Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New in Paperback: The Tricking of Freya

My literary journey into the myths of Iceland last year with the novel Ice Land was a satisfying initiation to the history and mythology of the country.  Christina Sunley's The Tricking of Freya was the perfect introduction to Iceland's present.  Incorporating the myths and values of the past, we journey both to New Iceland in Manitoba, Canada and also the motherland.

Written by a twenty-something named Freya, the novel is an account of her childhood with her widowed mother, Anna, and their visits to Gimli, an Icelandic settlement on the shore of Lake Winnipeg.  In Gimli are Amma Sigga, her grandma, and Aunt Birdie, Anna's wild spinster sister.  Anna and Freya live in Connecticut as Americans but when they finally travel to Gimli when Freya is seven years old, Siggi and Birdie begin teaching Freya about her Icelandic heritage and her ancestral links to some of Iceland's best-loved poets.  Even her grandfather, Olafur was known as Skald Nyja Islands, the Poet of New Iceland.  As they return each summer, Freya becomes swept up in the culture of a foreign country but also in the drama that emanates from Birdie.

It's hard to decide where to start in praising this novel.  I could begin with the unique voice of Freya, a somewhat unreliable but also very sympathetic young woman.  Her first-person account is somewhat jarring and raw but also real.  Or perhaps I could discuss the literary history of Iceland, a country that has a current literacy rate of 99 percent.  This is a nation that reveres and values its poets and writers.  There is also the unique geography and weather of this volcanic island nation.  The variety of terrain on this small piece of land is astounding and the presence of endless summer days and neverending winter nights is a testament to the heartiness of its inhabitants.  And let's not forget the group of Icelanders that relocated to Canada and formed a "New" Iceland.  These brave men and women created a place where they could celebrate their heritage but also build a more prosperous future.  And finally, there is the family relationship between three generations of women who have each lived unique lives.  All rely on the bonds of family and history to keep them grounded but sometimes this is not enough.

I still feel I haven't even touched on much of what I learned from and felt about this novel.  It was an incredible journey and only increased my fascination with and love of this distant land.  This will likely be on my list of best novels I've read this year.  In case you don't trust my gushing praise of this novel, here are some other reviews from Marie (Boston Bibliophile), Rebecca (The Book Lady) and 1MoreChapter.

Bless, bless,

Support our site and buy The Tricking of Freya on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received a review copy from a publicist.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Release: Enchanted Glass

I think Enchanted Glass is maybe the fifteenth Diana Wynne Jones book I've read and it's definitely one of my favorites.  I would even say top five after the first two Chrestomanci books, Howl's Moving Castle and House of Many Ways.  It has everything I like most about her books -- magic in everyday situations, positive family (and adopted family) relationships and a bit of danger.

Andrew Hope inherits his grandfather's home but doesn't realize that with it he also inherits a "field-of-care" -- a magical parcel of land containing his home and the local town.  After the arrival of young Aidan, a runaway orphan who is being chased by mysterious beings, Andrew has to remember things he learned as a child but subsequently forgot and try to figure out how to protect this young boy and all of the citizens of Melstone from the shady Mr. Brown.

I couldn't read this book fast enough.  And yet, I regret reading it as fast as I did because it was wonderful and comforting -- like most DWJ books!  I wasn't totally in love with the last one I read, The Game, but this one shows that she is still a skilled storyteller.  As soon as it is out in paperback, I'm going to be buying my own copy (although I may cave in and buy the beautiful UK hardcover)!

And I am sending my best wishes to the author as she is currently battling cancer.  I truly hope she is able to recover and create more of her amazing stories for years to come.

Hoping this magical world really exists somewhere,

Support our site and buy Enchanted Glass on Amazon or find it at your local library.  We borrowed our copy from the library and will be buying a copy of our own.

Monday, June 28, 2010

New Release: Winged Wonders

An informative little volume, Winged Wonders: A Celebration of Birds in Human History by Peter Watkins and Jonathan Stockland, is appropriate for nature and history lovers alike.  Divided into chapters for each different bird species, such as the raven, the goose and the falcon, this is a treasure trove of history about birds and their influence on the language and actions of mankind.

