Monday, July 29, 2013

A Medicine For Melancholy

A medicine for melancholy, an excellent theme for a book and a magical short story as well.  This collection is stunning because of the emotions it evokes.  One moment you are transformed by awe, romance, or beauty and the next moment/story you are jolted out of complacency by a story that impacts you to your very soul.  Amongst the beauty and the romance is cruelty, ignorance, and evil,  it’s a very potent cocktail, that needs to be drunk off fast, and then slowly digested, savouring all of the effects each flavour evokes (corny I know, but you can excuse me can’t you?  I have been reading Ray Bradbury after all!). 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Verily, A New Hope...

Okay, I will admit it.  I am a hopeless fan of the fiction sections of Quirk Publishing.  So when they come out with something as crazy as this, I am a sucker for it and will grab it off the shelf with an ‘Ooh’ of appreciation and a twinkle in my eye.  I never suspected this of myself, it was a surprise to me when I first spotted Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in the book store, and I admit that I did resist for a while, until Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters showed up under my Christmas tree, and that was it, I was hooked.
So this new book is not only something different again from the usual but has the usual quirky spin to it.  The inclusion of certain familiar dialogues had me falling out of my chair with laughter, because it was so unexpectedly surprising.  I have always enjoyed the use of those lines and passages that are so familiar to me in an interesting and often funny way, I don’t view this as disrespect of the original work but as a loving homage to what has come before, and also an opportunity to introduce such old works to a new audience, because after all, why would someone want to stop at just the one thing when there is so much more out there to enjoy?
I love the asides, so beloved of the original Shakespeare, and used to maximum comedic effect here.
So if you love Star Wars and Shakespeare this is a lot of fun, and if you are a high school English teacher I heartily encourage you to get the gratis study guide online at  your students will love it!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Kid Lit #2

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher.

The story begins in a most intriguing way…“My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece.  Well, some of her does”.  It is quite the hook.  I just had to know what went on from there, and, as you can tell from the first two sentences it was mostly bad.  This is not a feel good story.  I have to say that by the end of chapter nine I was ready to put the book down because it just hurt too much.  I take issue with some solutions found to deal with serious problems for the main protagonist and his friend, and I am concerned with the impression they leave.  I wouldn’t want someone to think that this is the way to behave, especially after working so hard to promote the message of tolerance.
2. A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle.

After the raw emotions of the last book,  reading A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle was like a soothing balm.  Before I even read the first page I was already feeling better.  The book is beautiful inside and out. I have always thought it is great when the book is physically lovely, the illustrations, and the paper had a warp and weft to it that was just nice to the touch.  It adds to the over-all experience, and makes you think that you have treasure in your hands
The subject matter was beautiful as well.  I loved how these four generations of women interacted together, I loved their language (Irish vernacular),  their sense of humour (also very Irish), and how it was all so soft and gentle.  After I was done I wanted to rush out and buy whatever else Doyle has written, because I was so moved by this wonderful book.
 3. Skinny by Donna Cooner.

I have to admit that I did not want to read this book.  It is obviously an ‘issue book’ and I am not too keen about this particular issue, self image.  Eventually though, after the initial angst and misery, I was interested in Ever’s story.
I guess my biggest fear with books like these is the way that the issue is resolved.  I am always worried that the means to the end are not the healthiest, and will perhaps be the popular, idealized norm… overweight girl is miserable, loses weight , gets a makeover, is now the most popular girl in school and trips off into the sunset with the football captain, tra la shallow la.   I am very happy to report that this doesn’t happen in this book (the idealized norm part!  What… did you think I would give you spoilers?).   This is a really good book!  One, I think, that should be in high school libraries, not just because of the issues, but because the author shows that everyone has feelings and has their own problems, and that there are more important things in life than being like everyone else.   The author did this very well, and in a way that I think a teenage girl would be able to understand and empathise.

