Reading Challenges

Library Challenge
2015

Canadian Books 8
July - June 2015



 



November in Review: 11/30/09

November I continued with my randomized approach to reading and reviewing. Interestingly this month that process put the focus on my personal collection and books from the library. I did however post my thoughts on ten books sent for review.

Rating out of 5 stars (as posted on GoodReads)

Five Stars

  1. Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis library book
  2. The Blues of Flats Brown by Walter Dean Myers library book
  3. Enemies and Allies by Kevin J. Anderson review copy
  4. I Spy Christmas by Jean Marzollo personal collection
  5. Immortality Inc. by Robert Sheckley personal collection
  6. Monsters! Draw Your Own Mutants, Freaks & Creeps by Jay Stephens personal collection
  7. Right to Remain Silent by Penny Warner personal collection
  8. The Shining by Stephen King personal collection
  9. That's Not My Dinosaur by Fionna Watt personal collection
  10. Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll personal collection
  11. You Suck by Christopher Moore personal collection
  12. Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin library book

Four Stars

  1. All Meat Looks Like South America by Bruce McCall personal collection
  2. The Bungalow Mystery (Nancy Drew #3) by Carolyn Keene libary book
  3. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron personal collection
  4. Duck in a Truck by Jez Alborough personal collection
  5. Frozen Tears by Mary Ann MacAfee review copy
  6. If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss personal collection
  7. Read Me edited by Gaby Morgan bookcrossing
  8. Son of the Great River by Elijah Meeks review copy
  9. The Sun by Ralph Winrich library book
  10. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust personal collection
  11. What the Hell is a Groom and What's He Supposed to Do? by John Mitchell personal collection

Three Stars

  1. The Black Island by Georges Remi Hergé library book
  2. The Cave by Steve McGill review copy
  3. Chicka Chicka 123 by Bill Martin Jr. and Lois Ehlert library book
  4. Haven Stones: The Last Unicorn by Richard Carbajal review copy
  5. Humanism for Parents — Parenting without Religion by Sean Curley review copy
  6. Hurricane by Arnaldo Ricciulli review copy
  7. Mars: The Red Planet by Isaac Asimov personal collection
  8. Perseverance: True Voices of Cancer Survivors by Carolyn Rubenstein
  9. Resonance by A. J. Scudiere review copy

Two Stars

  1. North from Calcutta by Duane Evans review copy
  2. Wolf Willow by Wallace Stegner library book

One Star

  1. A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold library book
  2. Sahwira: An African Friendship by Carolyn Marsden
Books by Genre Source

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Humanism for Parents (Link goes to Amazon)Humanism for Parents: 11/30/09

Humanism for Parents by Sean Curley begins with the premise that parenting is hard and even more so for parents who chose not to teach religion to their children. This 87 page primer strives to bridge the gap for struggling parents.

The book begins with a definition and overview of humanism (reason, logic and scientific method instead of religious dogma) and goes on to cover: a non religious basis for morality, tenets of good parenting, spirituality, mitigating religious conflict, humanism for kids and teens and contemporary issues.

For a book that begins with "parenting is hard" and then promises to show how to make the process easier, I expected the "good parenting" section to be longer than six pages. In those six pages there's a anecdote from the author about his depression era father and how his version of good parenting involved providing money for the family and not beating the kids. Ultimately Curley renders down the "hard" aspects of parenting to two rules: teach children how the world works and set limits. So there you go; I guess all the other parenting books are now obsolete!
For a book about humanism, I think there's way too much time spent on spirituality and religion. Twenty-three pages out of 87 are devoted to rites and rituals but not in any organized or well documented fashion. This section seems to assume that humanists / atheists are completely lacking in any understanding on religious practices since they don't practice them at home. I have a better and more thorough source of information on comparative religion by way of the internet and my local libraries.

So while there's probably a need for parenting books that embrace humanism or at least aren't steeped in religion, I think Humanism for Parents falls short. The book's heart is in the right place but it doesn't hit the mark.

I received the book for review and have since released it through BookCrossing.

Other posts and reviews:

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The Black Island (Link goes to Amazon)The Black Island: 11/29/09

The Black Island by Georges Remi Hergé is the seventh Tintin adventure. Like The Land of Black Gold, this adventure has been updated a number of times so it's difficult to know which version exactly one has read.

An emergency landing of a small aircraft with no registration catches Tintin's attention. He quickly finds himself being shot at and then being framed for a crime. Meanwhile, a similar unregistered plane has crash landed on the Black Island in Scotland. Tintin knows he has to get their to solve the crime and clear his name.

From what I've read in posts at Tintinologist and Hergé's Tintin, Hergé's artwork for this story evolved from black and white (the 1937 serial version) to muted colors (1943) to being fully redrawn and recolorized for the 1966 English translation. The British publisher didn't think Hergé had done a very good job depicting Britain. Until 2008 the British reissue was the one English readers would have seen and read. Then a retranslated version with the 1943 artwork was published.

As it happens, I read the 2008 (1943) English translation, meaning I saw European cars driving around the British landscapes. Not being British and knowing full well that Tintin is Belgian, I didn't mind the artistic gaffs. The book feels like a late 1930s / early 1940s comic and has a goofy retro appeal to it.

Other posts and reviews:

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Nanowrimo Winner BadgeNanowrimo 2009: 11/28/09

I just got the purple winner's bar for my word count at Nanowrimo. It's my fifth year and my fifth win. It was also one of my most difficult years, one I considered quitting a few times.

The first time I heard about Nanowrimo was in 2003, right after I had been laid off from Oracle. I was in a near panic at the time about having lost our benefits (along with the job) with my husband going back to graduate school for the ultimate goal of a PhD in mathematics (which he earned this May).

Come November 2004, I had been gainfully employed since January and I decided to give Nanowrimo a try. I won that year and have every year since. Some years have been easier than others.

Moonwalking: My first win was an urban paranormal mystery set in the Bay Area called Moonwalking. An out of work dot-com programmer has given up the tech industry to become a professional dog walker to match his cynicism. The dog walker meets and falls in love with an inn keeper from Half Moon Bay. There's just one problem: she's a werewolf with Russian mob ties. She might be tied to the disappearances of some prominent scientists.

Devil to Pay: Devil to Pay is one of my favorite Nanowrimo projects. It is the prequel to two other novels I'm working on (for fun) set on Planet Albion. Well meaning people in positions of power make a series of decisions that by themselves would be harmless but together cascade into an interspecies war and a political upheaval that will take decades to unravel. It was a chance for me to get into the minds of minor characters to see how they think, feel and react.

(Read it online)

The Big Toe of God: Archeologists find evidence of a UFO crash site thousands of years old. Could aliens from space have influenced the rise of mankind from simple upright ape to the creature he is today?

This book was fun but a challenge because I wanted the aliens to have spoken something similar to sanskrit. That meant I had to set the crash site near where the language and culture developed. This meant lots and lots of on the fly research as I was struggling to keep up my word count.

Tangent: An army vet just back from the war returns to his job as a surveyor. Two apparently unrelated land disputes help him and his crew realize that their world isn't what they think it is. Can they uncover the truth?

Secant: I had so many ideas at the end of November that I decided to write the sequel to explore the hidden world below the surface. I also exposed the lies behind the war and helped Sam Wilder, the surveyor see how their world was part of something much larger. I wouldn't be surprised if I revisit Sam's world in a future Nanowrimo.

Censorious Born: Alexander Selkirk leaves home for a life on the sea. He's stranded on an island with a kenam and together they build a life together. When they are finally able to leave the island Alex finds his life forever changed.

