library_mama: (Default)
Earwig and the WitchEarwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones.

This is the inimitable Wynne Jones’s last book, and while I’m sure I won’t say anything that hasn’t already been said, those who have somehow escaped hearing of this so far really should. Earwig lives in an orphanage, unaware that she was left there by a witch who promised to be back soon but never returned. She loves it there, loves her best friend, Custard, and especially loves that everyone there does exactly what she wants, and has perfected the art of looking unlovable when prospective parents come to visit the orphanage. One day, though, a horrible-looking couple comes in who decide that Earwig is just what they’re looking for. For the first time in her life, no one listens when Earwig says no. Soon she finds that she has been taken on as a helper by a witch. The witch really only wants an extra pair of hands, and has no intention of training Earwig herself to be a witch, while the man has a demonic temper and wants only to be left in peace. Earwig soon befriends the cat. Once she realizes that escape is out of the question, she turns her formidable will instead to getting her new “parents” to do what she wants, working together with the cat.

The book is short, sweet and quite nearly perfect. We never do learn what happened to the Earwig’s original family, but Earwig is a spunky and likeable character, despite or perhaps because of her extreme self-centeredness. She does some magic, but most of her technique is playing people off of each other, with considerable knowledge of character. I read this first to myself and then aloud to my seven-year-old, who also enjoyed it immensely. It’s geared towards a younger audience than her other books, which makes it a perfect introduction to her work for children.
library_mama: (Default)
Grave MercyGrave Mercy, His Fair Assassin Book 1 by Robin LaFevers. The setting is 15th century Brittany. Ismae is a peasant’s daughter with an abusive father. When the man he marries her off to turns out to be abusive as well, she runs away and is taken in by the convent of St. Mortain. St. Mortain is the local patron saint and former god of Death. His daughters, feared by the populace, join the convent, where they are trained as sacred assassins. The Sisters only slay those who bear the magical Marque of St. Mortain, visible only to them. Ismae finds her first real home here, and makes friends with a girl her own age, Annith, as well as another new if somewhat crazed girl Sybella, who rather soon goes missing. She finds that being the daughter of Death makes her immune to poisons, so she works with one of the older sisters distilling poisons. However, in a few years (neatly skipped over), Ismae is sent on her first real mission. At this time, Brittany is not yet part of France and is ruled by a young teenaged Duchess, Anne. She is surrounded by advisors of dubious loyalty, formally engaged to about six different men. Obviously considered weak due to her age and sex, the Duchess is also the richest woman in Europe. The Abbess and a trusted royal advisor, Crunard, send Ismae off with Duchess Anne’s bastard half-brother, Duval, to find proof that he is a traitor and with whom he’s conspiring. It’s slightly problematic that the convent is sending a novice on what would seem to be an operation requiring one of their most experienced nuns. However, I was willing to sweep this under the rug in the interests of the story. Naturally, the politics turn out to be a good deal more complicated than Ismae had been given to believe. Duval seems not at all the traitor he’d been made out as. Instead, Ismae finds him nearly the only person undivided in his loyalty to the Duchess. But can she be sure of this, or is their growing attraction masking some deeper truth. Despite these doubts, Ismae start plotting with Duval and Duchess Anne to find out who the real traitor is and how to stabilize Brittany without either giving in to France’s demands to annex Brittany or marrying Anne off to someone loathsome. Ismae will have to look beyond the convent’s formal rules and trust herself to be able to see the will of Mortain himself if they are to succeed.

The book has a whole lot of things going for it. Ismae starts off and remains an appealing smart-mouthed character, while growing convincingly in skill and self-esteem over the course of the book. Anne, I was interested to note, was a real character and did indeed have all the fiancés mentioned in the book. It turns out she was married to two separate men at the same time, in politically necessary marriages. If only she’d had a personal saint-backed assassin in real life! There’s some difficult feminist thinking here. The convent, in historically accurate manner, is a place for women to go to escape the overwhelming control of women by men. The difficulty comes when Ismae realizes that she’s attracted to men. Is she losing sight of the goal of feminine self-determination by falling in love, as a New York Times columnist thought? Or is seeking the rare man who will view her as an equal acceptable? It is, as my friend garrity pointed out to me, the perennial feminist dilemma, and probably wouldn’t seem like any kind of betrayal of feminist values had the story not started out with Ismae being saved by the convent. The book seems quite historically accurate, given the fantasy elements. The cover, not quite so much. There she is, long, loose hair blowing around. It’s a pet peeve of mine: no self-respecting woman from the medieval era on until the 1960s would be seen outdoors without some sort of head covering. And yet, would we grasp Ismae’s fierce, wild nature without that symbolic rebellious hair? In any case, there’s both thoughtfulness and humor combined with lots of action, a fleshed-out world and good characters – what’s not to like?
library_mama: (Default)
Charlotte Jane Battles BedtimeCharlotte Jane Battles Bedtime by Myra Wolfe. Illustrated by Maria Monescillo.

Charlotte Jane is the daughter of two pirates, who have built a beautiful ship-shaped house in the suburbs. They use endearments like “doubloon” and “pomegranate”, managing to seem both devoted parents and still-fierce pirates. Charlotte Jane grows up wanting the very best of life, and at one point decides that “Bedtime [is] not juicy.” She stays up later and later, until one night, she manages to stay awake until sunrise. Victory turns out to be less sweet than she’d expected as she says, “Arr. My oomph’s weighed anchor!” Then follows a hunt, aided by her parents, for Charlotte Jane’s missing oomph. The illustrations are charmingly bright and stripy watercolor and ink drawings. It’s a bedtime book with a fun pirate twist that’s great for older toddlers and preschoolers. My own toddler did not, alas, decide to learn a lesson from the book, but she did enjoy reading it multiple times.
library_mama: (Default)
Mutu SystemThe Mutu System by Wendy Powell.

