Monday, March 03, 2014

books for a one year-old

Last weekend Russell and I attended a birthday party for a one year-old.  We brought two books for the birthday girl, The Adventures of Lowly Worm and What Do People Do All Day? both by Richard Scarry. Here's more or less what I wrote in the card:
I was so glad to see these two books on the birthday girl's wishlist because I would have bought them for her anyway. What Do People Do All Day? was the most popular book in the [maiden name] household for many a year and Lowly Worm taught the [maiden name] girls how to behave in polite society. My mom would often prompt my sister and/or I with "Would Lowly Worm say/do..." when we were learning to navigate through through the world.
I hope these books serve the birthday girl as well as our family's copies served my sister and I.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

February Reading Recap

Books Read in February

18. The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne - Netgalley
17. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin - Netgalley
16. Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon (see post) - public library via my mom
15. Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon - (see post) - public library via my mom
14. To Tempt a Viking by Michelle Willingham - Netgalley
13. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (audio) - public library
12. The Bat by Jo Nesbo - public library
- "A Story in Emerald" by Neil Gaiman (see post)
in New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, edited by Paula Guran - purchased
11. Fire by Kristin Cashore (audio) - public library

Monday, February 17, 2014

quotable Gabrielle Zevin

We read to know we're not alone.  We read because we are alone.  We read and we are not alone.  We are not alone. (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry)
I read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry from start to finish this afternoon/evening. The novel is scheduled for release on 1 April 2014.  I recommend it highly.
disclosure (because we can't have an endorsement without a disclosure statement): I received a review copy of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry from Algonquin Books via NetGalley. A review is forthcoming.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

"A Study in Emerald" by Neil Gaiman
and the Martin Wallace board game
of the same name

Neil Gaiman's "A Story in Emerald" is a particularly well-conceived mashup of Sherlock Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos, which was originally published in Shadows over Baker Street, edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. I first learned about it last April when Russell came across a Kickstarter campaign for a board game by Martin Wallace inspired by the story. We were sufficiently intrigued to back the campaign and I used Russell's June birthday as an excuse to buy a book in which the story appeared:  New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird.

Our copy of A Study in Emerald (the game) arrived at Chez Morsie sometime around Christmas, but we hadn't gotten around to playing it so when our friend Michael brought his copy to game night last week, I jumped at the chance to learn the game even though I hadn't read Gaiman's story yet. I read the story today.

The story is set in an alternate Victorian London that should seem pretty familiar to readers. The biggest difference between "A Study in Emerald"'s London and that of Doyle is that Victoria is one of the Great Old Ones, who have been ruling the planet for the past 700 years. Like Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet," "A Study in Emerald" introduces the consulting detective and his narrating companion. There is a murder with which Inspector Lestrade and his team need assistance. At the crime scene "RACHE" is spelled out in the victim's blood, though in this case the blood is green. While I am no expert on the Sherlock Holmes canon, it seemed to me that Gaiman admirably maintained the feel of Doyle's/Watson's writing (though this is helped along by the fact the story's introductory passages mirror that of "A Study in Scarlet"). I liked how Gaiman was able to introduce the backstory of the Great Old One's takeover without having it seem like a tangent. While I enjoyed "A Study in Emerald" as I was reading it, when I finished the story I was thrilled. I can't explain why without spoiling it (I even insisted that Russell must read it himself). There's more in "A Study in Emerald" for Sherlockians than there is for Lovecraft aficionados, but I'd recommend it to both (and especially to readers who appreciate both Doyle's and Lovecraft's worlds).

A Study in Emerald (the game) is built upon the political tensions described in Gaiman's story: the Great Old Ones rule the world, but there is a group of "restorationists" plotting to overthrow them. In the game, which plays 2-5, players are randomly and secretly assigned to either the Loyalist or Restorationist factions. Ours was a 4-player game and I was the token Restorationist; I did not win.

