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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sealed Books - interlude

It's not often that I have the opportunity to purchase a sealed book. I picked this hardcover graphic novel up from the local comic shop, but haven't yet sat down to read it. When I came home one day, I found a note from Thor himself expressing his frustration.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Fur Person - May Sarton

The Fur Person follows the exploits of an "About Town Cat" as he tries to find the perfect family to settle in with.

It begins early in the kitten's life when he is adopted by a little boy, whom he finds amusing but doesn't care much for. He soon sets out to be an "About Town Cat" and live independently. After chasing female cats, living in the streets, and feeding from scraps, he decides that maybe it's time to find some Housekeepers. He tries a grocer first, but he doesn't seem to pay him much mind. He leaves the grocer with a lady. When he finds her too affectionate and rude, he escapes. With a little luck he finally manages to find the perfect home of two older women. They seem to understand his need to be free with affection only given with his permission. But that is where his journey is just beginning.

The cat in this novella is based on Sarton's experience with her own cat. The narrative is easy to read, and the cat's poems interspersed throughout the novella are delightful. Cat lovers will find themselves drawn in to the believable experiences of the cat as he searches for a home.

Recommended Reads:
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats - T. S. Eliot
Tail Chaser's Song - Tad Williams

Recommended listening:
Cats - Broadway Musical

Friday, April 26, 2013

Batwoman: Hydrology - W. Haden Blackman, J.H. Williams III

Batwoman: Hydrology is another stupendous graphic novel containing Batwoman as she seeks to hunt down La Llorona.

Like the legend, La Llorona has been abducting children. Because her presence brings paralysis, parents are unable to prevent their children's abduction and sometimes death. With the additional help of Flamebird, her cousin, Batwoman hopes to bring La Llorona to justice and bring the children back safely to their families.

But it's more than La Llorona that Batwoman has to beware of. Cops are looking to discover her identity and bring her vigilantism to an end. And while Kate tries to keep her identity secret by continuing her seeming haphazard habits, enemies are drawing nearer.

The plots in this series are amazing, but it wouldn't be nearly as effective if it weren't for the artwork. The paneling structure adds to the dynamic and stylized drawing throughout the book.

Other Books in the Series:
Batwoman: Elegy
Batwoman: To Drown the World
World's Finest

Recommended Reads:
Black and White - Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Mirrored Shard - Caitlin Kittredge

The Mirrored Shard by Caitlin Kittredge is the inconclusive finale of the Iron Codex trilogy.

Aoife Grayson had lived with her mother and brother, until her mother went crazy and her brother abandoned her. She had been enrolled in a boarding school and accelerating in her engineering classes. That was until puberty hit and she started to go crazy herself. She soon discovered her heritage and the key to her own personal power. Having been chased through the modern world of airships and even through the lands of the fae, she thought her life couldn't get any worse. But then the love of her life, Dean, died. Now she is determined to pass into the after life to bring him back to her. With a little help from friends and even a few enemies, she may just be able to fulfill her deepest wish.

There are a few complaints I have with the series that impaired my enjoyment of it. I never did get too attached to Dean's character, so the pairing with him and Aoife just seemed off. The final book is open-ended with the only conclusion being that Aoife has finally found it in her to take charge of her power and herself. That said, there are so many good things. I liked the steampunk world mixed with folk magic that Kittredge created. I enjoyed Aoife, Cal, Archie, and many other characters throughout the series. The interaction between most of the characters and the way events progress seemed natural to me. Overall, I enjoyed the series. I hope to see more works from Kittredge in the future.

Iron Codex series:
The Iron Thorn
The Nightmare Garden

Monday, April 22, 2013

Voyage to the Bunny Planet - Rosemary Wells

Voyage to the Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells contains 3 short stories in which three bunny children experience a particularly bad day.

When Claire gets overwhelmed by the mishaps, she visits the bunny planet, where she gets to pick the First Tomato of the season.

Poor Felix gets sick during art class, but he's able to retreat to the Island Light, where he spends the day in the lighthouse.

Dealing with his relatives is exhausting for Robert, so he takes a break to lay his head among Moss Pillows.