  4. Infinity Ring: The Trap Door by Lisa McMann

Since it is the third book in a series the story didn’t make too much sense up front, but since you are dumped right into the story it keeps you distracted from the fact that you don’t really know what is going on.  There are little pieces of information through out the book so you get a bit of back story, while you are zipping along each page (it’s fast paced and full of stress so you want to rip on through), there’s a little history, some science fiction, and some references to things that kids might want to look up if they are interested, plus I believe there is a website and online games, so there is lots to keep a kid interested.
5. The Candy Shop War: Arcade Catastrophe by Brett Hull

This book puts me in mind of a saga, in it’s breadth and scope.  It’s a lot to begin with, especially if you don’t have the background from the first book to carry you forward, but fortunately  Hull catches you up throughout the book, so you understand what is going on, and above all makes you want to reads the first one just so you don’t miss anything.  There is a lot more to think about in this story, and there are messages here that aren’t obvious, it’s the thinking kids story, packed full of action and deeds and a little magic, perfect for a saga length tale.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Sing the Body Electric

In true Bradbury style an homage is paid to Papa Hemingway in The Kilimanjaro Device.  A birthing procedure gone wrong, delivering up a baby from another dimension in Tomorrows Child?  A bizarre fight for a man in The Women. An artistic chicken in the Inspired Chicken Hotel, and what every assassin and attention seeker needs in Downwind From Gettysburg.
Yes, We’ll Gather at the River is a testament to change, and a lyrical Irish tale written to amaze and astonish (what on earth did I just read?) in The Cold Wind and the Warm.  Self-aware telephones in Night Call, Collect (Ray had an uncanny sense of how things would be in the future).
I Sing the Body Electric, a story so impassioned and bittersweet.  Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby’s is a Friend of Mine is a very special homage to the great Charles Dickens and to the love of writing.  Heavy Set is just downright creepy (how did he do it?  I imagine him chuckling with impish glee whenever he wrote such stuff).  And in Henry the Ninth an unwillingness to let go of what is most important.
It’s a collection of stories about love, the many ways we love, the many things we love and in true Bradbury fashion, some alternatives to love.  It’s beautiful, it’s magic, it’s pure Ray Bradbury at his most loving.

A Sound of Thunder & Other Stories

This is a wonderful selection of Bradbury’s greatest short stories.  If you ever wanted to just buy the one book (though I personally would not be able to stop at just one book!) this would be a good contender because it has a broad spectrum of his many years of storytelling, covering his many periods or phases of literature.
While I began with The Martian Chronicles, and progressed from there to the rest of his space themed collections…and everything else he has ever written, this book would be a really good introduction for the novice Bradbury reader.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pushing the Edge: Irregular Non Fiction

I have been trying to extend myself by reading non fiction, and also reading non fiction that I would ordinarily avoid.

Naked Pictures of Famous People by Jon Stewart

I will say right off that this book annoyed me.  I found it to be for the most part really petty and immature.  What I can tolerate in small amounts every now and again with my husband (The Daily Show), I have discovered is my limit.  I like Jon Stewart.  I like how he pokes holes in so many of today’s crazy things happening in the States, and how he stands up for what he believes in.  He’s 'good folks'.  I just couldn't  handle such a concentrated dose of his comedy.

The Book of Useless Information by Noel Botham

I gained something from reading this, I just can’t tell you what it is because as soon as I had read it, my brain automatically erased it from my memory.

 Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

This one I picked up because I had seen him on the Daily Show and thought he was pretty funny.  I think maybe that this kind of book really doesn’t do anything for me.  Either I get annoyed, or frustrated, and I do not benefit from the experience (Bossypants anyone?), or it is a learning experience for me.  This wasn’t it.  I was curious what he had to say about Australia, but I’m not sure what he actually said… I’m not sure what points he made about anything.  It was an interesting read, the parts about his father where hilarious.  I just don’t know what he meant over-all to say.

So I think that I have discovered that non fiction by comedians is not my kind of reading.  I suspected this last year after reading Bossypants, but now I know it for certain. 

