Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ikonica: A Field Guide to Canada's Brandscape by Jeannette Hanna & Alan Middleton

For this book, my readers are getting three reviews: mine (an American's view), my husband's and a knowledgeable and wise friend's (both Canadian)--not necessarily in that order.
Knowledgeable & Wise Friend:
The companies profiled are well known to Canadian consumers. Products, logos and signature lines, etched in our everyday lives. But this book adds little to our knowledge and understanding of the dramatic creation and development of these enterprises or the backgrounds of the risk-takers, visionaries and adventurers who dreamed the impossible dream in a country not known for taking chances. Instead we get button-down profiles right out of the annual reports and faint images and pale ghosts of the greatness of capitalism and free enterprise.
No energy, no excitement and few insights to celebrate these iconic companies - ironic.

I wanted to read Ikonica because it looked fun and educational for this American living in Canada. Part coffee table book, part Canadian marketing overview, Ikonica was not as fun as I thought it would be. I learned some stuff--there are a few brands/companies I didn't know were Canadian (like Umbra, the company that designed the liquid soap dispenser I bought in NYC). Mostly, though, Ikonica is a book that boils down to a pat-yourselves-on-the-back book for Canadian companies (which seems to have been the purpose of Hanna and Middleton). Readers, whether they are Canadian or not, will quickly tire of of "Canadians are so great" statements that appear at least three times a page.

I also disliked the comparisons between American marketing and Canadian marketing (though I don't know if it's avoidable); I detected definite anti-American sentiments from some of the contributers, and even when they weren't referring to the myopia of American consumers, the CEOs and presidents and VP's and founders all made a point of discussing how "modest" Canadians are.

Overall, the book lacked substance. No one discussed anything that had ever been done wrong or badly in their companies, with the exception of the marketing VP for Cirque du Soleil mentioning that they tanked in Niagara Falls because of ill planned marketing and branding.

Ikonica reaches the height of boring readers by the halfway point (sooner for the less tolerant) if you read it straight through, after which readers will have a hard time focusing and may just flip through the pages to look at the pictures.

Muse's beloved husband:
Ikonica goes to great lengths to re-broadcast the corporate "message" as written by those pretending to be the messenger, the CEO's and Chairmen/women of the boards.

To read this book and believe the words contained, I would come away thinking that if it weren't for George Stroumboulopoulos, I would have no cultural bellwether with which to guide myself.[Insert finger in mouth here to imitate gag] If it were not for Roots, my understanding of the beaver would be lost forever. [Puff out cheeks here to imitate mouth filling from reflux and gag reaction] I do not watch The Hour, by choice. I have never worn Roots clothing, by choice.

Where is mention of Take Thirty and the ground breaking work of Moses Znaimer? Where is the nod to the many industrial innovations of Canada? Jeepers and golly gee there hasn't been a true-sounding Canadian tone since the death of Peter Gzowski. (At least he admitted to being a bit of a fraud with his "creation" of the award-winning front cover of the burning tree burning the forest fire sign.)

Little is said in Ikonica about the failures, and the struggle... the ashes and anvil where success is forged. Ikonica comes in at last place in selections of books I would choose to offer as representative of Canadian anything. Ikonica reminds me of early family portraits, stood for at the dawn of photography; Mother and Father, straight-faced and turned out in clothes more suited to a funeral parlour; children looking equally dour, standing poised and upright. It becomes known later that each person had a stiff set of metal fingers gripping them by the neck to ensure steady pose and lack of movement. That is Ikonica.

High quality production in print and photography amount to little more than an advertisement from the writers of this book that they will produce for your company, a very slick press release, which you can write yourself.

I will stick to Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson as a gift to the interested.

Thanks to Mini Book Expo: Business Edition & Douglas & McIntyre for sending this book.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Click by Bill Tancer

This is another guest post by my beloved husband. I will probably be reviewing it myself sometime in the near future.
--<>-- will take you to a website showing a video of Bill Tancer talking to the Google demagogues about his new book Click. will take you to a website with a publisher's synopsis/review of Bill Tancer’s new book Click.

Of course, clicking on the book cover or title will allow you to order your own tactile experience of Click through Powell's Books.

“The medium is the message" (Marshall McLuhan) best describes the impressive multi-media experience and concepts outlined by Tancer in Click. The author does not give the nod to McLuhan. Tancer's demonstration of data is his implied agreement with the ideas of a media-driven society, obsessed by its own desire to know which way it will turn next. One begins to understand, as they read, the mouse and keyboard must not be far away.

Bill Tancer is honest and straightforward as he parleys his understanding of his place in this world. He relates his mission is not one he picked up while seeking an easy major/minor combination at the state university. Indeed, he has come into his calling after a lifetime of watching his own fascination with data and how numbers and people relate in the real world. Click is a 212 page business card for Bill Tancer and Hitwise, the data, information company he is a part of. 212 pages of stories mixed with information and frontline insights that will excite prescient readers into understanding something about themselves and how they relate to their own public or market segment.

A book written as if it were spoken, cleanly without the uhhh and ummm and pause while words are sought for. After reading Click I went online to investigate what sort of press Hyperion is. They have a wide range of titles and include contemporary authors I have read, like Mitch Albom. I watched the video of Tancer’s lecture at Google and was impressed to see the same “aw shucks” sort of guy I meet in Click. Tancer is a plain language speaker, who does not shirk from hard questions or difficult problems. I would imagine if I wanted to know what the next thing was going to be, based on internet use, I would turn to Bill Tancer and Hitwise to see if he could illuminate further in the same way Click did.

I am wondering if the apple would bob so close to the surface if it knew it were next.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris

The day I requested Acedia & Me, I was really in the mood for a good memoir. This is another one I didn't finish.

Acedia and Me is part memoir, part expository/exploratory essay. The memoir bits were fine, but in the first 100 pages, there was too much that was essay debating what acedia actually is (based on etymology, religions' definitions, etc.). I didn't care that much about the background of it. A chapter in the beginning, fine. Four chapters of it in the beginning was over the top. By the end of 100 pages, I cared even less about whether it was the same thing as clinical depression (she wants to argue it's not), and I certainly didn't want to read any more about it. I would've read the rest, if Norris had stayed in memoir mode.

I don't want to discourage anyone else from reading this, but this is meant for a more academic audience than I'm willing to be right now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Broad Street by Christine Weiser

I couldn't get into Broad Street and gave up by page 50. Here's why:
  1. I can't relate to the character or her motives for starting a band, and she deals (or, rather, doesn't deal) with her ex in a decisively passive-aggressive way that bugs the heck out of me.
  2. I generally don't care about bands, punk or otherwise. This one does nothing to make me interested.
  3. Weiser's writing style could use some polishing. She relies on dialogue to move her plot her descriptive skills are lacking--she tells instead of shows.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

I was going to read The Wordy Shipmates and have a review all set to go by its release date (October).

