Mary Pope Osborne ratchets everything up with Night of the Ninjas. The cast of characters includes ninjas and samurai, which is cool. There's a mouseMary Pope Osborne ratchets everything up with Night of the Ninjas. The cast of characters includes ninjas and samurai, which is cool. There's a mouse nicknamed Peanut that may in future books be revealed as a transformed Morgan le Fay. And the ending's as close to a full-fledged cliffhanger as anything the series has offered so far.
Osborne's hitting her stride, it seems. The kids both adored this installment in the Magic Tree House series, and can't wait for us to get to Afternoon on the Amazon this evening. Heck, I'm even a little bit antsy for the saga to continue! Could be fun....more
Des Hermies rose and paced the room. "All that is very well," he groaned, "but this century laughs the glorified C
The very end of La-Bas reveals much:
Des Hermies rose and paced the room. "All that is very well," he groaned, "but this century laughs the glorified Christ to scorn. It contaminates the supernatural and vomits on the Beyond. Well, how can we hope that in the future the offspring of the fetid tradesmen of today will be decent? Brought up as they are, what will they do in Life?"
"They will do," replied Durtal, "as their fathers and mothers do now. They will stuff their guts and crowd out their souls through their alimentary canals."
The "alimentary canal" is the food passage through the body from mouth to anus. Pessimistic, much? Clearly, Huysmans disdains progress, preferring instead the Christian theology and life of the Middle Ages. From front to back cover, La-Bas offers a full-throated rejection of all things modern.
What's not modern about the book is the subject of Durtal's literary investigation - 15th century child murderer, necromancer and sadist Gilles de Rais. How crappy a person do you have to be to inspire Charles Perrault's Bluebeard? Exceedingly crappy. The worst part? Bluebeard's a gentle soul compared to Gilles de Rais. Huysmans' vivid descriptions of the torture, murder and desecration of children's bodies made me nauseous.
I've read a number of reviews of La-Bas. They all seem to agree that Huysmans provides the best, most accurate description of the Satanic Black Mass available. The murderous rituals of Gilles de Rais stand in stark contrast to the bloodless version in 19th century Paris. My opinion? Huysmans throws too much shade at the world of his day, while choosing to ignore the massive difficulties experienced by people in his idealized version of the Middle Ages.
Will Durtal become less of a crank in Huysmans' subsequent novels: En route, La cathédrale and L'oblat? Will his fuddy duddy-ness dissipate as he climbs out of the depths of Hell on Earth, through Christian esotericism, back to the Catholicism of his youth, and on to becoming a Benedictine Oblate? I doubt it. Still, I'm interested to see where life takes Durtal. At least the fuddy duddy-ness is well written....more
Interest continues to wane as our patient family slogs through Baum's Oz series at bedtime. Once again, Baum chooses the journey-with-new-interesting-Interest continues to wane as our patient family slogs through Baum's Oz series at bedtime. Once again, Baum chooses the journey-with-new-interesting-characters bit. We meet Shaggy Man's brother, Queen Ann Soforth, Betsy Bobbin, Hank the mule, the Rose Princess Ozga, Quox the dragon, Files, and a few other newbies. As with all his books, Baum gives us some genuinely funny moments, one involving Toto that'll make loyal readers giggle. Otherwise, I could take or leave Tik-Tok of Oz. If their wandering attention was any indication, the kids seemed to agree with me. ...more
"It's spurting out! I can't help it! Ah! Ah! Oooooo."
That, ladies and gentlemen, is Nicholson Baker's dep
"Oh! Nnnnnnnn! Nnn! Nnn! Nnn! Nnn! Nnn! Nnn!"
"It's spurting out! I can't help it! Ah! Ah! Oooooo."
That, ladies and gentlemen, is Nicholson Baker's depiction of a shared masturbatory orgasm after hours of conversation over a pay-per-minute chat line. Abby and Jim drive each other wild during one hell of an expensive phone call. But does Baker drive his readers wild and send them running for a Kleenex box? Not so much. Baker cares more about detail, including Jim's and Abby's thoughts and memories in relation to their erotic experiences, than about providing literary pornography for orgasm seekers. No question, the inclusion of so many highly detailed stories and descriptions deadens any sexy feelings. The shared orgasm quoted above provoked an epic eye roll from me. "It's spurting out!" - really?
