Wednesday, May 29, 2013

True Stories

I have decided to look at autobiographies as part of my non-fiction quota of reading this year, and I have learnt the hard way (Bossypants anyone?) that not all autobiographies are interesting or even beneficial. What I mean by beneficial is that I would like to learn something from this person's experiences.  Peoples lives in general can be pretty interesting and I like to read about them.  I just need to be a little circumspect about which books to read.  Nearly twenty years ago I read most of George Orwell's books among  which are some that are from his life ( Down and Out in Paris and London,  Homage to Catalonia, The Road to Wigan Pier)  and I never enjoyed anything more than reading about those experiences.  Orwell had a talent for capturing my interest and making me feel as if I were there with him.  It's hard to explain the wealth of riches that these books added to my own life.

Fortunately for me the next autobiography that I picked up after Bossypants was Agatha Christie: An Autobiography.  She was such an interesting person.  Reading about her life helped me to enjoy, even more than I already did, her novels.  I loved being able to pick up details in her book The Mysterious Affair at Styles from her own life.  It was actually pretty funny and fun to come across them. 
I have learnt that you don't always need a classical education to become a writer.  This is the second successful writer I have come across who has not been to university (or in Agatha's case no school at all), but has learnt a great deal from their parents, and from reading a lot.  Of course, it doesn't stop me from wanting that classical education myself, but it is interesting to see how successful people can be without it.   

For Kids

1.   Middle School: Get Me Out of Here by James Patterson.  Book two.
I had a great time reading this book, it has all of the right ingredients to engage and retain a kid’s interest and attention.  Illustrations are frequent, cleanly drawn and very funny.  They do a good job of supporting and supplementing the written story.  It is part of a series which I look forward to reading  because the protagonist’s coming of age story is pretty interesting.  I'd like to see what comes next.



2. Hold Fast by Blue Balliet.

A really engaging and intricate story.  This is my first book by Blue Balliet  and I look forward to reading whatever else this author has written.  I always like a book with a strong female character in it and I wasn’t disappointed with our female protagonist.  I’ve got to admit,  a few things don’t quite make a lot of sense and I wouldn’t recommend this book to just any kid.  They would have to have some staying power, and some patience to read this book.  It all makes sense at the end though and the journey is worth it. 


3.  Poison Most Vial by Benedict Carey.

When I was a kid I couldn’t get enough of mysteries.  I read them all, The Three Investigators, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, even a little Trixie Belden.  Kids these days (or at least in the library where I work) are not interested in reading mystery, which is really too bad, because over the years I have been buying some pretty good ones (The Westing Game, The Graveyard Book, Who Stole Halloween?)Poison Most Vial by Benedict Carey will be added to the collection.  Not only are the characters likeable, funny and relevant to today’s culture, the story was easy enough to understand and possibly a good story to cut one’s teeth on if this was your first mystery. 

4. Starring Jules (as Herself) by Beth Ain.

Jules Bloom is extremely loveable and very charming.  I like her a lot because she represents to me how a little girl ought to be.  Her sense of style is unique and very much an indication of her personality.  She isn’t a carbon copy Barbie doll, and stands out  from the other kids.  This book gives a very positive message to young girls about how they should try to be themselves and not what everyone else says they should be.  In an age where popular role models are not the best examples, and there is pressure to conform to what is perceived as the status quo, Staring Jules (as Herself) gives a clear strong message that every young girl should read.


5. Dear Know It All:  Set the Record Straight by Rachel Wise.

Over the years I have been concerned with how girls are portrayed in books, especially when I see so many 'barbies'out there who seem to worry more about how they look and who they are seen with,  what lip gloss they are wearing etc., they seem like little shallow pools and I feel sorrow for our future...  a little dramatic, I know, but since I was never a barbie, I can't understand them and have no use for them.

Which is why I loved this book!  Our protagonist Sam is a great girl.  The kind I would like all girls to aspire to.  She's smart, caring, and interested in her world.  An all round good role model for girls. 