Clearly, that didn't happen. I stopped about halfway through and determined to finish it when I was feeling more like I could give it a fairer reading.

I was originally very excited about this book. I'm fascinated and confused by Puritan theology. But it seems I was also traumatized by my junior year English teacher's presentation of the 1600's and Puritan persecution, because I kept having flashbacks of the class while I was reading this. (Very unsettling.)

This is my first experience with Sarah Vowell's work, and I am disappointed. First, the lack of chapters made the book seem unpolished and disorganized. Having no chapters also made the book seem to drag on because there weren't great, obvious stopping points.

Second, I kept getting people confused--which means I should've been keeping notes; I didn't because I thought that the people would be more definitive in my mind, but every time I came across Williams or Winthrop or Vane, I had to stop to remember which one he was. (And the two W names show up a lot.)

Last, Vowell's bitter political comments (example: "It's why in U.S. presidential elections the American people will elect a wisecracking good ol' boy who's fun in a malt shop instead of a serious thinker who actually knows some of the pompous, brainy stuff that might actually get fewer people killed.") seemed like cheap, strictly media-fed opinions. I'm not a huge fan of these particular politics, either, but I thought the snarky anti-Bush remarks cheapened her obviously hard work.

The things I liked: I laughed a lot and aside from the modern political stuff, I enjoyed her wit. I learned quite a bit. I enjoyed the last half of the book more than the first.

I'd be willing to read more of her books, but I'd be very careful about picking which one next. (Likely, I'd have to read a chapter or two before deciding.)

I'm willing to believe Vowell is a very funny, worthy writer to read more of--but I wouldn't recommend most newcomers to Vowell's work begin with The Wordy Shipmates.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Yellowknife by Steve Zipp

Stumble into Canada’s Northwest Territories with one of the many characters readers will get acquainted with in this strange tale. Meet a handful of biologists who are being chased out of their government offices and their jobs, a mosquito fanatic, three generations of First Nations (in the States, we'd call them Native Americans or Indians), a bureaucrat, a fisherwoman, a couple of con men and a dog of indeterminate age and genesis. Too long a list to name each one by name (or profession), readers may need a program to tell the players apart as Steve Zip unwinds his postmodern tale. Robert Service it ain’t, but the Northwest Territories is not the Yukon and Zip who still calls Yellowknife home, reminds us several times that the two are not synonymous.

Another reviewer, at Geranium Cat's Bookshelf, says in a lovely, succinct way, "This is not so much a book to read as to inhabit. You take up residence with a motley crew of characters and watch as their lives happen around you." She's right. I wouldn't recommend trying to read this book in short spurts--I kept getting distracted and it took me three times as long to finish it as it probably would have if I'd settled in for a few long afternoons of reading.

Part of this may be due to its postmodernity. I'm not a fan of postmodern books, but this wasn't as confusing as some I've read. A parody of stereotypes (or maybe a parody of real people Zipp knows) parades through the stories that amalgamate to form the book, reappearing where you least expect them and creating a distinctly surreal series of experiences--especially when the animals start talking.

Yellowknife is not an unpleasant read, but I think it helped to have my husband nearby when I wanted to ask questions like how cold it gets there or what it's like to drive on an ice road. He's also the one who pointed out the parody aspect of the book; I had been taking it way too literally and having an exasperating time with it until that point.

Many thanks to Steve Zipp for sending me a copy of his book, even though I don't participate in challenges (even the Canadian Reading challenge).

Monday, December 01, 2008

anyone need a weird white elephant/dirty santa gift?

I came across this book a few days ago somewhere, and then again today in one of Joy the Baker's tweets, and I just had to post about it.

It's a cookbook about a secret ingredient.

The secret ingredient?


Natural Harvest

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tar Sands by Andrew Nikiforuk

Ladies and gentlemen, my husband asked me to let him review Tar Sands, as he knows quite a bit more about the subject than I do, so here is my first guest review, by my beloved husband.


Take two dishes and place them on your desk. Fill one with adjectives and adverbs which immediately bring to mind associations things often considered evil or wrong, even though in themselves the thing or idea is benign or ambiguous. Fill the other bowl with wide sweeping generalizations and some indistinct segues between actual quotes and random unattributed ideas. Next, pick a topically hot subject that most of society is knowledgeably ignorant about but vaguely aware of. Mix together with the skill of a Gamey Bird newspaper-trained journalist (Car crash on the front page. If there was none that week, dig one out of the files.) and you will come up with a close approximation to Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands.

Let’s try using some of his own style.

Andrew Nikiforuk lives in a dangerous Calgary neighbourhood frequented by crack users who have broken into one of his two gas guzzling cars to steal money, leading one to wonder if this is not simply the poor addict's attempt at saying “no” to the petro-jobs which would earn him substantially more income than the dollar his neglectful wife left behind.

There. See how easy that is?

You know, if one were to substitute any other group besides tar sands executives, it is very likely there would be a case here for a human rights tribunal hearing into hate literature.

I got to page 87 and could go no further.

Thank you to Douglas & McIntyre for the review copy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I love our library

I really wish, at this moment, that I had pursued my Masters in Library Science, because right now, our library is looking for a new chief librarian.

As I am not qualified for this position, and I know there are a surprising number of people out there with library degrees, I thought I should post about this employment opportunity. If you happen to be interested in applying for the chief librarian position in our small coast town in British Columbia, or know anyone who would be interested, please check out the chief librarian job posting.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

When I was halfway through this book, I had to put it down to do something grown-up and houseworky, and I found myself thinking that I'd like to read this book my someday kidlets. (Which is a little bit ironic, given the story.)

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Inkheart when I bought it through Scholastic for my classroom (not that it actually made it to my classroom). I got a Neverending Story/Pagemaster/Here, There Be Dragons kind of vibe from it, but not quite. I'd also read Funke's The Thief Lord, and even though I enjoyed that book, I didn't have huge expectations for Inkheart. (I could have, though, and Inkheart would have exceeded them all brilliantly.)

So here's the scoop: Our main character is Meggie, whose father is a bookbinder, and they are both bookworms. Instead of becoming part of a book's story, though, Meggie's father has the ability to read things (including characters) out of a story. How cool is that?

But it does cause more than a few problems (as evidenced by this book's hefty 534 pages). Some of those characters who came out of the books were quite happy in their previous worlds and are none too happy with being stuck in this one. But worse are the ones who find this one quite to their liking . . .

