Monday, January 28, 2008

Too much and not enough

Laura Joh Rowland's The Concubine Tattoo (25) is a lush, superbly detailed tapestry of 17th century Japan, but the characters spoil the picture for me. Her "detective", Sano, is a deeply flawed character, constantly haunted by fears that he will be dishonored and disgraced. His inner turmoil even threatens to ruin his marriage to his headstrong, independent bride. The graphic sex is over the top, even though Rowland is making the point that flirting and sex are the power tools of the claustrophobic royal court. The plight of the women as simply conveniences to the men and their lack of a voice in their own destinies is clearly brought out.
I don't know where I got Laura J. Mixon's Omni Astropilots, (26) probably some giant box lot from ebay, but it is extremely strange. It is a Scholastic book, so I'm assuming it's a young adult novel. The plot revolves around an outer space military school, where you graduate at seventeen, and apparently, once you become a senior, you're able to rule over all the other students, even to expelling them. The first few chapters of the book try to introduce you to the "mod" slang of the school: "candies" for candidates, "chilling down" for hanging out, "strip your wires" for going nuts, etc. It's a little ham-fisted and clunky, right down to the Red Dawn ending of the students taking over the school so the megalomanical head master won't destroy the peace conference and bring war to the solar system. It was published in 1987, and some words hint at a British source : "the sun was the size of a half-pound coin" 2106, they know what that was???

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Torey Hayden --24

Torey Hayden is a teacher of those children society deems "garbage"...autistic, schizophrenic, emotionally damaged, suicidal. This was in the seventies and eighties, before autism became a popular disease. I read One Child, a book I've read before, which the story of Sheila, a six year old so abused and emotionally scarred that she takes a neighborhood child out to the woods and sets fire to him. Because no one else will take her into a normal classroom, Torey gets her. She's emaciated, owns one shirt and one filthy pair of overalls, and reeks because she wets the bed every night and the shack she and her father live in has no running water for bathing. In one shocking scene, she gouges out the eyes of the classroom goldfish and strangles the baby gerbils that belong to one of the teacher's sons. Reading her books actually lit a fire in my oldest daughter to work with autistic children, and not only does she tutor an autistic second-grader in our school, but is headed off to college in the fall for a degree in Special Education. If you love children, read these books. But have the Kleenex ready.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

German grimness

22 is Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. This is a gritty, no-holds-barred look at a German survivor of the war, and the awful things she had to do to survive that time. Every other chapter is set in the present and in the 1940s, contrasting a mother's determination to save her small daughter at all costs to herself, and the grown-up daughter's determination to uncover her past and who her father really was. The continual fear that the mother lives in while trying to survive the Nazi occupation is written starkly, and there is the confrontation of what would you do to help those in the concentration camps if it posed a threat to your child's survival. As a mother, this hit home all too closely. Although I have German ancestry from my father's side, those people left the motherland way before the 1940s. My husband has family still there, but I know I would never have the nerve to interview any elderly survivors.
To get over that grimness, I read What's A Ghoul to Do? by Victoria Laurie (23), which is a light-hearted paranormal romance featuring M.J., a psychic ghostbuster, her very camp assistant Gilly who's afraid of ghosts, and her wise-cracking parrot Doc. Her studly client, Dr. Sable, has a house haunted by his grandfather and his mistress. Supposedly Dr. Sable is Argentinian who was educated in Germany and only speaks English in amusing mistakes. Okay, that wore thin after a chapter or two. I'm not even going to rant about the fact that if he's translating directly from German, his syntax would be all switched around. The sequel comes out in March 08, and if he's still "amusingly" asking if she's still giving him "the cold elbow", I think I'll pass on it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

