ANNOUNCEMENT
After a lot of thought, I've decided to take a break from blogging for the foreseeable future. With my little C creeping its way back into my life and possible long term treatment now, I need to take a couple of things off my plate for the time being, and the blog is going to be one of those things. As it is, it felt like it was becoming more of a chore than anything else. I need my reading time to be more enjoyable right now, more of the escape that I really need, and what I don't need is the little voice in the back of my head telling me how many reviews I'm behind and trying to come up with what I need to say about the book.

I simply want to read.

I'll more than likely occasionally post on here what I've been reading, and if there is something that really blows my mind, I'll probably have more to say about it and may write up a proper post, but for right now, things are going to be very quiet around here.

As always, happy reading!
2017 edit
I will continue to blog according to my health and ability, and connecting my posts thru Goodreads, so please be patient if things get quiet around here again this year.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

15. The Fur Person by May Sarton

#15

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Title: The Fur Person
Author: May Sarton
Copyright: 1957 (1983)
Pages: 106
ISBN: 9780393301311
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Twitter: @wwnorton
Format: Paperback
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 1-31-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10, 1010 Challenge (Fiction, General)

From Amazon:
A delightful, whimsical tale—one of the most popular books for cat lovers ever written, now newly illustrated. May Sarton's fictionalized account of her cat Tom Jones's life and adventures prior to making the author's acquaintance begins with a fiercely independent, nameless street cat who follows the ten commandments of the Gentleman Cat—including "A Gentleman Cat allows no constraint of his person, not even loving constraint." But after several years of roaming, Tom has grown tired of his vagabond lifestyle, and he concludes that there might be some appeal after all in giving up the freedom of street life for a loving home. It will take just the right human companion, however, to make his transformation from Cat About Town to genuine Fur Person possible. Sarton's book is one of the most beloved stories ever written about the joys and tribulations inherent in sharing one's life with a cat.

The Fur Person is a book that I think any cat lover will cherish. I reread it every couple of years and can always see so much of my cats in Tom Jones (even though my cats are girls). We follow Tom Jones on his journey from a Cat About Town to his discovery of a loving family, and his evolution with his new family, Brusque Voice (May Sarton) and Gentle Voice (Judy Matlack), from Gentleman Cat into a Fur Person. I would imagine that May Sarton took some literary freedom in relating Tom's early years before he became part of her and Judy's family, but his time with them is based on his true adventures. It's a charming little story that I think any cat lover can relate to.

14. The Impulsive Imp by Howard O'Brien

#14

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Title: The Impulsive Imp
Author: Howard O'Brien
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 144
ISBN: 9781419661167
Publisher: BookSurge
Format: Paperback
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Finished: 1-31-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10, TIOLI

From Amazon:
A lot happens to the Impulsive Imp on his way from the living room to the kitchen; he steals from the cookie jar and jousts with the cat. However, Roddy and Alice teach the Imp that there are missions in life more important than mischief.

The Impulsive Imp was a story told to Anne Rice and Alice Borchardt by their father, Howard O'Brien, and written down and eventually published. It's about a small, impulsive imp born in a hole in a chimney from a sliver of an oak tree that may or may not have been cursed. Upon his birth, as he tries to come down the chimney to explore his new home, he burns his tail in the fire, and thus he begins his life as an angry imp. In his quest to find food, he angers the family book, Septuagesima, who becomes his mortal enemy. Unfortunately, Septuagesima blames the family children for the missing food, and they are punished, unjustly. Eventually, the imp becomes less impulsive and realizes that there may be more to life than his own selfish, impulsive urges.

Quite frankly, I'm sure the story was told to teach the O'Brien children lessons through the actions of the imp, but I walked away from this story with a general feeling of "meh." I felt no emotional attachment to the imp, nor did I feel sorry for him while it seemed the world was working against him. While I'm sure that this is part of the point, that when the world seems to be working against you, it's probably all in your mind, it just didn't seem to work so well for me.

I always hate writing something that isn't positive about a book, because lord knows that I wouldn't want somebody to write anything negative about anything that I would write, but the fact remains that I just didn't find the story all that intriguing or charming. And given that the story was told for specific children in mind, I feel even worse about not being that enchanted with the story, but this is just the way it is.

13. Bone: Tall Tales by Jeff Smith, with Tom Sniegoski

#13

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Title: Bone: Tall Tales
Series: Bone
Authors: Jeff Smith, with Tom Sniegoski
Copyright: 2010
Pages: 96
ISBN: 9780545140966
Publisher: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic
Author Website: www.boneville.com
Twitter: @Scholastic
Format: ARC from publisher
Available: August, 2010
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 1-30-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10, 1010 Challenge

From Amazon:
Long before the Bone cousins were ever lost in the uncharted desert on the outskirts of the Valley, Big Johnson Bone, the discoverer of the Rolling Bone River, founded Boneville. But little is known of the mighty explorer's adventures before he started his famous trading post. So when Smiley Bone sits down with a group of young campers to retell the legendary stories of Boneville's origin and its tough, no-nonsense founder, what they hear are tall tales in typical Bone fashion--wild antics complete with rat creatures, dragons, and a snarky little monkey!

Previously published in black and white as
Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails, this edition will feature new material and full-color art!

