Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fell Flat: The Boy Who Climbed Into the Moon

The Boy Who Climbed into the MoonDavid Almond has written some amazing children's books, but I don't think The Boy Who Climbed into the MoonChildren's Humorous Literature) is one of them.  The slow development of Paul, the shy basement boy who learns to speak his mind and have adventures never gets traction, while the quirky people he stumbles into keep trying too hard to showcase their quirks.  Finally, the anti-war message stomps about in big jackboots, shouting out that "sausages are better than war."  I mean, beef, pork, or tofu sausages?

Polly Dunbar illustrated my edition, but mostly her cheerful pictures pulled the writing down; the art aimed at goofy but the text seemed more focused on quaint, and the dichotomy kept nagging at me.  Even the final sequence when the boy climbs into the moon seemed forced.  Maybe I'm just suffering from too much sleep deprivation so I never embraced the zany, but this one fell flat for me.  Too bad; I was expecting to love it.

August Book Club: Seven Daughters of Eve

Seven Daughters of EveMy book club has dabbled its toes in some nonfiction lately, mostly with pleasant results.  Bryan Sykes's The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry is an account of the development of mitochondrial DNA analysis as a tool to trace the ancestral histories of humans.  Since mitochondria DNA only passes along the maternal line, it is simpler to follow and less prone to transformation.  Instead of an exponentially branching family tree, it traces a single line back from the many to the one.


Sykes shows how this gene helped determine relatives of the ice age man found frozen in Switzerland, the truth about claimants to the Russian throne, the path of Polynesians across the oceans (he was involved in many of these cases).  He then looks farther back to prehistoric times, to the seven women almost all Europeans descend from, and imagines what their lives were like and who they were.  His tone is conversational, even when explaining the science behind the gene, and he's just as interested in the politics behind labs scrambling for credit as he is in the experiments driving the discoveries.  It was interesting to read about some of the protocols, especially regarding children, which just seemed so different from how I think science works in America (Sykes is English).  Also, his glee in an invitation to a castle to sip wine with a lord checking on his connection to a cave man amused me.

The women in the club mostly enjoyed the book, and we talked about how Sykes approached the material and presented it to the public; we pushed at some of the hints he dropped and then jokingly compared some of the more whimsical "biographies" of the prehistoric women to the last Clan of the Cave Bear book that recently came out.  It was a fun evening.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rejected Gifts: The Angel Chronicles

Books have feelings, sensitive feelings that are hurt if you don't read them or if you dog-ear them or snap the spine. You can see them looking crushed and lonely on the shelves, especially if you bring them home and then ignore them.

Image of itemSo when my son disdained my offering of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer book The Angel Chronicles, Volume 1 by Nancy Holder, I had to pick it up to console it before it went back to the library.  It was a lightweight confection, easily finished in an hour or so.  Interestingly, I don't think I've seen one of the episodes; I skipped some because my son rushed through so quickly that I tended to watch with him instead.  So the middle section was new while the others were an exercise in validating the novelization.  Holder keeps very close to the script; I think I recognized most of the dialog but she has a light touch in painting the scene in words that bring the effect the actors delivered.  Not great literature, but an interesting comparison of TV vs words.  And now that the book is happy, I can send it back to the library without guilt.



Pleasant Surprise: Ready For Takeoff!


Jessica Scott Kerrin's Martin Bridge: Ready for Takeoff! (Martin Bridge) looked like a rather dull early reader where a young boy has experiences and learns valuable life lessons.  And that's true, except that it wasn't dull, and the book is aimed more at a third grade level than a first grade, and I found the dilemmas he faced complex and interesting, even if aimed at an elementary audience.  The first story, with the accidental redemption of the cranky bus driver, surprised me with the power of its sweet (and predictable) ending.  The second chapter's friendship issue with the rocket-painting controversy felt real rather than annoying, and ended with very satisfactory explosions.  The final section dealt with death and deceit in a way calling out for young book club discussions.  I'm trying to get my fifth grader to read it, or maybe even my seventh grader.  He's always game to read anything.

In my quest to read a book from every shelf in my home town library, I've already found some clunkers.  Granted, I've only read picture books and series books, and my expectation of the latter is snobbishly low.  So it's a very pleasant surprise to really enjoy a book I expected to force myself through.

For a final bit of pleasure, the author is Canadian, so this counts toward my foreign author tally!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Where Did I Get This: Started Early, Took My Dog

I have no idea why I put Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog: A Novel on my library hold shelf.  It's a popular book, so it's been on my hold list for months, but it's not the kind of book I ordinarily seek out, although I do like literary mysteries such as P.D. James's books.  I have a book challenge to read a magazine top pick, so I thought it was an Economist recommendation, but now I can't find it on their list.  Maybe it was a librarything zeitgeist winner for a while (another challenge)? I have no idea.