Beautiful Books for Kids

1. Beyond The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Nixie’s Song, A Giant Problem and The Wyrm King by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
These books were such a pleasure to read.  I have always found that whatever book I come across by Tony DiTerlizzi it is always a beautiful book.  Not only are they physically beautiful, with an unusual size, heavily embossed and illustrated hard covers,  but the illustrations inside are of a class of their own, making an already wonderful story into an amazing piece of art.  If you’ve read The Spiderwick Chronicles (another stunningly beautiful collection by this super duo), you will want to follow up with this trilogy as well.
2. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.
This year’s Newbery Award winner, The One and Only Ivan is a wonderful, beautiful example of animal compassion.  While it tip-toed around the animal rights issues (because, after all, it is a book for kids, so we don’t really want to upset them with the full extent of  how cruelly circus and performing animals can be treated), it wasn’t completely ignored but dealt with in a plausible manner showing the plight of imprisoned animals without dwelling on the suffering, and showing how positive change can be affected. 
I especially liked how animal feelings were portrayed and I would love it if all kids could read this book, because I want them to consider animal rights and emotions, instead of just assuming that it’s okay because their parents don’t protest or take issue about this subject.

3. The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow.
What a lovely  book!  Friendship has always been one of those popular topics in a girl’s book, and this one is full of  great things that will have girls thinking about socialisation, getting crafty, finding out more about themselves, and last but not least discovering the ever important value of friendship.  I loved the illustrations, and it had me wanting to get up and either start knitting something or writing something in my own journal.  I wish all girls could be like these ones, full of energy, enthusiasm, talent and understanding about their own worth.  It’s not mentioned but, you can plainly see the conclusions both girls came to at the end of their project, and it would be great if young girls reading this would benefit from that wisdom (and get crafty too!).

Frozen Assets

The ethereal post-rock music of Sigur Ros accompanied me while I was reading this Scandinavian mystery.  It is also thanks the above-mentioned band that I have a great idea of how Iceland looks, the land, the people and even the food. I watched a documentary Heimas the band made about a home tour they did which was free and open to everyone to come and listen.  It made me realise that Iceland got all of the good parts… it is so incredibly beautiful!  I wanted to plan my next overseas trip there just so (even though I would probably freeze my butt off and starve) I could experience for myself this awe-inspiring country.  With all of the countries that I have visited this year in my Scandinavian mystery challenge, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway, I have had no idea what each country has looked like, so it was really nice to know for a change.

There is a setback, however.  An Englishman wrote the story, and I noticed some English mannerisms and slang (maybe they have been adopted?).  So it’s not the complete Icelandic experience. Good story though.  Lots of suspense, and I loved the Icelandic names. I learned a thing or two and shuddered a time or two (“would you like some fat on that? prawn sandwich anyone? “… a vegan nightmare). 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Once a year, usually during winter break, this movie would be shown on television.  Not being familiar with the earlier Doctor Who’s I did not realise that the actor playing the doctor, Peter Cushing, wasn’t in fact the original doctor.  For some strange reason someone wanted to make two Doctor Who movies based on two story arcs from the television series.  Not that I am complaining… I loved those movies, I actually own them now and look forward to watching them every year or so as a winter treat.

Reading the book, was illuminating, and then watching the original television broadcast, was wonderful.  There was, of course, some slight changes from the movies, which is alright, I like them all on their own merits.  It was a great story no matter how it was told.  The Doctor’s words to Susan at the end of the television show indicate the man he gradually evolved to be in later stories.  There is a fundamental theme about the Doctor which has made him into a folk hero, and that is his curiosity and wonder at new places and new species, which, no matter how strange they looked, he would see them as beautiful.  It was an important lesson to be taught, to young and old people alike, the respect and acceptance of those that are different to you.  The books make this first doctor look so much better than he really is on the television show (a cranky old goat), but he really did shine this time.

The Phantom of Pemberley

Okay, I found this story a bit too difficult to believe.  There were too many liberties taken, and some things I felt were ridiculous.  I have always had faith in my hero and heroine’s intelligence and there are just some things that would be impossible for them not to know.
That aside, I still enjoyed the book.  I am always curious to see what someone will come up with for a Pride and Prejudice fiction, and I am not always disappointed.  

