Saturday, December 8, 2012

Review: Tough Girl by Libby Heily

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Danger lurks everywhere in eleven year old Reggie's world—from the bully next door to the unwanted attentions of a creep at school. Raised by her mentally ill mother, Reggie is left to fend for herself in a rough neighborhood. She escapes in daydreams, battling aliens with her alter ego, Tough Girl.

When Reggie's mother disappears, her fantasy life spirals out of control and starts to invade reality. She is hunted by a creature of her own design, and even Tough Girl is not strong enough to stop him.

Will Reggie survive long enough for her mother to return, or will her dream world take over?

And here's what I thought:    I had been contacted by the author, since I had read and reviewed a book of her stories, Fourth Degree Freedom, a while back.

This is an interesting story, although I had mixed reactions to it.   The author does a wonderful job of portraying Reggie and her world (which is somewhat heartbreaking).   However, as depressing as her surroundings might be, Reggie is pretty resilient.  She has an alter-ego, Tough Girl, and she spends time dreaming up elaborate plots for her.    The author gives us Tough Girl's voice, in conversations with Reggie, and in situations that are all her own (like in Chapter 4), and even as as know that Tough Girl isn't real, her situations are Reggie's way of dealing with what's going on for her in the real world.   I found I had to adjust to the two viewpoints, however, at least when I first started reading.

In addition to Reggie, there are other interesting characters here.  For example, there is Mrs. Ruiz, one of Reggie's neighbors, who is gaining weight for beauty pageants (and yes, you read that correctly).  There's also Tara, the bully who loves to torment Reggie.   And not everyone is awful --- DeShawn, one of the boys Reggie makes friends with at school, is kind to her.  All of the different people that Reggie interact with, and react to, just give us a richer portrayal of who she is.

Reggie's a compelling character, and the pacing of the story is quick, so it's easy to keep reading, even when the storyline gets a bit dark or scary.   I thought the author did a great job of making Reggie seem really realistic --- she's a real-feeling little girl who tries to be tough, and who sometimes succeeds, and who sometimes doesn't.   I found that I was pulled into her story, and wanted to find out what was going to happen to her (even when I was worried for her ..... and that happens a lot with this story).  I didn't always feel like I quite understood what was happening, however, and I think that's why the book didn't completely resonate with me.   And this exposes a bit of a flaw in using a rating system like mine ---- I didn't think the book was great, but rather, that I felt that while it was interesting, it wasn't a story that I felt like I wanted to talk to everyone I know about.   This isn't anything to do with the author, or her writing --- it's just my reaction to the story.  Reading is a personal thing, and I always feel that what resonates with one person might not resonate with another, and also, that upon a re-read, a book can strike you completely differently.   I gave this a 3 out of 5 ---- it's not that it could be better, but I felt like I had a so-so reaction to it.

If this book sounds interesting, but you'd like to read more reviews, I'd encourage you to check out what some other readers on GoodReads had to say.   In particular, Danielle Villano has a great review,

I did want to mention that although the main character, Reggie, is eleven, that I wouldn't recommend this book to a young reader, due to the mature themes and content here. 

First sentences:  Reggie tightened her grip on the can of bug spray as she slid her feet slowly across the surface of the playground. The enamel canister felt cool and light against her skin. She enjoyed the sensation of the liquid sloshing around inside, the rhythm driving her forward. There wasn’t
much poison left, just enough to rid herself of an incredibly annoying pest. Her feet moved in a gliding motion, careful not to disturb any rocks or kick up dust. Her invisibility cap hid her from the crowd surrounding the basketball court, but they might notice if she disturbed the world around her.
The cap made her completely invisible, as long as no one looked at her.   Reggie inched closer to the court, her eyes only breaking from her target to scan for debris below. She’d heard rumors that the playground was once covered in grass, but it had been killed by trampling feet and neglect long ago. Pebbles and litter were all that was left for the children of  The Apartments to play upon.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Errantry by Elizabeth Hand

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):
No one is innocent, no one unexamined in award-winner Elizabeth Hand's new collection. From the summer isles to the mysterious people next door all the way to the odd guy one cubicle over, Hand teases apart the dark strangenesses of everyday life to show us the impossibilities, broken dreams, and improbable dreams that surely can never come true.

“Ten evocative novellas and stories whisper of hidden mysteries carved on the bruised consciousness of victims and victimizers. Memories and love are as dangerous as the supernatural, and Hand often denies readers neat conclusions, preferring disturbing ambiguity. The Hugo-nominated “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” marries science fiction and magical realism as three men recreate a legendary aircraft’s doomed flight for a dying woman. A grieving widow in “Near Zennor” unearths a secret of spectral kidnapping in an ancient countryside. “Hungerford Bridge,” a lesser piece, shares a secret that can only be enjoyed twice in one’s life. Celtic myth and human frailty entangle in the darkly romantic “The Far Shore.” The vicious nature of romantic love is dissected with expressionistic abandon in the dreamlike “Summerteeth.” Hand’s outsiders haunt themselves, the forces of darkness answering to the calls of their battered souls. Yet strange hope clings to these surreal elegies, insisting on the power of human emotion even in the shadow of despair. Elegant nightmares, sensuously told.”
—Publishers Weekly

And here's what I thought:  I was familiar with this author's other book of stories, Saffron and Brimstone, and  have read and re-read some of those stories numerous times.  I also really liked her book, Illyria, and have copies of Waking the Moon and Generation Loss on my bookshelves, waiting to be read at some point.

I didn't love all of the stories in this book, and oddly enough, liked the stories in the second half of it more than in the first half.  The thing I like about Elizabeth Hand's storytelling is that, especially with her short stories, you're never really sure what you're going to get.   A story can start out pretty ominously, and then turn out to be more thoughtful than scary.   A different story can start out in an innocent-seeming way, only to take a really dark turn halfway through.  It definitely keeps you on your toes, as a reader.  

