February 8th, 2016

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Cool Imagined Pleasure; Edwardian Hell Horizon; Echo Cats; Christmas Company

So I suppose if I ever want to get (and stay) caught up, I'd best get started on recording the year.

The Pleasure of Reading, edited by Antonia Fraser
A collection of essays by writers about their early reading, variously interpreted as before 10 or before 30 or somewhere in between, bespoke for Waterstone's 50th anniversary (in the 80s), with specially commissioned illustrations and everything. It was quite lovely, and more than occasionally splendid. I can't remember all of my favorites, but I know Catherine Cookson and Jeannette Winterson were among them.

Black Cool, edited by Rebecca Walker
Another collection of essays, this one about various aspects of cool in African-American culture. Learned a lot, fell in love with some writers. You know.

Love Imagined, by Sherry Quan Lee
Memoir of a multiracial woman who grew up in (and still lives in) the Twin Cities. I absolutely loved about 80 percent of this and didn't care for about 5 percent of it. It has the slight roughness of a small press, local history book, rather than the polish of a memoir put out by a larger publisher. (Which is a feature more than a bug as far as I'm concerned.)

The Last Horizon, by Ted Harrison
A collection of autobiographical essays, poems, illustrations, and paintings about Harrison's experiences in and love of the Canadian North. Mostly the part of the Yukon where he was a school teacher for a large portion of his life, but also bits and pieces elsewhere (he started teaching in Northern Alberta, for example). Harrison has been one of my favorite painters since so long ago I don't remember it (age 4? 7? somewhere in there), and this was a rare treat! The book showed its age uncomfortably in one or two spots, but for the most part it was utterly fabulous.

Flutter, Vol. 1: Hell Can Wait, by Jennie Wood
Comic with excellent protagonist, brilliant art, good story, AND a genderswitching protagonist? It's like you're in my head, Jennie Wood!

An Edwardian Christmas, by John Goodall
This is a very small, wordless book consisting of tableaus of purportedly Edwardian people doing Christmasy things. It's not especially good, but since I used to be obsessed with a different copy of it when I was a kid, it still made me happy.

Echo, by Pam Ryan Munoz
Hum. It was EXTREMELY readable - I finished it in two sittings - but also very predictable, not just in its plots but also in its characterizations. I pretty much knew exactly what to expect of everything well in advance, *especially* if it was going to be a twist. But as I said, very readable indeed, and while the characters were predictable, they were also winsome. And I very much enjoyed how the characters felt about music, that part was solid. I'm willing to try at least one more book by her, and I had fun telling a friend about it over dinner; she was THRILLED to hear about it so she could offer it to her reading-above-grade-level 4th grade students.

Cats on the Job, by Lisa Rogak
Pictures of cats doing their various jobs, some quite legit and others rather fanciful (but, actual cats who actually DO live in those contexts, just some of the jobs they hold are rather silly). So, cute cat pictures, fluffy magazine-style accompanying text. Sometimes funny. I am a cat nerd, so I enjoyed the heck out of it. YMMV.

In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger (audiobook)
A mixed bag, I'm afraid. And for that reason, I would recommend it as a book to read rather than a book to listen to. I can't listen at anything other than normal speed, and there are several stories in here I would much rather have skimmed. That said, there were a few stories that had all three of: marvelous narrators AND a great deal to recommend them as stories AND a good connection to the canon. And several more that had 1-2 of those desirable traits. So I'm glad I read it. Just, you know, no more audio short story collections with multiple narrators if I can manage to remember to avoid them!

