27 September 2008

Less of a Fangirl

A~Z Reading Challenge “S” author: Sharon Shinn’s Dream-maker’s Magic (Penguin, 2006).

Dream-maker’s Magic is the last book in a three-book series that started with The Safe-Keeper's Secret. This novel is about Kellen, who is raised as a boy because her crazy mother refuses to believe she gave birth to a girl. Kellen doesn't fit in with the other village children (who know she is a girl in boy's clothing) and gets in some trouble. Then she meets Gryffin, an orphan boy with twisted feet and legs. Of course, both being freaks of some kind, they become good friends. They grow up together until (and just as their friendship might be turning into something else) a great discovery is made about Gryffin ...

This book did not thrill me. It read, in many places, like a draft. Most characters felt underdeveloped -- perhaps because there were too many of them popping in and out of the story? Also, some events seem rushed through as if Shinn had an idea, but no time to work it out. I mean, the murder-suicide? The birth revelation? Total non-events. How could this be??

While I've been a devoted reader of Shinn's novels since Archangel in 1999, I thought Dream-maker’s Magic was a complete let down and do not recommend it. If you've never read anything by Shinn, start with her Samaria series or a stand-alone like Summers at Castle Auburn.

Emily Carr: An Introduction to Her Life and Art

A~Z Reading Challenge “N” author: Anne Newlands’s Emily Carr: An Introduction to Her Life and Art (Firefly Books, 1996).
Stumbled upon this in my quest for a book about Emily Carr that might actually include color plates of her works -- looking at Big Raven in a virtual gallery is well and good, but I'd like a big book I can spread across my lap. Of course, I'd really like to see him in the face-to-face, but the Vancouver Art Gallery isn't exactly down the street. Anyway, I acquired this slender volume through interlibrary loan and what a gem it turned out to be! If you know nothing about Emily Carr, this book may serve as a wonderful introduction. Newland presents a brief overview of Carr’s life and work and skilfully compliments full color reproductions of Carr's art with excerpts from her own writing. Indeed, Carr's paintings are well chosen and beautifully rendered -- far better quality than I expected in such a flimsy-looking book. (Zunoqua of the Cat Village with her verdant sea of cat eyes ... who would have thought that was what Carr was writing about in Klee Wyck?)

Running Out of Letters, Thank God

I've been reading lots of books, but writing about them has felt too much like homework and, like any good student, I like to put my homework off to the last minute. Well, this must be close enough to the last minute. Six reviews racked up and more books on the way ... time to get cracking.

(Can you believe I'm finally nearing the end of this challenge?)
A~Z Reading Challenge “E” Author: Barbara Ehrenreich's This Land is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation (Tantor Media, 2008, with Cassandra Campbell as reader).
Do not want. I approached This Land is Their Land with some trepidation. I must admit I had not enjoyed Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed when I read it a few years ago. Oh, I saw her point and agreed with it, but I still found her job experimentation insulting -- probably because, at the time, I had a low-paying dead-end job like those she dabbled with. So why read This Land is Their Land? Because, like Nickel & Dimed, it is one of those books I feel I ought to read and ought to agree with. While I did already agree with many of the points Ehrenreich raised in This Land is Their Land, I found nothing particularly enlightening in repetitive and off-puttingly sarcastic (and I love me some sarcasm) essays. Ehrenreich comes across as bitter and cynical -- which is fine, I can see how the last decade would leave even the most pie-eyed optimist bitter and cynical -- but she offers no solutions to the problems she discusses. It's just one long diatribe. Rather like this review.

A~Z Reading Challenge “K” Author: Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye (Image Comics, 2004).
Read like a badbadbad pastiche of every zombie film or novel ever made. Trite. Derivative. Sexist. Stupid. Gah. Annoying, because I love me a good post-apocalyptic story and I had heard nothing but good things about this series from Comic Book Guys and, maybe, that was the problem. The series is probably intended for a male audience more receptive to uncomplicated heroes straight out of Marlboro/Budweiser ads.

A~Z Reading Challenge “L” Title: Laughing Without An Accent: Adventures of an Iranian American, At Home and Abroad by Firoozeh Dumas (Random House, 2008).

Laughing Without an Accent is Dumas's follow-up to her memior Funny in Farsi, but I do not think you need to read the first to enjoy the second. Certainly, I did not read Funny in Farsi and yet still thoroughly enjoyed Laughing Without An Accent -- so much so that I followed The Husband around the house, inflicting long passages to him. Apparently, the book is funny even when totally out of context. Not that everything is snorts and chuckles -- Dumas's encounter with Kathryn Kob is quite serious and made me want to weep (as well as inter-library loan Guest of the Revolution). This is an excellent read if you're looking to widen your world view without being made depressed or suicidal. Also, if you enjoyed Dumas's memoirs and now want something a little "heavier," I recommend Azadeh Moaveni's Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran.

