Sunday, March 18, 2018

bits and pieces

The dirty book club by Lisi Harrison.  This book didn't quite reach it's full potential, but I still devoured it in less than 36 hours.  As you could guess from the description and the cover, this is a light women's-fiction-type story.  The characters are likeable if a little thin.  The main character especially is a bit frustrating; she's in her 30s but most of her problems feel like "New Adult" indecisiveness.  I wanted the characters to connect more to, and connect more over, the book club books, but that's also a bit floppy: months go by where they only see each other at book club, but they get miffed at each other that they aren't up to date on each others' goings on. 

Not exactly recommended, per se, but suggested for fans of Janet Evanovich.

If I was your girl by Meredith Russo.  I read this at the end of January but I can't find a note about it; I guess I missed reviewing it somehow.

This book did a good job of achieving it's purpose: presenting a teen whose main concerns are family, friends, and boys, and balancing her gender transition with regular teen life.  The main character seemed fairly realistic and likeable.

This book did not do a good job of being a well-written teen problem novel.  Several plot points felt completely unsupported, (spoiler maybe?) particularly the character's election as prom queen: new in town her senior year, she makes a few good friends and dates a jock but is in no way presented as super duper social, or even really remarkable.  The prom business seemed like... the author's fantasy that got shoved in? 

Other characters seemed rather shallow, especially when the main character's "secret" became known.  A few obviously "good" people had no problems, most were presented as unthinkingly bad and unaccepting.  The few characters who struggled with the information seemed to lack depth or subtlety.  It also seemed like maybe the whole point of setting the book in the rural south was so that the author could lean on the unthinking-rural-southerner thing.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


I have been doing a very poor job of keeping track of what I've been doing.  Allow me to scroll back through my GoodReads (and my Netfix) to refresh my memory...

Ah.  Yes.

Don't let the pigeon stay up late! by Mo Wilems; read by Jon Scieszka.  I checked this out on hoopla! to download and test on several different devices before a presentation to a parent group.  Since it's only abut 4 minutes long, I listened to it multiple times, so I'm counting it.

I'm not entirely sure how creators of this type of audiobook (less than 10 minutes in length) imagine people using them.  Without the pictures, it's kinda boring.  The narrator did a fine job, but isn't the definition of a *picture* book the fact that the illustrations add substantially to the story and the reading experience?  While a read-along book (auto-turning pages plus narration; go, OverDrive!) is a really cool multimedia reading tool for kids, I'm just not sure about this.

Mufaro's beautiful daughters: An African tale by John Steptoe.  This was read aloud at a program I attended.  I was in the back so couldn't see terribly well, but the illustrations reminded me of King Bidgood's in the bathtub.  (Don't ask me why.)

The story is simple enough to follow, but long-- most appropriate for kids first grade or older.  I particularly liked that the story features (as you might guess from the subtitle) girls from a(n unspecified) African location, but never overtly points that out.  When I was looking for a Coretta Scott King Award winner to read, it seemed like every book was *about* *being* Black/African American.  Where are the good books that just happen to feature Black characters without it being the entire point of the book?  I later saw this list from Scott Woods that helpfully collects just that type of book.

The Librarians, season 4, with Rebecca Romijn.  OK, I am officially tired of these.  Too campy, too obvious, not enough mystery.  Anyone who has picks up more than a book a year must know all the myths and magic-origin stories.

But Stone...

Person of interest, seasons 1-3, with Jim Caviezel.  I was home sick over a whole 4-day weekend with a sinus infection a few weeks ago.  Propped up in bed I opened Netflix to watch Burn notice but it was gone.  The rate at which Netflix is making this disappear makes me cross.  This was suggested instead.

This is fair, although if I hadn't've been sick, I probably wouldn't have watched past the first five or six episodes-- the balance isn't very good in the whole first season.  There isn't enough backstory given, so it's hard to care about and connect with the characters.  Fortunately for Netflix, I was half-comatose.  Once they start incorporating backstory, the series gets pretty good.  There is now a continuum of using-evil-skills-for-good shows:  White collar (very light) -- Burn notice (a bit darker, some bad guys get hurt) -- Person of interest (purposefully shooting bad guys all over the place).

The gone world by Tom Sweterlitsch.  This was super weird.  Not recommended.  I don't normally have trouble with time-travel changing-the-timeline stories, but I think where this story was anchored messed it up.  The "real time" parts are in the (late 80s? early 90s?  sometime when I was young but old enough to remember) but it was a kind of alternate past that had technology way past what actually existed.  Characters used that technology to, among other things, jump into the future/the current time for the reader.  This was outside my zone of believability, it turns out, so I couldn't follow, or much care about, anything else.