The Christmas Hat, by A. J. Wood
A sweet picture book with a good, albeit slight, story (and an adorable owl). What most recommends it, however, is the marvelous embossing! This might sound like damning with faint praise, but only if you don't know what a tactile person I am. The embossing lent both visual and tactile depth to the illustrations - very cleverly done and not something I'd ever come across before (at least, not this artful sort! may have seen and ignored it as a mere gimmick).
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Book #6: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Book #6 was based in Massachusetts. Here's my review of The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent:

This book had an incredibly slow start. It took me getting halfway through the book to actually feel like I was getting into the substance. There were many times where I nearly put it down, but since I had read past my 25 page limit (when I decided if I'm going to keep reading a book or toss it aside,) I kept at it. About halfway through the book does pick up pace and get into the real meat of the story.

The coolest thing about the book actually is the premise of the story and why Kent wrote it. Kathleen Kent's 9th great-grandma was an actual woman hung during the Salem Witch Trials, for the belief she was involved in witchcraft. Being an individual who is incredibly interested in my own family genealogy, the fact that she took hers and crafted it into a story is very inspiring.

The story is told from the view of Sarah, daughter of Martha Carrier, one of the first women to be prosecuted and hung during the trials. While I understand why the story was written through Sarah's point of view (because the book could continue after Martha's death,) I think the story could have been stronger had it been told from Martha's perspective. I don't believe it entirely realistic to think that 9-year-old Sarah could have been enough involved with the grown-up world in the 1690's to actually be a reliable narrator.

All in all, the book is written about a very ugly blemish on American history (despite it being before the true formation of America.) It was a true moral hysteria that we should learn from.
book collector

Book 18

The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn, #6)The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was afraid more than once this entry into the Mistborn world was going to rip my heart out. We're definitely at a turning point with huge ramifications for Waxillium's world, all of which I will try to review without spoiling anything. It has everything you come to expect of the Era 2 Mistborn books, intrigue, non-stop action, snarky banter, dangerous threats and it has something unexpected too: Steris.

Up until now, Wax's fiancee has been a weak point of characterization, unusual for Sanderson. We don't know much about her really other than she's Marasi's boring older half sister whom Wax is marrying because he's a Lord and he's expected to marry a Lady. Steris is a good match for that but even she describes herself as boring. Finally she comes alive especially after the debacle that was supposed to be her wedding day.

Steris goes with Wax to one of the more distant towns outside of the great city of Elendel (along with Marasi, Wayne and MeLaan) after Suit, Wax's uncle Edwarn who has captured Telsin, Wax's estranged sister (she stayed with their Terris relatives rather than with the non-Terris side). Even worse, MeLaan and another Kandra tell them that Suit is after the legendary bands of Mourning, devices made by the Lord Ruler and hold immense power that would allow the user to have ALL the allomancer/feruchemical powers like the Lord Ruler once held. They can not let the 'evil' Set group have them. They even stole the spikes out of the Kandra, ReLuur who has lost his mind, and potentially his life without them.

Steris argues that she is safer with Wax than anywhere else and has the paperwork to prove it. That is Steris's super power, she is a planner. She can foresee many possible outcomes and plan for them all (like hiding metal vials on her body in case Wax runs out of his metals or a gun sewn into her clothing etc). Marasi is also good with seeing patterns but Steris is even better but she doesn't feel comfortable with people in a way. She can work a crowd at a party like no one's business but feels on the outside (she almost seems like she could have Asperger syndrome from the descriptions of how she interacts and feels). Steris is also a fantastic negotiator which aids Wax to no end. It's the start of him seeing her not as someone he has to be with but rather someone he wants to be with which is a big step for him since he's spent years hung up on Lessie and months mourning having to kill her.

This job, stopping his uncle and rescuing his sister, shakes Wax out of his depression. Marasi also comes even more into her own, putting her crush on Wax behind her. Even Wayne is moving on from Ranette (who as Marasi points out isn't into men) but who he moves onto is eyebrow raising and fun.

Naturally things do not go smoothly and Wax finds himself framed for something he didn't do which was thankfully only a tiny piece of this since it's a trope I hate. They follow Suit to an even more distant location rather than informing Elendel's ruling class that a civil war is brewing thanks to unfair taxation and poor work conditions (which I hope is not the focus of the next book in full). Once they chase Suit there, their world will be stood on its ear.