Each bunny child returns to reality with a better outlook on the day. These short stories help children learn that sometimes one has to disconnect from the outside world and find peace inwardly in order to deal with life. This was a favorite from my childhood and I hope many other children will enjoy it for years to come.

Recommended Reads:
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - Judith Viorst

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is philosophy told in the form of a novel.

While other characters are followed, the majority of the narrative follows what happens around Dagny Taggart, the Vice-President in Charge of Operations for Taggart Transcontinental. James, her brother, is the face of the company, while she is the brains of the operations. He is only willing to take credit for the successes and insistent on Dagny taking on any fault. Fortunately, Dagny is a confident woman who is willing to do with what needs to be done without worrying she will be thrown in front of the train. Throughout the novel, Dagny does her best to keep Taggart Transcontinental afloat despite the attempts of her brother and his executives making poor decisions. She has to fight against cowardice and social opinion in order to get done what needs to get done.

Dagny's childhood sweet heart is Francisco d'Anconia, the heir to an incredibly successful copper mining company. At first she admires him, until the day he begins living the life of a playboy and leaves her alone in her work.

Much later she makes the acquaintance of Hank Reardon, the creator of Reardon metal. At first his new metal is shunned, but it is soon proved to be stronger and more useful than anything available. Dagny finds herself attracted to his ethics of hard work and determination, which eventually lands her in a heap of trouble when they embark on an affair.

The government begins stepping into businesses, saying they want to provide an equal opportunity for everybody. Dagny was once surrounded by like-minded individuals in the high ranks of companies and corporations, but they begin disappearing. Not long after, she finds herself abandoned by her once loyal crews, leaving her along among "the looters".

Throughout the novel she is haunted by people asking "Who is John Galt?" The phrase seems to take on a feeling of hopelessness. Dagny adopts this name for her presumed doomed line and dubs it "The John Galt". Eventually, she will discover who John Galt is. For ill or good remains to be seen.

This tome intimidates many simply by its size. My copy ran 1069 pages of text in small font. It did take me a while to get through, but I was glad that I read it in its entirety. The main thing that bothered me was the unnatural dialogue in many places throughout the book. It felt like it would be better placed in a movie or play, rather than a book.

Rand's philosophy of objectivism shines throughout the novel, and it continues to influence people to this day and certainly for many years to come. It's an ideal of people doing their best and being awarded appropriately for their work. Many, however, view Rand's philosophy as simply selfishness. Regardless of how a person comes to view Rand and her philosophy, I hope people will continue to read this novel for perspective.

Recommended Reads:
Anthem - Ayn Rand
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Watership Down - Richard Adams

Richard Adams used to tell his children stories during drives both long and short to keep them occupied. The fantastic tale of Hazel, Fiver, and the rest of the rabbits began as one such tale, until it was finally put to paper and published as Watership Down.

Hazel and Fiver have safely lived in the same warren all of their life. When Fiver receives one of his feelings indicating that the warren is in danger, Hazel takes him to the chief rabbit to warn him. The chief rabbit fails to take Fiver's visions seriously, so the two decide to leave. Before leaving they manage to convince several others to join them, including Bigwig (a former officer of the Owsla) and many other regular rabbits.

The group travels many strange lands in search of finding a place to settle a new warren. They encounter many dangers and make unusual friends, like a mouse and a gull. They encounter the Cowslip warren, which they want to join at first, until a horrible secret is revealed by Fiver. They seek to rescue rabbits from a human's grasp. And they even attempt to make a truce with Efrafa in order to secure does to expand their own warren.

The culture of the rabbits is well-developed and includes a strong oral tradition. El-ahrairah, the trickster hero of many of the tales in the oral tradition, are used throughout to strengthen the group's resolve. Adams switches between English names and Lapine names when speaking of the rabbits. Words such as hrududu are onomatopoeias for motor vehicles, while others like silf for outside are brand new. Adams does a great job of keeping the vocabulary consistent. As an example, Frith is the name of the Sun God or Creator, while ni-Frith means noon.

This novel is a wonderful fantasy journey fraught with danger, adventure, and mystery.