Baker gives readers a pervy book version of Richard Linklater's awesome film Before Sunrise. I enjoyed much of the clever banter, but not the climactic (see what I did there?) tele-cumfest....more
There's nothing special about Dinosaurs Before Dark. The narrative's just okay; the drawings are just okay. But 4-yr-old Kieran and 6-yr-old SigourneyThere's nothing special about Dinosaurs Before Dark. The narrative's just okay; the drawings are just okay. But 4-yr-old Kieran and 6-yr-old Sigourney related immediately to the brother-and-sister-on-a-mysterious-and-dangerous-adventure theme. Siggy loved Annie's fearlessness in discovery. Kieran loved the dinosaurs. I loved the depiction of books as powerful tools for good in the imagined and real world. The strength of the book is in its call for kids to engage life fully, learn new things, and act on the knowledge gained. Think of a siblings-only version of Magic School Bus.
I could be wrong, but I predict my reviews for just about every book in the Magic Treehouse series will be near-identical. We'll see....more
We're only one book into Park's Junie B. Jones series, so I'll avoid sweeping series-wide judgments at this point. My focus will remain on Junie B. JoWe're only one book into Park's Junie B. Jones series, so I'll avoid sweeping series-wide judgments at this point. My focus will remain on Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business. Here goes.
Beverly Cleary set the modern standard for children's literature with ornery young girls as main characters. Everything Ramona Quimby-related shines like a supernova in a niche universe filled with exceedingly dim stars - Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business and Judy Moody included. Cleary presents Ramona as an often-funny, sometimes-angry, and sometimes-lovable character with realistic parents and significant moments of clarity about the world and her role in it. Bank and McDonald give us mean-spirited, unfunny young people with two-dimensional parents and little to no sign of thoughtful engagement with others. Park even gives a half-hearted shout out to Cleary by making Junie's middle name Beatrice. I'll take "Beezus" over "B." anyday....more
The Acceptance World serves as a transition between the Spring and Summer of Nick and company's existence together and apart. Powell's description ofThe Acceptance World serves as a transition between the Spring and Summer of Nick and company's existence together and apart. Powell's description of the significance of a chance encounter over dinner with friends is perfect:
Afterwards, that dinner at the Grill seemed to partake of the nature of a ritual feast, a rite from which the four of us emerged to take up new positions in the formal dance with which human life is concerned. At the time, its charm seemed to reside in a difference from the usual run of things. Certainly the chief attraction of the projected visit would be absence of all previous plan. But, in a sense, nothing in life is planned – or everything is – because in the dance every step is ultimately the corollary of the step dance, the consequence of being the kind of person one chances to be.
Powell's prose remains beautiful, but less dense than in the first two books of the series. Nick continues to develop - he's now a published author - but at a middling pace compared to the lives of folks like Stringham, Templer, and Quiggin. Quiggin's now a strident Marxist who plays a role in breaking up a marriage; Stringham and Templer have experienced divorce; Nick Jenkins takes the middle ground, "merely" having an affair with a married woman. The lives of these no-longer-so-young people are hardening into ... something. Politics, broken relationships, and economics - major factors in Powell's uber-adult Acceptance World - envelop the lives of our cast of players. Innocence and possibility retreat. What will happen next? Very adult things, I suppose.
I'm now a quarter of the way through the A Dance to the Music of Time Series. It's awesome! Highly recommended....more
Same kudos as given for Monkey Me and the Golden Monkey: A Branches Book. It's lots of fun for the kids. Roland's Monkey Me series can claim the additSame kudos as given for Monkey Me and the Golden Monkey: A Branches Book. It's lots of fun for the kids. Roland's Monkey Me series can claim the additional charm of having relatively happy kids as main characters. Our bedtime reads with the kids have included plenty of stories about youngsters who're miserable for a variety of reasons. It's nice to balance out the sad slogs with outright gleeful adventure....more
Cute! The kids adored the story, immediately requesting that I find Jellaby: Monster in the City at our local library. I was successful, and we'll conCute! The kids adored the story, immediately requesting that I find Jellaby: Monster in the City at our local library. I was successful, and we'll continue the Jellaby saga beginning this evening.
