Child of a Hidden Sea
by A.M. Dellamonica

July 12, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Dellamonica_ChildofaHiddenSea
★ ★ ★ ★

Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica | June 2014 | Tor Books | Hardcover $25.99

One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies — and a language different from any Sophie has heard.

Sophie doesn’t know it yet, but she has just stepped into the middle of a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered… her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.

This review is based on an e-ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

When I wrote about A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (from my Classics Club list), I said that I thought of it as “old style” fantasy — but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what, exactly, I actually meant by that. After reading Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica (and an Anne McCaffrey book that I’ll review tomorrow), I think I might finally be able to put my thoughts into words.

But first, let’s get the obvious out of the way: yes, Wizard and Child share a remarkably similar setting (primarily ocean with lots of scattered islands) and magic system (name-based). I’m pretty sure that was intentional on the part of Dellamonica. She’s actually open to questions on Goodreads until the end of July, so I took the opportunity to ask specifically about this — I’ll update this post if she answers!

Edited to add —
The answer is: No, actually, Dellamonica hasn’t had a chance to read any Earthsea books yet! Well, I bet she might like them. Plus, she shared some pretty interesting-looking recs (hit that link to see them). Maybe it is true what they say about great minds… ?

So: old vs. new style fantasy. What does that mean?

There are two parts to this, IMHO. The first part is prose style. Does the author use lots of flowery, nearly poetic language, and does he/she actually include some poetry or fantasy-flavored songs? Or is the prose more casual, with perhaps less focus on the package than on the content? And what about POV — is this a tale that’s being woven by a storyteller, or are we riding along with the characters as the plot unfolds?

The second thing that can influence whether a fantasy feels “old” or “new” has to do with intention and tone. Is the reader meant to glean some kind of life lesson or philosophical point from the book, or is the focus all on the characters/action/world-building? Does the book have an air of serious literature, something to be thoughtfully savored? Or is this the sort of book that one might pack for entertainment on the long plane trip to ComicCon?

The quintessential “old” fantasy is, I think, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. Contrast that with, say, the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson as an example of “new” fantasy. Compare C.S. Lewis’s Narnia (old) to Tamora Pierce’s Tortall or to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld (both new). These are all so-called high fantasy stories, but they’re quite distinct reading experiences.

That’s not to say that there can’t be some nuance or gray area here. The Redwall series by Brian Jacques was published fairly recently, time-wise, and it does have some elements of the new style (lots of action and entertainment value), but overall I think it fits in with the old style stuff (plenty of poetry/singing/riddles, often morality-heavy, very little in the way of casual modern language). Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time books are similarly difficult to pin down — but in the end, I think the multiple intimate POVs and the insanely detailed settings tip it to the side of the new style.

Child of a Hidden Sea fits very clearly into the new style. Comparisons to A Wizard of Earthsea can only ever be superficial because the reading experiences are so different. Where Wizard needs to be read attentively, maybe in small doses in order to absorb each lovingly crafted piece of the story, Child was, for me, a quick and happy binge-read. The focus in Dellamonica’s book is on Sophie Hansa’s accidental adventure and her relationships with other characters and the really interesting new world around her, as opposed to Wizard‘s rather more poetic focus on Ged’s coming of age and acceptance of his magically projected inner darkness.

As for an actual review of Child of a Hidden Sea: I quite liked it, and will probably purchase it for our library. The characters could perhaps use a little more sculpting and polishing, but I think the fantastic world-building and nearly continuous action (not a slow spot in this book!) more or less make up for that. As always, I’m a sucker for an interesting to world to explore. The fact that the inhabitants of this new world actually seem aware of the “real” world (even if it is some sort of state secret) adds to the mystery of how/why Stormwrack exists.

I’m interested in the intended sequel(s) because I want to know more about the politics and ecology of Stormwrack; what happens to Sophie and her brother and their new-found family/friends is also of interest but not my main concern! I could definitely relate to the main character’s obsession with the wildlife and social structure of her unexpected home world. I halfway wish that the entire book had been devoted just to her explorations and evidence/specimen gathering. Ah, well.


Links:


Publication information: Dellamonica, A.M. Child of a Hidden Sea. New York: Tor, 2014. EPUB file.
Source: Provided by publisher via NetGalley.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


5 Years

July 10, 2014 Home Sweet Home 0

We’ve been married for 5 years already.

Sometimes it feels like it’s been much longer. Really, it sort of has. We dated for quite a while before tying the knot (we were quite young), so actually we’ve been together for about 9 years total.

