Sunday, March 1, 2015

#DWJMarch: Welcome!

Welcome to Diana Wynne Jones March!  If you missed the kick-off post, head over and read all about the theme and recommended books.

Also, I'll be sending out The Islands of Chaldea to Iris, Time of the Ghost to Jean, and The Spellcoats to Amy (rockinlibrarian). Look for an email so that I can get your addresses.

Some of the books/stories on my reading list for the month (though I'll probably read more than this) are

Aunt Maria
The Islands of Chaldea
The Spellcoats
Time of the Ghost
The Pinhoe Egg
"Dragon Reserve: Home Eight"

Remember, our first read-along is Aunt Maria, with posts going up on 3/9 and a discussion on 3/13. But I think I'm going to start with Time of the Ghost because I've been meaning to reread it for a couple of years now. What are you reading first?

Getting the party started,

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It's Time! Announcing #DWJMarch 2015 (+ Giveaways!)

Only ten days until DWJ March begins, my friends! This is the fourth year of our bittersweet celebration so, to keep things fresh, I've decided on a theme for this year. It came to mind when I was recently reading a post by Ana about The Pinhoe Egg. The theme I've chosen is

The Ladies and Lasses of DWJ

This month, I want you to think about the women and girls (and even female creatures) you encounter in your reading, both the good ones and the baddies. Which ones do you love? Which ones do you loathe? Is there a thread that links female characters together between books? Is there a certain type of character that is your favorite?

Feel free to share your thoughts in any format you like. I'll have a link-up post at the beginning of the month for any posts, giveaways, artwork, etc. that you would like to share with the other participants. And remember to use the hashtag #dwjmarch on Twitter and tumblr. Speaking of, I'll also be posting again this year on the dwjmarch tumblr.

My recommendations for DWJ books featuring both good and bad female characters:
Howl's Moving Castle
House of Many Ways
Witch Week
The Pinhoe Egg
Fire and Hemlock
Aunt Maria
Time of the Ghost
The Game
Earwig and the Witch
"Dragon Reserve, Home Eight" (short story)

Tying in with the theme, I've chosen three read-alongs with strong female characters, one a joint read with the #sffwomen reading group!

Aunt Maria (a.k.a. Black Maria), discussion post up here on 3/9, Twitter chat on 3/13
The Islands of Chaldea, discussion post up here on 3/17, Twitter chat on 3/21
The Spellcoats, discussion post up at Here There Be Books on 3/25, Twitter chat on 3/29

Keep an eye on the #dwjmarch and #sffwomen hashtags for chat times. And, yes, Spellcoats is the third in the Dalemark series but it is first in story chronology for the series and Diana said you can read the first three books in any order you like, just keeping the fourth book for last.

Finally, I went around to my local bookstores and found some books for giveaways! The Islands of Chaldea and The Spellcoats are for the read-alongs and The Time of the Ghost is a great read for this month's theme. All are used but in very good condition. I am willing to send them anywhere so just let me know in the comments which one(s) you are interested in. I'll choose winners and send them out on the 28th so that you hopefully receive them in time to read during the month! (Be sure and leave me a way to contact you.)

I hope that everyone is looking forward to this year's event! Let me know in the comments section what you think of the theme and which books you think you might read.

Hanging up the streamers,

Sunday, February 15, 2015

New Release: Silver Screen Fiend

I have a stack of books here to review but last night I started and finished Patton Oswalt's short second memoir Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life From an Addiction to Film and I couldn't fall asleep because I was thinking about my own connection to film. So, I thought that I should get this post out of my system and then go back to the other books.

Patton's story is about how, for four years, he overdid it a bit (understatement!) by seeing hundreds of movies, sometimes going to the theater almost every night as he also kept up his routine of comedy performances and also began to break into film and television. He also talks about some of the history of the comedy scenes in various locales throughout the late '80s and the '90s, but the part that really resonated with me was the way he found, lost, and found himself again through film. In the back of the book, he lists all of the movies that he saw in those years and, though he has upwards of 750 movies on the list, out of curiosity I counted up how many of them I had seen and I easily passed 200. It blew my mind to think that I had seen so many more movies even than that. Which then led to me thinking about what role movies have played in my life.