A~Z Reading Challenge “F” Title: Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris (Houghton Mifflin, 2008).
Desert guide Nayir ash Sharqi is hired to find Nouf ash-Shrawi, a sixteen-year-old girl who disappeared into the desert three days before her marriage. Did she run away? Was she abducted? No-one knows. And, when her body is found in a wadi, it looks as if no-one needs to know. The girl is dead. Terrible, but that's the end of it. Nayir, however, cannot let the Shawi girl's death go. Finding Nouf was a well written and well crafted mystery. There were just enough suspicious characters and red herrings to keep me reading along without frustrating me (I do not enjoy mysteries in which anyone could be the murderer and then it turns out to be someone who was only in one scene for two lines). The characters, for the most part, seemed very real to me and, while I have no idea about Ferraris's accuracy, the novel's description of Saudi culture was fascinating. Honestly, I'd love to see Finding Nouf on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery! one day.

A~Z Reading Challenge “V” Title: Venetia by Georgette Heyer (HQN Books, 2006).
Heyer essentially created Regency romance as we know it today and, as I love a good Regency romance, I've often wished to read her novels ... except they looked so dated and icky. Happily, many of her novels are being republished by Harlequin and Sourcebooks Casablanca and the like. In Venetia, the eponymous Miss Lanyon grows up in the country, away from the world with only her lame and scholarly younger brother, Aubrey, for company. All is (mostly) peace and quiet until one their neighbor, wicked Lord Jasper Damerel, returns to his country estate. Venetia sensibly keeps away from him after his initial discourteous treatment of her, but when Damerel takes an injured Aubrey into his home after a from his fall from a horse, she revises her first opinion of the wicked rake and they soon become the fast friends. Will friendship turn to love? Will the wicked rake reform? You will have to discover that for yourself, gentle reader. Overall, I enjoyed this book. Perhaps it helps that she is twenty-five, but Venetia is a very commonsensical and refreshingly forthright Regency heroine. Unlike most contemporary Regency romances, there's no sex in this book and very little kissing yet the the desire and attraction constantly zipping between Venetia and Demerel is never in doubt. Besides doing such a marvellous job creating (and maintaining) that constant air of desire, Heyer also writes quite wittily and creates secondary characters worthy of any Austen novel. I'm not saying that you'll love Heyer if you love Austen, but if you're looking for a non-sexual-but-still-smokin' sparkling romance with a strong heroine, you could do a lot worse than Venetia.

A~Z Reading Challenge “W” Title: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (Macmillan Audio, 2007, read by Adam Grupper).
You may have heard of as The World Without Us as it has received a fair amount of publicity since its publication. You know, it’s the “ohmygodnopeoples” book. Or, anyway, that’s how I’d been thinking of it. And while, yes, the sudden disappearance of the human race is the launching point for Weisman’s book, that disappearance isn’t the point. It’s what comes after that is the point. And how do we know what will happen after we've done? We don’t, but we can conjecture based on how the world was before we came along. That’s were it all gets interesting --for me, anyway. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, paleontologists, and the like, Weisman took me way back when to examine the rise of humans and its impact on the Paleolithic world. Aside from the world before us, Weisman does of course write about the world with us. This is not a good workd. Did you know we're killing everything, outstripping the potential of our environment, and generally behaving like total idiots? While, the ecological doom and gloom message wasn't new it was well intentioned and necessary -- just not my favorite part of the book. Bring on the pre-historic megafauna!

Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood

A~Z Reading Challenge “G” author: Taras Grescoe’s Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood (Bloomsbury, 2008).
According to Taras Grescoe, much of the cheap seafood we enjoy is neither safe nor sustainable and our greedy anti-ocean habits are driving many fish species to the point of extinction. We are going to start paying for our greed very soon. He writes, "A paper in the esteemed journal Nature reports that 90 percent of the population of top-level predators -- among them tuna, sharks, marlin and swordfish -- have already been caught. A team of ecologists makes headlines worldwide by predicting that, at their current rate of exploitation, all major fish stocks will collapse within our lifetimes; the world, in other words, will run out of wild seafood by the year 2048." I’ll be 72 in 2048. If nothing changes, I’ll be a crazy old lady at the market ranting about how we used to get real food from the oceans while the sweet young things behind the counter roll their eyes and disbelieve that anything ever came out of the ocean but jellyfish stew. Has Bottomfeeder dissuaded me from consuming seafood? No. Will I be more selective in my choices? Probably, but more out of a desire not to poison myself than an actual expectation my buying habits will change the world.

