Sunday, February 28, 2010

"When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton."

Just in the nick of time, I've finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the Lord of the Rings Read-Along.  I had a bit of trouble getting going with it this past week but then I finally settled back in to Middle Earth and found my way with the fellowship.

This is, I believe, my third reading of this book and I enjoyed it just as much this time as the others.  Each time, different feelings are emphasized and I think that this time it was a definite sense of melancholy.  At this point of my life, I must be mourning my own loss of innocence and youth because my mind focused on these parts of the book especially.

Another thing I really noticed was the narrator's voice.  This book reads like an oral narrative.  The sentences are brief and simple even as the tension of the story escalates.  And each character had a very clear voice as well.  Strangely, the only voice from the film that I really incorporated into the book was Sean Astin as Sam Gamgee.  Some of the others came and went but Astin's tentative but belligerent voice always came through as the voice of Frodo Baggins' best companion.

I'm not going to summarize this story because it's easy enough to find out what this book is about if you still somehow don't know anything about it.  It is set in a fantasy world but it is really a story of the hearts and minds of men (and hobbits, elves and dwarves).  I'm more excited now about moving on to The Two Towers next month!

Traveling south with all of the courage I can muster,

Support our site and buy The Fellowship of the Ring on Amazon or find it at your local library. We own our own copy of this book.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of February 21

Well, the Olympics are winding down and spring is starting up.  We saw some pink blossoms this afternoon which was quite surprising for February!  I won't complain though ... until July when we are roasting because we don't have air conditioning.

Penguin has been going all out with imaginative book covers recently and their six covers by tattoo artists are fascinating. (via EW's Shelf Life)

Nintendo is releasing a larger-screened version of its handheld gaming machine that will have e-books software.  It will have 4 inch double screens so it will have more of a two-page feel.  (via Jacket Copy)

Not satisfied with last week's Penguin postcards as decor?  This week, try Chronicle Books' Pictorial Webster's Wall Cards.  I think they would be great in a nursery.

At Curious Pages, read a wonderful little interview about an author's experience working with stellar illustrator Edward Gorey.

Oceanhouse Media has taken two Seuss classics and turned them into iPhone e-book apps.  (via Online Publicist)

Apartment Therapy comes through for us this week with five tips on How To Care For Your Books.  They're common sense ideas but good for a refresher.

Need to know some of the bizarre ways authors have died?  There's a list for that.  Be sure and check out the comments for more entries.  (via Algonquin Books Blog)

And finally, a cute video from Penguin about choosing the proper font ... I wish it was longer!

Hoping for a quiet weekend,

Friday, February 26, 2010

Hello Japan! Challenge: On the Big Screen

For this month's Hello Japan! Challenge (hosted by Tanabata at In Spring it is the Dawn), we have been tasked with watching Japanese film.  Though I could have tried something completely new (and I definitely plan to in the future), it's a stressful month for me so I decided to just revisit many of my favorite films from Studio Ghibli and to finally watch the one that I haven't gotten to yet.

Founded by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in 1985, Studio Ghibli is one of the most famous feature-length Japanese animation studios.  Primarily with the backing of Disney/Pixar and John Lasseter, all but two of Studio Ghibli's films have been translated and released in the U.S. -- including everything by Hayao Miyazaki, a true master.  The U.S. releases almost all have celebrity voices but have been kept as true to the originals as possible.  Many of our DVDs can also be watched in the original Japanese.

Of the thirteen currently available films, we own eight of them and plan to buy Ponyo as soon as it is released next month.  The only film that I haven't watched at least once yet is Grave of the Fireflies.  So here is the list of Studio Ghibli films and the date that I watched (or re-watched) each film.  I watched them all in chronological order for the first time ever.

9 February - Castle in the Sky (1986 - directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
A young girl, Sheeta, escapes from government captors only to be pursued by pirates.  With the help of a young boy, Pazu, and an eventual alliance with the warm-hearted pirates, she discovers her unusual and unique heritage and returns to her ancestral home of Laputa, the castle in the sky.  There she must protect the world from the unscrupulous plotting of the mysterious Musca -- who plans to use Laputa's tremendous power for his own gain.  This is one Z and I watch regularly.  Some kids might find parts of it boring but there are some fun chase scenes and some awesome robots.