Though short, this is definitely not a book to be read in one sitting.  There is a grand amount of information that takes some time to appreciate, absorb and remember.  It's heavy on religious symbolism and biblical references which is no surprise as one of the authors, Watkins, is an Anglican vicar. I love that the naturalist vicar, a common character in many a Victorian novel, still exists.

If you are curious about the origin of the phrase "cloud-cuckoo-land", are looking for avian poetry or are wanting to know about the surprisingly numerous instances of pelican symbolism, this is the perfect book for you.
Swans sing before they die -- 'twas no bad thing
Did certain persons die before they sing.
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Looking to the skies for inspiration and knowledge,

Support our site and buy Winged Wonders: A Celebration of Birds in Human History on Amazon or find it at your local library.  We received a copy for review.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of June 20

We're finishing our first week of summer vacation and, well, we've done just about nothing!  That doesn't mean that things haven't happened to us though.  Z lost his first tooth!  We were very excited and the tooth fairy brought him two dollars (or as he said "she gave me one dollar and an identical one dollar!").  He used them to buy ice cream at Cold Stone yesterday.  And I was browsing the discount carts at our local Half Price Books which happen to be outside and I got stung by a bee which I'm apparently mildly allergic to.  Still, I ended up with 12 books for $24 so it balanced out, I guess.

Jenny is hosting a Diana Wynne Jones Week from August 1 to 7.  I will be posting a DWJ review on Monday of a fantastic book so feel free to pick that one up in time to participate!  I plan on reading one from my TBR, two from the library and as many as I can get through from my own library as re-reads.  I love Diana Wynne Jones!

Simon posted a collection of the submissions to his A Picture Paints a Thousand Books meme.  It's really interesting!

OUP blogger Lauren has linked to the fascinating history of the @ symbol.

Tasty Kitchen is ruining my weight loss attempts -- this time with "brownies and bars".  Specifically, sea salt and caramel brownies.  A local doughnut shop has a salted caramel doughnut that is one of the few things that I really crave.

And I didn't have any starred videos or pics this week so I hit Stumbleupon and the first thing that came up was photographer Nick Brandt's site.  He has scores of beautiful African safari black and white shots.  I keep trying to find a favorite but each picture I scroll down to is as beautiful or more so than the one before.  They are truly breathtaking.  So, I will let you click over and experience the beauty for yourself!  His photos have also been published by Chronicle Books in On This Earth: Photographs from East Africa.  It's going on my wishlist!

Taking the good with the bad,

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book v. Movie: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

One of my absolute favorite films is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir from 1947.  It stars a sweet but strong Gene Tierney as Lucy Muir and Rex Harrison as the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg.  It also features the fantastic George Sanders and a young Natalie Wood.  Here is the original trailer for the film --

I never even wondered if the film was based on a book until my recent late night musings.  Then Jenny said in the comments that she thought the book version of this story was sweet and so I decided to start with this one!  The novel was released in 1945 and was written by R.A. Dick (a poorly chosen pseudonym).

The book and the movie are quite similar.  Mrs. Lucy Muir is a widow who is tired of living the way others expect her to.  She decides to leave her established life and move her small family to the seaside.  She chooses the furnished and low-priced Gull Cottage -- the former (and apparently current) home of Captain Gregg -- a sea captain who died of an alleged suicide years earlier.  Lucy Muir's new-found independence can't be shaken even by a ghost who doesn't want his home occupied.  In the book, Mrs. Muir has a second child and the details of her one romance are different though the results are the same.  Overall, I feel that the movie had a more romantic feel to it while the book had a bit more of a real-life tenor.

Verdict: I highly recommend both the film and the novel.  I don't think it matters which you try first either.  There are differences but nothing that makes one truly better than the other.  I still have a preference for the movie but I can easily see others enjoying the book slightly more.

