June 13th, 2011

jimmy kick original series

Review #1 for 2011: The Yellow "M" by Edgar P. Jacobs

Title: The Yellow “M” (from the Adventures of Blake and Mortimer series)
Author/Illustrator: Edgar Pierre (E. P.) Jacobs
Genre: Bande dessinée (or “BD”; European comic), mystery

General Introduction
Captain Francis Blake and Professor Philip Mortimer are the stars of a comic book series – created by the Belgian writer/artist Edgar P. Jacobs (1904 – 1987) – that bears their names. They are two friends who live together in London's Park Lane, solving crimes and other various mysterious goings-on as they encounter them. Captain Blake is an army officer who works for the British secret service MI-5 and Professor Mortimer is a nuclear physicist and general academic. Their adventures are set in the late Forties/early Fifties and span 20 albums as of 2010.

About The Yellow “M” (from the blurb)
“London’s walls resound with the incredible exploits of the “Yellow Mark”. The spectacular actions of this mysterious criminal are on the increase: holding up the Bank of England, stealing the Imperial Crown...no one seems able to stop him. He is so audacious that he lets the police know in advance where he will commit his crimes, each time ridiculing Scotland Yard a little more. The apparent ease with which he evades polices schemes begins to worry the highest authorities of the country. The Home Office asks Captain Francis Blake to solve the mystery and discover the identity of the man who hides behind the Yellow Mark. The captain immediately takes as partner his old friend, Professor Philip Mortimer, whose scientific knowledge will be invaluable in solving this extremely complex enigma. Who hides behind the Yellow Mark?”

I enjoyed this story – which is, according to other reviews I've read, a high point of the Adventures of Blake and Mortimer series – quite a bit.

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Review #2 for 2011: The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf by Gerald Morris

Title: The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf
Author: Gerald Morris
Genre: Arthurian stories, kid lit

This is the third book in Morris’ ten-book Squire’s Tale series (link to my review of the first book). The second is The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady (hereafter "SKL"), which is a retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf (hereafter “SDD”) is a retelling of an episode from Malory in which a young woman (whose name is here spelled Lynet) seeks a champion from King Arthur’s court to kill the knight besieging her castle. The reason for seige? The knight wants the hand of Lyonesse, Lynet's older sister, in marriage. In Morris, Lynet is an intelligent and plucky teenager with a sharp tongue; Lyonesse is spoilt and not very bright. But when Lynet refuses to tell Arthur or her potential champion her name, however – for personal reasons – Arthur won’t risk the life of a knight for the task. The only person willing to take it up under those conditions is a kitchen boy working in the castle under the name Beaumains. Arthur initially says no, despite the occasion (a day on which he heard petitions from his people, and incidentally a year after Beaumains arrived at court incognito) but – to the ire of Lynet and surprise of Arthur – Beaumains’ claim is supported by one of Camelot's knights. Lynet leaves angrily, but Beaumains follows doggedly – so Lynet finally, reluctantly, agrees to lead him and a dwarf named Roger (whom she meets on her way to Camelot from her castle) back to her home. Those familiar with Arthurian legend will probably know how the story of Lynet and Beaumains pans out, but there are a few twists in this version.

Gawain, the star of the first two books in the series, isn’t present for much of this book – but that’s fine, because it is more the story of Lynet, Roger, and Beaumains. Gawain’s squire Terence makes some appearances, however, as does a lady that is introduced in SKL. Other characters from that book, as well as those from general Arthurian legend, also appear. Events from SKL are built upon in this book, but they are explained again in enough detail when needed. A reader who has not read SKL might miss smaller character nuances, but not in a way that detracts from the story (as far as I could tell).

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Books 5 to 9


5. Ash, by Malinda Lo. This is a different take on the Cinderella story. There are many common elements with the well-known fairy tale: Ash, or Aisling, is a happy, contented girl until her mother and, later, her father dies. Her stepmother makes Ash a servant to pay off her father's debts. Ash serves both the stepmother and two stepsisters, one whom is very cruel (one isn't as mean). There's a ball, a prince and magic -- but then the story takes its own turn. Ash finds that she has to choose between the powerful and dangerous Sidhean, a fairy, and Kaisa, the King's Huntress. The story flows smoothly and naturally. This version of Cinderella is darker than the typical fairy tale, dealing more with the shades of gray than in black and white. Through the story, Ash goes from someone who feels trapped to someone who begins to learn to break her own bonds.

6.
Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures, by Robert K. Wittman  and John Shiffman. You don't have to be an art connoisseur or even much of an art fan to appreciate this book. Here, Robert Wittman, now retired from the FBI, relates how he made a career of tracking down and recovering stolen art and artifacts. He recovered hundreds of millions of dollars worth of important historical artifacts and art through his career.   Some highlights include the recovery of the 14th Bill of Rights, which was stolen during the Civil War; uncovering and exposing the scandel connected with two shady dealers on Antiques Roadshow; and the recovery of more than $2 million in Revolutionary and Civil War era relics stolen from a Philadelphia museum. The story is fast-paced and straightforward; Wittman finds the right balance of giving just enough history behind the pieces and the thefts without it coming across as a lengthy arts and history lecture. His stories on what he has to do to infiltrate the less seemly side of society are fascinating and, at times, intense. This is a must-read for true crime and history fans.