This year's Nanowrimo is set back on Planet Albion but in the future from any of my previous projects. From Precursor, it's about 125 years in the future. This timeline provided an interesting challenge, forcing me to think what the children (and grandchildren and great-grandchildren) are doing now. How has the political landscape changed? Is it better or worse? Or just different?

I loosely based the book on Robinson Crusoe (hence my main character's name). There are two books to Robinson Crusoe: the one on the island and a follow up book written a few years later where Crusoe tries to return to the island. For the first book (the well known story) I followed the book's pacing fairly closely while folding into my world and my characters. For the second book, I only kept the chapter titles and let my imagination run more freely.

This year I struggled mostly because I was distracted by the stress of being unemployed again. I felt like I needed to put my efforts into looking for work, not writing. I suppose I could have just blown off a couple of days of sending out resumes to write ten thousand words a day but I didn't. In fact I ran a deficit for the first two weeks of the month!

For 2010 I'm sure I'll be back to write again for Nanowrimo. I have no idea yet what story I will write or where it will be set.

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Swann's Way (Link goes to Amazon)Swann's Way: 11/28/09

When I finished my weekly posts of my reading of Ulysses I asked on Twitter which book I should do next. The answer was a resounding In Search of Lost Times by  Marcel Proust. It seemed to me like the perfect choice. It took me 19 weeks to finish the first volume, Swann's Way.

In Search of Lost Times is like Don Quixote, written and published over a number of years and revised and translated. In the case of Don Quixote the book is manageable with onionskin paper to be squeezed into one thick volume (even with all the illustrations). Not Proust's work though. It's massive. It makes The Lord of the Rings look like a short story. The Modern Library edition that I'm reading offers the seven volumes in six. As there are seven distinct titles, I will treat Proust's oeuvre as seven separate books instead of one massive novel. I'm not doing this for scholarly reasons, just convenience.

In Swann's Way there are two stories. There's the one of a young boy growing up among important and well known adults, aristocrats, artists and other celebrities. As a young child he is in awe of the adults around him. When the book closes and he has grown into young adulthood he sees his heroes with a better understanding of human nature. The person who brings about the end of his hero worship is Charles Swann.

Most of this six hundred page volume is centered on Charles Swann and his courtship with Odette. She though isn't the idealized vision of beauty and sophistication he thinks she is. She is his equal in temperament, vanity and vices. She is best and worst thing that could possibly happen to Swann.

I have a brand new copy of Within a Budding Grove which I am now working my way through. I suspect it will be another five months to finish this volume.

Swann's Way posts:

Lisa's First Word, Baby Mine, I Sing the Body Electric, The Lady in Pink, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Caturday, Cherry Blossoms, Marge Simpson, Liana Telfer, Bender in Love, Margaret Dumont, Hyacinth Bucket, Rose, Mildred Krebs, Pepé Le Pew, Jack Harness, Cordelia Chase, Saffron, Thomas O'Malley.

Within a Budding Grove posts:

Nanowrimo, Cheers, Robert Langdon, Kif and Amy, Dead Weight, Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Paris is a Lonely Town, And Then There's Maude, A Cafe Terrace at Night, North by Northwest, Top Hat, Chez Deetz, Ah, My Goddess!, David, Auntie Mame, Brunhilde Esterhazy, Gusteau's, Shell Beach.

Other posts and reviews:

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Chicka Chicka 123 (Link goes to Amazon)Chicka Chicka 123: 11/27/09

Chicka, Chicka 1, 2, 3 by Bill Martin Jr. is the follow up to Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom, a book I haven't read but Harriet has. This book is as the title suggests, a counting book. The numbers 1 to 100 are represented with most of the emphasis being on the numbers 1 to 20.

For reasons unknown to me, the numbers decide to climb into an apple tree. Some climb just for the fun of climbing and some are after the apples. The zero, wants in on the fun but can't figure out how to participate.

The numbers are thwarted at the end by bees, thus bringing the number counting to a reverse. There's a trick though, the ten doesn't come down. Is he stuck? Is he immune to bees? The 10's disappearance is the zeros chance to come to rescue.

It's a cute book with predictable rhymes. What I like most about it are Lois Ehlert's bright illustrations. She also wrote and illustrated Eating the Alphabet.

Other posts and reviews:

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The Sun (Link goes to Amazon)The Sun: 11/26/09

I'm grateful that my local library cares enough to have current science text books especially in the children's section. Never the less I feel a little sad and nostalgic over the once ninth planet, Pluto.

The Sun by Ralph Winrich was published right around the time that Pluto's fate was in the balance. Eris was spotted in January 2005 and shortly after a number of other small orbiting objects. Pluto being smaller than Eris meant either the solar system had to grow by potentially dozens of new plants or shrink by one. The experts decided to shrink the solar system by one and define a new class of object, the "dwarf planet".

In The Sun then, the solar system has eight planets. For Sean and Harriet it's normal for the solar system to have eight planets and a bunch of dwarf planets. I am still adjusting to the newly adjusted list. I agree that science should adapt as we learn new things but the sentimental side of me thinks Pluto should have been grandfathered in.

The book is part of astronomy books (First Facts Solar System) aimed at children ages 4 to 8. For the younger ones it has lots of wonderful photographs and is an easy to read aloud book. For the ones who can read there is enough variety in the language to teach to increase language skills while teaching science.

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Right to Remain Silent (Link goes to Amazon)Right to Remain Silent: 11/25/09

Last summer I bought as many of the Connor Westfall mysteries as I could find having read and enjoyed Blind Side and Silence is Golden. As part of my goal to read for fun, I pulled the first of my stash of the mysteries by Penny Warner that I could find. The one I picked was Right to Remain Silent.

Right to Remain Silent is the third book in the series and comes two books before Blind Side. Fortunately Connor is a rather talkative protagonist so she fills in the details. The mysteries themselves are self contained, focusing on one piece of Flat Skunk's history or culture. I find the timeline easy enough to pick up even with reading the books out of order.

This book opens with Sparkle Bodie waking up during an autopsy, scaring the small town medical examiner half to death. Before she can explain what had happened, Sparkle is murdered. Connor suspects the Bodie fortune might be the reason behind her death.

To complicate things further, the lead suspect isn't mentally handicapped as everyone in the town believes; he's deaf and uneducated. He has lived such a sheltered life he hasn't had a chance to learn how to read, write or sign. Connor's given the difficult task of communicating with him to see what he knows.

Connor Westfall and her asides about deaf culture, ASL, and the gadgetry that makes living in the hearing world easier is a big part of why I adore these series. She's like a happy version of Kinsey Millhone. I'm guessing that she had a better childhood too. It's refreshing to have a well adjusted lead for a cozy mystery series.

The second thing I adore about the series is the mystery itself. The murders start early in the book but the solution to the crime is obfuscated with red herrings and town gossip while still giving the feeling that the plot is moving along.

Finally there is Flat Skunk. It's like every old town California. Anyone familiar with California history will recognize the bits and pieces that make up Flat Skunk. Sure, the town morphs a little between stories to fit the needs of the current mystery but I don't mind. It's a completely fictional town set no where specific except that it's in the Sierra Nevadas and in and old gold mining town. It's one of the rare gold mining towns to have survived the end of the gold rush.