As described, Bone: Tall Tales is a "sorta-new collection of Bone material." The "new" part comes in the first four chapters, where Smiley Bone and Bartleby are taking three young Bone Scouts out on a camping trip and they talk Smiley into telling them some stories, all of with end up being about Bog Johnson Bone, the founder of Boneville. In the first of the two stories concerning Big Johnson Bones younger days, we find out about his birth and what Old Man Winter had to say about that. The second story is missing from this uncorrected proof, to be added at publication, so I can't really have anything to say about that. The fifth chapter is a reprint of the Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails story, so this is the "sorta" part of the collection. It was still fun to revisit this story, as Tom Sniegoski's humor is really quite funny in the story. This chapter deals with Big Johnson Bone's first encounter with the rat creatures and how he saved the forest from their tyranny, and also tells the tale of how they lost their tails.

I love Bone. If you haven't had a chance to read the main story, I highly recommend it. Jeff Smith starts out with what seems like a cute, whimsical little story and turns it into an epic tale of dragons, magic and redemption. The one fact that I'm a little torn on with this new volume is the coloring. The original Bone was published in black and white, and Jeff Smith's art is really suited for black and white. However, this new edition, keeping with the rest of the Graphix/Scholastic reprints of Bone, is being colored, and I'm not really sure that I like it all that much. The first chapter of this uncorrected proof is colored, and the rest is still presents in black and white, and I can honestly say that the coloring isn't bad, but I'm so fond of the black and white illustrations that I don't think I like it all that much. Oh well, it certainly isn't going to keep me from picking up the final edition when it's released. A good little addition to the Bone library.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

12. Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Ultimate Guide by Rick Riordan

#12

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Title: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Ultimate Guide
Series: Percy Jackson & the Olympians
Author: Rick Riordan
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 156
ISBN:
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Author Website: www.percyjacksonbooks.com
Twitter: @DisneyHyperion, @camphalfblood
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 1-27-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10

From Amazon:
It's the handbook no half-blood should be without: a fully illustrated, in-depth guide to gods, monsters, and all things Percy. This novelty companion to the best-selling series comes complete with trading cards, full-color diagrams, and maps, all packaged in a handy, "manual-size" POB with a crisp, magnetic flap enclosure.

Not much to be said about this companion volume to the main Percy Jackson series. Nothing new is revealed here, and quite a bit of the artwork has been already used elsewhere. If you're really in need of a Percy Jackson fix, this could be just what you're looking for, but don't expect anything that's going to blow you away. It's not bad, it just seems a little like overkill to me. I guess I was just expecting something maybe a little bit more.

**edit**

I may have sounded a little too harsh on the book. Riordan does go into a little more detail on some of the myths that his characters are based on, so that for those that aren't as familiar with the myths will have a slightly better understanding of them and the ways they tied into the Percy Jackson books. I think those bits would be helpful for younger kids who aren't as knowledgeable about the myths. And this is what I need to remember; that the book is written for a younger audience, and to them, this might be the perfect thing, giving them a little taste of their favorite characters right before the movie comes out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Author meet - Laura Kasischke, author of The Life Before Her Eyes and In a Perfect World



I got the opportunity to meet Laura Kasischke, author of The Life Before Her Eyes and In a Perfect World last week at Schuler Books, where she was doing a reading from In a Perfect World and then signing afterward. She's a delightful person and I'm hoping that I'll get a chance to meet her again sometime soon. Given she lives in the area here, our paths will hopefully cross again.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

11. Matchless: A Christmas Story by Gregory Maguire

#11

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Title: Matchless: A Christmas Story
Author: Gregory Maguire
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 112
ISBN: 9780061913013
Publisher: William Morrow
Author Website: www.gregorymaguire.com
Format: Hardcover, from publisher
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Finished: 1-23-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10

From Amazon:
Every year, NPR asks a writer to compose an original story with a Christmas theme. In 2008, Gregory Maguire reinvented the Hans Christian Andersen classic "The Little Match Girl" for a new time and new audiences.

When it was first translated from Danish and published in England in the mid-nineteenth century, audiences likely interpreted the Little Match Girl′s dying visions of lights and a grandmother in heaven as metaphors of religious salvation. Maguire′s new piece, entitled "Matchless," reilluminates Andersen′s classic, using his storytelling magic to rekindle Andersen′s original intentions, and to suggest transcendence, the permanence of spirit, and the continuity that links the living and the dead.

I know, I know, it's a Christmas story and I'm reading it almost at the end of January. But, I did get chosen to read this from the October 09 LTER batch, and it just arrived in the mail two days ago, and I don't want to tarnish my LTER reviewing record by waiting until later this year to read and review the book. So, you'll just have to suffer on with a review of a Christmas story in late January. Or you can simply move on to the next post. Your choice. There's no pressure from me here.

I want to like Gregory Maguire, I really do. Not so much the man, as I've never met him face to face so have no thoughts on him personally, but his writing. I mean, one of his books is the foundation for what I feel is one of the finest Broadway shows ever written, and one that I feels parallels my life on so many levels: Wicked. When I read his book Wicked for the first time, I had not seen the show yet. I had not even heard the soundtrack yet. The Wizard of Oz is one of my most cherished stories, and I was expecting something that would lead up to the beginning of Dorothy's time in Oz, and that is not what was delivered. I was fairly disappointed in the book, as it took so many elements of Oz and completely turned them on their side. Of course, that's the point, but it didn't make me happy. A friend says that I'm just too close to the original story of Oz to be able to appreciate any changes like that. Well, I listened to the soundtrack for the stage version of Wicked and really liked it, and felt a little more distance between myself and Maguire's book, but was trying to figure out how some of the songs fit in with the book so hadn't made a final decision yet. Finally, joy of joys, I experienced the stage production, and officially hated the book. While the stage production still keeps in basically the same theme of the book, it transcends the book on every level, and the story of friendship between Elphaba and Glinda and their time together and Elphaba's need to break away and become her own person spoke to my heart on so many levels that I cried through most of the production. And I'm not ashamed to say that I've cried again during each of the eight times that I've seen Wicked since.