Aru Shah and the end of time by Roshani Chokshi.  I was really excited about this, coming out of the new Rick Riordan imprint.  But it's not great.  I can give it good marks for being an easy-to-follow young-reader adventure story with female main characters who save themselves, characters of nationalities not typically starring in U.S. authors' books, and using a mythology and history that's new to many readers.  That makes it sound great!  It had some rendering problems, though: there's too much focus on the action, not enough on the characters, making them less real.  Readers will enjoy the story, but they won't care deeply about the characters.  The mythology is also kind of thin; gods, demons, places, and animals are there, but the author doesn't take the time to explain their significance.  Readers will like that it's a new and exotic world, but they won't be able to remember much of the mythology in depth.  Most public libraries should buy a copy, but this is definitely not the next Percy Jackson.

The librarian and the spy and A cover affair by Susan Mann.  Another disappointment; I will not be reading the third series installment.

There are two main problems: first, this isn't so much a story as the author's excuse to show off how much research she did.  It's most blatant in the first book, when there are sentences and even whole paragraphs of Intro to Librarianship concepts.  The average reader does not need to know how the character conducted a Boolean search.  Exposition just slows down the plot.  In the second book, it was a lot of history info-dumping, sometimes in the oft-loved format of one character lecturing another on a topic.

The second problem is, these are not romance novels.  At all.  Despite the covers-- and the titles-- these are light thriller/suspense.  Working under the idea that in a romance story "the Relationship" is the major character, that the tension would come primarily from the two main (people) characters getting to know each other, or that (lets be honest) there would be steamy scenes, this book fails to meet any of those.  This isn't a story about a couple falling in love; it's about a young woman who goes on adventures.

Although Quinn is a fun character, there's very little likeable about the books.  In every scene, every tiny detail is there on the page-- each step in getting dressed, washing dishes, whatever mundane task is at hand.  I notice this in romances-- maybe it's a suggested tool to try to make the reader feel "in the momen"?  It always comes off as repetitive, with the author obviously reaching for the thesaurus in an effort to not say the same noun for the fifth time in as many sentences.  The dishes got washed; does it really matter how?

The spy/boyfriend character is horrid.  He jumps all over the place, doing the overly-dramatic giant alpha-male romance novel schtick when a run-of-the-mill creep hits on his girlfriend at a bar, but waltzes on with the mission when she's in actual danger from gun-toting terrorists.  The "playful banter" is bland but is the only kind of non-work communication between the two characters so there's far too much of it.  Do yourself a favor and give it a pass.

How to stop time by Matt Haig.  I read this very quickly, because I wanted to find out what happened, and all the while I was sad because I very much wanted to read it slowly, because it's beautiful-- both the historical detail in the historical scenes and the emotional realism in the contemporary scenes.  I will read it again in a few years; it will make a wonderful rereading book. 

The author used short sentences followed by longer sentences that repeated key words from the preceding short one.  I noticed the style because it was unique, and because I've seen it used poorly, but this author had a really good handle on it.

I'm afraid many readers will dismiss this as "sci-fi" when it's more like The time-traveler's wife; it's not even magical realism.  It's a world exactly like ours except there are characters who have a medical condition we don't recognize.  It's not time travel in any sense of the word beyond that we've all managed to time travel from yesterday to today.

Us against you by Fredrik Backman.  This is a different sort of book.  The events aren't exactly linear; we don't follow the town and the characters day by day.  It's almost more like a collection of linked short stories.  The reader has to keep in mind what's going on with everyone and overlay each new character's actions and experiences.

Reading Beartown first will definitely add to the experience, but probably isn't required.

Quackery: A brief histor of the worst ways to cure everything, by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen.  This was kind of fun, definitely gross, generally ok.  I often wished there was more information on a topic, or additional topics included in a chapter (under use of animals in medicine, we cover leeches and animal horn but not maggots?).  Overall I found the tone a little too flippant.  Yeah, I'm all down to make fun of snake oil salesmen knowingly defrauding sick people, but it seems like many of the doctors mentioned were legitimately trying to help people; it's not nice to make fun of them just because we know more now.

