March 14th, 2011

Reading feet

Book 7 of 2011

Mennonite in a Little Black DressMennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'll be honest - I was disappointed with this book. Not that it was BAD, really, it just wasn't the amazingly hilarious book that it had been made out to be by people at multiple bookstores. I had three main complaints:

1) Most of the things in her past that she complains about are not particular to Mennonites. More or less, they are scenarios experienced in small towns, or in poorer families. I mean, what poor kid -didn't- have embarrassing lunches? Now, maybe they weren't THOSE particular lunches, with borscht and warm potato salad, but tins of spam or smelly egg salad or leftovers from last night that are now indistinguishable. The small town gossip, the being set up with the grandson of the old lady next door, etc. And they had a camper and went camping - they weren't so deprived. I wish WE could afford a camper!

2) The author seems to have trouble staying on topic. I found this interesting, because I often didn't notice it as it was happening. The story would flow from one topic to the next as things came up... but then it was as if she suddenly realized she had began the chapter on a different topic, so she would suddenly jump back there and I would be confused, or feel jolted. There was one chapter in particular where I got really confused where it begins in the past, but then suddenly the characters seem to know things they couldn't possibly know - and after being very confused for a few pages it becomes clear that she has jumped back to the present. I went back to look, there didn't seem to be any obvious sign of when it had happened.

3) The back of the book describes her husband leaving her for a guy named Bob who he met on, her horrible car accident and her mom suggesting she marry her cousin because he has a tractor -- so I thought these would be main events during the book. But they are all covered in a few pages in the first chapter. And also, I do not think her mom recommended her cousin BECAUSE he had a tractor. She just used the tractor to "prove" that he wouldn't smoke pot, which, in typical fashion of her mother (and mine!) is no proof at all.

BUT! Some of the stories were amusing precisely BECAUSE I could relate to them. I really enjoyed the relationship between her and her mother, probably because it reminds me so much of the relationship I have with mine. I enjoyed learning a little more about Mennonite culture through reading the book - I admittedly knew very little about it before. She had a lot of good insights into religion and relationships that just "felt right" to me. And I am certainly copying the recipes into my recipe book :) So it wasn't a bad story. And had I not heard so much about how hilarious it was before reading it, I might even have liked it.

View all my reviews
der Mut

Freud's Warbreaker Castles Wonder; Flying Program of Fire

I Wonder, by Marian Bantjes
An absolutely beautiful and lush book. Sharp witty essays and provocative de trop illustrations that led me to ponder the narrowing of my visual field and reminded me of my love of being puzzled for puzzlement's sake. The only thing I found bothersome is that she talks a whole lot about the importance of presenting information in way that is as rich visually as it is textually, and yet doesn't ONCE mention the artists/writers coming out of a comics background??? Speaking of narrowing...

A Tale of Two Castles, by Gail Carson Levine (advance reading copy)
This was a lovely fairy tale: brave heroine, complex villains, not everything is laid out at the start of the story, etc. I *ADORED* the dragon of unknown gender, and the child-protagonist's ambition and drive and doubts. Also, it was funny. Also, it was morally upright without being didactic. Those latter two being things I always want from middle-grade novels. (PS I didn't count this toward my "books owned" total since they really only lent it to me - it will disappear in sixty days, I think. Which is all good for ARCs, but would make me really cranky if I had, say, PAID for it. )

Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson
I have come to rely on Brandon Sanderson when I want my epic fantasy itch scratched. Loads of characters that are each enough themselves that I can keep track, intense action, thoughtful world-building, inventive magic systems, witty banter, and enough ambiguity to feel honest while still having heroism and coming-into-one's-own be a big part of the story - this novel has all those things, just as I expected. It is also Creative Commons licensed, by-nc-nd, which means I was originally going to just offer to email a PDF to anyone who wanted it. But! Then I was reminded of the WONDERFUL site, which offers many different ebook formats, so I linked to its page there instead. If you're interested in seeing the 313 books they currently host and redistribute under Creative Commons license terms, you can go to . How nifty is that? Pretty nifty!
(36/200, 22/100)

Freud's Blind Spot, edited by Elisa Albert
This is a collection of essays mostly about siblinghood (including one or two essays about how it is to WISH you had a sibling). Mostly the essays were very good. Some of them hit rather close to home and were difficult to read, but no less excellent for that. Also, there was a stealth comics contribution! Which was one of the best stories in the whole book! Yay for flexible editors!

