Monday, August 31, 2015

The Siege Winter: A Novel by Ariana Franklin, Samantha Norman

Once I got over my disappointment that the last book Ariana Franklin was writing when she died (which was finished by her daughter) was not a resolution to the cliffhanger in the "Mistress of the Art of Death" series, I was able to settle in and enjoy this one. Good historical fiction, sans bodice ripper element.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

It's a sequel to a favorite book of mine, by a favorite author, with some of my favorite characters of his, set in a city I adore. It's full of snark, and irreverence, and humor, and completely whacko situations, and a touch of philosophy. You expected I wouldn't like it?

Thank you <i>so</i> much to library thing and the publishers for sending this one my way. It came while I was ill, and everyone knows laughter is the best medicine.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Just a teeny bit terrifying....

Extra special bonus? September 17 would have been my mom's 94th birthday.

There's an invite over on Facebook, set up by City Lights, if you think you can join us.

Friday, August 21, 2015

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Dr Horrible? Yup.
Buffy? Uh huh.
Dollhouse? I think so.
House? Saw that one, too.
Eureka? Eureka!
Cheetos? Crunch.
Geek and Sundry? Subscribed.
Tabletop? A few times
Supernatural? (We haven't gotten to her arc yet)
The Guild? Wowzer!

Yeah, I'm a Felicia Day fan. Intelligent humor, artful awkwardness. Seemingly unafraid to be outside of the norm for females in the entertainment industry. Honesty.

But is that her?

I was utterly thrilled to learn that someone I enjoy so much had a book out and immediately put in a reservation for it at my library and was first on the list for when it came in-- which gave me just enough time to begin to worry that I'd be disappointed by the book. That it would be as bad as some other celebrity memoirs that I've read. That I would cringe the next time I saw her on internet or television.

As they say down under, no worries mate!

Felicia's book is marvelous. Brutally honest, funny, informative. She plays the quirky geek girl often, but she is quirky. She is a geek and she is female, for real. Her upbringing was decidedly unconventional. I never would have guessed that she didn't graduate from high school, but managed to go to university, major in math and music/violin (4.0!) Her foray into acting and onto the internet fascinating. As for integrity, she's got it, and isn't afraid to speak about details many people keep hidden (struggles with her mental health), while keeping private details that many blather too freely (no kiss and tell name dropping, though she does tell that she kisses.) The voice in the book is open, direct, entertaining, able to poke fun at herself.

I came away with these impressions:

1. I'd recommend this book to fans and to girls coming up who probably fit the quirky geek girl mold. The road may not be easy, but it can be done. Stay the course.

2. This gal is a mensch. I'd have her over for martinis in a skinny minute.

3. I know jack squat about gaming.

4. Joss Whedon writes a kick ass forward.

5. You go, girl. Thank you for a great read.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

On loss, and a review of Lost and Found by Brooke Davis

I've been thinking a lot about loss lately, coming to terms with the loved ones who have left or are in the active process of departing. We're not a vocal bunch about it, in general. But if you're seven years old, as Millie Bird, the pivotal character of this novel is, you'd have even less experience. Millie, and three compatriots she gathers (recently widowed Karl the Touch Typist (87), local hermit Agatha Pantha (82), and Manny the department store manikin), come together in this debut novel, to search out both Millie's truant mother, and a stability in a world that for each of them has gone rocky.

It took me a little while to find the rhythm of this book, but once I did, I enjoyed it. I saw the world through Millie's eyes, as she collects a list of dead things to help her understand and cope with the loss of her mother, and the death of her father. She leaves messages like beacons for her mother: on windows of department stores, backs of buses, the door of her abandoned home: "In here Mum". She explores the hyphen, the dash between two dates on a grave stone. She becomes a superhero: Captain Funeral. She is a seven year old girl, in search of answers.

The winning part of this book for me (and what raised it in the rating), though, was the article by the author that follows the story, Relearning the World. Davis' world was reshaped January 27, 2006, when she found my mum on the front page of the newspaper for all the wrong reasons: "Freak Gate Crush Death" in capitals. Letters so thick, so black; death so close it could have been me. (You can google it for more info, if you wish.) I, too, live in that place where grief crops up unexpectedly, fiercely. The prescribed mourning periods may be over, but it can be a simple thing -- the taste of a peach in summer, the way the rain moves across a beach, the smell of lilacs in the air, that make me long for those now gone from this earth. It's hard to share, because there are those who simply say "get over it", while others understand that memory is an important part of life, the way you preserve heritage, a vestige of precious love.  I am coming to terms that it's ok to let grief reenter the world, to be through it but not over it. To me, were I "over" grief, I'd be "over" people who shaped my life, my world. Like Davis, I will move back and forth and up and down and over and sideways through different stages of grief for as long as I'm allowed to be here. I am beginning to understand that gif is now, simply, a part of everything I do, everything I say, everything I write. Everything I am.