If you're new to Elizabeth Hand's writing, starting with short stories isn't a bad idea; that way, you can try a few shorter things to see how you like them.   Out of this particular book of stories, I recommend The Return of the Fire Witch and Winter's Wife.

Some of the writing I liked:   From The Return of the Fire Witch --   Paytum disdained magic to enhance her own charms, though she had for many decades employed the Nostrum of Prodigious Regeneration to retain the dew of youth.  She remained a remarked beauty.  Like her neighbor,she was flame-haired, though Paytim's braid was brazen tigerlily to Saloona's pale marigold, and Paytim's eyes were green.  Her skin was the bluish-white of weak milk and bore numerous scars where she had been burned while conjuring, repairing the bouche a feu or carelessly removing a pot from the oven.  The scars were a mark of pride rather than shame; also a warning against overconfidence, in particular when dealing with souffles, or basilisks.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review -- Dungeon Brain by Benjamin Kane Etheridge

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): From Bram Stoker Award winning author Benjamin Kane Ethridge.

June Nilman is a woman with thousands of personalities in her head and none of them are her own. Stricken with amnesia and trapped in a room in an abandoned hospital, her caretaker, Nurse Maggie, wants her to remain captive forever. At night June hears creatures patrolling in and out of the hospital, and in time discovers Maggie has mental control over them. In planning her escape, June has an extensive catalogue of minds to probe for help, but dipping into the minds of her mental prisoners is often a practice in psychological endurance. Escape seems impossible until June discovers a rat hole in the wall-- the starting point of her freedom.

But freedom in this war-torn world may be more dreadful than she ever imagined.

Dungeon Brain is a locked room mystery of the body and mind that expands across the realms of science fiction and horror.

And here's what I thought:  I had read and reviewed Black & Orange by this author a while back, so when I was contacted about reading his newest book, Dungeon Brain, I thought I'd give it a try. And though I did try, I just had a hard time getting into this book.

Etheridge does a great job of crafting a story that has lots of unpredictable and scary characters, and lots of dark corners for your mind to explore (and then recoil from).   Etheridge also has an uncanny knack for putting the reader smack in the middle of the main character's head ..... and it's not a comfortable place to be.   And I think this is where I lost my feeling of being connected to the book.

The pacing in the story is slow, and while it does build up as it goes along, I think I was looking for something with a faster pace.  I found I frequently wasn't sure of what was happening in the story, had to stop, go back, try to get my footing again .....   and while this is sometimes something I relish in a story, I felt so unbalanced in this one that I had a hard time getting my footing.  After a while, I gave up, and just tried to follow the storyline, and then it was easier.  However, I never really felt like I was quite connecting to the characters --- I never felt like I had a firm grasp on June, and frankly, Maggie scared the heck out of me.

I think this is a story that might resonate with the right reader at the right time, especially if they like dark, psychological horror.   Right now, I'm not that reader ---- it just didn't resonate with me, and instead, I found the book to be disturbing in a way that was unappealing (instead of fascinating).  I don't think this is the fault of the author --- I just think that right now, with what I have going on my life, this kind of story isn't what's appealing to me.   I feel in a way like I failed this book --- maybe I'll give it another try in the future and see how I do with it.

If the synopsis above sounds interesting, I'd encourage you to look at the other reviews on GoodReads, where the book really resonated with readers, and who have some well-written comments on the book.

First lines:  I remembered dying.   But now I was here, in this dingy hospital room.  The artillery fire softened outside and I drew closer to the window.  The woman reflected in the glass looked back, tonguing her upper lip.  Dark cherry hair and black eyes.  That wasn't my reflection.  Who the hell?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Review: The Girl on the Mountain by Carol Ervin

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   When her husband disappears, young May Rose is stranded in a rough town owned by a company logging the last of West Virginia’s virgin forest. It’s 1899, and a woman alone has few options. As she struggles to sustain herself, she discovers people are not what they seem--not the husband who wooed her with stories and songs, not the wild, dirty child, the sullen cook, nor the stiff boardinghouse proprietor, and certainly not the company manager, pillar of the town. But May Rose is also not the obedient woman she once was. She’s been scorned as the girl on the mountain, the subject of shocking stories, yet there’s more to her than anyone expected. To survive, she must distinguish friend from foe, defend herself from predatory men and boys, and prove herself a person of value. Most important, she must believe that love is never wasted.

And here's what I thought:     From the first sentences (below), you might think this is a love story, and Jamie's a nice guy, and May Rose just can't wait to see him every time he comes home from work.    Uh ..... not so much, actually.

However, I wasn't disappointed by this, because I was more satisfied with what the story was actually about: a resourceful woman who faces challenges head-on.   Carol Ervin does a really good job of painting not only the setting, but also in creating the realistic character of May Rose.

When we begin the story, she's 20, and already feeling the wearing-down effects of living on the mountain, outside of the logging camp.  When Jamie doesn't come home one day, she's faced with having to make decisions about where she's going to live, and how she's going to get money.  She's also faced with the very real, and very frightening, issue of being a single woman with no one around to protect her.     There were times in this story that I was really worried for her, which shows just how well crafted of a character she is.   Ervin also gives us supporting characters who are varied and interesting, which I appreciated.   I also appreciated that the author doesn't make things really easy for May Rose, which is reflective of what real life would be like for a woman in her situation.   Reading her story, and imagining the real lives of women in this setting during this time period is interesting (at least, to me).