11 February - My Neighbor Totoro (1988 - directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
After moving to be closer to the hospital that their mother is staying in, Satsuki and Mei explore their new country home and the massive and magical camphor tree nearby.  One day, Mei happens upon Totoro -- the giant spirit of the forest.  Because of their respect and innocence, Totoro helps them more than once to navigate the difficult times they are going through.  If DVDs could wear out, we would probably need a new copy of this one.  Again, some children may find it boring if they are only used to American animation.  Z has been watching it since he was a baby so he loves it.

13 February - Grave of the Fireflies (1988 - directed by Isao Takahata)
A bleak and heartbreaking tale set near the end of World War II in Japan.  Seita and Setsuko have lost their mother in an air raid, their father is in the Navy and their only known relative treats them badly.  This forces these youngsters to try and fend for themselves as best as they can.  The film is based on an autobiography.  This was the first time I watched this one.  It is definitely not for children or sensitive adults as the subject matter and what happens to the children is very grim.

14 February - Kiki's Delivery Service (1989 - directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
Kiki, a thirteen year old witch, has reached the age where she must set out and find her own path.  She settles in the seaside city of Koriko and quickly finds herself with a temporary home and a delivery service.  It is then up to her to find her destiny.  The film is based on a novel by Eiko Kadono.  This is a favorite of ours.  It's a perfect family film but, again, might seem slow to some children.

15 February - Porco Rosso (1992 - directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
An Italian fighter pilot turned bounty hunter is also a man turned pig.  Somehow cursed (it's not really explained), Marco has become known as Porco Rosso, the Crimson Pig.  He fights pirates for a living until things turn personal and an American pilot damages his plane.  Marco must get his plane rebuilt and also his sense of self.  He is helped by a sixteen year old mechanical genius who also happens to be a girl.  I like this one but the rest of the family isn't overly fond of it.  It has a bit of fist fighting and airplane fights.

16 February - Pom Poko (1994 - directed by Isao Takahata)
This story of raccoons fighting against the destruction of their forest is set in the real-life Tama Hills outside of Tokyo.  The clearing of land for the development project of New Tama has already driven the foxes out and the raccoons must use their traditional powers of transformation to try and scare away the humans.  This was my second time watching this one.  It might not be appropriate for younger children even though the American version has been a bit sanitized.

18 February - Whisper of the Heart -- (1995 - directed by Yoshifumi Kondo -- screenplay and storyboards by Hayao Miyazaki)
A chance encounter with a mysterious cat on a train begins this simple story of a young teen, Shizuku, who is starting to think about what she wants to do with her life besides read and daydream.  She is also finding love for the first time and all of the emotions that come with it.  This is appropriate for all ages but kids will probably be bored by it.

20 February - Princess Mononoke (1997 - directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
A teenage prince saves his village from attack by a demon.  He is injured in the attack and must leave his village forever to find out what enraged the boar so much that he turned into a demon.  Ashitaka soon arrives in Iron Town and finds that they are cutting down the forest to get to the minerals in the ground.  They also plan on killing the forest spirit so Ashitaka joins Princess Mononoke, a human adopted by wolves, to save the forest and to find a way for the humans and forest to co-exist.  This is not a family film as it is heavy on the violence and blood and becomes quite scary at times.

22 February - My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999 - directed by Isao Takahata)
This slice-of-life film follows the Yamadas through random events in their lives with short vignettes.  The simple animation leaves the focus on this modern Japanese family and their ups and downs.  Between the antics of an ornery grandmother, a scatterbrained mother, a traditional father and a teen boy and young girl, we see many facets of everyday Japanese city life.  There isn't anything really objectionable in the film but it will probably bore most children.  This was the first time I watched the entire film through.

23 February - Spirited Away (2001 - directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
A ten year old girl, Chihiro, and her parents get sidetracked on their way to their new home and find a mysterious place where the parents are turned into pigs.  Chihiro must work to free them and to regain her name at a magical place -- a bathhouse for spirits. She is helped by Haku, a dragon who is being held against his will because he has lost his true identity.  This has a bit of blood and some intense situations and so is probably best for older children.  Z watches it and likes it but we talk about some of the things that happen so that they aren't scary.

23 February - The Cat Returns (2002 - directed by Hiroyuki Morita)
A sequel of sorts to Whisper of the Heart, this story features Haru, a girl who saves a cat from being hit by a truck.  The cat turns out to be Prince of the Cats and their grand reward for her is to transform her into a cat and have her marry the Prince.  Though Haru has a rough life as a human, she doesn't want to be a cat and so she asks for help at The Cat Bureau from The Baron, a unique jewel-eyed cat character, and his friend Muta -- the cat that Shizuku follows on the train in Whisper of the Heart.  This is an innocent and fun film -- great for all ages -- and should have enough action to entertain most kids.