When I was in kindergarten, our family of two adults and four kids moved to California into a two-bedroom apartment. We lived there for four years (and one more kid) and, as you can probably guess, looked for lots of ways to get out of the house. Whether it was going to the local movie theater on summer mornings for their family-friendly discount movies or piling into our Chevy Nova and heading to the drive-in for a double feature, the movies were an escape, a source of joy, and a time of bonding (except for Star Trek II:The Wrath of Khan ... that just gave me a fear of bugs crawling into my ears). Then my grandma started taping movies off of cable and we ended up with a home VHS collection in the hundreds. We watched movies ALL of the time, discovering new films and re-watching old favorites dozens of times. After I finished high school, I got a job at a music and video store (Music Plus forever!) and started another journey into film as I watched almost every new release that came through the store. Through my college years, our cheapest entertainment option was the local Blockbuster (where we actually ran out of films that we wanted to see) and then, after college when we moved to Washington, I worked at another music and video store for a while. Around that time I also finally discovered Turner Classic Movies and a whole other journey through classic film started (with The Thin Man and Laura and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir). I haven't seen as many films as Patton and I still have a lot of back catalog films that I would like to eventually see but, just like him, I have shifted to have more of a balance between film and other pursuits (some of which has come thanks to this blog and the rest thanks to having a kid). Many films now bring back vivid memories of the time I watched them (Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the drive-in, Empire Records twice in one night in my tiny college bedroom) and the feelings and thoughts they inspired. I wasn't watching them for technical reasons like Patton (who wanted to become a director) but I noticed the same things, the same moments, when a single line, a single look stole the show. I can't imagine having grown up any other way, with all of these moments building me into who I am today.

So, now that I've spilled my guts, tell me, are you a movie addict? Do you have an all-time favorite?

In 1.85:1,

Monday, February 9, 2015

New Release: Things Half in Shadow

Things Half in Shadow is a roller coaster ride of a story, taking the reader through both high and low society in Philadelphia in 1869. Alan Finn has brought together spiritualism and showmanship, mediums and P.T. Barnum, in a tale of murder and suspense. Edward Clark, a young crime reporter, orphan, and Civil War veteran with a well-heeled fiancĂ©e, is dragged into the world of spiritualism through his job. He is asked to do a series of articles that debunk the various mediums operating in the city. The first one he goes after, Lucy Collins, turns out to be the wrong thread to pull, one that threatens to unravel his entire life.

Though the start of this story was a little shaky, it quickly picked up pace and ended up barreling through all sorts of crazy situations, one after another. Though the story went well into the realm of the unbelievable, it was of the best sort, the kind that makes for a very entertaining read. I believe this is first in a series and I'll be interested to see where it goes from here. (There are no cliffhangers or anything like that. This book works perfectly well as a standalone.)

The back of the book says "Alan Finn is the pen name of an acclaimed author of mysteries and thrillers". Well, unable to resist any mystery, I did a bit of Googling and and came across this fascinating article. It's worth a read if you've ever wondered why an established author might change their name mid-career.

Listening for bees,

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black

If you're a fan of freak shows or mad scientists, or even just a fan of unique and detailed art, The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth might be for you! I don't usually post book trailers but this one perfectly introduces Dr. Spencer Black, his life's work and, well, his madness.

This book is gorgeous and creepy. The story itself is heartbreaking. The first half is a biography, supported with letters, journal entries and drawings. The second half is The Codex Extinct Animalia, Black's own work detailing the species that he believes came before and between humans, the ones that one could catch glimpses of in the freak shows of the late 1800s. This is a unique book that horror aficionados will definitely want on their shelves.
Closing the cover on the stuff of nightmares,

p.s. Quirk Books was kind enough to provide me with a copy of this book for review.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Just a No-Nonsense Series Plug

I never quite know what to do for the blog when I'm further along in a series. Sometimes I write a nice big recap post of the whole series but today I've decided just to mention the two series books that I've read this year in case anyone is somehow unaware that these books and series exist. I wouldn't want anyone to miss something good!