I liked that the author obviously did her research, as there are a lot of details about not only what life was like in 1899, but also about what logging was like.   Logging was (and still is) a dangerous occupation, and logging camps were rough places (not just in the nature of the work, but in the nature of the men who lived in them).   The pace of the story is steady, so I found I was turning the pages at a consistent rate --- and I got caught up in the story.

First sentences:   When Jamie was home, May Rose felt safe.  Saturday afternoons he jumped from the log train as it slowed down the grade in front of their cabin.  Sunday evenings he caught the train back to Logging Camp Number Six, where he lived though the week.

Note:  You can read more about the author by visiting her on GoodReads.   I appreciate that she contacted me about reading and reviewing her book!    She did give me information when she emailed me, so I wanted to share this bit:

My first inspiration was the mountain wilderness, because West Virginia's terrain and flora have always challenged and tested those who live here.  Second, I was inspired by the history of industry and everyday life in the 19th century, forerunners of today’s technology and culture. When I read Roy B. Clarkson’s non-fiction account of lumbering in West Virginia, (Tumult on the Mountain, 1964, McClain Printing Co., Parsons, WV), with more than 250 photos of giant trees, loggers, sawmills, trains, and towns, I found the setting for this story.  Finally, I was inspired by men and women of previous generations who faced difficulties unknown today. Researching and writing this novel, I felt closer to the lives of grandparents I never knew.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why yes ..... I am still alive and will be getting back to posting

Not that my posts have necessarily been missed too much, but I'll be getting back on my blogging feet shortly, and back onto a regular posting schedule.  
Surprise, surprise!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Circus: Fantasy Under the Big Top --- edited by Ekaterina Sedia

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Introducing stories of circuses traditional and bizarre, futuristic and steeped in tradition, joyful and heart-breaking! And among the actors you will find old friends, be they sad clowns or free-spirited gymnasts, as well as new ones - mammoths, mechanical piano men, and things best not described at all. Come in, come all, and enjoy the literary show unfolding!

And here's what I thought:   This book of short stories has contributions from a wealth of authors, including Peter Straub, Jeff VanderMeer, Douglas Smith, Cate Gardner and others.   So, there's a lot to choose from, which I like; just in case I don't enjoy one story, I can always try another.

Like many collections, I found I enjoyed some of the stories here more than others.  I originally picked up this book because I have always had a fascination with circuses and carnivals.  I've always been curious about the kinds of people who tie their lives to a circus, and also find the history of circuses and carnivals to be interesting.   I also ordered this book for my library's collection and snapped it up when it hit the shelf ...... I'll be returning it tomorrow to give other people the opportunity to check it out.   The stories range from the fantastical to the horror-tinged.  My personal favorites among the stories were Amanda Downum's Smoke and Mirrors, Vanishing Act by E. Catherine Tobler, Circus, Circus by Eric M. Witchey and 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson (which involves a woman who buys an act with 26 monkeys who vanish, from a suspended bathtub, onstage).    It was also nice to re-read a story by Douglas Smith called Scream Angel -- I had read and reviewed Smith's book of stories, Chimerascope a while back, and had enjoyed it.

One of the best things about short stories is that they can introduce you to an author you've never heard of, without being committed to an entire book.   As I said, I didn't love every single story here, but I found the overall collection to be good.

One of my favorite first lines:   When the circus was very small, it believed it would grow up to have many multi-colored big tops with banners on the support poles and three rings in each tent.  It lived in Mexico then, and its smaller tents were brand new -- the Bottle Throw, the Wheel of Fortune, and especially the Palmist and Mystic -- because she loved the circus most; and love was, after all, the food that made the circus grow.

from Circus, Circus by Eric M. Witchey

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I feel like I'm letting down my books ......

But my schedule lately has been kicking my butt.  Between work being a little hectic, going to conferences and meetings, and taking an online class (which, seriously, I did not think was going to take up as much of my time as it is.....), I feel like I'm neglecting my reading and reviews.

by ~ELEK-triK -- DeviantArt

Reviews will be somewhat sporadic until November.....

Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Blogger Confessions - Scary Books!!!

Twice a month, Karen at For What It's Worth and Midnyte Reader host a meme called Book Blogger Confessions.  It's a good opportunity to have some thought-provoking conversations, which I always appreciate.

This week's question is:  Happy Halloween!  Do you like to read scary books? Why or why not?  If so, what is the scariest book you ever read and why does it deserve that honor?

Bonus question:  Have you ever dressed as a literary character for Halloween?

I DO read scary books from time to time, although I don't read them on a regular basis any more.  I did go through a phase when I was about 10, and read a lot of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker and John Saul.   I think Stephen King is the only one that I still read, and re-read.

I like a good psychological thriller from time to time, as opposed to something more on the horror end of the scale.  Scary books can give an adrenaline rush, and really get my imagination going, which is fun.  What I think it interesting is how different readers define "scary" --- for some people, it can be something with monsters, and lots of gore.  For others, it can be something post-apocalyptic, where the world, itself, is frightening.

I think one of my favorite scary books is The Stand by Stephen King --- I find the idea of a flu killing off most of the world to be scary, and King also adds in some pretty scary characters, as well.   In fact, that's something I like in a lot of King's more recent books, like The Stand, Misery, and Bag of Bones -- there are unpredictable, scary people.   And don't think I'm going to leave out King's super-scary book, It.   After all, how do you top a creepy clown and something that lives in the sewers and tries to snatch you away?   Chills.

Bonus question answer:  Yes.  One year, when I was in my early 20s, I dressed up as Death, from Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels, and went out clubbing with friends.  Sorry, no pictures.  It was an easy costume, especially since I wear black clothes most of the time, and just required a wig and some makeup.