I Still Dream About You

I am struggling to describe the feeling that a Fannie Flagg book always gives me.  She is one of my ‘must-buys’.    Which means that whenever something of hers comes out I must buy it! 
On  the back of I Still Dream About You one reviewer says that the story is heart filling, and I would have to agree with that.  Maybe I will never be able to express how much these books mean to me, but heart-filling is extremely apt.  My heart is always full afterwards,  full of joy and the beauty of life however it presents itself.   It is the best kind of therapy for someone who has been having it rough for a while, is worn down and questions the purpose of it all.  Heart filling.  Perhaps I should make it a habit of picking up a Fannie Flagg book at least once a year, just so I can get myself centered again, and remember what is really most important  about life. 

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

Everything Life places in your path is an opportunity.
No matter how difficult.
No matter how upsetting.
No matter how impenetrable.
No matter how you judge it.
An opportunity.

An impressive quote, right off the bat at the very beginning of this awesome story.  I have been for a very long time a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, and this book was very reminiscent of that kind of story.  I loved this book from start to finish.  Lots of action, lots of familiarity ( I know this period of history quite well so it was comfortable), lots of crazy steam punk gadgets, and hilarious genetic creations (insulting parrots anyone?).  Are you missing some Sherlock Holmes type of action?   Wish you could revisit Victorian England but with a twist?   If you want to really depart from the here and now, take a vacation from what you know,  this is a great world to go and visit, today.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Speed of Dark

When you are a kid you believe everything that an adult tells you.  What happens from there on in can go two different ways.  Either you can believe it as the truth for the rest of your life, or you will see it as a lie and act accordingly.  That’s a pretty simplistic approach, I could wax poetic about the many different kinds of lies and how, when we acquire wisdom as we grow up, we learn to interpret them and realise our own truths.  I have spent a great deal of my adult life re-interpreting my past and finding new truths every year (every day!) with the changing of my own perspective.
But what if you didn’t question what you were told?  What if you lived your life with blinders on believing that what was said to you was absolute and that  there was no alternate paths to take?  I shudder to think what my life would have been like now if I had listened and followed faithfully what my own adults told me.
That is what is at the heart of this wonderful book.  Beliefs and the ability to change them when they no longer make sense.
When I first started reading this book I was a little worried that it would be like Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, the theme is similar after all.  The journey the protagonist goes through was fascinating
I loved Lou,  and, admittedly I was picturing Benedict Cumberbatch when I was reading it.  I have found this year that reading about the process a person goes through, mentally, the struggles to understand adversity, and the natural conclusions each character made to reach their own ultimate goal, engaged my interest and had me riveted to my reading chair, eager to see what the results where in each epiphany.  I loved this story and will be looking for more by Elizabeth Moon.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Notes From a Small Island

A non fiction category book, I might not have read this except that it is on the 1001 Books You Should Read Before You Die list, so I had to give it a go.  I could tell from the start how it would be, and for the most part (I didn’t like it when he slagged one of my favourite authors George Orwell), I liked what I had read, even found some parts quite funny.  I will, at some point re-read it because I have my own tour of the UK to plan in the near future, though I’m not sure I will do it the way he did (ever since I read Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis I have wanted to do a walking tour of some parts of England hopefully with a literary theme if they have such things…).  Also, unlike Mr. Bryson, I will not take him at his word when I go to see for myself some of the places he went to and described in his book, because I realise that truth is in the eye of the beholder, and since we are all different, I don’t think that other opinions, should sway me from my own impressions and perceptions. And I certainly would not get mad at him if my conclusions differed from his own!

A Reading Diary

I enjoyed reading this!  You know that you have it bad when you start reading books about people who read books. I will defend myself though by saying that by reading such books I am put on to books that I may not have looked at or heard of any other way.   I treasure these pointers that take me in an important direction. Important because of what I gain from each book that I read.  The selection was eclectic, and I have read about half of Manguel’s choices, I look forward to looking at the others and then coming back again to his book to re-read what he said about them.