24 February - Howl's Moving Castle (2004 - directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
Sophie, a quiet young hat maker, is saved one day from lecherous soldiers by a mysterious man.  Unfortunately, it's the infamous Wizard Howl and the Witch of the Waste, his worst enemy and also his greatest admirer, is jealous.  So that night, the witch goes to Sophie's business and puts a curse on her and she ages prematurely and becomes an old woman.  Because she can't be seen by her family, she leaves and ends up hitching a ride on the moving castle of none other than Howl himself.  She becomes the self-appointed cleaning lady and learns many things about this mysterious man and the world of magic.  This movie has some intense scenes but is fun for most children.  It might be my favorite and if you haven't read the novel by Diana Wynne Jones on which it is loosely based, you're missing out!

The final U.S. released film is Ponyo (2008 - directed by Hayao Miyazaki) and we have it on pre-order.  It will be released on DVD on 2 March.  We watched it in the theatre and can't wait to see it again.

Whew!  This turned out to be a much bigger task than I thought it would be!  Most animated films are around ninety minutes but Studio Ghibli films tend toward two hours long.  Since I've probably spent over twenty hours watching these films this month, I'm going to just give you a few bullet points on what to expect from these films.

  • They are almost all about children but they are not necessarily for children.
  • All of these films use traditional, hand-drawn animation.  Though the quality improves somewhat through the years, it is relatively consistent.  You will definitely recognize a Miyazaki film.
  • Main characters and "good guys" tend to be drawn more realistically with villains and, strangely, the elderly being drawn in more exaggerated ways.
  • Few of the films focus on romantic love.  Much more common are innocent "first loves", very strong friendships and familial love.
  • Other common themes are nature and the environment, magic, flight, animals and education.
  • Almost all of the films feature strong female characters -- whatever their ages.
  • Most of all, these films all give a view of the world that is different than the American one.  Eight of the films give various views of Japanese life.

Though time-consuming, this has been a wonderful project and I really appreciate Studio Ghibli more now that I have watched all of these films together.  I don't love them all and, in fact, there are some that I probably won't ever watch again, but they all have value for one reason or another.  And it was a different experience to watch some of our favorites and really focus on the fact that they are Japanese films.  A big thank you to Tanabata for this experience!

And a few notes ....
Screenshots and links in this post are courtesy of the fabulous Ghibli-centric site, Online Ghibli.  They have comprehensive information on every film and would be a great resource if you want to choose a film to try out.  There's also a brand new Ghibli blog by GalleryNucleus that features fan art and news.  And, finally, if you are in Japan, don't miss the Ghibli Museum!

Expanding our world view through international film,
K and Z

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Me, Today, Twenty Questions

Today we answer twenty bookish questions for Rebecca over at Lost in Books.  Check it out and find out, among other things, if I use a dictionary when I read and what my essential reading accessories are!

The star of someone else's show today,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Book List Meme: Books That Should Be Made Into Movies

Having spent most of this month watching films for a challenge, some based on books, this feels especially pertinent.  Today we're coming up with Three Books That Should Be Made Into Movies ...

  1. Un Lun Dun by China Miéville - I've already said before that this would be a perfect film for Hayao Miyazaki to make.  It has the fantasy and girl power elements that he does so well.
  2. The Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters - A few years ago, Jodie Foster bought the film rights to the books but it doesn't seem that anything ever became of that.
  3. The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox - This would be a great neo-Victorian film thought I would be worried about it being turned into too actiony of a film.
And one that I wish they would remake and actually follow the plot of the book is Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.

Willing to watch the movie but not promising to love it,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Reading Slump

The reading/blogging slump seems to be going through our community right now and it's made it to We Be Reading.  I'll admit that it's more than slightly due to the Olympics.  I am watching about eighty percent of the sports and it is taking up almost all of my reading time.  I always love the Olympics (as you may remember from the Summer Olympics a couple of years ago when I disappeared for a week or so) but they are extra fascinating this year as we are somewhat familiar with Vancouver and have even stayed in the Pan Pacific hotel where the press is staying during the games.  It's exciting to see and I wish we could have gotten it together enough to go up there!