Interestingly enough, per Wallace's design notes, the inspiration for A Study in Emerald was not Gaiman's story but The World that Never Was by Alex Butterworth, a history of anarchism.
I felt that there was enough material her for a board game but was note sure about the reception it would receive. I had this feeling that some players might object to a game where your main occupation would be going around blowing up various world leaders. It just so happened that I had recently read "A Study in Emerald" which suggested a solution to my problem--turn the leaders into monsters, thus depriving them of any sympathy they may otherwise garner. (Design notes, A Study in Emerald rule book, 16)
Not to mention the added cache of both Gaiman and the Cthulhu mythos with gamers.  If nothing else, the "A Study in Emerald" overlay was marketing genius.  I don't tend to spend much time reading rule books (preferring to have games taught to me) and I would skip over design notes just as I usually skip over acknowledgments in the books that I read. I had Russell dig out our copy of the rule book when I started writing this post because I wanted to read Wallace's justification of his inclusion of zombies1 (and vampires) in the game when they don't appear in the story,2 and that's how I learned about the real inspiration for the game, which I found particularly interesting.
  1. For what it's worth I was holding my own against in the Loyalist faction until the zombies card was in play. When Dan, who had the zombies card in his card, managed to get his hands on a card that allowed his deck to cycle more quickly, I (and the Restorationist cause) was doomed.
  2. He justifies zombies because of a real life Dr. Frankenstein-type individual that appears in Butterworth. He has no good excuse for including vampires.

seasonal reading: Wintersmith
by Terry Pratchett

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
series: Tiffany Aching (3); Discworld (35)

With so many parts of the US having a particularly cold and/or snowy winter and Punxsutawney Phil predicting another 6 weeks of winter today on Groundhog Day1, Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith seems like the most appropriate of reading choices.

Wintersmith is the third book in Pratchett's Tiffany Aching Adventures (after Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky), which follows the coming-of-age adventures of a young witch (and her bumbling, not-quite-accidental helpmeets, the Nac Mac Feegle2) who lives within his Discworld world.

In Wintersmith, Tiffany inadvertently draws the attention of the titular character, who is the personification of the winter. The Wintersmith's attempts to woo Tiffany yield a long and preposterously harsh winter (with Tiffany-shaped snowflakes no less). Tiffany must find a way to subdue with Wintersmith while, unbeknownst to Tiffany, the Nac Mac Feegle train up a hero (who will be familiar to readers of the series) to rescue Spring from the underworld (that hero himself draws the parallel to Orpheus). More importantly (from the bildungsroman3 perspective at least), Tiffany must take responsibility for her role in attracting the Wintersmith.

I've mentioned before that the Tiffany Aching books were my primary reading matter during the recent family flu epidemic.  While I enjoyed the books (which came highly recommended by my father), I feel like I would have liked them better if I hadn't read them one right after the other.4 It just seems to be that my reading of the series would have benefited from enough of a gap that absolutely everything from the previous installment(s) was not so fresh in my mind.
  1. Groundhog Day (aka Candlemas): "On Candlemas the woodchuck is said to emerge from his hibernation in order to look for his shadow. If he sees it, he will return to his burrow for six more weeks. If he doesn't, he knows that spring will arrive soon. The belief is related to the association of Candlemas with the sowing of the crops, sunny weather foreboding harsh days and so poor planting" (The Folklore of American Holidays edited by Cohen and Coffin, 65).
  2. The titular characters of Wee Free Men.  Loveable rogues, the Nac Mac Feegle are like tiny, very clannish Scotsmen, who happen to be fairies (or pixies, I guess) and have the social structure of bees.  Their primary interests are drinking, brawling, and stealing.
  3. I suppose this should be bildungsbuchreihe (or something like that) since it's not a novel, but the overarching storyline of a series.
  4. Some series beg for binge reading, others do not.