I'm looking forward to seeing all the other scary books people list for this Confession!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Blogger Confession for 10/1 --- Blogger Envy

Twice a month, Karen at For What It's Worth and Midnyte Reader host a meme called Book Blogger Confessions.  It's a good opportunity to have some thought-provoking conversations, which I always appreciate.

This week's question is: Blogger Envy:  Do you have a bad case of blogger envy?  Do you covet they neighbor bloggers book hauls/follower numbers/blog design?  How do you tamp down the green-eyed monster?

Well....... I'd be fibbing if I said the green-eyed monster had not made an appearance from time to time.  However, I've mostly banished it (which doesn't mean it won't at some point turn up at my door, whispering snotty comments to me).

Envy happens, in some form, I think, to the best of us.   I will say that I do not tend to suffer envy for bloggers who have huge book hauls; I'm a librarian and I'm surrounded by more books than I can shake a stick at, so I don't have that kind of envy.   I also don't suffer envy for blog design ---- I contacted Lori at Pure Imagination Designs a while back and paid her to do up my blog design (heck, yeah I paid someone to do this .... I have no idea how to design a blog and make it look this good) -- and after all this time, I still love it.  So, no envy for other designs, although I certainly do appreciate some of the beautiful blogs out there.

What I have suffered from is ..... comment envy.   I don't make myself feel blue over my number of followers because the way I see it, the people who Follow are the ones who use Blogger (thus leaving out any Wordpress bloggers).    However, I sometimes sigh when I go weeks without a comment on a book review post, and see other bloggers who regularly have loads of comments.  However, when I get myself in a blue mood over this, and the little monster is doing its best to sit on my shoulder, I remind myself that I blog because I just wanted to put my thoughts out there.  Just because I write a book review doesn't mean that a lot of people have something to say.   I also know that to get comments, I need to get out there and comment more on other people's posts ..... and that bit of knowledge kicks me in the butt and also squashes down the envy monster.

Of course, I'm looking to see if anyone out there has some good advice on how to deal with comment envy ......

This is the only monster that should make a regular appearance in my house.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  A zombie who yearns for a better life ends up falling in love—with a human—in this astonishingly original debut novel.

"R is a zombie. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams. He doesn’t enjoy killing people; he enjoys riding escalators and listening to Frank Sinatra. He is a little different from his fellow Dead. Not just another zombie novel,Warm Bodies is funny, scary, and deeply moving.

And here's what I thought:   I don't usually seek out zombie books, but I had seen a review of this one that made me think it went beyond the usual zombie-horror-coming after you to eat your brains kind of book .... and I was right.    As you can see from the summary, R is a zombie, but he's not mindless --- and what he thinks about, and his comments on his "life," are pretty thought-provoking at times.

The whole question of what makes a human a human, as far as conscious thought goes, is something considered in this story.   R isn't alive, but he has a life of sorts, where he hangs out and socializes with other zombies.   He does have a drive for nourishment, and yes, does munch on brains, but here's an interesting twist -- when he eats a brain, he gets flashes of that person's memories and personalities.   When he eats the brain of a young man, and then sees that guy's girlfriend, the whole story changes --- and nothing will ever be the same, not for R, or for the humans in this world that Isaac Marion has created.

I don't want to say too much, because I don't like to have spoilers in my reviews.   What I did like was that Marion gives us a world in which there has been some kind of huge catastrophe, and there is a population of humans, and a growing population of zombies ---- but the zombies have their own society, and their own rules of how they "live."   Marion injects some humor into R's situation,  and how he relates to some of the other zombies, as well.    So, it's not so much as a horror story, but a re-examination of how life can be defined in this world (the one in the story).   So, if you're looking for a different take on the whole zombie idea, maybe check this one out from your local library.   I won't say it was my favorite book, but it was something different from what I usually read, which was refreshing.

First lines:   I am dead, but it's not so bad.  I've learned to live with it.  I'm sorry I can't properly introduce myself, but I don't have a name anymore.  Hardly any of us do.  W lose them like car keys, forget them like anniversaries.  Mine might have started with an "R," but that's all I have now.  It's funny because back when I was alive, I was always forgetting other people's names.  My friend "M" says the irony of being a zombie is that everything is funny, but you can't smile, because your lips have rotted off.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend --- audiobook sample!!

Last week, I posted my review of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks, which was a wonderful read.   Macmillan Audio contacted me with information about the audio version, and very generously provided me with a link to a sample of the audiobook.

Click HERE to listen to a sample of the audiobook.

I've asked my library to order the audiobook because I think this book would be really interesting to listen to (and hopefully, should have it in my hands in a week or two).  You can visit Macmillan's page to learn more about the book, the author, and the audiobook, which is read by Matthew Brown.  

Thanks very much to Macmillan Audio for providing me with the sample!

Book Blogger Confession --- Blogger relations

Twice a month, Karen at For What It's Worth and Midnyte Reader host a meme called Book Blogger Confessions.  It's a good opportunity to have some thought-provoking conversations, which I always appreciate.

This week's question is: Blogger relations:  Are there blogs you  visit and comment on because you like their style, voice, etc. (maybe you even converse with the blogger on Twitter and Facebook) but those comments are never reciprocated on your blog?  Do you get a bit offended or do you understand that they may be busy?  Or do you comment just because you like a post not expecting anything in return?

My commenting style is this:  when I read a post, or see a photograph, that I really like, or that makes me think, I leave a comment.   I don't expect a comment in return, especially since I just assume that a lot of bloggers are busy and do their blogging in their spare time.  I mean, that's how it is for me, so I don't take it personally if someone doesn't visit me back and comment on one of my posts.  When I do get a comment back, it's always nice ---- but I comment mainly because I want to ..... meaning, I want to let someone know that I liked their post, or their photo, or because I'm joining in a conversation (like the one in this meme).  Recently, I will admit that I haven't been leaving comments as often as I'd like ---- because I've been a bit busy, so I'm whipping through my Google Reader sometimes and just quickly reading.   Now that things have settled back down, I'll be commenting more.