Also, I went a bit overboard for my participation in the Hello Japan! film challenge -- as you will see when I post about it in a couple of days.  I think my time spent on this challenge will total about twenty hours!  That doesn't leave much time for reading.

Finally, I am just not feeling excited about most of my books right now.  Maybe I need to just forget challenges and review books for a week or two and spend some time with beloved favorites.  I've been craving an Alice in Wonderland re-read lately with the SyFy Channel miniseries and the new film coming out.

Now back to men's aerials,

Monday, February 22, 2010

New Release: A California Bestiary

If you have a nature-loving reader on your gift list, you might consider buying the small but fascinating A California Bestiary, written by Rebecca Solnit and illustrated by muralist Mona Caron.  In conjunction with the Oakland Zoo and their renewed attempts to highlight native species, this book was inspired by medieval bestiaries and works to bring the magic and majesty back to our view of California's species, both thriving and endangered.  This book highlights one dozen fascinating animals including the California condor, the Elephant seal and the Monarch butterfly.  Sadly, it also presents one animal that has already been driven to extinction -- the California grizzly, the animal on the state flag and state seal.

The first thing I noticed about this book was that the illustrations are detailed but don't feel "scientific".  They aren't the illustrations of Audubon but instead have a slightly more fictional feel.  The outlines are dark, the colors are brilliant and the backgrounds are simple.  And yet I definitely feel that I would recognize these animals in the wild.

The text also has a more informal feel -- more like a journalistic essay than a stodgy paper.  There are facts (presented in sentence form, not bullet-pointed lists) but also first-person anecdotes that really make this a fun read.  My degree is in zoology so I've definitely read my share of dull animal papers!  And even I learned some fascinating new animal facts from this book and have a greater appreciation for these creatures of my birth state.

This book will release in April.

Hoping we find room to live together,

Support our site and buy A California Bestiary on Amazon or find it at your local library. We viewed an electronic galley copy.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Club Read: The Girl With Glass Feet

The second read for the Not The TV Book Group was chosen by Simon of Savidge Reads and is The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw.  I don't know of a better book to promote discussion so this was a great choice.  The book club is meeting today here.

This is the story of the magical and terrible St. Hauda's Land -- where a mythical creature turns other animals white with a glance, tiny moth-winged cattle buzz in a secret pen and Ida Maclaird is slowly turning to glass from the toes up.  But just as prevalent as the impossible are the all too possible failings of the residents of the island.  Midas Crook is one of the most flawed -- unable to view the world except through the lens of a camera, crippled by the memory of his dead father and afraid to be touched.  And yet something magical happens between Ida and Midas and they try their hardest to come together despite everything.

This was a very thought-provoking book.  Midas and Ida were both sympathetic and yet maddening at the same time.  The magical and real are placed side-by-side in this novel in a way that is both comforting and unsettling.  This is a novel of contradictions -- about heredity and about change -- and I'm sure I will be thinking about it for a long time to come.

Feeling the warmth through the hard chill,

Support our site and buy The Girl with Glass Feet on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed a copy from the library.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of February 14

A week into the Olympics and I'm starting to feel exhausted!  I'm not used to this amount of vicarious participation.  Congratulations to all of the fine athletes who have even made it to this elite level of competition.

First we have the truth about expiration dates from Slate.  Apparently they aren't the gospel truth.  (via Oxford University Press Blog)

Apartment Therapy has awesome book nerd design ideas based off of Penguin Classic Postcards.  The postcards will be released in October but you can pre-order them from Amazon now -- 100 cards for $16.50.  Or, if you hate your books, you can take paperback book covers and make postcards out of them.  That makes me a little ill.  But what I really don't understand is why they are praising book wallpaper.  Why would you want to pretend you have stacks of books when you can have real stacks of books?

Techland gives us permission to make fun of Twilight fans that think that Stephenie Meyer invented werewolves and vampires with a misguided fan rant sent to  Don't miss the hilarious comment threads on LR!

Bondi Beach featured the world's largest bookcase in honor of the 30th anniversary of the IKEA Billy Bookshelf. (via RobAroundBooks)

If you haven't seen these art project Jules Verne covers by Jim Tierney yet, you're missing out!  They're all over the place and they definitely deserve to be.  (via Nonsuch Book)

And how could I not give you a picture of volcano lightning?  This is the Sakurajima volcano in southern Japan. (via io9)

Back to the snow and ice on the telly,

Friday, February 19, 2010

New Release: Shades of Grey

I held out as long as I could, trying to always have one more Jasper Fforde left to read, but as the rave reviews started being posted, I had to crack open Shades of Grey.  I loved it!