This is not technically a book, but an on-line exercise and eating program designed for mothers. I found it after looking for a program that would combine the short intense workouts from The Women’s Health Big Book of 15-Minute Workouts with the diastasis protection and healing found in Lose Your Mummy Tummy. You pay your fee, and get a 100-page pdf right away, a new video link each week for 12 weeks, and email and phone or Skype support from Powell as needed. The exercise components include four levels of 5-minute core workouts designed to strengthen and heal a diastasis to be done daily; three different 20-minute intensive routines for aerobic and strength training, to be done five times per week; and two different yogic healing breath routines to be done once a week. There’s also a posture section and a diet portion, because as Powell often says in the booklet and the videos, if your abs are covered by a layer of fat, you won’t be able to see how toned they are. Full details of the program and my results included.
Read more... )
library_mama: (Default)
I'm just now catching up from last week... one day of holiday, one day of volunteering at Kids Read Comics (where I fell madly in love in a non-creepy-stalkerish way with Raina Telgemeier.) I'll try to post more on that later, but in the meantime, catching up with some backlog...

Parents Need to Eat TooParents Need to Eat Too by Debbie Koenig “I feed my baby all right, but then it’s too much work to fix something for me, so I just eat toast or whatever is left over.” I’ve heard these kinds of comments distressingly often. It’s especially tough during the first months of parenthood, when this cooking around a baby thing is still so new and the baby is so demanding. Koenig’s book attempts to address this problem, with chapters of recipes designed to fill a multitude of specific post-baby cooking needs. Chapters include such themes as cooking from pantry staples if you can’t get out of the house, crock pot recipes, dishes to be eaten with one hand when you can’t put the baby down, nap-time cooking, fast recipes, big batch cooking, really simple recipes for non-cooking types, milk-boosting recipes, and nutritious snacks and desserts. Despite a preface with standard processed baby food feeding advice, all of the recipes happily assume that you’ll be feeding your baby real food and include comments on how suitable it is for babies of different stages. The chapter on nap-friendly cooking wasn’t quite what I was hoping for – more a way to split up cooking really complicated dishes into three parts to make them manageable with kids, rather than the “get it all prepped in one nap” that I was hoping for. I found recipes that I’d try in every other section, though, and especially liked the one-handed eating recipes, all individual portions wrapped in various types of starch holders, to make ahead for camping. (Can they be reheated without an oven, I wonder?) My husband, the major cook in our family, reads Cook’s Illustrated for pleasure and said that he found the recipes a little more simplified than he prefers. Despite that, he won’t let me take it back to the library and keeps cooking out of it. We’ve had a cauliflower curry, a tomato-mozzarella pasta salad, and the chocolate pudding, and contemplated many more. Really, the simplified recipes are the point. You can turn to any number of cookbooks or magazines for complicated recipe instructions; there are not so many that grasp the utter desperation that occurs when a new baby comes and throws a household into chaos. The recipes are straightforward, using mostly simple ingredients. Many of them are vegetarian or have alternate veggie/omnivore options. Koenig is a Weight Watchers devotee, and therefore many of her recipes are low fat. This was a little odd for me, as I think that nursing mothers need good-quality fat and plenty of it – but this is often easily fixed by just using regular fat versions where low fat is called for. I’ll note that I’m a fan of books for the completeness and portability and easy sharing aspects… but many of her recipes are also on her blog, linked above. Though it’s geared towards new parents, whether or not you are one yourself, if you’re in need of help getting real food on the table on a regular basis or want ideas for food to bring over to friends in need, this is an excellent choice.
library_mama: (Default)
The Name of This Book Is SecretThe Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. Read by David Pittu.
This is first in a series of five books all named to discourage the reader from opening up the book. It’s a fun concept, and I’d been meaning to get around to them for a while. Pseudonymous Bosch is a very prominent narrator throughout the story, and he (or she!) spends a great deal of time at the beginning explaining that the setting of the book and the names of the characters are all meant to be non-specific, to protect the people involved, and most importantly, to protect us, the reader, from the horrors that might befall us if anyone found out that we know the secrets. Then we get on with the story, which is adventure, mystery and a little fantasy. Our heroes are Cass and Max-Ernest, both of whom have trouble fitting in at school. Cass lives with her overprotective mother and spends a lot of time with two older men she calls her grandfathers, who run an antique store in an old fire station. Max-Ernest lives with his parents, who are divorced but live in separate half of the same house, refusing to acknowledge each other’s existence. The adventure begins when a real estate agent brings a pile of boxes from an estate house in to the antique store. In one box, Cass finds a fascinating box called the Symphony of Smells, which contains hundreds of tiny bottles of different scents. She learns that a fire burned only the kitchen, and, it is presumed, the owner of the house, an old magician. Cass and Max-Ernest go to explore the house and find a secret room. They barely escape with the magician’s old journal just as a creepy-looking couple, including a woman whose beauty and stiffness are both unnatural. When the same couple – Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais - turns up at their school the next day and a boy with synesthesia from the school goes missing at the same time, Cass is highly suspicious. Unfortunately, she’s of such an openly suspicious nature that now, when it really matters, no one will believe her. She goes off, followed by Max-Ernest, to solve the mysteries: what happened to the old magician? Why have series of talented children with synesthesia gone missing over the years? Why does the spa known as the Midnight Sun keep itself so very secret? Doom is predicted at every turn, but with somewhat less depressing results than another popular series with a prominent narrator. As in The Calder Game, there are a number of puzzles for Cass and Max-Ernest to solve, which the interested reader can solve along with them. There’s just a hint of magic as Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais are (shh!) searching for the secret of immortality. There's even some character development, which one doesn't necessarily expect in an adventure/mystery type book. The boy and I listened to this, narrated by David Pittu. He quite enjoyed it; I liked it fine, if it didn’t particularly grab me. That may be me just being jaded about danger levels, finding the dangers in the book not nearly as dire as the narrator foretold. So maybe better for kids than adults, but still a lot of fun.