My primary beef is with the ending. Soo leaves readers on the railroad tracks heading into Toronto. It's not so much a cliffhanger, but more like a call for kids to convince their parents to buy another book as soon as possible. I understand the impulse, but hate it at the same time. Jellaby may be cute with an origin story shrouded in mystery, but he/she/it is also complicit in pocket-lining. If you choose Jellaby as a bedtime read for the kiddos, prepare for cries of "More!"...more
What a fun bedtime read! Our just-turned-4-year-old son Kieran and six-year-old daughter Sigourney really got into the action. Not surprisingly, fidgeWhat a fun bedtime read! Our just-turned-4-year-old son Kieran and six-year-old daughter Sigourney really got into the action. Not surprisingly, fidgety little ones can relate to a story where a fidgety, energetic little boy eats a laser zapped banana and begins transforming into a monkey each time he gets excited. Even better, the distracted little fella's heightened energy level ends up being embraced by his twin sister and the adults in his life! I've never heard Kieran laugh so much during a read.
Another cool thing about Monkey Me and the Golden Monkey: A Branches Book is the periodic shift between standard chapter book and graphic novel formats. When Clyde's his little boy self, it's a chapter book; when he turns into a speedy risk-embracing monkey, it's a graphic novel. The transitions are handled well, adding to the read-a-long fun each time.
Our daughter enjoyed Judy Moody; I didn't. Judy does things like nickname her brother "Stink", play mean practical jokes on the little guy, shun awkwaOur daughter enjoyed Judy Moody; I didn't. Judy does things like nickname her brother "Stink", play mean practical jokes on the little guy, shun awkward classmates, and make fun of her new teacher's name. Judy's the pre-teen equivalent of Dorothy/Bea Arthur in Golden Girls - funny at times, but in a turdish sort of way. Great, now I'm grumpy too....more
Gee, laugh riot ... not! Maxim Gorky's masterpiece oozes with social realism, refusing to force heart-warming, romantic endings on the audience. The oGee, laugh riot ... not! Maxim Gorky's masterpiece oozes with social realism, refusing to force heart-warming, romantic endings on the audience. The oppressively dark and pessimistic atmosphere of the setting's not surprising considering the majority of the characters are poor people living in a low-rent lodging house on the frigid shores of the Volga River. Some of the residents are thieves or former prisoners; others are odd jobbers or tubercular; most drink to dull their pain. One character is called simply "Goiter", another's called "Kvashnya", which is defined as "a tub for leavening dough." Hard-heartedness reigns. For example, when Bubnov the capmaker hears Anna has succumbed to tuberculosis, he responds with "That means the end of her coughing." Nice, Bubnov.
Then there's the 60-year-old pilgrim Luka. He brings some hope to the motley crew. To questions of God's existence, Luka responds "Whatever you believe in exists." He refers alcoholics to treatment. To people caught in violent, dead-end situations, he speaks of the ability to leave and change circumstances. Luka preaches compassion. Then he leaves to continue his pilgrimage. The pendulum swings back toward pessimism, but not before Luka's philosophy leaves a shallow mark. In the final Act, Satin imitates Luka's voice and mannerisms while quoting him:
"Everybody, my friend, everybody lives for something better to come. That's why we have to be considerate of every man-- Who knows what's in him, why he was born and what he can do? Maybe he was born for our good fortune--for our greater benefit. And most especially we have to be considerate of youngsters. Kids need plenty of elbowroom. Don't interfere with their life. Be kind to them."
All in the room pause to listen to Satin's performance before returning to their habitual ways.
In the end, Luka's lessons don't stick. The closing scene includes "The Actor", a man once inspired by Luka to seek treatment for his alcoholism, giving in to despair and hanging himself in a vacant lot. This news interrupts the drunken revel going on in the lodging house. Satin's response? "Ah, spoiled the song--the fool!" Recently softened hearts have regained their hardness. Any notion of redemption disappears.
Gorky's given us some well-written anti-tsarist propaganda to consider. I loved The Lower Depths to pieces. Maybe I'll turn to Wodehouse now as a mood stabilizer....more
Fun for the kids, but not quite as much for the adults. The constant questing theme has been overplayed by Baum. Basically, The Patchwork Girl of Oz fFun for the kids, but not quite as much for the adults. The constant questing theme has been overplayed by Baum. Basically, The Patchwork Girl of Oz foists one wacky new character after another on readers, tries to coax a chortle or two out of us, provides yet more evidence that Oz is a socialist utopia, and puts a bow on the whole bit by offering a heart-warming ending. Yawn.
