31 October 2009

Totally Wired; Anastasia Goodstein

Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online by Anastasia Goodstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a difference two years makes... and doesn't make. In 2007, MySpace was bigger than Facebook by sheer virtue of the fact that FB was a "closed" community; today, some of my FB friends are my parents age (my mother's cousins seem to have embraced it). In that regard, Totally Wired feels a little dated.

However, once you get past the Name Brands (has anyone Xanga'd recently?), the message is alarmingly the same as the message in the parenting books my mother used to read: kids will be kids, either in Real Life or Online Life. Deal with it. They'll experiment with a sense of self, they'll bully, they'll test limits, etc., all the things I did years ago and that my mother did decades before that. What's changed is the 24/7/365 instantly on quality of it all - teens can't always hide from a bad choice, and the effects of those choices are far greater than they were in my day.

I'd love to see this updated because I can see parents reading it, using the wrong terms (or product names), leading to their children tuning out the important messages about considering who you are Out There. And I'm amused by the thought that this generations midlife crises will be to simply unplug - how very peaceful their lives will seem.

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The Faceless Ones; Derek Landy

The Faceless Ones (Skulduggery Pleasant, Book 3) The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The idea that a "normal" girl, albeit one mentioned in a prophecy and possessing incredible strength and other powers, could be involved with some secret semi-monstrous group of Others has been done before (namely, Buffy). Of course, the living-skeleton-as-mentor hasn't been done before, and that's part of what sets this series apart.

Unfortunately, this third book in the series seemed far more serious, and far more violent, than the previous two. There were few moments of by-play, and those only served to set up the next fight scene. I would have liked to learn a little more about some of the newer characters, and perhaps to spend a little time with "Stephanie", Val's reflection - the contrast would have been interesting. There were a few brief moments of downtime but the rest seemed very rushed, as though the author didn't quite know how to slow down his plot effectively. Fewer fights, more exploration of the world, and some humor to relieve things would have made for a far better book.

I also wonder about the fact that there was a huge pile of ARCs available for this book. Usually by the third book in a series, ARCs are less freely available (in the Percy Jackson series, they'd stopped giving them out; ditto Harry Potter).

(Free ARC provided by publisher at ALA)

27 October 2009

Unseen Academicals; Terry Pratchett

Unseen Academicals (Discworld, #32) Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite the many other books on Mt. Bookpile, the sight of DEATH on the cover made me choose this as my next read. Unfortunately, DEATH has a very minor role in this book...

On the other hand, it's Pratchett, which is never a bad thing! And this is a great return to previous form, with less preaching than his past few books and more humor (although none that made me laugh out loud, as some of the older books did). Nutt's journey to worth was a lot of fun to watch, and if the supporting characters (Trev, Glenda, Pepe and Jools/Jewels/Julia) show up again that wouldn't be too bad.

Maybe it's my failing, but the "foot-the-ball" passages were the ones I enjoyed least. Some of the early version seemed to have a lot in common with Eton's Wall Game, and the "final" version was a little incomprehensible. Again, this might be me not understanding the game of soccer... which raises the issue of the American audience not understanding that when Pratchett says football, he doesn't mean what we think of as football.

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25 October 2009

Stealing Death; Janet Lee Carey

Stealing Death Stealing Death by Janet Lee Carey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know this book is getting a lot of Great Book Buzz, but I just found it enjoyable (as opposed to a Must Read). The author blends the hero's journey from different cultures (the Lostwalk, the Naqui powers, the caves, etc.) and grafts them onto a culture that lives with dragons and slavery.

Kipp has stolen Kwaja (a bag into which souls go when the body dies) from the Gwali (a Grim Reaper). Why? Because he thinks that he can rescue the souls of his parents and younger brother, as well as save Zalika (the girl he loves) from entering Kwaja. Of course, we learn by the end that his understanding of what Kwaja is, and what the role of the Gwali is, is wrong and that his dreams of what his life would be like have been superseded by his fate. It all felt a little obvious, but perhaps that's because I've read Campbell and Eliade.

The one thing I found really interesting was the flipping of cultures. Here, the dominant culture is black (well, very dark skinned) and Kipp is often referred to as a "pale", and pales were considered less than worthy in this society. That alone made me want to read more about this world, not as a sequel necessarily, but as a series.