Cross-posted to http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org and http://sapphireone.livejournal.com .
library_mama: (Default)
The Wind in the WillowsThe Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham. Read by Jim Weiss.
I have fond memories of my father reading this aloud to my siblings and me when we were children, but this was the first time I’d listened to it as a CD book, and my son’s first time ever. Ah, going back to old favorites! I remembered it having the fun animal adventures, with those great, memorable characters, and I remembered it having a summery feeling. Listening again, the characters still stand out as memorable. The book is mostly episodic, with stories about Mr. Mole meeting Mr. Rat, Mole disobeying Rat and going into the Wild Woods by himself on a winter’s evening. There are my father’s favorites, “Dulce Domum” about the Mole’s return to his own home after living with the Rat for some months, and entertaining the little mouse carolers there, and “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, where the Mole and the Rat have a magical encounter with the god Pan. They are really lovely. That transcendence is combined with a more slapstick humor in the stories of Mr. Toad’s reckless misadventures, and the stories are bound together with lyrical descriptions of the scenery with the turning of the seasons. While I found these descriptions beautiful, I worried that my blood and action loving son would find them slow, but he gave the book a thumbs up. Like The Lord of the Rings, The Wind in the Willows takes place in a homosocial world: there are no female main characters, and the only two incidental female characters occur in the same story of Mr. Toad escaping from jail. This, I think, dates the book more than any other aspect of it. I am willing to forgive Mr. Graham because that really was the world he lived in, where men and women just lived in highly separated spheres (and I am glad it’s not like that anymore!). I had mixed feelings about the narrator. He did very well with the numerous and lengthy narrative portions of the book. I liked all of his character voices except for Mole and Ratty, which was a bit awkward as they are the two main characters. He made the Mole sound lower class and the Rat sound more educated, which was a bit odd, and somehow his reading of both of these characters annoyed me just a little bit every time. I see that my library has the book in a downloadable audio format with a different narrator, and I’d be curious to try that version to see if I like the narrator better. Still, we very much enjoyed listening to this book. It’s definitely still worthy of the “Classic” title. Just in case there was any doubt.

Chopsticks

Jun. 27th, 2012 02:35 pm
library_mama: (Default)
ChopsticksChopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral.
This is a story told mostly in pictures which is curiously shelved as a regular novel rather than a graphic novel. That’s maybe because it’s told in photographs rather than drawings, though drawings and paintings that the characters make also show up. There are also programs, instant message conversations, homemade mix albums, and Youtube links (which I didn’t have time to look at), with just a touch of actual spoken dialogue. (If you buy it as an iPad app instead of a print book, the links are live and let you click right through.) In that way, it’s slick and modern and cutting edge of fiction, kind of. The story, though, is a twist on the age-old story of lovers whose families don’t approve. Glory is a 16 year old piano prodigy, famous for improvising mixes of classical pieces and modern rock on the stage. She is known, puzzlingly, as the “Brecht of the Piano” and has her first world tour lined up. But somehow, despite her father’s strict practice schedule, she finds time to fall in love with the boy next door, a new immigrant from Argentina called Francisco at home and Frank for Anglos. He’s an aspiring artist, but failing at school, mostly because he doesn’t care enough about America to put in the effort. With Glory, though, he is all sweetness and consideration. Glory’s father, however, sees nothing but a bum and tries to sever contact between Glory and Frank. The separation leads to madness – the less contact Glory is allowed, the less she can think about anything else. This directly impacts her on the stage, as she starts playing nothing but variations on “Chopsticks”. The tour is cancelled; she is sent to the Golden Hands Rest Home for Young Prodigies. The book begins with the ending: Glory has gone missing from the home, and no one knows where she is. It looked to me like she found a way to rejoin Frank, now 18 and able to return to Argentina. However, the back cover implies ambiguity and a potentially untrustworthy narrator. I’m not sure if that’s the authors being hopeful or me not having the patience to figure out puzzles, reading as I do in my chronically sleep-deprived state. I’d be happy to hear thoughts from anyone else who’s read this; otherwise, it’s an interesting scrapbook-style book that lets the reader put the story together.
library_mama: (Default)
Here is what is really bothering me about this book right now: the first in the series was on one of the library reading lists for teens. I was trying to help a teen boy who’d read many of the popular series. He said, looking at the cover, “Oh. It’s a girl book.” Like this one, it features a large, beautiful photo of a girl. I have to say, as a “girl”, I find the cover appealing. But I don’t think it is a “girl book”. Yes, Digger is a girl, and yes, there’s a wee bit of romance. But mostly, it’s politics, spying, assassinations and murders - stuff I think my young patron would really enjoy if only he could get past the cover. If you’ve read the book, what do you think? Thoughts on covers limiting the potential audience?

Liar's MoonLiar’s Moon by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

This is the sequel to Starcrossed, which I very much enjoyed last year. Our heroine, known variously as Celyn, Digger and Mouse, is back in the city, despite knowing that it’s really not a safe place for her to be. She’s out doing some perfectly straightforward thieving work one evening when she’s roughed up, arrested and thrown in the jail cell of Durrel Decath, the handsome noble who saved her life at the beginning of the first book. He’s in – but he claims unjustly - for the murder of his wife, the much older Talth Ceid, member of the powerful merchant family with mafia-like tendencies. This means that Digger can’t just try to get him out (as if that were simple); she also has to prove his innocence, or the Ceid family will be even worse for his health than the dank jail cell. The next morning, her bail is posted by her roommate, who was given the money and anonymous note telling him where she is. Her arrest, she learns, was a set-up by Durrel’s friend Raffin, recently and puzzingly a Greenman, or member of the Inquisition, solely to get Digger interested in proving Durrel’s innocence. In trying to solve the mystery, Digger uncovers a tangle of politics and mysterious people, including the beautiful Koya Ceid, the young and beautiful married daughter of the dead Talth. There are missing Sarists, the illegal magic users; the mystery of why Durrel’s father isn’t trying to help; unaccountable food shortages throughout the city; and rumors of the rebellion Digger was aiding in the first book advancing towards the city. Lots of politics, intrigue, danger, close escapes, Digger learning more about her own magic, and dramatic settings from the jail to high-class parties to the temple Digger’s thief god. Also just a hint of romance, as Digger might finally accept that the lover who was killed at the beginning of the first book a year ago is really not coming back. This really is perfect small-scale politics: the fate of the nation is really at stake, but there’s only a small handful of major players, mostly all known personally, turning the wheels for everyone else. There are only a couple of flat-out villains, including the dead Talth. Everyone else is a nicely real mixture of good and good motives gone bad. Everything fits together just so, and while Durrel may be saved by the end of the book, I was happy to read that it looks like there is more in store for Digger.
library_mama: (Default)
Daughter of Smoke and BoneDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Read by Khristine Hvam.