 We are introduced to two concepts, activism and cyber-bullying,  and both were addressed in such a way that it would be helpful for those kids who don't know what to do, or have never felt brave enough to do anything about something that bothers them or issues that they care about

As a middle school book with something to teach, it doesn't come over preachy or as a lecture, and is good fun to read, because it's all about normal everyday girls who have normal everyday issues. 




Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lucifer's Tears

My last Scandinavian mystery for a while phew! (though I have learnt that Finland does not consider itself Scandinavian but Nordic).  This last story was really gory and brutal.  There were quite a few times that I said to myself  "Now was that really necessary?".    A few chapters in I was seriously considering putting the book down and never looking at it again, but it grew on me, and after a while I came to like the protagonist Inspector Vaara. 
Unlike my last Scandinavian mystery this one was full of information the country had lots of history and I learnt a little about Finland, though I will have to verify if it was true or not.  I probably won't read any more by this author because the kind of detail he has included really turns my stomach, but if you can get past that, this story is really interesting and the others in the series will probably be really good too. 
It is pretty safe to say that I would not survive in Finland either, because I do not drink alcohol, I would freeze, and I would surely starve (though I would freeze sooner than I would starve that's for sure). 

In The Pictures

I have come across some great graphic novels this year (and just wish that my budget was big enough so that I could be able to buy them all!).  While I am always on the lookout for more graphica for the collection at school, I have my own favorites as well so don't get concerned if you see something that is definitely not appropriate for ages 12 and under.

First up is one of my all time favorite artists Kazu Kibuishi.  I first encounterd him while reading the Flight collections.  Fortunately he did one collection for grade school (Flight Explorer)which has been a great guide for me to find new and interesting artists to buy.  I bought both of these for the school collection and they are both in constant circulation.  His art is clear and simple, and I like the two page panoramas that are his modus operandi.  The Mystery Boxes is a new collection of graphic artists.

Doug TenNapel is a new artist for me, and I liked Ghostopolis quite a bit.  Unfortunately there is line or two in Tommysaurus that makes it inapproproate for the school collection (big pouty lip), which is too bad because the story was really neat and original.
 Bone is really huge in the library and I have had to replace the series more than once from over-use.  I liked this edition of Tall Tales, and I also like Tom Sniegowski's contributions.  There is a series called Bone: Quest For the Spark, also written by Sniegowski, which hasn't seemed to have taken off in the library, but I don't hesitate to recommend them because I want to see kids reading beyond the graphic novel eventually.
 Binky is always hilarious and incredibly adorable.  
 I'm not sure this book has ever seen a shelf in the library yet.  Relationships between animals has always been a favorite storyline of mine, and Bird & Squirrel is a very good story about friendship.

A great selection for Halloween.  The graphics are clear and colorful which is very appealing.

 I'm always on the lookout for some graphica that I can put in the non-fiction stacks, and these autobiograpies of the gods and godesses are very well done.

Two of the word-free variety.  The illustrations say everything.  I particularly love Sara Varon and her Robot Dreams.


My two grown up selections.  Beowulf was incredibly gory which is good I guess in such a bloody and violent tale.  Century 1910 was typical Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (though I found out that I have read them out of order and will need to get The Black Dossier).
So a good hodge podgey selection.  I love how graphic novels have just taken off in leaps and bounds and I enjoy the classics that I have read so far,  Sherlock Homes, Shakespeare, poetry, classic stories like Kafka's The Metamorphoses and Proust's In Search of Lost Time.  It's a rich new presentation which has so many possibilties. 

Girl Power

I have been reading some great graphic novels of late (shopping for the school library where I work), and it has been quite noticable in a lot of the books that I have bought that the protagonist has a very strong female character.  I like this.  For too long the comic world has had their women in tight spandex with small waists, huge chests and big hair, so it's nice to come across something for the rest of us (the regular sized women of reality).
Of course I just love Zita!  Incredible things happen to her and she just goes with the flow, and does what she thinks is right.  Zita is the ideal super hero for young girls, she's accessible and possible.  She's a great role model (and I am so going to dress up like her at Halloween).
I wanted to get out my knitting needles after reading this one.  I think the girls at my school could learn a lot from Mirka.
The cover drawing says it all about Emily.  She's a tough young girl with lots of love in her heart for her family and the determination to do what is necessary.  She does all of the hard stuff for them, and that is a good thing to see and read about.
 Now I have heard some objections about this series.  They didn't like how sometimes the females are little too good looking, and a little too underdressed.  But I have always felt that Rose and Thorn are some of the fiercest graphic novel broads I know.  Just look at the covers of these two books.  They look tough and unafraid of getting dirty so that they can to do what is important, what is necessary. 
I love how the stereotype is broken in this graphic novel.  We've got a girl going out to deal with the monsters instead of waiting for some prince to step in...
...and last but not least, we have Dorothy.  I really love this version of the classic story. I have always wanted to re-introduce the Oz books back in to circulation and this is a brilliant way to do it.