For Right to Remain Silent Flat Skunk draws on the mining history (minus the tragic fires of 1892 and 1932) of Bodie California. Bodie (named for W. S. Bodey) was founded shortly after Bodey and "Little Black" Taylor discover gold. The first recorded use of the misspelled town name is October 15, 1862. By the second fire in 1932 though and the Depression, the remaining inhabitants abandoned the city ruins. The dry air has preserved the town and everything in it. The town is now a state park. Mixed in with landmarks from Bodie, are some spots from Old Town Sacramento but that's the charm of Flat Skunk, California!

The series:

  • Dead Body Language (1997)
  • Sign of Foul Play (1998)
  • Right to Remain Silent (1999)
  • A Quiet Undertaking (2000)
  • Blind Side (2001)
  • Silence is Golden (2003)
    Dead Man's Hand (2007)

Other posts and reviews:

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Immortality Inc. (Link goes to Amazon)Immortality Inc.: 11/24/09

Immortality Inc. is the story of a man suddenly in a future New York (2110). He had felt himself die in a head-on car crash back in 1958 and now he's in a new body with nary a scar on himself. His new body though will be harvested again for an aging wealthy businessman. Oh yeah, and there's a zombie after him.

The novel is actually very funny and the future New York and future earth seems plausible. At just under 200 pages, it's a quick read.

Immortality Inc. unfortunately is forever tied to the very cheesy film Freejack starring Emilio Estevez. The film does have some points of similarity with the novel. It has the body harvesting aspect and the time travel aspect. It has the memory bank for the dearly departed. Everything else in the film has nothing in common with Sheckley's novel.

I see another (and much better) adaptation giving to a nod or two to Immortality Inc., namely, Futurama and it's vision of New New York. Here are points of similarities:

Immortality Inc.

Freejack

Futurama

New York

New York

New New York

Man from the past

Man from the past

Man from the past

Sewer Zombies

?

Sewer Mutants / Zombie Jesus

MC can't get a job (at first)

?

Fry can only be a delivery boy

Chinese ranchers on Mars

?

Amy's parents own most of Mars

Extra-terrestrials living on Earth

N/A

Extra-terrestrials living on Earth

Rude Zombie friend

N/A

Bender

So I recommend fans of Futurama and aficionados of pulp science fiction read Immortality Inc.

Other posts and reviews:

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Haven StonesHaven Stones: The Last Unicorn: 11/23/09

Haven Stones: The Last Unicorn by Richard Carbajal is a YA fantasy set in a magical version of Las Vegas Nevada. Gilbert Foster, the young protagonist is running for his life. His parents are missing and his sister has been murdered. He doesn't know why and he doesn't know who he can trust.

Fate, magic and perhaps good luck brings Gilbert to Dumpster who shows the boy into the magical world that resides in parallel with the normal world. He is like Door in Neverwhere who shows Richard Mayhew London Below.

In fact much of Haven Stones feels like Neverwhere but set in the desert heat of Las Vegas if it were mixed with The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. There's also a bit of Harry Potter in how magic is treated.

The setting and Carbajal's unique approach to magic are the strongest parts of Haven Stones. Carbajal lives in Las Vegas and that insider's point of view helps bring the city to life.

It suffers a bit from an abundance of flashbacks and info dumping in the last third of the book. Some of the motivation for the rivalry between the unicorn and the phoenix weren't clear to me.

I was sent a PDF to review.

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Sahwira   (Link goes to Amazon)Sahwira: An African Friendship: 11/22/09

When the initial uproar over the original cover for Liar was erupting over the book blogosphere I decided to give my library a test. I looked for recently published books for middle grades up through young adults that featured ethnically diverse people on the covers. Two that I picked up from that first test were The Kayla Chronicles (review coming) by Sherri Winston, a book I whole-heartedly recommend and Sahwira: An African Friendship by Carolyn Marsden, a book I could not finish.

Sahwira is based on actual events. Phillip Matzigkeit grew up in the British colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbawe) as the son of Missonary parents. Like his nonfiction inspiration, Evan lives on the mission with his parents and is friends with the local pastor's son, Blessing. He has to find common ground between his life among the blacks with the racism of the white colonists at the all white school he attends. In his free time though, he and Blessing have James Bond inspired adventures and try to build a raft (Huck Finn anyone?).

It's not the events that forced me to put the book aside, but the way in which they are told. First and foremost, there's no life to the book. Everything is told in a bland, emotionless, almost book report style. Secondly there is the Marty-Stu aspect to all the American missionaries. They are just too perfect except that underneath their actions and words is an unspoken but ever present air of superiority. They are always right because they are Americans and they have GOD on their side.

Now the novel is supposed to be told from both boys' points of view. Blessing though doesn't have a unique voice. He gladly pals around with Evan. He never questions anything Evan tells him. He never once in the pages I read shows any glimmer of having a personality outside of whatever attributes Evan and the other white missionaries assign to him.

After twenty four painful to read pages, I started skipping ahead to see if the book got any better. I could see that Evan went on to a boarding school and had even more confrontations with the children of the white colonists with his Marty-Stu superiority. The book ends with a "meaningful" exchange between Evan and Blessing and neither character seems to have grown or learned anything.

The book though has been nominated for a Cybil.

Other posts and reviews:

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Frozen Tears   (Link goes to Amazon)Frozen Tears: 11/21/09

Frozen Tears is about Kale Weaver and how the events of her life help her change and grow as a person. Throughout the novel she's a hydrologist living and working in a typically rural Alaskan town near Denali National Park. There exactly isn't important. It's near an Innuit (or Ennuit as it's spelled in the novel) village. What does matter is that Kale's life is forever intertwined with the village after she meets Elliot, an Ennuit who helps her after she kills a moose with her truck.

It takes a couple chapters for Frozen Tears to hit its stride. When it starts, Kale is written as a too perfect environmentalist. She's in tune with nature and loves all animals. She has come to save the pristine Alaskan wilderness. Elliot is handsome, charming and the typical blend of educated savage that shows up in fiction so often. Kale's boyfriend is likewise the typical redneck, racist, hunter and otherwise alpha male just there for everyone to boo and hiss at.

Thankfully though Frozen Tears gets the worst of all of this out of its system quickly leaving Kale widowed with a son and ties to the Ennuit village through her son that no one is quite sure what do with. She also has a new found appreciation for the wildlife, deciding to give sanctuary to wolves who have been injured.

Even the wolf sanctuary and her roll as a single mother of a boy who is struggling to find acceptance in both communities aren't exactly the point of the story. They are all just parts of Kale's journey through life. The writing is a little rough in places and the pacing is a little off but it's still worth reading. I'd like to see a second edition with tighter editing.

I ended up seeing connections between Kale's life and a friend of mine who has had a similar journey even though the exact details of her journey are different.

I got the book for review from the author. I have since released it through BookCrossing.

Other posts and reviews:

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Arrowsmith  (Link goes to Amazon)Arrowsmith: 11/20/09

It's been a decade or more since the last Sinclair Lewis book I read. I went through a spate in school reading everyone I could get my hands on. Arrowsmith wasn't one of them but my local library had a copy and feeling nostalgic for an old favorite author, I snatched it up.

Martin Arrowsmith, the title character, is a high spirited medical student, and later doctor. He's in constant fear of selling out while the women in his life wish for him to be a rich and famous doctor. Or at least successful.

The book covers his entire career from medical student, to resident, to country doctor, to researcher and his work down in Jamaica. My favorite part of the book by far was his time in college because Lewis managed to capture what college life is like in the sciences. Having been with my husband through his entire college education I saw a bunch of points of similarity between Arrowsmith's education (the lack of free time, the juggling of different papers, the research, the oddball advisors) that I was often laughing as I read through this section.

