Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine

Islands Apart by Ken McAlpineTitle:  Islands Apart:  A Year on the Edge of Civilization

Author:  Ken McAlpine

Paperback:  256 pages (Advance Reader’s Edition)

Published: 2009

ISBN:  9781590305300

Acquired:  won in the May 2009 LibraryThing ER batch

Challenges:  ARC Reading Challenge, New Author Challenge, We Didn’t Start the Fire Challenge (under California)

A humorous and wise look at contemporary American life—and how time spent alone in nature can give us a fresh perspective and greater clarity about what matters most.

In this touching and often humorous book, author Ken McAlpine does what many of us long to do. Overwhelmed by the hectic pace of his life, he escapes to a beautiful, remote location where he finds the open spaces and solitude that bring him some peace of mind. McAlpine camps alone in the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California, a place where time slows down, the past reveals itself in prehistoric fossils, and where a person can become attuned to the rhythms of the natural world and find their rightful place in it

For McAlpine the Channel Islands become a modern-day Walden Pond—an enchanting, isolated location from which to reflect on nature, civilization, and what matters most. Back on the mainland, McAlpine continues his explorations by seeking out experiences that reflect who we are and what we value today. His travels include spending time at a soup kitchen in Beverly Hills; a Catholic monastery; and visiting Arlington West, a veteran-run memorial to soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Islands Apart is an engaging meditation on what we can learn about ourselves and our world when we open ourselves to the wisdom of nature and begin to look more deeply.

-Product description at Amazon.com

I have had Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine on my ARC-alanche pile since June of 2009.  It’s one of my way-overdue ER books, and the second one I’ve completed this month (three more to go, woot).  When I first read the description and clicked the button to enter my name in the fandangled LT ER algorithm, I was intrigued by the premise of the book.  McAlpine wants to get away from it all, and find a quiet place to reflect on humanity… kinda like Thoreau with Walden, but on the Channel Islands in Southern California.

For the most part, I really enjoyed this book.  The chapters on time spent between the islands and the mainland alternate, so that it has a feeling of interaction with people and then reflection on our place in this world.  I liked this book so much, that I have struggled to understand how the two diverse world are suppose to relate to each other because a lot of the time it felt like I was reading two different books that were mashed together.  What do a hustler/wannabe actor, a tree-loving priest, homeless diners, veteran protestors, and preschoolers have in common with each other, let alone with the foxes, eagles, and xantus murrelets of the Channel Islands?

We lay claim to the things we come across in our lives, as if it is possible to own them, but you can no more own an island or a stoic gull than you can possess the fleeting moments that accumulate into a lifetime.  It is good to recognize life’s gifts, but foolish to hold them too tightly.

-Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine, page 201 (ARE)

I think what McAlpine was trying to do was to show that there is a deep desire in all things, in people and in nature, to know that there will be some piece of them left behind after they die.  To know that they won’t just fade into oblivion.  It is why we have children.  It’s why writer’s write, cavemen drew, why the park ranger’s work so diligently to preserve the foxes and murrelets and the ugly scrub that’s native to the islands.  It’s why the xantus murrelets continue to lay eggs in caves where rats destroy the embryo within before it’s even had a chance to firm up.  What’s more, in an effort to ensure we continue on, we do what we can to control what little bit we can, whether by planting a tree in the desert or by working long hours to invest every cent possible in a future hoped for. 

This book was a slower read, no matter how much I wanted to hurry, and I almost abandoned it at one point.  Despite absolutely loving the first 127 pages, when I hit the chapter on San Miguel Island, it was like falling into a pit of quicksand.  It’s the only part of the book that I hated.  I think it was too long, too boring, and interminable (a word I had to learn to spell to describe this chapter)  That chapter should just say, “Spent a week on San Miguel. Ian was cool. The elephant seals were horny buggers. The fur seals are mean little shits. And all the pinnipeds are louder than a Greek convention at Grant’s Farm! There’s bird poop everywhere, the ravens know how to pick locks… oh, and some dude killed himself because he thought this place was Heaven on Earth.” Next chapter!

I’m very glad I didn’t abandon it, because the next chapter, “Almost Famous”, was the best part of the whole book.  In this chapter, McAlpine explores the extent people go for the chance to be famous.  He spends long hours with James, a Captain Jack Sparrow working the tourists outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  I liked James, and you can tell McAlpine does, too, but I can’t help but wonder how much more he could accomplish if he would put his hard work toward something tangible.  At what point in time do you accept the reality that your dreams are just that, pipe dreams, and the real world is calling.  James wants nothing more than, and WORKS harder than anyone I’ve seen to achieve it, to be a star.  But does he have a viable and real future in it?  Sadly, I don’t think so.  I think he should grow up and get a job and find a way to contribute that way.  But… no one’s depending on him, he’s his own man, and he’s not taking public assistance, so who is he hurting?

I also relished the chapter “Lunch in Beverly Hills” where Ken spent time getting to know and gaining an understanding and appreciation for the homeless.  I have a personal interest in this issue.  You see, seven years ago, the girls and I WERE homeless.  We weren’t without a place to stay, there’s a large shelter here in town, and the people who run it are fantastic.  Thanks to them, I was able to take some time to look at my life and where I was taking my kids, and to reevaluate my priorities.  I want to go back to school to finish up my degree in Sociology so that I can get a job as a client-to-community liaison in a homeless shelter.  In this book, McAlpine says that homelessness is a complex problem, and that is very true.  Some people have chosen it as a lifestyle, others are there because shit happens, while still others are there because it’s better than where they came from.  We were in this last group, having left an abusive and volatile situation with the hope of something better.