Flying Cups and Saucers, edited by Debbie Notkin and the Secret Feminist Cabal
This is the first book that was ever put out to honor winners of the Tiptree Award, which is given to work that is "thought-provoking, imaginative, and perhaps even infuriating", to authors "who are bold enough to contemplate shifts and changes in gender roles, a fundamental aspect of any society" ( Those of you who know me, or who have been reading these posts for a while, will be flatly unsurprised to hear that I'd already read almost every story in this anthology, since it was published in 1998. So rather than being infuriated, I mostly felt nostalgic and sort of "huh, we've come a long way, so many of these stories are classics now". But my lack of provokedness was not because the stories aren't brilliant! They are! And I am glad I reread them. And incredibly glad all these people keep doing their good work of saying "LOOK AT THIS AMAZING STUFF." The Tiptree is the award I find most reliable as an indicator of stuff-maribous-like-to-read, not just in SF, but of all the awards I've encountered.

Child of Fire, by Harry Connolly
Hm. This was good. It held together, it was interesting, the characters were engaging, the ideas were provocative. But it was REALLY noir. You know how a lot of urban fantasy and dark fantasy plays with monsters, but in a way that doesn't feel horrific, per se? Because there are still characters one cares deeply about, even when they are anti-heroes, and well, just something about the tone is different? Less creepy somehow? Yeah, this doesn't do that. This is a magic-laden horror novel and I just .... it was too intense for me at the moment, I guess. No fault of the book, and in a different, peppier mood, I might try the next one. Because it really *was* good.

Program or Be Programmed, by Douglas Rushkoff
I have decided to make a deliberate effort to at least occasionally read books that I know in advance will piss me off. I used to do that ALL THE TIME before there was an Internet available at any moment to piss me off, and being irritated with a long-form text is useful for my brain. Also probably good practice for grad school next year. So, uh, I haven't quite figured out how to write reviews of said books yet. I can say that I wish that this book had been more about *how* to seize hold of the programming reins, where to start, pitfalls to not let stop you, &c - or even about the concrete lessons that coding teaches you - instead of focusing so much on the metaphysics of code and/or Internet Ethics For Dummies. Even though a couple of the Internet Ethics For Dummies chapters (for eg Do Not Sell Your Friends) were awfully good. As Douglas Rushkoff goes. Which is to say, he's been driving me nuts but also offering insight since I was SEVENTEEN, so why would today be any different? Yeah. Like I said, haven't quite figured out yet how to review stuff that I knew would irritate me before I started reading it. But you get the idea.
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12. 'isabella for castile' jean plaidy
13. 'spain for the soverigns' jean plaidy
14. 'daughters of spain' jean plaidy
15. 'shakespeares landlord' charlaine harris
16. 'shakespeares champion' charlaine harris

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2011 reading

Finally! For the first time I'm on a pace that might allow me to complete the challenge. As someone who has managed a maximum of about 16 books in any given year in almost two decades, this will be momentous.

1. The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet by Arturo Perez-Reverte
The fifth in the Captain Alatriste series, and I believe the 11th of his that I have read. As always, solid historical fiction.

2. Flashman and the Mountain of Light by George MacDonald Fraser
An amazing series, highly recommended to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially about British military characters. Funny as hell, and the history is amazing. My 4th in the series of 12. I read three last year and plan to read them all this year. This installment takes place during the first Anglo-Sikh War.

3. Flash for Freedom! by George MacDonald Fraser
Detailing Flashman's slave-running and -stealing adventures in America. While still good, I enjoy his American adventures less.

4. A Brief History of the Crimean War by Alexis Troubetzkoy
Interesting enough. The author focuses on causes of the war, and criticising everyone involved at every possible juncture. I'll be looking for another book on the topic.

5. The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder by Daniel Stashower
Narrative history, in the vein of the Erik Larson novels (Isaac's Storm, Devil in the White City). Well told and researched, it details the sensational media coverage of the murder of Mary Rogers, and the parallel story of Edgar Allen Poe leading up to the fictional version he wrote of the real life story.

6. Flashman at the Charge by George MacDonald Fraser
Detailing Flashman's presence in the Crimean War and the Charge of the Light Brigade, and further campaigns against the Russians in Central Asia.

7. Flashman in the Great Game by George MacDonald Fraser
Detailing Flashman's adventures in the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

8. Flashman and the Angel of the Lord by George MacDonald Fraser
Bringing Flashman back to America to accompany John Brown to Harper's Ferry.

9. Flashman and the Dragon by George MacDonald Fraser
Flashman in China in 1860 for Elgin & Hope's expedition to Peking.

I'm reading the Flashman novels in chronological order. As such, I followed Flash for Freedom with the first half of Flashman and the Redskins. The second half takes place 25 years later, so I'll place it in it's appropriate place and then finish the book. I wish Fraser hadn't died before he could write all the adventures to which he has alluded, because now we'll never know about Flashman's Civil War enlistments in both armies, or his presence during the Boxer Rebellion.

Up next, Flashman on the March.