2014.7.10_anniversary

Sometimes it feels like it hasn’t been very long at all. My parents didn’t even get to have their 5th wedding anniversary before my father was killed. We are so lucky to have each other during the short time that we’re allowed in this life.

Enjoy your time with the people you love. Time sometimes runs out faster than you imagine it can.

 


All Four Stars
by Tara Dairman

July 9, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Dairman_All4Stars

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman | July 2014 | Putnam Juvenile (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin) | Hardcover $16.99

Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world.

I devoured this book during my lunch hours over the past week or so. It was pure torture.

Here’s the thing: you MUST have something delicious to snack on and/or drink while you’re reading this book. And it has to be something good… munching on a low-cal cardboard granola bar or picking your way through a small paper bag of wilted lukewarm fries is not going to cut it. Trust me, I tried. I wanted to weep.

OK, so we’ve established that this book is cute and drool-inducing, but I think it has other merits. Gladys is a smart, rather geeky and endearingly precocious young girl, and I think kids (especially introverted kids with unusual hobbies) will find her relatable even if they aren’t really into cooking or exploring obscure little hole-in-the-wall eateries. She loves her parents and doesn’t want to disappoint them, but she just can’t give up doing what she loves… even after she accidentally sets the kitchen on fire in the first chapter.

Though Gladys commits most of her energy to being a foodie behind her parents’ backs, they are never really painted as outright villains, which I liked. Her struggle isn’t against evil adults who never want her to have any fun; it’s against rules her parents put in place for her protection because they care about her (ill-advised and silly as those rules may be). This is the sort of loving struggle that all kids have with their grown-ups at some point.

Gladys’s newfound friends, a doting aunt, and her “weird” but encouraging teacher, Ms. Quincy, make up a great supporting cast for our gastronome heroine. Actually, the development of her relationships with these other characters was really a strong point of this book. Even though Gladys is painted as something of a misunderstood loner at the start of the story, it’s other people — kids her own age and supportive adults — who end up enabling her adventures.

There’s plenty of middle grade-level comedy going on, too, which I think balances well with all the insanely amazing food descriptions. Plus, the reviews that Gladys writes in her little journal about everything she eats are adorably funny.

An e-ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via The Midnight Garden website for participants in the book’s blog tour (including LSoaL)! Head over the book’s official blog tour page to read some other reviews, go on a “foodie tour” of New York City with the author, and enter for a chance to win a copy!

If you haven’t already, you should definitely check out some of the other reviews and interviews and stuff happening over at The Midnight Garden, a blog for/about grown-ups who read YA and MG books. It’s a pretty cool place to hang out for a while.


Links:


Publication information: Dairman, Tara. All Four Stars. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by Putnam.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


A Wizard of Earthsea
by Ursula K. Le Guin

July 2, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

LeGuin_Earthsea

★ ★ ★ ★

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin | 1968 (Bantam edition 1980) | Bantam Books (an imprint of Random House) | This edition out of print

Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth. Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

I’m afraid I don’t have much to say about this story, which is too bad because I think that it really does deserve all the praise it has garnered over the years. This brief review is due to a lack of extreme feeling and ineloquence on my part rather than to a lack of merit on the part of the book.

This is a tight little character/lesson-focused fantasy in what I think of as the “old style” — this is a little difficult for me to define in my current state of mind, but I’m reading a recently published fantasy book with a very similar setting right now, so I hope to write a little more about what I think of as “old” and “new” SFF when I get around to reviewing this more recent title.

I was reminded of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, both series that I loved as a kid (and still do). This book, like those, seems to written primarily for older children with the intention of delivering difficult life lessons disguised — successfully, actually — as fantastic adventures. It isn’t that children are too stupid to know how to figure out the moral of a story. No, it’s just that if the plot is paced well and the characters are sympathetic and the prose is nearly perfectly sculpted, it doesn’t feel so much likethe kind of “morality bludgeoning” that can ruin an otherwise lovely tale.

I do wish I’d read this book as a young teen. It’s exactly the sort of thing that I’d have devoured over and over again. After all, the whole point of the story is self-discovery and defeating one’s own demons (um, spoiler alert?), which are exactly the sorts of books that I couldn’t get enough of at that age. Alas! I’m putting off reading the rest of the Earthsea books indefinitely. I do think I want to try some more Le Guin books in the future, though. Can you believe I hadn’t tried any before now? How could I call myself a true SFF fan?!?!