Inkheart is fantastic fun. You should consider it--if not for yourself, then for the kids in your life.*

*Keep Inkheart in mind with the holidays coming up. Plus, the other two in this trilogy (Inkspell, Inkdeath) have been released, so you can get all three--no waiting! Also, if you're not familiar with the Buy Books for the Holidays movement, several book bloggers have begun a movement to try to boost the publishing business this year, and have committed to buying books as gifts when possible.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I gave up

Good bye, dreams of actually finishing NaNoWriMo! I just spent a week moving and unpacking, and we're not done yet, and I didn't write a word, except maybe an email to my mom, in that time.

Well, maybe next year, then.

Best wishes to all who're still trucking along!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

What I mean when I say...

Amy, of My Friend Amy, posted a question on Twitter last week about an article in which an author took issue with some of the words reviewers used to describe her book (among other things). A few of the replies Amy received indicated to me that words to which I attribute certain connotations aren't necessarily taken that way by other readers, so I've decided to add a small glossary of what I mean by some of the more arguable adjectives we all tend to use. For example:

Light = not to be taken too seriously; this is could be positive or negative
Fast = I was on page 100 before I realized it/I totally lost track of time
Fluffy = light, with little or no substance (most chick lit will be called fluffy)
Warm = makes you feel all happy & glowy inside

Are there any other words I need to add to the glossary?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Sister by Poppy Adams

The Sister is the complex, dark story of sisters reunited in their 70's. The narrator, an old woman called Ginny, seems normal enough at first (for a lepidoptrist)--maybe with a touch of OCD. She and her sister grew up in a delapidating, generations-old mansion in the English countryside; when Vivian left home, she never came back--until now. And now she's less than forthcoming about her reasons for this late-in-life return; readers and Ginny suspect ulterior motives. (But maybe that's all in Ginny's head, too?)

Through the few days that Viv is home, Ginny is compelled to re-evaluate memories of growing up--many of which she'd rather not think about, and some of which she only touches upon but about which readers will want to know more (and be left unsatisfied).

Despite seemingly excessive information about moths (Ginny is an OCD lepidoptrist), The Sister is a good book. I'd recommend adding it to your fall reading stack if it's not already toppling. (Unreliable narrators tend to be better in the fall--don't you agree?)

Participants in next year's RIP challenge, assuming that there is another RIP challenge, may want to consider this book. It's not specifically a mystery or thriller, but it is a touch gothic--not to mention that the narrator is unhinged and there are questions regarding the circumstances of a death or two.

Many thanks to Deanna at HarperCollins Canada for sending me a review copy!

Sunday, November 02, 2008


You probably won't be getting many reviews from me this month, because I'm, once again, undertaking NaNoWriMo. So far, on day #2, I'm doing better than in any year past. Before this year I've never even bothered posting word counts. But I really want to finish it at least once, and I'll never have more time to do it, I suspect.

So, if any of you are also giving NaNoWriMo a go and want to add me to your buddy list, you can go to my NaNoWriMo page and add me from there.*

Good luck!

*Thus far, we seem to be having issues with an author search function to add writing buddies. I can't even find an author search, but I know it's supposed to be there...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

funny bookish Halloween cartoon

I've got Will Write for Chocolate in my RSS reader, and I had to share this one with all of you:

If you can't read it, clicking on it will take you to the cartoon on the Will Write for Chocolate site. You should head over to Debbie's site, too, and see some of the other stuff she's got on the go. I like her holiday greeting cards, especially the one about the holiday birthday. (I love my December 23 birthday, but that card is very, very funny--and I've never seen another one that addresses the issue.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Grift by Debra Ginsberg

The Grift was exactly what I needed right now.

It's not a book that got into my head; I didn't dream about psychics or ruby rings. I did, however, put down my computer for hours to read. (Once upon a time, this wouldn't have been such a notable event.)

Though the premise of the story (psychics are real!) has been pretty popular for TV series of late, I expected more of a Ghost (think Whoopi Goldberg) kind of protagonist, and so, despite praise from other readers, I didn't have particularly high hopes for this book. But Marina is definitely no Ida Mae Brown. The characters run the gamut of familiar (but enjoyable) California archetypes, whose piddly little issues take on characteristics of cartoon snowballs rolling down a hill until they lead to real, dangerous problems.

I haven't read much Alice Hoffman--none of her grown-up books--but this book is along the lines of what I'd expect from her. (Hoffman fans should feel free to tell me whether these expectations are right on or off-base.)

This book isn't a work of literary genius; it's not particularly deep. But it is a fun experience, and that's more than I can say for a lot of the books I've picked up this year.

Many thanks to Random House for so obligingly sending me a review copy!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Northlander by Meg Burden

Hi, everyone. Jill at The Well-Read Child sent me a few books to review as a guest blogger for her site, and the first one is Northlander.

My review is scheduled to be posted at The Well-Read Child today!

By the bye, in two months I will be turning 31. I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Galveston library needs our help

Hi, everyone. Here's another great cause that needs our support.

Cheryl Rainfield's blog today asks for help from books/library lovers everywhere. The Rosenberg library in Galveseton, Texas, was badly damaged in the flood caused by Hurricane Ike, and they're asking for donations to help rebuild. You can donate to the general library fund or to the children's library fund. The Rosenberg Library's blog has just announced the services they've been able to resume, and you can see some pictures of their work.

Everything on the first floor of the library was destroyed with the flood, including the children's section. The library has received many offers to donate books, to which the head of the children's department responds:

I would like to encourage those wanting to help to make a contribution to the Hurricane Ike Library Recovery Fund and allow us to use this donation in the way that would most help the Library. No gift is too small. Patrons wishing to specify their Hurricane Ike donation be restricted to the Children’s Department may ask it be applied to the Children’s Department Recovery Fund.

The Children’s Department, Technical Services, Circulation Department and Operations were located on the 1st Floor and all are gone. Many have contacted me wanting to help rebuild the Children’s collection by donating books. It is gratifying to field requests from as far away as Washington D.C. and as close as right here in Galveston. It is difficult not to accept these gifts, but right now it’s important we approach this catastrophe in a logical, organized manner. We have no shelving for books, no technical services staff to catalog the books, no elevator to move the books, no electrical panel to light the department, etc. We can’t put the cart before the horse, as my grandmother would say.


(read in full)

You can donate to the Rosenberg Library's Hurricane Ike recovery funds through the buttons on their site or by sending a donation to:

Rosenberg Library
2310 Sealy Ave.
Galveston, TX 77550

I suspect you've already got the Rosenberg Library's webpage open and are signing into your Paypal account or getting out your debit/credit card. Book people are great like that.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Maggie and the Chocolate War by Michelle Mulder

Maggie and the Chocolate War is the kind of book I would have read and reread as a kid.

The setting is Victoria, British Columbia (Canada) in 1947, when war rations have been done away with, but the cost of all varieties of foodstuffs are skyrocketing, resulting in most families being worse off than they were with the rations. Maggie, our main character, is trying to earn enough money to buy her friend Jo a chocolate bar for her tenth birthday, but the cost of chocolate bars hikes up to eight cents right before Jo's birthday. Kids are furious, because there's no way they'll be able to afford their favorite treat when the cost nearly doubles overnight. So, inspired by a lesson they learned from their favorite teacher, they decide to protest. They even march on the legislature.