Long story short, I know I should like Maguire's writing, because so many friends of mine do, but based on that one reading experience with Wicked, I haven't dared pick up a book of his since. Which is where the LTER program came to my rescue with Matchless. I would be "forced" into reading another book from him and would be able to make another decision, and while Matchless isn't a full blown novel, it still gave me a little bit more respect for Maguire as an author.

Matchelss is described as An Illumination of Hans Christian Andersen's Classic "The Little Match Girl", and it is. Maguire took Andersen's classic and one insignificant character (the urchin who picks up the little match girl's slipper) and creates a beautiful little story of family and forgiveness. Maguire tells us the story of that urchin, Frederik, and his mother, a seamstress to the queen. When Frederik finds the slipper in the street, he had no idea that it belonged to the poor match girl, and he takes it home to act as a boat for his toy family to be able to go and find a larger family, which it ends up doing on multiple levels for Frederik. I won't give anymore away except that the little match girl, in the end, forgives Frederik for taking her slipper and helps him find his own way back home.

It is a charming little story that can be read in no time at all, but one that also helped me decide that maybe Maguire will be worth trying to read again, as this short, quaint tale was filled with so much heart and soul.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Life Before Her Eyes by Laura Kasischke

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Title: The Life Before Her Eyes
Author: Laura Kasischke
Copyright: 2002
Pages: 273
ISBN: 9780156027120
Publisher: Harcourt
Format: Paperback
Rating: 5/5 stars

From Amazon:
This profound and daring novel explores all that is lost and gained between teenage girlhood and middle-aged motherhood.

Diana stands before the mirror with her best friend, Maureen. She is imagining her future life as a forty-year-old wife and mother - a future that will be paid for by a horrific decision she has just been forced to make. In prose infused with the dramatically feminine sensuality of spring, we experience seventeen-year-old Diana's uncertain steps into womanhood - her awkward, heated forays into sex; her sudden fits of pride that alternate with her deep insecurities; her fresh, fragile construction of an identity. And against the stunning precision of the sights and sounds of renewal, we experience the tasks of Diana's adulthood - protecting her beloved daughter and holding onto her successful husband, her exuberance muted by the relief of having made a home and a life.

Laura Kasischke has ingeniously created a consciousness that encompasses both the truth of a teenager's world and the profound transformation of that world at midlife.

Shocking, sensually charged, and stunningly original,
The Life Before Her Eyes, like the best poetry, finds piercing beauty in the midst of horror and celebrates the glory of life in the face of death.

Laura Kasischke's The Life Before Her Eyes is quite a remarkable book. I picked it up well over a year ago on the recommendation of an independent bookstore owner, and read the prologue when I got home, knowing I was in the middle of a couple of other books at the time, but still wanting to get a taste of the book. After finishing the prologue, I felt that I had had a satisfying reading experience on just those 10 pages alone, and couldn't wait to get to reading the rest as soon as I could. That was October, 2008. The book has been sitting on my shelf, unread, ever since, I'm ashamed to say. This week, Laura Kasischke was doing a reading and signing at my local bookstore, so I was determined to read through this book this week, and I'm just sorry that it has taken me so long to finally get around to reading such an amazing story.

Diana and Maureen are best friends in high school. They do everything together, go everywhere together, are rarely separated. Their bright futures are still stretched out before them with all the potential that is available, until they are forced to make a decision that will alter that future forever: Which one of them is to die?

We skip ahead to forty-something Diana and her life now, her husband, her daughter, her happy existence. However, something seems to be wrong. It almost seems like her life is unraveling at the seams all around her. She is seeing things that aren't necessarily there or shouldn't be there, she is having moods swings, she is having unexplainable flashbacks to her younger days. What does all of this mean for Diana and what does it have to do with her younger self.

Kasischke's writing is so ethereal and atmospheric, it reads like a dream. We alternate between younger Diana and older Diana with a revolving narrative that has slight reflections from younger Diana onto older Diana's story. When the narrative is following Diana and Maureen, there is no real distinction between which girl is which, which seems fitting since they spend so much time together and are so connected, that there really is almost no distinction between them. As I progressed through the story and more became clear to me about what was happening for sure, I couldn't put the book down. I had a feeling I understood from the beginning what was happening but wasn't sure I quite had it, but when everything started to fall into place, the true power of the entire book was becoming clear to me. I know this is all very enigmatic, but I don't want to give anything away; the power of the story is in its unraveling. A truly powerful and amazing story that is beautifully written and not quite like anything that I have read before.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry


"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that are eagerly anticipated.

My "can't-wait-to-read" selection for this week is:

The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

I know it's been awhile since I've participated in the "Waiting On" Wednesday, but I just needed to take a step back from the blog for a short while last year, but when I heard that Brunonia Barry's next book, The Map of True Places, was finally announced for release, I knew it was time to join back in, at last for this week. Brunonia's first book, The Lace Reader, was one of my favorite reads of 2008.

For more information on the book from Brunonia herself, click here.