26 September 2008

Graphic Novel News: Oh Noes! No More Minx!

CBR News has confirmed through multiple sources that MINX, the young adult graphic novel line published by DC Comics, has been cancelled. Creators were informed this morning, and some have been assured their solicited or otherwise greenlit projects will be published, while others have been told their books -- at least one of which is actually completed -- will not be released, at least not as part of the MINX line.
                                                            -- DC Cancels MINX Young Adults Line
Well, I'm glad I picked up copies of Water Baby, The New York Four, and Burnout as soon as they hit the shelves, but I'm extremely peeved about the rest of the Minx titles. I was looking forward to Emiko Superstar (written by Mariko Tamaki whose Skim is one of my favorite graphic novels of all time). And Token! And ... and Clubbing in Tokyo!

Oh noes! No Clubbing in Tokyo!

What am I supposed to read now if I want "smart, original stories about real girls in the real world?" Final Crisis?

24 September 2008

Leftover Beer Roast Italian Stew

This is a modified version of "Leftover Roast Beef Italian Stew" from Kalyn's Kitchen. A delicious way to use up leftover roasted beastie and heavy on kitchen staples so, YAY, no shopping. Just the cooking and eating.

Leftover Beer Roast Italian Stew

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
10 oz leftover beer roast (approx)
1 cup beef stock + 1 ½ cups vegetable broth
1 can diced tomatoes with "Italian" herbs
½ Tbsp dried oregano
½ Tbsp dried basil
4 oz container mushrooms, halved
3 T chopped fresh basil, chopped

Saute onions and garlic in olive oil for 3 minutes, add bell pepper and saute 3 minutes more. Add beef, stock, broth, tomatoes, dried herbs, and mushrooms, reduce heat to very low, and simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper if desired. Add fresh basil when stew has cook to desired consistency and cook 10 minutes more.
Yummy in my tummy!

23 September 2008

Klee Wyck

A~Z Reading Challenge “K” title: Klee Wyck by Emily Carr (Douglas & McIntyre, 2003).

Klee Wyck is a collection of literary sketches from the Canadian artist Emily Carr which focus on her experience painting in the Native Canadian villages of the west coast. Douglas & McIntyre's "restored" edition is supposed to be much closer to Carr's original than the "educational" edition most Canadians are familiar with which omitted much from Carr's work. Educational authorities appeared to have liked the idea of Emily Carr better than they liked her actual writings -- her references to missionaries and schooling were not always kind:
The Missionary said, "It is good for the Indians to have a white person stay in their homes; we are at a very difficult stage with them -- this passing from old ways into new. I tell you savages were easier to handle than these half-civilized people ... in fact it is impossible ... I have sent my wife and children south ..."
"Is the school here not good?"
"I can't have my children mix with the Indians."
Having listened to Susan Vreeland's The Forest Lover, reading Klee Wyck was a little bit odd experience. Many of Carr's experiences were familiar, but Carr's real voice is so much plainer than her fictional counterpart that I sometimes hungered for a few extra adjectives. Also, I was tickled to see how Vreeland had rolled pretty much all of Klee Wyck's Native Canadian women into the character of Sophie. Making, perhaps, for a better story, but also minimizing Carr's variety of experience.

Oh, whatever. Good book. Much enjoyed. Go read.

18 September 2008

I Wanna See You Push It Push It Push It

I've been dreaming about belonging to a book cart drill team every since I read The Library Book Cart Precision Drill Team Manual (McFarland, 2002) and become utterly enamoured with the concept. We librarians are always on the lookout for cheap effective ways to market our libraries to our communities and generate enthusiasm about our services -- book cart drills would certainly make the public sit up and pay attention (if only in the same way one sits up and pays attention to a car wreck).

12 September 2008

Graphic Novel: Promethea, Volume 1

A~Z Reading Challenge “M” author: Promethea, Book One (America's Best Comics, 2000) by Alan Moore et al.
"They're called Manigators, darling. Not Lizard Men."
Promethea is a young girl whose father is killed by a Christian mob in ancient Alexandria. She is taken by the twin god Thoth-Hermes into the Immateria, a realm where stories are real. Over the ensuing centuries, "Promethea" manifests in a series of avatars, the latest being college student Sophie Bangs ...