If you have been reading here for any amount of time, you know that one of my all-time favorite series is Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series. The latest book, number seven, is As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust and it came out in January. It's a bit of a change in the series as it takes place at a boarding school. This one definitely didn't disappoint as we saw some growth in Flavia, had a compelling mystery with some creepy characters, and also enjoyed a refreshing change from the regular Buckshaw setting though, just like Flavia, I also missed Dogger and Gladys. But it was also nice to have some new peer interactions and to get Flavia out of the lab for a while. Now I have to wait another year for book eight ...

White Corridor is the fifth book in the Peculiar Crimes Unit Mysteries, also known as the Bryant and May Mysteries, by Christopher Fowler. This was a pretty dark entry in the series so, while I enjoyed it, it is not my favorite of the bunch. Plus, the detectives were in a situation that brought both my claustrophobia and my hatred of being cold into play and made me pretty uncomfortable. Luckily, there are twelve books in this series so I'm guessing when I pick up the next one, it will probably be something completely different.

Enjoying one after another,

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Wrap-Up: The Sci-Fi Experience

Sadly it's time to wrap-up The 2015 Sci-Fi Experience. My thanks once again to Carl for hosting this event!

I ended up reading twelve Doctor Who short stories, a couple of stories from The Time Traveler's Almanac, and, because those stories included Connie Willis' Fire Watch, I also had to reread To Say Nothing of the Dog. It was the first of her Oxford time travel stories that I read a couple of years ago and, I have to say, that it was much easier to follow this time through now that I (mostly) understand how the time travel mechanism and rules work. I also reaffirmed that it's still one of my favorite stories. It made me almost want to get a bulldog!

Now I guess it's time to get through some non-genre reads before DWJ March and the Once Upon a Time challenge. But, for later, do you have any recommendations for Harry Turtledove or Kage Baker reads? I enjoyed the stories from each of them in the anthology.

In my standard time and place again,

Monday, January 26, 2015

New Release: The Year of Reading Dangerously

Remember how I did so well posting in December? I sure thought it would last, that I had my blogging mojo back, but then the winter blues set in and, every time I opened the laptop, I found I didn't have it in me to write anything just then. Luckily, today was a glorious day in Seattle and I've felt happy and productive all day. Therefore, I'm taking this chance to start playing catch-up with reviews.

The first book I read this year was The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller. It got me started on my goal to read more non-fiction this year and it also helped to remind me why I choose some of the books that I do and how I should go about choosing what I read in the future.

The premise of Miller's book is that he had pretty much stopped reading much and/or anything of quality and so, for self-improvement and a change of habit, he made a list (originally thirteen books) of books that he had always wanted to read and that he thought he should read ... because, in a lot of cases, he had already told people that he had read them. This book follows his journey through those books and also delves into his thoughts on reading, Dan Brown, book clubs, and more.
"However, what I really got from reading was this: it was the one thing at which I truly excelled."
I loved the parts of this book that told how Andy developed his love of reading as a child and the stories of the times he met Douglas Adams. I enjoyed hearing about how he finally fit reading back into his life after he became a parent. I also found it useful when he explained his process of how to chose which books to read. I've only read 9 1/2 (stupid Moby Dick) of his list of fifty books and only intend on reading 4 or 5 others but he doesn't advocate that everyone read the exact same books he did. He thinks (as I do) that a list like this is personal. You don't have to read books that are uninteresting or distasteful. Instead, read the books that you have always meant to get to, the ones that will fill in the gaps in your own web of literature.

The second appendix of this book is a list called The Hundred Books Which Influenced Me Most. I love this idea and am planning on assembling such a list of my own. If I ever get it done, I think it will make it obvious which books I should place on the next list -- Books I Still Intend to Read. I've tried in the past to co-opt other lists (e.g. 1001 Books to Read Before You Die) but I start feeling guilty as I mark books as "will never read" because they are simply ones I have zero interest in. To make my own list, one that changes as I change and as I read more and more throughout life (and as more lovely books are written, of course), seems far superior to giving in to the tastes of others.

Also reading dangerously,

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