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1. Review: ‘Action Philosophers’ is required reading

by Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson

The duo of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey have done it again in the 10th anniversary edition of their comic book series Action Philosophers. It’s available in late October from Dark Horse in a beautiful hardcover one volume edition with new cover art. This smart and witty non-fiction graphic book is the introduction to philosophy that should be required reading. I wish it had been around when I struggled through some of these works!

The series originally published by Van Lente and Dunlavey under their company Evil Twin Comics began life as a single issue comic book about Frederick Niestche, he of  the “God is Dead” philosophy. The comic book proved to be so popular that the guys developed a series that was eventually distributed by Diamond. For those of you unfamiliar with the industry that’s pretty impressive for an indie company. With support and appreciation from the industry the series won a Xeric Grant in 2004, was nominated twice for an Ignatz award and lauded by the American Library Association. For Evil Twin Comics they’ve also created Action Presidents and The Comic Book History of Comics.

25905 202x300 Review: Action Philosophers is required reading

Action Philosophers 10th Edition by Dark Horse.

Beginning with Plato and Socrates the comics in both dialogue and art reveal complex intellectual thought in an easy to understand and cheeky manner. The dialogue juxtaposed by the drawings ranges from amusing to laugh out loud funny. This is comics at it’s best. The work is appealing and available. Ryan noted that they consider the audience for the comics as 11 and up and that the comics are for comic book fans and philosophy fans. Now that’s comics for a general audience!

actionphilp5 200x300 Review: Action Philosophers is required reading

From Plato, Action Philosophers.

Van Lente and Dunlavey have impressive resumes. Fred is noted for his work at Marvel Comics for Iron Man, Spider Man, X-Men and Hercules. He also wrote Cowboys and Aliens with co-author Andrew Foley that was the basis for the film. Van Lente began his studies in film and then majored in English. It’s an excellent combination for working in comics with a strong sense of writing and the ability to frame the story. That clarity of story line comes across so well in Action Philosophers.

Ryan’s background is in illustration, writing and drawing and he has worked for Disney, Marvel, Warner Brothers and Comedy Central creating cartoons and designs. Both attended Syracuse University and as with colleagues whose experiences go back for a long time their work appears complimentary and seamless in its collaboration. Ryan’s illustrations are bold, clear and have classic comic book references in his artwork. In other words it’s recognizable and fun.

actionphilp8 200x300 Review: Action Philosophers is required reading

From Plato, Action Philosophers

I love the fact that this is called Action Philosophers and for something that could be difficult and dry this is a book of Action. The pages burst with activity and energy in the drawings themselves as well as the smart dialogue and storyline.

This is a book that should be on your list for yourself and as a gift. It’s out of the ordinary and that’s a good thing. It’s also completely accessible and a fascinating read. Go Action Philosophers!

[Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson is writing a biography of her grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, military intelligence officer, prolific pulp writer, inventor and founder of DC Comics, with Gerard Jones (Men of Tomorrow) entitled Lost Hero. Her most recent publication is co-editing and writing an Introduction to a reprint of some of the Major’s adventure tales from the pulps entitled The Texas-Siberia Trail published by Off-Trail Publications. Nicky is a writer, editor and audio publisher and holds a Master’s in Classical Greek Mythology. She was featured in Women’s Enews with an article on Wonder Woman and San Diego Comic Con and appears frequently at Comics Conventions throughout the US speaking about early comic book history.]

1 Comments on Review: ‘Action Philosophers’ is required reading, last added: 10/25/2014
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2. Famous Modern Ghost Stories

When I first began reading Famous Modern Ghost Stories I mentioned how much fun Dorothy Scarborough’s introduction was. Turns out, the stories themselves are fun too.

There are fifteen stories in this collection. Some of them, like Poe’s “Ligeia,” I have read before. Some it really felt like I had read before but I couldn’t recall when or where, like “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood (I just love the name Algernon, it’s so, I’m not sure what, but it tickles my fancy so it is probably good I don’t have kids because I’d be tempted to call a boy Algernon and then you know he’d go by “Algie” for short and all the kids at school would make fun of him). Others were plain silly like “At the Gate” by Myla Jo Closser in which a recently deceased dog takes up his vigil outside the gates of Heaven with the other dogs waiting for their owners to arrive.

My favorite story in the collection was “Lazarus” by Leonid Andreyev. It is the story of Lazarus after he was raised from the dead. Did you ever see the Buffy the Vampire Slayer show where they bring Buffy back from the dead? She kind of wasn’t the same afterwards, or at least for a while. Well, Lazarus wasn’t the same either and while everyone was really glad to have him back, the haunting look in his eyes kind of freaked people out so no one wanted to be around him. Maybe if Lazarus had had a Scooby gang he would have eventually recovered.

Coming in second as my favorite story based only on the complete absurdity of it all, was “The Beast with Five Fingers” by W.F. Harvey. Bachelor uncle is ill and Eustace, while visiting, notices that uncle is unconsciously doing automatic writing. Eustace goofs around with this a bit until uncle dies. And then, in spite of uncle’s wishes to be cremated, he is not. Last minute instructions turn up and Eustace is bequeathed uncle’s well-preserved hand, the hand with which he did the automatic writing! The hand, of course, is alive but it isn’t uncle inhabiting it. At one point Eustace locks the hand in a desk drawer and the hand writes a note and slips it out through a crack in the desk. A servant finds a note bidding him to open the desk drawer and when the servant does so, the hand escapes! It is never clear why Eustace is being haunted by this hand or what the hand’s intent is, but the story comes very close to being a farce, right up to and including the hand eventually strangling Eustace and then the two of them ultimately perishing in a fire.

After reading so many ghost stories together it seems there is almost a requirement that at least one person experiencing the ghost or other phenomena has to be utterly and completely unbelieving. He, because it is usually a he in these stories, is then required to make up all sorts of logical explanations for what is happening. These explanations often approach the ridiculous. In the end, however, the unbeliever is convinced by the haunting and is either just in time to save himself or too late and dies. A few do believe right away and these have two responses. The smart ones figure out what the ghost wants. The not so smart ones go into battle. The smart ones generally come through unscathed and even satisfied about having helped a spirit move on. The not smart ones usually end up dead or psychologically traumatized for the rest of their lives.

These stories, even the bad ones, are all amusing in their own way. Of course I’m not supposed to be amused, I am supposed to get chills. But it seems that much of what haunts us is related to the times in which we live. Not that we can’t still feel a tingle down the spine when reading Poe, but it isn’t going to keep us up at night. Which makes me wonder whether in 100 years readers will think Stephen King is scary or will readers of the distant future read him and giggle and wonder why the twin girls in The Shining scare us so badly and make their way into other places like this IKEA commercial:

As a RIP Challenge read, Famous Modern Ghost Stories was quite fun. If you are looking for some older stories that don’t tend to show up in the anthologies, this would be a good choice.


Filed under: Books, Challenges, Gothic/Horror/Thriller, Reviews, Short Stories

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3. Thursday Review: COMPLICIT by Stephanie Kuehn

This cover is really awesome.Summary: Protagonists whose past is hidden--even, sometimes, from themselves. It's something author Stephanie Kuehn does well, if you've read her first book, Charm & Strange. Complicit is another suspenseful read, in... Read the rest of this post

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4. Review: Gracefully Grayson

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Grayson Sender is twelve years old.

Grayson is lonely, even surrounded by classmates, even at home, living with cousins, an aunt and uncle.

Grayson is lonely in part because of Grayson's parents death years ago, leading to Grayson being the odd child out at home.

Grayson is lonely because Grayson cannot connect with others because Grayson is hiding the most important part of who Grayson is.

In Gracefully Grayson, Grayson gradually gains trust and friends until Grayson can reveal the truth: that Grayson is a girl inside. Grayson is a transgender girl.