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14 October 2009

An Irish Country Doctor; Patrick Taylor

An Irish Country Doctor (Irish Country Books) An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Did you see the tv series Ballykissangel? This is the medical version, just not quite as modern. Set in the 50s, newly minted Dr. Barry Laverty heads to the incredibly small town of Ballybucklebo to learn about being a GP from Dr. Fingal O'Reilly. Of course there are the usual "I can't believe you're doing/not doing that" moments, but by the end of three weeks (!!) he's proven himself to be a good doctor, been offered a permanent position (and eventual partnership), met a girl and generally made inroads in the life of the town. Three weeks seems awfully quick for this, but this is a work of fiction so who am I to quarrel?

Perfect for those that want an old-fashioned quiet read. Oh, and there are two sequels.

(Free copy obtained from publisher at ALA Annual)

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12 October 2009

American-Made; Nick Taylor

American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work by Nick Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This extremely readable accounting of the WPA feels prescient. Yes, I know that jobs are a lagging indicator of recovery, but reading how Hoover kept insisting that we were in a recovery while the country clearly wasn't sounds similar to what we're hearing now. Not being an economist I'm not making any predictions, and we're clearly not in the same place now that we were in 1933, but still...

When FDR started to tackle the recovery, setting in place any number of government programs, it was simple necessity. What's not clear is whether he intended the scope to be as broad as it ended up being, or if Henry Hopkins' (leader of first the CWA and then the WPA) ambition was the reason that the program expanded the way it did. I knew that the WPA reached into almost every walk of life - from packhorse "bookmobiles" in Appalachia to road building to the arts - but I didn't know that New York's Laguardia Airport was a WPA project (ditto the Bay Bridge).

While we may not be in the same crisis we were in 70 years ago, reinstating some of these programs and allowing the recovery to "trickle up" is worth considering.

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04 October 2009

Walking Chicago; Ryan Ver Berkmoes

Walking Chicago: 31 Tours of the Windy City's Classic Bars, Scandalous Sites, Historic Architecture, Dynamic Neighborhoods, and Famous Lakeshore Walking Chicago: 31 Tours of the Windy City's Classic Bars, Scandalous Sites, Historic Architecture, Dynamic Neighborhoods, and Famous Lakeshore by Ryan Ver Berkmoes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit it: while traveling I like looking at architecture and I'm not above peering into windows (hey, if you don't want me to peek, get curtains!) When I was in Chicago this past July I got to do some of that, and then I took one of those bus tours of South Side, which I'd not really been to before. Unfortunately, the driver/guide spent most of his time telling us that the abandoned factory to our right/left was now condos going for some large dollar amount (something I could have guessed given the signage on the buildings) when he wasn't telling us minute details about the Obamas.

As we drove along, it was clear that there was information missing, so being a good librarian I went to the nearest bookstore to find a good guidebook. This was the book I chose and what a good choice it was. The author's serious discussion of the architecture and history is nicely mixed with a humorous tone (telling us to beware of little girls in front of the American Place store, for example) and belongs in the same family as such books as LondonWalks and ParisWalks.

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03 October 2009

Keeping Corner; Kashmira Sheth

Keeping Corner Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't realize that this was written by the same author as Blue Jasmine, but I should have because the metatheme is the same: old traditions are not always best, and change is modern and good.

Here, Leela is a young wife - so young, in fact, that she hasn't yet left her parent's home (nor has she really spent any time with her husband). She's in school, waiting for her anu (the ceremony where she'll leave home and join her in-law's household), and just starting to notice and have feelings for her husband when he is bitten by a poisonous snake and dies. In pre-independence India, among the Brahman, this means that Leela's hair will be shaved, that she must "keep corner" (basically, stay inside her house and in one corner of the inner courtyard) for a year, that she gives up all her fancy clothes and jewelry, and stays a widow forever. Her family is also expected to share her year by not entertaining, not attending the religious ceremonies and generally shunning society.

Leela does have a brother, Kanubhai, who is 22 and unmarried (quite unusual for that time and caste), and who lives in Ahmedabad. This is important because Ahmedabad is also a base for Gandhi's movement - there are many new ideas (like protesting taxes, women are equal, castes are equal) that Kanubhai is surrounded by and inspired by. He manages to have Leela taught by the town's teacher during her year, and (unknown to Leela) vows not to marry until she is allowed to study and have a life despite now being a widow.

The news of how India is changing, slowly breaking free from the rule of the Raj parallels how Leela and her family changes. At times this can be a little heavy-handed, but I think readers will root for Leela's future because it does seem so very unfair. Besides the obvious outcome (it really would have been surprising had the author allowed Leela to stay at home, a widow with no future) I got annoyed when she translated the foreign words into English for us - there's a glossary in the back so if felt redundant.

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