Anyway, it was a good book, with the mystery giving a chance to look at abused or lost children, building a family or having one torn apart, and relationships between parents and children while moving between people connected through Tracy Waterhouse, who grabs a chance at parenthood unexpectedly, and who watched a little boy disappear many years ago.  People tracing a lost child from that past intersect with her, as does an elderly actress drifting through dementia.  I found it rather grim, with a bit too much helplessness and despair among the hope and connections.  I think this is the fourth book about Jackson Brodie, whose story took a strong second place to Tracy's, but I read it as an independent novel.  The characters are mostly powerfully drawn, with the exception of Tilly, whose dementia seemed carefully crafted to suit the story.  




I recommend Atkinson's books to people who like mysteries that are real books, but I won't seek out more because she's too good at showing the cliff edge that many people are on in the midst of their lives. Too depressing for me right now.


August Books!

Once again I haven't been keeping track of what I'm reading, so here's my August catch-up post. What have I finished in the past few weeks?
What am I reading right now? Too many things!
  • Rot and Ruin, Jonathan Maberry. a Cybils book
  • Started Early, Took My Dog, Kate Atkinson.
  • Keeper, Kathi Appelt.  From the next library shelf.
  • I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, Erin McCahan. Cybils YA book, but so scary I took a break to read the Zombie one instead (teen marriages -- EEK).
  • Buffy, Ballads, and Bad Guys Who Sing, ed by Kendra Leonard.  Essays on music in the Whedonverse.
  • Dakota Ambush, by William Johnstone. Or I would be reading this if I could find it...
  • and a bunch of books I'm poking at but not really making progress with.
What will I read next? I'm working on a pile of almost-due library books. Some are for challenges, which leads me to my challenge status:

A-Z: 41/52. I can't believe I haven't read any authors with names starting with "N."
Cybils: 56/76. And I'm reading two more right now.
Global Reading Challenge:12/21. Hmm, this one needs work.
Read Around the World: 19/20. One more that I'll review and then put up.
Science Book Challenge: 2.141/3.141... When I review Seven Daughters of Eve I'll add that in. 
Stream: 3/3, 1/3, 3/3, 3/3.  I have to figure out how to register myself as done.
Take a Chance: 7/10. I'm picking through the Economist's list for #4.  And I have a library recommend for #1.
20/11: 19/20. If I review a book I've bought new, I'm done! But I haven't reviewed any of them.  Oops.
What's In a Name?: 5/6.  Just finished one!  And I got a better Evil book.
Where Am I Reading?: 28/50. Stupid Dakota book is still missing!  And now I have three Tennessee books.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Warm Fuzzy Feeling: The Kneebone Boy

The Kneebone BoyWhen I pick a book for my book club, I'm always a little nervous that everyone will hate it.  This is true even for my tiny family book club where it's just me and the kids.  This month was especially risky since I was the last to read the book -- I chose one of the Cybils Middle Grade Novel finalists, Ellen Potter's The Kneebone Boy.  First X read it and gave it a seal of approval, but he likes almost everything, then I chased P around for a week or  to get him to start reading the book.  Finally X put his foot down -- he wanted the dinner out we have as part of the family club and so P would by golly read the book.  And after a chapter or two he was hooked -- he finished it at his dad's house and met me demanding I read it as well.  He even told me it was an especially good book for the club because there was so much he wanted to talk about.


*Preen.*

So I read it this afternoon, and I agree that it is delightful.  The tone is note-perfect, from the Nesbit-echo of a child narrator who doesn't identify herself (you see who I think it is, but it could be one of the brothers).  The family dynamics between the three siblings also charmed me, including the alienation of the youngest because of the tight bond between Otto and Lucia.  The adventures that continuously danced on the edge of impossible but managed to stay just on the right side of improbably, the rich gifts of all three children -- Max's brains, Lucia's imagination, Otto's sensitivity, the American great-aunt with her mysterious motives, everything added to the atmosphere and prepared me for the bittersweet ending.

I'll probably come back and update this entry after out dinner out tomorrow, but for now I'm just glad I forced us all to read this book.  I wonder if I could get P to try Potter's other books...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Playing With Fire: Bad Prince Charlie

Bad Prince CharlieJohn Moore writes fantasies where the characters have all read Diana Wynne Jones' Tough Guide to Fantasyland, where princes and magicians are real but soothsayers may not be, where bureaucracy and evil aristocrats compete to strangle the realm, where eggs are banished from the kingdom but new coffee shops spring up on every corner.  They suffer a bit in characterization, and a dull mood can spoil the enjoyment, but in general Bad Prince Charlie gives a sharp dash of satire and self-mocking to an often over-worked genre.  Throw in a few excited footnotes and even some emergency awful blank verse and he's written a fun story that kept me entertained as I read it in dribs and drabs over several months.  I'll keep my eye out for more of his books.