January 2014 reading recap

Books Read in January

10. The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier (review forthcoming) - Netgalley
9. Graceling by Kristin Cashore (audio; see post) - public library
8. Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett (see post) - from my dad
7. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (see post) - from my mom
6. Courtney Crumrin: The Night Things by Ted Naifeh (see post) - purchased at independent comic book/gaming shop
5. The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston (audio; see post) - public library
4. A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett (see post on Wintersmith) - from my dad
3. Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (mentioned in this post; see also post on Wintersmith) - from my dad
2. Far From You by Tess Sharpe (double-review post with How Sweet It Is by Melissa Brayden forthcoming) - Netgalley
1. The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh (see post) - Netgalley

Saturday, February 01, 2014

mom-approved: Donna Leon

Yesterday I ran straight from work to the public library on an errand for my mom. Lately she's been stuck at home in pain with limited mobility because of a herniated disc in her back or something along those lines. Now, my mom is a voracious reader. Her favorite genres are historical fiction and mysteries, though like me she reads broadly across most fiction genres and appreciates the occasional nonfiction title when it relates to long-term or of-the-moment interests. However, right now she's only interested in reading books from one particular author: Donna Leon. Two of the Donna Leon books she requested from one of our library system's other branches had come in and I needed to collect them before the library closed at 6 pm.

She's working her way (possibly nonsequentially) through the books in Leon's Guido Brunetti series of mysteries set in Venice. So far there are 23 titles in the series:
  1. Death At La Fenice (1992)
  2. Death in a Strange Country (1993)
  3. The Anonymous Venetian aka Dressed for Death (1994)
  4. A Venetian Reckoning aka Death And Judgment (1995)
  5. Acqua Alta aka Death in High Water (1996)
  6. The Death of Faith aka Quietly in Their Sleep (1997)
  7. A Noble Radiance (1997)
  8. Fatal Remedies (1998)
  9. Friends in High Places (1999)
  10. A Sea of Troubles (2001)
  11. Willful Behavior (2002)
  12. Uniform Justice (2003)
  13. Doctored Evidence (2004)
  14. Blood from a Stone (2005)
  15. Through a Glass Darkly (2006)
  16. Suffer the Little Children (2007)
  17. The Girl of His Dreams (2008)
  18. About Face (2009)
  19. A Question of Belief (2010)
  20. Drawing Conclusions (2011)
  21. Beastly Things (2012)
  22. The Golden Egg (2013)
  23. By Its Cover (2014)
Leon has also published a stand-alone novel, The Jewels of Paradise (2012), which is also set in Venice.

I'm pretty sure that I have a copy of Acqua Alta kicking around here, in turn I am pretty sure that I got it from my mom and that she picked it up as vacation reading. When I figure out where I put the book (if indeed I am remembering this all correctly), I'll read it and see whether I find the series as exciting as my mom does.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
series: Seven Kingdoms (1)

I don't remember the last time I "read" an audiobook so quickly. I finished Graceling today, only four days after I checked it out from the library's e-audio repository. Between recovering from the flu and the heavy snow (read: time spent outside shoveling), I've had lots of opportunity to listen lately, but I have to admit that I also made time to listen. I was utterly charmed by Graceling and by its main characters Katsa (despite her decidedly unsympathetic special ability) and Po (and also by Bitterblue, a secondary character, who seems to be the protagonist of the series' third installment). I wanted to know what would happen to them, if they'd be able to overcome the obstacles they were facing, so I manufactured listening time.

My reluctant-reader sister is going to be receiving a copy of the audio version of Graceling for her birthday.

Cashore's second book, Fire, another installment of the Seven Kingdoms series, was available from the library's ebook repository so I checked it out in anticipation of my quick completion of Graceling. I started Fire shortly after finishing Graceling. I didn't get far (my second round of snow shoveling today ended up taking much less time than I expected), but I already know that I'm not going to enjoy it as much as Graceling. Fire is a prequel to Graceling and just from what little I've heard (again, I'm listening to the audio version), I can tell that it's going to involve one of the least palatable characters from Graceling. Now I'm trying to decide whether I should wait some time before continuing on with Fire or not.

a novel cure for the flu

I'd been ill for about a week before I was actually able to remember that I wanted to look up "flu" in The Novel Cure, which I received for my birthday (see post) when I was actually in the position to find the book. Even though I'd had the book since the end of September, I hadn't actually gone to it looking for a novel cure to anything before now.