Believing in true love in any form,

Support our site and buy The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (dvd) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (novel) on Amazon or find them at your local library.  We own a copy of the dvd and borrowed the book from the library.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Book List Meme: Three Books You Wish Had a Sequel

This week's Book List Meme topic, Three Books You Wish Had a Sequel, is a really tough one for me.  One reason is that I tend to forget books very soon after I read them so it's hard to go back in my mind and remember which ones I thought should continue.  Also, I read a lot of series for just this reason -- I love stories to go on and on forever -- which means that I could pretty much list most books that I read!  But here's my stab at it.

First, I'll choose Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.  I know that she's already supposed to be working on a sequel but, lordy, it's been six years already!  I'm definitely going to have to go back and re-read the original to be re-immersed in the world.  But I remember thinking about it for weeks afterward.  It was a really well-crafted novel.

Second, it'll have to be Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.  I know that there are two "sequels" to this one already but they are really just stories set in the same world and where characters from this first novel intersect with the main characters of the other novels.  I want a true sequel that continues on with the stories of Sophie and Howl!

Third, I will choose I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.  This family wasn't going to get more sane at the end of the book.  It would have been interesting to continue on with Cassandra and the unusual Mortmain family.

Wow!  This was incredibly hard.  I never realized how many books I read that have rather definitive endings. So, what do you think of my choices?  What book do you wish had a sequel?

Exhausted after imagining a hundred other worlds,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hello Japan! Challenge: Manga

For June's Hello Japan! Challenge, Tanabata of In Spring It Is The Dawn challenged us to "read, or otherwise enjoy, manga".  You may remember that I first read a manga last October.  I chose a "scary" title and had a lot of fun with it.  If you would like to know more of the facts about manga, you can read that post.

This month, I went to the local library and looked through the many series.  I ended up choosing the award-winning Mu Shi Shi: Volume 1 by Yuki Urushibara.  It looked interesting and also was one of the few first volumes available.  Most of the other series just had a random selection of volumes but I'm pretty picky about starting at the beginning of a story line.

It's hard to explain exactly what this series is about but it's a collection of the stories of Ginko, a mushishi -- someone who can interact with the mysterious creatures (mushi) in nature that are neither plant or animal.  They are sort of like spirits but have some sort of physical manifestation.  They tend to interact with humans in strange and harmful ways and Ginko is skilled in separating the mushi and healing the humans.  This volume had five different story lines in it.

I had a great time with this book and was really excited to see that there is an anime series based on it.  I've just added the discs to my Netflix queue!  There is also a live-action film from 2006 by the director of Akira, an anime classic.  I'm really curious to see the manga to live-action transformation.  When I'm in the mood, I think I will also pick up more of the six remaining volumes of Mu Shi Shi.

Slowly becoming a manga convert,

Support our site and buy Mushishi 1 on Amazon or find it at your local library.  We borrowed a copy from the library.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"The sun shone down on the remarkable island of Manhattan ..."

This is going to be short and sweet.  Linda Buckley-Archer's Gideon Trilogy is a fantastic series.  You can read my thoughts on the first book and the second book or you can just take my word that it's worth reading and go out and get this one, The Time Quake, as well as The Time Travelers and The Time Thief.  If you like youth series like Harry Potter or His Dark Materials, historical fiction or time travel, you will probably love this series.

I'm not going to summarize this third volume because of the whole spoiler thing but, again, these three books follow a single plot line so they are best read in order.  They tell the story of two children, Peter and Kate, who get thrown back in time by an experiment gone wrong.  In the past they meet true friends but also formidable villains.  Their only wish is to get back to their families but repairing the damage that they and others have done to the timeline might have to be their priority.

I'm so glad to have grabbed this series!  I needed something like this to get me out of my reading slump over the last few months.  It was exciting and complex but also sweet and a bit sad -- overall, a very satisfying story.

Satisfied with the present (for the present),

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

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bookish Pet Peeve #3: TMI Forwards and Blurbs

I told you this would be a very irregular series!  I've just thought of another bookish pet peeve -- forwards and blurbs that give away key plot elements.

I don't think that these components should include anything that doesn't happen in the first few scenes of a novel.  It's very disappointing to have the carefully constructed build-up of a story ruined by one or two sentences that most likely were not even approved of by the author.  The worst offender of recent time for me was a book where a major event that happens literally half-way through the book was revealed in the blurb.  It was very disappointing because the reader was supposed to feel positively and sympathetic about a character until the event happened but instead their view of the character was already tainted and their view of the character was much more cynical.  Now I find myself avoiding reading more than the first few sentences of a blurb and usually none of the forward unless it promises to be only biographical.

