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Killing Your Sacred Cows since 1992
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31st-Jul-2014 10:10 am - What I've been reading
kitty, reading
"Erasure" by Percival Everett. In this book, an African-American writer (Thelonius "Monk" Ellison) is best known for his intellectual novels inspired by ancient Roman myth but ends up penning a parody of ghetto fiction that becomes a huge commercial and literary success, much to his disgust. He juggles his instant fame with several things going horribly wrong in his family life. I could relate to the protagonist because I know how the publishing industry does tend to try to shoehorn books into categories and how frustrating it can be to see how your work is received. You can send something out into the world that you've poured your heart into, only to see it ignored, while some other inferior work is lavished with praise. I think Everett pulled off a really tricky thing by including the entire text of his parody novel inside the larger novel here. I really liked this novel all around and want to read more by Everett.

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"Homer & Langley" by E.L. Doctorow. This book is a fictionalized novel based only very loosely on the real-life eccentric hoarders, the Collyer brothers. Doctorow plays with the details of their lives and has they living through parts of history they didn't really live through, but it's more a commentary on social change through the 19th century than it is about the Collyer brothers. You really are pulled along by the narrative of Homer, the blind brother, because not a lot happens in the book in the sense of a traditional plotline. Recommended to lovers of literary fiction but not necessarily the best example of a fictionalized treatment of the Collyer brothers. (Joyce Carol Oates, a famous author of literary novels herself, reviewed the book and has some great insights.)

My full comments on both books here.
21st-Jul-2014 10:36 am - What I've been reading
kitty, reading
"The Green Flash and Other Tales of Horror, Suspense, and Fantasy," collected short stories by Joan Aiken. Aiken's short stories were influential on me when I was a budding preteen and teenager writer, and I was really happy to re-read this collection out loud with my husband. Aiken is the daughter of famous poet Conrad Aiken and it's evident that she grew up in a literary family from her vocabulary, word choices and ability to create a visual in just a few strokes. Characters are often stumbling across some charming cottage in the woods, and something wonderful or something terrible and gruesome might happen - you just don't know until the final paragraph. I especially enjoyed "Sonata for Harp and Bicycle," the title story and "Smell." Recommended to anyone who enjoys eclectic short story collections with beautiful writing.

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"Use What You Have Decorating" by Lauri Ward. The biggest positive in this book is that her approach is frugal and eco-friendly. She encourages you to redecorate not by throwing everything out and buying a ton of new stuff but by carefully considering what pieces you already have and how they may be arranged or combined to better effect. As evidenced by the section on lighting, where she doesn't mention LED at all and talks about how expensive CFLs are, the book is a little dated. However, overall, I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who wants to redecorate on a budget. The author's website has brief video "tips" for those who want a preview of what her recommendations are like.

My full comments on both books here.
30th-Jun-2014 09:13 am - What I've been reading
kitty, reading
"Artemis Fowl" by Eoin Colfer, as an audiobook. This book won't change your life but it's highly entertaining. Artemis Fowl is a preadolescent super-genius criminal mastermind who has designs of restoring his family's fortune through contact with the fairy folk. I like the unique society and mythology the author sets up for magical creature, even if this leads to some juvenile humor in the book. I liked the book and the audiobook reader is excellent.

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"The Best of All Possible Worlds" by Karen Lord. I read her first novel, "Redemption in Indigo," a year or two ago, and while I liked it, I had expected a novel influenced by African folktales, and instead, it really was a novel-length folk tale, told in the traditional style. "Best of All Possible Worlds" is actually much more up my alley - a (mostly) hard science fiction tale with some folk tales woven through it. It's told from the viewpoint of Grace Delarua, a science officer who is helping an anthropological survey for the "Sadiri," a branch of evolved humans with psi abilities, whose population has nearly been wiped out in a disaster.  I enjoyed this very much and recommend it highly.

