Monthly Archives: April 2011

Booking Through Thursday

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In a related question to last week’s–

I was reading the other day a quote from JFK Jr who said on the death of his mother, that she died surrounded by family, friends, and her books. Apparently, Jackie’s books were very much a part of HER, her personality, her sense of self.

Up until recently, people could browse your bookshelves and learn a lot about you–what your interests are, your range of topics, favorite authors, how much you read (or at least buy books).

More and more, though, this is changing. People aren’t buying books so much as borrowing them from the library. Or reading them on their e-readers or computers. There’s nothing PHYSICAL on the shelves to tell strangers in your home, for better or worse, who you ARE.

Do you think this is a good thing? Bad? Discuss!

While I’m intrigued by an e-book reader and the ease and convenience of carrying around an entire library of books in something as light and easy to carry as they are, there’s still part of me that’s old fashioned and wants to have the tactile experience of turning pages and feeling the weight of a book on my hands while reading.

I do think e-readers can help in some ways with covers.  For example, when I was in high school I picked up Robert A. Heinlein’s To Sail Beyond the Sunset.  At the time, it had a cover that featured his main character, a sexy redheaded female, with her long flowing hair strategically covering certain portions of her.   It’s not a book I’d necessarily feel comfortable reading in public with the cover.  So an e-book reader could help me to be able to read it or any other book without being judged by the cover as it were.

But I still think there’s a place for physical copies of books–either to display on a shelf as our favorites or just to have because we’ve read and liked them.  One thing I’ve said when asked about e-book readers is that books never run out of batteries.  And a physical book may more easily fall open to a favorite section, chapter or passage.

As for not owning as many books, I can see that argument.  I use my local library a lot.  And I don’t apologize for it.  I don’t necessarily want to buy every book I want to read.   (Also, I couldn’t afford to do that and still eat on a regular basis or have a home in which to have bookshelves to display said books).  Also, libraries can keep copies of older books that may go out of print on hand so that future readers can enjoy them.

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Happy Birthday Beverly Cleary!

If there’s one early influence bigger than Dr. Suess in my love of reading, it would have to be Beverly Cleary.

The children’s book writer gave us the classic characters of Henry, Ribsy, Ralph S. Mouse, Beezus and, of course Romana.

I consumed her books growing up, reading each one multiple times.  I can probably still recite passages from many of my favorites.  Some of my favorite moments include Henry Huggins catching a salmon, Ramona’s first day in kindergarten (“Sit here for the present.”)  and Beezus’ disastrous haircut.

I’ve given her books to youngsters for b’days and other occasions, hoping they’ll catch the same love of reading.   I hope that someday if I’m blessed with children I can share the world Beverly Cleary created with them.

Today is Cleary’s 95th birthday.  So, let me add my wishes for a great birthday to Beverly Cleary and a thanks for helping open the door to a lifetime love of reading.

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Review: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1)A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The old adage of you should never judge a book by its cover comes to mind when I think about A Discovery of Witches. Or maybe that should be amended to read never judge a book by its marketing campaign.

While the marketing campaign would have you believe this is a new, unique entry into the fantasy world, the reality is that the novel is nothing more than a badly plotted vampire romance with huge hints of Mary Sue thrown in for good measure.

The sad part is that it starts out so well. Diana Bishop is the last descendant of the Bishop family of witches who were at the center of the Salem witch trials. Her parents were two powerful witches (who were killed) and while Diana has denied her heritage, she still can’t help but user her powers from time to time. She tries to limit herself only to important things like fixing the washing machine to keep her apartment from flooding. But when she stumbles across an ancient text in her scholarly studies that is brimming with power, Diana suddenly becomes even more on the radar of the supernatural community than ever before.

In Deborah Harkness’ universe, the supernatural includes witches, vampires and daemons. Before you know it, Diana’s life is crawling with people taking an interest in the book and her. One in particular is Matthew, who also happens to be a vampire. At first, Diana is irritated by his apparent interest in her and spurns his advances. But, as I said before, this is a cleverly disguised vampire romance, so it’s not long before she’s taking an interest in the vampire man. It probably doesn’t help that her aunt who raised her and her partner (who is also a witch) strongly disapprove of Matthew. Matthew also smells like cloves, something Diana dwells on lot over the course of the story.

It’s at this point the book begins to derail completely. The early hook of a powerful supernatural entity denying her powers and heritage all while stumbling across a powerful ancient text quickly gets lost in a book that gives into every bad Mary Sue tendency. Long passages of the book are spent on meals that are shared by Diana and Matthew as well as their mutual love of wine. (There hasn’t been this much emphasis placed on wines in a novel since Sideways.) I suppose it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise since reading the author’s bio, I find she’s a wine critic for a blog.

If you can plow through all of that (and believe me, you’ll have to plow), then we get into Matthew taking Diana to supernatural yoga not once but multiple times in the story, Diana’s love of crew and how great it feels to be out on the water and her lamenting on her lack of wardrobe. I often joke that the biggest factor that keeps me from fully embracing Tolkein is his excess in world-building, seemingly describing every leaf of every tree on the journey to Mordor. In the case of Witches, it’s almost as if Harkness is trying to create the world by showing us every last single detail of every single day Diana experiences. Instead of feeling like the story is building a fully realized world, the final product comes off as seemingly wish fulfillment and the author barely disguising herself as the main protagonist. It also leads to large chunks of the middle of the book being less than compelling and entertaining. The sad part is that Harkness hides a few revelations in the middle chunk of the book so you can’t really skip that section.