What fascinated me most though was how Arrowsmith compartmentalizes the different aspects of his life. There's Dr. Arrowsmith, world famous doctor, Sandy Arrowsmith husband, Martin the student and so forth. Throughout the book the plot pauses for Arrowsmith to have dialogues with the different aspects of his life and personality.

Like a typical Lewis novel, Arrowsmith ends without a pat resolution. Martin's life goes through good parts and bad parts as does his career and even when he finally has a huge success, becoming a household name, Martin Arrowsmith still isn't satisfied with himself or his skills. Thus the book ends with him just about to start another internal dialogue.

Other posts and reviews:

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Cliff and Norm from CheersWithin a Budding Grove: Madame Swann at Home: Cheers: 11/20/09

Next week here in the United States it will be Thanksgiving weekend. As I will be too preoccupied with driving down to South Pasadena, eating turkey and basically enjoying spending time with my relatives, I won't be reading or posting about Proust next week.

I'm now through page 60 of the second volume of In Search of Lost Time, Within a Budding Grove (A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs) and this section has me thinking of Cheers, that old NBC sitcom that ran 11 years (1982-1993). I basically grew up watching it, being in elementary school when it started and in college when it ended.

Marcel now has gone from wanting to write but suffering from writer's block to just not wanting to write at all. So he spends his time listening to his parents shooting the breeze. Mostly he records his thoughts on the bullshitting sessions between M. de Norpois and his father. The escalating claims by M. de Norpois and the father's occasional tangential replies reminds me of Cliff and Norm who would spend nearly every episode of Cheers talking about stuff that had no practical use for whatever was going on in the bar or with the patrons or employees of the bar while drinking their beers. Despite being completely useless everyone seemed to like the two and M. de Norpois and Marcel's father seem to also be popular for no apparent reason. Now being French gentry, I doubt they're drinking the same cheep beer as Cliff and Norm but their conversations are just as off base.

Slipped into the middle of "Cliff" and "Norm's" bar talk, there are also more thoughts on the new Madame Swann. After much debate, the general consensus is that the marriage must be a joke. No one can take the Swann pairing seriously (apparently not even Odette as some gossipers speculate).

See you back in two weeks for my thoughts on pages 61-90.

Swann's Way posts:

Lisa's First Word, Baby Mine, I Sing the Body Electric, The Lady in Pink, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Caturday, Cherry Blossoms, Marge Simpson, Liana Telfer, Bender in Love, Margaret Dumont, Hyacinth Bucket, Rose, Mildred Krebs, Pepé Le Pew, Jack Harness, Cordelia Chase, Saffron, Thomas O'Malley.

Within a Budding Grove posts:

Nanowrimo, Cheers, Robert Langdon, Kif and Amy, Dead Weight, Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Paris is a Lonely Town, And Then There's Maude, A Cafe Terrace at Night, North by Northwest, Top Hat, Chez Deetz, Ah, My Goddess!, David, Auntie Mame, Brunhilde Esterhazy, Gusteau's, Shell Beach.

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Resonance  (Link goes to Amazon)Resonance: 11/19/09

Resonance by A.J. Scudiere is a disaster novel wrapped up in some speculative science fiction. As with any disaster book, the novel has an ensemble cast: Drs. Jordan Abellard and Jillian Brookwood of the CDC who are seeing people with weakened immune systems dying at unexpectedly high rates; Dr. Becky Sorenson is following strange biological phenomena like mutated frogs, confused birds and bees making hikes in unusual formations and Dr. David Carter who can see changes in the geology of the rocks he studying. All of these things end up pointing to the magnetic drift of the Earth's magnetic field.

These books typically have three acts: the portents of the disaster, the disaster itself and the aftermath. For Resonance the best part comes in the portents. When the focus is on the strange biological phenomena the book is a fascinating page turner.

Unfortunately during the disaster when the hotspots start getting big and dangerous the science behind them falls apart. Sometimes less is more. I would been willing to give the book more latitude if the focus had been on the creepy side affects and the danger getting larger instead of on the "hard" but wrong science.

If your suspension of disbelief is more flexible than mine, you'll find it a fun and sometimes creepy disaster novel.

Other books and stories you might enjoy:

Other posts and reviews:

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The Bungalow Mystery (Nancy Drew #3) (Link goes to Amazon)The Bungalow Mystery (Nancy Drew #3): 11/18/09

Edward Stratemeyer founded the Syndicate to publish mystery series aimed at children and teens. The author of each series was a made up person and the books were ghost written. The Syndicate series included The Rover Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

As my Mom grew up with The Hardy Boys and my grandmother grew up with The Bobbsey Twins, those are the series I read in elementary school. Mom had one Nancy Drew which I made a very lame attempt at reading. I don't remember which book it was. All I remember is that I didn't finish it.

As an adult I am challenging myself to read authors I missed as a kid or genres I don't normally select. I am also reading books my children recommend to likewise encourage them to read things outside their comfort zones. So when Harriet handed me a copy of The Bungalow Mystery I sucked it up and checked out the book.

Nancy and her best friend are rescued by a young woman when a wild storm blows in quickly and threatens to sink their boat. As it turns out, the girl is recently orphaned and has been sent to live with her long lost relatives. Unfortunately, they don't act thrilled to see her. Meanwhile her father is dealing with a case of his own involving forgeries and other financial crimes. As Nancy and Carson put their heads together they realize the cases might be related.

Nancy Drew has been through numerous revisions over the years. In the 1950s the series was white washed and Nancy was aged from 16 to 18. In recent years I think un-edited versions of the pre-1950s books were re-released. The 1991 reprint I read seemed to be firmly set in the 1930s: the Depression is hinted at, though not mentioned directly, there is at least one black servant. Nancy in this story is less perfect and more masculine than in the book I didn't finish. My guess is that the did not finish was one of the 1950s editions.

Over all I enjoyed the book even though I managed to figure out the basics of the plot before Nancy or her father did. It was good enough that I plan to read more of the early books in the series. I'm curious now to see Nancy evolve (devolve?) as a character as the 1950s approach.

Other posts and reviews:

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You Suck (Link goes to Amazon)You Suck: 11/17/09

You Suck is the sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends bringing Moore back to San Francisco. Tommy Flood has been elevated from minion to vampire by Jody. It's time to find a new minion and what better place to look than Craigslist?

You Suck captures the feel of San Francisco better than the original. Moore has since relocated to the City and it shows in how he captures the nuances of the different neighborhoods.

While most of the characters are repeats from the original, there are a few new memorable ones. My favorite two are Abby (their new Goth styled minion) and William and his huge cat, Chet.

Mostly though it's a further exploration of what it means to be a vampire: perfect skin, no more scars, and heightened senses. On the flipside: sleeping like the dead during the day, burning to ash in the sunlight and an insatiable appetite for blood.

You Suck was everything I was hoping Fool would be but wasn't.

More Christopher Moore books reviewed here:

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That's Not My Dinosaur (Link goes to Amazon)That's Not My Dinosaur: 11/17/09

That's Not My Dinosaur is a "Touch-Feely" Usborne book. It uses different tactile pieces to teach textures as a mouse tries to find his dinosaur.

Each page features a different kind of dinosaur drawn in a cute cartoony fashion. In terms of plot, its repetitive like Have You Seen My Cat by Eric Carle.

While this is a short board book, it's one that usually ends up being read multiple times. First I will read it to Harriet and then she will "read" it to herself. Then she will "read" it to me and let me touch all the different textures.