Links:


Publication information: Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Bantam, 1980. Print.
Source: Galveston Bookshop
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Ammonite Tie, Simplicity 4762

July 1, 2014 Home Sweet Home, Stitching 0

AmmoniteTie1

Today is my husband’s birthday. He works at a science museum and he’s required to wear a tie every day. He’s gathered quite the collection over the past couple of years. Still, most of his ties are of the abstract pattern variety — stripes, dots, checks, paisley, and the occasional vague floral. And when one works at a science museum and one’s only mode of self-expression through dress is a necktie, well, one wishes for something more… sciencey.

Hence: the Ammonite Tie.

AmmoniteTie2

The fabric is a “ditsy” print by Roz Robinson at Spoonflower. I got a couple of yards of the cotton sateen, which worked OK for this project even though it wasn’t as silky as I’d hoped. Frankly, it feels… cheap. Which it certainly wasn’t. It’s too bad, because the ammonite print is so charming. Gary hasn’t worn it yet, so we’ve yet to see how well it does during an average workday.

AmmoniteTie3

All told, this thing took me about 4 to 5 hours (not counting a practice run), and I’m a novice. You could probably whip up a tie in no time flat with this pattern (Simplicity 4762) if you’ve had more experience and are more confident with things like basting or fusible interfacing.

AmmoniteTie4

I’m very likely to make another tie and I may order some more fun science-themed prints from Spoonflower artists, but I won’t be using this fabric again.


North and South
by Elizabeth Gaskell

June 1, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Gaskell_NaS

★ ★

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell | 1854 – 1855 (Penguin Classics edition 1995) | Penguin Books | Paperback $12.00

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill-workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction.

Well, I finally finished the 1st pick from my list of 50 classic books to read in 5 years or less. It’s only been… what… like 3 months?

In my defense, I tend to read more than 1 book at a time. And also, right now, I’m dealing with some assigned reading for a committee. And also, y’know, life happens. Anyway: time for a review!

First, I have to confess that I’ve had this book for a couple of years. And I even started reading it at one point but then just didn’t finish it for whatever reason. Well, no, maybe not for just “whatever” reason. But more on that in a sec.

This book was a gift from my best friend (who graduated from med school this weekend, w00t!!!) and it is apparently one of her favs. And I already knew the basic outline of the story (spoiler alerts don’t apply to 160-year-old books after all) and it seemed like the sort of thing I’d like.

But….

TBH, getting through this novel was such a chore.

And you know what? That’s all on me. I’ve been reading mostly quick’n’easy YA and plot-driven SF/F for the past couple of years, with a smattering of nonfiction on various topics thrown in for spice. A mid-19th century social novel wasn’t just a change of pace — it was like telling someone who’s normally into slow, indoor yoga that she has to now run a marathon in a thunderstorm. My brain just could not handle it at first, and the whole thing felt way too forced and unpleasant.

And that sucks because I watched the BBC miniseries on Netflix and I seriously LOVED it. I watched it twice in a row (in the meantime ignoring my reading “homework” like the terrible, terrible person I am). The actual storyline: awesome. Period drama with a serious sense of self-awareness: awesome. Characters: awesome. So… why did I have so much trouble liking the actual book?

I carried it around in my bag for months. I tackled it during my lunch hours. I underlined meaningful passages. I dutifully read all the editor’s notes (the Penguin Classics edition incl. an intro and notes by Patricia Ingham) for historical context. I even (gasp!) read a bunch of reviews and discussions and articles and stuff about it. I Tried with a capital T, I really did.

But: nope.

I think the main reason I didn’t like it (besides the difficult gear-shifting at the start) was that I don’t like feeling preached at. It’s probably the same reason that I love the movie versions of Little Women and Heidi and A Christmas Carol and so on, but I’ve never been particularly fond of the books: watching the plot play out with a focus on the characters and their interactions with each other (and the scenery, and the costumes, and the language) is so much more appealing than being bludgeoned over the head with a moral every other page.

That’s not to say that I don’t want my stories to have a moral, or to deal with ethical issues or complicated social structures or anything like that. I guess I just prefer to feel that I’ve figured out the author’s intention on my own, as opposed to the aforementioned morality bludgeoning.

You have to come at me sideways with your opinions on morality, is what I’m saying. What that says about me, I don’t know.

Well, anyway, so much for my 1st foray into this whole Classics Club thing. I’m glad I made an effort to find plenty of SF/F and YA and nonfiction classics for my list. I’m going to need them if most of the normal “canon” titles are all this awful for me.