The Map of True Places will be released on May 4, 2010 from William Morrow.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bloom County: The Complete Library, Vol. 1: 1980-1982 by Berkeley Breathed

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Title: Bloom County: The Complete Library, Vol. 1: 1980-1982
Author: Berkeley Breathed
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 284
ISBN: 9781600105319
Publisher: The Library of American Comics, IDW Publishing
Website: www.berkeleybreathed.com
Twitter: @IDWPublishing
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5/5 stars

From Amazon:
Berkley Breathed's Bloom County was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed newspaper strips of all time. Bloom County ran from December 8th, 1980 to August 6th, 1989 and was published in an astounding 1200 newspapers on a daily basis. The huge popularity of Bloom County spawned a merchandising bonanza, as well as two spin-off strips, Outland and Opus. The Bloom County Library Volume 1 highlights the first time the entire run of the immensely popular Bloom County strip has been collected in beautifully designed hard cover books with exceptional reproduction.

I faithfully read Berkeley Breathed's strip Bloom County, and the follow-up strips Outland and Opus, every day while it was running. I loved these characters and still do to this day. Breathed's commentary on the events of the day was always a little on the snarky side, but it was always done intelligently. It is clear in these early strips that Breathed is trying to find his voice. There are some characters that you can tell just don't mesh as well with the evolving feel of the strip, and eventually these characters just melt out of existence. It is also fun to see how the characters that did manage to make the cut evolved from their early beginnings. Towards the end of this first volume, which ends in mid 1982, Breathed has clearly found the voice of the strip and his characters and is beginning to hone the comic wit and satire that will eventually make this strip great.

When I heard that they were finally publishing a complete collection of the strips, I was ecstatic. The volume itself is very nicely presented, and the strips look great reprinted. All in all, I believe that there will be five volumes produced altogether, and I'm hoping that these will include the subsequent strips Outland and Opus, as some of these strips have never been reprinted before.

8. X-Men: Mutant Massacre by Chris Claremont, et al.

Holy nostalgia, Batman!

#8

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Title: X-Men: Mutant Massacre
Related Series: X-Men
Author(s): Chris Claremont, et al.
Copyright: 1986, 1987 (2009)
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780785138051
Publisher: Marvel
Twitter: @marvel
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Finished: 1-17-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10, 1010 Challenge

From Amazon:
The Marauders - professional mutant assassins, employed by a mysterious evil, with the job of wiping out the entire Morlock community living beneath the streets of Manhattan. And the only hope of salvation the Morlocks have rests in the hands of the X-Men! But can they stop this deadly onslaught? And what do they stand to lose if they should succeed? Collects Uncanny X-Men #210-213, X-Factor #9-11, New Mutants #46, Thor #373-374, Power Pack #27, and Daredevil #238.

OK, so I may be a little biased as to the exact worthiness of this book. Way back in the day, on my very first trip to a comic book store ever, I was drawn to a particular comic book that in its own way would change my life forever more. Up to that point, I had been buying comic books, but they were of the decidedly younger variety (and to be honest, I can't even remember entirely what it was that I was reading) but a slightly older friend of mine was going to the big comic book store and thought I should come along. While browsing the shelves, I can upon The Uncanny X-Men #210, and for whatever reason, the group shot of the cast of characters on the cover caught my young eye, and I thought I'd pick it up and give it a try, knowing really nothing about what I was buying.

I got the issue home, and after reading the other, "younger" issues that I had picked up that day, turned my attention to the X-Men title. I opened that front cover, and what was this? Somebody was being killed on the first page spread? They did that in comic books? Quite frankly, at that young age, somehow this was totally shocking to me. Needless to say, I devoured the entire issue, and begged my mother to drive me around to the local 7-11 to see if they had any other issues of the series on the shelves. And what was more, the story that was being started in issue #210, the Mutant Massacre, tied directly into other series, so that I had to pick those up, too, to get the entire story, thus introducing me to a huge cast of characters that I've been following over 20 years later.

Up to that point, I had really taken comics for what they were; entirely juvenile fluff that had no literary value whatsoever. And some may still argue that point with me, that comics carry no literary value at all. In some cases, I can agree, but as a whole, I think comics have come into their own in the last decade or so and you can find some arguably fantastic stories in comics. For me, The Uncanny X-Men #210 was an eye opening experience; here were characters who were real, had real emotions, fought not only against their cast of villains but also amongst themselves, and had to strive to find their place in a society that didn't necessarily accept them. In the Marvel Universe, especially in the 80s, mutants were seen as something less than a real person and they were the subject of prejudice. These social overtones are still going on in the comics today, and these are social tendencies that are still seen in the real world today against certain segments of society, so these parallels to real world troubles were amazing to me at that age.

If I remember correctly, this storyline was also one of the first of its kind, running through so many issues and titles, all having to be read in order to get the full scope of the story. Not that there hadn't been crossovers in titles before, but I think this is one of the ones that really started the trend through the late 80s, at least for Marvel's mutant titles.

Anyway, now that my personal back story about comics is over, I can say that even after 20+ years, X-Men: Mutant Massacre can still stand on its own as a decent story. Of course, it's severely dated in some circumstances, but if you can read it in the context for when it was written, where characters needed to be called by name in every issue to make sure the readers knew who they were, and the fashions that the characters were drawn in are so the 80s, if you can get passed all that to the actual story, it really isn't all that bad. The Marauders, a mysterious group of mutant bounty hunters, have been hired to find the Morlocks, a group of mutants who have decided to remove themselves from society altogether and live in tunnels under NYC, and exterminate them, entirely. Why the Marauders were hired for this purpose is never entirely made clear and who hired them remains a mystery, mentioned only once by the name of Mr. Sinister (all this is explained many, many years later and even I don't know the entire reasoning behind it), but in the course of this massacre, the X-Men are contacted to help the Morlocks, and a war breaks out between the Marauders and the X-Men, with several other super groups being brought into the mix. There are casualties on both sides, some with ramifications that had to be dealt with for years for the characters.