7. Codex, by Lev Grossman. I really liked Grossman's "The Magicians," and checked out this title because of the author and because it looked like a history-based mystery, which I enjoy. Alas, this book was rather disappointing. The story centers on Edward Wozny, an investment banker whose star is on the rise. He's enjoying a vacation before travelling overseas for a lucrative job. Just before he officially starts his vacation, Edward is given a strange assignment -- basically he's asked to catalogue an impressive array of old books owned by a wealthy and eccentric client. What he finds -- and what he is charged in looking for -- seeks him to enlist help from Margaret Napier, a stiff but brilliant scholar of medeival texts. The book is rather slow for the first 90 pages or so; I almost gave up on it, but went one more chapter. Just in time if you will, the book started to get very interesting around page 90. It was clicking along very well after that, getting hard to put down, as Edward and Margaret try to discover the interest in retreiving a Codex that some want, and others want destroyed. Then, it ended. And the ending just left me scratching my head and thinking "what the heck just happened here??" The best thing about this story were some of the interesting historical tidbits and vocabulary words I picked up. There also was a side story about a hyper-realistic video game Edward gets from a friend. This had very little connection with the rest of the story, and should have been chopped. It only slowed things down. All in all rather disappointing.

8. Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul. This is a fascinating (and occassionally disturbing) read for those interested in childhood development and epigenetics. The author parallels her own thoughts and experiences with her second pregnancy with the growing bodies of evidence that are showing the incredible impact of the environment, nutrition and other factors on the unborn child -- effects that can be felt and documented even decades later. Two examples that struck me: 
One was  a study of children and adults who were in-utero during the 1944 "Hunger Winter" in the Netherlands. The famine, brought on by a tight German blockade coupled with an unusually severe and early winter, left an estimated 18,000 dead. Those children who were still in the womb during this time were not only smaller than average, but their own children were smaller than average. The children studied also had a significantly higher pecentage of ailments such as heart disease and cancer, even decades later. Higher rates of schizophrenia and other neurological disorders were also found among children who had been in the second trimester during the Hunger Winter (and, indeed, in other famines and times of intense stress).
The second is more recent: the ice storm that struck parts of the northern United States and Canada. This storm shut down some cities for several days. Researchers conducted two studies on children who had been in-utero at the time of the storm. They noticed significant delays in development when the children were toddlers, compared to children who had not been impacted by the storm, and in IQ. Those children were tested about a decade later; while the gap between those who were impacted by the storm and those who were not had closed somewhat, that gap still remained. At least one researcher quoted in the book said she was surprised that such a sizable gap would have remained, even a decade later.
The implications of such studies are sobering, to say the least.
I liked the writing style and the author's own asides about her pregnancy, and she doesn't seem to leave any stone unturned, any side or angle unmentioned. I do like how Paul at least tries to give the positives -- what can be done to help improve the unborn child's future. But many things seem rather daunting. Also, there were a couple pieces of advice that might seem a bit misguided. For example, she said she eschewed some fish because of mercury concerns (understandable) and instead went for others, including catfish. Huh? I don't know about the mercury concerns of catfish, but that is not a fish I'd recommend, given its feeding patterns (bottom feeders tend to be chock full of other pollutants, and I don't know the safety of farmed fish other than often its no safer.) Also, her observation of how children born via C-section don't feel pain as intensely as those born "naturally" was, while may be true, left the impression that voluntary C-sections should be done more. Sorry -- but while C-sections are sometimes necessary, they can bring a whole host of other problems for the mother and infant (higher rates of respiratory ailments in newborns, for example). 
I do like how the book was chaptered-- nine chapters for nine months. I do wonder if the information could have been a bit better organized. I've read far worse, but a couple things got repeated, and there were similar items that should have been grouped together. It's not bad -- the themes are fairly well established per chapter. It just needed tweaked. All in all, I really enjoyed this book.

9. Running the Books: The Adventures of an
Accidental Prison Librarian, by Avi Steinberg. This memoir written by a Harvard graduate who spent two years as a prison librarian. Those looking for a read on how education and writing classes and caring mentors can help someone who has done wrong turn over a new leaf -- may want to look elsewhere. Steinberg's story is a brutally honest look at the prison population and the culture that surrounds it. Early on, he details how he's mugged at knifepoint in the park -- by someone who recognized him from the library and had even been a patron there. Another story deals with his near-friendship with a charming pimp whose looking to write his life's story -- and who turns out to have a *very* nasty rapsheet. One of the more tragic stories deals with Jessica, who struggles with her own past and in trying to connect with her son -- who's also in the same prison.
Steinberg himself is honest about him being a fish out of water, particularly at the beginning, in dealing with the motley group of inmates -- both patrons and library workers. The two years he spent at Boston's South Bay prison were juggling acts. When did he bend the rules to help an inmate? How could he command their respect? Should he follow in the footsteps of his more draconian successors? How far should he go in appeasing some of the other staff -- a couple of whom were as bad as some of the inmates. There is a lot of tragedy in the book, counterbalanced somewhat by the author's keen wit and eye for irony. Steinberg goes into the stories of several of the prisoners as well as some of the "customs" and "traditions" of prison, such as prisoners leaving "kites" for their fellow inmates (kites being little notes left throughout the library). Steinberg's job was to find and dispose of these kites -- considered to be against the rules. But he shares a sampling of what he sees in his story. I'm not sure "enjoyable" is the right word here, but "Running the Books" is insightful and thought-provoking.