Links:


Publication information: Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. London: Penguin, 1995. Print.
Source: Gift
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


“Summer Slide” Article

May 30, 2014 Geekery, Library Life 0

Just a quick post about an article I wrote that was published in one of the local papers last week: Just Read

Excerpts:

Reading during the summer acts as an essential vaccine against summer slide.

Summer slide is what happens to kids’ brains when they spend months out of the classroom and in front of the TV set instead; all of that precious knowledge they picked up in the past school year starts to slide right out of their minds. The problem is especially noticeable among kids from disadvantaged backgrounds or underprivileged schools. Scientific studies back up this claim. For example, a 2007 Johns Hopkins University longitudinal study in Baltimore showed this problem disproportionately impacts low-income children whose families do not have the resources to purchase educational games or send them to special camps. 

So, how can kids and their parents avoid this insidious summer slide without turning a gloriously school-free summer into miserable weeks of study and drudgery? A follow-up analysis of the Baltimore study published in 2012 tells us that the answer is surprisingly simple — read. Play mind-stimulating puzzle games, try a few art projects, dust off those old binoculars and go for a nature hike, but most of all — read.

Summer is when your local public library shines. A 2010 article in the International Reading Association’s Reading Today newsletter posits that lack of easy access to books directly translates to lack of voluntary reading, which leads to loss of reading skill over time. However, most public libraries — including every public library in Galveston County — offer free summer reading programs for children and teenagers.

I don’t feel right posting the article in its entirety here, but I think you get the point. Anyway, you can read the whole thing at the Galveston Daily News website, but you’ll have to get past the paywall first, I’m afraid: HERE


Spring Again

May 21, 2014 Just for Fun 0

You know it is officially spring in Texas when. . . .

bluebonnets_2014

Also: my blog is 3 years old now! It’s hard to believe I’ve kept it up this long.

 

 


TLA 2014 Retrospective

May 19, 2014 Geekery, Library Life 0

Last month I was lucky enough to get to go to the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio. I learned a lot and got bunches of cool stuff and met like a bazillion people and basically had a blast!

Day 1 | In which, surprising no one, Louise gets slightly lost

I live within reasonable driving distance of San Antonio, so that’s how I chose to travel. I’m glad I did, because I got to see all of the wildflowers in bloom. It was so, so tempting to stop on the side of the highway and take a selfie among all the bluebonnets, but I somehow managed to refrain.

I went to only 1 session on Tuesday. TBH, I’m afraid I was a little too tired and overwhelmed to fully appreciate it, so I’ll refrain from writing too much about it. After that first session, I wandered around and got a little bit lost down on the Riverwalk. Got some delicious fish tacos for lunch at Charlie Wants a Burger, which I certainly recommend — but be careful about sitting out on the patio, the ducks are a little bit pushy about your scraps! I finally found my way back to the convention center (a very nice place, by the way) in time for the grand opening of the exhibit hall that afternoon.

That evening, I ended up at the Menger Hotel bar, a cozy little spot with lots of dark wood paneling and a giant moose head on the wall. The GLBT interest group was having a little social there and I had the pleasure of meeting some pretty interesting librarians!

Day 2 | In which the conference is in full swing

Wednesday started with a light breakfast with a friend — thankfully I knew someone who was staying at the same hotel (hi TPR!) and we were able to walk down to the convention center together. The first session of the day… wasn’t what I expected, unfortunately. That’s too bad, but at least the next 2 sessions I went to were perfectly lovely.

I wandered around the exhibit hall for a few hours on Wednesday as well. I tried to meet with most of the vendors we use at my library and I was also able to pick up a handful of books and other “swag” for use as giveaways for our library’s teen volunteer group.

A small group of us ended up at a little bistro called Zinc for dinner that evening. We probably occupied our table for just a little too long, but the food was simply wonderful, and so was the wine. I managed to get just a little bit of work done once I got back to the hotel, but much of what I ha been intending to do involved internet access and it was just impossible to get my laptop to connect. ¡Qué lástima! At least it wasn’t like I lacked for books to read in what little free time I did have.

Day 3 | In which Louise is starstruck

Thursday was probably my longest day at the conference; I was out and about from 8 in the morning until 11 at night! Yeah, that’s a lot of work, but most of it was the fun sort of work, so I can’t complain.

The day started with a fantastic session on e-books / databases. Then I went to the “Texas Tea with YA Authors” for lunch. Well… not lunch so much as a glass of iced tea + a single mediocre pastry. Luckily I had been warned ahead of time that this would be the case, so I had a quick sandwich from a snack stand on the way to the event. I found out later that the hotel’s catering company charged the organizing group about $1,000 just for the iced tea, and they didn’t even provide enough seats for everyone who’d bought a ticket (extra chairs had to be squeezed in at the last minute). Ridiculous!