That being said, I do like it when people leave comments on my posts --- and I'm seriously trying to get better about responding back to comments (I cannot for the life of me get Blogger to make the "reply" action work, so I now just leave a fresh comment).   I think I feel like a lot of bloggers do about comments --- they make me feel like someone's actually reading my blog (which makes me feel less like I'm just writing and throwing my posts into the vast winds of the Internet).

I'm curious to know what other bloggers have to say, so I'll be visiting around the other blogs that are participating this time  .... and leaving comments!!!

Friday, September 14, 2012

City of Women by David R. Gillham

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  Whom do you trust, whom do you love, and who can be saved?  

It is 1943—the height of the Second World War—and Berlin has essentially become a city of women.
Sigrid Schröder is, for all intents and purposes, the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime. But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. Her lover is a Jew.

But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets. 

A high ranking SS officer and his family move down the hall and Sigrid finds herself pulled into their orbit.  A young woman doing her duty-year is out of excuses before Sigrid can even ask her any questions.  And then there’s the blind man selling pencils on the corner, whose eyes Sigrid can feel following her from behind the darkness of his goggles.

Soon Sigrid is embroiled in a world she knew nothing about, and as her eyes open to the reality around her, the carefully constructed fortress of solitude she has built over the years begins to collapse. She must choose to act on what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two. 
In this page-turning novel, David Gillham explores what happens to ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times, and how the choices they make can be the difference between life and death.

And here's what I thought:  This was a beautifully written book, with a main character who at turns was both fascinating and frustrating.  The author does such a great job with the setting, and with Sigrid, that it's easy to get caught up in the story (at least, I found I got caught up in it).   

I've been reading some nonfiction books lately about World War II, and so maybe that's part of why I really liked this.  Reading a book where the main character is an average German woman in that time period is interesting --- it's like getting a window into what the average person there would have experienced.  I think a lot of us tend to think "World War II" and then associate that with "Nazis," or "Hitler," etc.   However, there were a lot of people who just had to try to go about their everyday business, and just get through --- and there were Germans who didn't agree with the Nazi Party's policies, and who tried to help Jews, and other people, who were in danger.    That whole conflict about whether to mind her own business or get involved with helping people is fascinating here --- that Sigrid has to make some difficult choices, and then decide if she will follow through on those decisions.

I think this would be a great book club choice, because I think it lends itself to a lot of good discussion, both about Sigrid, and being a woman in Germany at this time, as well as some discussion of what happened in Germany during World War II.

First lines:  The blind man taps his cane rhythmically.  Three taps, three taps, three taps to gain the attention of passing Berliners.  He is a cadaverous sentry with a shaved pate under an old soldier's cap, selling pencils from a canister strung about his neck.

I received this book from LibraryThing Early Reviewers -- thank you!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):    After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. 

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. 

And here's what I thought:   I really enjoyed this book and actually devoured in it a sitting (it was a Sunday morning, I had my coffee and a cinnamon roll, and I wound up just sitting and reading and reading ......  in all fairness, my husband was also mowing through his book).    I know the plot doesn't sound like this would be a thrilling, page-turner of a read ----- but I got really caught up in the characters, and in their stories, and I just kept reading because I wanted to know what was going to happen.

I liked how the author writes the characters; not only do we see their development through the book, but we see their interactions with each other, and how those interactions begin to drive the story.   At first, we just have Tom, who has been keeping the lighthouse, and the girl he meets and marries, Isabel.  Isabel is younger than Tom, and she's a good balance to his quiet, steadfast character.  That's not to say that she chafes against life on the island ---- but she's a bit more outspoken and high spirited than Tom.  They seem to have a good marriage, but when the boat washes ashore, and they decide to keep the baby as their own, cracks appear in their relationship.

At the same time we're spending a lot of the story with Tom and Isabel and the baby, other characters are introduced ..... and this is where the cracks in Tom and Isabel's marriage really start to become larger.   I don't want to have any spoilers here, so I can't say too much more ---- but suffice to say, their decision to keep the baby as raise her as their own seems like a good decision at first, but then some serious repercussions happen later.

As I said, I got caught up with these characters, and their lives.  I found myself wondering if I would have made the same decision as Isabel did, or what I would have done if I were Tom.   I thought about how it would be to live on an island, where you didn't see people from the mainland very often, and how that would impact your personal privacy.   I felt the author did a nice job of really developing the main characters, so that you understand their motivations --- and their emotions.   Needless to say, this is a somewhat emotional story, where the secrets kept for the best-meant intentions can cause a lot of fissures between people (and not just the two people in a marriage).   I did also like the setting, with the island and the lighthouse (and I learned a lot about what goes into the upkeep of a lighthouse, which was interesting).

First lines:  On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.  A single fat cloud sailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below.  Isabel sprinkled more water and patted down the soil around the rosemary bush she had just planted.

I received this book courtesy of LibraryThing Early Reviewers --- thank you!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  Budo is Max's imaginary friend. But though only Max can see him, he is real. He and the other imaginary friends watch over their children until the day comes that the child stops imagining them. And then they're gone. Budo has lasted a lot longer than most imaginary friends - four years - because Max needs him more. His parents argue about sending him to a special school. But Max is perfectly happy if everything is just kept the way it is, and nothing out of the ordinary happens. Unfortunately, something out of the ordinary is going to happen - and then he'll need Budo more than ever...

And here's what I thought:  When I first read a review of this book, I thought it sounded interesting; a story written from the perspective of an imaginary friend would be different, and it sounded a bit fun.   I had no idea that this book would make me smile, but it would also completely break my heart a couple of times when I was reading it.   After finishing this book, I wanted to find the author and hug him ... and then punch him on the arm for making me cry when I was reading.

As you can see from the summary above, the story is told from the perspective of Budo, the imaginary friend of a young boy named Max.  Budo's got an unusual and compelling viewpoint --- both on Max, and on the world around him.  We get to know Max through Budo's descriptions, and it quickly becomes clear that Max is somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum, so he's a little boy who has a few more challenges at school than other kids (especially when it comes to dealing with some of the other kids).   Budo knows that Max is different from other children that he observes at school, and he has some thoughtful comments not only on Max, but on Max's teachers and his parents.

Budo's observations can be a bit amusing at times, especially when he's commenting on Max's teachers, or some of the kids at school.  Because he doesn't sleep, he stays up after Max has gone to bed, and watches television with Max's parents (who, of course, are completely unaware of him), and he also sometimes goes out walking in the neighborhood.  He's pretty mature, and he's pretty smart ..... but he can't manifest as a physical presence --- and this is a big deal when something really bad happens to Max.  No, I'm not telling what that is, because it'd be a spoiler.

When Budo is placed in the position of having to try to save Max, he has to really be creative and think of what he can do, since he can't physically manifest.   He does know of other imaginary friends he can ask for help, like the ones at the Children's Hospital.   However, the other huge challenge that Budo faces is the possibility that when he saves Max, that Max might find at some point that he doesn't need Budo .... and Budo will disappear.

Matthew Dicks does a wonderful job of making Budo not only a sympathetic character, but also a character whose observations make you think.   I believe many of us had an invisible friend at some point when we were little, but how many of us remember them?  Or ever thought about what would happen to them when we didn't need them any more?   When Budo visits the children's hospital, and says how these children really need their imaginary friends (see the part below), I got completely choked up.   I found myself thinking about how for these kids, an imaginary friend would be the one who comforts them in the night, when no one else is around.   But I also got a lump in my throat when Budo talked about imaginary friends disappearing ---- "It's very strange to be an imaginary friend.  You can't suffocate and you can't get sick, and you can't fall and break your head, and you can't catch pneumonia.  The only thing that can kill you is a person not believing in you.  That happens more than all the suffocating and bumps and pneumonia combined."  (p 140).  The part in the story where one of Budo's other imaginary friends begins to disappear is heartbreaking.

This is an unusual story, and I never imagined that reading it would have the effect on me that it did.  I think the author does an outstanding job with both the storyline and the characters, and some of the observations made in this book really made me think about children, and being a child, and what life would be like if your existence depended on whether or not someone else believed in you.   

First lines:  I am lucky as imaginary friends go.   I have been alive for a lot longer than most.  I once knew an imaginary friend named Philippe.  He was the imaginary friend of one of Max's classmates in preschool.  He lasted less than a week.  One day he popped int the world, looking pretty human except for his lack of ears (lots of imaginary friends lack ears), and then a few days later, he was gone.

And more writing that I liked:  Some of the kids are pale and skinny and have no hair, and some wake up in the middle of the night crying softly so no one will hear them and worry about them.  Sick kids know that they are sick, and really sick kids know they are really sick, and all of them are scared.  So lots of them need imaginary friends to keep them company when their parents go home and they are left with the beeping machines and flashing lights.  (p 140 .... which takes place in a children's hospital)

Wordless Wednesday -- sea lion

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Back on track .....

Just a short post to say that I'll be posting on my regular Monday/Wednesday/Friday kind of schedule, beginning this week.    I spent several days this past week at Worldcon (which was awesome and a bit overwhelming at times), then admittedly spent some time indulging in some reading (just sitting for a while and reading, uninterrupted, feels so luxurious......).

Today, am rooting through my emails and my Reader ..... which is a bit overwhelming, but at least it means I can spend time listening to the Birthday Massacre CD I got from the library recently.

So, anyway, will be posting book reviews this week.   I hope everyone had a lovely long weekend.

It's all about perspective.  This poppet is only 2 inches tall...

Having a stretch ... and making a change

The other day, when I was taking photos at Woodlawn Cemetery, I started thinking about how I've really made cemetery photography into a bit of a hobby, and how many photos I've now accumulated as a result.

So, I'm stretching my creative muscles and am going to try something different ---- a photo blog.   This blog, Fluidity of Time, will stay as it is ---- but I'm not going to post cemetery photos on Wordless Wednesday.  I've begun a new Wordpress blog to focus on cemetery photography (and history):  Marble Towns.   I think separating this into it's own space will be interesting, and hopefully, other people will find the content interesting, as well.

Mausoleum angels 1

Monday, August 27, 2012

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven't been burned as witches since 1727, life isn't exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them?

Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women's lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth--whether it's about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children--to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, "How To Be a Woman" lays bare the reasons why female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.

And here's what I thought:  I thought this was an interesting book, although I had expected it to be more consistently funny.  Actually, sometimes it was thought-provoking and sometimes it was funny (sometimes, both at the same time).   Moran certainly doesn't shy away from frankly writing about things that might make some readers a bit squirmy, and I liked that.  The back of my book says "Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women's lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own...", and that's true.  What confused me at times was that, since this is a series of essays, that it doesn't proceed chronologically --- that is, sometimes she's referring to her childhood, and then jumping to something from the present time ... and I found I was sometimes trying to play catch-up.   However, she says some things in this book that did make me laugh out loud, and things where I was nodding my head in agreement (her section about bras is pretty funny, especially if you're like me and not an A-cup kind of girl).   She does say some frank things about feminism that I agree with --- and I think if you're not sure about what feminism today really is, or think that "feminism" is a dirty word (or applies to crunchy granola women from the 1960s who hate men), I think this is a must-read.  And actually, I think if you're female, this is a should-read, and even if you don't love every single thing she's writing about, I'm almost certain there's going to be parts you'll like, or at least, parts that will make you think (which is always a good thing, I believe).

Some of the writing I liked (since this is essays, a first line won't really do the trick): (p 69)  But on the plus side, I am not alone because - as with a million lonely girls and boys before - books, TV, and music are looking after me now.  I am being raised by witches, wolves, and unexpected guest stars on late-night chat shows.  All art is someone trying to tell you something, I realize.  There're thousands of people who want to talk to me, so long as I open their book or turn on their shows.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Libriomancer by Jim Hines

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg.  Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.
With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic. . . .

And here's what I thought:  So where do I start?  So many wonderful things to mention about this book --- like a totally awesome librarian who has magical powers .... and his fire-spider ..... and the dryad who shows up at his door ..... and did I mention the magic?  And did I say Isaac is a librarian?  Extra bonus points for that (speaking as a Librarian).  This book is a completely fun ride, where there are twists and turns, and dark tunnels, and every so often, you wish you could know what was coming (so you'd know how to react), but you hang on and love every minute.   Yeah, it's like that (and hopefully, that made sense).

I've read some of Jim Hines' books before, most notably his Stepsister Scheme books .... and I have to say, I think this is his best book yet.  Not only does he create interesting characters, but he spins a wonderful tale.    Think about the magical power he creates here: Libriomancers can reach into any book and pull out objects .... really awesome objects, like the healing potion in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, for example, or the "eat me" cakes from Alice in Wonderland. Personally, as a child, I was more fascinated with what Turkish Delight might be .... I had no idea and was always curious about it.  Isaac can also pull out magic weapons, which comes in handy when he's attacked at his library by some vampires.   And speaking of vampires .... imagine that some of the different types of vampires came out of their books (thinking of all the vampire-book-writing authors I know of, that's quite the variety).   Hines doesn't just give us a great story, but he also gives us wonderfully written, interesting, multi-dimensional characters.  Yes, characters --- the other characters, like Lena (the dryad), and even Smudge, have backgrounds, and dimension.   It's really refreshing, especially with a female character like Lena, who not only kicks ass, but is pretty unapologetic about it (and about who, and what, she really is).

Even if you don't think you're a fantasy book reader, I'd recommend this book if you're a reader -- because, really, there's so much here for book-lovers ..... and it's such a great story, too.   This is the first book in the  Magic Ex Libris series, and if the next one is anything as good as this one was, I'll be pre-ordering it for myself.

I also want to mention that Jim Hines is one of the nicest people I've met.  I had an opportunity to meet him at a convention, and he very nicely signed some of my library's copies of his books (and he didn't mind when I started getting a teensy bit fan-girl, either).   Check out his site if you'd like to learn more (and see his completely awesome takes on book cover poses)

First lines:  Some people would say it's a bad idea to bring a fire-spider into a public library.  Those people would probably be right, but it was better than leaving him alone in the house for nine hours straight.  The one time I tried, Smudge had expressed his displeasure by burning through the screen that covered his tank, burrowing into my laundry basket, and setting two weeks' worth of clothes ablaze.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ingo by Helen Dunmore

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  I wish I was away in Ingo, Far across the sea, Sailing over the deepest waters, Where love nor care can trouble me...

Sapphire's father mysteriously vanishes into the waves off the Cornwall coast where her family has always lived. She misses him terribly, and she longs to hear his spellbinding tales about the Mer, who live in the underwater kingdom of Ingo. Perhaps that is why she imagines herself being pulled like a magnet toward the sea. But when her brother, Conor, starts disappearing for hours on end, Sapphy starts to believe she might not be the only one who hears the call of the ocean.

And here's what I thought:  I had never heard of this book, or this series, until someone I work with lent me her copy --- and I'm glad she did, because this was a really good read.

There were a lot of elements here that I liked.  First, the writing pulled me in, so that I became wrapped up in the characters, and the two places (Sapphire's home, and Ingo).  The author has a way of giving the characters such true voices that I felt like I was experiencing the book through Sapphire, and not just reading about her doing things, and seeing things, and hearing things.   I also liked that the author took some of the familiar aspects of traditional mermaid lore, and gave them some fresh twists.  This story isn't just about Sapphire being drawn to things that are in the sea, but it's about her having to understand the difficult choices that she faces, as well as how she has to face the changes that have happened since her father vanished.   The author does a nice job with foreshadowing in the story, so that here and there, there are little hints of what is really happening --- but not so much that the story is predictable.  It's actually not completely predictable, which I liked.  The author also puts some sinister elements in the story, which I also liked --- the sea is fickle by nature, and can be dangerous, even when it's beautiful.

First lines:  You'll find the Mermaid of Zennor inside Zennor Church, if you know where to look.  She's carved from old, hard, dark wood.  The church is dark, too, so you have to bend down to see her clearly.  You can trace the shape of her tail with your finger.  Someone slashed across her with a knife a long time ago.  A sharp, angry knife.  I touched the slash mark very gently, so I wouldn't hurt the mermaid any more.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - steelroots

This was taken in 2010, at the Steelroots installation at the Morton Arboretum, in Illinois.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Random Magic live pinning event!

Sasha Soren, the author of one my favorite books, Random Magic, pointed me towards something quite fun that's been going on: A live pinning event on Pinterest, focused on Random Magic!  and yes, I meant to join in and post about this a few weeks ago

Pam from The Unconventional Librarian, is hosting it (please visit her blog for all the details), and there are already a large number of awesome pins.  And definitely check out the marvelous Board on Pinterest!