Star trek: Enterprise, seasons 2 and 3, with Scott Bakula.  I'm annoyed.  Why time travel everywhere?  They have the whole Alpha Quadrant to introduce us to; the Klingong first-contact episode was good; the Ferengi first-contact episode was fantastic.  But they're inventing new species left and right; there's no way there would be that many new species that close to earth that didn't appear in TOS or TNG.  And all this back-and-forth-through-time business feels a lot like the evil-twin universe in DS9 when the whole Gamma Quadrant was right there.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

keep moving forward

Bad news for outlaws: The remarkable life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.  I grabbed this to check off my to-do box for a Coretta Scott King book award winner, as I haven't yet read one.  It's hard to comment about my choice of book without falling into political statements about the choices of the awards committee.  I shall resist.

This book is pretty ok.  Nonfiction picture books are always iffy-- matching the content level to the audience level-- and the sentence structure is a bit stilted, but the inclusion of "wild west" vocabulary add a nice element.  The illustrations aren't concrete enough for my preference but the consistent colors used was nice.

Warriors of the storm by Jack L. Chalker.  This author is weirdly obsessed with sex.  I have to keep in mind that this was from the late 80s.  The author also has a tendency to info-dump.  The multiple worlds are complex, but he lets the characters lecture each other in order to explain things to the reader.  The topics in each paragraph don't even flow together-- the writing is awkward and clunky, and espeically so in the "informative" sections.

A closed and common orbit by Becky Chambers.  Because I recently reread The long way to a small, angry planet, and in excited preparation of the third book coming out this year, I grabbed this again.  Like the first book, the second one is even better during the second reading.  Knowing where the story is going, the details add up faster; the emotional bits resonate stronger.  Sidra still comes off as whiny much of the time; it's true she didn't have much experience when she made her choice, but it was still hers to make.  It's more annoying than a major problem.  Cannot wait for book 3!

Star trek: Enterprise, season 1, with Scott Bakula.  I haven't seen a single episode of this before, so this has been treat, even though I know this wasn't very popular.  I particularly like how perfectly the technology looks like earlier versions of what's seen in TOS.  The plots meet the original plan of meeting new peoples and cultures; I'm kind of disappointed that there haven't so far been many episodes that seemed like social commentary.  That was more a TOS and NG thing, but it popped up often enough in DS9 and Voyager.  Well into season 2 already.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

caught up

Acadie by Dave Hutchinson.  Another book that was a pretty good read until the penultimate scene, when it totally fell apart.  There are some world details that are skipped over in the early part of the book, which the reader can excuse as a necessity of the very short format.  The last encounter, however, was very poorly managed.  It is probably supposed to throw the reader for a loop, but it doesn't fit.  There's no reason for the story to end that way.  The frustrating thing is, this could have been a pretty good story if the author had taken more time and more pages to build the world, to drop in some suspicions, and to give a reason for the twist ending.  Making it super short did everyone a great disservice.

Star trek: Voyager, seasons 6 and 7, with Kate Mulgrew.  Star trek good, Star wars bad.  Voyager better than DS9.  Writers: stop trying to use time travel; it is a bad idea, and a bad plot device. 

Burn notice, seasons 1-4, with Jeffrey Donovan.  This is what I've been doing in the evenings while the boys are watching LotR and playing chess.  It's a really good match for people who like White collar: mostly-good people with questionably-legal skills use said techniques to foil actual bad guys.  This series comes off a little darker, though: they find the bad guys and stop them, but stopping them usually involves pitting them against each other and letting them blow up themselves instead of downtown shopping areas, sort of thing.  At least one person usually dies, there's quite a bit of violence, and usually some pretty impressive-looking explosions.

My favorite character's is Bruce Campbell's-- a likable, flawed yet decent guy.  The main character is ok, but the actor has a little lisp he usually covers but it comes out  in the narration and quickly gets annoying.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

beside the noodles

I remembered to bring my little tablet to work today so I could work on reviews comfortably on my lunch break, instead of tiny typing on my phone or forgetting to do it at night.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American women, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale.  I'm not sure who this book is supposed to be for: there are some pieces that are more about generic ethnicity or feminist themes, but other pieces seemed like they were for an insider audience.  As a reader not from that culture, they didn't make sense, weren't clear, or didn't explain enough.  Perhaps the book is intended primarily for Native readers.

Rex Libris: I, Librarian by James Turner.  I had sort of kind of been meaning to read this for several years but never really felt strongly about it.  I think I picked this up on another day that my bookbag was full of returns and my in-progress novel got left at home.

This is not the GN for me.  The illustrations really put me off-- very blocky and stark.   The use of geometric shapes or patterns for people was interesting, different, and arty, but not easy to read.  The plot was ok, but I tend not to love stuff that explores the fourth wall. 