Bloggers are usually very considerate about posting spoiler warnings for even minor revelations so why are some publishers not as considerate?  Have you encountered this recently?  Do you mind terribly or is it something you take in stride?  I know there are some of you who sneak peaks at the ending of novels so I'm guessing this might not be as much of an issue for you!

Relishing even the smallest mysteries,

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Starred Saturdays: Week of June 13

If you've been holding your breath for the last week, wondering if Z was going to graduate from kindergarten, feel free to let it out now.  He's officially a first grader!  Apparently his singing and picture-drawing skills are up to snuff.  His summer goal is to build a robot.  Mine is to read as much as possible -- preferably while enjoying some sunshine.  Dad is going to have to help him with the robot!

Speaking of dads, this is a wonderful Pictory slideshow of fathers and father stories.

Are you a writer that wants to marry old and new technologies?  How about converting your old machine into a USB device?  There's a cool (and very short) video demo on the page.  (via Techland)

I'm an incredible spelling nazi and this piece, 10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling, makes me happy.  I might have seen it before but it's worth a second glance.  (via Scott Perkins)

Slate has found a strange link through many modern novels -- the distant dog bark.  (via The Millions)

If you're looking for a way to help the fauna of the beleaguered Gulf, check out ripple.  You can donate $10 to one of two organizations (one for mammals and one for birds), send the donation confirmation in and receive a sketchcard of your choice by an artist or child.  I love so many of them and hope that this project continues to earn money for some of the victims of our fossil fuel dependence.  (via Booklights)

Paige of Life is a Phoenix went to Peru and took some amazing panoramic shots.

And for my nerdiest readers (not naming any names ... okay, you know I mean you Jenny!) --- Doctor "Whooo" by pu-sama (via io9)

Catching z's, rays and up,

Friday, June 18, 2010

"I, Sam Pulsifer, am the man who accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson House ..."

Sometimes I think the worst thing I can say about a book is that I don't really want to write up a post about it.  That's the case with Brock Clarke's  novel An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England.  It's an unwieldy title for an unwieldy book and it left me feeling annoyed and disappointed.

The basic premise is that Sam Pulsifer accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson house when he was a teenager and that there happened to be two people inside at the time that perished in the fire.  Sam is found guilty of arson and murder and when he comes out ten years later, he doesn't even feel welcome in his own home.  He goes off for years and becomes entrenched in a new life but then pieces of his almost-forgotten past come back to disturb the relative peace he's found.

I didn't really have too much of a problem with the plot of the book -- just a few little things.  My main problem was with Sam.  I really, really didn't like him.  Terrible things keep happening to him but he's too stupid to do anything about them or even to fully care.  He's Forrest Gump without being lovable or sincere.  And his parents?  Awful.  His wife and her parents?  Don't get me started.  The other random characters splattered throughout the tale?  Blah.  I was so frustrated that I looked at other reviews on LibraryThing while I was reading the book (something that I never do) and found my same thoughts in many of the reviews.

HOWEVER (in caps because it's a big however), I think that there are definitely readers who will like this book (see this review or this one).  I'm just not one of them.  Neither is Trish.  So, if you have this one in your TBR pile or are considering it, I strongly suggest reading a few reviews and deciding if the complaints that are made are dealbreakers for you or not.  As the husband said, "well, I thought it had a good title ..."

Watching it all burn to the ground,

Support our site and buy An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England on Amazon or find it at your local library.  We bought our own copy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Book List Meme: Three Perfect Beach Reads

Rebecca has chosen a great topic this week for The Book List Meme, Three Perfect Beach Reads --

Waikiki Beach - picture by K

My first choice is Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey.  It's suspenseful and not too long.  The sunny beach would be the perfect contrast to this dark tale.

Half Moon Bay, CA - picture by K

My second choice is The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte.  Quick, smart and with a shocking twist, this is one of my favorites to re-read.