Advanced Comic Reading: The Unsinkable Walker Bean

Just when I started to feel confident about my comic reading, I found myself stumbling through my copy of the Cybils Graphic Novel (Middle Grade) finalist The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier.  To start my problems from the end, it never occurred to me until the last page that the story would have more than one volume, so I was gobsmacked at the cliff hanger.  The fifth grader and seventh grader laughed at my confusion; they had figured out much earlier that the pacing was all wrong for a single book.

They had no problems reading straight through; several times I had to back up to see what had happened to whom.  Never mind that the three main kids looked completely different; I still got confused.  And I had to ask the fifth grader to explain what the deal was with the pirate captain.  The story was complicated and fast-paced, the art was colorful and eye-catching, and the whole thing made me feel almost fifty years old.  Which, you know, I am, but usually reading kidlit keeps me young, not pushes me up and over the hill.  This is apparently a book aimed at the graphic novel reader, which I managed to read but that gives even more to those who understand the pages better.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Poems for Science: Ubiquitous

I have successfully dragged my youngest son through the last of the Cybils Poetry finalists with me: Joyce Sidman's Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors. P cannot be counted among poetry's biggest fans; his normal instinct is to run screaming. He regards my hobby of memorizing poetry as mild insanity, so including a poem a night in our bedtime reading was a major concession on his part.

However, with this book, he allowed several poems daily, sometimes taking turns reading them with me. Sidman hooked him with science. Ubiquitous traces the history of the planet Earth through life forms, starting with a beautiful color coded time-string showing when each selection developed. We flipped back to the inside cover every few poems to see how much time had passed. Each poem included a facing page with facts about subject and its development, often new information for me as well as P. Some of the poems we liked, some we didn't, some we classified as prose with fancy line breaks, but we talked about both the facts and the poetry. This was a joy for me, and we even had a favorite:

The Lichen We
(after Siegfried Sassoon's "Man and Dog")

Who's this -- alone with stone and sea?
It's just the lowly Lichen We
the alga I, the fungus me;
together, blooming quietly.

...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Riches to Rags: Penny Dreadful

Penny DreadfulI can't properly judge a book that name-checks as many good kidlit sources as Laurel Snyder's Penny Dreadful; I'm too busy chortling with joy.  Penelope learned most of what she knows about life from books; when trying to "do" something every day she decides what to do by pulling out a book from her shelves and doing something based on it.  Her shelves include classics like Nesbit and Eager as well as modern books like Birdwell's Penderwicks.

When her family has to move from the adventure-less splendor of the ancestral mansion to the quirky boarding house in the country with real friends for Penny to play with, she starts to add real experiences to her book learning.

Penny is a basically good kid, sometimes a bit jealous but willing to try to play nice, someone who respects herself but doesn't take herself too seriously.  Her parents also have tame issues, although I was glad the tone of the book kept me reassured that things would turn out well, since they go through some changes that I suspect appeared much more frightening to adult readers than children.

My only quibble was the end; after going to great lengths to blur the magic or just good karma line, Snyder first tips a bit too far towards magic before pulling back to harshly declare that books aren't even real, something actually quite hard to do in a book.  Anytime a character in a book declares "you don't live in a book.  Nobody does, silly" my suspension of disbelief takes a hard knock, one that in this book tossed me right out, because clearly these kids do live in a book and reminding me of that just lowers the fun.  Luckily that only happened in the last two pages, so I just counted it as a slightly early dismount from the story.

Silly People: Hit List

I continue to read Laurell Hamilton's Anita Blake series, but clearly it is not for the plot.  Or the setting.  Or the characterization.  Well, maybe the latter -- I love seeing what they do and why they think they do it.  I wonder whether Hamilton giggles while she writes her scenes or if she means them sincerely, and I really hope she is giggling.

The latest installment, Hit List (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 20), includes some plot -- bad guys are killing people for no particular reason, and Anita and some other Federal Marshals are traveling the country to stop them.  There is racing around in the woods, a kidnapping, and a rescue.  We get reunions with old characters such as Edward and his band of crazy assassins, as well as an emergency contingent of folks from St Louis to backup Anita and also maybe to sleep with her, although she makes new friends easily enough to prevent that necessity.

We also get important fashion tips -- if (female) you are spending the night with a (male) colleague but need to borrow clothes, it is OK to wear boxer shorts even if wearing underwear spoils the line of the over sized t-shirt you are sleeping in.  Most women probably wouldn't, since we are all so very concerned with looks, but if you are a wacko-prude like Anita, forgive yourself and cover your privates while sharing a room with a male co-worker.

Also, police officers feel more comfortable with women if they have a complete list of all their lovers.  After all, if a woman sleeps with anyone but not with all the male policemen, it's a huge insult that dwarfs minor issues like serial killers or vampire attacks or bombs.  And if a woman is flirting with a man, and another woman who works with the man tries to warn her off with hints that the guy is actually kinda dangerous, the only possible reaction is to push that jealous bitch out of the way so as to get the number of the creepy guy.  Hey, we've all been there, right?  Men are a scarce commodity!  La la la la la.