In this installment of the Oz saga, Baum focuses his progressive sensibilities on prison systems. Munchkin boy Ojo breaks a law of Oz and goes to prison. Jailer Tollydiggle explains her kindness and the overall fine state of the prison as follows:
"We consider a prisoner unfortunate. He is unfortunate in two ways--because he has done something wrong and because he is deprived of his liberty. Therefore we should treat him kindly, because of his misfortune, for otherwise he would become hard and bitter and would not be sorry he had done wrong. Ozma thinks that one who has committed a fault did so because he was not strong and brave; therefore she puts him in prison to make him strong and brave. When that is accomplished he is no longer a prisoner, but a good and loyal citizen and everyone is glad that he is now strong enough to resist doing wrong. You see, it is kindness that makes one strong and brave; and so we are kind to our prisoners."
I'm a utopian at heart, so the sentiment resonates with me. The kids weren't impressed, however, and the lesson on prison reform certainly brought an awkward serious pause to a not-so-serious story.
On the positive side, the ending will make you smile. And the sweet relationship between Ojo and Unc Nunkie might moisten an eye or two. But overall, meh....more
"Her attitude shriveled him like a June bug in a match flame."
"It seldom pays to change trains in the middle of a trip—you’re liable to fall down be
"Her attitude shriveled him like a June bug in a match flame."
"It seldom pays to change trains in the middle of a trip—you’re liable to fall down between the two of them."
These quotes from The Bride Wore Black tell little about the action, but plenty about the story's tone. Woolrich takes readers on one melancholy ride.
I loved plenty about The Bride Wore Black. Woolrich's unique decision to make his femme fatale the main character helped me sympathize with instead of fear her. The systematic approach to the book's structure -- with sections broken into three parts: 1) "The Woman", where femme fatale Julie's latest deceptive identity is born, 2) the murder, and 3) a post-mortem on the crime -- gives a veneer of logic to what proves to be an extremely illogical situation. Woolrich keeps us readers in the dark by refusing to fill in narrative blanks for us, and by muddying the waters with coincidences that don't support the core narrative directly. There's a constant, sorrowful fog over things. For Woolrich, shit happens. If you like your justice defined in blacks-and-whites, then expect an uncomfortable reading experience. It's awesome!...more
Narrator Nick's not a happy camper. Now in his early 20s, his job as a publisher of art books, his humble flat across the street from a noisy brothel,Narrator Nick's not a happy camper. Now in his early 20s, his job as a publisher of art books, his humble flat across the street from a noisy brothel, and his awkward-to-non-existent love life don't seem to measure up to the lives of his contemporaries. I wouldn't say he's overly bitter, just disappointed. The vast majority of Nick's time in A Buyer's Market is spent mingling at debutante balls, society gatherings at summer retreats, a birthday party-turned-tragedy and finally, a funeral. I learned plenty about Nick's growing pains as he transitions from boarding school/university, and into society life. As was my experience with A Question of Upbringing, the ups and downs of Nick's life as a young adult felt familiar, truthful, and more than a little uncomfortable for me at times. In other words, I used to be Nick Jenkins.
I love the way Powell ends the second installment of A Dance to the Music of Time:
For reasons not always at the time explicable, there are specific occasions when events begin suddenly to take on a significance previously unsuspected; so that, before we really know where we are, life seems to have begun in earnest at last, and we, ourselves, scarcely aware that any change has taken place, are careering uncontrollably down the slippery avenues of eternity.
Life does pick up speed as jobs, marriage, kids, deaths of loved ones, mistakes, successes, and proofs of mortality flood into our personal books of life. It's only the beginning for Nick (Anthony Powell?), with ten more books remaining in the series. Should be interesting!...more
I'm frustrated. The Watchers Out of Time, a collection of 15 stories by August Derleth, is marketed as a "posthumous collaboration" between Derleth anI'm frustrated. The Watchers Out of Time, a collection of 15 stories by August Derleth, is marketed as a "posthumous collaboration" between Derleth and H. P. Lovecraft. Sure, Derleth served as HPL's literary executor. But scattering fragments of HPL's unpublished prose throughout your own works doth not a collaboration make. Me thinks that by printing "H. P. LOVECRAFT" in massive lettering, with "and August Derleth" following in miniscule font, Derleth and/or Arkham House were looking to cash in on HPL's legendary name.
Now to the stories themselves. There's plenty of HPL's cosmic brand of horror. Cthulhu, Hastur, Nyarlathotep, Dagon, and Alhazred all receive mention multiple times. Innsmouth, Dunwich, Miskatonic University, Aylesbury Pike, Devil Reef - all HPL places become Derleth places. Eldritch, batrachian, gambrel roof, ululating, ichthic - Derleth and HPL words requiring a dictionary. Superstition, worship of the Old Ones, intellectuals flummoxed by irrationality/the occult, cosmic indifference, initiatory (veiled) knowledge - some of the HPL themes brought forward by Derleth. Derleth manages to summon at least some of HPL's tension building skills and philosophical bent. Derleth's most philosophical moment comes at the beginning of "The Shadow Out of Space":
The most merciful thing in the world ... is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on an island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far....
If it is true that man lives forever on the edge of an abyss, then certainly most men must experience moments of awareness--of a kind of precognition, as it were--when the vast, unplumbed depths which exist forever on the rim of man's little world become for one cataclysmic moment tangible, when the terrible, boundless well of knowledge of which even the most brilliant man has only tasted, assumes a shadowy being capable of striking the most primal terror into even the stoutest heart. Does any living man know the true beginnings of mankind? Or man's place in the cosmos? Or whether man is doomed to the worm's ignominious end?
There are terrors that walk the corridors of sleep each night, that haunt the world of dream, terrors which may indeed be tenuously bound to the more mundane aspects of daily life.
Similar to HPL, Derleth paints a picture of an unloving cosmos with dire threats around every corner. Unsimilar to Derleth, HPL's a master at his weird fiction writing craft. I knew Derleth lacked something when I noticed the font shifted to italics each time Derleth wanted to ensure us poor rube-ish readers wouldn't miss a scary, pivotal moment. Trust your readers' intelligence, Derleth!
Overall, an unsatisfactory reading experience....more
As we were walking along, Britta took her book out of her schoolbag and smelled it. She let all of us smell it. New books smell so good that you can t
As we were walking along, Britta took her book out of her schoolbag and smelled it. She let all of us smell it. New books smell so good that you can tell how much fun it's going to be to read them.
We loved this quote! Books, whether new or old, have a smell I'd like to bottle. The quote comes out of the mind of 9-year-old narrator Lisa, which makes it even cooler.
Astrid Lindgren chocks The Children of Noisy Village full of gems like the one above. And if you're in doubt as to whether or not the book is set in Sweden, the fact that the sun's well overhead when the children and their fathers wake at 4am to collect crayfish traps should dispel any questions.
Apparently, I'm in an authors-who-met-a-tragic-demise phase. First it was William Lindsay Gresham, author of Nightmare Alley who overdosed on sleepingApparently, I'm in an authors-who-met-a-tragic-demise phase. First it was William Lindsay Gresham, author of Nightmare Alley who overdosed on sleeping pills and died with business cards in his pocket stating "No Address. No Phone. No Business. No Money. Retired." Now it's Nathanael West who, one day after his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald died, ran a stop sign in El Centro, California which caused a collision and killed he and his wife Eileen McKenney. But I digress.
In A Cool Million, West takes a bludgeon to the eternally optimistic, rags-to-riches success mythology of Horatio Alger. West's is extreme, biting satire. Gone is Dick the bootblack who takes his first five dollars, invests frugally, and attains middle class respectability. (See Alger's Ragged Dick.) Now it's the world of a truly pathetic hero, Lemuel Pitkin. During the course of the novel, Pitkin's robbed, cheated, falsely accused, arrested, beaten, exploited. He loses his mother, an eye, every one of his teeth, a thumb, his scalp, and the lower part of a leg. His love interest and orphan Betty Prail is raped, abused, and sold into sex slavery. Things get even worse, but I refuse to play the spoiler. Throughout his ordeal, Lemuel never loses his sense of optimism and gullibility. Like I said, a pathetic story.
There's plenty of humor here. The former President's name is Shagpoke Whipple, for crying out loud! But much of West's humor appears to be gratuitous brutality unless readers know he's closely satirizing Horatio Alger. I suggest reading Alger's Ragged Dick before diving into this cringe-inducing dismantling of wholesome young people. ...more
Underwhelmed! I know Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is considered a classic in children's literature. Apparently, it's considered part of the LiteraUnderwhelmed! I know Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is considered a classic in children's literature. Apparently, it's considered part of the Literary Nonsense genre, which makes perfect sense since the work's nonsensical. Think Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for the younger set.
Our daughter liked the book better than I did. She did get bored however, despite large, beautiful illustrations being on just about every other page throughout the book. The hardcover version we read included illustrations by more than 25 "Alice artists" from the past, John Tenniel and Arthur Rackham included. I enjoyed the collection of Alice art much more than I did the story. For me, Carroll's the original (but much less funny) Seinfeld, creating a show/book about nothing. A celebration of child-like imagination? Maybe. Give me Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz any day....more