jimmy kick original series

Review #3 for 2011:The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O'Brian

Title: The Nutmeg of Consolation
Author: Patrick O’Brian
Genre: Historical fiction, British

This is the fourteenth book in Patrick O’Brian’s “Aubreyad”, a 21-story series about the adventures of Jack Aubrey, of His Majesty’s Royal Navy, and his ‘particular friend’ Stephen Maturin, a naval surgeon and natural philosopher.

At the beginning of this story, Jack, Stephen, and the crew of the H.M.S Diane are exactly where they were at the end of the previous book – The Thirteen-Gun Salute – which is shipwrecked somewhere in the South China Sea. How they get out of that predicament is, as the blurb on the Norton edition describes – “something that only Patrick O’Brian – or Stephen Maturin – could devise”.

Arriving in Batavia, Stephen’s plan is to buy another ship so that they can make a rendezvous with the H.M.S Surprise, something they were doing when the Diane struck a reef. However, some unfortunate financial problems seem to put a dent in that until the British governor of Java offers them a ship – the once-Dutch twenty-gun Gelijkheid, which was purposely sunk some months in the Java bay because of an infection aboard – and Jack gratefully accepts command of her. He renames the ship the Nutmeg of Consolation, after a title used by a Sultan he and Stephen had encountered in the previous book, where they journeyed to Indonesia.

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They make for their rendezvous, which coincidentally put them on the same course as a French frigate named the Cornélie, which they had also met in Indonesia. In the chase, they finally (this after many unsuccessful previous attempts) meet up with the Surprise. Jack and Stephen transfer to the Surprise, leaving the Nutmeg to her delighted first lieutenant – and head for Australia for a refit.

However, after an official dinner in Port Jackson, Stephen becomes involved in a duel with an official who had been rude and provocative all through the dinner. He only injures him, but as the official was an army officer and a cousin of the Penal Secretary, it causes a great deal of inconvenience for Captain Aubrey, who is trying to get the ship refitted. This is only the beginning of Jack and Stephen’s Australian adventures.

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I liked this book. It was nice to meet up with the crew of the Surprise again, after being so long with the Diane/Nutmeg crew. I love the talks that the naturalists – Stephen, Raffles (the governor in Java), and Martin (his assistant), have.

This series is still giving me a great deal of pleasure.
jimmy kick original series

Review #4: Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Samara O'Shea

Title: Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits
Author: Samara O’Shea
Genre: How-to, diary

"Keeping a journal is easy. Keeping a life-altering, soul-enlightening journal, however, is not. At its best, journaling can be among the most transformative of experiences, but you can only get there by learning how to express yourself fully and openly. Enter Samara O’Shea.

O’Shea charmed readers with her elegant and witty For the love of letters. Now, in Note to Self, she’ back to guide us through the fun, effective, and revelatory process of journaling. Along the way, selections from O’Shea’s own journals demonstrate what a journal should be: a tool to access inner strengths, uncover unknown passions, face uncertain realities, and get to the centre of self. To help create an effective journal, O’Shea provides multiple suggestions and exercises...”
(from the front flap of the book)

This is an interesting book, both for someone who has been journaling for a while and for someone who may want to get started. It’s well described as “[p]art manual, part memoir” (David Nadelberg, in a review on the back cover) and the tone is chatty and friendly, perhaps even peer-to-peer. I found myself nodding in agreement at some parts – many entries about high school crushes? Done that. Copying quotes? Done that too, although not often into a paper journal. I also liked that there was a chapter on blogging.

Most of the chapters follow a similar five-section format, although there are some chapters which are shorter. They all begin with a quote that is presented right under the chapter title.

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The fifth/last section – which is in every chapter, no matter the length – is rather unique. It consists of an extract from the published diary/ies of well-known figures, including Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, Tennessee Williams, Samuel Pepys, Thomas Paine, and Louisa May Alcott among others.

I think that the last point was one of the reasons that I picked this book up and took it home, out of the variety of books on writing and/or journaling that were available in the library. It’s definitely something I haven’t seen in the other books about journaling, although I will admit that I haven’t read any others or looked through very many either.

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amy poehler

(no subject)

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21. Acting Making it Your Business by Paul Russell - Really informative book about how to bust into acting. I was recommended to read it and it was pretty good, clears up confusion about a lot of things.

22. Marisol by Jose Rivera - Crazy play, quick read. Funny, crazy, dramatic, and sad all rolled up into one. Kind of post-apocalyptic.