The art is amazing in this volume, also giving me my first experience with some of the artists that would become some of my favorites over the years, such as John Romita Jr and Alan Davis. There was a good portion of my childhood that was taken up with ideas of being a comic book artist because of these guys. Alas, that never happened, but I can still appreciate their art on these issues all these years later.

This newly released hardcover edition is presented quite nicely, with all of the relevant issues presented in chronological, reading order. X-Men: Mutant Massacre certainly won't be for everybody, but I think if you are a current fan of the X-Men titles and you've not read back this far in the X-Men canon, I think it would be a good idea to see some of the defining moments for these characters, as quite a bit of the characters that we see today came from the events of this one storyline. Of course, that could just be me, since I've already confessed to being a little biased toward this story. But I'll still stick by it no matter what.

Friday, January 15, 2010

We have a winner, finally! (Or, where did the week go?)

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OK, so I know I was supposed to have posted this last Friday, but an impromptu trip to Chicago and a crazy work week later, I've finally been able to draw a winner!

Congrats to Mia J for winning a set of J.F. Englert's Bull Moose Dog Run books and thank you to everybody who entered!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

7. The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

#7

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Title: The 13 Clocks
Authors: James Thurber, illustrated by Marc Simont
Copyright: 1950
Pages: 124
ISBN: 9781590172759
Publisher: The New York Review Children's Collection
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 1-11-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10, 1001 Books, Baker's Dozen Challenge, 1010 Challenge

From Amazon:
Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales.

So begins James Thurber’s sublimely revamped fairy tale,
The 13 Clocks, in which a wicked Duke who imagines he has killed time, and the Duke’s beautiful niece, for whom time seems to have run out, both meet their match, courtesy of an enterprising and very handsome prince in disguise. Readers young and old will take pleasure in this tale of love forestalled but ultimately fulfilled, admiring its upstanding hero (”He yearned to find in a far land the princess of his dreams, singing as he went, and possibly slaying a dragon here and there”) and unapologetic villain (”We all have flaws,” the Duke said. “Mine is being wicked”), while wondering at the enigmatic Golux, the mysterious stranger whose unpredictable interventions speed the story to its necessarily happy end.

OK, I'm admitting to a re-read here early on in the year, but it fits a slot that I need to fill on two separate challenges, and I was hoping that a revisiting of the story would help me understand it a little better, but that didn't really happen. I'm going to re-post my review from before, as I still rather stand behind that.

I'm not quite sure what to make of James Thurber's The 13 Clocks. To be honest, the biggest reason that it caught my eye was the introduction by Neil Gaiman. Then I discovered it was on the 1001 Books list, so I thought that it would be worth picking up. And it was; but I just don't know what to think of it. In his introduction, Gaiman says that The 13 Clocks is one of the best books ever written, or something like that. I have to agree that it is a fun book, but calling it one of the best books ever written is stretching it a bit far.

The 13 Clocks is a hard book to label; is it YA? A child's fairy tale? Something written for adults? I can honestly say yes to all these questions. It has just about every aspect of the typical fairy tale present: there is a damsel in distress, an evil duke, a prince who comes to the rescue, impossible tasks, magical creatures, curses and a happily ever after. The Princess Saralinda is something of a captive to her wicked 'uncle,' the Duke, who is actually not her uncle, but her kidnapper, and who plans to marry her on her 21st birthday. She has had many suitors over the years, but the Duke gives each an impossible task to complete for her hand, or he simply kills them for practically no reason. Along comes the prince, Zorn of Zorna, disguised as a traveling minstrel, who goes on an impossible quest set forth by the Duke. Accompanying Zorn is the Golux, who seems to be something of a wizard, but maybe not, and together they accomplish the task, but just barely. I'm giving nothing away here, as we all know how these fairy tales end, and this particular tale follows in the footsteps of every one before it.

Marc Simont's illustration are very simplistic, but they match the tone and feel of the story perfectly. I found them a fresh accompaniment to the story.

Don't take me the wrong way, I enjoyed reading The 13 Clocks. Thurber created a fun little story, but I'm just not 100% convinced that it deserves the amounts of praise that has been heaped on it.

So there it is. A re-read just to fill the requisite slot in two challenges for the year so that I don't fall behind 2 weeks into the New Year. Some may call me on it as a cheater, and that's OK. I'm also hoping that someone else who may be reading my review for the first time might be able to shed some light on the subject for me as to why this book gets the praise that it does. I'm open to changing my mind about a book.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Soulless by Gail Carriger


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Title: Soulless
Related Series: The Parasol Protectorate, Book 1
Author: Gail Carriger
Copyright: 2010
Pages: 384
ISBN: 9780316056632
Publisher: Orbit Books
Author Website: www.gailcarriger.com
Twitter: @gailcarriger, @orbitbooks
Format: Paperback
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 1-10-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10, TIOLI, 1010 Challenge (Urban Fantasy Category)

From Amazon:
Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire -- and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

SOULLESS is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

To not put too fine a point on it, I absolutely adored Soulless! It is a smart, funny, sometimes sexy little morsel of steampunk romance brain candy. Now, first off, when you see the word "romance" in the description, please don't jump to the conclusion that I would have: that the book is chockablock with hot, steamy naughtiness. Now, in all honesty, it does have it's share of hot, steamy naughtiness (it is part romance when all is said and done, although it really has only one outright sex scene in the entire book), but it doesn't read like every action our heroine is taking is trying to lead her to her next tryst; this is Victorian England, after all, and there are certain rules and regulations one must follow before such scandalous behavior can ensue! What we have here, really, is a smart and sexy heroine who can not only hold her own against vampires and werewolves (she kills a vampire with her parasol, after all), but who can still manage to uphold the highest of societies standards and etiquette, often at the same time.