Told from the point of view of Eddie Russett, a Red, we are introduced to Chromatacia -- a world (possibly the future of our world) where vision has been changed to the point where individuals only see certain colors or sometimes none at all.  What color you see -- and how much of it -- determines your course in life.  Purples are the leaders and Greys are the manual laborers.  Everyone else falls somewhere in between.

Life in this world is based on a very restrictive set of rules and variance is not tolerated.  When Eddie plays a practical joke on another young man, he and his father are sent on a fool's errand to the fringe town of East Carmine where the rules are not so iron-clad and things that already seemed strange are even stranger than they seem.  Armed only with his natural born color-seeing skill and his spoon, Eddie sets out to do something that is forbidden -- ask questions and learn the truth.

This summary only scratches the surface of this fantastic dystopian comedy.  As with other Fforde novels, wordplay is important and this book will definitely require a re-read for me to catch more of his brilliant details.  The book was a bit confusing at the start because the world operates in such a strange way but it didn't take too long to adjust to.  Eddie is a wonderful character -- a thinker and a non-believer who is learning both the danger and the blessings of knowledge.  I can't wait to continue with his story through the remaining two books that Fforde is planning for this series.  Of course, I hope he manages to resurrect Thursday Next somewhere in there as well.  I miss the old gal.

Rather be grey than yellow any day,

Support our site and buy Shades of Grey on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy of this book.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Book List Meme: Books That Make Me Long for Warmer Weather

As I sit here with cold feet and chilled arms, I can't help but long for warmer weather!  Last night I told T that I was moving to Hawaii as soon as possible.  I wish I could follow through with that!

Three Books That Make Me Long For Warmer Weather
  1. The Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters -- Set in Egypt, the sun is always blaring in these books.
  2. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett -- This book makes me long for a garden where I can just lay down and read and absorb the rays.
  3. A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie -- I too would love to be on the beach, enjoying cocktails and swimming!
Imagining a respite from the grey,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"There are the things that have been and the things that haven't happened yet."

My second book this year for Jenners' Take Another Chance Challenge is Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart.  I chose it for Challenge Number 2: Blogroll Challenge.
Find a blogroll at either your book blog or a book blog you like that has at least 15 book blogs on it. Go to and, using the True Random Number Generator, enter the number 1 for the min. and 15 for the max. and then hit generate. Then find the blog that is that number on the blogroll you selected. (For example, if you get 10 at, then count down the list of blogs until you get to the tenth one). Go to that blog and pick a book to read from the books that they have reviewed on their blog. Read it and write a post about it.
I chose Lenore's blog, Presenting Lenore, because she specializes in YA fiction and so I knew I would get something that would be more of a "chance" for me.  I ended up with the author Beth Kephart's blog so I decided to choose one of her own books to read.  I am glad to have ended up with this as my choice and I really liked her book.

Nothing but Ghosts is the story of Katie, living alone with her dad after the death of her mother a few months earlier.  She is a high school student who is working for the summer as a groundskeeper at a local mansion.  It's a unique place with extensive gardens and a reclusive owner who hasn't been seen in forty years.  In Katie's mind, she links the missing Miss Martine with her mother, whom she also feels has gone missing.  She begins to research Miss Martine at the local library and also to search their own house to find any remaining traces of her own mother.

This is a touching story about life and what we do with those things that will inevitably happen.  This novel was inspired by the loss of Beth's own mother so it really seemed honest and believable.  Lenore was able to interview the author and it's definitely worth reading.  I feel lucky to have chosen this book and I hope my luck holds up with the rest of this challenge!

Thinking about those who are gone but will never be lost,

Support our site and buy Nothing but Ghosts on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed a copy from the library.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Perking Up With Picture Books

There's nothing that brings life to a grey day like a good picture book.  Z and I have been lucky with our library choices lately.

First we read The Incredible Book Eating Boy, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.  The plot of the book is pretty obvious -- a boy takes a nibble of a page one day and continues on to whole books.  He finds that he absorbs the information as he eats the books but, eventually, his habit becomes so excessive that all of the information gets jumbled in his head and he gets sick.  Luckily, he figures out that there's another way to get information from a book -- to read it.

We thought this book was cute and there are a lot of little details in the illustrations that can keep you occupied for a while.  Z also loved that the back cover of the book has a chunk "bitten" out of it.  So silly!