In The Novel Cure, Elderkin and Berthoud suggest Agatha Christie, specifically Poirot, as a cure for the flu. They recommend The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Unfortunately I didn't have any Christie in the house and the public library didn't have any ebook or e-audio versions available to check out. I refuse to pay for ebooks so I was out of luck. Following Elderkin and Berthoud's logic, I decided that what I needed was an engrossing mystery.

source: my mom
(she picked it up at the take-a-book-leave-a-book shelf at a hotel)

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (published as Midnight Riot in the US)
series: Peter Grant (1)

A paranormal police procedural, Rivers of London takes place in a modern day London, in which the Metropolitan Police Service has a special, secret branch responsible for dealing with "the magic" when it poses a threat to the Queen's peace.  Probationary Constable Peter Grant (protagonist and first-person narrator) learns of the secret branch when he's assigned to assist Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale with a case.  That doesn't happen, though, until after Grant has interviewed an eyewitness to a murder who just happens to be a ghost. 

The primary storyline (serial murder) was a bit overcomplicated1 for my flu-addled brain, but I enjoyed Rivers of London nonetheless.  The secondary (titular) storyline was quite interesting and easy to follow.  I also appreciated the overarching story of the protagonist as he first discovers the world of magic and then becomes an apprentice wizard.

Aaronovitch does a great job of world-building.  There's the recognizable and well-described London from which he lifts the veil.  He gives readers just enough paranormal activity to indicate the extent to which magic permeates his world, but not enough to overwhelm them and/or the story.  British magic has an interesting backstory (Isaac Newton "codif[ied] its basic principles," 81) as I'm sure does Nightingale, to whom Grant becomes apprenticed.   Home base for the secret branch (The Folly) is also populated by an inexplicable character named Molly, who is indispensable to the functioning of the branch.

Peter Grant is an everyman character (mixed race, distractible, and decidedly average with the exception of an aptitude for magic).  He also has two love interests:  another probationary constable (who I assume will be a recurring character in the series as it goes forward) and a magical person he encounters in the course of his work on the titular storyline.

I read Rivers of London ravenously and I'm quite eager to read more of Peter Grant's adventures. There are three more books (so far) in the series, but it seems like only the second installment (Moon Over Soho)2 has been published in the US so far.3

A note on the cover art. I much prefer the art on Rivers of London (and the other British editions) to the art on Midnight Riot (and the other American editions). I felt that way even before scanning other reviews and coming across one that mentioned a concern about white-washing with regard to the American editions.4 The art of the British covers focuses on the city, while the art of the American cover focuses on the character (and with that character focus, obscuring the race is problematic). Additionally, the British editions are quirky, with little details (about the story and about London) hidden in the artwork. I love that.
  1. It's described thusly (from the perspective of PC Grant) on the Rivers of London page of the author's website: "there’s something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair. The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it’s falling to me to bring order out of chaos – or die trying" (The Folly/Books/Rivers of London).
  2. Thankfully they haven't changed the title of this one for the American audience.
  3. Though a quick search of the public library catalog informs me that I can also get #3, Whispers Under Ground, from the library even though my branch doesn't have a copy.
  4. Neth Space shows two different versions of both American editions' covers and discusses this issue, see Neth Space: Another White-washed Cover?.  I don't particularly either version of either of the American covers.  The British cover art is much more appealing to me on many different levels.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Courtney Crumrin: The Night Things
by Ted Naifeh

source: purchased
Courtney Crumrin: The Night Things by Ted Naifeh
series: Courtney Crumrin Special Edition (1)

I purchased The Night Things last year at a local independent comic book/game shop (Modern Myths in Mamaroneck, NY) to read myself and then possibly send along to one of my nieces or nephews as appropriate. While I was immediately drawn to the Courtney Crumrin books (it seems like each of these hardcover special editions collects four issues of the comic) as the covers showcase Naifeh's characteristic gloomy artwork and are nicely tactile, but I held out for quite a while before I actually handed over my money.

I decided to read The Night Things last night as I needed a break from my regularly-scheduled flu reading (Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching Adventures; I'm on the third installment now). I have to admit, though, that I was a bit underwhelmed by it.  When collected together the story seems disjointed in a way that it wouldn't when read in its original format.  And, I wished there was more character development specifically with regard to Courtney's relationship to Aloysius. I will, however, give The Night Things another chance since it's quite likely that I'll be less critical when I'm not feeling so poorly.