While I thought the story was a compelling one, I feel I should warn you that big chunks of this sucker read like a Philosophy/Religion 101 paper at too many points. Issue #4 seemed especially thick with mumbo-jumbo and, after I ran into this particular tidbit:
Matter is that part of being that has crystallized, where the mind's light has petrified to concrete substance. Beyond substance is imagination, the moonlit realm of dream and fiction, sexual fantasy and the unconscious mind. These lunar attributes, imagination and romance, are the gem-crusted gateways of the Immateria.
I simply gave up and started skimming.

But, that's not to say I didn't like this graphic novel. Despite it's philosophizing, Promethea is pretty good. The illustrations tend toward stunning, the use of myth is generally interesting, and the ex-Prometheas are so funny they almost manage to steal Sophie's thunder. I will probably read Book Two, but I hope for fewer "Jupiterian skies of universal mercy."

11 September 2008

Graphic Novel: Elektra, Volume 1

A~Z Reading Challenge “E” title: Elektra, Volume One: Introspect (Marvel, 2002) by Chris Rucka et al.

Ηλέκτρα, she's electric.

What happens when you are an unemployed assassin whose whole life is your work? Well, if you're Chris Rucka's Elektra, you begin a downward spiral of violence and emotional unrest which leads you to teeter on the very edge of madness ... and then you get kidnapped by a mysterious wheel-chaired man who pumps you full of drugs and tries to convince you that you are evil and should kill yourself.

Oh, happy days.

Overall, I enjoyed this graphic novel. Despite some of the porntastic illustrations and the gratuitous amounts of blood, this is indeed a story of introspection and self discovery. By the end of this graphic novel it is apparent there is no clear line between good and evil. No matter how conscionable Mr. Locke's intentions may have been, he and his cohorts end up just as bloody-handed as Elektra.

(I've never seen the movie Elektra as it seemed excruciatingly dumb, but now I'm half-tempted to Netflix it).

10 September 2008

Ocean by Warren Ellis et al.

One hundred years from now, UN weapons inspector Nathan Kane is sent to a space station orbiting the Jovian Moon, Europa, where an exploratory team has made an alarming discovery: beneath the frozen crust of the planetary ocean are billion year old sarcophagi containing members of a sleeping alien race, weapons capable of destroying entire planets, and an enormous ring no-one can quite figure out. As Kane and the station crew investigate, they are threatened by a powerful multi-planetary super-conglomerate seeking to exploit the discovery for its own purposes ...

Sounds like good fun, eh?

I read Ellis's Orbiter (Vertigo, 2004) a few months ago and was quite impressed by it. I picked up Ocean hoping to get more of the same quality and was not disappointed. They're very different stories, obviously, and I would say Ocean is much more action-oriented than Orbiter which was far more psychological and science-y. Which is not to say that I found Ocean lacking -- the story has an intriguing hook, just enough witty dialogue, a bad ass law-enforcing protagonist, and lots of strong (alas, secondary) female characters. What's not to like? The artwork is also quite excellent -- lucid and clean, each frame says only what it needs to say. It's like reading a film's storyboard and that's fine, because Ocean would make a kick ass film just as it is.

A~Z Reading Challenge “O” title: Ocean (Wildstorm, 2005) by Warren Ellis et al

04 September 2008

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

My “A” title selection for the a~z reading challenge was Mary E. Pearson’s young adult novel, The Adoration of Jenna Fox which is, among other things, a Book Sense "Top Ten" Summer 2008 Pick (I ♥ Book Sense) and has been optioned by 20th Century Fox.

Synopsis: Sometime in the near future, Jenna Fox wakes up after being in a coma for a year. She doesn’t remember her old life at all and has to re-learn a lot of basic things she already ought to know – simple stuff like smiling, for instance. Jenna watches home videos of her life, but she’s can’t identify with what she sees. It doesn’t help that, while Jenna was in the coma, her family moved from Boston to California, and she is not in contact with anyone from her “old life.”

Slowly, Jenna begins to discovers holes in the truths she's been given. Can she believe what people tell her about her own life?

I loved The Adoration of Jenna Fox. This novel is probably one of the most interesting young adult science fiction novels I have read in quite a while. It's one of those darned thinky books that stick with you days after you've read it -- I'll be washing dishes and find myself thinking about what it means to be human.

Oh, dishwater philosophy! Dangerous stuff!

My only complaint is that the novel ended too abruptly. I would like to have known more about the adult Jenna Fox and how she became a "standard" instead of an "illegal."

Go. Read this book.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt & Company, 2008)