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The Cave (Link goes to Amazon)The Cave: 11/16/09

Homer described Hades as have entrances from the world of the living through special caves. Odysseus goes into Hades to bring back a fallen member of his crew. For young Ian in The Cave by Steve McGill, he will experience a similar journey into a cave and into the past to learn about many MIA service men from WWI.

Starting with the first chapter and then peppered throughout the rest of the book are chapters set during WWI from the point of view of a soldier at the point of his death. They stand in for the stories that Ian is hearing from Gramps (his great-grandfather) who had lost his father at the age of five in WWI.

If the novel is set in contemporary times, that would make Gramps around 97. Frankly though there's not much in the way of clues to set when present day is for Ian. I can't recall any specific technologies being mentioned that would say for sure when the book takes place.

Ian likes to ride his bike, write in his journal and listen to stories of WWI. Near his home, but still enough of a distance away to make for a good adventure is an old cave. Ian would love to explore it but is scared to do so. A ghostly visitor first to his home and then to an abandoned ranch near the cave will give him the courage to enter the cave.

I've read other reviews that describe the book as a horror because of the ghosts. It strikes me more as an adventure with elements of classic mythology. Yes, it's a ghost story, but it's not an especially frightening one.

The Cave is a short and easy read. I ended up reading it in about three hours' time. Although tweens and teens will probably enjoy the ghost story elements of it, I'd recommend backing up the story with a quick jaunt through Edith Hamilton's Mythology or the relevant chapter from The Odyssey by Homer.

Other posts and reviews:

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Hurricane (Link goes to Amazon)Hurricane: 11/15/09

Hurricane uses the end of the Mayan calendar as a backdrop for a disaster thriller. Daniel Mayhew has a theory for bringing tropical depressions under control before they become hurricanes. Meanwhile Kelly Delany has a theory that global warming will create the need for a new class of hurricane: category six. Kelly and Daniel if they work together along with the navy might be able save lives and prevent devastation. Unfortunately for them, General Lowe is standing in their way as a member of the "Lucky Thirteen."

Hurricane is an odd book. It has an interesting pair of lead characters with believable families and plausible back stories. Likewise Florida feels like Florida; it is both a setting and a supporting character.

What it lacks though is a firm footing in the disaster genre. It reads like a hybrid of a speculative fiction, a disaster story and spy novel (Cussler, Clancy, Flemming). The typical book has three parts : introduction of the characters and the possible disaster, the disaster itself and the fall out from it. Things are exacerbated by human nature: officials slow to move, so-called experts cutting corners, and so forth.

In Hurricane the human nature aspect is replaced by the "Lucky Thirteen" acting for reasons never fully established. They act like the villains who Dirk Pitt or James Bond go after novel without the heroes to come and take them down in a one on one fire fight. With the focus turned from the danger of the storm to the "Lucky Thirteen" the category six storm ends up being an empty threat.

My final reaction to Hurricane is mixed. I like the main characters and off the wall solution to the hurricane threat. I don't think "Lucky Thirteen" were fleshed out enough to be a successful foil to Daniel and Kelly. Instead they end up taking away precious plot development time from the novel. It would have been more interesting and more thrilling if Daniel and Kelly fail early on to call into doubt their solution when the huge storm is barreling down on Florida.

I received the book from the author to review. I have since released it via BookCrossing.

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If I Ran the Zoo (Link goes to Amazon)If I Ran the Zoo: 11/14/09

Gerald McGrew in If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss explains to the zoo keeper how he would do things differently if he were in charge. The regular "exotic" animals would be out and a host of outlandish animals would take their place.

The book is written in Seuss's typical anapestic tetrameter which makes it easy to read aloud with comedic flare.

My son who is an avid inventor of monsters loves this book for all the unusual animals. I personally thought most of Seuss's imaginary animals were a bit overwhelming as a kid but Sean loves them.

As a bit of trivia, If I Ran the Zoo is the first book to use the word 'nerd' though not in its modern connotation. The line is "And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo and bring back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo, a Nerkle, a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!" (Fun Trivia)
The book was a Caldecott Honor book in 1951.

Dr. Seuss Reviews

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Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (Link goes to Amazon)Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There: 11/13/09

Growing up my best friend was Alice. Not the Alice created by Lewis Carroll or Alice Liddell, his inspiration, of course. But my friend Alice was a dead-ringer for Carroll's Alice and often dressed as her for Halloween. Her older sister took it as her business to make sure she and I knew who the fictional Alice was, as character beyond the Disney film version. I honestly can't remember when I first read both Alice novels: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass And What Alice Saw There (1871). What I do remember is that I read the books back to back in the course of an almost all-nighter.

In college Lewis Carroll's Alice took on new importance for me. My boyfriend (now husband) adored the books and the poems from them. Our first year of exchanging gifts we gave each other books. Ian gave me a leather bound omnibus of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and I tracked down two beautiful used copies of the Alice books with the John Tenniel illustrations. This was before the ease of searching online for books; it meant a day long trip to Hillcrest (the place to buy used books in San Diego). It is his copies that we kept when we married and that I'm now reviewing.

Since my husband's passion for Alice is the poetry, I tend to think now of the books in terms of their poems. The introduction to the edition we have says that everyone remembers "Jabberwocky", "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" and "The Walrus and Carpenter" is part of the "Alice book" not which one. They are all in Through the Looking Glass (and mashed into most of the film adaptations of Alice in Wonderland).

Through the Looking Glass takes the apparent chaos of Wonderland and maps it logically (more or less) against the grid of a chessboard. The moves of the game are outlined at the start of the book, right after the table of contents.

Like many a modern fantasy novel, humble Alice finds herself crowned. Now her coronation is part of chess game. I can't call Alice the first fantasy protagonist to go from nobody to nobility; let's not forget Sancho Panza who in the second book of Don Quixote ends up the lord of an island.

If you plan on reading Lewis Carroll's Alice, please get both books. Get them with the John Tenniel illustrations. Read them together. Read the poems out loud. Memorize them! They are quoted and paraphrased almost as often as much as Shakespeare's sonnets and plays are.

Other posts and reviews:

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NanowrimoWithin a Budding Grove: Madame Swann at Home: Nanowrimo: 11/13/09

Here I am nearly halfway through this year's Nanowrimo and I've cracked open the second volume of In Search of Lost Time, Within a Budding Grove (A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs) and I am laughing at the way the two big projects in my life come together.

Marcel (the protagonist) is back to narrate the first section of Within a Budding Grove and he is focusing on his own life. The Swanns may have returned to Combray but he is most concerned with his romance with Gilberte, his love of the theater and his desire to write a great novel. He, though, is failing miserably at writing his novel. He finds any number of things to do other than write. Mostly he woos Gilberte and he goes to the theater. His theater love ends up becoming an obsession and his parents begin to worry about his health. They are told to keep him from going. I doubt, though, that will work.

As with Swann's Way, I plan on taking the book thirty pages a week. I'll post my thoughts on the book weekly and see where the book takes me. At that rate it will take me well into 2010. I will probably finish this volume around the start of spring.

Swann's Way posts:

Lisa's First Word, Baby Mine, I Sing the Body Electric, The Lady in Pink, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Caturday, Cherry Blossoms, Marge Simpson, Liana Telfer, Bender in Love, Margaret Dumont, Hyacinth Bucket, Rose, Mildred Krebs, Pepé Le Pew, Jack Harness, Cordelia Chase, Saffron, Thomas O'Malley.