And I'll stop there because anything else would spoil the last third of the book which is really universe altering. I loved the new characters that came up in this book. I loved the newly fleshed out Steris and the newly confident Marasi (not to mention the snarky, inappropriate MeLaan). Wayne still remains one of my favorite characters. I also love that these guys aren't kids. YA is all well and good and I love the genre but it's nice to see mature characters in their 30s and 40s as the leads, with all the experience and maturity that brings to the story. I will say there is a scene in this that some people might consider a cheat but with the titular 'holy' object it wasn't too unexpected.

The next book is the last. I'm not ready for this to end. Now to hunt down the novella that holds even more Mistborn secrets. As much as I liked the original Mistborn trilogy, I love Era 2 that much more.

View all my reviews
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Books 8, 9, 10

The Red Tent
by Anita Diamant
336 pages/ Nov 2005
Read: Jan 17- Jan 19

I really really loved this book. It was not an in-your-face biblical fairy tale. And I think that even atheists and agnostics could appreciate this novel.

A predominant theme is the bond of sisterhood among women, whether or not they are of blood relation. Dinah finds many mothers in her life, her own, her aunts, Inna and Meryt, and all of them love her as though she were their own. But we also the see the strength in these women within their daily lives. The hardships that some of them endure are inconceivable, and yet they find the strength to continue, and often with the help of the women around them. We also see the strength of their bonds within the cloth walls of the red tent, where they share stories, laugh, cry, love one another, and celebrate each moon and their own ability to give life through cycle and blood.

What is quite striking is the contrast between males and females. The men are lauded and recorded in books and tales, and given all of the household decisions and absolute power, while the females must submit entirely, even if that means being abused everyday. Their stories are kept alive through one another and their daughters, or forgotten entirely.
And so the theme of immortality surfaces throughout the book as well. It is first hinted at with the stories of Dinah's mothers (made immortal by them having Dinah as a vessel to listen), and then with Jacob and his male lineage. The last words from his mouth are "remember me!". And yes, we did, and do. We remember, and the most read book on the planet remembers... It is an interesting theme to follow, because as readers of the 21st century, we already know that these characters achieved that immortality they sought. There was something pleasing to that bit of knowledge as I read on...as if I was part of some inside joke.

And lastly, I loved all the beautiful rituals that the women performed with the earth around them. They truly appreciated the earth, it's soil, the seasons, the sun and moon. It made me envious of a simpler time when one could be immersed and in sync with the earth and with each other.. of course I was not envious of any other aspect of life in this period and acknowledging this fact made me love the book all the more. The women of Canaan and Egypt must bear their forced roles in life, their futures are decided by whether or not they would be lucky enough to marry man who will not torture or abuse them. And then there is me over here centuries away gripping onto the kind of freedom that women over each passing century could not even fathom.

So this is a lovely book, for the emotion it stirs, the perspective it creates, and the characters that you find yourself unable to part with by the last page.

The Kitchen Daughter
by Jael McHenry
272 pages/ April 2001
Read: Jan 22- Jan 23

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the themes of food, and recipes and what it means to be "normal". The story centers around Ginny, who is in her 20s and has undiagnosed Asperger. Her parents had always sheltered her and took care of her, until she is suddenly forced to take care of herself, and face functioning in society independently. Food calms her, and following recipes is her passion, and some of the most enjoyable parts of the book take place with Ginny in the kitchen. There is also a slight mystery throughout the book that kept me quickly turning pages to try to find the resolution. It was an enjoyable and fast read, and felt original to me, since I had not yet read any novels pertaining to what it means or feels like to have Asperger disease. 4 stars for this one.

Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity
by David Lynch
Audible Version/ Dec 2006
Read(listened) Jan 24- Jan 26

I'd written a couple papers on Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, and Lost Highway for my film studies class, and grew to fall in love with his work. There is something about a Lynch film, the ambiance, the lighting, the soundtrack, the mystery! I love it all, and I loved unwrapping it and breaking it all down in writing.