I shelve these books with the "The Cat Who" series, in the category "So Bad They're Awesome."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beautiful Set Up: Territory

TerritoryI slowly inched my way through Emma Bull's Territory, reading a few pages every few days.  I have a stack of books I read like this, and I usually end up hitting some magical point where I speed through the rest, but in Territory this didn't happen until around page 300.  Yet I never considered stopping; I enjoyed the characters and the setting, but the plot never urged me along.  There was a mystery, but it wasn't all that important to the people I was interested it, although it had vast implications for the people affecting their lives.

Now that I've (finally) finished the book, I'm reluctant to let it go.  The characters, especially Jesse and Mildred, have finally figured out who they are and what they want.  The book has reached an emotionally perfect stopping point, but I really wish I could watch them as they reap the consequences of their growth.

The book is based around Tombstone, Arizona in the days of President Garfield, with Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers, and I suspect that people who actually have a clue about the history involved probably knew a lot more about what was going to happen that I did.  I had the vague impression that everybody dies, but either they don't or the story stopped before we got that far.  Maybe someday Bull will write that sequel, which I'll snap up and then read slow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Silly People: Vengeance

When preparing for the Read-a-thon last June, I picked up a scattered selection of books to fit any mood, including a few westerns.  I paid no real attention to what I was getting, which means that I fell victim to Sturgeon's law and got some lousy books.  I'm sorry to say that I classify David Thompson's Vengeance among these.  

wcutout1.gif (28174 bytes)In fairness, this is book #43 in the Wilderness series, so I'm clearly starting in the middle; maybe the characters spent so much time displaying common sense and humanity and competence in the first forty two books that Thompson felt readers would be bored if he inflicted any more of that on them.  Instead they display a variety of incompetence and petulance. Lou goes for a walk and almost gets lynched, then complains when the man who rescued her doubts her ability to single-handedly defeat the evil pair who wander about murdering and plotting vengeance willy-nilly.  Zach suffers from an author who alternates praising him to the sky with forcing him into endless defeats and foolish mistakes. It's too bad television wasn't invented yet, because he could have learned a lot from watching Knight Rider in battle.  Or even watching Spritle and Chim Chim in action.

I did have to admire the concept, though.  Zach is a half-breed (the term is used repeatedly by everyone, including the author) who resents the contempt showered on him by whites, although his (white) wife Lou can't understand why he's so stressed about this.  He has just miraculously escaped hanging when a jury failed to convict him of the murder of two white brothers; society is furious at this gross miscarriage of justice, since clearly the half-breed deserved to die.  But, this is all part of the VENGEANCE of the dead men's sister, who bribed the jury to acquit so she could have the pleasure of torturing the man herself.  To cover her tracks, she immediately has everyone she talks to murdered, sometimes in public restaurants, using her ginormous indentured servant/lover for the dirty work.  Luckily the law can find no evidence; stacks of corpses piling up in the houses she rents being too circumstantial to act upon.   Zach apparently believes his gun has a range of about ten inches, so he spends the book having his weapons slapped away by the bad guy.  I just wish I could just give these guys the mobile number of a Sackett.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hair Makes Your Brain Sweat: Fever Crumb

Middle grade books are a category of kidlit that confuses me.  I think it means books that are too young for YA but too old for early readers, but that's a huge middle ground.  I tend to think of middle school as another name for junior high, but some books that are perfect for third graders count.  So then I started thinking of it as high elementary, but the latest Cybils Fantasy and Science Fiction (Middle Grade) finalist, Fever Crumb by Peter Reeve, felt like YA to me, so much so that I offered it to my ninth grade nephew, who read it and agreed that younger kids probably wouldn't get it.

Fever Crumb lives in a post-apocalypse London, a decade after humans have risen up against the mutants that ruled.   She was raised by Engineers, scientist types who eschew all emotion and shave their heads for some rational reason.  But now it is time for her first apprenticeship, which leads her towards all sorts of emotional and fire-arms related adventures, including meeting her parents and watching people struggle and die.  Oh, and zombies.  But she doesn't fall in love, which I guess makes it for younger kids? Odd.

Most of the book wanders about explaining the world, which unfortunately involves some flat villains wallowing in villainy, but more importantly leaves Fever reacting to everything about her instead of acting on it.  This slowed down my reading, but at the end, as she and I finally understood more about both the society and her personal history, she began to assert herself against the world directly.  I'm fairly sure my fifth grader wouldn't go for this book (and he's buried in reading right now), but I'll try the seventh grade guy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

2-4-1: Dragonbreath

Ursula Vernon's first Dragonbreath book surprised me by being as educational as the fourth.  The first book did work harder to clarify that a school for reptiles and amphibians is normal, but the dragon family is unique because of their mythical nature.  In fact, Danny comes in from some teasing, especially from the school bully, a Komodo dragon.  Danny's struggles with fire breathing are also spelled out, a theme that returns throughout the series.