The next book we tackled was Crazy Hair from the wonderfully strange Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean.  A girl approaches a man with truly crazy hair and is a bit rude about it.  The man then starts to tell her all of the the things that are unique about his abundance of hair -- the nesting birds, the jungle fauna, explorers, dancers and even a carousel.  The girl insists on trying to comb the hair and suffers a questionable fate -- she is pulled into the hair, to stay there happily forever after.

This book should really be called "creepy hair" as the hair-centric artwork is a bit strange.  McKean's unique style is definitely showcased in the book and gives children something a bit out of the ordinary to look at.  Gaiman's rhymes are a bit forced at times but are also very imaginative and the hair truly becomes its own world.

Finally, we checked out Pirate Girl, written by Cornelia Funke and illustrated by Kerstin Meyer.  A young girl is out in her boat when she is set upon by pirates.  She refuses to reveal where she lives or who her parents are--information wanted for ransom-demand purposes--and so she is put to work on the pirate ship.  She secretly drops messages in bottles overboard, hoping to be rescued.  Eventually the messages are found and the pirates come to regret their decision when Molly's mother shows up -- the terrible piratess Barbarous Bertha. Molly is rescued and the pirates are put to work by the terrifying women of Bertha's ship.

This book has melodic text and fantastic flow.  The pirates have fabulous names and they all look sufficiently evil to have kidnapped a young girl.  Molly is smart and her mother is truly terrifying except when she takes her young daughter in her arms.  This is a very fun book and is impressive as it is translated from German.

Taking advantage of variety,
K and Z

Support our site and buy The Incredible Book-Eating Boy, Crazy Hair and Pirate Girl on Amazon or find them at your local library. We borrowed our copies from the library.

Monday, February 15, 2010

New Release: They Found Him Dead

If you ever want to go into a mystery knowing exactly what the initial crime will be, look no further than Georgette Heyer and her awesome mystery titles!  With names like Behold, Here's Poison, Death in the Stocks and the newly re-released They Found Him Dead, you aren't too surprised at what you encounter.  What is surprising is the variety of characters, the plethora of false leads and the other crimes that happen throughout the rest of the novel.  These mysteries usually turn out to be anything but straight-forward.

In this book, we visit one of Heyer's favorite settings -- the English country home -- where a hodge-podge of relatives are gathered.  Inevitably, we find one of them dead -- this time the patriarch of the family, Silas Kane.  Though he seems to have died of natural causes, not everyone is satisfied that Silas was not maliciously cut down before his time.  When other events happen, it becomes obvious that someone has it out for Kane and his heirs.

I thought this was a good mystery but there was one character that I loved which really made the book for me.  Mr. Harte is a fourteen year old boy who is obsessed with American gangster films and regularly attempts to use the vernacular and tones of these films.  He is spunky and bright and, at the same time, whiny and petulant.  In short, he's fourteen!  His character was a breath of fresh air and I wish there was a follow-up novel of his character.  Beyond Harte, this is a typical Heyer mystery with a fairly obvious suspect that you still can't be sure of until the very end.

Finding a good mystery between the pages,

Support our site and buy They Found Him Dead on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received our copy from the publisher.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love in Literature

(photo by K)

Happy Valentine's Day!

I thought I would just throw a question out to you all today ...

What is one of your favorite romances in a non-romance book?

I'm going to pick Jasper Fforde's Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots and Something Rotten -- the second, third and fourth books in the Thursday Next series.  The main character, Thursday Next, is pregnant but has a husband who has been "eradicated"--wiped from history--by unscrupulous government time guardians.  She wants to have him restored but in order to do that she has to do something infinitely more difficult -- not forget him.  It's a very romantic part of these fantastic literary adventure novels.

Spending the day with my two true loves,

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of February 7

Happy Winter Olympics, Happy Valentine's Day and Happy Presidents' Day!  What a wonderful holiday weekend.  Z's school district gives a week off in February so we are starting that right now and this will either mean a lot more time to read or it might be a lot less since we will be watching so many amazing athletes competing just to the north of us here.  Go U.S.A.!

Bookish television nerds rejoice -- Neil Gaiman has finally confessed to penning an upcoming episode of Doctor Who. (via io9)

The American Literary Blog has a couple of posts highlighting African-American literary contributors -- appropriate posts for Black History Month.