I open with this, because I clearly have a bias towards David Lynch, so this rating may be a bit skewed. I am also fascinated with meditation and happen to be on my own little journey in learning to meditate well. So for me this book was just perfect. I loved his insight on mediating, what it means to him, how he does it, why it is important in life. I also loved all the little tidbits about his process in making some of his films. I always thought everything in each film had an exact purpose. It was surprising to find out, many key parts in the movies were unplanned, added at the last minute, or took place because of a vague idea he had that he wanted to see come to life. It was all so fascinating! I don't think there was a single part of this book I found to be boring.

Also, I read this via audible and listened to it twice, and I see a third listen in the near future as well! I loved his pacing while reading and also that Lynchian noise during some of the breaks/chapters. That added sound effect really added gravity to the audio.

My only criticism is that there were many parts throughout the book I wish would have had more detail. He skims over a lot of stuff a bit too quickly... Were it not for this, I would have given this rating 5 stars.

"Cinema is it's own language, and with it you can say so many things because you've got time and sequences, you've got dialogue, you've got music, you've got sound effects, you have so many tools. And so you can express a feeling and a thought that can't be expressed any other way. It's a magical medium."


book 22:  One Thousand and One Nights, Volume 10 by Jeon JinSeok

Sehara completes the telling a story from the Romance of Three Kingdoms to his captive, the king of England, letting the king know that in spite of mutual respect between them, he cannot give up his loyalty to Shahryar.  Sehara escapes Jerusalem, returning to Bagdhad to find Jafar as sultan and Shahryar presumed dead.  Heart broken, Sehara leaves Bagdhad without telling anyone where he is going, ending up with an old trade acquaintance in China.  Meanwhile former sultan Shahryar is discovered, half-dead, in the desert by a band of muslim gypsies.  He can only think of continuing his journey to rescue Sehara, arriving in Jerusalem and confronting the king only to find he is too late.  After returning to Bagdhad and also learning of Sehara's abrupt departure, Shahryar takes up the book trade, believing that in trading in stories, he must cross Sehara's path again some day.

book 23:  One Thousand and One Nights, Volume 11 (final) by Jeon JinSeok

After extensive searching, Shahryar finally locates Sehara.  Shahryar tells Sehara a story set in the future about gods born as humans on earth but having unbreakable bonds.  They travel off into the sunset beginning a new set of stories to pass on to the future.

So, some parts of this manhwa were interesting.  The author did a lot of research into the tales that he retold, which were from around the world, not just arabic.  I didn't understand the point of some of the stories.  I don't know if it was a cultural boundary or if it was just not very clear.  The boys love aspect was pushed a bit hard sometimes, but I guess that's what a lot of people who specifically read boys love manga and manhwa are looking for.  It wasn't a horrible series, but I'm not sure yet if I want to keep it to read it again.

book 24:  Uzumaki, Volume 1 by Junji Ito

This is a short manga horror series.  The premise is that the Japanese town of Kurozu-cho is cursed, with the sinister element being represented by the shape of a spiral, aka uzumaki.  Considering spirals are found prevalently in both human and natural design, there is a lot of fodder for the episodes of horror to follow.  The narrator is a teenage girl, Kirie Goshima, who is from and cannot seem to leave the town, as her haunted and sprial aware boyfriend, Shuichi Saito, strongly suggests.  This first volume includes people folding themselves into spirals, plunging scissors into their ears to destroy the body's most perfect spiral, the cochlea, hair curling up and manipulating others like medusa's tresses, and spiraling creamatorium ashes being turned into clay for diabolical pottery.  I looked down with amusement after reading this to note that the caftan I was wearing had a spiral pattern as the base fabric under the floral pattern. :)

book 25:  Uzumaki, Volume 2 by Junji Ito

In this volume, spiral mayhem continues.  A boy becomes a human, undead Jack-in-the-box.  Students and teachers evolve into human snails.  People are incinerated by a spiraloid beam from a possessed, defunct lighthouse.  Spiraling swarms of mosquitos give rise to blood-sucking mothers bearing precoscious infants who are determined one way or other to return to the womb.  And, monsoon season begins with the eye of a very localized storm focusing on Kirie.
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Sunny Bottle Earth; Sad Turnip Crayons; Little Little Whale Tale