ickiness and fluff

I have a miserable cold, and resorted to light-hearted fluff to soothe my congested brain cells. Eighteen, nineteen, and twenty are the last three books in Katie McAlister's Guardian series: Fire Me Up, Light My Fire, and Holy Smokes. These are the ups-and-downs of a Guardian (who guard the portals to hell) who accidentally becomes the mate of a wyvern (half human, half dragon), a demon lord (to a minor sprite who isn't evil, just annoying), and a problem solver to the paranormal community. Lots of steaming kisses, etc.
Twenty-one is Terry Pratchett's Making Money. Here we rejoin Moist von Lipwig, bored from his success with the Post Office and sort-of ready for a new challenge: banking. Don't worry if you are like me and think economics and interest rates are right at the top of the ho-hum scale -- you will learn no actual banking reading this book. It was really quite good, despite only one tiny appearance by DEATH, and very little Watchmen or Commander Vimes. Vetinari loses his beloved Wuffles but gains a new canine companion, which by the description is a pug. They feed it sticky toffee a lot and laugh hysterically at its attempts to eat it.
And yes, that means I have read 1416 pages in the last two days. That's what happens when I'm sick.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Siebzehn ist, seventeen is a book translated from German, Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann. It is an unusual mystery in that a shepherd's murder is narrated from the point of view of the sheep. The different sheep have very different characters, and are well-written. Perhaps there's a little too much self-introspection, but, hey, it's German. That's what we live for.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I finished two more over the long holiday weekend (MLK day -- no school!!). Fifteen was Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik, book 4 in her Temeraire series. This is really alternate history, set in the early 1800's during England's battle with Napoleon. There are historical figures, such as Napoleon and Lord Nelson, but the big change is that their air force is dragons -- huge dragons that carry teams of fighting men. This book focuses on Africa, because a epidemic is killing off England's dragons and Laurence and Temeraire his dragon are on the scent of the cure. Each book so far has focused on the attitudes of different countries toward the dragons in their midst. Africa considers them their ancestors reborn, and reveres their council and wisdom. This book also shows the battle against slavery that was taking place in England and their colonies. The language and customs are very stilted and "British stiff upper lip" but is very true to the actual way they spoke and acted.
Sixteen was a complete opposite in attitude -- Kathryn Miller Haines' The War Against Miss Winter. Set in 1943 in New York, the war permeates every page, from Rosie's Navy boyfriend to the reminder on every street corner to save paper, gas, butter, rubber, etc. Rosie Winter is an aspiring actress and secretary to a real "gumshoe". The language is so "Maltese Falcon-ish" that I expected Humphrey Bogart to stroll into the room any moment. It distracted me at first, but by the end, I was rolling with it.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Well, fourteen was The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. I know this is a highly controversial book, with Christians boycotting the movie as an anti-Christian statement. I wanted to know what the truth was, so I read the book. I'm a little confused, as I found no bias against God at all. However, there is a strong voice against the organized church, or the bureaucracy of the church. It brought to mind a former brother-in-law, who had actually trained for the priesthood at one point, but was so soured by the machinations and politics of the church that he left the church and was a self-professed atheist. Years of contact with our family and my mother's gentle witness of faith brought him to a point where he conceded that there was something to believing in Christ as a personal relationship, but he never to my knowledge went any farther. His daughter became a Christian and serves in ministry.
In the book, each human has a daemon, which is the visible soul of the human. The church, in the person of the evil Mrs. Coulter, is involved in an experiment to sever the connection between the human and it's soul...the conscience, perhaps. Without this bond, or conscience, the human becomes dull and biddable, ready to obey any demand or order from the church. It blinds their eyes to the nature of what they are doing, whether it is good or evil.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Scar Night

Unlucky thirteen was Alan Campbell's Scar Night, the most unsatisfying book I've read in a long while. The author seems to deliberately write so as to obfuscate details, probably to build suspense or whatever. It took me till the last chapter of the book to figure out the way that Deepgate (the city) was built over the abyss. Maybe it's just my spatial lameness. The protagonist, Dill, seems very one-dimensional, especially after his revival. There is a sequel, but I definitely think I'll give it a pass.
We have a long weekend, and I really need to get some laundry and cleaning done. K is with the youth group in Wisconsin on a ski trip, and she was really pumped about the forecast for nine below zero and lots of snow. She'll be coming back Monday afternoon, usually exhausted and with a suitcase full of dirty laundry. I need to revamp the linen closet as the flimsy plastic shelving we brought from the Church Street house is totally inadequate for all the sheets, blankets, and other stuff we've accumulated now. We need big wooden shelves, and I've set D on the planning for it. His favorite thing -- honeydo projects.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Playing for Pizza

A complete dozen! This book is John Grisham's Playing for Pizza, a short novel. Well, two hundred some pages, but for me that's a short book. The protagonist is Rick, a struggling football quarterback who manages to lose the game for the Oakland Browns in the last eleven minutes of a playoff game, ending their Super Bowl hopes. He is loathed to the point that rabid fans storm his hospital (he got crunched by the other team) and every sports channel is replaying his errors. The Browns fire him and no one else wants him. He is depressed and running from his troubles when his agent gets him a last-chance job: playing American football in Italy. With amateurs, who play for free because they like to knock people down. After much persuasion, he goes to Italy, and it is an eye-opening experience. He learns to love his team and the country, along with a beautiful opera singer. I'm sure I would have enjoyed the book more if I knew the difference between a first down and a third and eighth, or a tailback, fullback, halfback..... whatever. Even being a football imbecile, I still enjoyed Rick's awakening as a well-rounded person. Good book.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rincewind and the Librarian