Maggie is a surprisingly complex character who has to consider various points of view; her dad is a shopkeeper selling eight cent candy bars, so the protests could affect their family's income and cause them to have pare down their budget even more. Maggie has to make decisions about how her actions are going to effect those around her, and she has to deal with the myriad emotions that accompany those decisions.

One of my favorite features of the book is that instead of illustrations, the images in the book are copies of real newspaper articles and pictures of the boycotting kids. There's even an ad in which a chocolate manufacturer tries to explain why the cost of candy bars had to go up. Extra kudos to the author (assuming it was the author's decision) for including these copies of primary sources.

I will be holding on to this charming and empowering book for my own kids to read someday, and I'll probably be sending my niece in the States* a copy, too, for when she's able to read on her own. (She's two weeks old.)

Many thanks to Emma at Second Story Press for sending me this book!

*If you're in the States reading this with your kid(s), you might want to have a map of Canada and a map of BC handy for a light geography lesson.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An in-between books post & Book Aid International Auction

Book Aid International is holding an online auction on Ebay. Most of the items being auctioned are books that have influenced prominent people, who have inscripted and signed them, including Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, William Boyd, Iain Banks, and (apparently) Twiggy. Also included in the auction are several illustrations. All proceeds will help their good book work in sub-Saharan Africa.

And if anyone's been wondering why I haven't posted any reviews lately... Well, quite frankly, I've been mired in Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates. For some reason, despite my interest in Puritan history, I'm having a hard time getting through it, and now that it's reached the point where I cringe/sigh despairingly to pick it up again, I've decided to put it aside (for now). I'll give it one more go before I give up completely, because I think it's as much me as the writing. For now, I'm reading The Northlander to write a guest review for The Well-Read Child. I'll let you know when it's posted, in case you don't check that particular blog.

After that--well, I have a whole box full of ARC/review books to pick from. We are in between moves. This means that all my books from my shelves are in boxes in the basement of this place we used to live in, and which we're living in again, only for a month. Then we're moving into a new, hopefully a little bigger, place.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Book Magic by Julie Ferguson

Book Magic is a practical guide for writers who have not yet ventured into the publication arena. Ferguson discusses how to predict markets, pitch ideas and reinvent yourself as an expert in your field. She also covers the importance of query letters, picking book categories and genres, and using agents (or not). Mostly, though, Book Magic presents writers' publishing options, including commercial, print on demand, e-books and more. Even published authors will find valuable insight in these pages. Ferguson plainly lays out the pros and cons of each publishing method, as she herself has published in several genres and explored every avenue.

If you're turned off by or skeptical of the use of "magic" in the title, you needn't be. Though the magic theme/gimmick feels hokey, Ferguson describes the hard work and effort that are the real magic behind getting published. The only disappointment in the book is the writing wasn't as smooth as I would have liked; sometimes it feels stilted, and that's not helped by the author's fondness for commas, the extra spaces between paragraphs or the numerous bulleted lists. Not that the bulleted lists are bad--sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Overall, though, I found the text to be reader-friendly.

Book Magic would be an invaluable resource on the shelf of most Canadian* writers, especially those new to publishing. The important information offered is succinct, and its 121 pages (plus helpful appendix) cover a lot of ground. And when you're done, publishing won't feel like such a huge obstacle.

*Ferguson, a Canadian, focuses on Canadian publishing information, but doesn't neglect the more numerous publishing businesses in the US, either.

When Julie Ferguson presented at the Powell River Festival of Writers (2008), I was privileged to be volunteer chauffeur for her two-day stay. When she asked me to review the second edition of Book Magic, I was flattered.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Sorted Books Project

Post on the fly:

Shelf Awareness mentioned The Sorted Book Project today, which was featured at Boing Boing. What a fun idea! I can't wait to go home & try this with my books.

Oh wait. My books may very well be boxed up when I get home. (We're moving again.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Deerskin by Robin McKinley

I don't always post reviews of books I've re-read, but I wanted to say a little more about Deerskin. I've recommended it to several fellow bloggers who have enjoyed some of McKinley's other books, and it was the first book in my summer recommendations. But it's not enough. I love this book.

First, you should know that this is a fairy tale, and I love fairy tales. This is not to be confused with Disney versions of fairy tales (though many people have suggested that Disney's Beauty and the Beast seems to draw heavily from McKinley's Beauty, published over 20 years ago--and which I am also currently re-reading); this book involves everything, including bodily functions, in its telling.

I first read this book when I was 17*, after it fairly leaped off the "new release" book cart at the library. I read it twice before I returned it (less than a week later). Over the years, I've bought three copies, which are all currently on loan back in Ohio. So I had to ask the library here to find a copy for me; I felt the need to recalibrate, and I knew Deerskin would help.

And it's as wonderful as I remember it: Lissla Lissar is a princess who is compelled to leave her palace by some horrific events; she escapes and eventually (after an altering, mystical/magical recovery) takes on a new identity in another kingdom, where people mistake her for their legendary Moonwoman. Her balancing presence is her dog, who was also her first friend. Though there is a prince, she is a self-sufficient woman who can stand very well on her own two feet most of the time.

It is a tale of character, strength, choices, survival and will, and though the language is a little more superfluous than I would normally prefer, it suits the story well. Some people have found the beginning a little slow, but I strongly disagree. The story begins with Lissar begging to hear the story of her parents' courship and marriage. Her parents are beloved rulers; her father is handsome and brave, her mother is the most beautiful woman in seven kingdoms. And the princess is a forgotten in the brilliance of her parents. Need I say that she's not your typical princess?

I recommended this to my aunt a few years ago; she stayed up that night till 2, when she had to go to sleep, and woke up at 6 to finish. She told her kids (8 & 12) to fend for themselves for breakfast; she was busy reading.

*This is not a teen/YA book

Sunday, September 21, 2008

College Ain't Cheap: another scholarship essay contest!

Attention all college students, high school seniors and instructors thereof!

Maybe you've seen the magazine mental_floss while you've been waiting in line at the coffeeshop at Books-A-Million or while you were staring, slack-jawed, at the sheer number of magazines offered at Barnes & Noble. Maybe you're a Bookcrosser and know it from there. Or maybe you read The Optimistic Book Fool and see the Friday references to mental_floss there.

Even if you've never heard of this magazine, you might be interested to know that they are giving away $50,000 in tuition money for full-time undergrads (as of fall 2009). That's five $10,000 awards. And this isn't just a US opportunity--it's also open to Canadian students!