The combination of text and comic-style works well, although I have to remind myself to read the pictures even when their placement whispers "illustration" to my old-school brain.  The images convey as much plot as the words, so skipping a drawing gives the same effect of gluing the pages together.  I liked Danny's adventures with giant squid, his hoarding instincts around the sunken treasure, and Wendell's reaction to dry land after returning from their research trip to the Sargasso Sea, a field trip Danny found much more relaxing than a visit to the library to do research on oceans.  Very educational, especially the parts about the snorkel-bat!

Hopscotching Through a Series: Lair of the Bat Monster

Dragonbreath: Lair of the Bat MonsterAfter reading Ursula Vernon's Cybil-nominated Dragonbreath book, Attack of the Ninja Frogs, X ordered up the rest of the series from the library.  I had found the anti-girl theme a little repellent so I ignored the books until their due-dates threatened and then I cracked and read all three.  To my pleasant surprise, without the presence of a girl to elicit comment on what strange and alien creatures females are, the books slid down much more easily.

I grabbed Dragonbreath: Lair of the Bat Monster first, although it turned out to be number 4.    Danny Dragonbreath and his friend Wendell Iguana have the same dynamic, with Danny racing heedlessly towards adventure and daydreams while Wendell follows along predicting disaster.  Wendell also gets to gawk at the mystical parts of Danny's far-flung family, all connected along a superior bus line, which amuses me because I consider talking iguanas equally fantastic.  This book also slid in some nature facts about bats, although I hope everyone is clear that the ecological part of the book ends when the tree-sized bat monsters starts.  Wendell gets to step up to the hero plate, and also garners some good blackmail material on Danny, so I'm glad to see the books working to keep their friendship equal.  I'll remind X to get the latest one when the library buys it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Listen While I Drive: Omnitopia Dawn

I brought the audio version of Diane Duane's Omnitopia Dawn: Omnitopia #1 along on my last driving trip (about 800 miles each way).  It was hard to get started on the story, and only my oldest child had any interest in it, so not much traction happened on the way out, but by the trip home I got interested. Then I had to scramble time together to finish it during errands after we arrived.

My main beef was that Duane didn't write the book I wanted -- the back copy promised me a computer intelligence growing from a giant online game, but that was only the small bit at the end; we spent a lot of time learning about the game system, sometimes through the eyes of a player starting up his own small custom-designed section.  This was fun, both in comparison to the games I play online (hint, not nearly as immersive -- for example, I don't associate myself at all with the avatars I play) and just watching the enthusiasm of Rik and his wife design their world.  Then there was the corporate worries of Dev, owner of the company, and all his friends and family.  That was mostly interesting, especially the descriptions of the graphic version of the code files, which appeared as forests and lava pools.  The virtual depictions of the hacker attacks and the stalwart defenses made for a great chapter even if I had to hold down my disbelief with both hands.

Finally there was the evil plans of the bad guys planning the takeover of the company.  Yawn.  I started using the skip button every time more details of their stock twisting and financial wheeler-dealering came up.  Even my son, normally a stickler for not skipping around, rarely complained.  When the computer intelligence finally appeared, I felt a sense of relief, although I suspect most of its development comes in the sequel, which does not appear to exist, despite Amazon's best hopes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Loyal Reader Me: Dreadnaught

If I meet an author, I tend to read their books.  I'll stick with them even when they seem to be writing for people who aren't me, as long as I can enjoy anything of their books.  It helps if I really like some of their earlier books, which is probably how I met them in the first place.

I met John Hemry (aka Jack Campbell) at a convention and then tracked down his Stark books, which I enjoyed a lot.  Then I read his legal books, and liked what he was trying to do, although I didn't think he always succeeded.  Then came the Lost Fleet books, and again I really appreciated the premise, although the mix of military space opera and dry, intellectual character parsing didn't always mesh.  The new book, The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught takes so long to get started that I almost gave up, but the ending delivered enough emotional and action-packed drama to win me around again.  But honestly, I felt I had fallen into the worst of the legal thrillers at the start, when the first hundred pages of this futuristic military space novel worried at tiny bureaucratic shenanigans and the final escape hinged on the closely parsed reading of a minor regulation.  Yes, I know showing the decadence of the society and how the crumbling manifests  in these tiny ways, but give me some ray guns!  Justify the stellar background of the cover!  More aliens!  Good thing the author was listening, because once the fleet sailed I got my aliens and my space battles and crazy rescued generals and more.

Elizabeth Moon, who also writes space opera that occasionally wanders off topic for a bit, blurbed this book.  That makes sense, because he blurbed her book, which makes it a fit for Take a Chance 3, #5: Blurb Book.