Monterey Bay, CA - picture by K

My third choice is The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin.  A soft thriller with a heartbreaking ending, this one is best read in the sun.

Strangely, I seem to have chosen murder as the common thread between my beach reads.  I might even pick these same books for a stormy night!

Loving the juxtaposition of darkness and light,

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

BBAW Registration Thingy

I'm sure you've seen a few of these posts go up around the community.  To be eligible for an award during Book Blogger Appreciation Week this year, there is a registration process.  You have to choose your niche and link to five representative posts.  I thought about passing on this because I'm not great at self-promotion but I also loved BBAW last year and all of the new blogs I found through the event.  I don't want to miss out so here we go!

We're obviously going to be joining up in the Eclectic category.  Here are what I think are five of our best posts from the past year --

Generations in Oz
Banned Books Week or My High School Reading List
To Serve Them All My Days
Variety is the Spice of Picture Books
"It was raining again ..."

And here are a few other posts that were in the running (in case you are newer to our blog and haven't gone back through the older posts) --

Please note that you need to register your blog to participate in the voting even if you don't want to be eligible for an award.  This is new this year.  I hope to see many more of these posts go up so that I can vote for my favorite blogs so don't miss the July 7 deadline!

Dusting off and polishing some old posts,

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Tale of Two Dahls

Next up in my Take Another Chance Challenge reading, Challenge 11: All in the Family.
The writing gene often runs in the family. For this challenge, you need to find two authors from the same family (either by blood or by marriage) and read a book by each of the authors and then write about both books.
At first I was going to read books by Michael Chabon and his wife Ayelet Waldman but changed my mind when another pair came across the radar -- Roald Dahl and his granddaughter, Sophie Dahl.

First, I decided to read Roald Dahl's first published memoir, Boy.  This was a delightful book that was over far too soon.  I was actually looking to read some of his adult stories but I've heard great things about Boy so I decided to use this opportunity to pick it up.  It's only 160 pages long but has dozens of sweet, funny and terrifying events from Dahl's childhood.  It was easy to see where some of the inspiration for his later stories came from.

The best part of this book might have been Dahl's love for his close-knit family -- his grandparents in Norway who they saw only once a year, his brave mother who was left with five children when her husband died prematurely and his siblings that looked out for each other.  While he was frequently away at boarding schools, he wrote to his mother every week.  In fact, he wrote to her every time he was away until the day he died.

I really want to pick up Going Solo next which continues from the point that this one leaves off.  Dahl's real life is just as fascinating as the imaginary ones he creates!

Shortly after finishing Boy, I started Playing With the Grown-ups by Dahl's granddaughter, Sophie Dahl.  The author herself called the novel "somewhat autobiographical".  I thought it was somewhat awful.  It was like an accident that you can't look away from.  Because it's a coming-of-age story, it's hard to summarize because it's simply a girl's trip from childhood to near-adulthood.  It just happens that this girl's trip includes a highly dysfunctional mother, experimentation with all sorts of substances and a generally weak will -- all before the age of fifteen.

This book highlighted something that I am really getting tired of in memoirs and coming-of-age stories -- the blaming of bad behavior on dysfunctional parents.  I'm sorry but just because your mom snorts coke in front of you doesn't mean that you, at fourteen, can't exercise judgment of your own and choose not to do it.  Too many adults are copping out and not taking responsibility for their own choices.  I'm not denying that they had bad parents but there are enough other influences in most children's lives--friends, friends' parents, grandparents--that there are examples of good behavior around as well.  It's as if the author is admitting that they had no brain or will of their own -- a sad statement.  This book mostly just made me feel ill and actually made it difficult to choose my next read because I needed just the right book to cleanse my palate after this one.

This turned out to be a very interesting challenge!  While Roald Dahl grew up in a wealthy family, they still valued work and didn't have a sense of entitlement.  These are values that don't seem to have remained in the family.  I also wasn't really a fan of Sophie's writing style.  There were too many places where time passed without any indication -- conversations ending with one line and the same speaker starting on the next line in another conversation in the future.  It was very confusing and broke the flow of the narrative.  Overall, these two books couldn't have been more different!