Noble savage: My life among two dangerous tribes-- the Yanomano and the anthropologists by Napoleon A. Chagnon.  DNF.  This isn't so much about the tribe or even about the author's experiences in the field as it was comments about academia.  Maybe it changes farther into the book, but after a few chapters, there's still quite a lot of commentary on who said what and how that academic turned out to be wrong, etc.  Reads like academic history with a touch of highschool cheerleader. 

Friday, February 02, 2018

little bits

Going into town: A love letter to New York by Roz Chast.  I didn't enjoy this.  The illustrations were less refined than Can't we talk about something more pleasant?; instead of looking zany (which I think is the intention) they just look messy.  The content isn't particularly organized, which is expained in the text but still comes off as jumbled.

The right word: Roget and his thesaurus by Jen Bryant; illutrated by Melissa Sweet.  I read this to check off my Caldecott box.  It was interesting but odd.  For a book about the maker of the thesaurus, it had a lot of lists but seemed disorganized: stuff was jumbled all over the pages.  The colors were bright and engaging, but the overall organization made me uncomfortable.

Thursday, February 01, 2018


I read two books in a row that both really disappointed me.  I didn't know what to say about them.  Then I read some that I did like but the number of titles I had to review started to quickly stack up.  Instead of trying to be fairly comprehensive in my comments, you're going to get quick and dirty impressions in small bursts, so I can knock all these off my list.

The fortune teller by Gwendolyn Womack.  This was so good!-- for about 3/4 of the book.  The end was a major flop.  There was a great story about the ancient piece and all the hands that held it.  For the modern-day-setting, the story was reasonably competently handled.  There were a few things that weren't a great choice-- the mysterious text messages between chapters were supposed to increase tension, but since there wasn't much in the story to support them, they were merely annoying.

The ending was horrible!  Spoiler time: the main character's paranormal manifestations came out of nowhere and made no sense in the story.  They were explained away as having been ignored or suppressed by the character, but that was invisible to the reader in the early part of the book.  Making that a part of the story from the beginning would have made it believable.  Also, the life-or-death chase around the world was rushed and contrived.  This was a good story without shoehorning in unnecessary thriller plots.

Partway through reading this, I recommended it to friends who liked parts of People of the book.  Unfortunately, it's like this author read that title and said "I can go bigger."  The good parts are better-- smoother writing, more realistic-sounding characters and believable relationships-- and the bad parts are way worse-- fake-feeling and poorly planned, like the author was unsure of who her readers were and what they'd want.

The moon in the palace by Weina Dai Randel.  Since this won a RITA award, I was definitely expecting something very different-- this is historical fiction and Women's fiction, not romance by any stretch of the imagination.

Historical fiction readers will appreciate the detail and setting-- unique and richly described-- but there are problems with the writing.  Primarily, if we can't see the character, she doesn't exist.  Between chapters, there are sometimes time jumps; during those periods, nothing has changed.  The character hasn't grown, she hasn't had a life off-screen.

It's not obvious from the way the story unfolds that this ends up being a short series.  It reads as a poorly-planned plot.


Friday, January 05, 2018

only 124 to go

My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry by Fredrik Backman.  This was one of my Yule Book Flood books (good match, Leslie!).

First, this is a very good book: although it has a larger cast of characters, they all are realistic and have depth; the plot progression is well-planned; the slow revelation of fairy-tale characters as real people encourages the reader to engage with the fairy tales directly.  Having read several of the author's other books, I was expecting a bit more from this, though.  It's not really clear in the beginning why the fairy tales are important, so it's hard to know which parts to remember. 

There were some moments that were very touching, but it's a very different reading experience than any of his other books.  Most recommended to readers new to this author.

Mrs. Robinson's disgrace: The private diary of a Victoria lady by Kate Summerscale; read by Wanda McCaddon.  This seems like a cool story, but audio is not the right format for this: it jumps right into the story with plenty of people to remember.  Not appropriate for how I usually listen to audiobooks (i.e., while in the kitchen).

2018 check boxes

Monday, January 01, 2018

2017 Review + 2018 Challenge

As usual, numbers do not reflect books flipped through exclusively for work/programming purposes.  I am also participating again in the Benjamin Franklin Awards, but as a design judge this year; therefore, I haven't included reviewed titles anywhere at all, since I'm mostly looking at paragraph headings, fonts, organization, etc. and reading very little.

For 2018, I have organized a more extensive check-box challenge (which I left stranded at my work station and will post after tomorrow). 