“Once upon a time, an angel fell in love with a demon. It did not end well.”
So begins this story, which has at its heart two relationships: one, between the angel and the demon, but more importantly, between a demon and his human-looking daughter. We first meet Karou, an art student in Prague, dealing with a broken heart and longing for revenge from the boy she’s recently and very deservedly dumped. Her classmates, including her best friend Susanna (I’m assuming it’s spelled that way, though pronounced “Zuzanna”), know to ask after her sketchbook each Monday. It’s filled with pictures of unbelievable creatures – beautiful Issa, with the head and upper torso of a woman and the lower half of a giant snake, tiny humming birds with moth wings, and great Brimstone, bigger than a man, with a man’s torso and the head and lower half of a great goat with curling horns. There are always stories to go along with the pictures – how a trader haggled too much over the teeth he was trying to sell Brimstone and nearly got himself strangled by the snake all visitor’s to Brimstone’s shop must wear around their necks, for example. Karou says that her stories are true, that her hair naturally grows out blue, with a quirk of expression that makes people believe that she isn’t telling the truth. Except she is. The creatures are Chimerae, and the only family Karou has ever known. She’s grown up in Brimstone’s shop, watching him make necklaces of teeth, being given wishes in various denominations, from the tiny scuppies that look like trading beads and grant correspondingly tiny wishes, to the larger lucknows that made her hair grow permanently blue and let her speak any number of languages fluently, to the great gavriels she’s never been trusted with which could give her the power of flight. Mostly now she lives in the human world, coming back to Brimstone’s shop – which has a magic door that can appear all over the world – only when he needs her to run errands for him, mostly buying teeth. Though Brimstone and Karou clearly love each other, it’s a very authoritarian relationship. Brimstone won’t answer any of Karou’s multitude of questions about where she came from and what his shop of teeth is for, but is openly critical of the casual things she spends her wishes on, and her relationship with her body, including the tattoos (but why then, she wonders, did he give her the giant eye tattoos on the palms of her hands?) and allowing “unnecessary penises” access. Still, all is hunky dory until one day in Morocco, when Karou is chased down and nearly killed by an angel with flaming eyes and sword, who’s also burned a black handprint on the door back to Brimstone’s shop. Soon Brimstone throws Karou out of his shop, but when she goes back, the door is completely burned. And meeting with the angel again, she finds that they are drawn to each other despite the bad start. Flashbacks tell us of the long-ago romance between the angel Akiva and his lover, the chimera Madrigal, whose unhappy fate has scarred him but which we learn of in detail only late in the story. The basic crime is clear: angels and chimerae have been at war for milennia, and woe to anyone who dares to fall in love with the enemy. Calling them angels and demons is deceptive, because the lines of actual good and evil aren’t clearly drawn and both sides are fighting for survival, justifiably convinced the other side would wipe them out if it could.

The big war would seem to be the major plot focus of the book, but it seemed to me tertiary in the book, behind Karou’s relationship with Brimstone, the developing romance, and the exploration of the worlds and magic/wish system. Karou’s art, her personality and friends, the scenes of Prague and Marakkesh are all vividly painted and real, while the war seemed meant to be a backdrop, and an unwelcome intrusion when it came to the surface of the story. I felt like this was essentially a character and relationship study, to which Taylor felt she needed to add an exciting plot. That being said, the overall storyline seemed Shakespearean in nature, with misunderstandings and secrets leading to tragedy. I was also frustrated by finding out at the end of the book that it’s the first book in the series, with major plot points from this book left unresolved. It’s also a fine audio production, with periodic theme music around major book sections adding to Hvam’s excellent reading.
library_mama: (Default)
The Unseen GuestThe Unseen Guest. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book 3. by Maryrose Wood. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren.