Soulless is a clever book, and the notion of vampires, werewolves and ghosts being accepted parts of Victorian society is a unique approach to the urban fantasy. How our preternatural heroine, Alexia Tarabotti, falls into all this as someone without a soul who can negate the powers of the supernatural makes her all the more an extraordinary character. In fact, all of the characters are well polished gems and each stands out in their own distinct way.

Carriger's writing is laugh-out-loud funny in some instances and solid throughout. I found it a refreshing read and a highly promising good start for this debut author. I'm anxiously awaiting the second in the series, Changeless.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

5. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

#5 from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program - December 09 Batch

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Title: A Single Man
Author: Christopher Isherwood, narrated by Simon Prebble
Copyright Date: 1964 (2009 for Audio Recording)
Pages: 186 (Equivalent)
Format: Audiobook, from publisher
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 1-7-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10, 1010 Challenge

From Amazon:
A wondrously conceived story spanning twenty-four hours in the life of a middle-aged expatriate British professor of English at a California university, A Single Man was described by Stephen Spender as "an absolutely devastating, unnerving, brilliant book." George is a man of intellect and humor, simultaneously brash and sensitive, gentle but with a streak of benign mischief, an enjoyer and a pessimist. Consumed with grief over the recent death of his companion, he determinedly persists in the routine of his daily life. Equal parts Prufrock and Lucky Jim, George is one of the more memorable comic anti-heroes of modern literature, and A Single Man one of the strongest efforts of a major writer of the post-war generation.

A Single Man tells one day in the life of George, a man trying to cope with his day to day existence after the death of his partner, Jim. This is a no holds barred portrayal of his existence. We meet George as he awakens in the morning, starting his day, coming to the determination that he must get out of bed, shower, dress, get ready to face his day. From there we follow him through the actions of the day, driving to work, teaching classes (he's a professor at the university), interacting with coworkers. It seems a dismal existence, but with moments of clarity shining through, we think that maybe George will make it after all.

Throughout his day, Jim flits in and out of George's thoughts. It doesn't seem to take much to bring Jim to George's mind, often leaving him with at first what seem happy memories but then constant reminders of Jim's absense in George's life.

Eventually, George finds himself seeking out his best friend, Charlie, who shares in his grief of a missing loved one (her's through divorce). After an evening of that closeness that can only come from such a friendship, Charlie makes one of many attempts at trying to seduce George, yet never getting any farther than a drunken, fumbled kiss.

Afterward, George decides to go out, that he is not ready to go home quite yet, and happens upon one of his students, Kenny, at the local bar, and they strike up a conversation, eventually finding themselves drunk and skinny-dipping in the ocean. George may or may not be perceiving the situation for more than what it is, just as Kenny may not even be sure of the situation. George wonders if, in Kenny, he has found a kindred spirit, but we may never know as drunkeness finally overtakes him, and he finds himself alone again at the end of his day.

It is a dark and somber story, and doesn't hide any of George's faults or feelings from the reader. We get George, farts and all, just as he is. There is no fantasy to George's life, just the stark reality of his situation as he struggles with Jim's death and tries to cope and move on with his own life. Despite its darkness, I felt swept along by the narrative and found myself wishing there was more to the story; a second day, perhaps. But that is all we are given, one day, and we must learn to accept that is all that we are getting, just as George has to accept that he is only getting one day of his life at a time. There is no real happy ending here, simply a real and powerful one.

Simon Prebble does a fine job narrating the story. His reading is clear and he expresses George's emotions perfectly. It is a short recording (4.75 hours on 4 CDs) so won't take much time to listen to.

Monday, January 4, 2010

eBooks - a love/hate relationship

So, I was thinking the other day about eBooks, and my love/hate relationship with them. On the one hand, how cool is it that we can carry around any number of books that we want all packed nicely into something as small as our cell phones? On the other, nothing can replace the feeling (at least for me) of curling up with a really good book and a cup of coffee (or hot beverage of your choice on a cold, winter's night), a feeling that you simply don't get curling up with your eBook reader and a cup of coffee. Just the feel of a book, the typography, the smell of the ink and paper, both in new and old books (each with their own distinct flavor of smell) are all so integral to the book as a whole, you simply can't replicate that feeling at all. So, with all the convenience of eBooks aside, I simply can't get into them. Sure, they tell us the same stories as their printed counterpart, but there is something just too sterile about the whole thing.

Then in a random string of thinking about this, the other thought that occurred to me was this: If we can get free digital copies of movies when we buy certain DVDs that are downloadable to our computers, phones, etc., why can't we also get the digital copy of books when we purchase the physical copy? I know for a fact that I may never buy an eBook on its own because I will always want the physical copy. I also know that I've purchased several movies on DVD and have also downloaded the digital copy for play on my laptop or iPhone, and would gladly do the same with digital copies of books that I buy so that I could carry the digital version on my iPhone while I'm out and about, but then have the physical copy to settle in with at the end of the day. Why does the book industry not offer the same perks with certain book purchases that the film industry offers to its consumers?