2018 Challenges:
1.  Read (finish) 125 books.
2.  Check off 75 boxes.*
3.  Improve NetGalley completion rate to 70% (currently at 62%).

*Challenges are organized into categories.  Books may count only one time per category but may count for multiple categories.

2017 Challenge wrap-up

A few weeks ago, I was still a little stressed out by the number of un-checked boxes, not necessarily because of the number, but more because I was having difficulty finding something in that category I would enjoy reading.  Since I had made a truly valiant effort to read a book in every category, I gave myself permission to check off the last half-dozen boxes with books I tried to read but couldn't finish for a variety of reasons.  With this bit of leniency, I'm pretty pleased with my performance.

Read a book about:
Non-Western history: Life along the Silk Road, Susan Whitfield
An Indigenous culture: The land of naked people: Encounters with Stone Age islanders, Madhursee Mukerjee
Philosophy: We are all stardust: Scientists who shaped our world talk about their work, their lives, and what they still want to know, Stefan Klein
Women in war: The Queen's accomplice, Susan Elia MacNeal
Japanese philosophy: Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life, Hector Garcia and Frances Miralles
Science: The tale of the dueling neurosurgeons: The history of the human brain as revealed by true stories of trauma, madness, and recovery, Sam Kean
An immigrant or refugee to the U.S.: A different pond, Bao Phi
Current events: Stepping stones: A refugee family's journey , Margriet Ruurs, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr, translated by Falah Raheem
Psychology: The 5 love languages of children, Gary Chapman and D. Ross Campbell
Someone's journey-- inner or outer: Someone to hold, Mary Balogh
Religion: The lost book of the Grail, Charlie Lovett
Your favorite hobby: Sheet pan suppers: 120 recipes for simple, surprising, hands-off meals straight from the oven, Molly Gilbert
A difficult topic: Boy, Anna Ziegler

Read a book: 
Before you see the movie: R.I.P.D., Peter Lankov (*1)
Set in the Middle East: Pride of Baghdad, Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon
[That's mentioned in another book: Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies, Jared Diamond]
Based on mythology: The sword of summer, Rick Riordan
[From a genre/subgenre you've never heard of: The island of the day before, Umberto Eco]
Recommended by an author you love: Farmer in the sky, Robert Heinlein
With pictures: Age of reptiles, Ricardo Delgado
With an unreliable narrator: Right behind you, Lisa Gardner
Set in the wilderness: Woods runner, Gary Paulsen
That's been on your TBR list too long: Crosstalk, Connie Willis
From a nonhuman perspective: Flashmob, Christopher Farnsworth
Involving travel: The space between the stars, Anne Corlett

Read a(n):
Graphic novel written by a woman: The night bookmobile, Audrey Niffenegger
Children's book aloud: Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer, Hannah E. Lowe
Memoir by someone who identifies as LGBTQIA: Hunger: A memoir of (my) body, Roxane Gay
Espionage thriller: Cold barrel zero, Matthew Quick
Work of post-apocalyptic fiction written by a woman: The book of Phoenix, Nnnedi Okorafor
Feminist sci-fi novel: Y negative, Kelly Haworth
First book in a series you've never read: Touched by an alien, Gini Koch
Translated book: Beartown, Fredrik Backman
Contemporary collection of poetry: You don't have to say you love me, Sherman Alexie
Book by a modernist woman writer: Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Set in Antarctica: South Pole Station, Ashley Shelby
Book of letters: Sorcery and Cecelia, Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Collection of comics: Love and capes, vol. 2, Thomas Zahler
Audiobook: Stiff upper lip, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
Science fiction book written by a man: Artemis, Andy Weir
Classic you've always wanted to read: The Swiss family Robinson, Johann Wyss
Book written over a century ago, then read a retelling of the book: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, and Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye
Graphic novel that's a retelling of a classic book: Jane, the fox and me, Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou
Children's book you didn't read as a child: Thunder Boy Jr., Sherman Alexie
Book that has less than 100 pages: Bound with love, Megan Mulry
Book that was adapted to film.  Watch the film, then compare and contrast it with the book: The Indian in the cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks, and The Indian in the cupboard with Hal Scardino
Auto/biography of a woman, written by a woman: Trials of the earth, Mary Mann Hamilton
Murder mystery written by a woman: The corpse with the diamond hand, Cathy Ace
Book by a female author that deals with a serious topic: In our backyard: Human trafficking in American and what we can do to stop it, Nita Belles, read by Nicol Zanzarella
Murder mystery written by a man: The late show, Michael Connelly
[Auto/biography of a man, written by a man: Empire made: My search for an outlaw uncle who vanished in British India, Kief Hillsbery]
Bestseller from 2016: A man called Ove, Fredrik Backmann (*2)
Bestseller from a genre you don't normally read: If not for you, Debbie Macomber
Reread your favorite book from your childhood: The island stallion, Walter Farley