If you, or someone you know, is/should be interested in this opportunity, you should be aware that applicants must write a short piece: "In 750 words or less, explain why you (as the most deserving person on the planet) should win a $10,000 prize for tuition/books in the fall of 2009. . . and should reflect the tone of mental_floss magazine.”

750 words is not a lot. Before diving in, though, you'll want to check out the magazine, the rules (there aren't too many) and the FAQs.

I found out about this thanks to Finding Wonderland!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen

I think that if you took The Chronicles of Narnia, The Neverending Story, and the Lord of the Rings, and found a way to brew them together, Here, There Be Dragons is what you'd end up with. And while I'm not a Tolkien fan, I did enjoy this book. And, delight of delights, I was even surprised a number of times.

I was expecting a light YA/teen fantasy, but what I found was a complicated weaving of various fantasy and mythological elements, written in the style of CS Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia). I enjoyed them, but I wonder how many of the references to various cultures' myths and Arthurian legend the intended younger audience will miss or not understand through simple inexperience, and how much of a difference that will make to the reading.

Were I offering this book to a young adult/teen reader, which I certainly encourage if you know any who are inclined to like fantasy, I would also seek out companion books to satisfy the interests in mythology and legends this book will likely spark. (This might be easier to do browsing in a bookstore than searching online--everything I found was either for adults or a younger audience.)

Readers/buyers should be aware that this is the first book in a series.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thank you, Amy!

Amy, we know how much work you put into Book Blog Appreciation Week (or we at least have an idea). Thank you for bearing forth this idea and carrying it out so magnificently.

This has been a wonderful week and as members of the Book Blogging community, in one voice we want to thank Amy for all that she has done.

BBAW, Day 5

Before Amy started posting the list of book blogs participating in her grand week-long event, my blog feed list was half this long. I can't really differentiate which blogs were pre- and which are post-, but I'm currently checking 188 blogs. I'm sorry to say, I may have to cull if I want to check them every day. Or maybe I'll just check the feeds twice a week.

Is anyone else in this boat?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

BBAW, Day 3*

Today we're to write about what we wished we knew about blogging when we started or advice we'd give to a newbie book blogger.

My advice would be this: Don't feel you have to be like everyone else and remember what your personal purpose for blogging is.

When I started blogging, I did it in place of keeping a personal reading journal and because my friends back home (Ohio) said they wanted to be able to keep up with what I was reading. Now I've stumbled into this wonderful book blogging community, and my purpose for blogging hasn't changed, but my audience has gotten a bit bigger. I continue to want my blog to be simple and to stick mostly to book reviews, though I'm looking at revamping the format/design sometime soon. I don't feel the need to drive up my hits; I'm tickled with the hits a day my blog averages, though I doubt I'll be reaching 10,000 hits anytime soon.

As to the memes, challenges and book giveaways other bloggers do: I don't do them on my blog for several reasons. I don't do memes because I spend enough time combing through blogs updated by daily or weekly memes; I don't (usually) read them on others' blogs and I don't think my answers would be all that different or, in light of that, particularly interesting. I don't do challenges because I fear it would make reading feel a bit too much like assigned reading, though I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of participating at some time in the future. And giveaways--well, they're fun, I know. I've participated in them on others' blogs. But I'm a Bookcrosser, which means I'm involved in karmic, serendipitous book adventures. (I register and then "free" my books--it's a little bit like tagging a bird or whale to see what it does later.)

Also, I'd advise making sure your readers can get RSS feed(s) from your blog--I've encountered a number of blogs I'd read more often if I could make them part of the list my Sage feed reader checks instead of just bookmarking them and checking them when I think about it (once a week, maybe).

*Day 2 involved interviewing other book bloggers; I somehow overlooked signing up for that (through every fault of my own).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Day 1

Today we appreciate our fellow book bloggers who didn't make the finalists lists. My problem with this task is that I have so many book blogs on my RSS feed reader that I have a hard time keeping them all straight. So, I'm sorry that I have to do this, but I'm going to cut this list to five that really stand out (the ones that make me grin--as opposed to a mere smile--when I see there's a new post on their blog). Some of them are reader blogs and some are writer blogs (you know they can overlap), and if they were nominated in a category, I don't remember (there were a lot!):

The Literate Housewife Review
Books Are Pretty--I think this was the first other book blog I found
Fashionista Pirranha

Beth Kephart
Mad Woman in the Forest--Laurie Halse Anderson's blog

And a moment to appreciate My Friend Amy, too, who keeps a great blog and whose inspiration and energy are making this week possible. Thanks, Amy!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

HarperCollins posts PDF of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I was just over at the badgerbooks blog and discovered that Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is being offered as a free download for a limited time. (No mention of how limited.) Details--required software, life expectancy of the file, etc.--on Gaiman's blog!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Erotic Massage for Lovers by Ros Widdowson & Steve Marriott

Erotic Massage for Lovers is another book I requested from Mini Book Expo. I love being touched by my husband, and I thought that learning to massage each other would be--well, at the very least, fun.

The book seems to cover everything beginners need, even mixing your own oils if you're not using something commercially available. Descriptions of the motions are well laid out and include pictures to illustrate. The massages are about learning to touch each other, communicate, give pleasure and learn a new kind of intimacy--it's not really about foreplay (though it may lead to that). My only problem is that there are so many massages described that we'll need to keep the book next to us for a while yet. (Not much of a problem, eh?)

I'd encourage gifting Erotic Massage for Lovers to newlyweds or maybe a couple celebrating an anniversary--or to your significant other when you feel the need to reconnect.

Eating for Energy by Yuri Elkaim

I asked to review Eating for Energy (from Mini Book Expo) because I spend four days a week at the gym, about two hours each day, and to be able to work harder and not be utterly exhausted by the end of the day would be wonderful. My only hope was that this book wouldn't ask me to completely revamp my eating habits in order to get it.

I was disappointed. Elkaim is a huge fan of the raw foods movement and discourages eating any kind of meat. Though he provides plenty of facts and statistics, I'm skeptical. I suspect there's a reason he has only a small headshot, instead of a picture including at least shoulders, on the back of the book. Plus, I felt like I was reading a bit by a fanatic infomercial host, one that yelled at me to try to make me listen and was occasionally condescending. I'm sure that was caused by the number of exclamation marks and bold words Elkaim used. Also, Elkaim's obsession with a long life and being slim/thin/skinny is not one I share.

I will be considering some of his workout advice and trying some of his recipes in the back of the book, but I can think of a number of people around here who might be more inclined to follow the entirety of Elkaim's guidelines. (People who already avoid chocolate chip cookies.) I'll probably end up bookcrossing this book and leaving it at the gym.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

For laughs, may I recommend... (another book I read a few years ago)

Everyone's posting the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, and Bookslut posted a quote about why funny books don't win these "major" literary awards. So in an effort to lighten things up, I'm going to recommend that everyone (yes, everyone) read Will Ferguson's Happiness.