Hilo, vol. 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, by Judd Winick
Frenetic, joyful comic about a kid, his friend, the alien that just shows up one day looking like a kid their age, and the BADGUYS they have to fight. The only way I could've liked this more was to magically become 7 long enough to read it.

Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer and Matthew Holm
YA novel about family stuff (eg divorce). I liked it - charm and humor and an interesting protagonist - but found it too earnest / pointed. Found out it is heavily autobiographical (the authors are siblings) so maybe that was the issue. Will try at least one more by either of them before drawing a firm conclusion.

Bottle Houses: The Creative World of Grandma Prisbrey, by Melissa Eskridge Slaymaker, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
A wonderful wonderful picture book biography of an amazing, creative, gifted eccentric who built an entire bottle village. I read it three times in a row. I wish it was back in print or at lest not SO darn expensive. I'd already heard about Grandma Prisbey because we have bottle houses where I grew up (on the opposite coast from her), but I really enjoyed learning more about her and her work, and the illustrations were absolutely exquisite. Julie Paschkis is a gem.

Sad, the Dog, by Sandy Fussell, illustrated by Tul Suwannakit
A perfect book. Predictable story that is so marvelously done, in terms of art, words, and seeing things from the dog's perspective, that it didn't matter at all that it was predictable. (Predictable can actually be very good for picture books, cf the very-different-in-tone Monster at the End of This Book.) I enjoyed it so much that just thinking about it makes me want to read it again!

The Day the Crayons Came Home, by Drew Daywalt
An improvement over the first one (which was just fine). Funny, endearing, and more complexity. Nice to read a picture book sequel that I like better than the original - it's so often the other way around.

The Turnip, by Jan Brett
Solid retelling of an old fairy tale that is elevated to delightfulness by the gorgeous art (and buttressed by a sense of humor in both art and text). I especially appreciate how intricate her paintings are.

The Snail and The Whale, by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
The third-best thing about this book are the wonderful, lively, warm pictures. The second-best thing about this book is how it manages to be playful and fantastic without straying so far from how biology actually works as to be nonsensical (unlike SO MANY other picture books that don't know they're messing the biology up). The first-best thing about this book is the effect of the rhyme and rhythm of the words, which work together as a read-aloud to make it darn near hypnotic in an entraining rather than a soothing way. SO FUN TO READ.
(17, O1)

The Little Mouse Santi, by David Eugene Ray
Slightly plotted picture book which is vastly enhanced by the ability of the author/illustrator to make each moment work perfectly as a moment, with liveliness and depth.

Little Tree, by Loren Long
THIS FABLE MAKES NO SENSE AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. It's not that it should be biologically accurate, but I want such things to be in HARMONY with biology, not chaotic-izing it. Which I found frustrating. The pictures are beeeooootiful, though, and fraught with meaning. Would have rather it was a wordless book so I could make up a story that resonated better.

The Tale of Rescue, by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows
Straightforward story of a cattle dog rescuing a family from a snowstorm. Told in a distanced enough way that the sentimental plot bits made me cry. (If the text is mawkish I can resist it - if it's flat-affect-pragmatic I will tear up every time...) Lovely illustrations. Reminded me of Jim Kjelgaard's books, or at least what I remember of them from the 3-4 years I was obsessed with them as a kid. (note to self: reread a Jim Kjelgaard book. Also my Marguerite Henrys!)
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