The Good: I'll be honest Grayson broke my heart, because of how lonely she is. Of how unable to connect with those around her.

At school, Grayson tries out for the play and takes her first step towards her true self by asking to play the part of a girl. One of the happy-tear moments I had was -- spoilers -- when the cast welcomed Grayson, became her friend, treated her like they'd treat anyone else.

Then there were the sad-tears of those who bullied Grayson, and of Grayson's aunt who believes that Grayson is in part causing the problems by not continuing to hide her truth.

And I cried at all the things Grayson did, in hiding. Doodling pictures of girls, but doing it in such a way that people wouldn't know. "If you draw a a triangle with a circle resting on the top point, nobody will be able to tell that it's a girl in a dress. To add hair, draw kind of a semicircle on top. If you do this, you'll be safe, because it looks like you're just doodling shapes."

Loving glitter pens and being prepared with lies to explain why she has the purple and pink ones.

Wearing a sweatband to pretend it's a hairband.

Pretending basketball pants and a t-shirt are somehow a gown, with the wide pants a full skirt.

And how important it is to Grayson, to anyone, to have their own truth by the truth others see. That it's harmful, the years and the lies of pretending to be something other than who she is.

At the end of Gracefully Grayson, someone tells Grayson that "I know it may feel like there are people who are against you, but I want you to remember that most people in the world are good. Look for the people who extend a hand to you. And when they do take it." This, in a nutshell, sums up the book. There are people against Grayson, for various reasons. But there are just as many good people in Grayson's world.

And the question left to the reader is this: is the reader one of the good ones? Does the reader extend a hand to those around them?

I'm making this one of my Favorite Books of 2014, because it is such a beautiful book and Grayson is such an endearing twelve year old.

Links: author interview at Diversity in YA; Bookfabulous Review; Robert Bittner Review at Gay YA;



Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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5. Review of Strike!

brimner strike Review of Strike!Strike!:
The Farm Workers’
Fight for Their Rights
by Larry Dane Brimner
Intermediate, Middle School    Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills    172 pp.
10/14    978-1-59078-997-1    $16.95

Brimner turns his attention from one part of the 1960s — the civil rights movement in the South (Black & White) — to another, a parallel movement among migrant farm workers in the Southwest for better wages and working conditions. This comprehensive history traces California’s burgeoning need for farm workers in the twentieth century, and the often-
forgotten early contribution of Filipino Americans to this particular labor movement, before transitioning to the more familiar story of César Chávez, the United Farm Workers of America, and the Delano grape workers strike. Finally, Brimner ponders Chávez’s last years, death, and legacy — and the diminished role of the UFW today. It can be challenging to track all of the players in this drama, let alone the acronyms for various unions and such, but Brimner’s compelling narrative, complete with both textual and visual primary sources, is up to the task. The layout is inviting with swatches of green and purple to complement the dominant black-and-white color scheme and well-placed maps and photos, while brief Spanish translations of selected quotes, titles, and epigraphs are incorporated. An author’s note, a timeline, bibliography, source notes, and an index are appended.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Kathleen Hale continued...

So yesterday I wrote a post about Kathleen Hale and I got hit pretty hard. Most of the focus seemed to be on the fact that I said Kathleen Hale was brave for writing the article. It also seems a number of people think I was defending Kathleen Hale for stalking her reviewer. Let me make one thing clear. I would never, ever, ever encourage or defend anyone who hurts another person and by hurt I mean physically, psychologically, or use any sort of scare tactics.

I also strongly encourage all writers not to react to reviews or reviewers. I often think the best thing we can do is walk away and stay silent. I do think I said that a number of times in my post.

Like many other agents I have experienced threats. I've never been physically attacked, thank goodness, but I've been frightened enough to not open the office door and frightened enough to advise reporting an email or letter to the police and frightened enough to leave a conference early.

My article yesterday was based entirely on her piece in The Guardian, an article that stated that names had been changed. For obvious reasons I assumed that meant the reviewer she was talking about. I've since learned that's not the case which does make me doubt her reasons for writing the piece. That being said, I stated very clearly in the beginning of my post that I was basing it on The Guardian exclusively. What I said was not meant as a defense of Kathleen Hale. It was an explanation of how I understand how a review can get inside an author's head. I wasn't standing behind her, but I was relating to the many authors out there who found themselves obsessed with the negativity of a review or reviews. Thankfully most never go so far as to track down their reviewer.

Someone who commented on my post had a cover photo promoting free speech. Thank goodness we live in a place where we are allowed to put ourselves out there and express our opinions and thank goodness we live in a place where people can give their opinions on our opinions. Part of that freedom should include safety. We should be allowed to safely say what we mean.

The thing about free speech, and writing, is that no matter how much we love what we do, putting ourselves out there, through our writing, as authors, as bloggers, as reviewers, is terrifying. It is terrifying to wait and see what people say. It should never be terrifying enough that we fear for ourselves or those around us.

The part of my post that seemed to get the most criticism was the part where I said Kathleen Hale was brave. Before you stop reading to comment please hear me out. She was not brave for stalking someone. My reasoning for saying that was my own interpretation that she was confessing to her misdeeds and maybe admitting her mistake. That's the problem with writing we all interpret things differently, no matter how hard the author tries to make it clear to everyone. I did not intend for people to think I was defending her actions and for that I'm definitely sorry.  I'm mostly sorry that anyone thinks that I would encourage stalking or scare tactics.

--jhf


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7. What Make This Book So Great

In the long ago time of February when I came down sick with a really bad cold that caused me to miss several days of work, Bookman brought me home some “chicken soup.” No, not fake vegan “chicken” soup. It was a book. And not one of those “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. If Bookman had been silly enough to do that I think I probably would have barfed on him. A chicken soup book doesn’t have to be a specific book, just a book to help a person feel better. The book Bookman brought me was What Makes this Book So Great by Jo Walton. I didn’t finish it when I was sick and have only picked away at it from time to time since then. But when I caught a mild cold two weeks ago I picked it up again and managed to finish it just as I got better. Was finishing the book and my return to health a coincidence? Don’t be too quick to discredit chicken soup!

What Makes this Book so Great is a collection of essays that originally appeared at Tor and I think you can still read them there. The essays in the book are generally short, about three pages or so, perfect for cold weary brains. Walton takes a light and breezy tone, she only talks about books she likes, and it is like listening to a friend who is really excited about this book she just read and wants to tell you all about it and why you might want to read it too. Fun stuff!

There are also a few essays not about books but about book related things like wondering whether people skimmed while reading, mulling over why some people have a hard time with fantasy and science fiction, or outlining the difference between literary criticism and simply talking about books.

But most of the book is about books, specifically fantasy and science fiction books. As someone who has been reading SFF since she was a pre-teen, I’ve read my share, but there is so much I haven’t read and so much I haven’t even heard about before. Even my husband who is also a reader of SFF was stumped on occasion when I’d ask him, have you ever read … ? Which means this is a really good book for discovering “new” books. I have a tidy little list because of it.

You don’t have to be a fan of fantasy or science fiction to read this book but it helps. However, if you’re new to the genre and looking for some ideas about books to read, this would definitely be a good book to browse through.

Now that my chicken soup book is finished, I hope that means I will manage to avoid getting sick again for a long time.