Thinking about nature versus nurture,

Support our site and buy Boy and Playing with the Grown-ups on Amazon or find them at your local library.  We borrowed both of these titles from the library.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of June 6

Four more days of school left and I can't wait to turn off that morning alarm!  We are not morning people here -- especially with daylight lasting until around 9pm right now and still getting later.  This also means that Z is almost done with kindergarten and I'm freaking out just a bit!

Simon S. (Savidge Reads) wants your pictures of where you read.  I took a couple snaps while we were on a ferry last weekend heading to beautiful Bainbridge Island.  We're going to have a warm one this weekend as well so I should have a chance to get a few more shots!

The Movie Title Stills Collection is a boring name for an extraordinary collection of the most dynamic movie title shots from feature films.  I'm definitely a sucker for the film noir section.  I want to watch all of them.  (via io9)

Heading to Massachusetts this summer?  Take a detour to the Montague Book Mill and spend an afternoon browsing through their 25,000 titles.

Jacket Copy has a sweet piece on the history of baby books.

And I love (and by "love" I mean in a long-distance way) most sharks but I think this goblin shark is the most repellant animal I have ever seen (via io9) --

Making summer plans that involve sun and sleep,

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Picture to Explain Thousands of Words

Simon T. asked for a picture that represented our reading (or at least part of it) without being a picture of books and the more I thought about it, the more something like this seemed appropriate --

photo by Art Wolfe via Getty Images

There is a large portion of my reading that tends to be full of darkness and complication but there is also always a smattering of light and a glimmer of hope.

Here is Simon's post of other participants' pictures.  I am looking at the other entries now that I've chosen my own photo.  I didn't want to be influenced!  What would your picture be?

Relishing the sunlight,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

New Release: What Would Rob Do?

The sign of a good book is when you can enjoy it even when you aren't exactly the target audience.  Even though Rob Sachs' book of reminiscences and advice seems targeted toward the college to first-time-father aged male, I found myself nodding in recognition at many of his experiences.  He's obviously the same age as I am.  We've shared the joys of 80s hair bands, mix tapes and The Brat Pack.  But luckily, I have never embarrassed my significant other during a karaoke SNAFU or had to pee in public.

Rob began What Would Rob Do? as an NPR podcast.  He thought of embarrassing, awkward and unique situations and then talked to friends, family and "experts" about the proper actions in each situation.  The book is a collection of these brief discussions that include Rob's own experiences.  The book has a great flow and is funny.  It's heavier on anecdotes than advice but I don't think that's a fault.

There is a wide variety of topics covered from dog poop on your shoe to bargaining at a flea market.  And the range of experts is fantastic -- Erik Estrada, rock band Air Supply and the one and only Fabio, just to name a few.  So when you get a warning instead of a ticket and when you get to eat the best food at the Vegas buffet, you can thank Rob.  Personally, I've been inspired to come up with a catchphrase.  I'll work on it a bit before inflicting it on you, though!

This would make a great Father's Day or graduation gift (along with a check, of course!).  I am going to be mailing my copy off to my brother, Brian, because I think he will love this book.

Sharing life's indignities with the rest of the population,

Support our site and buy What Would Rob Do: An Irreverent Guide to Surviving Life's Daily Indignities on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received a review copy from a publicist.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New Release: A Fierce Radiance

There seems to be no shortage of books set in World War II these days.  And yet each one manages to explore and expose the conflict from a different perspective.  Lauren Belfer's A Fierce Radiance is set in New York City and touches on a variety of issues -- the role of photographers in a time of tragedy, the changing roles of women, the difficulties of parenting during wartime and the development of antibiotic drugs, just to name a few.  Each is presented in a bleak but honest light and one cannot help but want to explore many of these issues in a deeper way after finishing this strong novel.

The main character of the book is Claire Shipley, a staff photographer with Life magazine.  She is a single mother, living on her own in New York City.  When she is asked to follow the story of a patient at the Rockefeller Institute who is one of a few penicillin trial patients, the story hits a deep chord for her.  She lost her own daughter to an infection almost eight years earlier and this is a drug that would have saved her life -- and if successful will indeed save the lives of millions around the world.  However, when her story is not printed, she questions why and finds out that the government has taken over the penicillin project for the war effort.  Eventually she becomes deeply involved in the penicillin web -- through ties of love, blood and patriotism.