Will Ferguson is a funny and popular Canadian writer; his books even have a consistent presence on the BC Ferries gift shop bookshelves. I was introduced to Ferguson's work by the man I love, who urged me to read it because "everyone who works in publishing should." He even sent me the book, and I polished it off in a few days and, excited, passed it on to a friend working with me at the university press. She also loved it, and read it even faster than I did. (I knew she would.)

So, the book's premise is this: Someone writes a self-help book that actually works. Everyone buys it. Everyone becomes happy. The world collapses. The editor (who initially rejected the manuscript) hunts down the writer. There's some gunfire somewhere in the book. There are daisy stickers. There's a man who's ended up with his own harem. There's a trailer. A desert. New York City. People in robes. A janitor in a limo.

And it's all funny.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

When We Were Romans by Mathew Kneale

Despite the many good reviews available, I can't get into When We Were Romans--not because the voice of child-narrator lacks grammar mastery, but because of the "and then. . . and then. . . and then. . ." style of story-telling (including vastly unimportant details and strange comparisons of people to animals). This may be authentic to a kid's story-telling ability, but it makes for tedious reading when it lasts more than a few pages. I can't believe that the book will offer anything that is really worth the effort of forcing myself to go on. (I'm about 1/3 of the way through.)

Many thanks to Doubleday for letting me try this book out.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Guernica by Dave Boling

Reading Guernica took me three weeks--not because I've been extremely busy, but because I had to motivate myself to pick it up and keep going every time I put it down.

I know almost nothing about the history of Spain (except for a little from this book and a little from reading The Last Queen), and Boling didn't really help me to understand the politics at work, so I had no idea whose motives were what. Boling may have had pure motives for that; he says in his notes that he "tried not to tax the reader with elaborations on the complex and volatile politics at work at the time," but I would have been grateful for some help in understanding the bigger picture.

Though he creates some interesting characters (many based on historical figures), those characters are too perfect--the graceful, beautiful women who make perfect wives; the strong, considerate men who make perfect husbands; the charming children who become one of the aforementioned. Even characters who started off with alleged weaknesses (Miguel couldn't talk to women) turned out to not really have those problems they were assigned. Not only that, but there were too many characters to keep track of; I couldn't keep them straight, which gets frustrating.

Also frustrating: the book was predictable. I'm not a person who tries to guess the plot ahead of time, but with this book what's going to happen is so obvious. And I'm not just talking about the destruction of the town, but of pretty much the whole plot.

I know some people who have read this really liked the inclusion of Picasso amongst the characters, but I only found him, at first anyway, annoying--another character to keep track of. In fact, I thought the whole first part of the book could have been left off, the pertinent details included elsewhere. I was, however, fascinated by the description of the painting of Guernica, which Picasso painted after the German attack on the town. I'd never seen it, so I had to look it up.

Overall, the book was mediocre, but the research was impeccable. History buffs will likely enjoy it far more than I did. If you are not a history buff and want to give it a go, I'd highly recommend that you at least read up a little on the Spanish Civil War--on Wikipedia or some other (more reliable) reference site--beforehand.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And on the subject of contests...

Laurie Halse Anderson has extended the deadline of her book trailer contest! New deadline: October 31.

The challenge is this: make a book trailer for either Speak or Twisted and submit it to YouTube, and let her know that you've entered the contest. The details are all on Anderson's LiveJounral page. You have to be 21 or younger to enter.

Monday, August 25, 2008

An essay contest

The book for this year's Penguin's annual scholarship essay contest is Jane Eyre. The contest is open to high school juniors and seniors in the US. Students have until April to write and send their applications. Winners get $1000. (That should buy at least two terms' worth of textbooks.) And Jane Eyre's not a horrible read; in fact, it's on my list of favorite classics.

If you're a student eligible for this contest, let me take a moment to remind you that because this scholarship opportunity requires writing as essay (no more than three pages long--that's easy!), automatically the numbers of your competition are cut; there are a lot of students who just won't write an essay outside of English class. Some actually choose their colleges based on which ones don't require essays with the applications. Can you believe it? Lazy gits.


Select one of the following four topics:

  1. Erica Jong, in her "Introduction," in the Signet Classic edition, states:
    The universe of JANE EYRE operates according to female laws. Jane's success as a heroine depends on her breaking all the rules decreed for nineteenth-century women." (p. viii). To what extent is Jane Eyre an appropriate heroine for the feminist movement? In what ways, if any, does she fall short? Give examples from the novel to support your conclusions.

  2. In outline, the novel is a Victorian update of the Cinderella story; a non-descript young woman, poor and abused, catches the eye of a Prince Charming, powerful and wealthy. After a series of obstacles, she marries him, and they live happily ever after. Do you regard the Jane/Rochester story as a fairy tale? If so, discuss the reasons for your opinion. What elements make their love affair seem like a fantasy? Or, do you believe the love between them is realistic? If so, what accounts for their strong attachment to each other despite the differences between them?

  3. Discuss the elements of "paranormal" or supernatural experiences in the novel. Use specific examples to illustrate the way characters' dreams and visions help advance the narrative, reveal psychological complexity, build suspense and evoke sympathy for the characters? You may also discuss the ways such elements enhance (or detract from) the overall realism in the novel.

  4. Discuss the issue of social class in the novel. What overt or implied class differences exist between Jane, the governess, and her employers and her young charges? How is Jane's status different from that of other servants in the household? Use specific scenes that illustrate the social system that existed.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman's graphic novel series The Sandman (which, yes, was first a comic book), and I highly recommend Neverwhere, American Gods and Coraline, so when a friend offered to lend me Fragile Things, how could I say no?

I didn't realize that it was a short story collection, and even though I just finished another short story collection, I jumped in to this one. I even read the introduction (something I'm usually inclined to skip), which was charming and succinct--a little background about each of the included stories. If you read this, don't skip the intro.

I warmed to the stories slowly, not really getting into the book until "Bitter Grounds" on page 85 (possibly because of the story's quasi-academic scene). After that, I found the stories more readable and more likable, though they seemed to get more gruesome. Many of the first stories (and some of the later ones) were (slightly) altered retellings of favorite childhood ghost stories; those (mostly) didn't meet my expectations for something authored by Neil Gaiman.

There are a few stories for which I would recommend the book as a whole (the joy of short story collections: you can skip what you don't find yourself enjoying): "Bitter Grounds," "Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot," "Strange Little Girls," and "The Monarch of the Glen." (The last story is An American Gods novella.) But if it's between Fragile Things and one of the other Gaiman works listed in the beginning, go for the other one.