Filed under: Books, Essays, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Jo Walton

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8. Review of Into the Grey

kiernan into the grey Review of Into the GreyInto the Grey
by Celine Kiernan
Middle School, High School    Candlewick    295 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-7061-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7409-0    $16.99

When their home burns down, twin teens Patrick and Dominick move with their family to the shabby seaside cottage where they usually spend summer holidays. Almost at once, Pat sees that Dom is being haunted by the ghost of a young boy, while Pat himself is visited by nightmares of a soldier drowning in the muddy trenches of World War I. Eventually Dom is utterly possessed by Francis, the ghost of a boy who died of diphtheria decades ago, and Pat is desperate to do what he can to retrieve his brother. Family and local history come together as the twisting plot makes its way toward resolution: another pair of twin brothers, a senile grandmother, Irish lads turned British soldiers, and a series of surreal dreams and psychic landscapes all fall into place. Sometimes Kiernan’s storytelling is fraught and overdrawn; at its best it is confident, pungent, and poetic. Family love, loyalty, and protectiveness are palpable in a well-drawn cast of characters, and the pace is frequently galvanized with energetic drama and dialogue pierced with Irish dialect.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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9. The Power of Reviews

On Friday author Kathleen Hale wrote an article for The Guardian about her experience being catfished. On Monday Twitter, and a number of blogs, got quite excited about this topic and lots of people had lots of opinions. I came upon the article when Jessica Alvarez mentioned it to me and before reading anything about it I went to The Guardian article. I wanted to base any opinion I had on what Kathleen Hale had to say rather than read the opinions of others first.

Even without reading what others thought I know that some people feel that Kathleen Hale was catfished, others feel she crossed a line herself and was not the victim or the only victim and still others wonder if the entire post was made up. After reading just Kathleen Hale's post I do stand behind her in some respects. Not all, but some.

I've been in this business long enough to know the impact a review can have on an author. I've seen smart, successful authors completely lose all self-confidence because of one review or one comment on a writing loop or in a blog. In most cases authors who reacted this way were not the stereotypical "neurotic" or introverted authors. They are almost always people who are successful in various different aspects of their lives. They deal with high stress jobs, families and seem to juggle an entire life on top of a writing life. In other words, these are people who have faced adversity before and wore it well.

In fact, while I'm not an author, I've been one of those people. After six years of blogging about what I really thought it was bound to happen. And happen it did. Time and time again. There were times when the comments on the blog got so contentious I would stop sleeping. I panicked that I had alienated my clients, editors or ruined it for all of us. There were times I would have to shut down the computer and walk away for the day. But each and every time it happened walking away was always the best answer for me.

In Kathleen Hale's case the only story we know is hers. As of yet, to the best of my knowledge, we haven't heard from the reviewer she's charging with catfishing. A term by the way I had never heard until reading her article. Whether or not she was catfished, in my mind, doesn't really matter.  Fro a variety of reasons reviewers and bloggers act anonymously. In some ways it's one of the great things about the Internet. It's also one of worst things. Being anonymous allows us to really say what we want to say and what we think. Something a lot of people wouldn't be comfortable doing under their own name or couldn't do (it might hurt a career or their own reputation in some way). True confession here, before starting the blog I used to comment anonymously all the time on writing forums. I acknowledged that I was an agent, but I was uncomfortable giving my real name. I didn't want what I said to bite a new agency in the butt. Was I catfishing? I don't think so, I was just giving an opinion. And certainly there have been a ton of anonymous publishing bloggers and Tweeters, people who just want to say what they believe without facing repercussions.

Did Kathleen Hale go to far? Probably. Personally I think any time you start tracking down someone in person you are probably going to far. But I get how someone can go there. Putting yourself out there, whether its by writing a book, an opinion piece in a magazine, or a blog, is a scary, scary thing. Sure you feel great about saying what you believe or finding others to read your work, but at the same time you know you're going to face a backlash. That reviewers will hate what you write and have an opinion about it that differs from your own and you know they're not going to be afraid to say something. Especially because they have the right to remain anonymous in any way they see fit. And when we or our opinion or our writing is attacked it's hard. It often impacts our psyche in a big way.

Personally I've never gone to the lengths Kathleen Hale did to discover the truth about her naysayer, but I get it. Sort of. When someone says something really awful about you or your work you want a chance to discuss it with them. You want a chance to defend yourself without sounding defensive (which is often what happens when you start that discussion on comments). And probably you want the chance to discredit that person. To say, you are wrong and how would you know anyway because.... When someone posts anonymously she knows a whole lot about us, but we know nothing about her. It takes all the power away from us and gives it to her.

There were times when I have been attacked on this blog. Right or wrong, people came out to do whatever they could to discredit me and attack me and my professional integrity. I was scared, I was angry and I Googled. What I learned early on however, and what Kathleen Hale admits to learning in the long run, is that the best answer is to just sit quietly and, as they say, this too shall pass. Let the topic speak for itself or let the other readers comment and take care of it. Sometimes the biggest mistake we can make is saying something at all. What we're doing in that case is exactly what the naysayer wants. We're giving her attention. It's sort of like when Buford grabs my slipper and runs around the office with it. I have the option to chase him, call him and feed him treats. To give him the attention he wants. Or I can sit and work and watch him slowly drop the slipper, confused about why he's not getting the attention he wants.

I'm actually pretty impressed that Kathleen Hale wrote the article at all. Maybe she did it to finally get back at the reviewer, or maybe she just decided to put it out there and get rid of her moment of weakness once and for all. Either way it took bravery. Once again she's getting hit with a lot of opinions from a lot of people who don't know her. Sure its a choice she's making, but as writers I think we all know how difficult it is to face the opinions of others.

--jhf


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10. Review: Crossover

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Twelve year old twin brothers, Josh and Jordan Bell, are basketball players just like their father. And just like their father, they are GOOD.

Josh loves basketball and words; he is the one telling the story, in a sequence of poems organized by sections as if it were a basketball game, starting with Warm Up, moving on to First Quarter, and ultimately ending with Overtime. His father loves music, giving Josh the nickname Filthy McNasty after a favorite song.

His twin, Jordan, is JB, and loves basketball and betting.

The Crossover takes the twins through a basketball season, ending with an important game. And while this is a book about basketball and basketball players, it is also a story about brothers, a father and sons, a family. The two brothers complement each other on the court, a great pair leading their Junior High team to victory after victory. Their parents are loving but strict, with complications because their mother is also their Assistant Principal; their father, who played professional basketball, is a stay at home father who coaches his sons. And then there is a new girl in school, who Josh likes but before he can say a word, it's his brother who is dating her.

The Good: I'm on a roll of reading good books lately!

I loved Josh, his poetry, his love for his dad, his brother, basketball, words. Oh and his hair: he's proud of his locks, just like his dad wore when he played, and conflict with his brother starts when Josh loses a bet to JB -- a bet that allows JB to cut one of those locks off. There is also competition and jealousy, but those feelings are hidden deep inside Josh, only coming out in full force when JB begins dating. The feelings are so hidden, and the parents are so into reinforcing the brother bond, that these emotions are ones that Josh has a hard time understanding. Their father pushes both sons to be good basketball players, but he's individually pushing them: there is no setting one brother against the other.

If I talk more about the twins' father, it's because of the strong basketball bond between the father and sons. The father stopped playing years ago, explaining to his sons that he saved his money and is happy being with them full-time. As the twins learn, it's a bit more complicated than that: an injury ended their father's career. Health issues continue to plague the family; there's a history of hypertension, and their father has a huge distrust of doctors and hospitals so refuses to see one. (And yes there is foreshadowing there.)

One thing I really liked about The Crossover is that it's a book about two typical kids -- readers will see themselves in Josh as he struggles with his love for his brother but also his jealousy; with wanting to play basketball; enjoying being good at something; practicing to become better. Having a father who is loving and caring; a mother who is also kind and loving but knows when to be strict. Parents who value their sons' education as much as their basketball skills. It's a story played out in towns and cities everywhere.

Another Favorite Book Read in 2014!

Other reviews: The New York Times review; Stacked; Clear Eyes, Full Shelves; Bookshelves of Doom.







Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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11. Seconds

I don’t remember where I heard about Bryan O’Malley’s newest graphic novel Seconds, but I immediately put myself on the library hold queue for it. You may recognize O’Malley as the creator of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series or maybe you might just know that the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on one of those novels (I learned from the movie that I should have vegan superpowers but I must be doing something wrong because I’m still waiting for them). I’ve not read the graphic novel series, have you? And if so, should I?

But back to Seconds. It is about Katie, a successful chef who runs a hip restaurant called Seconds. She is in the midst of trying to strike out on her own with a brand new restaurant but the building is in such bad shape renovations are taking forever and costing a lot of money. Katie lives in a tiny room above Seconds in order to save money. One evening, there is an accident in the kitchen and a young waitress whom Katie has been trying to make friends with is badly burned. In her room, Katie is presented with a chance to change things. A notebook appears in which she it to write what she wants to change and then eat the little mushroom that was left beside it.

Now I know what you are probably thinking about that mushroom! I thought it too. But it isn’t that sort of mushroom. What it does is erase the accident. It never happened. Katie is happy and relieved and wishes she had more mushrooms because there is so much she would change if she could. And then she discovers the mushrooms are growing beneath the floorboard of a not frequently used storage closet behind the kitchen. She helps herself to quite a few of them, a dozen. And every time something happens that she doesn’t like, she can change it. Her new restaurant, her old boyfriend, friends, she changes them all sometimes more than once. She begins to get confused about what has and hasn’t happened.

She learns from Hazel, the waitress and now her friend who burned her arms that began this whole thing, that Seconds has a house spirit. The house spirit’s name is Lis and she makes an appearance in Katie’s room demanding she give back all those mushrooms, Lis’s mushrooms. But Katie refuses. Things get bad. Really bad.

The story is good, well told. The art is good too. They combine to make an enjoyable reading experience. I liked that Katie is a successful woman and this is her story. She is not drawn as tall and gorgeous, impossibly skinny and extremely well endowed. Nope, Katie is normal. Kind of short even with sort of crazy hair. I also enjoyed mulling over all the ways “seconds” can be applied in the story. From food so good you want seconds to second chances to how a life can change in seconds.

I don’t read graphic novels very often, not because I don’t enjoy them. I think I am just very picky about them. They have to meet some kind of worthiness test that I can’t even begin to articulate. But Seconds passed the test. I’m glad it did because it’s a good read.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews Tagged: Bryan O'Malley

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12. Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

barnett samanddave Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

star2 Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole Sam & Dave Dig a Hole
by Mac Barnett; illus. by Jon Klassen
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
10/14    978-0-7636-6229-5    $16.99

This adventure starts innocently enough: “On Monday Sam and Dave dug a hole.” The boys (indistinguishable save the color of their hats and Sam’s ever-present backpack) are fueled by chocolate milk, animal cookies, and a desire to find “something spectacular.” Alas, Sam and Dave unearth nothing, coming close to — but just missing — the precious gems that dot the subterranean landscape, and oblivious all the while. Eventually the chums stop for a rest, whereupon their canine companion, digging for a bone, inadvertently causes a rupture in the dirt floor underground that leaves the explorers falling “down, down, down,” only to land in what appears to be their own yard. But upon closer inspection, this house isn’t quite the same as before; a number of subtle differences go undetected by the hapless duo, but observant viewers will certainly take note. Barnett’s well-chosen words (“Sam and Dave ran out of chocolate milk. / But they kept digging. / They shared the last animal cookie. / But they kept digging”) and plentiful white space support readers. Klassen’s cross-section illustrations provide a mole’s-eye view of the underground proceedings, extending the spare text with visual humor. As in his previous books, Klassen shows an uncanny knack for conveying meaning with the subtlest of eye movements. How fitting that the wordless final spread features a knowing look between the dog and a cat familiar to Klassen fans; all that’s missing from the trippy conclusion is the theme music from The Twilight Zone. Mind-blowing in the best possible way.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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13. Thinking of Gone Girl

A few weeks ago I posted my review for Gone Girl to GoodReads and boy did I get some flack. Keep in mind that I usually write short reviews on GoodReads. I don't have a lot of time or energy to write out everything I'm thinking and with Gone Girl that was especially the case.

There will be no spoilers in this post so if you haven't yet read the book or seen the movie you are safe.

Gone Girl was the kind of book that left me really thinking, maybe even reeling, and yet I only gave it three stars. I guess I'm not sure I loved it or maybe I just didn't love the way it made me feel? I felt the beginning was long and it was difficult for me to want to continue going back for more since I really did not like the characters. I don't know that I liked any of them. Okay, maybe one.

I would say it easily took me six months to read the book and I would say I easily read six books in between chapters of Gone Girl.

And finally I got to the twist. At that point I could totally see what everyone was quacking about. Crazy good! Now I'm reading like a demon. But the end. The end just didn't do it for me. I wonder if I'm too much of a romantic and I want an ending that's wrapped up differently or if I just felt it was a little too contrived. Frankly, I'm not really sure.

So here's my take on Gone Girl for those who were horrified by my GoodReads review. I think it probably deserves more than three stars for the simple fact that I'm still thinking about it. Or is that because Ben Affleck is in the movie and I get to see his lovely face every time I turn on the tv? No matter what star rating I give it though I do think it's a book worth reading for everyone. It's one of the few times I wished I was in a book club because it's a book I'd love to sit around and discuss with others. It's a book worth talking about.

--jhf


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14. Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

When Raina was little, she begged her parents for a sister. She thought a sister would be the best thing the world.

And then she got one.

Fast forward a decade, when Raina, her siblings, and her mother take a road trip from San Francisco to Colorado for a family reunion. Headphones help Raina tune out her family's bickering and blathering. But when she blocks out the world, Raina runs the risk of missing important things happening around her. Road trips can bring out both the best and worst in people. Things along the way remind Raina of previous events, and the flashbacks add to the story, rather than distract from it, as they are woven in at just the right time for just the right duration, true flashes. Were this a TV movie or an episode of a family dramedy series, one would compliment the tight script, the comedic timing, and the heartwarming moments and memories shared. The fact that this book was inspired by Raina's real life makes it even sweeter and more poignant.

Sisters is a follow-up to Raina's fantastic graphic novel Smile, which chronicled her sixth-grade dental drama. The two books can be read independently, if you'd like - and if you like one, you'll certainly like the other. Such is the case with all of Raina's graphic novels, which showcase her knack for telling stories readers can truly relate to as well as her signature style. Fans of For Better or Worse will definitely like her character's expressive faces and her realistic storylines.

Sisters is written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier, with lettering by John Green and color by Braden Lamb.

Related posts at Bildungsroman
Interview: Raina Telgemeier
Review: The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels
Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier
What Makes You Smile?

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15. Review: Aurora West Rises

the rise of aurora west Review: Aurora West Rises

By Matthew Jent

The Rise of Aurora West

Written by JT Petty and Paul Pope

Art by David Rubin

Published by First Second

 

“You don’t have to attack what’s attacking you.”

At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Paul Pope appeared on a panel called “Middle Grade Extravaganza,” which discussed comics for a younger audience. Younger than the grown-ups who are currently buying superhero comics, at least. A young fan approached the mic during the Q&A and he asked how Pope got the idea for Battling Boy, the long-awaited original graphic novel released by First Second last year.

Pope responded immediately that he wanted to serve an audience that modern comics have left behind. “I have nephews who were your age,” he said, “and they thought it was cool I was making comics, but they can’t see most of it. It’s geared toward adults. I wanted to write the best superhero for people your age, so they don’t have to keep going back to Batman, who is 75 years old, and Spider-Man, who is middle-aged.”