Young governess Penelope and her charges, the three Incorrigible Children, have only recently returned to Ashton place after the visit to London chronicled in the second book of the series. Penelope still spends a great deal of time thinking about what happened there – the questions that Miss Mortimer, her former guardian, left unanswered, the real location and condition of her parents, and the budding relations with Simon Harley-Dickinson. Meanwhile, the children must be educated. As they are daring to look for bird species to add to the field guide they are making, they see an ostrich. The mystery is soon solved as Lord Ashton’s long-absent mother shows up with a prospective fiancé, Admiral Faucet. Admiral Faucet clearly wishes to marry Lady Ashton for her fortune, which he is planning to use as start-up capital for an ostrich racing business. Lord Ashton, on the other hand, thinks that an ostrich hunt in his very own forest would be simply capital. Rather more observant than the resident Ashtons, Admiral Faucet recruits the children to track down Bertha the ostrich, still lost in the forest, and bring her back to her POE or Permanent Ostrich Enclosure before Lord Ashton’s hunt can kill her. As the children are studying the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, the POE leads to frequent confusion. The idea of an overnight trip to the forest is somewhat traumatic for Penelope, who must be talked out of packing the entire nursery. But in the forest, the children are in their element, easily able to track down Bertha and unmoved by little things like rain. Penelope even gets to visit the cave where they lived before they came to Ashton place – complete with trunks of blankets and pillows, art supplies, and sandwiches delivered every morning. The mystery deepens even as the caring if wild nature of the children is contrasted with the bloodthirsty and avaricious nature of the adults, who are all too willing to kill the innocent Bertha and to consider that the children might make better tracking animals than children. In an effort to stop the older Lady Ashton from marrying Admiral Faucet, Penelope comes up with the idea of a séance – but will the séance reveal even more than Penelope had bargained for? As the series goes on, some questions have been answered, some had answers alluded to, but as even more questions have come up, the mystery is far from solved. Meanwhile, the story continues to have captivating characters (even if many of them are perfectly, deliberately stock characters), an exciting storyline, and a great sense of humor. Also, new sayings from Agatha Swanburne, the founder of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. This series continues to delight. Katherine Kellgren could make a shopping list fascinating, and with material like this to work with, the results are top notch. Even if Penelope is arguably the lead character, the wild children and the adventure are more than enough to keep my boy enthralled.
library_mama: (Default)
Handmade Garden ProjectsHandmade Garden Projects by Lorene Edwards Forkner
Forkner, a former nursery owner and avid gardener, has filled up a book with garden projects for people with not much money and a little more time. The projects are divided by their ultimate purpose or location thusly: Ground Floor, Supporting Acts, Feature Attractions, Clever Containers, Finishing Touches and Organize and Store. There are lots of projects made out of repurposed hairpin wire fencing, including a sculptural trellis and chandelier with mason jars, another frequently used item. In general, the materials are intended to be commonly available, either recycled or new but repurposed. There are pictures and sometimes diagrams, lists of materials needed, and step by step instructions. Notably missing from all projects were time and cost estimates. Most projects looked to me like they were intended for people with minimal craft/building experience, but tools and definitely some strength for the wire bending and large container moving. I’d guess that most projects could be completed in an afternoon on the short side to a weekend on the long side – not huge time commitments in the grand scheme of things. The aesthetic seemed to me mostly modern rustic, with things like industrial woven steel for a trellis or an upturned industrial light fixture, big enough to use as a coffee table, used as an outdoor terrarium. The style was a little too modern for me personally, though I still liked many of the projects, including a fire pit made from a commercial wok or discarded kettle grill base or lid, the LED fireflies for garden lighting, the beaded mason jar hose guides, and the old birdbath planted with cascading flowers in watery colors. I’m feeling that I’m not quite as enthusiastic as this book deserves only because I am so very short on both time and sleep right now. However, better rested gardening friends thought this was a fabulous book, so I’m passing it on for those of you closer to their situation.
library_mama: (Default)
I recently engaged in some librarian geekiness by re-cataloging my library’s Shakespeare collection. No longer are the plays and anthologies and works about the author jumbled together, though plays sorted by some thoughtful pages by publisher. Now all of Shakespeare comes first, sorted by play title for individual works. I made up my very own Dewey number for the about-Shakespeare stuff, so it all goes after. (Dewey does have an official Shakespeare system, which is in itself about a page long and dreadfully complicated.) And while I was being pleased with myself, I found this book and decided to read it.

Reduced ShakespeareReduced Shakespeare by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor.
I’ve had Shakespeare on my Official List of Favorite Authors for years now, and while realizing that this list is somewhat pretentious and outdated and might not fully reflect my current tastes, still…. I also realized that while I have a handful of Shakespeare plays that I love and have read and watched over and over again, there are many, many more that I haven’t read. And mostly I’m too tired these days to put out the effort that reading or watching Shakespeare demands. The Reduced Shakespeare Company to the rescue! Like their show (which I loved on DVD), this is short and funny, as well as alarmingly accurate. This book covers all the bases in just 244 pages – Shakespeare’s biography (what’s known and the vast amounts that aren’t), the plays, poetry, authorship controversy, industry and films. I was most interested in their analysis of the plays and film adaptations, but I learned a lot about the authorship controversies that I’ve always been too skeptical to pay attention to before. For each play they include the title, date published, class (history, tragedy, comedy), setting, source, best known for, major characters, plot, one-sentence plot encapsulations, moral, famous quotes, best & worst features, a rating in bard heads, an interesting fact, and an essay question. Here are a few even more abridged examples:
Cymbeline
Best known for: Not being very well known. Two bard heads.
Hamlet
One-sentence plot encapsulation: Hamlet avenges his father, and it only takes four hours. Best feature: In all likelihood, this is the best play ever written. Five bard heads.
Henry IV
Essay questions: Does the sequel Henry IV, Part 2 have more in common with Godfather II or Rocky II? Why?

Because they are comedians, all of the reviews are so funny that I found myself laughing out loud and reading bits out loud to whatever hapless colleagues happened to be in the break room with me while I was reading it. The reviews for the less popular plays are probably even funnier than the ones for the good ones. Still, the bard head ratings could come in handy if you were trying to decide whether or not it would be worth hiring a babysitter to go see whatever Shakespeare play happened to be coming by locally, or even actually reading through the text.

The reviews for the films also are very funny and include the bard head ratings as well as notes on how faithful to the play they are and whether or not they work as movies. They are organized by the original play, with straight-up adaptations (hint: the movie has the same name as the play) followed by films inspired by the play, like West Side Story and 10 Things I Hate About You, which they like better than any of the straight-up film adaptations of the Taming of the Shrew. Hilariously, they include the 2001 Charlie’s Angels as a Lear adaptation. There are also critiques and yet more funny making-of-the-film bits from classic and modern Shakespeare films. Now I need to check the book out again to make a list of all their favorites that I haven’t seen to add to my too-watch list. The biggest shortcoming with the book is its publication date – 2005 – which means they’ve not covered the many film adaptations and spin-offs that have come out since then. Update, please!