Random thinking for the day, I know, but this is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

4. X-Men: Emperor Vulcan by Christopher Yost, art by Paco Diaz Luque

Guilty pleasure time!

#4

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Title: X-Men: Emperor Vulcan
Series: X-Men, lead up to War of Kings
Authors: Christopher Yost, art by Paco Diaz Luque
Copyright: 2008
Pages: 120
ISBN: 9780785125518
Publisher: Marvel
Twitter: @marvel
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Finished: 1-3-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10, 1010 Challenge

From Amazon:
It's brother versus brother and the outcome could decide the fate of billions. Uncanny X-Men's "Rise and Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire" continues here! Vulcan is the Shi'Ar Emperor and Havok is leading the rebellious Starjammers. But who is really right and who is really wrong? Collects X-Men: Emperor Vulcan #1-5.


I'm going to make a confession here early on in the year... I like X-Men comics. I've been reading them for years (since the mid-80s sometime). It's a real guilty pleasure for me. My interest waxes and wanes periodically, but I always end up coming back to them. I've recently been picking up the collected editions of the comics after a long wave of not reading them, so you'll just have to bear with me as I feed my inner geek on occasion. I'm not going to review these really at all, because to be honest, if you haven't been reading right along over the last 20-40 years, you're going to be lost. Hell, I've been reading for 20-30 years and I get lost every once in awhile! So, there it is. My early year confession to a geeky guilty pleasure!

Emperor Vulcan picks up right where The Rise and Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire left off, with the X-Men who were stranded in space having to form an uneasy alliance with Vulcan to repel the advancing attack of the Scy'Ar Tal, a race bent on the destruction of the Shi'Ar Empire. Not a very satisfying ending, as it's not really clear what happens (are the Scy'Ar Tal destroyed, where did Marvel Girl go?), but I guess it's leaving enough questions open for the follow-up series, Kingbreaker, and the larger War of Kings series.

3. Princess Alyss of Wonderland by Frank Beddor

#3

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Title: Princess Alyss of Wonderland
Series: The Looking Glass Wars
Author: Frank Beddor
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 30
ISBN: 9780803732513
Publisher: Dial Books
Author Website: www.lookingglasswars.com
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 1-3-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10, 1010 Challenge

From Amazon:
Feast your eyes on the collected memorabilia of the real Alyss! This lavishly illustrated scrapbook includes:

Alyss’ embattled correspondence with Lewis Carroll

Actual annotated manuscript pages from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as the early reviews of the book

A flip book given to Alyss by John Tenniel, the original illustrator of Carroll’s whimsical tale

Journal entries and detailed drawings describing the indelible mark that Wonderland left on the young Alyss

Removable letters that the princess wrote to her loved ones back home

And a playable deck of cards created by "Alyss" to battle the imposter "Alice."

This is a book for fans of fantasy and of the bestselling "ology" books, for Lewis Carroll scholars, and especially for young girls in search of a fresh, new, princess story.

Since I'm on a roll of finishing what Looking Glass Wars books I own, I decided on a quick reread of Princess Alyss of Wonderland, a "scrapbook" kept by Alyss during her early years with the Liddells. It keeps with the assumption that Princess Alyss of Wonderland was actually lost in our world, and it is being presented here as a historical document, backing up the claims of the "historians" trying to shed light on the fact that Charles Dodgson got Alyss' story completely wrong. The book is well presented, reading very much as if a young child wrote it.

I felt there was a little discrepancy in the story though; in The Looking Glass Wars, Alyss eventually gives up her search for Imagination and decides to live her life out as Alice, having finally come to terms with the fact that she would never be going home to Wonderland and that it would be best for all involved if she adapted to life with the Liddells. However, in this book, it appears that she discovers an Imagination Sphere that was given to her by Bibwit Harte, and she takes it upon herself to practice exercising her imagination with the help of the sphere. To me, this just seemed too contradictory to the way the story is told in The Looking Glass Wars, but since this is supposed to be a lost artifact from her time with the Liddells, I suppose that not all the facts could have been presented in the main series. Or, as I suspect is actually the case, I'm just reading far too much in the book and not just taking it for what it is, a bit of fluff.

For more information, visit the Looking Glass Wars website.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2. Hatter M, Volume 2: Mad with Wonder by Frank Beddor & Liz Cavalier, art by Sami Makkonen

#2

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Title: Hatter M, Volume 2: Mad with Wonder
Series: The Looking Glass Wars
Authors: Frank Beddor & Liz Cavalier, art by Sami Makkonen
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9780981873718
Publisher: Automatic Pictures
Author Website: www.lookingglasswars.com
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 1-1-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10, 1010 Challenge

From Amazon:
It's a mad, mad, mad world as Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan's maniacal quest to find Alyss continues! In Volume 2, Mad With Wonder, Hatter follows the Glow from London to the battlefields of America's Civil War in search of the Princess who must some day be Queen. The America that Hatter encounters is a sprawling, wounded, boiling landscape of innocence and energy run amok. The war is tearing the country apart, yet Hatter must maintain his sanity in this maelstrom of holy rollers, child healers, prophetic snake handlers, deranged outlaws, and passionate southern belles. As Hatter searches he learns he is not the only Wonderland presence that has found its way to the Promised Land. Queen Redd's black imagination is fueling the Civil War and threatening our world with her evil!