Read a book written by a(n):
Woman under 25: St. Lucy's home for girls raise by wolves, Karen Russell
Author born in an African country: Wife of the gods, Kwei Quartey
Author born in Asia: A rising man, Abir Mukherjee
Author born in China: Little white duck, Na Liu
Author born in Australia/Oceanai: The secret river, Kate Grenville
Author born in a European country: Nation, Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs
Author born in India: The Bollywood affair, Sonali Dev
Author born in North America: Heat: Adventures in the world's fiery places, Bill Streever
Author born in South America: Innocent Erendira and other stories, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Author born in the Caribbean: Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
Or about a person who has a disability: Wrinkles, Paco Roca
Multiple authors: nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen

Read a book of:
[Essays: A slip of the keyboard: Collected nonfiction, Terry Pratchett, read by Michael Fenton Stevens] (*3)
Classic literature written by a woman: From the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
Classic literature written by a man: The little prince, Antione de Saint-Exupery
Fiction set during wartime: Eagle and empire, Alan Smale.

(*1): I checked out the DVD several times but could never fit it in to my schedule.  Since the task doesn't explicitly say I have to watch the movie during the same year, whoever, I decided not to worry about it.
(*2): I've read a number of books that fit into this category, but they were all prepubs I read *in* 2016: Curious minds, Grunt, The revenant, What if?, and The Martian were easy finds.
(*3): I want(ed) so much to finish this, but my audio download expired and there's a holds list!  I considered using my librarian powers for evil and buying more copies so I could get it quicker, but the spending was all done for the year.  :`(

Sunday, December 31, 2017

now I'm done

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper; read by Jim Dale.  I downloaded this early in the summer, for family car trip listening.  I picked it because it came up on a list somewhere as being survivalist-themed a la Woods runner and Lost! On a mountain in Maine, both enjoyed by the family.  The story does start out with a wilderness-survival portion, but once that was over, it couldn't keep my kid's attention.

I re-downloaded it a week or two ago to finish it.  There is a surprising amount of historical daily-life detail that will probably fascinate a particular group of young readers (but I'm guessing students slightly older than my 4th-grader).  Despite the author's note about her meticulous research, I'm never sure how accurate it is when multiple historical characters are presented with more "enlightened" (read: "modern"?) attitudes. 

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye.  I really enjoyed this book, but I think it had some serious flaws.  This always makes me really uncomfortable; I usually feel like my enjoyment of a book is proportional to its quality.

Major flaw 1: Jane's acceptance, or determination, of her identity as a "murderess."  She never seems very distraught at this idea; she's minorly concerned about what other people will think of her, but she doesn't seem to think of it very much herself.  She also doesn't exactly embrace it: she uses her identity, more of already-damned soul rather than a serial killer, when she sees a need, but she doesn't embrace that identity and search out the most evil people in her city, without whom the world would be a better place.  It's not even like she was ambivalent about it, either; more like she couldn't be bothered to think much about it at all.

Major flaw 2:  In her narration, Jane refers to events in Jane Eyre throughout the book, but doesn't talk at all about why this is important to her.  It isn't clear until over half-way through the book when she first encounters the story at all.  She points out life events that are similar to those in the novel, but those would be apparent to the reader anyway.  It also isn't exactly clear in what year(s) the book is set, and the publication history of Jane Eyre, plus other works by the Bronte sisters, would have been an interesting addition.  The author hit the worst possible balance: she didn't need to call attention in the text to Jane Eyre at all, but since she did, it needed to be more integral to the story.

Jane, the fox and me by Fanny Britt; illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault; translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou.  This is really beautiful-- the unfinished-looking pencil drawings for the young girl unsure of herself and the colorful images when she relates the beautiful story she's reading add depth to the story.  It seems simple; read it slowly.  Highly recommended.

Stepping stones: A refugee family's journey by Margriet Ruurs; artwork by Nizar Ali Badr; translated by Falah Raheem.  These illustrations are very unique and beautiful; I'm curious as to the scale.  The notes in the front are more informative than the story, which is kind of flat. 

The plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg.  The day after Christmas, I had so many returns and donations (we cleaned up in the living room and weeded some titles from the shelves) that I completely forgot to bring a book to actually read on my lunch break.  I quickly consulted by Want-to-Read list in GoodReads for any graphic novels that might be checked in.