And then there’s the romance with Matthew. This storyline borrows heavily from the Twilight saga. And no, I don’t mean that as a compliment. As I’ve said before, long sections of the story dwell on Matthew’s smelling like cloves. The story tries to have Diana resist Matthew in the first pages, but its telegraphed very early these two will fall hopelessly in love. Diana’s declarations of love ring false as the story progresses. I’m guessing she just swore off romance in her life until the right vampire came along.

If you’re a fan of vampire romance, you may eat this up with a spoon. However, the other excesses of the story are so great that I had a hard time overlooking them as well. It all adds up to one of the more profoundly disappointing books I’ve read in a long, long time. And this is the start of a trilogy of novels. Here’s one reader who won’t be back for more.

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Booking Through Thursday — Bookshelves

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So … the books that you own (however many there may be) … do you display them proudly right there in plain sight for all the world to see? (At least the world that comes into your living room.)

Or do you keep them tucked away in your office or bedroom or library or closet or someplace less “public?”

I do have some books on a shelf in my main living area where guests can see them.  These are some favorites as well as a stack of library books and books that I want to read.  I try to keep the library books close together and near the door so I can easily return them…hopefully without paying too much in overdue fines!

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Review: Bloom County: The Complete Library, Volume 1: 1980–1982

Bloom County: The Complete Library, Volume 1: 1980–1982Bloom County: The Complete Library, Volume 1: 1980–1982 by Berkeley Breathed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County first caught my eye in the 80′s when he’d do the occasional strip with Cutter John, Opus and several other characters acting out their own versions of scenes from Star Trek. It also caught on around my house the day he published a Sunday strip that included the phrase, “Gag me with a Smurf.” It was a staple of my family’s conversation for years to come.

It was only as I grew up that I realized there was more to the strip than Trek parodies and cool pop culture references.

Now, the entire run of the strip is being collected into volumes, including many strips that Breathed left out of Bloom County collections during its initial run. This gives fans a chance to watch the development of the strip and its characters. Sprinkled in are commentary notes from Breathed on some of the dated references and his thoughts and feelings about the development of the strip and its characters.

The first volume is a fascinating look at the evolution of the story. (It’s interesting to see how long it takes for the strip to introduce Opus and Bill the Cat, two of the strip’s most recognizable characters) By the end of volume I, most of the pieces are in place and you can see the strip finding its stride, tone and voice. There are some things that are a bit dated, such as the focus for strips at a time on the royal family. But given the context of the era, they’re easily understandable even if they are dated today.

This collection is a fascinating journey inside Bloom County. Well worth reading and enjoying.

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Review: Out of the Dark

Out of the DarkOut of the Dark by David Weber
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s been over a hundred years since H.G. Wells first wrote The War of the Worlds and yet, for some reason, writers are still employing the device of using a virus to defeat alien overlords. It crops in novels, movies and should the series survive to finish it’s story I wouldn’t be shocked to see it used as the conclusion of V.

For some reason, we just can’t come up with a new or different want to fend off an alien invasion.

David Weber’s latest novel Out of the Dark is just another example of it. It’s been a few days since I finished the book and I still can’t help thinking about it. In most cases, this would be a good thing. But in the case of this book, it’s not so much. I’m not quite as irritated as I was upon reaching the later sections of Weber’s latest novel. Instead, I’m more disappointed in Weber for the ending of the book and myself for actually hoping he might come up with something interesting, new or even different to end the story.

Out of the Dark starts off well. While observing the Battle of Agincourt, a group of aliens who are vegetarians are disturbed and horrified by the brutality of human beings. They decide that they’ll leave the colonization of Earth to a group of fellow carnivores from their galactic alliance. Fast forward a couple of hundred years and the alien fleet is on its way. Only problem is humanity has grown up a bit technologically and socially. We’re no longer quite the group we were when England was battling France. Not that this bothers said alien fleet since we’re advancing more rapidly than expected or any other alien world has, so we must be put down.

And so the invasion begins with the aliens invading our computer systems via a virus and hurtling large asteroids at the planet. Instead of cowering in fear, humanity fights back.

With a large cast of characters, Out of the Dark works fairly well for the first half of the book. Weber does err a bit on the side of going into Tom Clancy like detail about the weaponry being used to battle said aliens, but this can easily be forgiven.

What can’t be is the ending of the novel.

I’ll give Weber some credit–at least he introduced the plot thread that will lead to the overthrow of our alien overlords early in the book. It doesn’t come entirely out of left field, but to quote characters from Star Wars the minute I saw it, I said,” I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Turns out that Vlad Drakula is still around and vampires are real. And they’re what help us defeat our alien overlords.

No, I’m not making that up. I wish I was.

It all comes down a virus defeating the aliens. In this case, it’s the source of vampire lifeforms taking out the aliens and leaving their ships behind for humanity to maybe journey out to the stars and begin our own empire. Basically the aliens’ fears from early in the book become a reality, which I assume will continue in future installments.

Not that I’m eager to see more of this, mind you. I’ve been so burned by this one that I have little desire to see how things come out in future installments. Weber could pull the greatest turnaround of a series in history, but based on the opening installment, I don’t think I’m going to be putting it on the reserve list any time soon.

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