My full comments on both books here.
12th-Jun-2014 02:03 pm - What I've been reading
kitty, reading
"The Hum and the Shiver" by Alex Bledsoe, on audiobook. The book is set in Tennessee and tells of the Tufa people, mysterious brown skinned and dark haired people of an unidentifiable ethnic background, with their own very old culture. One of their young women, Bronwyn, comes back from war a hero, though I physically broken one. She comes home for comfort and healing only to find that ill omens suggest that her mother might be about to die. Meanwhile, a part-Tufa newspaper reporter from the next town tries to get an exclusive with Bronwyn and learns more about his Tufa heritage, a new Methodist minister in the next town becomes fascinated with the Tufa generally and Bronwyn specifically and Bronwyn's old boyfriend Duane is up to no good. I love the Bronwyn character, but I also related to the small-town reporter since I was a reporter and editor for a weekly in a small town for five and a half years. Loved this book, highly recommended. I'm looking forward to checking out the next in the series.

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"Skinny Legs and All" by Tom Robbins. It follows the adventures of five inanimate objects - a spoon, a bean can, a dirty purple sock, a conch shell and a painted stick - and several humans, primarily newlyweds Ellen Cherry Charles and Boomer Petaway. Ellen is an aspiring artist who takes her welder husband Boomer with her to New York, only to have him turn into the star of the art world while she ends up waitressing. It also follows the lives of Ellen's employers, a Jew and an Arab who open up a Middle Eastern restaurant across from the UN as a statement about peace in the Middle East. One touch I loved that is quintessentially Robbins-ish: Ellen's Jewish boss, Spike, is a foot and shoe fetishist and it's his fetishes that inspire him to work toward peace. The novel does feel a bit stuck in the 80s but it mostly stands the test of time. Highly recommended if you like a book that makes you think AND makes you laugh.

My full comments on both books here.
2nd-Jun-2014 12:55 pm - What I've been reading
kitty, reading
"Catching Fire," the second in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I liked this book even better than the first and continue to be impressed by the series. I loved the movie (which I watched first) but again found the book to be so much richer, with more pages dedicated to Katniss' internal struggles and a bit more information about other districts. I'm really enjoying the audiobook reader (Carolyn McCormick of Law & Order fame) as well. Recommended!

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"Codex Born," the second in the Magic Ex Libris series by Jim Hines. I really liked the first in the series, "Libriomancer," from the premise of doing magic with books to the setting in my home state of Michigan. The second in the book is a great romp as well. My only complaint is that the cast of characters grows so big that it's hard to keep track of all of them and to care very deeply about all of them. The most fun thing about these books, to me, is waiting to see what wacky way Isaac is going to use a book to save the day, and this book fully delivers.  I continue to enjoy the heck out of this series!

My full comments on both books here.
22nd-May-2014 03:15 pm - What I've been reading
kitty, reading
"An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President" by Randall Robinson. The most valuable thing about this book is that about 90 percent of the material regarding the events of February through March 2004 are based on the author's personal eye-witness or interviews Robinson did with firsthand eyewitnesses to the departure of President Aristide from his country. Robinson does give some of the history of Haiti, helping to put Aristide's departure in context. I recommend it as a really riveting non-fiction read - Robinson is a master at building tension, even though you mostly know what's going to happen - but not as a comprehensive or objective history of the nation.

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"The Delikon" by H.M. Hoover. This is a YA novel I read when I was about 13, and as an adult, I was curious to see if I'd enjoy these as much as I did back then. The novel is about a race called the Delikon who come to earth to - in their minds - save humans from war & savagery. They divide the world into sectors that they police rigidly, sending elite human children for training in an academy, later to become the elite ruling class of the outer sectors. Delikon teachers of these pupils are transformed from their natural state to one nearly human. Varina, one of these human-looking Delikon teachers, must shepherd her last two pupils through a terrifying time when humans are rising up and trying to overthrown the Delikon's control. I had some criticisms, but the beauty of the language and the simple but compelling plot would make me recommend it to a teenager lover of sci-fi.


My full comments on both books here.
25th-Apr-2014 09:35 am - What I've been reading
kitty, reading
"Permanence" by Karl Schroeder. I really enjoyed this space romp. My only little criticism is that it starts out entirely from Rue Cassels viewpoint and abruptly changes viewpoint to Michael Bequith about 100 pages in. I wasn't expecting it and it was a little jarring. On the small scale, the story is about Rue and her attempts to get away from her controlling half-brother and to find her place in the world. On the macro scale, it's about competing philosophies about how to keep a large, far-flung group of human colonies in touch with and trading with one another, and what makes us human. Highly recommended.

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"For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf" by Ntozake Shange, the first book of poetry I've read since I started logging my books on LiveJournal in 2006. She calls it a "Choreo-poem" because it includes stage directions for having 7 women dancers perform the poems. I was mildly put off by the slang she used in the introduction to the piece. However, I loved the series of poems as a whole and would love to see this performed live. I liked some sections better than others, but as a whole, it's just amazing. Also highly recommended.

My full comments on both books here.
23rd-Apr-2014 09:02 am - What I've been reading
kitty, reading
"No Name in the Streets," non-fiction, by James Baldwin. I was blown away at the very first page and had to go back and re-read passages or read them out loud to J. because the language is just so freaking amazing, like a long, breathless prose poem in many areas. He talks about his childhood growing up in Harlem, his view of the great civil rights leaders and personal interactions with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others, how he tried to escape American racism by going to France, only to be faced with their maltreatment of Algerians in France. It's also interesting that, if things had worked out differently, Billy Dee Williams might have been Malcolm X on the screen. Though covering the 50s and 60s and published in the early 70s, the book is still highly relevant, and I am adding it to my permanent library because I know I will want to read it again.

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"The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. I was skeptical about this series because I'm always skeptical of things that I think are "over-hyped." I saw the first movie, and decided that I was going to skip the books and just watch the movies. But J. started listening to the series as audiobooks and said I'd like them, so I gave them a chance and I'm really glad I did. The books are so much better and richer than the movie. I really like that you get so much more background information and clues about people's motivations via the first-person narration. Totally not over-hyped at all.

My full comments on both books here.
10th-Apr-2014 10:48 am - What I've been reading
kitty, reading
"I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith through an Atheist's Eyes" by Hemant Mehta. Amazon description: "Mehta is “the eBay atheist,” the nonbeliever who auctioned off the opportunity for the winning bidder to send him to church. The auction winner was Jim Henderson, a former pastor and author of Evangelism Without Additives. Since then, Mehta has visited a variety of church services–posting his insightful critiques on the Internet and spawning a positive, ongoing dialogue between atheists and believers." My husband picked this up and read it and enjoyed it and it intrigued me, too. It's an easy and interesting read, and I cruised through it in 3 days. I find that most books about atheism are "preaching to the choir," so to speak, but in this case, I think it's genuinely of interest to both sides. I wish more churches and more atheists were willing to engage in dialogue rather than acrimonious debate. Highly recommended!

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"Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer's Craft" by Natalie Goldberg. Out of all the books about the craft of writing, Goldberg's have consistently been the most useful and relevant to me. Her books "Wild Mind" and "Writing Down the Bones" are fantastic for beginners and for people who have been writing for a while but need extra inspiration. "Thunder and Lightning," while it does contain some ideas for beginners, seems to be aimed more at people a little further down the road in their careers. She discusses the craft of writing, how to "shape" a piece, what books to read and how to read them to make you a better writer, how to get past being stuck, and more, all in short essays. Recommended for anyone who likes Goldberg's earlier stuff or for established writers who might need inspiration or a different viewpoint.

My full comments on both books here.
2nd-Apr-2014 09:36 am - What I've been reading
kitty, reading
"The Narrative of John Tanner," the 1956 edition. I'd read about Tanner in "Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country" by Louise Erdrich earlier this year and was really intrigued. Tanner was a white child kidnapped by Native Americans when he was 9 or 10 (accounts vary) in the 1790s and grew up with them, becoming a sort of honorary Ojibwe. The actual "as told to" narrative section is pretty fascinating, and was extra-interesting to me since it's largely set in Michigan. The supplementary material in the second half is interesting, but I'd skip most of the horribly condescending and patronizing commentary by the white man who recorded it. I really liked this and would recommend it to others interested in this part of American history.

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"Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" by Susanna Clarke. In hardback, it's over 800 pages, and it was slightly over 1,000 pages as a paperback, and yet it never felt like a slog. In fact, when I got to the final 50 pages, I *still* didn't want it to be over. There's something about a very long novel, if done right, that really sucks me in and makes me feel like I'm living in another world, and that was the case here, in this story set during the Napoleonic Wars. It's about two English magicians who meet, work together but soon have a falling out, and how the events they set into motion bring real, practical magic (rather than theoretical magic, or history of magic) back to England. If you've heard this book hyped and thought it must be over-hyped... it's not. It's really that good. Highly recommended.

My full comments on both books here.
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