Within a Budding Grove posts:

Nanowrimo, Cheers, Robert Langdon, Kif and Amy, Dead Weight, Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Paris is a Lonely Town, And Then There's Maude, A Cafe Terrace at Night, North by Northwest, Top Hat, Chez Deetz, Ah, My Goddess!, David, Auntie Mame, Brunhilde Esterhazy, Gusteau's, Shell Beach.

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Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World (Link goes to Amazon)Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World: 11/12/09

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World is a biography of a well-lived library cat and a memoir of the librarian who cared for him. Even if you haven't read the book you're probably aware of the start of Dewey's career; he was dumped down the book return slot in the middle of winter as an eight week old kitten. Except for a brief time when he explored the outside of the library and got lost, Dewey spent the bulk of his almost twenty year life living in the Spencer Public Library.

Along with Dewey's biography, Vicki Myron includes a history of Spencer as it suffered through the collapse of the American family run farm in the mid 1980s. As families were losing their farms and homes and businesses were closing the residents of Spencer needed a morale boost. Dewey Readmore Books as he was dubbed by the town was just the pick up they needed.

There is a lot of padding in the book in the form of Myron's own memoir of her failed marriage, raising her child and other dramatic points in her life. These moments should be the glue that holds the events in Spencer to the events in Dewey's life, they didn't work for me. They disrupted the flow of the biography and I ended up skimming or skipping through them.

Most of my local BookCrossing friends had already read Dewey but the time my mother gave me a copy. The one comment I had heard from all of them was: "the ending is so sad!" The book covers Dewey's entire life from the moment he first arrives at the library until the very end of his life. A two decade life, though, for a cat is a remarkable one. The ending isn't what I would call sad; it's truthful.

In case you're wondering, that's really Dewey on the cover. He looks very different in the black and white snapshots peppered throughout the book. The cover was done by a professional and Dewey was a bit of a ham for the camera.

Other posts and reviews:

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Your Inner Fish (Link goes to Amazon)Your Inner Fish: 11/11/09

I first heard about Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin on NPR in early 2008. It sounded like an interesting book and had such a catchy title that it was easy to remember. Recently I saw the book at my local library and snatched it up. The book proved to be as fascinating a read as the author's interview on NPR was to listen to.

Your Inner Fish is a hybrid of a memoir and an introductory evolutionary biology book. For the memoir half, Shubin covers how he got started in his field and how he and his colleagues came across the best places to search for the bones of those elusive common ancestors.

At the heart of his research is a creature that looks like a cross between a fish and a crocodile. It's a fish with a long flat snout and shoulders. It is otherwise fish like. The creature dubbed Tiktaalik was found in a remote bit of the Canadian arctic.

From the bones in the shoulder and fins Shubin goes on to explain how biologists have found similarities between a wide variety of animals. Look at a human hand and compare it to that of a cats paw, a bat's wing, a horse's hoof and so forth. They are different but similar. It's easy to see how the bones of different animals share common properties with each other.

Back in college I took a paleontology course. My favorite lecture for the class was a skeletal comparison between T-rex and common Thanksgiving turkey. As Your Inner Fish was along the same lines, I couldn't put it down until I was done. I managed to tear through it in about two hours.

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I Spy Christmas (Link goes to Amazon)I Spy Christmas: 11/10/09

I think we now own all of the original I Spy Books. I Spy Christmas is one of the early ones and as the title implies is Christmas themed. It's like "Too Many Christmas Trees" the book.

The Christmas theme makes for a rather bland book. There's a lot of red, a lot of green and a lot of fake snow. I always want to rush through the book instead of linger of over the photos like I do in some of the others (I Spy Spooky Night and I Spy Treasure Hunt). That being said, it's one of the hardest books because of all the similarities in color.

As with most of the these early books, the items included in the book are vintage. There are antiques and retro santas, decorations and toys. An antique dealer specializing in Christmas would get more enjoyment out of the book that I have.

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Perseverance: True Voices of Cancer Survivors (Link goes to Amazon)Perseverance: True Voices of Cancer Survivors: 11/09/09

Perseverance: True Voices of Cancer Survivors by Carolyn Rubenstein is a collection of twenty interviews with survivors of childhood cancers.

Cancer is one of those perverse diseases that is harder on you the younger you are. It thrives in the presence of the growth hormones that young bodies are so full of. Blood Matters by Masha Gessen has a long discussion of this phenomena.

Perseverance though isn't about the various diseases that all go under the "cancer" heading nor is it so much about the treatments for them. Instead it's about how having the disease chanced daily routines and created new senses of normal for these twenty patients, their family and friends.

The collection of interviews are presented in a style similar to the Chicken Soup... books. Although cancer is often deadly and probably always scary the tone of the book remains upbeat. I recommend reading only an essay or two at a time and letting each one sink in before moving on.

Perseverance happens to be a charity book. All proceeds from the book go to CCC and Chordoma Foundation.

I received a copy unsolicited and have since released it through BookCrossing.

Other posts and reviews:

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All Meat Looks Like South America (Link goes to Amazon)All Meat Looks Like South America: 11/08/09

All Meat Looks Like South America is an alternate history book with a focus on the engineering and marketing from future histories that didn't happen. Some are silly, some are bizarre and some are nostalgic.

The paintings are in the style of 1930s through 1950s marketing material and propaganda. The lines are clean, the colors are crisp and everything is either vaguely art deco or bauhaus.

Then on second look and with reading the accompanying text, it's obvious that these plausible looking things aren't possible and have never existed. For example the page of WWII airplane designs are full of ridiculous contraptions.

The book is oversized and a perfect coffee table book to keep guests amused. My son and I look at it together to get ideas for our own projects or stories.

Other posts and reviews:

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A Civil Campaign (Link goes to Amazon)A Civil Campaign: 11/07/09

A Civil Campaign is the third Lois McMaster Bujold book I've read. Borders of Infinity I tore through in a weekend and wanted more. Falling Free was good for its word building but a little weak on plot. A Civil Campaign has made me glad I haven't gone on a buying spree to collect all of her books.

The Access Romance review sums up what is either right or wrong with the novel depending on your tastes: "regency in space." The few regency romances I've tried have bored me to tears. Now A Civil Campaign isn't just a regency inspired space opera; there are a few nods to the Bard's comedies as well and much of book is centered around the planning of a wedding and the various guests coupling off. Think A Midsummer's Night Dream but in the Miles Vorkosigan universe.

While her other books have stood well by themselves, many reviews point out that A Civil Campaign continues where Komarr ends. Here then is why I am leery of series. If I'm standing in a library or a used bookstore with a limited selection of books, the ones available had damn well stand by themselves.

I got about 100 pages into the book and decided it wasn't worth the effort to finish.

Other posts and reviews:

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The Shining (Link goes to Amazon)The Shining: 11/07/09

The Shining was my first introduction to Stephen King. It was the film, actually just the scene of chase through the maze, that I saw first. The clip was part of a group math project in high school.

Anyone who has read the book knows that the hedge maze isn't in the book. Instead, the garden is filled with topiaries that work much like the angels in the "Blink" episode of Doctor Who. But that hedge maze was a foot in the door which lead me to watch the film in its entirety with my grandmother. It would be another eight years or so though before I got around to reading the book.

I was newly wed and Ian and I would spend our free time together discussing movies and books. I was taking a horror genre film class at UCLA and The Shining wasn't part of the course. Being though in the mind set to think of horror novels and film adaptations, I decided to finally read King's novel.