Number 11 is Terry Pratchett's Sourcery, a fine addition to the carefully hoarded store of other Pratchett loveliness I (and K) own. I did hear just before Christmas that he had had a minor stroke, which was a signal of an early form of Alzheimer's. How terrible to have such a brilliant genius for writing and be losing your memory!
Anyway, Rincewind has never been my favorite protagonist among the Discworld's inhabitants. I may have said before in this blog that Susan is whom I want to be when I grow up. She is the perfect epitome of a teacher! Rincewind's only impulse in any situation is to run away. Fast. However, the Luggage is usually a great sidekick, stealing the show. In this one, however, the Luggage gets short shrift, only wandering on scene now and then. We do get to see the daughter of Cohen the Barbarian, who has inherited none of her father's looks (whew) and all of his knife-sharp instincts. And of course, the Librarian, the most expressive character to ever exist on Discworld to only speak in "ooook" and "eeeeek". Somehow we know exactly what his banana-obsessed brain is cooking up.
Coin, the "sourceror" in the story, is rather flat, and at the end, seems to just fall off the pages. Not really an ending except in the fact that the Librarian has saved the world and everything is just as it was , and should be.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Roma Sub Rosa

I finished number 10! Steven Saylor's A Mist of Prophecies, which features Gordanius the Finder, which is his version of a Roman detective. This comes toward the end of his life, where the other books in the series that I have read are earlier. This books do teach you a lot about Roman culture, history, and politics, this time set in the period where Caesar and Pompey are battling it out. One gripe I have is that half the characters in the book (most of them historical) are named something beginning with C : Cassandra (the doomed seeress who was really Caesar's spy), Clodia, Clodius, Cicero, Caelius (the mutineer who tries to get Rome to revolt against Caesar), Cleopatra, Catullus....pick another letter, people!! By the end of the book, as Gordanius solves the riddle of Cassandra's poisoning, his beloved wife Bethsaida is wasting away of an undetermined illness. My guess would be lead poisoning...maybe....

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Homecoming Furor

Because our small Christian school has a basketball homecoming instead of a football one, today is the big day! This is the first year that I have two females to chivvy around. This is K's senior year, and S's freshman year, so there is a big difference in preparedness. We've gotten the dresses, the shoes, done the nails, done the hair... whew... almost there. Every year, I have made custom jewelry for K to match her dress. This year I splurged on Swarovski crystals. Her dress is baby blue and black, with rhinestones, so I used blue crystals set in silver stars, black matte seed beads, clear glass silver-lined beads, and sterling silver beads. Quite lovely, really. S didn't want me to make her any jewelry, so she got a silver heart on a chain. I had to resew S's straps to make her dress modest enough, which is pretty normal around here.
I haven't read as much lately, what with everything, but I did read Robin McKinley's Sunshine.
She has revamped several fairy tales into modern retellings, and K has read many of them and likes them. This one is your typical monster-with-the-heart-of-gold tale, except centered around a dark, silent, brooding vamp. The story is okay, but, I must confess, the Grammarnazi in me was having a hissy. I noticed problems much more in the beginning of the book -- whether the writing got better or I stopped noticing issues I don't know. But in the beginning, I struggled through quite a few monster sentences with parentheses and dashes aplenty, so much so that I had to go back to the beginning to unravel what was going on. That's pretty bad when I'm used to straightening out the snarled thoughts of junior high students. But I'm always asking D if I can correct people's signage -- APOSTROPHES DO NOT MAKE THINGS PLURAL!!!!!!!!!!!! personal pet peeve.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Christmas Adam

One book I forgot to blog about is A Family Christmas, an anthology by Caroline Kennedy. This is an excellent collection (complete with a satin ribbon to keep your place) with all kinds of entries, from a letter from Groucho Marx to a sermon by Cotton Mather. I usually shy away from Christmas story collections, much as I love Christmas, as they usually are the most sickly sweet stuff, on the level of the Chicken Soup books. This, however, is historical and informative -- I bought one for my mother-in-law, and would have bought one for my mom if she could still see enough to read.
I devoured this Christmas Adam evening (December 23) when our family opened our gifts. Because my family had always opened gifts on Christmas Eve (being that my b-day is Christmas Day), when I married D, it worked out fine because his family had always opened gifts on Christmas Day. And we are blessed, because both of our families live within 10 minutes of our house! How great is that?! However, once our kids started getting older, we wanted to have our own day to celebrate. So we open our gifts on Christmas Adam. Why Adam, you ask? Because Adam was created before Eve. Get it? Adam...then Eve....Christmas Eve........... And that look on your face was the same one our kids' teachers had when they went to school and shared our little holiday with the world.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Turtledove Love