Rite of Passage

Yet another of those post-Earth books with a different vision of how we (Earthlings that is…) all manage to survive the apocalypse… except this time there is no Earth (it has been destroyed in an unexplained manner).  Again we have survivors, somewhere in the not too distant future, who have evolved into their own separate cultures, one of the ship people and the other of the Colons (people who made it planet side).  The division is thus, and the protagonist lives on one of these ships, which is a world in an asteroid, a floating, cruising world, that goes between colonised planets, trading knowledge and science for material goods.  It all sounds good, though perhaps a little unfair for those planet side who no longer have the technology of the ships, and we are shown, through Mia (our strong female protagonist), the changing of perceptions, and the evolutionary changes of a people who, despite their advantages in technology, have lost some things  in their place, like art, music and literature.  Rite of Passage was very well written, riveting in fact, and some points were made that I thought were very interesting and applicable today.  Well worthy of it’s Nebula.

A Little Bit Janeish...

I have to admit that as far as these novels go, I have been disappointed  with Grange’s diaries because I don’t see much more than what is really already there in Jane Austen’s books. The biggest allure of reading such novels is getting something more, something ’tasty’ from the other side, some tidbits that make us love our romantic heroes even more than we already do, something...that we don't know already.  That doesn’t happen in these books (I have read two other diaries).  What did happen out of the ordinary in this book is a prelude, which is a nice change from what I have already read by Amanda Grange.  This prelude really was written very well, and for that alone I would recommend this book to fans of Jane Austen's Persuasion. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Importance of Being Earnest

What I thought meant one thing all of this time, the importance of being earnest, sincere, eager? actually a play (tee hee) on words.  Because it is all about being called Earnest.  An enjoyable half hour spent in my reading chair.  I have always loved reading plays because so much more is left up to your imagination.  Now I need to see if I can get my hands on the movie with Colin Firth!

Logan's Run

Hoo boy was I pleased to find that this was a novel!  I loved the movie and even, as a kid, played some sort of chasing game with the Logan's run theme (I think my character name was Cassiopea 12 or something really glamorous like Geraldine 5).  All very silly of course, and sobering as well because this is a pretty scary dystopian story.  At the time there were lots of them along that kind of theme.  I'm talking about the television show of course, since the movie would not have been suitable for television at the time.  I got to see the movie a few years ago on Turner Classic Movies, and was pretty excited about that.  But not as excited as finding the book!  I have rarely ever found a movie or television show that was actually better than it's book, and Logan's Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson did not disappoint.  I didn't want to put it down and when I had to, very quickly picked it up again as soon as I was home from work.  I have to admit that I found certain things in the movie that did not make sense, like the murder of people who were at the limit of their life span in a carrousel (like the Roman circus) for the poplace to watch as entertainment, it seemed unnecessarily cruel to me to do that, considering that everything else seemed so technologically advanced., so why the barbarism?  Well guess what?  It's not in the book!  Just good old Hollywood or whoever filmed the movie trying to "improve" on what the authors wrote.  It has mostly been my experience that these kind of changes rarely improve anything. 
So take it from me...just go and read the book! 


Situated in Norway, this Scandinavian mystery was not as grisly as some of the others I have read this year.  What it did do instead wass keep me guessing, almost until the end, which was great.  Horst managed to surpise me twice by his twists and the final conclusion as well as also making it seem that the police detective protagonist was older than he actually was.    I will be looking for more from this author and hopefully more of this storyline.

The White Tiger

DH bought this for me one Christmas, and the first time I tried to read it I had to put it down after a while because I absolutely loathed what was happening to the protagonist. 
Four years later I looked at it again, surprised to see how far I actually had got (about half way) before I turned away.  So I was a little anxious about having to re-read so much especially when I might be overcome again with that intense feeling of anger that repulsed me the first time. 
Distance and time, I guess, heals all wounds, so that this time I was able to read the first part with equanimity.  I felt a deep sadness about the fact that what Adiga had written was probably pretty close to the mark of what conditions actually are like in rural India. 
I’d like to believe that I have more insight now into a part of Indian culture, but not the whole.  I have read too many other influences to believe that this is all India can be or is.    Paramahansa Yogananda and Mohandas Gandhi at the least tell me something else.  Despite knowing this, the book depressed me anyway because it was such a faithful description of the ugliness in all of us (though there is more ugliness in some than others).