A few lines I found interesting (or funny):
  • I was beginning to wonder whether he had a right arm. Maybe the sleeve was empty. Not that it was any of my business. Nobody gets through life without losing a few things on the way.
  • There's no making her do anything. Not her. She's Mary Poppins.
  • I think the world will end in black-and-white, like an old movie.
  • We save our lives in such unlikely ways.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman

LinkI'm going to do something unusual today: I'm going to post a review of a book I read years ago, and can't get out of my head. I don't even have the book anymore. (I'm sorry I was eager to Bookcross it, though; I want it back.) So I write about it from memory--which may not be entirely accurate.

I Who Have Never Known Men
is a strange science fiction book about a girl who is abducted when she is very young, taken who-knows-where, and kept in a round caged area in a round room for years. There are others in the cage--all women at least twenty years older than the narrator. They are fed by male guards, but they have no contact with them. When the opportunity to escape comes, the women take it. Outside and free, they find that they have no idea where they are, and they wander their strange surroundings looking for other survivors of their strange situation.

It's a hard book to recommend, because it's not a happy book. At all. But it's beautiful, and I loved the language (for all that it was translated from French) and the story and the narrator. So even though it's not a book that leaves you feeling that all is right with the universe, I do recommend it. I think that you, too, will find it haunting you years later--and you will be glad you read it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Oh no! Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince release date changed!

I was just reading Blood of the Muse (no relation), which alerted me to the news that the release date for the sixth Harry Potter movie has been moved from November 21, 2008, to July 17, 2009.

That's a year of waiting!

How could they?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

One More Year by Sana Krasikov

Sana Krasikov has an impressive and complicated life sparsely laid out in just a few sentences on the back of her collection of short stories One More Year. Born in the Ukraine and raised in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and the US, I'm sure Krasikov finds many inspirations for her writing in the people of her childhood.

I expected a greater variation in her characters, but each story seemed just a little different from the last, with even the characters' names and personalities overlapping just enough that readers aren't immediately sure whether it's the same character from the story before. The world Krasikov displays is a world full of distrust, mistrust, misanthropy, and other flaws that you'd expect to get you down. Somehow, though, Krasikov buoys her stories and characters with just enough likability that you're willing to trust her to make it worthwhile, to make her gritty and painfully imperfect characters redeemable.

I can't say whether I'm disappointed that the stories all felt so similar. Each main character seemed to be a woman who has had a sense of independence thrust upon her and she struggles with whether to embrace it or not. Most of the men are unfaithful and married to women who aren't in the story. Plenty of characters seem to feel a sense of entitlement. And yet, each story is different--each is separated from the other by a change in setting, a slight alteration of voice.

All of it created a completely foreign world to me, a world I was vastly uncomfortable lingering in. And, again, I haven't sorted out whether I liked that or not, but I do agree with many other reviewers: Krasikov is very good at her craft.

Thanks to Spiegel & Grau for sending me an ARC!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

(sorry, I can't help it this time)

How can you have the last book in a vampire series end without a fight? Especially when all previous books concluded with some kind of violent, external conflict? I tolerated the first, very predictable half of the book because I figured the end would at least be the wonderful fight with the Volturi the whole series has been building up to. But in the end, the promised battle dissipates because of a Dickensian moment of great timing/coincidence (there's even a nowyouseetimmy statement about bullies being cowards), making whole book an anti-climactic disaster. I know I'm not the only reader who felt cheated.

And though these are things teenagers aren't likely to notice when they're swept up in the plot, I found them disappointing:
  • There's really no character development. They all stay pretty much the same from beginning of series to the end.
  • Again, Meyer relies heavily on dialogue to carry the plot and reveal information.
  • The whole series could have been cut in half with some revision and heavy editing--and probably would have packed more of a punch if it had been.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

a question for you: do you Twitter?

I Twitter, but most of the people I know don't, and so I watch billba (of the comic strip Unshelved) and jessicahagy (who wrote Indexed and who keeps a blog of the same name and who gets her own Powell's Book Blog) leave their comments, and while I am entertained by them (especially by how often billba posts), I would like to see others'.

I'd like to invite you to Twitter with me and we can post random moments of our days. (About an hour ago, billba posted: There is now an air conditioner in my office, if by "air conditioner" you mean "big old fan." He cracks me up.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner

I didn't know this: Spain had a queen, daughter of Isabel and Ferdinand, called Juana la Loca (sister of Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII) who never officially took the throne--she fell victim to the power-hungry men around her and was eventually locked away while her father ruled in her stead.

In The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner, she is finally given a voice in the form of historical fiction. Following in the footsteps of writing narratives of other little-known people who played important roles on the royal scene (Philippa Gregory comes to mind), Gortner creates a convincing story for this mysterious Spanish princess Juana.

Like Philippa Gregory's works, The Last Queen transported me to the setting--16th century Spain & Austria. I dreamed as though I were one of Juana's ladies. I didn't wake up feeling I should be dressed in silks or brocades or whatever the ladies wore, but instead I felt the distress and uncertainty of serving this woman who was used as a pawn all her life, often treated as a prisoner, and refused the right to her own inheritance.

Was Juana really mad? (There are indications of psychological issues in her family.) Or was she locked away as a woman getting in the way of men? Either way, this story has sparked my interest--I'll be trying to locate a biography, maybe the 1939 book on Gortner's list of references. Recommended to people who like historical fiction and/or are fascinated by stories of royalty. (The princess locked in the tower isn't a fairy tale.)

Thank you to C.W. Gortner for arranging to have me sent a review copy.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Unshelved comic strip

Just a note: The comic strip Unshelved featured The Gargoyle in July 27's Book Club.

Tick tick tick--just a few more days till The Gargoyle is released!

Twenty West: the great road across America by Mac Nelson

I would really like to be able to recommend this book. But I can't.

I requested this book to review, and graciously, SUNY Press sent me a copy. I was excited to get it--after all, I grew up not far from US Route 20, traveled it often, and in my years of teaching, 20 was the road that took me home to the sanctuary of Mom and Dad's. Plus, in the last few years, I've taken a couple of cross-country trips and know some of the great places to be found on 20 and other highways.

From reading the teaser that encouraged me to request a review copy, and from the introduction, I expected a memoir of road trips, but instead found myself reading essays about things that have happened and the strange places that are near US Route 20 (and many of them happened prior to the road becoming US Route 20).

I wish I'd found something redemptive in these essays, but I find the writing style (incongruent) and much of the content uninteresting and disconnected. Everything was tied (sometimes very loosely) to the central idea of "The Great Road"--but even the bits of the book dealing with familiar territory in Ohio caused me to be dispassionate.

Also, the writing is filled with generalizations I would expect an educated, experienced writer to avoid--like the part in which Nelson discusses a Japanese internment camp from WWII located near Route 20. Nelson worked with a man who'd spent some of his childhood in that camp and relates that shortly after his family was released, the kid-now-man's mother killed herself. The next sentence states that the colleague attends reunions, and then there's a sentence about the human spirit being indomitable. I know that sentence refers to the colleague, or maybe it's about the fact that there are such reunions, but it's inappropriate to say the human spirit is indomitable just two sentences after mentioning a suicide that clearly indicates that opposite.