The Rise of Aurora West, a prequel/spinoff to Battling Boy, expands the world of Arcopolis and the monster fighters who try to keep that megalopolis safe. Arcopolis as a nightly curfew that attempts to keep kids safe from the monsters (quite literally, they are goblin-faced, spaghetti-armed creatures with razor-sharp teeth) who prowl the dark alleys. Aurora West is a teenage monster hunter trained by her father, Batman-stand-in Haggard West, a super-rich adventurer with a face-fitting mask, high tech gadgets, and a Westmobile. In Battling Boy, Haggard is dead and Aurora is left to battle monsters on her own. In Rise, Aurora is still being trained by her father to, in his words, “make her strong enough to survive when I’m gone.”

Though set in the same world, Aurora West has a tone than the action heavy, magic-t-shirt story of Battling Boy. Aurora is not the strongest fighter or the surest of foot, but she’s got an investigative mind. She notices details others miss, even her father, who is “Arcopolis’ Wiliest Detective.” She plays squab at school (a game that seems to involve mallets and baseball bats, but not necessarily a ball?), practices “anti-mandible kenpo” with Ms. Grately (the Wests’ version of Alfred Pennyworth), and ignores (or doesn’t notices) flirtatious asides from Hoke, a boy from school she brings along on illicit investigations. As Aurora and Hoke look for clues in a library, his whispered “you’re so pretty” is a welcome reminder — right before the story kicks into creepy/action/conclusion mode — that this is still a story about kids, intended for an audience about that the same age or younger.

Aurora West can be read and enjoying without any foreknowledge of Battling Boy. It’s clearly established from the start that Arcopolis is a city with a monster problem, and that Haggard West is a Batman-figure with doom in his future. In Haggard’s case, the event from his past that’s made him the grim avenger he is today is the death of his wife — and Aurora’s mother. But Aurora is clearly our main character. She’s learning how to fight monsters, but more importantly, she’s learning when to listen to her mentors and when to trust her instincts. She’s learning to ask why there are monsters in Arcopolis, and discovering there might be more to their motivations besides madness and appetite.

Written by Pope with JT Petty, Aurora West is illustrated in black-and-white by David Rubin. Rubin’s work resembles a wonderful hybrid of Pope, Jeff Smith, Ren & Stimpy’s John Kricfalusi (those scrunched faces, that sweat!), and a pinch of Charles Burns. He employs great visual effects — the glare of light that obscures the face of Aurora’s mother the first time we see her, the thought balloon turning gears when Aurora puts something together in her head — and every page really works as a page. They are clearly constructed moments of story. Whether that comes from a tight script from Petty & Pope or from Rubin’s storytelling sensibilities — or both — it makes for an engagingly page-turning read, and it makes me think of Pope’s own masterwork (in my own opinion, at least), THB. Like THB, the art of Aurora West balances sci-fi action with adolescent drama, and while it gets spooky, it never stops being fun. Rubin’s monsters go from silly to strange to scary without losing any of their power, and when, late in the book, a strange creature steps from the shadows that is itself unsure whether it is a monster, a ghost, or something else altogether, I found myself looking around my apartment nervously. That’s a testament to Rubin’s work with mood and shadow just as much — if not more — as Petty & Pope’s words.

Zachary Clemente spoke to Paul Pope about Aurora West at NYCC, and Pope said that Aurora’s influences are H.P. Lovecraft and Boris Karloff Universal Monster movies, providing the flip side to Battling Boy’s wellspring of Jack Kirby, Moebius, and Miyazaki. Aurora West also speaks to something else Pope mentioned in that SDCC panel: that he’s writing to himself as a younger person.

The Rise of Aurora West is about a girl being propelled out of adolescence and into young adulthood, discovering that maybe her father doesn’t have all the answers, and that the imaginary friend she half-remembers from her youth might not have been so imaginary after all. It deepens a world of new mythologies introduced in Battling Boy and proves that there is a way to create new superhero comics, for a younger audience, without having to use the same old corporate characters of decades past.

Haggard West might be doomed, but Aurora is on the rise.

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16. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Hilary Mantel’s newest book, a collection of short stories titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, has been getting quite a bit of press. It seems many people have decided to take offense at the titular story in which an IRA assassin tricks a woman into letting him into her apartment which has a perfect view, and perfect shot of the back of a hospital through which Thatcher will shortly be exiting. The woman at first is alarmed but ends up being sympathetic and helps the man by showing him an escape route through which he might be able to get away without capture. The story ends just before the gun is fired.

It’s a pretty good story. We are left wondering whether the assassination was successful. Well, we know it wasn’t, don’t we? Mantel isn’t out to rewrite history. So the shot was missed for some reason. We are left to wonder at the aftermath, left feeling sympathetic for the IRA man who fully expects to get caught but shows the utmost concern for the woman whose apartment he took over. And the woman? She’s middle-aged, single, tidy, reliable, caught in the habits of her daily life and not one to rock the boat. But this man gives her a chance to break free from the ordinary without much risk and she takes it. You can read the story yourself if you haven’t already.

Unfortunately all the talk about the one story has overshadowed the rest of the book. Most of these stories are complete stories with beginnings, middles and ends, no brief slice of life stuff that just goes for mood or effect, things happen in these stories. Whether it is an English woman living in Dubai with her husband for his job who inadvertently finds herself being courted by another man or a husband caught kissing a neighbor in the kitchen by his wife the shock of which actually causes his wife to die from an unknown heart defect, the stories feel complete.

Then there is the story “Comma” about two young girls, about twelve. The one who narrates, Kitty, lives in a solid, middle-class household. Her friend, Mary Joplin, who lives just across the street, is from a family of dubious status. But Kitty is friends with Mary and the pair slip away from the parental gaze to go wandering through the surrounding neighborhood. Mary discovers the house of a rich family across a field. At this house they have something that should be a baby but there is something wrong with it. Our narrator and Mary sneak over and spy to try and figure out what the adults refuse to talk about. And while we think the story is about this baby it is really about the relationship between our narrator and Mary and then finally on Mary’s low-class status and how that ultimately affects her life. We catch a glimpse of the two in middle age, Kitty recognizing Mary on the street one day:

It passed through my mind, you’d need to have known her well to have known her now, you’d need to have put in the hours with her, watching her sideways. Her skin seemed swagged, loose, and there was nothing much to read in Mary’s eyes. I expected, perhaps, a pause, a hyphen, a space where a question might follow . . . Is that you Kitty? She stooped over her buggy, settled her laundry with a pat, as if to reassure it. Then she turned back to me and gave me a bare acknowledgement: a single nod, a full stop.

Or the story “Winter Break” in which a husband and wife on a winter holiday, riding through the night in a taxi to their distant hotel are disturbed when the car hits something. The driver bundles it up in a tarp and puts it in the trunk. The couple think it is a goat which they have seen running around everywhere. But they discover something else when they reach their destination.

These stories are about normal people in their everyday lives. Husbands and wives, friends, coworkers, getting on as best they can, scared, alone, confused, making mistakes, trying to figure things out. The most exotic person is a writer in the story “How Shall I Know You?” who is invited by a book group to visit and give a talk. And while the story seems to be all about the writer, like “Comma” it ends up being about something else. Something bigger, that lifts it up from the ordinary to the extraordinary, if not for the characters in the story, at least for the reader who gets to see the big picture.

I’ve only ever read Mantel’s Cromwell books so I was expecting some interesting narrative stylings in the stories. But they are all pretty straightforward. I was not disappointed by that because I don’t need stylistic dazzling in my short stories; they aren’t long enough for me to get used to something unusual and by the time I’d get my bearings I’m afraid the story would be over and I’d be wondering what just happened. This is not to say that Mantel’s style is plain. She uses various structural elements that we are all familiar with: flash backs, foreshadowing, story breaks that indicate the passage of time. What I really liked about many of these stories is that often they were about something other than I initially thought they were about. And those moments in the story when I realized there was something else going on were very pleasurable.