No bones about it (har har), we have some very strong girls in our graphic novels these days, and I am always on the lookout for more.  Not only are the girls in the books they are writing them too, and I just love the positive message and the great role modeling example for our girls.




Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Machineries of Joy


I am presented with points of view that I have never considered before:- Irish Catholic Priests in America faced with the unknowns of the birth of space travel.  A gaseous entity encountering humans for the first time on Mars.  A Hollywood monster-maker whose tyrannosarus rex becomes too lifelike.  The last family in America going on vacation.  The fears of a drummer boy about to go into battle.  Invasion through fungi.  The calamity of losing radio and television on a small town.  Indians seeing white men for the first time ever.   A sea captain still in mourning for his lost love.  The Day of Death in Mexico.   A pshychiatrist presented with an illustrated woman.  A son strangled by his mother.  An understanding of the worth of a true miracle.  The insanity of a murderous ventriloquist.  The beggar as a professional.  The obsession with death of an old spinster who has never really lived.  The hazards of success.  The importance placed in Mexico of a place to stay when you are dead.   An old man remembering a better way of life.   Irish competitiveness. I can safely say that I will never look at mushrooms the same way again...

The Boy in the Suitcase

A cleverly written, suspenseful story.  I'm visiting a new Scandinavian country this time, Denmark.  I don't know a lot about this country, except what I learnt from a quilting penpal, and of course from reading Beowulf (though I'm pretty sure that isn't relevant).  I didn't learn very much about Denmark in this book.

We are introduced to all of the principal characters, given some background, and then pitched right in to the story.  I enjoyed the journey.  It was an intricate plot, with immediate and satisfactory results.  I love it when there are strong female protagonists.  I will keep an eye out for more from this author. 

The Small Assassin


Some favourite one-liners from The Small Assassin, the hooks that add oomph, that weave magic with words, those sentences that are so typically Ray Bradbury.

  • Just when the idea occurred to her that she was being murdered she could not tell.
  • She shuddered, a convulsive motion, like a fish trying to free itself from a deep-swallowed hook.
  • There was a moment of green silence.
  • He could tell their ages and their sizes by the sound of their numerous feet over the summer grass and on the lined pavement, and over the asphalt street, and picking through the cluttered bricks to where  his car hung half into the night sky, still spinning its wheels with a senseless centrifuge.
  • If he tried to find another World beyond them, the trees wove themselves thick with the wind, to still his curiosity, to stop his eyes.
  • It was a wonder when Grandma brandished silver shakers over the bird, supposedly sprinkling showers of mummy-dust and pulverised Indian bones, muttering mystical verses under her toothless breath.
  • Beautifully, beautifully dead.
  • There in the middle of the simple room sat the tombstone.
  • It was the sensation of silence that the most notable aspect of the house.
  • It was very convenient to die for Mr. Benedict.
  • They took hold of Michael and pushed him out the window.
  • The town is so quiet and far off, you can only hear the crickets sounding in the spaces beyond the hot indigo trees that hold back the stars.
  • “He looks like a bottle of milk.”

Frozen Moment

I haven't spent a lot of time with this genre because for the most part I prefer the cozy mystery, or something from another era that makes the story removed from life today.  I guess this is why I have had some problems so far like when I was reading the Millenium trilogy by Steig Larrson.  When it is so recent it is more real, and therefore more shocking.   Naturally it has occured to me that when Conan Doyle wrote his Sherlock Holmes, Christie her Poirot and Allingham her Campion that those books would have been as shocking to the people of the day. 
This is another Swedish author, and this is her first novel.  I liked it quite a bit, and look forward to reading her next novel.  Chief Inspector Tell is already one of my favorite cops.  I liked how the story flickered about from present day to ten or so years in the past, the two stories seemingly unrelated, and I liked how both storylines merged so smoothly close to the end. I liked that I could care for these characters. 