Love Makes You Stupid: A Killer's Kiss

I can't remember why I put this book on my TBR list; I went back to look at likely recommendation sources and find no mention of the author at all.  It's a legal murder thriller, a sub-genre I rarely dip into, and it seems to be the latest in a series about the lawyer Victor Carl.  William Lashner's A Killer's Kiss tells a deeply cynical story about true love (TM) that affirms the implausibility of such a bizarre ideal.

Carl pretends to be a cynic, but he follows his image of the love he had with Julia even when it's obvious to everyone including him that she never saw him as more than a tool.  Julia herself seems to have no impulses except for the True Love she feels for the miserable loser she had a crush on in high school, and all her interactions with the men in this book (most of whom also love her) turn on how she can use them to help the man who despises her.  Love is seen as a one-way street, something that you aim at someone else but that never looks at or reacts to that person.  I found this rather dull, since everyone in love with the annoying Julia spent pages and pages raving about this emotion; it was a bit of a relief to switch over the the murder and money parts where the torture and sleuthing had more of an emotional truth to them.  I could believe in the love these men had for money.  Maybe it would help to have a deeper understanding of the protagonist from previous books, but I found him shallow and unconvincing, while the women were baffling constructs lit mainly by the expectations of the men who pretended to love Julia.  The ending relied deeply on the amazing incompetence of the police (aren't most murder suspects caught evading arrest handcuffed? or at least noticed?) which just added to my general disbelief in the characters and their motives.  Not really my cup of tea.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Non-Toxic Sparkles: A Summer Spell

A long long time ago, my extended family went to the movies, probably over Christmas.  Everyone eagerly looked forward to the film, except me.  I thought it sounded awful but I hope I was a good sport about the choice since I was vastly outnumbered.  Luckily for me, the movie turned out quite decent; I laughed a few times and rarely felt the need to smother myself in the popcorn bucket.  As we drove home, I admitted that the movie was much better than I expected, and I met with the groans of the rest of the family; they had universally hated it and couldn't believe we had wasted our money and time on it.

Clearly my low expectations had set me up for a much more enjoyable afternoon, although I had missed out on the pleasant anticipation enjoyed by my less prescient relatives.

As I chose the books from the series shelves as part of my Read-the-Library Quest, I deliberately fought against my disdain for "girl" books.  My instincts are to grab for the boy-centric dinosaur and rocket ship books and avoid anything with glitter and dresses on it, but I don't really know anything about the insides of these books.  Sue Bentley's The Magic Kitten #1: A Summer Spell book has sparkly stars around an out-of-focus aggressively cute kitten on the cover, but I forced my hands to grab it and tried it out to find an actual adventure story with a child dealing with poachers and household rules with the help of a royal magical lion disguised as a cute kitten.  Yes, it was formulaic and predictable, but no more so than most books at this reading level (first or second grade?) and really not painful at all.  I'm even mildly curious as to Prince Flame's next adventures with the girl in the next book.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Spooky Good: Horns

One concept that I'm trying to drill into my kids' minds is self-censorship.  Everyone has mean thoughts and desires, but not everyone shares these evil impulses with the world.  Joe Hill's Horns: A Novel would add an exception to that rule, because everyone Ig meets after he develops horns on his head confides all their darkest wishes to him, and he finds himself able to nudge them along the path to fulfilling these.

Ig navigates among the terrible hidden thoughts of first strangers, as he tries to figure out why he has sprouted horns, and then his family, made worse by finding that even his closest relatives believe him guilty of the horrific murder of his almost fiance Merrin.  The nature of good and evil gets examined from many angles -- some characters are truly evil (Lee), some are weakly bad, and some have bad impulses they don't follow for reasons of laziness, social standing, or conscience.  The book starts with the horns and moves back and forth to the start of Ig and Merrin's relationship, as well as Ig and Lee.  Religion gets skewered, as does the the nature of the devil, Ig's new patron.  Yet everything is grounded in characters who stay real despite the magic realism curling around them, characters who alternately accept and reject the miracles crossing their lives.  The themes sound heavy, but Hill also saturates the text with references to everything from Gremlin cars to deviled eggs so that I found myself grinning even as the plot spirals downward around Ig.