So don’t be put off from this collection by all the press and all the controversy over the titular story. These stories are good reading.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, Short Stories Tagged: Hilary Mantel

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17. New Post: Bling Ring

The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World by Nancy Jo Sales. It Books. 2013. Library copy. Inspired film by the same name.
The Bling Ring.

It's About: The true story of how, in 2008 - 2009, a bunch of teens broke into the homes of their favorite celebrities and stole clothes and jewelry. The Bling Ring explores who those teens were, how they planned the crimes, and how they were caught.

The Good: Both the film and the movie view this series of home robberies as an opportunity to examine entitlement celebrity fan culture. The teens targeted those people they liked, not those they didn't. They wanted to be in those homes, go through their closets, wear their clothes. It was part celebrity worship, but it was also part entitlement. Why shouldn't they do this?

The reader is as much a voyeur as those teens, reading about the robberies and the celebrities, laughing at those rich people with poor security. The movie ups that aspect by filming in the actual locations, including some of the homes.

I found it helpful to read the book before the film: the film changes some things to the make the story more linear, less messy, so consolidates and shifts some events. In simplifying the story, some of the nuance and depth is lost. That the "ring" was messy is part of the point of the underlining story.

A book like this is dependent on who talks to the writer, and not all of the teens spoke with Sales. While understandable, it also means that the reader is left with not enough understanding of just exactly what happened, who was involved, how involved they were, etc. Still, it's a pretty valuable examination of a certain type of teenager as well as a look at what happens when they get caught.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea CozyThi

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18. Drifter #1 [Advanced Review]: The Sky is Full of Stars and Mystery

by Zachary Clemente

Drifter Cover Drifter #1 [Advanced Review]: The Sky is Full of Stars and MysteryWritten by Ivan Brandon, Art & Colors by Nic Klein, Letters by Clem Robins, Design by Tom Muller, Edited by Sebastian Griner, Published by Image Comics.

Mankind’s colonization of the galaxy has left countless planets mined bare and lifeless. A space transport crashes onto a backwater world whose unique properties set the stage for a story that combines the dark wonder of a strange and alien landscape with the struggles of an abandoned and lawless frontier town.

Something about the first issue of Drifter – the new frontier sci-fi story from Image Comics – leaves a raw, unnerved feeling in my gut that can’t be gripped. I can’t help but see an omnipresent sense of desperation that kicks off with the first page and gradually builds as Abram Pollux, our man in the midst, attempts to find sense in his new world. Bad things come in threes and he got dealt all of them.

There’s a poetic and almost antiquated mannerism to the way characters talk in the world that Drifter introduces us to. Their conversational cadence feels born out the expectation one would have of people living years in an isolated ramshackle frontier town on an alien planet: one part appropriately stunted, another part guarded familiarity, peppered with esoteric expressions. This kluged language serves the citizens and story of Drifter very well, serving to describe their affected state and the situation Pollux finds himself in.

drifter1 preview 01 Drifter #1 [Advanced Review]: The Sky is Full of Stars and MysteryPollux’s internal reactionary dialogue lends a tenable perspective to the oddities presented around him, grounding this rust-and-dust world in his steadfastness. Not without fault though – it’s clear that the Pollux we meet here is a mere glance and what he’s all about; a past of gunning, wronging, and suffering trailing behind him. Inklings of shrapnel from every stripe is present in Drifter - from Pollux’s past to the welded-together town sparsely populated by outcasts at best.

I feel now that Drifter is going to come in with questions, raise even more along the way, and drop us off without answering most – but that’s just fine with me. I’m a sucker for fiction that trusts its audience with the world as it as and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. While it’s clear that the world of Drifter is heady with history and phenomena; I believe that they are a means to provide context to the plight of its inhabitants and will aide in the construction of the ongoing drama that is Pollux’s recently saved life.

drifter1 Pg14 15 Drifter #1 [Advanced Review]: The Sky is Full of Stars and MysteryI want to make it clear that my previous commentary is coming from a holistic view; I wouldn’t find Drifter successful as mere words. I don’t mean to say that Brandon isn’t an accomplished writer, I just think that the way the story is being told couldn’t occur with his collaborators.  It’s strange, but for a story so intertwined with being “on the brink” Klein’s art is lush in a grandeur that seems of a uniquely European vein. Perhaps it’s the color choices, done by Klein as well, that evoke a willingness to experiment. I’m fondly reminded of the sketch and concept art of Ian McQue who blurs (perhaps literally) the line between paper and digital work that many contemporary artists ride. This extends to Robins’ letters, conveying narrative perspective with sublime ease. I’m not entirely sure it was him, but there is a really thoughtful segment where alien calls are powerfully featured as strong strokes of language that Pollux, therefore we, cannot decipher. Another exciting aspect is the inclusion of Muller’s design talents; carefully crafting a design evocative of star maps, he reminds us of the scale of Drifter. Considerations such as these can truly make world worth buying into.

Drifter #1 is a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to a clearly well-crafted frontier tale and I heartily encourage you to request your local store to order you a copy.

Final Order Cut-Off is Monday 10/20, Diamond Code: ICSEP140546.

Drifter #1 hits stands 11/12.

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19. Thursday Review: IN REAL LIFE by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Summary: There aren't many books, graphic novel or not, that can combine sweetness and seriousness in the way In Real Life does. Written by Cory Doctorow with art by Jen Wang, it's a deceptively simple story at first: the protagonist, Anda, is the... Read the rest of this post

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20. Review: Longbourn

Longbourn by Jo Baker. Vintage Reprint, 2014. Personal copy.

The Plot: The story of Pride and Prejudice, told from the point of view of the servants.

Sarah, one of the housemaids, is the main character -- and as she works long days, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, doing whatever is required -- she has her own dreams, her own hopes, and her own loves.

The Good: I was lucky enough to "discover" Pride and Prejudice on my own. I was in high school, it was a book on the shelf at home, I was bored with nothing to read. (Seriously, you want your kids to read? Have plenty of books at home and let them be bored.) Like many others, I fell hard for Elizabeth and Darcy and Elizabeth and Darcy together.

You may remember I was disappointed in the Pride and Prejudice mystery, Death Comes to Pemberley (yet I'm still looking forward to the upcoming TV program.) I am so happy to say that I had the exact opposite reaction to Longbourn: it was everything I wanted, and more, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

One thing I find interested, now, as an older, adult reader, is how often books written long ago, books like Pride and Prejudice, don't show certain aspects of life at the time. It reveals, of course, both what the characters would (and wouldn't) think as well as what the author thinks the reader does and doesn't want to know. In other words, the servants in Pride and Prejudice are barely mentioned, even though, of course, they are there because these homes and houses needed staff to run.

Longbourn looks at those servants -- and I loved, actually, how little we see the Bennets, because how often would they interact with each other? And even though we know Elizabeth sees herself and her family as not being well off -- still, they did have servants even if they don't have many. And they had the privilege that having servants meant. Or, as Sarah puts it: "If Elizabeth had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she'd most likely be a sight more careful with them." In that one sentence we see a different side of Elizabeth's behavior, which in Pride and Prejudice is strictly shown as her independence and non-conformity. It also shows a disregard for the people who have to clean her clothes. It's careless and rude.

Sarah is one of two housemaids, and that's another thing -- this is no Downton Abbey. There are a couple other servants, yes, but altogether there are very few, expected to do very much, with very little pay or free time, and from a very young age. Yet, it's shown that these servants are lucky because they have jobs, a place to sleep, food. It's shown just how few options these workers had -- especially the women. This is one of those books that makes me value, all the more, the servants and serving class of the past -- the workers, the people making the best of their worlds, the people who strive to be happy with what they have. And makes me thankful for all the laws we have, against child labor, for minimum wage, for overtime.

The source of the fortunes of the wealthy is explored, especially just what it meant to be "in sugar." Ptolemy Bingley, one of the Bingley servants, was born a slave. I loved that Longbourn showed that England wasn't all white in the nineteenth century, and how others would interact with Ptolemy.