Tags: first-novel-or-book, made-me-think, read, read-in-2015, rounded-up-in-star-rating, thank-you-charleston-county-library

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Out on the Wire: Uncovering the Secrets of Radio's New Masters of Story with Ira Glass by Jessica Abel

It's no secret that I am a devotee of public radio. NPR, PRI, APR, are a large part of my daily life, as are other public radio offerings in the forms of podcasts and music. (We're also big radio drama fans, old and new, but that's another story.) Book+favorite subject+creative format=Big Win for me, and thanks to Blogging for Books, I was able to snag a copy of Out on the Wire, a graphic/comic documentary about narrative radio shows. 

Being familiar with all but one of the shows that are explored in this book by Jessica Abel really helped. I dare anyone who is a "This American Life" fan to absorb the squares with Ira Glass in them and not hear his distinct voice. I found the details behind the scenes fascinating. However, the take-home message for me was that this is a great book about writing.

I live in a world surrounded by creative minds, absorbed in the worlds of writing, film, and art. The goal of all these endeavors is to share an image, tell a story. What is documented in this book are the approaches used on radio to tell stories, how to craft your message so you have a hook, explore the adventure, and wrap it up. Using techniques like the focus sentence to create the story, Abel shares the knowledge of folks who make their living this way via radio. There are chapters on creating a voice, sharing the visual image through words, editing, adding sound, and a kick-ass forward by Ira Glass.

All in all, for me, this book is a keeper and is going on my books on writing shelf for inspiration and aide when I do get back to editing my novel.

Tags: blogging-for-booksgraphic-manga-etcnonfictionreadtaught-me-something

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights, by Salman Rushdie

Once again, I've left it too long between the reading of a book and the writing of my thoughts. Blame it on summer days, or 1,001 other reasons.

Rushdie's novel is set in a New York City of some time in the future. (How far in the future becomes rather uncertain, as at points in the novel, our time period is referred to as if we are ancestors, but the world seems relatively unchanged in the interim-- could be 200 years, could be next week.) Strange things are happening: a gardener finds his feet no longer touch the ground; an abandoned baby can identify the corrupt, which is problematic as she was left at the mayor's office and adopted by the mayor. A child falls on the railroad track and the rails melt like ice cream, so she is able to be rescued. An artist's work becomes real. There's a weird firestorm, and the world seems to be coming unhinged.

It all stems, according to Mr Rushdie, from the union centuries ago, of Dunia, a Jinn princess and a human. She slipped between the cracks of reality from her world to ours, fell in love, and produced scads of children with her mortal husband, the descendants of whom scattered around the world and are at the center of this firestorm battle of dark and light.

Though the book seems to be billed as magical realism, I think there's a heavy element of fantasy (after all, there are Jinn) and even urban fantasy (Jinn and their offspring living in NYC) as well. The story was periodically captivating, and alternatively less so, but ultimately worth the read for me. The backstory of the two lovers, and the world Rushdie created for the Jinn was fun. And I really liked the character of Mr Geronimo, the gardener. I also found new words to use for furious and frequent copulation (which apparently is a big part of Jinn existence), that maybe, some day, I can slip into a sentence. But it may be two years, eight months and twenty-eight nights (add it up, folks, and you'll find the link to Scheherazade and the story-telling in the book) to do so.

Many thanks to Library-Thing and the Publishers for sending this book my way.

Tags: advanced-reader-copyearly-review-librarythingan-author-i-readmade-me-look-something-upmagical-realismfantasyread-in-2015taught-me-somethingurban-fantasyvampires-ghosts-and-other-creatures 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Firecombe Manor by Kate Riordan

Sometimes you need just a book that  borders on gothic romance, something with the flavor of those books I eagerly pulled off the shelves when I would race to the library after school to find something new to read; historical novels by the likes of Daphne Du Maurier or Mary Stewart. The kind that leave many readers today, accustomed to fast pace and fast living in their books get twitchy and stop reading. The kind where the setting, usually an English manor house, or lonely house on the cliffs/moors/highlands, or a rose twined cottage in a sleepy hamlet, is as much a character as the people in the tale are. the kind where dark secrets are hinted at, maybe a mysterious death or two.

I like that kind of book, occasionally, especially when life has forced me to slow down and recuperate, which it has of late.

I believe the book went under a different title originally, Girl in the Photograph. Either way, it's two stories several decades apart, in the same setting. In the latter tale (1933) Alice has gotten herself "in the family way" without benefit of a husband, and is shuttled off to an estate in the country where a friend of her mother's works as housekeeper, until the birth of the baby. But while there, she becomes fascinated by a former mistress of the estate, Lady Elizabeth Stanton, and the mysteries that surround her life and disappearance.