Mad with Wonder, the second volume of Hatter M's journey across Earth searching for the lost Princess Alyss of Wonderland, was not quite as engaging as the first volume of the series. There seemed to be too many interludes trying to tie in the events of the Wonderland civil war with event going on in our world, such as the American Civil War. Don't get me wrong, as a huge fan of The Looking Glass Wars series as a whole, I enjoy seeing the "lost" adventures of Hatter M as he traveled our world in search of Alyss, but this volume seemed detached from the rest of the story somehow. Again, characters were tied into the story that eventually make their way into the main part of the series, but the story itself just didn't seem to mesh in my mind with what would be going on in the main novels.

I also felt that the art seemed a little hard to follow. Not that Ben Templesmith's (the artist of the first graphic novel) is all that clear, but I felt that Sami Makkonen's shifts in scenes were a little hard to follow and unclear as to what was always going on in the frames. His characters were a little to indistinguishable from each other, making it hard to figure out who was who throughout the volume.

As in the first volume, the supplemental material in the back of the volume is interesting, but even more so than in the first volume, you need to read this material to really make clear what is happening in the volume. I personally just don't think it should be a necessity to read the supplemental material in order to fully understand what is happening in the story. The story itself should be able to stand on its own, with the supplemental information adding to the already existing story. I guess it could be argued that these graphic novels are the supplemental material to the main novels, but it just felt like the story could have been presented a little better in the main part of the volume.

Not necessarily a bad volume, but not the best either. Only die-hard fans of The Looking Glass Wars will find this interesting, however. All in all, I'm still going to pick up the final volume in the Hatter M series when it is released.

For more information, visit the Looking Glass Wars website.

Reading Challenges 2010

So, here are the reading challenges that I have going for 2010:

Personal Challenges
100 Books - Reading 100 books over the year (can he do it?)
1001 Challenge - 1 book from the 1001 List a month
Agatha Christie Challenge - 1 Book by Agatha Christie a month
Baker's Dozen Challenge - 13 books with the number 13 somehow in the title


LibraryThing Challenges
TIOLI Challenge - The Take It Or Leave It Challenge: You do it if you want to for that month. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t do it. That’s it. Seems fairly simple.
1010 in 2010 Challenge - Any number of books in 10 categories of your choosing. Again, seems fairly simple enough.

Other Challenges
The Beth Kephart Reading Challenge - select 4 books written by Beth Kephart and read them before June 30, 2010.


I'll be interested to see how I can keep up with all of these this year, but I'm hoping that I can find several crossover books that can count in several categories at one time.

Happy reading!

Hatter M, Volume 1: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor & Liz Cavalier, art by Ben Templesmith

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Title: Hatter M, Volume 1: The Looking Glass Wars
Series: The Looking Glass Wars
Authors: Frank Beddor & Liz Cavalier, art by Ben Templesmith
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 167
ISBN: 9780979593956
Publisher: Automatic Pictures
Author Website: www.lookingglasswars.com
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Finished: 1-1-10
Challenge: 100 Books 10, 1010 Challenge

From Amazon:
Put to rest any delusions or disinformation you have of the tea-guzzling madman of faux literary history and prepare to expand your consciousness as the saga of Hatter Madigan and his relentless search for the lost Princess of Wonderland unfolds in Volume 1 of the Hatter M graphic novel series! In Frank Beddor's bestselling The Looking Glass Wars, Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan was ordered by Queen Genevieve to take Princess Alyss and leave Wonderland after a bloody palace coup staged by the murderous Redd. But while escaping through the Pool of Tears (the portal connecting Wonderland to our world) crushing centrifugal force pulled them apart, and Alyss was lost. In this first volume of the geo-graphic parallel adventure trilogy, Hatter finds himself in Paris, France in the year 1859 shockingly separated from the child he had been sworn to protect. Hatter must now embark upon a non-stop quest, crisscrossing the globe for 13 years in search of his lost Princess.


A re-read from a couple of years ago, but as I finished the The Looking Glass Wars recently and picked up the second graphic novel in the series, I thought I'd backtrack a little as a reminder of what happened in the volume.

The Hatter M graphic novels are described as Geo-Graphic Novels, detailing and mapping the adventures of Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan... in his search for the missing Princess Alyss of Wonderland after they were separated after jumping into the Pool of Tears to escape Redd's assassin, The Cat. The interesting thing about this first graphic novel is it runs parallel to what happens in The Looking Glass Wars (the first part of the trilogy of the same name) and fills in some of the gaps of what happened to Hatter while he was on Earth searching for Alyss. Some of the characters that we are introduced to in this volume eventually make their way into the main series, showing up in book 2, Seeing Redd.

The supplemental material in the back is also rather interested, as it is presented as actual facts that have been collected over the year related to Hatter's search for Alyss, and the proposition that Charles Dodgson's accounts of what Alyss told him were indeed changed into what he published as Lewis Caroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. There are several real historical accounts that Beddor and Cavalier have been able to tie into the story as caused by events originating in Wonderland.

As a stand alone volume, I think anyone reading this who hasn't read at least The Looking Glass Wars would be completely lost. For anyone who is a fan of the series, however, while this isn't an essential part of the series, it will make for interesting reading in expanding the universe that Beddor created in his series.

For more information, visit the Looking Glass Wars website.

One more challenge for the year: the Beth Kephart Reading Challenge 2010

OK, so I know I was going to enter into any more challenges for the year, but my friend Gail just pointed this one out to me, and I thought I'd enter this one as well. My Friend Amy is hosting the Beth Kephart Reading Challenge 2010. There are multiple levels of participation, and there is even a prize involved! I agree with Amy that more people need to know about Beth Kephart, so I'm happy to join in on the Challenge and help spread the word!