The risky position of women, love, and sex is also shown (and I won't go into more because spoilers.) I will say this: Longbourn, surprisingly, made me much more sympathetic to Mrs. Bennet and the pressure she was under to have a son and how precarious the family was without sons. She was no longer a silly woman, but rather a desperate one who had few options other than trying to have a male heir and then wanting security for her own daughters -- a security her husband was reluctant, or unable, to think about.

Of course, this is a Favorite Book of 2014!




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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21. Review of the Day: Water Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube by Pat Mora

WaterRolls1 Review of the Day: Water Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube by Pat MoraWater Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube
By Pat Mora
Illustrated by Meilo So
Children’s Book Press (an imprint of Lee & Low Books)
$17.95
ISBN: 978-0892393251
Ages 4-8
On shelves now.

Sometimes I wonder what effect the televised ephemera I took in as a child has had on my memories and references. For example, when I pick up a book like Pat Mora’s beautifully written and lushly illustrated Water Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube I immediately flash back to an old Sesame Street episode I enjoyed as a kid that showed a water sapped desert landscape made vibrant once more with the appearance of rain. Taken by itself, such a ran is an event that happens every day on Earth, and as such it’s the kind of thing tailor made to inspire a poet’s heart and mind. Poetry, sad to say, is not a form of literature that I excel in as a student. I can appreciate it, even quote it when called up to do so, but my heart belongs to prose first and foremost. If I have to read poetry, it helps to read the best of the best. Only really stellar poetry can crack my shell of indifference. And when you pair that really good verse alongside art that makes you want to stand up and cheer? That’s when you have a book that won’t just win over crusty old fogies like me, but also its intended audience: kids. Because if a book like Water Rolls, Water Rises can make me stop and think about the natural world, if only for a second, imagine what it could do for an actual child’s growing brain. Better things than old Sesame Street segments, that’s for sure.

We start slowly and watch the roll of the tides and the rise of the fog. The water is blown, then slithers and snakes, and in one particularly beautiful passage glides “up roots of tulips and corn.” After that, things pick up a bit. In swells the water sloshes, in woods it swirls, and it all culminates in storms and thunder and “lightning’s white flash.” Then, just as suddenly, all is calm again. Water rests in an oasis and slumbers in marshes. The book concludes with water joyfully “skidding and slipping”, “looping and leaping” until at last we pull back and view for ourselves our blue planet, “under gold sun, under white moon.” The bilingual text in both English and Spanish is complemented by illustrator Meilo So’s mixed media illustrations and contains both an Author’s Note and key for identifying the images in the book in the back.

WaterRolls2 300x179 Review of the Day: Water Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube by Pat MoraNow I’ll tell you right now that I don’t speak a lick of Spanish. I’ve the rudimentary single words and phrases culled from years of watching the aforementioned Sesame Street but there’s nothing substantial in my noggin. Therefore I cannot honestly tell you if the Spanish translation by Adriana Dominguez and Pat Mora matches the English text’s spare verse. Certainly I was impressed with the minimal wordplay Mora chose to use in this book. As someone prone to wordiness (I think the length of this review speaks for itself) I am always most impressed by those writers that can siphon a thought or a description down to its most essential elements. It’s hard to say what you’ll notice first when you read this book. Will it be the words or the art? Mora’s cadences (in English anyway) succeed magnificently in evoking the beauty and majesty of water in its myriad forms. Read the book enough times and you begin to get a real sense of the rise and fall of water’s actions. I also noted that Mora eschews going too deep into her subject matter. The primary concentration is on water as it relates to the landscape worldwide. She doesn’t dwell on something like water’s role in the human body or pepper the text with small sidebars pertaining to facts about water. This is poetry as it relates to liquid. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The bilingual picture book is fast becoming a necessity in the public library setting. Just the other day someone asked if we could have more Bengali/English picture books rather than just straight Bengali, because the parents liked reading both languages to their kids. Yet sadly in the past our bilingual literature has had a rough go of it. Well-intentioned efforts to give these books their own space in the children’s libraries have too often meant that they’re scuttled away in some long-forgotten corner. The patrons who need them most are often too intimidated to ask for them or don’t even know that they exist. So what’s the solution? Interfile them with the English books or all the other languages? Wouldn’t they be just as forgotten in one collection as another? There are no easy answers here and the thought that a book as a beautiful in word and image as Water Rolls could end up forgotten is painful to me.

Since this book travels around the world and touches on the lives of people in different lands and nations it is, by its very definition, multicultural. And to be honest, attaining the label of “multicultural” by simply highlighting different nations is easy work. What sets artist Meilo So’s art apart from other books of this sort is her fearless ability to upset expectations. I am thinking in particular of the image of the wild rice harvest in northern Minnesota. In this picture two children punt a boat through marshland. Their skin is brown, a fact that I am sure Ms. So did on purpose. Too often are white kids the “default” race when books that skate around the world make mention of the U.S. It’s as if the publishers forget that people of races aside from white live in America as well as the rest of the world. As such So elevates the standards for your average round-the-world book.

WaterRolls3 300x179 Review of the Day: Water Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube by Pat MoraEvery book you pick up and read has to pass through your own personal filters and prejudices before it makes a home for itself in your brain. Let us then discuss what it means to be an English-only speaking American woman looking at this book for the first time. I pick up this book and I instantly assume that the cover is sporting an image of Niagara Falls. On the back of the jacket I come to a similar conclusion that we’re viewing Old Faithful. Thus does the American see the world only in terms of those natural wonders that happen to exist within her own nation’s borders. Turns out, that waterfall on the front is Victoria Falls, found between the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe. And that geyser? Strokkur in Iceland. With this in mind you can understand why I was grateful for the little key in the back of the book that clearly identifies and labels (in both English and Spanish) where each location in the images can be found. It was interesting too to see each credit saying that the image was “inspired by” (“inspirada por”) its real world equivalent. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about accuracy in works of illustration in picture books. Mostly I’ve been thinking about historical accuracy, but contemporary landscapes raise their own very interesting questions. If Meilo So came up with the “inspired by” label then it may well be that it was thought up to protect her against critics who might look to her view of the Qutang Gorge, say, and declare her positioning of this or that mountain peak a gross flight of fancy. Since she is illustrating both distinct landmarks (the Grand Canyon, Venice’s Grand Canal, the coast of Cabo San Lucas, etc.) alongside places that typify their regions (a fishing boat at sea in Goa, India, a well in a rural village in Kenya, etc.) it is wise to simply give the “inspired by” designation to all images rather than a few here and there so as to avoid confusion.

After soaking in the art page by page I wondered then how much control Ms. Mora had over these images. Did she designate a country and location for each stanza of her poem? The book sports an Author’s Note (but no Artist’s Note, alas) that mentions the places Ms. Mora has traveled too. Look at the list of locations and they do, indeed, appear in the book (China, Holland, Peru, Finland, etc.). So I make the assumption that she told Ms. So what country to draw, though I don’t know for sure.

As a mother of two small children, both under the age of 4, my interest in early brain development has been piqued. And like any mother I berate myself soundly when I feel like my own personal prejudices are being inflicted on my kids. I don’t go gaga for poetry but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t read it to the kiddos as much as possible. Fortunately, books like Water Rolls, Water Rises make the job easy. Easy on the eyes and the ears, this is one clever little book that can slip onto any home library shelf without a second thought. Sublime.

On shelves now.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

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22. Wild Things! by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter D. Sieruta

If you are fond of anecdotes and children's literature, pick up WILD THINGS! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature, written by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and the late Peter D. Sieruta. Packed from cover-to-cover with funny stories and little known facts about famous authors, secret feuds, inspired illustrations, and classic characters, this is a great resource for readers and writers alike.