Moving smoothly between plot lines of science, romance, business and espionage, this novel takes the reader on an emotional journey through the trials of Americans during the war.  There are the boys sent off to fight and the families left at home.  There are the women left to work and make do with what they can gather despite rationing.  There are the scientists who are trying to save lives while under the constraints of a government that is currently in the business of ending them.  When this all comes together, it is a rich story that leaves one with the obvious conclusion that there are very few lives that are left untouched by war.  There are very few who are not forced to confront demons -- either within or without.  This is a powerful narrative that succeeds in providing a glimpse into these lives.

Seeing everything now in shades of grey,

Support our site and buy A Fierce Radiance on Amazon or find it at your local library.  We received an advanced review copy from a publicist.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New Release: The Secret Lives of Princesses

This is not a standard review for The Secret Lives of Princesses because this is not a standard book.  This beautiful over-sized book by Philippe Lechermeier and illustrated by Rébecca Dautremer is a unique look at the fairy tale princess.  It introduces us to some special girls, princesses you might not have heard of, like Princess Somnia who sleeps constantly and Princess Paige that spends every waking moment in a book.

Most of the princesses have their own page, giving information about their hobbies and talents.  Some are good and some are spoiled.  Each is an individual and is defined by many different things.  Most will feel familiar to young girls dreaming of becoming the princess of their own world.

The vibrant colors and unique illustration style are enough to draw any reader into this fantasy world.  There is also a wonderful companion website should you wish to explore this concept a bit more.  According to the Princess Personality Quiz, I am a "whimsical princess".

From the princess proverbs section at the end, I leave you with these words of wisdom --
There is a crown for every head.
Revealing my true royal nature,

Support our site and buy The Secret Lives of Princesses on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received a review copy from the publisher.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of May 30

Will summer ever get here?  It's pouring rain and it feels like it's never going to stop.  But we're two weeks away from the end of school so there's definitely something to look forward to!

I don't seem to have starred much this week -- some surf art prints because we have a "beach" bathroom that needs something fresh in it, some "angry fan art" related to the BP oil spill, a bunch of ice cream recipes and a woman that paints bookshelves (no, it's not that kind of painting ... check it out).

Plus, Chronicle Books is totally awesome for having employees that volunteer to read with children and raise literacy rates at a low-income San Francisco elementary school (one strangely named for an author).

And if you are considering where your literacy promotion dollars could be best spent, read about a recent study and then find an organization that gets books into the hands of low-income children.  (via The Millions)

No video today because you got the awesome Iceland one yesterday!  But I have to have a photo around here somewhere ... oh yeah, I never posted some from a neighborhood walk in March.  Spring happened around here and then we seem to have gone straight to fall!

Figuring out what the opposite of a rain dance would look like,

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Unique Travel Opportunity

I know that some of you are already familiar with Christina Sunley's novel set in Iceland, The Tricking of Freya.  She is currently wrapping up a book tour there (the novel was translated into Icelandic) and has a blog set up for the tour.  If you're interested in some entertaining and heartwarming stories, some unique food offerings and, of course, some very beautiful photos, head on over to see Christina's Book Tour in Iceland.  I will be reviewing the book in a few weeks and I'm quite excited about it!

And while I'm talking up Iceland, check out this video from Inspired by Iceland -- it's amusing and showcases the beautiful country at the same time.  Fair warning: there are a couple of bare bums in the video so please don't watch it if you are offended by bums.

Inspired by Iceland Video from Inspired By Iceland on Vimeo.

A one-woman tourist board,

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"It was late afternoon on December 30, the last Saturday of the Christmas holidays, and freezing fog had settled, shroudlike, over London."

Just over a month ago, I reviewed The Time Travelers (aka Gideon the Cutpurse), first in Linda Buckley-Archer's Gideon Trilogy.  I have just finished the second in the series, The Time Thief (aka The Tar Man), and I don't think I will be able to wait an entire month to read the third!  This book connects seamlessly to the first and continues with the same pleasing amount of history and adventure.

