Private Place: 06/04/11
A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle was his debut novel at the age of nineteen. I wish I could say I read it with that fact in mind, but I only discovered it while writing the reviews. The Black Gate blog post has more information on the history of the novel.
The truth of the matter is I don't remember why I added the book to my wishlist. It was an early book on the list and one of the first to come off as I started my wishlist reading project.
The book follows a very small group of characters, some dead and some alive. The protagonist, if I were to pick one, is Michael, a young man who awakens in his coffin on the day of his burial. He's dead and he, as well, as the authorities, suspects his wife of poisoning him.
Michael is taken in by a man who has forgotten how to die. He's not a ghost but he's far too old to be alive but he's not exactly immortal either. He though is aided by the living, a kindly old woman and a talking raven. He is also a friend and mentor to those ghosts who don't want to give up on the living, such as Michael and later, a woman named Laura.
Beagle's writing style in A Fine and Private Place reminds me of Roger Zelazny. Specifically I was reminded of A Night in the Lonesome October for the interaction of the living, the dead, the undead and the animal familiar.
While I enjoyed the book it didn't hold me as strongly as The Last Unicorn did. I found the pacing and changes in point of view uneven.
Other posts and reviews:
The Night at the Museum: 06/03/11
Last summer my children discovered The Night at the Museum and its sequel. They watched both films a dozen times each. During one of the times my son asked where the idea for the film came from. So I went to IMDB and looked up the first film. It listed Milan Trenc as the author of a picture book of the same title.
Well that was that, we had to read the book. I had to use Link+ to get a copy sent up to my library but it was worth it. The book is adorable.
In the book there's a new night guard, just like the first movie. He's left in charge of the dinosaur room and front and center there's a T-rex skeleton, just like in the film. And he goes missing. The rest of the book follows the new guard as he tries to find the missing skeleton and is lead on a wild goose chase throughout a museum that has come to life.
The picture book is one small piece of the film. The book doesn't try to explain why the exhibits come to life. Nor is it one guard all by himself. It's still got the same spirit and magic of the films and I recommend it to any young (or old) fan of them.
Urgent 2nd Class: 06/02/11
I've been reading Nick Bantock's collage based short fiction books for about a decade. The first one I read, The Museum at Purgatory confused the heck out of me but I loved the illustrations. It wasn't until I discovered his Griffith and Sabine series that I really fell in love with his books.
Last year I decided I should read every book of his that I hadn't yet read. The last one on my list was Urgent Second Class. It's part memoir and part collage how-to and completely fascinating.
Bantock goes through the different materials he uses, like old stamps, old money, old business correspondence, contracts and maps to build his pieces of art. He also uses three dimensional items as well when creating shadow boxes.
Besides collecting useful ephemera, Bantock creates his own stamps, postcards and other "dubious documents." There are so many useful techniques I wish I owned a copy of the book to refer to when I am working on collages. Unfortunately I was reading a library book.
West Coast Journeys: 06/01/11
West Coast Journeys by Caroline C. Leighton is a compilation of diary entries and letters she wrote during her trips from San Francisco through parts of California up through Oregon, Washington and into Canada.
Washington was still a territory at the time of Leighton's travels. Although things have changed and transportation options have improved, Leighton's precise and pictorial descriptions of her journey makes it easy to follow along on a modern day map. I read with a copy of Google Maps open so I could zoom into some of the most rural areas.
The book wraps up with Leighton settling down in the Bay Area. Her descriptions of San Francisco, Oakland and Alameda are fascinating.
The edition I read had some historical perspectives added as introductions to the different time periods. They were were nice but unnecessary given Leighton's own attention to detail.
The Canadian Book Challenge #5: 06/01/11
My favorite reading and book blogging challenge is The Canadian Book Challenge. Although I'm not Canadian, I have family members who are, like a soon to be two year old niece. So in honor of my family to the north I do this lovely challenge. It runs from Canada Day (July 1) to June 30th. The goal is to read and review 13 books in that year. For the Challenge #4 (2010-11) I finished a month early but I am already starting to plan for Challenge #5.
2010-11 List of Completed Books:
2011-12 List of Completed Books: