31 March 2008

Hide and Seek with Neil Gaiman.

Wheres Neil? The Official site of Fragile Things, a book by Neil Gaiman offers a fun time-killer: find Neil, win a download from Fragile Things. I love this guy's writing, and am listening to Anansi Boys in the car lately.

28 March 2008

His Dark Materials trilogy reviewed

I was first made aware of Pullman's series by a friend of mine, C, who is a teacher and was concerned because the book might be pulled from her school's library. Well, if so it would be in good company I suppose - banned books are frequently good reads. (YMMV) When I heard that Pullman's book was being challenged due to it being anti-religious, I decided to read it myself. My son is interested in this book too, and I like to pre-read what he wants to read when I can.

The book does take an anti-religious tone, but I didn't see the cause for offense for any religious people today. The anti-religious sentiment in the book is analogous to the anti-empire sentiment in Star Wars; it moves the plot along, but I find it doubtful that young readers would become inspired by the book to overthrow religious institutions by it. After all, no empires were toppled by any Luke wannabes after the Star Wars series was released in the 70s, and it had a far greater audience.

What did bother me was the portrayal of parents in the series; anyone who had the misfortune to be a parent was either evil, cowardly, ineffectual, or a victim. The childless adults were more interesting. That seems like rather a flat portrayal of adulthood and parenting.

Otherwise, the children heroes are lively, have credible motivations and are a delight to read about. Lyra is a heroic girl of the 'spunky princess' variety. Will as the protagonist serves as the wounded rescuer in the midst of his grieving. Will offers a subtle philosophical distinction for readers to ponder, at a level that most children (and even a few adults) would understand -

"But there's my mother. I've got to go back and look after her. I just left her with Mrs. Cooper, and it's not fair on either of them."

"But it's not fair on you to have to do that."

"No," he said, "But that's a different sort of not fair. That's just like an earthquake or a rainstorm. It might not be fair, but no one's to blame. But if I just leave my mother with an old lady who isn't very well herself, then that's a different kind of not fair. That would be wrong."

Children struggle daily to determine what is right and what is wrong in a world that offers contradictory and confusing definitions of rightness. Will's definition of fairness is careful yet implacable: to be committed to being good is to do the right thing, even when wrong things abound and the situation isn't fair. That's a true and complex concept, and it is well explained in the book, in the quote above from The Amber Spyglass and throughout the series in the main character's actions. but

BenchPhillip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy includes The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; and The Amber Spyglass. Overall, I'd recommend the series, recognizing that a child reader will need some guidance in understanding the concepts discussed in the book.

27 March 2008

An unhappy childhood is no excuse for being evil

I checked Justin Evan's A Good and Happy Child out from my local library as the book had my name on it. Really, it did - across the aisle I saw "EVA" stickered on the spine along with the Dewey Decimal number, so I decided to take a look. The cover engaged me immediately with its Hieronymus Bosch-like artwork. The story itself needed no fancy wrapper to keep my attention though; I read it as often as I could, squeezing in reading time between chores and work in order to finish as soon as I could. (In fact, this book never even made it into a my Bookmark Parking area on my blog.) Justin Evans writes on his website:
Unless you’re braver than I am, you’ll be at least a little spooked to read the raw material that inspired A GOOD AND HAPPY CHILD.

I quite agree. The book starts off innocently enough, seeming to me a blend of bildungsroman or coming of age story through the plot device of an adult re-examining his childhood as part of a psychological counseling process. Unexpectedly, this reminded me of Judy Blume's pre-teen novel Tiger Eyes, wherein the protagonist has to reconcile grief, hero-worship and the reality of a father's humanity in the midst of their own life changes. The similarity ends with that though; once the child's innocence in confronting death is firmly established, the plot takes a supernatural/psychiatric turn for the weird and wild.

The story follows two tracks: in present-time, the adult is seeking to resolve marital and parenting issues that are fracturing his carefully constructed life following the birth of his son. In his journals, a second story unfolds revealing the traumatic events of his childhood, which if not repressed, have been put so far out of his everyday thinking as to be nearly unremembered. The present-time story is heartrending, as the reader goes through the pain and powerlessness the protagonist feels in trying to face and master his issues. The journaled story line is horrific, and kept me guessing as to what was truth and what was symptomatic of a psychiatric issue, or what mix of the two was involved.

Threaded through the storyline is George's epistemological difficulty, as an adult and as a child, in sorting through his sensory impressions and the views of the people around him as to what is the truth and what is the nature of the world in which he lives. Any child must at some point reconcile different, and sometimes competing views from authority figures offering explanation of How The World Works. The child George takes this to a terribly difficult level, though, trying to recognize his mother's sensibilities with those of his father (as represented by his father's friends). The adult George must similarly painfully struggle with his psychiatrist's views in opposition to the evidence of his senses and his memories.

Enjoy this book at your own risk; and read Justin Evan's website... unless you are not as brave as I, and can't bear to be spooked.

13 March 2008

Canine foster parenting 102

We are fostering again, this time wonderful largish beagle who presently goes by the name Dewey. Dewey was found as a stray in the vicinity of Whiteland, Indiana and was brought into the Indianapolis Humane Society earlier in the month - he's listed as a found dog. He is 1 year old, skinny as all heck and is so uncertain of his place in the world. With the exception of having found himself a place on our couch, that is. He's the first hound I've ever met who had to be encouraged to eat. (FYI, he's all current on shots, is microchipped, and is getting along well with kids and other dogs.)

If you know of someone interested in providing a forever home for Dewey, let me know!

02 March 2008

Go to the dogs

Our family will be walking in the Mutt Strut at the Indianapolis Speedway to help raise money to care for animals through the humane Society of Indianapolis. We have been fostering dogs for the Humane Society of Indianapolis and are happy to help to get dogs into their forever homes. We also adopted two Beagles from HSI, who are fun and friendly as can be.

Click the button shown below to access our donation page. Thanks in advance!

01 March 2008

The Story Falls Away

I decided to read The Rest Falls Away based on a blogger friend's recommendation, as that usually doesn't steer me wrong. However it worked out not so well this time. I usually don't review a book that I don't enjoy as it seems to prolong the misery of reading it; I really just want to put the book behind me and get on with another better story. However, I'll take a few moments to point out some of the glaring problems that bothered me in this book -

First, I had some credibility problems - a few moments that broke my trust in the author's narrative

1) The young female protagonist refers to a "loose ribbon in her dress" when speaking to her dancing partner. The novel is set during uber-prudish Victorian England; even if the heroine is anomolously unprudish, still she would be aware of social niceties and expectations and would not refer to such a racy matter as the state of one's dress in mixed company. Heck, this was an era when people could get all flushed and bothered talking about a well-turned table leg, for cry-eye-eye.

2) At one point, the heroine introduces a male companion with whom she is found to her developing love interest as "my cousin." Again, this shows a certain anachronism; in Victorian times, certain classes of people married cousin to cousin at regular intervals. So, introducing a suspiciously close male friend as a cousin would not diffuse matters, it would exacerbate them.

Next, I had a problem with the realism of an event -

3) In the same evening, the heroine is attacked by a vampire and bitten on the neck. There are four puncture wounds, we are told, and she has lost enough blood to be weak from blood loss. However, she manages to cover the wound 'with a strategically placed lock of hair' and make her way out of the building with her injury undetected. Most teenagers, even with today's modern conveniences of hair gel and hour long toilette, can't even hide a hickey. It stretches the credulity to think that this heroine could perform this feat. I found the vampire slaying more credible. Would it not have been less risky to simply have the heroine button up her cloak to hide the wound?

Last, an Ace is discarded uselessly -

4) there is a build up in the first chapters about the heroine's upcoming vis bulla ceremony. What is it? How does it work? Yet, when the moment arrives, it is drastically underplayed and lame - it falls very flat and the heroine, Victoria, reflects no surprise or feeling at all regarding the event. Compare the vis bulla ceremony with, for example, Phaedre receiving her marque in Kushiel's Dart. (I previously reviewed Carey's series very briefly.) Phaedre revels in the physical sensations involved, she is savoring the experience. Victoria, on the other hand, blandly reports the event as though it were happening to someone else, and seems to feel it not at all.

On a positive note, this author's website is pretty cool. I did like one character, the protagonist's Aunt, though I thought she was underdeveloped.

And in the end, that's how I felt about Victoria; I felt she was bland, and I felt for her story not at all. I'm sad; I really wanted to like this story, but couldn't.