As I mentioned before, this summer I finished Harry Turtledove's massive 11-volume The Great War series. He is the king of alternate history, and this series postulates that the South won the Civil War (or the War between the States, as my redneck relatives call it) with the help of France and England, who actually were considering weighing in on the South's side in real time. Leading out from that is a very interesting set of novels that question what political alliances/technology advances/governments would naturally procede from that new situation. The United States (the North) becomes allies with Germany, which when World War I comes around, creates a battlefront across the entire North American continent in two places, as the US is attacked by the Confederate States and Canada. Turtledove even creates a Hitleresque figure in the South that hates blacks as much as his real time figure hated Jews. With the help of a few embittered compatriots, he even devises "concentration camps" for them, and nearly wipes out the black population of the South.
All of that to say that I am re-reading another of his series, The Worldwar Saga. This begins in the middle of WWII, and asks the question, if the nations of earth at that point were faced with an outside enemy, would they be able to lay aside their differences and put fighting for the survival of the human race above their political ideals?
These books are not for the casual reader -- they will be lost in a sea of characters and details. But if you could keep track of where Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Aragon were in The Two Towers, dig in with relish. Real people and circumstances are sprinkled throughout these series like happy surprises. I have finished Worldwar: In the Balance, Worldwar: Tilting the Balance, and am halfway through Worldwar: Upsetting the Balance. And on a cheer for the home team, Decatur, IL is mentioned again and again as one character had been a minor league player for the Decatur Commodores! Yay for the midwest!

Monday, January 7, 2008

How many will this be?

Next on the agenda is Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself, which is subtitled The First Law: Book One. Ever since I tried to slog through Terry Goodkind's endless ramblings, I wince at "first" books and wonder how many more are in the series. This one is off to a good start, though -- a really interesting merc, Ninefingers, and a lot of other characters are drawn together by the end of this volume under the guidance of Bayaz, a seemingly ageless Magi, to save the world, of course. Most of his team don't like each other or trust the Magi, so we're in for a long trip. To the Edge of the World, to be precise. I will be on the lookout for the next in the series.
Today was the first day back in regular classes, and as usual, everyone seems to have forgotten whatever we were studying back in December. Sixth grade is supposedly studying atoms and elements, so I told them a joke. Two atoms are walking down the street when one suddenly says, "I just lost an electron!"
The other one says, "Are you sure?"
The first one replies, "I'm positive!"
If you don't get this, ask your local science teacher.

More Books....

To continue with the book deliciousness, I received Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. This is a very unusual book, detailing the story of Jacob Jankowski's life. It is told in flashbacks between his present (he's 90 or 93, he doesn't remember which) and his past (college age). I usually don't like "flashback" books because it tends to break you out of the flow of the story, but this was done very well. After the death of his parents in a car wreck, he wanders away from vet college, and ends up on a circus train, first helping to clean out animals, then when his vet knowledge is discovered, caring for the animals. There is one or two scenes that were not necessary in my opinion as far as sexuality goes, but he discovers the loves of his life: circus and Marlena. He struggles against against a psychopathic manager who beats his wife and any animal who crosses him. I won't tell you the ending, but it was a very satisfying twist.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New Year!!

Well, one of my new year's resolutions is to blog much more frequently! I'm also reading the Bible through in one year, along with my husband. And thank you, Elise, I'm going to drink my water!!
I received a totally clean report from my PET scan -- I am "clinically in remission", praise God! I want to get my body back in shape, and my house back in shape, warp up my loom and weave again,get my jewelry business back to where it was before the cancer/my entire inventory was stolen.
The best Christmas presents are books, and I hit the motherlode. I promise to blog all the books I read this year. First of all I read Terry Pratchett's Nanny Ogg's Cookbook. If you've read any of his work, especially Wyrd Sisters, you need this book. I have been married 20 years, and I don't know I've survived without recipes for Spicy Spotted Dick and Strawberry Wobbler. It's an absolute hoot!
On the other end of the spectrum is Death's Acre by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. Dr. Bass was the creator of the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee, where they leave donated bodies out to decompose in order to study the changes in the bodies, and they pioneered forensic entomology, the study of the time frame of flies and beetles coming to bodies/laying eggs, etc. Fascinating work, although I caught my husband looking at my strangely as I was probing my neck, feeling my hyoid bone, or placing a pencil straight down under my nose to determine whether my teeth protrude farther than my chin. It was only 287 pages, and I would have gladly devoured 600 more.