Stephen King's novel goes deeper into Jack's history and his own abilities. Danny isn't the only one with "the Shining." For Jack, the ability to see the dead combined with an abusive childhood has lead him alcoholism.

Like most of my favorite horror stories, The Shining is grounded in a physical location. Here it is the Overlook Hotel, a remotely located hotel that was once popular with the rich and famous and is now in its last days. To add to the feeling of dread the family is sent in winter to serve as caretakers while it is closed for the season. Left alone in the harsh winter storms, Jack and Danny start seeing things as the hotel begins to reveal its secrets.

Like the manor in The Thirteenth Tale, the Overlook Hotel is a central character. All those years of excesses have piled up to give life to a very angry structure. Who is the greater threat to the Torrance family, the ghosts or the hotel? That's what Danny and his mother must figure out if they are to survive.

The Shining remains one of my favorite Stephen King novels. I love a good ghost story.

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What the Hell is a Groom and What's He Supposed to Do? (Link goes to Amazon)What the Hell is a Groom and What's He Supposed to Do? 11/06/09

My grandmother worked for about a decade as a wedding coordinator at her church. I spent many summers and weekends working as her assistant. Through her I've probably been hundreds of weddings. So when I saw What the Hell is a Groom and What's He Supposed to Do? by John Mitchell I had to read it.

As the title suggests, Mitchell's book is a wedding planning guide book for engaged or soon to be engaged men. It has tips on how to propose, how to pick an engagement ring and a breakdown of tasks for the wedding planning for the bridge, groom and both to do together.

The book is obviously aimed at heterosexual couples expecting a traditional American wedding. It's not aimed at any particular religion or culture but some of the differences are mentioned in passing. Although it's aimed at a specific type of couple getting married enough of the details are practical advice for any wedding that I'm recommending the book to anyone thinking of getting married.

The book though isn't perfect. There are a few asides that make huge assumptions based on gender that annoyed me. Not every woman has grown up planning her fairy princess wedding from the time she was still in diapers. Not every woman wants a diamond ring no matter how much the diamond industry wants us to believe it to true. On the flip side there are probably men who want who have. So my parting advice is take the book as "guidelines" but feel free to do what feels right for you and your future spouse.

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Thomas O'MalleySwann's Way: Place-Names: Thomas O'Malley: 11/06/09

I know I said I'd take two more weeks to read Swann's Way (Du côté de chez Swann) but the last section was only sixty pages and I just couldn't wait to finish. Next week's post will start in with volume two, In a Budding Grove.

In "Place-Names" the novel switches gears, moving away from a third person narrative about the courtship of Swann and Odette and returns to the first person narrative of "Combray." We see the world now through older and less sentimental eyes from the beginning of the book and get a sense of how the child narrator has grown into a young adult.

What harkens the change in point of view is Swann's decision to return to Combray. He brings with himself his new bride, Odette, now to the dismay of the narrator, Madame Swann. The changes he sees in Charles Swann helps him see through the performance Odette is putting on. She is taking too much pride in being Mme Swann. The narrator also sees chinks in the armor of his other childhood heroes and the realization that they are perhaps no different in their insecurities and weaknesses than he is leaves him a little jaded.

So for the close of Swann's Way I've picked Thomas O'Malley as my stand-in for Charles Swann. He is the alley cat about town from The Aristocats who helps Duchess and her kittens return to Paris after the butler tries and fails to drown them out in the countryside. He goes from being a complete flirt and carefree creature to wearing a starch collar and bow tie as part of his "marriage" at the end of the film. His domestication through marriage and through becoming a house cat mirrors beautifully the way in which Charles Swann has given his life completely (for better and most likely worse) to Odette.

In the near future I will post a proper review of Swann's Way. In the meantime, stay tuned for next Friday's post from In a Budding Grove.

Swann's Way posts:

Lisa's First Word, Baby Mine, I Sing the Body Electric, The Lady in Pink, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Caturday, Cherry Blossoms, Marge Simpson, Liana Telfer, Bender in Love, Margaret Dumont, Hyacinth Bucket, Rose, Mildred Krebs, Pepé Le Pew, Jack Harness, Cordelia Chase, Saffron, Thomas O'Malley.

Within a Budding Grove posts:

Nanowrimo, Cheers, Robert Langdon, Kif and Amy, Dead Weight, Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Paris is a Lonely Town, And Then There's Maude, A Cafe Terrace at Night, North by Northwest, Top Hat, Chez Deetz, Ah, My Goddess!, David, Auntie Mame, Brunhilde Esterhazy, Gusteau's, Shell Beach.

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Read Me (Link goes to Amazon)Read Me: 11/05/09

Read Me is a collection of poems for parents and children to read together over the course of a year. Each poem is assigned a date and the subjects covered are on topic for their date.

The book includes well known poems like Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "How Do I Love Thee" (February 15) and "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae (August 12). It also has a large number of nursery rhymes and hymns such as "Simple Simon" (May 30) and "O Little Town" by Bishop Phillips Brooks (December 25). Mostly though the poems are playful and unusual.

Someone better versed in children's poetry will recognize more of the selections than I did. I though enjoyed finding so many surprises tucked away in this 470 page volume.

The only disappoint for me was December. Too much of the month is focused on Christmas carols. The book comes to a ho-hum close. I understand that Christmas (especially in a British book) would be the main focus for December but I would have preferred to see the same level of unusual or novelty poems as the other eleven months have.

Finally, one of the poems is mislabeled which makes me wonder about the rest of the attributed poems. November 21's poem is listed as "Daisy" and the author is listed as anonymous. The poem, best known as the song title "Bicycle Built for Two" is actually called "Daisy Bell" and was written by Harry Dacre in 1892.

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Wolf Willow (Link goes to Amazon)Wolf Willow: 11/04/09

I wish I could remember the name of every author and every book I've ever read. I can't. My memory is reliable for about a year's worth of reading. After that only the most remarkable books (good and bad) stick. To aid my memory I have a list of everything I've read going back to 1987. Despite my list keeping I'm still surprised sometimes when I "rediscover" an author. I've mentioned this happening with Neil Gaiman and now it's happened with Wallace Stegner.

Wallace Stegner was a Canadian author who wrote fiction and non-fiction. Back in 2005 I thoroughly enjoyed Angle of Repose. Now for the Canada Reads 3 challenge, I've read one of his non-fiction books, Wolf Willow.

Wolf Willow is formally a memoir but it's a memoir in the same way that Tales from Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett is. It's part memoir, part history and part fiction.

Perhaps I don't know enough about the history of the border area between Saskatchewan, Montana and North Dakota but the book didn't hold my attention as Angle of Repose did.

There were a few moments though that I will remember beyond the point where I forget the title, the author and when I read it. The first of those is Stegner's description of the culture shock between winter and summer. During the winter he traveled north into town to go to school. There he was clearly in Canada. Then during the summer he'd be on the farm plowing the fields that butted up against the 49th parallel. He could through rocks into the United States. He watched life go by on America prairies. As a kid growing on a border town I related to Stegner's sentiments.

My second favorite scene was a description of a particular Mountie who was a local legend for his ability to get his man no matter the circumstances. With the rural location and the (I'm guessing exaggerated) description of his feats, I couldn't help but think of Benton Fraiser from Due South.

Other posts and reviews:

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Son of the Great River (Link goes to Amazon)Son of the Great River: 11/04/09

I consider a book a success when it makes me put it aside to look something up. In the case of Son of the Great River by Elijah Meeks I ended up spending a half an hour or so looking up pre bronze age history of the middle east. That is the time and roughly the place where this young adult novel is set.