Recommended Reading:
Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - Robert C. O'Brien

Recommended Viewing:
The Plague Dogs

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Ultimate Rice Cooker Book - Beth Hensperger

My comfort food is rice, so when I stumbled upon The Ultimate Rice Cooker Book by Beth Hensperger, I was stoked. This book contains 250 recipes that can be made in the rice cooker, including one pot meals, side dishes, and desserts.

It's not just rice you can cook up in the rice cooker, though. You can also cook quinoa, cous cous, beans, and other grains. I've tried several recipes and I've been satisfied with the results. My favorite was the recipe for dill rice!

Most of the recipes are made for 4-8 people, so I had to half or even quarter most of these recipes. Despite having to alter the recipes to a smaller size, all of the ones I tried cooked successfully.

Although the recipes in this book are delicious there are several problems with the book itself. Due to the fact that rice cookers vary greatly in their settings, the directions aren't always clear. The font throughout the book changes from orange to green/blue, making it difficult for some readers to utilize.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Patchwork Girl of Oz - L. Frank Baum

In 1900 L. Frank Baum published a standalone children's novel titled The Wizard of Oz. After the incredible reaction from children all over the United States, the Historian of Oz decided to continue the series. Their letters often inspired him with new ideas, plots, and characters to add to the fairy land of Oz. The popularity of the Oz series resulted in a gigantic franchise that boasts comics, books, novels, stage plays, musicals, radio broadcasts, television series, movies, and even video games. Even those who have never read any of Baum's original novels are most likely acquainted with Oz simply from references found all over the media.

Ojo the Unlucky lives alone with his Unc Nunkie in the woods. Unc decides maybe they should do some socializing with a nearby couple, Dr. Pipt and his wife Margolotte. Margolotte has requested that he create her a new servant, so Dr. Pipt creates The Patchwork Girl of Oz for that exact purpose. But something goes wrong during the process, which leaves Unc Nunkie and Margolotte as statues.

Ojo sets out with Scraps and Bungles, the glass cat, in search of the ingredients that will bring his beloved Unc Nunkie back to life. Through determination, friendship, and creativity, Ojo manages to gather the ingredients to save his Unc Nunkie. Being called "unlucky", he's unsurprised when he discovers that the laws of Oz forbid the creation of the potion. Somehow Ojo must find another way to save his Unc Nunkie.

Those who have read past books will be delighted to find that many characters make appearances, including Dorothy, the Shaggy Man, Princess Ozma, and many more. The interaction between Ojo, Scraps, and Bungles throughout the novel amused me. Each had a unique personality that added great flavor to the journey. Like all of his books, Baum gently inserts several lessons throughout the story for children to learn from much like traditional fairy tales. The fairy land of Oz is inspiring for both children and adults alike.

Many of the Oz books have had minor edits in favor of making them more politically correct or simply to avoid any possible controversy. In this particular book there is a short song that reads "Ah wants mah Lulu, mah coal-black Lulu; Ah wants mah loo-loo, loo-loo, loo-loo, Lu! Ah loves mah Lulu, mah coal-black Lulu, There ain't nobody else loves loo-loo, Lu!". In the newer editions it has been changed to "cross-eyed Lulu", instead.

Books in the Series:
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The Marvelous Land of Oz
Ozma of Oz

Friday, April 12, 2013

Magic Knight Rayearth 2 - CLAMP

I originally was introduced to Magic Knight Rayearth by CLAMP back in the days when anime was mainly only available if you were lucky enough to know somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who had a fansub VHS and was willing to make a copy for you. After watching the first 4 episodes, I was hooked. It took a while, but the tiny mall media store finally got some anime in and, lucky me, Magic Knight Rayearth happened to be one of them.

The story begins like many typical Shojo or "magical girl" series do. Three junior high school girls are magical and mysteriously transported to another world, where they are charged with saving the world and the princess. The television season and manga series vary in details, but the main plot remains the same. They discover that Princess Emeraude (some companies changed it to Emerald) has been captured by Lord Zagato and they must free her. Through many trials they manage to grow closer, get stronger, and gain more powers and skills. They eventually gain spirit companions who can turn into giant robots! The conclusion to the series is heartbreaking, as anybody who has seen it will tell you. They eventually return back to Tokyo, where they must manage to continue on with their daily lives.

Magic Knight Rayearth 2 Omnibus transports them back to the magical world of Cephiro. They discover that after the death of Princess Emeraude, the pillar of the world, Cephiro is falling apart. They must find the next pillar in order to keep the planet from destruction. If the crumbling land wasn't bad enough, three other countries are determined to invade and take over while the Cephiro is weak: Autozam, Fahren, and Chizeta. In the end they are able to save Cephiro, despite all of the opposition.

While there is resemblance between the second television season and second manga series in the major plot line, there are several minor plot lines, specifically concerning Hikaru, in the television series that are different. Because of the differences, I think they are all worth viewing.

Magic Knight Rayearth has remained close to my heart over the years for a variety of reasons. The nostalgia factor is there, but there are other reasons, as well. The characters each have their weaknesses, but by the end they've learned how to work through them. Despite the spats the main characters have with each other, they stick together and support each other. Cephiro is truly the land of the will and it's the determination of each of the characters that gets them through. And it's that lesson that continues to live in my life today.

Works in this Series:
Magic Knight Rayearth Omnibus I - Graphic Novel
Magic Knight Rayearth Season 1
Rayearth - The Movie

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hildegarde de Bingen - Regine Pernoud

Regine Pernoud originally wrote Hildegarde de Bingen in French in 1995. Translation is a tricky thing, and Paul Duggan does a fabulous job of keeping Pernoud's original voice in this biography.

Hildegard of Bingen was the 10th child of a couple a couple in Germany. It's said that even at a young age she was gifted with uncanny insight. Like many children born late into the family, she was sent to a convent. Here she thrived in learning to sing and read the Psalter, during long periods of prayer and worship. She later dedicated herself completely to the convent. Once she became an abbess, she became an outspoken critic of corruption and advocate for the poor and downtrodden. It seemed that she was fearless. Her letters chastising, priests, bishops, and even kings have been collected and translated for the world to see.

She wasn't just a social advocate, though. She was an amazing visionary who recorded her visions and even took the time to explain them. Her books include gorgeous illustrations she made herself to accompany the texts. This particular book contains several full color illustrations for the reader to consider. She was also an incredible composer who wrote gorgeous chants for her charges to sing. She was also one of the few at the time to put her observations of healing plants and herbs to paper.

This book is separated into chapters that focus on topics concerning Hildegard and her life, yet the narrative is chronological. The style flows easily between the authors narration and quotes from Hildegard's work. Thus far this is one of my favorite biographies on Hildegard. While not as detailed as some, Pernoud's excellent sense of pacing makes this an enjoyable and detailed read.

Works by this author:
Joan of Arc: By Herself and Witnesses

Recommended Reading:
Hildegard of Bingen: Book of Divine Works with Letters and Songs - Matthew Fox
The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen I

Recommended Listening (traditional):
Canticles of Ecstasy performed by Cologne Sequentia Ensemble for Medieval Music
The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen performed by Anonymous 4

Recommended Listening (modern):
Hildegard von Bingen by Garmarna
Vision: The Music of Hildegard von Bingen

Recommended Viewing:
Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen (2010)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Batman: Arkham Unhinged - Derek Fridolfs

Batman: Arkham Unhinged is a collection of graphic novels that were originally only available online that give some back story to the events that occur in Batman: Arkham City.

A resident doctor at Arkham Asylum decides that the cramped headquarters of Gotham is much too small to house the insane and criminally insane in Gotham. After Dr. Strange convinces the public and politicians of this, he gets a wall erected between Gotham and Arkham City. Now the criminals are creating gangs to terrorize the each other along with the poor unfortunates who managed to get caught behind the wall.

Wanting to save Selina from the dangers of Arkham City, Batman makes a surprise visit to steal her away. She's reluctant as it is, but when she becomes a victim of burglary herself, she refuses to leave. In "Inside Job", she takes on her alter ego Catwoman to take back what's hers. Unwilling to leave her behind, Batman temporarily cooperates with her in order to achieve her goal. It won't be easy to get her treasure back when they're up against Dr. Strange's goons and the every unpredictable Two-Face.

Commissioner Gordon reveals his "Observations" to Batman in order for the vigilante to strike back. Even after civilian injuries and fatalities, Dr. Strange seems untouchable. With a little help from some friends, Batman may be able to succeed.

Despite the fact that his Club has been fenced in Arkham City, Oswald Cobblepot is determined to continue his business. His clientele may have changed and supplies will be a bit harder to acquire, but the Penguin is no stranger to what it takes to get things done. Unfortunately for him, he's going to end up with some "Ruffled Feathers" when Joker decides he's a perfect target for his jokes.

"Surgeon's General" gives a bit of insight to what Dr. Strange was up to in Arkham Asylum. "Three's A Crowd" has Harley Quinn pitted up against the Joker's new best friend. And "Glacial Speed" reveals how Mr. Freeze is convinced join Dr. Strange.

After encountering a couple of one armed men, Batman decides it's time to check-in with headquarters. Fortunately for him Nightwing's childhood gives him an in on how these one-armed men came about in "Separation Anxiety".

Derek Fridolfs is the major writer in this collection. Other contributing writers include Paul Dini, Marly Halpern-Graser, Paul Crocker, and Sefton Hill. As always, there are many artists who participated in making this all come together. The drawings are stunning and the colorists did an incredible job with the colors and shading for these works.

Recommended Reads:
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Batman: Arkham City

Saturday, April 6, 2013

D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths - Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire

D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths is a reissue of the original book Norse Gods and Giants, which is contains retellings of the Norse myths with gorgeous illustrations.

This particular edition has a preface written by a reviewer looking back on his experience reading this book as a child. Some people don't like his Christian slanted view of it, but I found nothing objectionable in it, as he is writing about his own personal experience.

In their typical fashion, Ingri and Edgar bring these amazing myths to life with detailed colored illustrations and creative storytelling. The book begins by telling about the creation of the world, the origins of the giants, gods, and the creation of humans. After this it moves on giving a page long summary of each of the major characters, including Odin, Thor, Freya, Loki, and many others. It then continues on to tell many other stories about the Aesir and their encounters with giants, dwarves, and other creatures. Some of my favorites in this particular collection were the story of Sif's lost golden hair, Loki's odd creation of Sleipnir, and Thor and Loki's journey into Jotunheim.

While the stories remain true to the originals found in the Norse Eddas, they are toned down for younger readers in certain spots. For example, it does tell the story of Fenris being chained up and how in the process he bites of Tyr's hand, but it's not detailed in nature. It even details Ragnarok near the end. It does, however, tell the redeeming portion in which All-Father, who the authors chose to use "God Almighty", redeems the world.

Rich in detail with both words and pictures, children will love these retellings of classic myths.

Other books by these authors:
Book of Greek Myths
Childen of the Northlights
Leif the Lucky

Recommended Reading:
Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

Like many people I originally read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte in High School for one of my English classes. I remember enjoying it due to the unlikable characters, but I remembered very little of the actual story, so I decided to read it again.

The story is sometimes hard to follow as events are not told in chronological order. The story begins with Mr. Lockwood, a tenant, visiting the estate of his landlord. So appalled at the behavior of his landlord, he decides to ask the servant Nelly how things came to be this way. He records her story through his journal where the readers receive the information.

The basic premise of the story is several generations of characters who experience various traumatic events in their lives, each of them handling it poorly and passing this poor behavior down to the next. Some characters are easy to feel pity for, like Heathcliff who gets physically and emotionally abused throughout the story. While others, like Catherine, are much more difficult to sympathize with since they have a good life and are rebelling for its own sake.

The drama that unfolds as the characters grow more sick and twisted is agonizing. While sometimes I despised the characters, there are other times where I pitied them. More often for their own self-inflicted pain than their actual circumstances.

When I originally read this for class we did some detailed analysis. I remembered some of it as I was reading, but I really enjoyed just reading the novel without having to focus on those elements. I was glad to have reread this classic.

Recommended Reading:
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Silas Marner by George Eliot