July (mostly) Reading

It's been almost a month since my last reading check-in, so this pretty much covers all of July. I finished:
What am I currently reading? Far too much, thanks to my habit of reading everything on my NOOK at the same time:
  • Buffy, Ballads, and Bad Guys Who Sing
  • Dakota Ambush, William Johnstone.  Except I have lost it somewhere in my room...
  • Beyond the Frontier, Jack Campbell
  • Feng Shui, Robin D. Laws
  • Fever Crumb, Philip Reeve.  Cybils book.
  • The Bargain Bride, Barbara Metzger. 
  • The Shelters of Stone, Jean Auel (NOOK)
  • Horns, Joe Hill (NOOK)
  • A Killer's Kiss, William Lashner (NOOK)
  • The Dead and the Gone, Susan Beth Pfeiffer (NOOK)
  • Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brook (NOOK)
  • Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez (NOOK)
  • Terrorists of Irustan, Louis Marley (vacation book)
  • Bad Prince Charlie, John Moore.
  • Territory, Emma Bull
  • The Rogue's Return, Jo Beverley
  • How I Met My Countess, Elizabeth Boyle
  • The Secret Duke, Jo Beverley
  • Downbelow Station, C.J. Cherryh (reread)
  • Omnitopia Dawn, Diane Duane (audio
What will I read next? Well, I have some book club books lined up, and a bunch of challenge books.  Speaking of which, here's how I'm doing on those goals:
A-Z: 38/52. I have to review an "E" author and then I can add one.
Cybils: 51/76. And I'm reading two more right now.
Global Reading Challenge:12/21. I picked up a South America book, but I have a sinking feeling it's nonfiction.
Read Around the World: 16/20. Closing in!  And a lot of different continents, which is good.
Science Book Challenge: 2.141/3.141... No change.  I have a biography on my TBR shelf, though. 
Stream: 3/3, 1/3, 3/3, 3/3. This is really fun. I have to rein myself in from splitting in too many directions, though.
Take a Chance: 5/10. I'm picking through the Economist's list for #4.  And I have a library recommend for #1.
20/11: 19/20. If I review a book I've bought new, I'm done!
What's In a Name?: 5/6.  Must read book with movement in title.
Where Am I Reading?: 24/50. I need to review my Georgia book, and find my missing North Dakota book.

Round Up 2

Here's another catch up post of five books I read on my summer vacation:  Now I'm only three behind on my daily book posting.  Notice I'm not behind on reading, just bragging about them afterward.

When I'm reading books, sometimes I'm having fun while reading them, and sometimes I enjoy having read them.  Ideally I like both -- those are my favorites! -- but sometimes I'll roll along in a story but afterwards regret the time spent, or find that unpleasant memories linger longest.  Other times I'll cringe through the text, but afterward find that my soul has stretched and strengthened and I like myself better now that I incorporate that book.  Or just that I've got a good memory stored away from hard winter nights.  And then there are the books that I read while wishing I were better at putting books down -- reading is painful and all memories of the book will burn my brain.  Blogging helps me pick out which books I'm reading for which purpose, and maybe in my next life I'll be better at aiming at the golden quadrant.

  • Truth and Beauty, Ann Pratchett. (NOOK) I always meant to read Autobiography of a Face, the story of writer Lucy Grealy; the descriptions of it in Daedulus book catalogs looked fascinating.  Sadly, it's still on my TBR list. But the memoir by Ann Pratchett of her friendship with Grealy and her delight in Grealy's brilliance and unbridled race towards life and happiness, as well as her equally impetuous drive towards misery and failure gives a poignant description of a relationship between a grasshopper and an ant who never tired of each other.  As an added bonus, Pratchett ends up in Tennessee, so I'm crediting my state quest here.
  • The Eternal Tomb: Oliver Nocturne 5, by Kevin Emerson.  I liked this book because the author's name is Kevin, but otherwise it was a pretty blah read.  I read it as part of the Read-My-Library project, and it's a middle book from a series in the children's series section.  It's a boy book about vampires, so I'll tell my son about them; he could race through them but he'd insist on reading in order.  It seems to be like Animorphs in terms of reading interest; if you don't know what those are it is unlikely you'd be interested in this. Not much fun, not too many good memories.
  • The First Cut, by Dianne Emley:  I picked up this book because I saw an internet book club going through authors by the alphabet, which I like because of my A-Z challenge.  Unfortunately, my current library stack of 65 items meant that I didn't read it until the month after its selection.  It's a murder suspense story, so a bit gory and scary, and I think it's the first of a series.  It's a cop procedural, with the twist being that the main character has just returned to work after being dead for a few minutes after an on-duty attack.  She's still dealing with the ramifications, from panic attacks in nice homes to strange communications from the victim.  I would have preferred to skip the woo-woo stuff altogether, since it didn't really fit in with the gritty realism of the rest of the book.  I had more fun reading the book than I did thinking about it afterward.
  • The Search, Nora Roberts.  Our July book club book was an unabashed beach book, chosen for that very characteristic.  Orcas Island, off the coast of Washington, stars as an important love interest, along with the word working, laconic hero and the dog-handling reserved heroine.  Many of the women in the club found the man's terse, sometimes rude manner unlikable, but I figured he made up for it by his habit of carving deck rocking chairs and dropping them off at her house.  There is some ickiness with an ooky serial killer, and Roberts seems to take as much joy in describing the horror scenes as with the love scenes, but as the book is meant to be read in bright sunlight (never candlelight) I guess she felt she had to impose her own darkness.  A fun read if you find it in your beach house, but not really worth hiking into town to pick up.
  • No Where Near REespectable
  • Nowhere Near Respectable, Mary Jo Putney.  By now I'm reading the Putney books mainly out of habit; the anachronistic feel of her regency romances has become familiar while the strange situations feel impossibly contrived.  Her current series follows alumni from an incredible boarding school who all find themselves astonished to be in the nineteenth century.  Yet this one crossed over so many implausible hurdles as to almost transform itself into alternate history, allowing me to relax and enjoy the story with its strong female lead dashing about using her special snowflake knowledge of martial arts and birth control and the equality of women while the more hesitant man followed along with his reported death and fancy club owning and master of disguise abilities.  The conversations are often earnestly insane but in a warm and fuzzy sort of way.  It's not a book I'm proud of enjoying, but I can't quite begrudge myself the time to read it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wings Done Right: Archangel's Consort