Siddhartha


Wow!  Something that I have struggled to express and explain for many years has come together in a simple explanation within just two chapters in this book.  I almost cried from the revelation (I still might).   
Siddhartha was not what I expected.  Just the title and the cover told me everything (or so I thought).  It's not what you think.  This isn't the story of the Buddha, it's a story about a man named Siddhartha.  He still has a spiritual journey and it is quite similar to the Buddha but their enlightenment is achieved in very different ways.

   "When Siddharta listened attentively to this river, to this song of a thousand voices; when he did not listen to the sorrow or laughter, when he did not bind his soul to any one particular voice and absorb in his Self, but heard them all, the whole, the unity; then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of one word: Om-perfection."
                                                                                Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

It is such a beautiful sentence, so deep and sigificant, piercing into my heart. It makes me want to weep with joy. It would take me years, probably my lifetime, to explain everything that is in my heart, how I see the world and everything in it.  Though I have not really tried to reveal that to anyone, that inner Self, just tried to show it by deeds instead.  I have tried to 'be' the world I wish to see, and be true to my beliefs by acting in a certain way.  It's very personal and vitally important for everyone all at the same time, because understanding the nature of myself, is the first step to finding my heart and being able to share what I am.  But that's okay... I don't expect anyone to understand or see the world as I do, which is part of the whole as I see it anyway, it's that infinite diversity thing (no comments from the peanut gallery thanks).  Which impresses me more about Siddhartha because it is so much of what I would like to say, and what I want in an ideal world.  But don't take my word for it, read the book!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Blackout

Silly, silly me, I did not find out first if this was part of a series.  Not that I mind... it just means that it will be a re-read at a later date after I have bought the rest. 
I read this because it was a Nebula winner, and you can take it from me that this book has earnt it's laurels.  I have never read Connie Willis before and I enjoyed myself so much that I want to collect the rest of her books and read them in the order intended.  While reading this book there were many references to things that I realise now were from past books and not from further along in this one... right up to almost the very end (the third last page!) I had expected this to conclude, and boy was I surprised that it was not so.  It's my own fault... internet access for me is spotty at best and taking the time to do the research before-hand has not been an appealing prospect. 
What is appealing, however is reading the rest of these stories and whatever else Willis has written. 

American Gods

Ever had a favourite mythology?  When I was a girl it was the Greeks.  I ransacked both the school library and the community library in my search for more about the Greek gods and goddesses, and when I was older, because these books were all in the same aisle, my love for other kinds of literature was born.  I loved to read classical literature (Plato and Aeschylus were amongst my favorites), and other plays of interest (Shakespeares tragedies and comedies).
After I read this I wanted to read some more (mythology that is).  Actually ever since The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul by Douglas Adams I have been meaning to read some Norse mythology, and after reading American Gods I find that there is just so much more out there for me to find out about.  I have heard that there will be a sequel and I will be the first one in line for that.
This is my first grown-up Gaiman book.  I was a little surprised with the colorful language, but reading further into the book, it just couldn't have been any other way.  I loved the god cameos and in particular I was really fond of Mr. Nancy.  The story was intriguing, mysterious, ugly and funny.  I am hoping that this is the literary style for Gaiman's adult books, as I really enjoyed this one and I gleefully look forward to reading the rest.  I can't help but mention (you know me I really can't help it), that I noticed the influence of Ray Bradbury in his style, and I am really impressed.  Oh and I totally knew it was in the klunker!

American Elsewhere

                                                 
I had the tremendous good fortune to win this book from the Librarything Early Reviewers book group.  It was love at first sight!  While it was just an advanced copy (and could have used a bit more glue on the spine publisher chaps!), it was a pleasant handful of book, large, a little heavy and very easy to hold in your hands (nice and bendy). It was also over 660 pages of non-stop suspense, intrigue,mystery and persistent horror (meaning that I was always anxious about what was going to happen next just like watching a horror movie, and the feeling never let up…at all!), it was such a pleasure to read from start to finish.  I really didn’t want the book to end.
 