This fun book contains true tales, the stories behind the stories. If you've read up on your favorite classic authors, you may already be familiar with some of these occurrences, such as the chapters and characters cut from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but there are also plenty of things that aren't widely known, as well as gems that are worth repeating. One of my favorite sidebars detailed the time author Richard Michelson was mistaken for Leonard Nimoy - while having dinner for the real Leonard Nimoy, whom the fans thought was his father.

The real lives of beloved authors and the inspiration behind the books we know and love can be surprising. WILD THINGS shares funny bits as well as sad stories: the authors who remained closeted for most if not all of their lives, worried it would affect their book sales and public image; the books which were not championed or honored until after the writers had passed away; the ghostwriters who never got their due; the illustrators who purposely added details to their artwork which may or may not have been appropriate; the authors who had multiple career paths, intertwined or wholly separate; the people who felt overshadowed by others in their field; and those who were not pleased with their celebrity status, preferring to stay below the radar.

WILD THINGS! was clearly written with respect and appreciation not only for stories but for storytellers. The trio of researchers, Bird, Danielson, and Sieruta, are also reviewers and bloggers. They know their books and know their audience, and in this volume, they acknowledge the work and the lives of a plethora of authors, ranging from Louisa May Alcott to J.K. Rowling, from Kay Thompson to Lemony Snicket. Give this book to your favorite children's librarians and literature buffs - they will dig it.

Learn more about the book and watch exclusive interviews with various authors and artists at http://wildthings.blaine.org

Read my interview with Julie Danielson and Betsy Bird.

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23. Call for Submissions on Travel or Place: cahoodaloodaling

The online journal, cahoodaloodaling, is seeking writing and art submissions with the common theme of travel or place for its January 2015 issue, Travelogue. Issue #15 – Travelogue 

We are seeking submissions inspired by unique destinations, travel, international adventures, or simply the comforts of home. Send in your best works of “place” by the end of the year. Remember, we are open for all styles and forms of visual and audio art, poetry, literature, as well as essays, non-fiction, screenplays, collaborations and even letters home. Make us stand up and take notice. 

Submissions due 12/31/14. Guest editor April Michelle Bratten of Up The Staircase Quarterly. Issue live 1/31/15. 

Check out previous issues here.

Please review our submission guidelines here.

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24. Don’t Even Think About It

Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change by George Marshall is pretty darn depressing. Oh he tries to offer hope at the end but it is paltry compared to what comes before. And what is it that comes before? Page after page of psychology and human behavior detailing why this climate change thing is so hard for us to get together and do something about.

The problem is not just one thing, it’s a big prickly ball of things that is going to need to be attacked from all angles at once and not one thing at a time. Where to start? First, there is a disconnect between scientists and the public and the way they talk to us about climate change. They use words that mean something completely different to us. They say, we are almost certain that climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans. What they mean is they are sure but they can’t say that because in science-speak you can never ever be 100% certain about anything. So what we hear is there is room for doubt. If the scientists aren’t certain then they could be wrong. The scientists beat us over the head with statistics and numbers and logic. We say, wow last winter was so cold I wouldn’t mind if it were a few degrees warmer. They give us facts. We want compelling stories to engage our emotions and prompt us to care and they can’t be about drowning polar bears because, sad as it is, a drowning polar bear is too distant for me to really care about it. I need a story about how climate change is going to affect me personally, and not in 30 or 40 years, that’s a long time away, but five years, next year, now.

Also, climate change needs to be placed into a wider context. It has been boxed away as an environmental issue which makes it easy for people to dismiss. Climate change is not an environmental issue. It is about values, politics and lifestyle. It is about food and water and jobs. It’s about safety and security.

We are busy looking around for someone to blame. We want to blame the oil companies and the politicians while we fill up the gas tanks on our SUVs and fly to the Virgin Islands for a mid-winter getaway. We have convinced ourselves that we are doing everything we can, I’ve changed all my lightbulbs to LED, I recycle, I take my own reusable bags to the grocery store, someone else has to do something. When we are all at fault. Us, our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents. But to play the blame game will get us nowhere. We will all need to make sacrifices much more drastic than buying an electric car. We’ve gone about “fixing” the problem from the wrong end. Instead of attacking it at the source and limiting coal and oil extraction and use, we go at it from the tail which is like trying to put out a forest fire with a bottle of water.

We are attached to the status quo and will keep doing what we’ve been doing unless given a compelling reason to do something else. And if, or when, things to start to change, everyone needs to be affected just as much as everyone else. Humans are great at detecting inequities and if you are only allowed to drive your one car two days a week but I get to drive mine four, well that’s just not fair.

I could go on and on, this is a substantial little book. In the end Marshall suggests that all the things that keep us from recognizing climate change as a threat can also help up solve the problems climate change will bring us. It will not be simple to change the frames through which we view the problem, but it isn’t completely impossible. He offers numerous ideas of what needs to be done and how we can each contribute to changing the conversation.

Climate change is happening right now. It is going to continue to happen. Things will probably get bad. Really bad. Not tomorrow and probably not next year, but sooner than you think. So what are we going to do about it?


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews, Science Tagged: climate change

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25. Review: Complicit

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn. St. Martin's Griffin. 2014. Reviewed from ARC from publishers.

The Plot: Two years ago, Jamie's older sister was sent to juvenile detention. She'd burnt down a neighbor's barn, killing several horses and injuring a young girl who'd tried to save those horses.

Rumors have always swirled around Cate: she was that type of personality, that attracted and repelled and fascinated. And now... now she's been released.

Jamie is afraid, to be honest. He's put that all behind him, what happened with Cate. What she did. He's been seeing someone to help. He lost his best friend but he's rebuilt his life, flirting with a cute girl at school, continuing to get good grades.

What will Cate do, now that's back?

The Good: This is the type of book that is so hard to write about!

Jamie tells the story. He tells what he knows and what he remembers. And that is the sticking point. Jamie is an unreliable narrator.

The story as he knows it, the story as he tells it: Cate and Jamie were the children of a teen mother, struggling to make ends meet. When they were little, about six and eight, she was murdered. Jamie has little memories of his mother, or her death -- just hazy details, of their small basement apartment, of her living on the edge, the type of life that led to her death.

And then the miracle: after months in the foster system, Cate and Jamie were adopted, kept together, by a rich couple who were looking for older children to replace the ones they had lost. At first, young Cate is the one who seems to adjust easily, being happy, taking riding lessons. It's Jamie who is lost and sullen and doesn't quite connect, until he's sent to a therapist and things get better and Jamie gets better. Like the lost son, he takes piano, He calls his adoptive mother "Mom."

When Cate enters her teen years, things change. Jamie, the younger brother, looking on, doesn't understand why but suddenly Cate is the trouble maker, pushing boundaries, drinking, smoking, boys, and then, of course, the barn fire. And now she's back, reaching out to Jamie, and acting as if there's more to the story. That there's more that Jamie knows.

Jamie wants to know what she knows.

That's the story Jamie is telling us. Between the lines, though, the reader sees another story. Of a lost child. Of someone who has learned to act the right way, to give the right responses. Of the growing concern that part of Jamie's acting the right way includes what he is, or is not, telling the reader. Of trying to figure out how much of what he is saying about Cate is real. And of trying to understand Jamie, and who he is, and what he's done.

This is a suspenseful, psychological drama about a mentally ill teen. Who that teen is, and what they do, is a question that will leave the reader guessing.

A bit of a disclaimer: this is the type of book that I only like when done well. Unreliable narrator, unlikable characters, questions left for the reader to answer -- I am so picky about these things that usually my short-form response is that I don't like these things when the truth is that I do like them, I'm just very particular about how such books are crafted and written. And Kuehn in Complicit? Does it so well it's a Favorite Book of 2014.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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