In the opening chapter when the stranger from the south dies before Saffu I first thought the novel was taking place somewhere along the prairies of North America but in ancient times. Clearly though as Saffu travels south to take the message of her passing it became obvious that I had the wrong part of the world in mind.

Son of the Great River is about the mixing of vastly different cultures: some very modern ones with cities and bureaucracies and all the other things associated with city-states, and tribal, nomadic cultures. As the time period is so long ago, the world view covers a very small piece of the world and the cultures live in their own (almost) micro-climates. Imagine if you will San Jose being cut off from Salinas. One is a very urban and crowded city. The other city is rural with the main economy being agriculture. Now imagine someone walking from Salinas to San Jose, knowing that a big city existed up there but not being fully prepared for just how big and how different it was. That's what Son of the Great River manages to convey.

The review at Violet Crush mentions that the novel is confusing. I agree. It is at times and like her I had to go back and re-read passages. Nonetheless, I was so curious about the world of Saffu and how his story would connect with Samhail and Reem's adventures that I didn't mind the effort to re-read.

I received this book from the author for review. I have since released the book through BookCrossing.

Other posts and reviews:

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The Blues of Flats Brown (Link goes to Amazon)The Blues of Flats Brown: 11/03/09

As I often pick books to read on whims, I am often surprised to see very different books by the same author cross my path. As I'm reading a book I will get a nagging sensation that the author's name is familiar. Thankfully between my own record keeping, review writing and of course the internet, I'm better able to draw connections that I couldn't have ten or twenty years ago.

Take for instance Walter Dean Myers. The first book I read by him came to me by happenstance. It was At Her Majesty's Request. It is a biography of an African princess who spent most of her life in England and was by unusual circumstances, a friend of Queen Victoria. How Myers came to learn of her life was just as random a series of events as how his book came to in my to be read pile.

Now I have crossed paths again with Myers, this time through my public library and through Harriet being drawn to books featuring animals. The book we picked was The Blues of Flats Brown.

Although the main character in this book is a blues playing dog, it's obviously an allegory for the slavery roots of blues. The dog escapes from his master and flees to Memphis where he becomes a blues star. From there he goes to New York and in the Big Apple his fame catches up with him. His owner comes to claim his famous dog.

Naturally then the book brought to light questions: questions about music, about right and wrong, slavery and freedom. I've read reviews that suggest the book should be read to older children but my three year old managed to catch many of the important themes that Meyers has woven through his story. She did this while still enjoying the story of a dog who likes to play music.

See Also:

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North from Calcutta (Link goes to Amazon)North from Calcutta: 11/03/09

I read through ten reviews (see below) of North From Calcutta by Duane Evans before beginning my own review. All except for the one on Business World, an Indian site, were positive. While I am also giving North From Calcutta a negative review, my reasons are different.

The positive reviews site a fast paced plot, realistic dialogue and a unique plot. I must have been reading a different book because the plot for me crawled, the dialogue seemed wooden and written with an American ear and the plot while perhaps set in a part of the world not recently covered by espionage stories, isn't unique. Sure, there are nuclear weapons involved this time but otherwise it wasn't much different than the underlying plot of Kim.

More than anything, though, it was the narration (the how the story is told) instead of the narrative (the actual events in the plot) that made me put the book aside. Every page was filled with repetitive phrases to the point I wanted a red pen to edit on the fly. The action scenes didn't fare any better, being told in the passive voice and the subjunctive tense. Action scenes need action verbs. Short sentences and phrases. The rhythm of the words should match or mimic what's happening in the story. It doesn't in this book. Instead, the action scenes read like a book report, and a boring one at that.

I received a copy of the book for review. I have since released it through Bookcrossing.

Other posts and reviews:

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Enemies and Allies (Link goes to Amazon)Enemies and Allies: 11/02/09

Enemies and Allies is a new Batman, Superman novel by Kevin J. Anderson. I was sent a copy to review it's a book I would have read just as eagerly on my own. I grew up on Batman and Superman and not just the TV reruns and the comics but old radio plays and Fleischer shorts. So coming to book in full fangirl mode, it's hard to write an even handed review.

Enemies and Allies has the feel of the 1990s animated versions of Batman and Superman and some nods to The Batman Superman movie (1998) but firmly planted in the 1950s on an alternate history timeline.

The book delves into what it means to be a superhero and the careful tightrope walk between personas. It also explores Clark's alienness more than most of the other Superman stories I've seen, read or listened to. To bring these two themes together Anderson chooses to have Clark call himself Kal-El when he's in his Superman costume. Thus he has three separate personas that he struggles throughout to reconcile being Clark, Kal-El and Superman.

Fans of both series will nod along as key characters and scenes play out. We have Bruce Wayne throwing cocktail fundraisers where most of the guests are the villains Batman fights. Interestingly though, they don't reappear as their super villain personas. They only super villain actually acting as an antagonist in the book is Lex Luthor. There's of course Jimmy Olson and Lois Lane and their boss Perry White.

Set against the usual world domination schemes of Lex Luthor are some key events from the 1950s: UFO sightings, the HUAC trials, the start of the Cold War and so forth.

Enemies and Allies was a fun read for me. I read it slowly, taking about a week to complete it. I stopped to laugh at certain bits of dry humor (much of Lois Lane's internal monologue) and to re-read favorite scenes. I want to go back and read Last Son of Kryton.

I received this book for review but I would have bought and reviewed a copy of it anyway.

Other posts and reviews:

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Mars: The Red Planet (Link goes to Amazon)Mars: The Red Planet: 11/02/09

Mars: The Red Planet is a nonfiction introduction to basic astrophysics aimed at "young readers." The book uses Mars to teach key concepts like perihelia vs. aphelia, rotation vs revolution, mass vs. density and so forth. All of the lessons are keyed specifically to Mars.

For someone new to physics and astronomy the book provides a solid foundation. For readers who have had high school or introductory courses in college, it's a good reminder of how things work. It's a fairly quick read for such a heavy subject.

As the book was published in 1977 it doesn't have any of the recent expeditions to the planet. There is nothing about the Mars rovers and the data they've sent back.

I read this book for the Science Book challenge

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Duck in a Truck (Link goes to Amazon)Duck in a Truck: 11/01/09

We go through cycles in our night-time reading. Books that my son has out grown are now being rediscovered by my daughter. Among her current half dozen or so favorites is Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough.

Duck is driving home from the farmers' market in his red truck. He doesn't see a large rock in the road. Hitting it sends his truck veering off the road into the mud. Duck needs to find a way of getting his truck back on the road.

The story is told in easy rhymes and bright pictures. Sometimes the meter is a little weird to make the rhyming scheme work but Harriet's always laughing so hard at the illustrations of duck, frog and sheep stuck in the mud that she doesn't notice if I goof.

The other Jez Alborough book Harriet has and likes is Tall

Other posts and reviews:

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Monsters!: Draw Your Own Mutants, Freaks & CreepsMonsters!: Draw Your Own Mutants, Freaks & Creeps: 11/01/09

Sean loves to draw monsters. For his birthday his grandmother gave him a copy of Monsters! Draw Your Own Mutants, Creeps and Freaks by Jay Stephens. It teaches to draw monsters by focusing on body types, parts and textures. It has a number of tutorials to help teach the basics of drawing.

By focusing on a single detail, the book teaches how different eyes, different mouths, different ears and so forth can drastically change the appearance of a monster (or any other creature).

The book is one of series of drawing books. The others include Robots! and Heroes! For more info, see Monsterama.

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