Dear readers, if you have favorite Shakespeare film adaptations, please let me know!
library_mama: (Default)
The False PrinceThe False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
High-spirited orphan Sage, always a troublemaker at his orphanage, is sold to the noble Lord Conner, who is buying up orphans the right age who resemble Prince Jaron. Prince Jaron was lost four years ago, and presumed to have been killed by the pirates who took the ship he was on. Lord Conner’s plan is to train all four boys to impersonate the prince, and thus prevent the civil war that would otherwise break out when it’s discovered that the king, queen, and crown prince have all been poisoned. There’s a lot at stake, as it’s clear from the get-go that the boys who don’t get chosen won’t have any future at all. While Sage refuses, somewhat inexplicably, to buckle down to his studies, the other boys are doing their level best, including studious and sycophantic Tobias and the less educated but tough and street-smart Roden. Sage is too smart to want to be a pretend prince, forever doing Lord Conner’s bidding, but he’s walking a tightrope between making it clear that he won’t give in to Conner’s demands while co-operating just enough not to get booted out altogether. All too often, his open defiance gets him hard knocks from Conner’s toughs. He’s got two weeks to learn enough to stay in the contest, figure out what Lord Conner’s real motives are (surely not as virtuous as he claims), and find a way to get out of the whole situation alive, preferably saving the lives of the other boys as well. Sage is cagey about his history, even with the reader, and it’s clear he’s got secrets of his own. Having read reviews of this other places, I already knew the Big Secret. (Hint: why does Sage both refuse to pretend to be the prince forever if he’s chosen and tell Conner “I am your prince.”?) Theoretically, knowing this ahead of time could have spoiled the book for me, like already known whodunit in a mystery. Not so. There are still so many gaps in Sage’s story, past and future (and present, the wily kid) that I was sucked in. Ultimately, Sage has to decide if he should go for being a prince or not – and how to get there without Conner coming with him if he does. As I get tired of books leaving me hanging waiting for the next in the series, I was somewhat surprised to see that the catalog record for this says “Ascendance Trilogy Book 1”. Nielsen has been very considerate with her series making: while I definitely want to read more of Sage’s adventures, this is a nicely rounded story in its own right, without being awkwardly chopped off at the right length. The False Prince combines strong characters with fast and tricky plotting, similar to – dare I invoke the name? – Megan Whalen Turner’s the Queen’s Thief series. That series has similarly strong characters who hold on to their secrets to the end, combined with top-level politics with a small number of players, though the gods and magic don’t play a noticeable role in The False Prince. That means that despite it not being set in any place definitely on our earth and having a very similar feel to fantasy books, it doesn’t really count as fantasy. Still, highly entertaining and well worth reading.
library_mama: (Default)
Knits for NerdsKnits for Nerds by Joan of Dark, a.k.a. Toni Carr

As with so many knitting books, I heard about this one on the Knitpicks podcast. There I learned that “Joan of Dark” is Toni Carr’s roller derby name, and that she also has a book of roller derby patterns. Knits for Nerds is a fun little pattern book. It’s organized by obsession rather than by garment type – fantasy, science fiction, comics and manga, and general geekiness. The patterns are mostly intermediate and beginner level, while even the advanced projects seemed more on the intermediate side to me. The yarn called for also is universally less expensive yarn, either from Knitpicks or brands available at craft chains – good for both beginning knitters and for people who might not want to make a major yarn investment for something that would be more for costume than regular wear. That being said, there are both flaming and more subtle geek things here, and while the projects are mostly garments, there are also some bags and stuffies, including a tribble and a robot. Declaration of Geek projects include the Princess Leia hat featured on the cover (with three braid variations), the Next Gen sweater, hobbit feet slippers, and a tiny felted top hat called the Top This fascinator, which one of my knitting friends said her teen daughter would go nuts for. Projects that could blend in or not depending on yarn choice, or would be considered medium geek level include a Jayne Cobb scarf and sock set (hat patterns readily available free on Ravelry), a chess board laptop bag, Gryffindor ebook reader bag, and Mr. Nancy fedora and gloves. Those last would stand out a lot in the called-for bright green and yellow, but a) only a really dedicated fan would recognize them and b) there the yarn color really is everything. My favorite projects fall in the Secret Fan category, including the Dragonrider [fingerless] Gloves, Summer Queen Shawl, and the really gorgeous Aim to Misbehave Brown Jacket. This last is a trench coat length sweater, lace from about the waist down, knit in sport-weight yarn. I don’t think I’ll ever have enough time on my hands to knit such a thing, and brown is not really my color, but still… I can dream. The photography is outstanding, models posed with fun and appropriate backgrounds while still showing good detail of the actual project. I had some quibbles with her book-related trivia, but that really is a minor complaint in a knitting book. And while I’m not casting on for anything from this book right this minute, this was very fun to look through myself and with friends, leaving us feeling satisfied and happy with our geekiness.
library_mama: (Default)
Puff FliesPuff Flies by Sally Grindley. Illustrated by Valentina Medicino.
Queen Ella’s Feet by Sally Grindley. Illustrated by Sandra Aguilar.

I’m always on the lookout for easy readers that work for my smart dyslexic boy. He needs books that introduce new sounds and words slowly while retaining his interest, and many series, alas, do only one or the other of these. These two books from the My Phonics Readers series fit the bill perfectly. (The cover images from my usual source, my library catalog, clearly showed preliminary art, and I'm just noticing that the Puff Flies image from Amazon shows a different series name. I have no real answer for this one.) Queen Ella's Feet They’re both rated as Level 3, which seems to mean introducing vowel blends, a different one for each book. The back has a key of the phonemes used in the book, with spelling and pronunciation guide, and all non-phonetic words are bolded. Most of these are what my son’s school calls sight words, those most commonly used words like "was" or "where" that ought to be simple yet often aren’t. Both stories are funny, while working within the tight constraints of one or two short sentences a page, super-simple words, and featuring the same one and only one vowel blend on every page. In Puff Flies, a chubby baby dragon uses a kind witch’s spell for his first short flight, with lots of “spied” and “replied” before he gets it on his own. Dragons are always a hit, and cute baby ones are just as good as the deadly type. In Queen Ella’s Feet, poor Queen Ella’s feet are sticking out from under her blanket. King Alex asks for a sheet to cover them up, but the maid mishears, and goes seeking a sheep. In both of these, the story and bright art came together to make a book attractive enough that the two-year-old wanted them every day, too. As far as I can tell, Level 3 is as high as the My Phonics Readers goes, which is a pity.

I’m sharing this post with the Carnival for New Readers over at Perogies and Gyoza.

Hex Hall

Jun. 13th, 2012 11:46 am
library_mama: (Default)
Hex HallHex Hall by Rachel Hawkins.