Author Peter Straub has a new novel coming out but he is also releasing a pre-edited version of the book which is supposedly quite different.  He thinks it will be of interest to those who enjoy viewing the creative process.  (via io9)

Author R.N. Morris reveals that E.T.A. Hoffmann predicted the Kindle in the early nineteenth century.  Take that, Nostradamus.

International NBA players are some of the heaviest readers in the sport.  Unfortunately, some of their U.S. colleagues are jerks and make fun of their reading in the locker room.  (via The Millions)

Project (RED) and Penguin have teamed up to create some awesome covers for classic novels.  I may be replacing a few favorites.  (via Nonsuch Book)

These beautiful pictures of a iced-over home have a purpose -- to highlight the housing crisis in Detroit. (via Apartment Therapy)

And as a special treat, another set of piccies (thanks for the great word, Al!).  These are unusual formations in caves. (via io9)

Going for gold,

Thursday, February 11, 2010

LOTR Read-Along: The Fellowship of the Ring Intro Post

I'm getting caught up enough this month to start thinking about reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the read-along so I thought I would answer Clare's intro questions to get in the mood.  I think I will get to start reading it in a week or two and I'm excited!

When did you first hear of The Lord of the Rings?
I heard about the stories when I was a kid through the animated movies but didn't read them until years later.

Have you read The Fellowship of the Ring before?
Yes, I believe I've read it twice -- once in college and one right before the films came out.

What’s your plan of attack, now that we’re dealing with more “mature” literature?
I still plan to read this straight through.  I have a hard time metering out books and just reading a chapter here or there.  But I also plan on savoring it because it has been quite a while since my last reading.

Have you ever seen the movies? If so, do you think they’ll influence your reading? If not, well, why haven’t you seen them?
Yes, I have seen the movies MANY times.  The third film was actually the last movie I saw in the theatre while I was pregnant with Z and then I didn't get to go to another movie for a couple of years.  I own the beautiful box set of DVDs and they are films that I love to put on somewhat regularly.  I don't think that they will affect my reading very much except for maybe fleshing out some of the settings.  I tend to have my own mental pictures of characters even if I have seen a film version of the story.  However, it's impossible not to be influenced, isn't it?

Getting ready to head out of the Shire again,

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"I suppose that if I were going to blame our involvement on anyone ..., I would be compelled to say that it was all Aunt Charlotte's fault."

I'm sure you remember me gushing about Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer's Sorcery and Cecelia a couple of weeks ago.  Well, I happened to see The Grand Tour the last time I was at the library and grabbed it so that I could continue on the journey with Kate and Cecelia.  I was warned in comments that this was not as good as the first so I went into it with lowered expectations.

This book was written in the same way as the last-- as a letter game --but this time as journal-type entries.  Kate is actually writing in a journal during her honeymoon and Cecelia's account is a report written after the fact but is interspersed throughout Kate's narrative.  The two young married women set off to the continent with their husbands and Kate's mother-in-law.  Almost as soon as they arrive, trouble comes to their doorstep and they soon find themselves waist-deep in some sort of magical villainy.  They are charged by the Duke of Wellington to discreetly investigate the situation and their task takes them from Paris to Venice and more.

My biggest problem with this book was that the journal entries and report excerpts are written under married names "Lady S" and "Mrs. T" (abbreviated to be less spoilery of the first book!) and they are unevenly divided so that I was constantly confused as to whom was writing.  This book took longer to read than it should have because I was constantly going back and forth to the section beginnings.  It would have been much easier if Victorian women were able to use their own names!  Also, I found Kate a bit more annoying than in the last book.  She was much stronger a month or so earlier.  Of course, she was newly married in this book so she might be excused a bit for deferring to her husband more than usual.  I hope she regains her confidence in the third book!

The story of this one was interesting and if it had just had a better flow, I think I would have really liked it.  One thing I enjoyed was that they took their close servants into their confidence and asked for their assistance in some cases -- especially when they proved more knowledgeable about some subjects than their employers.  It reminded me of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody books.  So, there was enough to interest me in this book that I will be reading the third one.  I have high hopes but realistic expectations for it, just as I did with this one.

Contemplating a grand European tour of my own,

Support our site and buy The Grand Tour on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A We Be Reading Milestone: 500 Posts!

(photo by K)

Well folks, I don't even know what to say but, according to Blogger, this is our five hundredth post!  I'm not sure how this happened but I'm happy that we have already been able to share so much of our reading lives with all of you.  Blogging is sometimes hard work but it's worth the comments that we get and the friends that we've made.  I hope that we've been entertaining and informative and I hope that we can keep it up for at least a while more!