The book is full of such generalizations and other flaws and faults I don't expect to find in published work. I'm sorry to have to advise: skip this one. If you're really looking for a book to read about cross country America, my husband recommends Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I think there was only one thing that bugged me in this book, and that's because I took four years of German in high school. (I wasn't particularly delighted with the integration of basic German into the characters' dialogue when the rest was in English.) I just thought I'd get that out of the way, because otherwise, I really liked this book.

Death, the narrator of The Book Thief, doesn't have much of a sense of humor. I'm not sure he saw much to be humorous about in the 1940's; as he keeps pointing out, he was pretty busy. But he loves colors and figurative language. And he loves Liesel, the book thief of Himmel Street. He doesn't seem great at suspense--he keeps telling readers what's coming five chapters ahead, but it never happens like you think it's going to happen. Well, almost never.

The book is set in Germany during World War II, but though there are Nazis, they're more on the fringe than part of the story. Death first sees Liesel as she's on her way to a foster home, but he encounters her several more times before the end of the war. (Of course people die--it's a war. And yes, if you're inclined to cry at sad movies or books, you will cry during this book.) I especially liked the formatting of the section pages:

Part 6

The Dream Catcher

death's diary--the snowman--thirteen
presents--the next book--the nightmare of
a jewish corpse--a newspaper sky--a visitor--
a schmunzeler--and a final kiss on a poisoned cheek

I also appreciate the way that moments and thoughts were highlighted within the chapters, set aside in bold text and centered:


He didn't go into battle that day.

Sometimes they let readers know what was about to happen and sometimes it's just a reflection of something that had happened. Either way, it's very effective. I suppose those are Death's asides.

Like the cover--someone about to push over set up dominoes--the book is rushing toward disaster. I think Death at one point called it "beautiful destruction" (tongue-in-cheek). Despite the perpetual threat of annihilation, the beauty of the story is Death's being drawn to this good person in the middle of the war and making a point of telling her story, which he finds impossible to forget.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Ten Summer Anti-Fluff Reading Recommendations (something for pretty much every age)

I'm not a fan of bodice-rippers, thrillers, or a lot of chick lit; I suppose I'm too much of a snob. So though I know many people like their summer reading to be entertaining, I'm posting my recommended summer reading: a list of some of my favorite books.

Deerskin by Robin McKinley: McKinley proves her ability as a storyteller for adults in this retold fairytale about a princess whose life is nothing anyone would wish for. Strong fantastical elements, wonderfully flawed characters. When asked what my favorite book is, I answer Deerskin. (I try to reread it once a year.)

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick: a short book about two middle school misfits—one a hulk, one a kid the size of a four-year-old. Seriously, how can you resist a book that starts, “I never had a brain until Freak came along. And that’s the truth. The whole truth. The unvanquished truth is how Freak would say it, and for a long time it was him who did the talking…” It’s a great book for those who like the idea of rescuing damsels, slaying dragons, and walking high above the world.*

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi: Subtitled A Memoir in Books. This is not light summer reading, but it is intensely intellectual and eye-opening. Not much emphasizes how wonderful reading is more than reading about a group of women who risked everything to meet in their professor's house to discuss forbidden books in a culture that didn’t allow women to be educated and forbade books that most of us know as classics (Lolita, The Great Gatsby, Pride & Prejudice, etc.).

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen: You can’t get more romantic or classic than Pride & Prejudice. The key to my enjoying Jane Austen’s work was realizing that they’re satirical. She made ridiculous characters in (sometimes) normal situations and used them to point out how foolish societal expectations were. I recommend the Broadview Literary Text because it includes a lot of footnotes (and appendices) to explain the satire that we, hundreds of years later, don’t realize or understand without explanation. Ignore that the picture on the cover is of a woman in the 19th century, not the 18th century and so really irrelevant to the story itself. (Silly people who picked that.)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: I know, you probably had to read this in high school. But it’s way better when you read it on your own than when it was assigned reading.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman: Okay, this is actually two recommendations in one. If you haven’t read Gaiman’s Neverwhere (not the graphic novel), read that first. You won’t like Neverwhere as much if you read American Gods first. Neverwhere is a really twisted Alice Through the Looking Glass/Wizard of Oz-style story. American Gods is a book based on this idea: the gods didn’t create life; life created the gods. I hope you’re quick to pick up on mythology, ‘cause the Norse gods are prominent characters. Truly a magnificent piece of imagination. (Decidedly adult reading. I wouldn’t like my middle schoolers reading this, though I would offer them Coraline by the same author.)

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling: I met a high school student who loved fantasy but refused to read the Harry Potter books just because they were so popular. I convinced him to give them a shot (there’s a reason they’re so popular), and I like to think he’s happy he did because the last time I saw him, he was on HP #5 (Order of the Phoenix). If you haven’t given Harry Potter a try, you’re missing out. And if you’re not absolutely tickled with the first one, at least give the second one a shot. (The first one sets up a lot of important characters and information, so it’s not quite as wonderful as the rest of the series.) These are books for almost all ages—my whole family (Mom, Dad, my two little sisters who are both in their twenties) have read the whole series.

The Big, Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater: My favorite book Mom read to us when we were kids. One day a seagull flew over Mr. Plumbean’s house (just like every other house in the usual suburban neighborhood) carrying a can of orange paint (no one knows why) and drops it on Mr. Plumbean’s roof! (No one knows why.) I don’t know if it was my favorite book at the time, but this wonderful book about nonconformity sure stuck with me. It doesn’t associate conformity with anything negative, really, but it does make nonconformity feel preferable (and more fun).

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: An beautiful and uniquely well-written book from the point of view of Melinda, a girl starting high school after what happened at a summer party causes her to be shunned by all her former friends. Friendless and almost speechless to the rest of her world, she tells her story to us as it happens to her, eventually trusting us enough to tell us what happened the summer before. Melinda is at once heartbreaking, strong and funny. I can't recommend this book highly enough, especially to teachers, middle and high school students, and their mothers. I wore out my personal paperback copy of this book and the one that was part of my classroom library was always status: borrowed (but amazingly, never stolen).

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes: Having seen the movie Under the Tuscan Sun is no excuse not to read the book; the movie and the book have almost nothing in common except a few character names and the setting, so you can love them independently of each other. Besides making you crave Italian food the whole time you're reading, Under the Tuscan Sun is a good book for getting motivated to do house renovations. There is one setback (if you’re restricted by budgets) to reading Mayes’s work: in the end, you’ll want to schedule a vacation Tuscany.