Sophie Mercer, age 16, is a witch. She’s lived all her life with her normal mother and never met her father, the warlock who passed on his powers. Like all Prodigium, Sophie’s had her powers since about age 12, but only now has she flaunted them in front of humans enough to be banished to Hecate Hall. Hecate Hall, popularly known as Hex Hall, is a boarding school/juvie center for magical teens off the coast of Georgia. The term Prodigium encompasses witches, were, shapeshifters, fairies and vampires, and Hex Hall has them all. But just because they’re all magical doesn’t mean they all get along, as Sophie finds when she’s assigned to room with Jenna, the school’s lone student vampire (though Lord Byron is one, and teaches English here.) Right away, Sophie finds herself in the middle of high school social drama. She’s saved from an out-of-control werewolf by the cutest boy in school, Archer. Archer’s dating the superficial but beautiful and popular Elodie, who wants Sophie, whose powers are strong if undeveloped, to join her coven, which needs four members. The coven’s previous fourth member, Holly, died last year under highly suspicious circumstances – drained of blood, with two small holes in her neck. It’s widely suspected that Jenna, who was Holly’s roommate, is responsible, but Jenna is scared and depressed and seems to be sincere when she claims that Holly was her best friend. Meanwhile, Sophie is finding that she knows nothing about the magical world that all the other kids have been raised in. She didn’t even know that her father was head of the Council, and as the Council is responsible for banishing teens and some adults to Hex Hall, that makes her pretty unpopular. Also, though she’s told that she has potential for great power, she can’t seem to control it. The plot thickens as more witches on campus start turning up dead or nearly dead. But if Jenna is innocent, who is really responsible? Were Elodie and her coven successful in their attempt at raising a demon last year, or has L’Occio del Dio, one of the ancient groups founded to wipe out all Prodigium, found a way to penetrate Hecate Hall’s formidable magical defenses? If Sophie doesn’t both learn how to control her powers and find out who is behind the killings soon, it will be too late: the killer is targeting the school’s most powerful witches, and she’s next up on the list. This reminded of Buffy in the very best Demonglass way, with the felicitous combination of magic, almost-typical high school experiences and snappy dialogue, even if Sophie is on the other side of things. As an example, at one point Sophie is trying and failing to charm herself a ball gown, and describes one failed attempt as looking like “the really slutty bride of Cookie Monster.” Though it has spycraft instead of magic, the Gallagher Girl books have a similar combination of boarding school setting, danger and fun dialogue.

The second book in the series, Demonglass, intensifies everything, as Sophie travels to London with her father and has even less idea who might be trustworthy. But if Sophie might be somewhere on someone’s hit list in Hex Hall, in Demonglass, she’s clearly at the very top of at least one and possibly more, with, you know, the fate of all Prodigium instead of just the Hex Hall students at stake.
library_mama: (Default)
Fairest of AllWhatever After: Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski.

In this light modern fantasy, practical Abby and her trouble-prone younger brother (ages 10 and 7, respectively) move to a new town. In the spooky basement of their new house, they find a large mirror, which turns out to be magic. In fact, it takes them (Abby most reluctantly) right to the middle of the tale of Snow White. Younger brother, a bit quicker thinking than Abby, recognizes this immediately – the wicked stepmother is trying to give Snow White the apple. At first they congratulate themselves on having saved Snow’s life, but then they realize that they’ve also deprived her of her happy ending. On the other hand, does Snow really want the happy ending the storybooks have assigned her? This is clearly the beginning of a series, not necessarily deeply thoughtful but without any painful clunkiness. I’d recommend it mostly to girls of the target middle grade age. Except that Elaine_Alina should read it, maybe to her daughter. Because really, how often does the heroine win the day by studying property law?
library_mama: (Default)
I’m sure I heard about this book when it first came out, but somehow, my library didn’t buy it (I’ve since requested that we do so) and we can’t interloan new books… so I forgot about it, until, once again, Charlotte wrote about the sequel.

The Coming of the DragonThe Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse.

As the book says on the cover, this is a story of Beowulf. Specifically, it’s the story at the end of the epic poem, when Beowulf is an aged king, and a dragon comes and disrupts the peace. At the beginning of the story, we see a baby wash up to shore in a boat with a dead man, formally and properly laid out. Though there is some dissention from those who think the baby an offering who should be left to the gods, the old woman Amma takes and raises him. Fast forward sixteen years, and young Rune, called so for the rune on the necklace he came with, is living in a hut on a farm with Amma, with a foster father and two unkind stepbrothers in a house nearby. In the summers he helps on the farm, while Amma sings him ballads of kings and of Peaceweavers, noblewomen sent to marry into another tribe and make peace between them. Only in the winters is he allowed to join the other town boys in sword training, which of course puts him at a permanent disadvantage. Even though he’s close to the right age, he isn’t one of King Beowulf’s official warriors. One evening on the mountain, chasing after a runaway goat, Rune meets a stranger hiding a gold cup, who recognizes the rune. While Rune is still on the mountain, the dragon makes its first pass, burning farms, people, and even the king’s Golden Hall. Burning with desire to avenge Amma’s death, Rune sets off on his own to slay the dragon. Though he fails, he learns where the dragon’s cave is, and so comes along on the next, official expedition with Beowulf and his best warriors. Can even King Beowulf defeat a beast whose very presence strikes terror into the hearts of the bravest warrior? And (just supposing here that they actually succeed in killing the dragon), Rune might just find that the hardest part comes afterward. A country whose houses and crops have been burned down and which is surrounded by hostile nations isn’t exactly in the clear, even without a dragon.

I’d really like some of my friends who specialize in Viking to read this for their opinion, but from my point of view, this is bang-up historical fantasy. I didn’t notice any jarring anachronisms either in the setting or, as happens even more often, in the main character’s mindset. That can work in some cases – the Jacky Faber books, for example, which are aiming at adventure more than historical accuracy. Still, the kind of attention to detail found here is a joy. There are no potatoes, velvet, spinning wheels, people saying “hello” or believing in their heart of hearts that slavery is wrong and women are oppressed, to name just a few of the anachronisms that I regularly see in historical fiction. (Though Barnhouse, in her notes, says that it isn't entirely accurate, incorporating bits of Anglo-Saxon culture from a few centuries later.) Even though this is fantasy from a modern point of view, it’s a book that feels like it isn’t fantasy from the point of view of people of the same time from our world. They call for help from the gods, and are encouraged when they see ravens or goats with two-color eyes, r animals beloved of their gods. Everyone has lost people they love, due to war or the dragon or other causes, and this also felt realistically dealt with: lots of pain, and yet life has to go on. One of the reviewers on Amazon complained that Rune lacks self-confidence through the whole book: shouldn’t he start believing in himself at some point? And I would say, why should he? He starts the book as one of the unpopular kids, and getting thrown into a position of power doesn’t stop him from realizing that he’s young for what he’s got to do, and any mistakes he makes would have dire consequences. Really, I find this attitude both believable and much easier to get along with in a protagonist than, say, Eragon, whose unearned self-confidence struck me as arrogant.