I am not going to go into any plot detail because this really is a continuation of the first story -- the plight of two twelve-year old children, Peter and Kate, who are mistakenly transported back to the eighteenth century after coming in contact with an anti-gravity experiment.  To even tell who ends up where at the beginning of this story gives away too much of the first book.  I think it is enough to say that this is an exciting series that doesn't lose anything through its extended length.

I am still enjoying how Buckley-Archer explores personal relationships in a meaningful way.  Also, this book felt a bit more grounded than the first one in terms of the characters' interactions with historical figures.  I was a bit worried when it seemed that the story could have been wrapped up after the second book but some unexpected last minute twists set up the third volume and I don't think I will be disappointed.

Sticking with our protagonists until the end,

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

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Reading Calendar: May Edition

Well, I dare you to guess what day I got sick on!  It wasn't that Z stopped reading after the 22nd but I wasn't feeling well enough to remember to record anything.  We're getting back on track for June and I think this will be really helpful to keep us reading during the summer.  We will also have plenty of time to work on chapter books.  We have some great ones to choose from on our shelves!

Spending time together in a story,
K and Z

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Personal Challenge: Classic Movie Books

It's likely that you've realized that I have a bit of a thing for classic movies.  The other night, as I lay in bed watching a favorite (Laura), I found myself wondering if it was based on a book.  And then that expanded a bit to wondering how many of my favorite classic movies are based on books or plays that I haven't read.  And, of course, I was still thinking about Simon T.'s recent post asking if anyone reads plays.  So, the next morning, I made a list of book/movie pairings and was glad to see that I have read quite a few of the original works that my favorite films are based on.  Here are the ones that I've already read --

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1960, Audrey Hepburn) - novel by Truman Capote - read March 2009
The Thin Man (1934, William Powell and Myrna Loy) - novel by Dashiell Hammett - read July 2009
The Maltese Falcon (1941, Humphrey Bogart) - novel by Dashiell Hammett - read November 2008
Rebecca (1940, Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine) - novel by Daphne Du Maurier - read May 2009
Wuthering Heights (1939, Laurence Olivier) - novel by Emily Bronte - read last in July 2008
Gone With the Wind (1939, Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable) - novel by Margaret Mitchell - read many times
The Big Sleep (1946, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) - novel by Raymond Chandler - read once
The Woman in White (1948, Sidney Greenstreet) - novel by Wilkie Collins - read once

And yet, there are still so many stories that I love that I've only seen in film form.  So my ongoing challenge for myself will be to fill in this list by reading the novels or plays that were adapted into films.  This is something that I could do for all films but I'm just going to start with the "classic" films from the 1930s through the 1950s.  Here is the list I came up with the other day which I may add to as things come to mind.

The Philadelphia Story (1940, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant) - play by Philip Barry (1939)
The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942, Sidney Greenstreet and Bette Davis) - play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart (1939)
The African Queen (1951, Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart) - novel by C.S. Forester (1935)
Laura (1944, Gene Tierney) - novel by Vera Caspary (1942, 1943 - ran in Collier's magazine)
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947, Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison) - novel by R.A. Dick (1945)
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944, Cary Grant) - play by Joseph Kesselring (1939)
Imitation of Life (1934, Claudette Colbert and 1959, Lana Turner) - novel by Fanny Hurst (1933)
Sabrina (1954, Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart) - play by Samuel A. Taylor (1953, Sabrina Fair)
To Catch a Thief (1955, Cary Grant) - novel by David Dodge (1952)
Strangers on a Train (1951) - novel by Patricia Highsmith (1950)
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948, Cary Grant and Myrna Loy) - novel by Eric Hodgins, illustrated by William Steig (1946 - originally a short story in Fortune magazine)

Some of these will be written as book reviews and some as Book v. Movie posts so stay tuned!  If you have any suggestions for other fantastic pairs, please let me know.  Also, if anyone else has an interest in this, let me know and I might make a button up and make this an actual challenge.  I think this will be a fun project regardless!

Going to the source,