When I began I was impressed with how it reminded me of my favourite television show Eureka, thougn that impression didn’t last very long as it swiftly turned into something more serious and ominous (you guys remember David Lynch’s
Twin Peaks?  Yeah it was that damn ominous).  Despite getting creeped out (horror has never really been my favourite genre), I didn’t want to put the book down, but forced myself to because I didn’t want the story to end so quickly, so it was my bedside book for the last week (and I always read well past my bedtime!). 

I looked at Robert Jackson Bennett’s website yesterday after I had finished American Elsewhere and I was blown away by a picture he had posted of the rabbit suit and mask, because that was almost exactly how I had pictured it, which just cranks up my admiration for Bennett’s ability to paint pictures and evoke feelings with his words.  I also discovered that he has written a few other books that I will be buying as soon as I possibly can, and of course I will be keeping an eye out for whatever else this writer will produce in the future.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dead Ever After (possible spoilers!)

It has been more than a week since I finished Dead Ever After and I took some time to mull it over before I decided what to write about it.  After four months of the excitement and build up to the end of this series, I don't know what I was expecting.  I was a little deflated and even a little bit disappointed after finishing it and I think that was because I had built myself up into such a froth that I was full of too much anticipation for the end.   After a few days I could see that there was no other way this could possibly have ended, it all makes sense (and we don't need to have a whole bunch of bells and whistles to show that). 
To be really clear, I loved this ending.  All of my wishes came true.  I don't think there could possibly be a book out there by Charlaine Harris that I couldn't like and I wasn't disappointed by how she polished off the Southern Vampire series.  Polished (until it sparkled) is what she did indeed do.  Everything that you can imagine as a loose end was tied off (in neat little bows), and this story is definitely over.  I do hope that from time to time when one of Harris's anthologies comes out, we will hear about how Sookie is doing, but I'm pretty happy with how it all ended, and don't feel the need to know what happens next with any kind of urgency. 
I know I have remarked on it before but I think that Charlaine Harris's ability to write a series which did not flag in any way throughout all thirteen books, proves her to have a special talent for planning, perception and execution of a well made story, and when it was all over, I realised that she really knows how to wrap it up beautifully too.
I was saving the fan fiction for the very end for after I had read all of the books because I didn't want it to bias what was canon, but today when I looked at the website I just couldn't do it.  I saw just from the summaries that there was a few that had decided to rewrite their own versions of book thirteen because they were unhappy with the ending.  I don't wish to be insulting (and hopefully I won't be!), but I don't understand their disappointment.  Well...actually I do.  I think that those people are perhaps what I would lable the True Bloods.  The ones that care more about the vampires and probably the television show rather than what I think is the whole point of the books.  This is Sookie's story, it always has been, and everything else has just been a means to an end for that story.  It's too bad that they couldn't see that, and I have absolutely no interest in reading their fan fiction. 
Thanks Charlaine...and I look forward to seeing what you do next.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Deadlocked


       After the last puzzling and depressing instalment, Deadlocked was a breath of fresh air.  We swung back again to what I know and love about the Sookie Stackhouse universe.  I laughed quite a bit, and it was such a relief to have good old Sookie back to her spunky, sarcastic old self.  I had really missed her, and was worried she wouldn’t spring back.  There was so much emotional turmoil involved in everything that happened ( I am amazed at how much was stuffed into one book) so at the very end of Deadlocked I was very close to tears.  Naturally, Sookie can never really go back to what she used to be, and I am really very impressed with how over the years Charlaine Harris has developed this wonderful, intricate character.  I have always enjoyed reading about the journey that a character struggles through until they reach their true self, and I really love how Sookie has grown.
While it seemed like some storylines were being tied off, there is still just a little bit more to be told, and I am aquiver in anticipation for the grand finale.  I still have absolutely no idea how it will end even after what Sookie did in the final chapter.  We all know by now what I hope for and I will find out in just a few short days...can't wait!