The stories are well told, and do intertwine to some degree. There is also an interesting running theme exploring postpartum depression and how it was handled  at the end of the Victorian era into the early Edwardian era.

Tags: i-liked-it, made-me-look-something-up, read, read-in-2015, taught-me-something

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Fallen Women by Sandra Dallas

Normally, I like the glimpses Sandra Dallas gives us into times past. Through her writing, I've explored the days when the west was a new land, still being shaped and discovered. The women in her books have character, strength that they might not be aware of, but that helps them live in the raw, new land where they are settled. I usually learn something, too, which is always an added bonus. But this book just didn't make the cut for me. The writing didn't come to life. I abandoned it at page 114.  Beret, and her dead sister, and all the other surrounding characters just couldn't hold me. Sorry.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Learn to Draw Calligraphy Animals by Andrew Fox

There are things I'm supposed to be doing today. But my to-do list has been shoved rudely aside. Why? Because I had to, simply had to dive into playing with pen and ink, and the designs in this book.

I've been captivated by Andrew Fox's designs since discovering his art on Instagram. When I learned that he had a freshly minted book, I think I actually made that "squee" sound. And, thanks to the artist and his publisher, my very own copy arrived at my door yesterday afternoon. Within 5 minutes, I began reading, and unable to control the creative impulse, grabbed my Pilot Parallel pen and cranked out a gleeful

Today, I've been playing. And playing. And smiling. And having a grand time. The beauty of this book is that Fox provides both clear instructions for drawing a variety of animals (mammals, crustaceans, reptiles, insects, mollusks, birds; I think amphibians are missing, but that's probably only because the book is 70 pages) but also gives a great launching place for creative work. I tend to think, "I could never draw a (cat, camel, crab, critter)" and often don't try. But with a few simple strokes of the pen, I can. With my confidence whetted, I can branch out and try my own design. Or I can stick to the simple elegance of Fox's minimalist calligraphy animals. It's a win-win.

The book comes with a pen and paper, but I must admit, I pulled out my own pen, because I'm simply in love with the ease and elegance of Pilot's Parallel Pen (and no, I have no commercial association with Pilot). The instructions Fox gives are simple, clear, and pictorial, and include a diagram for the direction to hold your pen nib with each stroke. Follow the instructions, or apply your own imagination.

This is a lovely little treat of a book for any level artist, wanna-be to established.  Now excuse me. The critters are calling.
Pysanka inspired by Andrew Fox's art

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey

I live in Charleston. We've been famous for many things: birthplace of the Civil War, "that" dance, a wretched reality TV show, and, just a few short weeks ago, a horrible slaying of nine churchgoers at Mother Emmanuel AME Church. In the aftermath of that shooting, which was purported to be an attempt to start a race war, the citizens of Charleston rose together to say, "wrong church, wrong city, wrong people"; we took a stand together to fight hatred with the strength of love. We're healing still, and learning to reconcile the differences that do keep us apart as people, learning to, indeed, practice what we've proclaimed; to live the words "love over hate" and "Charleston strong". In that tender setting, I found it difficult to start to read Our Man in Charleston, because the Charleston of the pre Civil War days is not the Charleston I know; not the Charleston I love.

Yes, it was difficult, especially since I could not only picture the locations described, or walk past some of them, but because I know the descendants of many of the people mentioned in the book, some who actually bear the same names. We are a town of history and heritage, and names as well as genes are passed along the family tree. But the Charleston in the book, while I have no doubt is a realistic description of the time, is not the same town of today, thank God. We are not perfect, but we are building a bridge to unity of people.

What got me past my discomfort was the excellent writing of Christopher Dickey. It's safe to say his father, James Dickey, was not the only talented writer in the family. Mr Dickey crafted a window to take the reader back in time, to observe the mounting tensions and passions of the Confederacy. Though the view is predominantly of the upper echelons of white society, there is ample descriptions of the practice of slave trading. To be honest, I thought I knew a great deal about the Civil War, but this book brought me a new viewpoint to consider: that of Britain. Focused primarily on Robert Bunch, the British Counsel of the time, Dickey used correspondence, dispatches, and other documents of the time, to take the reader through the implications of the North/South conflict beyond the boundaries of our country. I'm embarrassed to admit that I hadn't fully comprehended how the volatility had nearly caused war again with Britain.

Beautifully written, complete, and fascinating, this is a grand book for anyone wanting to deepen their knowledge of the Civil War. It is not an easy read if you love the Charleston of today, but it certainly is an enlightening one. Many thanks to Blogging for Books and the publishers for sending me a copy.

Tags: charleston-sc, made-me-look-something-up, made-me-think, made-me-uncomfortable, nonfiction, read, set-in-my-stomping-grounds, taught-me-something