I read this over two or three days and it seemed new to me, but when putting the tags into Blogger it alerted me I have already read this.  Apparently I read this six years ago when I was doing middle-school book-talks.  I was really good back then at skimming books just deeply enough to talk about them at the time but I don't remember much about most of the titles from that year.

I'm glad I unintentionally gave this book a rereading, as I enjoyed it very much.  I guess I have become a more proficient Graphic Novel reader over the years.  The story is a bit light and the characters are a little stereotypical but it's a sweet, touching story.

The Indian in the cupboard, with Hal Scardino.  Ugh, this was a waste of time.  The acting was horrible.  In the book, Omri is a likable character because he spends so much time thinking about how to help Little Bear and figuring out imaginative ways of scaling down items for his benefit.  This is missing from the movie-- obviously it would be hard to convey at all, and it isn't.  Patrick is a stupid, unthinking cardboard cut-out of a character in the book, but he's redeemed when he recognizes that Boone has real needs and leaves him in Omri's care as the best thing for him.  In the movie, that never happens; his character is further damaged by an actor with no skill and perfectly expressionless face.  It's hard to blame 10-year-olds for being bad actors, so I'll instead mock Little Bear's fragmented English, delivered with a run-of-the-mill modern American accent.

The Swiss family Robinson by Johann Wyss.  This... is not one of the fun classics: far too much instruction and philosophizing, poorly incorporated (and incorrect) natural history and other instructional paragraphs.  The survival story is interesting, but the way the father inherently knows about every machine, craft, and plant from any part of the world defies belief.

Although she has some "screen time" and is not an absolute ninny, the boys' mother is named only once in the whole book.  The rest of the time she is referred to by the narrator as "my wife" but more usually as "the mother;" not "Mother," for some reason, as her family name or title, but "the mother," as her position. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

i'm not done

GoodReads suggested I "see my year in review" starting at the beginning of the week.  Dude, I can finish three or four more books, easy.  Don't rush me, GoodReads.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  I have for decades (gah!) considered this my favorite book; I read it every two years or few years from mid-highschool through about 10 years ago.  In the last 10, I have always sort of meant to read it again, but never really got around to it.  I'm so glad that I've read it again, and also that I did have that big gap in between my last readings.

I always thought and remembered the book as being dark, heavy, and intense.  On this recent rereading, I was startled by how melodramatic and light it seemed.  Whereas before my description would have focused on how gothic it was, I would now best describe it as romance novel.

It was so interesting to reread this and to have a vastly different reading experience, when obviously the only to have changed is me, influenced by everything I've read in the meantime.  10/10, will read again next decade.

A man called Ove by Fredrik Backman.  I was a little bit afraid to start this-- obviously it has been immensely popular, but "popular" books and I don't usually get along.  I adored Beartown but And every morning the way home gets longer and longer was a difficult read.

This book was sad and hard to read for long stretches, so I kept putting it down, but so beautiful that I kept picking it back up.  I slowly pirouetted in and out my chair all weekend.  It made me so sad; at the end of one of the days, as we were getting ready for bed, my husband asked me if I was coming down with something.  Read it, but not in the staff room or other public places.

The Indian in the cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks.  My husband suggested this title for our son for Yule Book Flood, so I grabbed it for a reread/refresher.  I did read a few in this series when I was youngish, but I didn't particularly love them.  Reading it now, I really liked all the tiny things that Omri or Little Bear made.  My son is proudly on page 104 already and is really enjoying it.

I love Yule Book Flood because it is the one day a year I can hand my son a book and he reads it unquestioningly.

Innocent Erendira and other stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Something else in the category of "not what I usually read."  I very much enjoyed "Innocent Erendire" and a few other of the stories (mostly early in the book), but freely admit that I had to skim a handful for being too freaky.  I couldn't figure out if some of the characters were supposed to be ghosts or dead people or what, but there death made more appearances than seems healthy for the author.  I did really enjoy the inventive and expected turns of phrase, so I won't completely rule out reading this author again.

Red Dwarf XII with Chris Barrie and Craig Charles.  The general consensus around this house is, this season has great script writing but poor plots: lots of great one-liners, but the episode plots aren't fantastic.  Only of interest to existing fans.