At the very end of the book, we meet Hild, sent to Rune’s tribe as a Peaceweaver. She is the heroine in her own right of Peaceweaver, which came out this year. I don’t have time to give it a full review, but it starts and ends at the same point as The Coming of the Dragon, and I enjoyed it hugely as well. More, please!

For some reason, the first of these two books was billed as middle grade fiction, and the second as teen – um, thinking about it, probably because Rune doesn’t kill any people himself, while Hild accidentally kills a would-be murderer. Overall, though, no sex, and what felt like similar amounts of violence with thoughtful reflections on the effects and limitations of using weapons for conflict resolution.
library_mama: (Default)
There have been a couple of books about parenting in other cultures recently that I just haven’t wanted to read. Just from the descriptions, I could tell both that the basic premise is “Americans are parenting wrong” (as if an entire nation could possibly all parent the same way) and that what they were advocating was a return to strict authoritarian parenting, which I am not interested in. This book, on the other hand, sent out a siren call.

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies WarmHow Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood.

Hopgood is a southeast Michigan journalist who moved to Buenos Aires with her husband, also a journalist, and had her first child there. She started noticing that the Argentinean parents were breaking some of the hard and fast American parenting rules about giving children early and consistent bedtimes. She investigated further, talking to American sleep experts and her Argentinean friends and pediatrician, looking at sleep in other cultures as well. The Argentineans keep their children up late because everything happens late in Argentina – nine p.m. is typical dinner time. They say that it’s important for children to be with their families, and of course, a society that stays up so late also doesn’t get started as early in the morning as ours. The book has eleven chapters, each looking at different parenting practices and how they are treated in different cultures. Each has a primary focus on American vs. one other main culture, but other cultures are drawn in, too. She looks not only at the practices but the values that inspire them, looking at how other practices might and might not fit with typical American values, finally discussing what she took away to try with her own daughter. The sleep chapter, for example, brings in how the Western/American practice of insisting that children sleep in their own beds in their own room is quite rare globally. Americans want their children to become independent as soon as possible, and encouraging independent sleep is one way of doing that. Other cultures value togetherness more, and find the idea of leaving children and especially babies to sleep alone horrifying. Her chapters cover cultures and issues like the Chinese and early potty training, Kenyans and babywearing (aka going without strollers), the French and healthy eating, Mayans and working children, Lebanese Americans and keeping family close, Asian school success, Japanese letting children fight, Tibetans valuing pregnancy and (me forgetting the cultures) independent play & socialization by peer group, and super-involved fathers. For each issue, she looks at what she might I liked that there was a balance of attachment-parenting style issues like the babywearing and sleep schedules and things like keeping extended family close or the Japanese tolerance of children fighting that aren’t attachment parenting issues per say and that I haven’t seen discussed as often.

My shoulder hurts just thinking about her tale of trying an airport with a toddler and a ring sling, rather than any kind of two-shoulder carrier meant for older children, and I wished that she had found a Babywearing International person to consult on finding a better carrier for the purpose. However, I have finally learned, I think, how it is that babywearing cultures can keep babywearing so much longer than most Americans can manage: we are, collectively wimps. We start giving up on one-shoulder carries at about 15 pounds (this from my own wonderful babywearing advisor) and most people would consider a typical two year old too heavy to wear regularly. I know I find my thirty-pounder just too heavy. But the Kenyan mother she quotes, with a child a pound heavier, is used to carrying 50 and 60 pound sacks of grain; she considers him so light that she wouldn’t want to waste her money on a bulky stroller. I had mixed feelings about Hopgood’s conclusions from the French and eating chapter, too; she came to the conclusion that the solution is to expose children to real adult food earlier rather than later, to make time and space for eating and take it seriously – and to insist on children trying at least two bites of everything. I agree with everything except the last, based on the research of my favorite nutritionist Ellyn Satter, who advises the parents selecting the food, place and time and letting the children pick entirely how much and of what is on the table. On the topic of Asian school success, I was interested and gratified to read that it isn’t all a result of the Tiger Mother-style pushing whether or not kids are interested. Yes, there’s an element of “your success or failure reflects on the Family Honor” that doesn’t sit too well with American culture – but there’s also the aspect of Asians being convinced that success is mostly a matter of hard work, whereas American tend to believe that success comes from innate talent. The value of focusing on the effort rather than just the end result is something that has come up over and over in my research, from Montessori theories to Nuture Shock. It’s especially valuable for my family, as my son needs to know that the dyslexic label isn’t an excuse for failure but a guide to focusing his effort. And, quite curiously, I’d never heard about Japanese letting kids fight until quite recently, when I had two separate Japanese-American families talking about it. M., born in Japan but in the U.S. since high school, was shocked when she took her toddler to a Japanese play group. “They didn’t stop the children from hitting each other!” she said. K., an American who had her first child in Japan confirmed. “The schools are so strict – they just wait for the kids to start school and let them discipline them,” she said, adding that her child had a hard time attending both Japanese and American preschools, one where fighting wasn’t allowed and one where it was. But Hopgood, talking with educational experts, gives a different reason for allowing conflict: children need to learn that their behavior can upset people, and they’ll learn about real reactions best if they get to experience the real reaction. I don’t think I’d be rushing to send my child off to Japanese preschool myself with that philosophy, but at least it makes a little more sense.

The whole book is driven by curiosity and the message that there are millions of good ways to parent rather than judgment or a sense of parenting failure. I found it fascinating reading that’s light enough to be compelling and backed up with enough research (sources given!) to be legitimate.

Profile

library_mama: (Default)
library_mama

October 2012

S M T W T F S
  1 2 34 56
7 89 101112 13
14 1516 17181920
21 222324252627
28293031   

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 21st, 2014 03:40 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios