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

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