archangel's consortNalini Singh has a pretty big name in the werewolf-lover paranormal scene, but I don't seem to mesh with her biggest series.  I am enjoying her angel books, with ruthless, often malicious archangels divvying up the world between them while regular humans pretend real hard that what they do still matter.  Angels can turn people into vampires, but they only do it at a price, and when vampires try to avoid the price, angels call in Guild-Hunters such as our heroine to hunt them down.

Only by book three, Archangel's Consort (Guild Hunter), Elena is too busy to do much hunting (she helps out on occasion) because she has married (sorta) the biggest, baddest archangel (named Raphael, of course) on the planet.  And was turned into an angel herself, complete with wings.  A lot of the book is spent with her trying to learn to use her wings, training both in their use and in doing everything she used to do only now with large cumbersome wings on her back.  Meanwhile other archangels conspire to ruin the world, and the oldest of them all may be awakening with plans to turn everyone insane.  Oh, and Elena's dad is still annoying.  I quite liked the over dramatic plot, with interludes for Elena to be tough and sarcastic with various of her Raphael's flunkies, who have hot names like Venom and Illium, and which has both Elena and Raphael confronting their mommy issues.  Unfortunately, the book frequently grinds to a halt so Elena and Raphael can have rather dull sex.  I feel like someone who reads Playboy for the articles and grumps about skipping through all the glossy pages to find the continuation on page blah blah blah.  

Bad Entry Point: In the Shadow of Goll

Image of itemI've seen the Droon stories around libraries since my kids started school, but for some reason none of them ever came home.  They are aimed at the seven & up crowd, so I think it's because my oldest started to read fairly late, so he skipped from Ricky Ricotta to Deltora books.  (For those without short children at home, that's about a four year jump from KG level to 3rd or 4rth grade.)  The next child wasn't a voracious reader, so he got along with the books left lying around by his brother, and he never really developed a taste for endless series anyway.  I've read at least one of Tony Abbott's standalone books (Kringle), which I liked but didn't love, so I was interested in his ginormous and wildly popular series, and when my reading-the-library quest took me to his shelf, I grabbed one of the few in-libraries books and tried it out.

Unfortunately, In the Shadow of Goll, Secrets of Droon #28 does not work as a good introduction to the series.  The three main characters are only sketchily introduced, and I never managed to tell them apart for the rest of the book.  It was easy to identify their special friends inside the magic portal, but then I kept failing to tell the friends apart as well.  It wasn't so much that they were identical, just then they weren't interesting enough for me to remember which name went with which special powers.  I got a bit confused about which armies were ones for me to root for, and the final tragic battle left me wishing I had known the young Sparr well enough to really care about his danger.  I think these books would work well as reading practice for kids building up their literary muscles, but they don't have much to offer an independent adult reader.  But they wouldn't be painful if the adult found herself share-reading them, or reading a few chapters out loud.  So they are good for what they are, but they aren't for me.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hard Boiled For Kids: The Night Owls

I brought a few Cybils books along while visiting my brother's house, and offered the YA selections to my 14 year old nephew.  He read and enjoyed the Graphic Novel (YA) finalist The Night Owls Vol 1, by the Timony Twins, although I forgot to ask him why he liked it.  My twelve year old also enjoyed it, enough to reread it two times and pick it up again when he was trapped at a dinner with me with no book.  (The dinner was explicitly a reading meal, because my other son needed extra time to finish his family Book Club book.)


I found it an easy read, but not a beloved one.  I enjoyed the time period -- the book is set in flapper New York with slightly subverted stock characters; the mix of realism and fantasy elements is adeptly handled.  The characters were easy to tell apart, which is important to me because I'm terrible at this!  Or maybe I'm getting better; working my way through the graphic novel finalists may have taught me some comic reading skills.  The story lines tended to be very short; it read more like a compilation of a newspaper comic than a story in its own book, which didn't bother the kids at all but I found a bit dull. I suspect I would have liked it better in the original format, which come to think of it is more likely a web comic than a fuddy duddy old newsprint item.  In general a worthwhile read, but I probably won't work to find future volumes, although I won't avoid them if my son brings them home.