Santa Clause 2 with Tim Allen.  We rewatched The Santa clause yesterday and then watched the sequel, which I've only seen once before and remembered very little of.  Both are cute family movies but they have some pretty big holes-- the sort of thing like it would take too much time to explain or acknowledge these details, so the story just ignores them. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

[frowny face]

White collar, seasons 1 through 4, with Matt Bomer.  I have been watching this in the evenings instead of blogging.  I'm enjoying it quite a bit-- it's a good match for me.  The crimes are interesting and complex (not always believable but certainly fun), there are just enough personal life plots mixed in, and the characters are likable. 

The one thing I really didn't like is that, especially in the first season, Peter has a number of lines talking about being afraid of making his wife angry.  However, his wife is a calm, relaxed, and understanding person.  The workaholic afraid of upsetting his wife was lazy writing.  He should be trying to make her happy because he is in love with her, but that would have been written a different way.  Otherwise, lovely.

The little prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, translated by Richard Howard.  I'm not really clear on why this is such a classic.  Yes, there were some observations and comments about human nature, but they weren't particularly deep.  The characters aren't particularly realistic or likable. 

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.  I didn't like this either.  White collar is just the excuse; I don't like to blog when I didn't enjoy reading the books. 

I found this very difficult to read, largely because of the writing-- the author didn't use commas where they belong, she used commas where she should have used semicolons, and she mixed fragments into her writing.  The story is told from multiple characters' viewpoints, but switches are not clearly marked.  It wasn't enjoyable to have to wade through. 

I skimmed an introduction by some scholar in the beginning of the book that talked about the fate of the characters and such, but in reality the story isn't that deep.  It is unfortunate for the characters that their lives turned out that way, but each is not to blame for the unhappiness of the other.

Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life by Hector Garcia and Frances Miralles.  This is why I don't like self-help books: each presents their way as the best way for everyone, without discussing different approaches that might work better for a certain type of person over another, and without citing sources or discussing scientifically why the proposed approach is best.  This book is perfect for people who have already decided that this is how they want to approach health.

The three ninja pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat.  This was read aloud during a staff activity.  It is a cute picture book and appropriate for ages 3-6: not too text-heavy but with a broad vocabulary; colorful, simple illustrations, not too crowded; fun twist on a story kids will probably already be familiar with by that age.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

rain, rain, clouds, rain

From the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweilerby E.L. Konigsburg.  I picked this up to count towards one of the multiple classics I need to read still this year.  (Someone says it's a classic, so I'll take it.)

I'm pretty sure that a teacher read this to us in grade school.  I don't think I read it, because I don't recall reading it more than twice (something I did with every book that fell into my hands).

The characters, and in particular some of their dialogue, aren't terribly believable, but the story is pretty fun.  Still a good read for kids, and I can see why I liked it as a kid and remembered bits.

The long way to a small, angry planet by Becky Chambers.  I reread this for a recent library program.  If anything, I enjoyed it more on this second read.  I noticed more plot-important details that, the first time through, got swallowed up among all the other world-building details.

The summage solution by G.L. Carriger.  I cannot recommend this book, nor am I going to continue to follow this author.  This title doesn't contribute much to the world of romance novels.  The intimate scenes tend more towards explicit rather than erotic and, although both main characters have detailed back stories and reasons to be nervous about a relationship, the majority of their difficulties come from not talking to each other, making assumptions, and jumping to conclusions.

Life along the Silk Road by Susan Whitfield.  I liked the set-up in this book, how each chapter focuses on one person to give details about that area and time for a person of that station.

It would have been very useful if the author included close-view maps throughout, instead of the one continent-wide map at the front.  The given map had cities and features labeled, but these labels did not reflect the areas discussed in the text.  This map was also very difficult to read-- small, gray scale, with text over features (mountains, rivers) making it not really at all useful.  The author also used historical names for places, when known, which seems like it would only add difficulty and be mostly accessible to scholars or extremely well-read amateurs, not general readers.

Soonish: Ten emerging technologies that'll improve and/or ruin everything by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith.  I am interested in finishing this, but it had a hold.  Understandable and fun.  Not sure what's up with the formatting-- frequently there is a big chunk of blank space after a paragraph, which the reader might assume is the end of the chapter, but it's because there is a cartoon at the top of the next page, with additional text after that.  The illustrations aren't so sensitive that they make sense one or two paragraphs out of context.

Sherlock, series 1-4, with Benedict Cumberbatch.  I binged this so hard.  I wasn't really sure what the big deal was, but this is super well-done, very engaging.  There was, intermittently throughout the series, some experimentation with storytelling style and shooting style that were a little to weird and didn't always work.  Most of the plots were well-told, although a handful were rather obvious.  Several plot points are still unanswered-- hopefully they make the 5th series and tie everything up.