Catering complaints aside, the event really was quite lovely. It was set up speed-dating style, with 1 or 2 authors traveling around to the tables where the librarians had gathered in order to give 10-minute talks on their books or answer questions or just chat a little bit, depending on the group. I was very impressed by all of the authors and their books and I only wish that we could have spent more time getting to know everyone!

I was invited to a couple of publisher events that evening. Here’s something they don’t teach you in library school: when you’re on a book/author list/committee, publishers will make an effort to get you to read their books… and sometimes that effort involves free food and booze. Even better: sometimes that effort involves spending time with authors! I got to meet several YA authors + their supporting staff from the publishing houses. In the interest of everyone’s peace of mind, I won’t go into any detail about these events. I want to be invited back again next year, after all! Suffice it to say that I had a swell time and everyone was just amazingly lovely.

Day 4 | In which The Fonz makes an appearance

One last early morning session: a “Women of YA” panel. I am so, so glad I managed to drag myself out of bed for this one! Possibly the best panel at the con, and nowhere near big enough of an audience (can’t expect too much at 8 in the morning on the last day, though, really). My favorite question was something about male authors who write books for teens and kids — not because of the actual question (oh yes please let’s talk about how important the menfolk are during our ladies-only panel) but because of some of the sassy and well-thought-out responses from the authors. This panel alone was worth the trip to San Antonio, IMHO.

The next session was on vendor relationships, and it wasn’t as amazing as that morning’s author panel, but how could it be? Authors having a lively conversation on really cool topics >>>>> librarians and vendors talking about how librarians and vendors can get along without wanting to strangle each other. Still, I felt it necessary to be there, as the subject is now relevant to my job description.

I went to General Session III, the official closing session, right after that. This session’s special guest was Henry Winkler, a.k.a. The Fonz. He’s co-writing a series of children’s books meant specifically to help kids with dyslexia get into reading. Mr. Winkler was diagnosed with dyslexia as an adult, so the topic is very important to him.

The very last event of the afternoon was a quick meet-up with my fellow Spirit of Texas – High School committee members. We went over the bylaws and guidelines and talked a little bit about what we can expect over the next year or so, all while stuffing our faces with delicious cheeseburgers (well, some of us). Even though this wasn’t an “official” meeting, I’m so glad that we got a chance to see each other face-to-face. I’m really looking forward to working with this interesting group of ladies over the next couple of years!

 


AncestryDNA

May 18, 2014 Home Sweet Home 0

My mother generously gifted us both AncestryDNA kits for Christmas last year. It took us far too long to get around to sending our spit off to be analyzed, but I’m so glad we did.

No big surprises here — we’re both fairly familiar with family lore, though we both also have plenty of holes to fill and not a lot of proof about certain stories (see: every white American’s hypothesized Native great^n-grandparent). But it is nice to see some actual biological evidence of one’s family history.

Here’s mine. . . .

AncestryDNA_1

The British + Western European isn’t surprising at all. I grew up knowing that most of the family was English, French, and German (both sides). The Scandinavian isn’t too surprising either; family lore indicates the possibility of Scandinavian roots, plus there has just been a lot of admixing between Scandinavia and the rest of Europe over the centuries. (Regardless, I’m totally going to pretend it is because I’m part Viking and you can’t stop me.) Iberian (Spanish) fits in with a certain branch of the Cajun part of my family. I’m a little surprised by all that Irish. I guess that’s a branch of the family that I haven’t investigated yet!

Besides all that, the system actually matched me up with a distant family member who’d also done the DNA test. We’re apparently 2nd cousins 1x removed (her great-grandfather was my great-great-grandfather). Isn’t that just amazing? I’m so glad that she’s got a detailed family tree available publicly — now I’ll be able to find out so much more about that branch of my family tree.

Here’s Gary’s. . . .

AncestryDNA_2

My husband has even less information about his family history than do I, but the primarily British + Western European ancestry isn’t a big surprise for him either. But look at all those “trace” possibilities!

Gary’s great-uncle has also done this DNA test (his great-aunt is the one building the family tree), and they were matched right away. Thankfully they’re still in contact and we’ll be able to “steal” some family tree info from them, too!

I’ve been working on our family trees off and on for the past few months, and the more I learn the more I want to know.