How cool is this?  I've been enjoying re-reading through the chapters and finding interesting little bits to pin --- it really makes the whole reading experience fun!   And if you're new to Random Magic, and want to see what it's all about:

Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

Summary (of the first book, His Majesty's Dragon): Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies . . . not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.
When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.
(courtesy of the author's site)
And here's what I thought:   I don't think I've ever posted a review of a series --- but I've been reading my way through these books, and enjoying every one of them, so I thought I'd just do a general sort of review, instead.
As you can see from the above summary, the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik combine the Napoleonic Wars with dragons.  Sounds crazy, yes?   That's what I thought when I picked up the first book.   I also expected I wouldn't really get into the story --- after all, I don't know much more than general history about the Napoleonic Wars, and I also don't read a lot of dragon books.   However, His Majesty's Dragon completely blew my mind.
What's really cool about these books, and this series, is that the author really knows her history, and also knows how to write compelling, engaging characters.  So, when you're reading, you're getting some actual details about what was going on in the various parts of the world during this time period, in addition to the fantastical details about adding in dragons and an Aerial Corps.  The really interesting thing, I think, is that Naomi Novik makes it all completely believable.   I can imagine the dragons, and the Aerial Corps, quite clearly.  The dragons are all of different breeds and sizes, and have different roles to play, but they all fit into the story in a way that makes complete sense.
One might argue that Temeraire is a bit unrealistic (after all, he does comes off in this first book as the bestest, most special, most awesome dragon ever) --- but as the series continues, his personality really develops, and he is revealed to have flaws, after all.   His relationship with Laurence (an interesting character unto himself) is really what drives the stories, even with the emphasis on the war, and the other challenges the two of them face.   And don't think that Laurence is merely a "handler," and that Temeraire is a sort of pet; this is a true relationship of comrades (of sorts, at least).
The series is up to seven books now, and I'm eagerly anticipating the next one, even though I have no idea when it will be published (*sigh*).   If you're curious about the series, there's a Wikipedia entry, or you can visit the author's site and read all about the books (and Naomi Novik).    Even if you don't think this is your kind of book, if you enjoy stories of friends having adventures, this might be a different kind of story for you that you might enjoy (and definitely check it out if you're a fan of alternate history or dragons).

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Showmen's Rest at Woodlawn Cemetery

Woodlawn-Showmen's Rest elephant 1 The heat wave has let up in my area, so I took advantage of the beautiful weekend weather and my husband and I went to Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park (IL) to take some photos.  I had read about the elephants marking the area known as Showmen's Rest, and I knew about the circus train wreck of 1918, but I had never visited the cemetery.   I'm sharing just a few photos, since I didn't post anything for WW this week.

The Hagenbeck-Wallace circus train was moving through Hammond, Indiana on June 22, 1918 when it was hit from behind by another train, which was pulling 20 cars.  Although the second train was moving at only 35 mph, it was a metal train --- and when it hit the circus train, it wrecked several of the wooden train cars, and a fire broke out (because kerosene lamps were used to light the circus cars at the time).   86 people were estimated to have died, and another 127 were injured. The actual number of people killed is truly an estimate -- the fire burned so hot that it was impossible to identify all of the bodies, or identify how many bodies there were.   A number of the grave markers had no name on them, and are marked as "Unknown Male No. 30," for example, because it was common back then for people to join up to help with the circus right before a performance, and not be recorded as circus employees.

I found it very touching that the Showmen's League had taken care of all of these victims, and the entire Showmen's Rest area is very nicely maintained.  You can read more about the wreck here on the Showmen's League site, and also at Wikipedia.   
Woodlawn-Unknown male 32 Woodlawn-4 horse driver

Friday, August 10, 2012

TGIF and Unexpected Books

Friday, already?  I don't know where this week went .....   but I'm looking forward to a lovely weekend, with lots of time for reading.

Ginger over at GReads has a great question for today's TGIF:  Which books did you have reservations about reading, but ended up loving once you did?

Thinking back to when I was a kid, I was hesitant about a few books that I wound up really enjoying ---

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.    At first, I just didn't get it --- too many puns, too many British things I didn't understand .... until I picked it up again a year or two later, and then loved it.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.   My aunt gave it to me and told me it was one of her favorite books growing up.  It didn't sound too appealing, so I admit  it sat on the shelf for months.  When I got around to reading it, I really enjoyed it --- and now, years later, had to replace my original copy because it was falling apart (literally -- pages falling out and everything) from being read so often.  

Recently, I picked up Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  I had been dragging my heels on this one, because I was afraid it would be boring ---- but I was hooked pretty quickly, and I really liked it!

I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else has to say (so I can put more books on my TBR list).  Happy Friday, everyone!!!

Monday, August 6, 2012

I believe the fluff and stuff has now been cleared from my head.....

Now that Summer Read* has finally finished up, and I have had some time to decompress, I feel like I'm back on track again.  So, this week will bring reviews, along with a special post about the Random Magic live pinning event on Pinterest (stay tuned), and I will be back on track.    I'm seriously thinking that next summer, if I'm as involved in Summer Read as I was this year, that I might take the summer off from blogging.  It's a long ways off now, but I'm thinking ahead......

* If you are a librarian, you are probably familiar with the amount of work that Summer Read can bring.   If you are not a librarian, you might know about Summer Read because you participate (of course you do!!!), but on the admin end of things, even for adults (which is my Summer Read), it's a lot of work ..... and then, when it's almost finished, a lot of statistics.....    and it is fun, and it's wonderful ..... but after I got home last Friday night, I treated myself to a big glass of wine in celebration of the last part of it.

poppet in milkweed fluff
in the midst of the energy-sapping fluff.....

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - angel

Druscz angel 3

from St. Adalbert Cemetery         Get more WW
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