Opening another book,
K and Z

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Digitally Novel Idea

I received an email recently from an anonymous author about his upcoming book project.  I thought I would share this with you in case you are interested.
Because of a contractual disagreement with my publisher over royalties for previous works, I've made the (crazy?) decision to self publish my next novel anonymously at I'm excited about publishing in this format because there will be no restrictions from the publishing house, it'll allow readers to interact with one another, offer feedback on each chapter and even contribute to the storyline/character development as it's being written.
Here is the press release about this decision.  It's not entirely clear what this book will be about but it starts in Northern California and obviously has a "wolfboy" character.  I think even if the story doesn't come together the way the author is hoping, I think it will be an interesting project to follow for its use of the internet and social groups.

Thinking about writing a tiny bit of a book,

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Book Club Read: Brodeck

The first selection for the Not The TV Book Group was the novel Brodeck by Philippe Claudel and was selected by Lynne at Dovegreyreader Scribbles. The discussion begins today at her blog. I invite you to head over there for the summary and discussion.

Briefly, this is the story of a man (Brodeck) who has been tasked with writing an account of an atrocity that has happened in his town.  He is already scarred by having been found orphaned in the charred remains of his home town (presumably in WWI) and then dragged from his adopted home as a young man by soldiers (in a WWII scenario).  He survives to return home but finds his town changed by the occupation of the soldiers and, eventually, the arrival of a stranger in town (the Anderer) triggers a series of shameful events.  Brodeck decides that along with the official report he was asked to write (to provide justification for the town's acts), he is going to write his own story and the full version of events.  This is what we are reading in the novel.

This was a heartbreaking story that rang too true.  Though there was an assumed time frame, this story had a definite fluidity of time that gave it the ability to apply to almost any period of hatred and fear in world history. I believe that the message of the book is that emotions do not end with a conflict.  The signing of a treaty does nothing to change the evil already sown in men's hearts.  There remains a heightened awareness of those who are different and those who were ostracized.  There also remains the ability to perform horrific acts once the mental barriers to them have been brought down.

This book lends itself to much discussion so if you are interested, find a copy and head over to the discussion which will be ongoing.  It's called Brodeck in the U.S. and Brodeck's Report in the U.K.  It is translated from the author's native French.

Quiet with introspection and sadness,

Support our site and buy Brodeck on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of January 31

Some of you get three days off this weekend.  We don't.  Thanks for nothing, Abraham Lincoln.  (Joking, of course!)

We're apparently still talking about the Macmillan/Amazon tussle.  I just wanted to point out (via Harper Studio) that hardcover new releases only cost two dollars to produce.  The rest of the cost is in the process of making the book (and, of course, the profit) and should be significantly represented in the price of the e-book.  I understand that Amazon is taking the losses but they are also establishing an expected price difference between e-books and paper copies -- perhaps an unrealistic one.

School libraries in the US are going to have to fend for themselves even more than usual as the newest Obama budget eliminates a grant program that was essential for school libraries in low income areas. (via Jacket Copy)

The Millions has a wonderful piece about deckled edges.  Their theory is that simple aesthetic things like this will actually become more prevalent if physical books become more rare.  They also explain deckled edges in the modern bookmaking era and why they still seem to have some variety like the original hand-cut pages.

If you haven't seen this yet, check out LIFE Magazine's slideshow of Famous Literary Drunks and Addicts.  Thankfully, they offer the suggestion that Poe had a low tolerance for alcohol versus the commonly held belief that he was a drunk.  I think it's also interesting that they list their vices--alcohol, speed, cocaine, etc.-- but don't mention the fact that many of the pictured authors have lit cigarettes in their hands.  (via The Millions)

Author Terry Pratchett discusses something other than his books when he speaks to The Guardian about assisted suicide.  It's a fascinating and terribly sad discussion. (via io9) examines book trailers.  Their writer is unimpressed by the quality of most of them and also finds them to be mostly useless in making a decision about the book.  I saw a book trailer during some late night television watching a few weeks ago.  It was the first and only one I've seen on t.v. so far and it was for The Swan Thieves. (via io9)

And finally, I'm not on twitter so I'm missing out on these amazing Earth photos that some astronauts are tweeting.  Luckily io9 posted a few of them.  This is Mt. Kilimanjaro from space.

Hoping for a more light-hearted week ahead,