I must admit, however, that I can very much relate to MRS. McAlpine, who told him at one point in his working on this book, “I hate you, you know.”  Ken is a white professional male, close to, if not already, middle-age, and has the means, ability, and the people in his life that affords him the ability to just take off whenever he feels like it to spend a week camping on an island or at a monastary, to just sit and think.  Kathy McAlpine makes the statement that she doesn’t have time to go off and think.  And I have to say this:  Where are the books where women just take off, leaving their children for weeks at a time with their fathers, so they can go listen to their inner voice? 

No Where.

Why?  Because we live in a society that, despite the lip-service of equality, that if Ken had been a Kendra, she would have been railed against as a bad mother who abandoned her kids to selfishly wander.  Mr. Kendra would have filed for divorce, and NOT wanted custody, so that Kendra would have had to either cart the kids around, (What a bad mother, not giving her kids a stable place to live) or leave them with someone (What a bad mother, she just dumps her kids and runs off). 

Okay, social rant is over.  In the interest of full disclosure, I hate Ken, too, and wish I could run off to an island and just sit and ponder, too. But, I still love the book, even if I am jealous. ;-)

I think Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine is a book that will stick with me for a while.  The Channel Islands are a beautiful place, and I recommend you take time to check out their website.  The Parks Department has put together an extensive, multimedia site with details of what’s being done to preserve as much of the indigenous species as possible, as well as the discovery of the best preserved and most complete fossilized remains of  a pygmy mastodon.

4 out of 5 stars

Maggie Guest Reviews Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr

Maggie Guest postsMaggie and I just finished reading Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr last night, which was a re-read for me, but a first read for her since she fell asleep on it last year and never picked it back up.  I enjoyed it more this time around, and wonder if it was because I haven’t recently seen the movie, or that I saw things this time I didn’t before, or that it was the wide-eyed (most of the time), often giggling girl cuddling beside me.  Maybe it was all three, but I’m thinking it was the last that increased my enjoyment the most ;-)

Since I reviewed it in 2008, I thought it’d be a perfect chance for Mags to do her first official review.  She has given a paragraph here and there on different books that we’ve read together about what she thought of a book, but never the whole review.  So, take it away Maggie!

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Nim's Island with MaggieMy mom is making do this, I want to play and this is boring and stupid, but she’s making me sit here and write this with her. 

So why did I read Nim’s Island?  “Because I wanted to” isn’t enough, mom says, so I guess I have to say more.  At school we do Accelerated Reader.  You get points for reading books and you get prizes and it goes on your report card.  Also, if I don’t meet my point goals, I can’t play computer games.  With Nim’s Island‘s 3 points, I’ll have 46 points.  I want to get 100 points by the end of the year, I’m trying to get mom to read Twilight with me, it’s worth like 20 points or something :-D

Nim’s Island is about a girl named Nim who lives on an island with her dad, Jack.  Her dad leaves her alone while he goes to study plankton.  He only means to be gone for 3 days, but then a storm hit and his boat got broke, and he couldn’t get back to her.  He let Nim know what happened by hooking up a note on Nim’s bird named Galileo.  While he was gone, they got an email from Alex Rover, who is the author of the adventure books Nim loves.  Having someone to talk to makes Nim feel less alone and happy to have a friend.  When Alex finds out that Nim is alone, she comes to the island immediately, even though it was hard for Alex to even leave her apartment because she’s afraid of everything, even just going outside.

Five things I liked about the book:

  1. I liked Fred, the iguana, best.  He’s so funny.  He always forgets he doesn’t like banana and takes a bite of Nim’s then spits it out and then Nim’s too grossed out to eat the banana. 
  2. The book was funny.  When Fred got mad, he swam down to the bottom of the pool and hid under a rock.
  3. It was cool that they lived on an island.  I’d love to live on an island and swim in the ocean whenever I wanted.  And she didn’t have to sit in a boring classroom for school, but got to sit outside and learn about nature and stars and how to talk to the seals.
  4. It was a short book.
  5. I liked the pictures in the book.

Things I didn’t like:

  • I didn’t like that Nim was left alone.  It’s bad to leave kids alone.  It made me feel sad that she didn’t have anybody to share the coconut pearl with or to comfort her when her knee got hurt. 
  • I didn’t like it when my mom teased me and said she was going to stop in the middle of the storm, in the middle of a sentence.  This is what she did:

“The water was up to Alex’s waist, then her chest, and up to her neck; she was spluttering and ducking, and… “

Okay, time for bed.

I threatened to bite her if she didn’t finish.  She finished.

  • Did I mention I didn’t like writing a review?

I give Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr 4 out of 5 stars.  Okay, that’s all I can think of, so I guess I’m done. 

YAY! I’m FREE!!!!

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I’m counting Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr as part of my We Didn’t Start the Fire Challenge 2010 under “South Pacific”.

Bloggiesta progress update #2

Pedro

I’m still trying to figure out how to use the Google Reader sharing thinger, and if I make comments there, do they show up on the original post?  IDK… I’m trying to find a more effective way to use the blogroll without it taking up 29 inches long of blogspace.  Meghan at Medieval Bookworm has a nice little widget, why can’t I get one for mine?  *whine whine whine*

Other things I’ve done:

I updated all the links on my I Want More Kool-Aid! page.  Apparently, the BookMooch link there took you to a member’s only page, and was therefore sorta broke.  I also added my Goodreads profile, so if you want to add me on goodreads, now ya can ;-)  And my facebook link is on there, too.

I removed the Giveaways page.  I’ve really been bad about keeping up with that thing anyway.  There was only ONE giveaway listed, and it was for my giveaway of Something Beyond Greatness, which was HOW LONG AGO?

***** ADD break – Since the kids came home and noticed RIGHT AWAY that I was busy and took IMMEDIATELY to fighting like cats and dogs, I put on my MP3 player and cranked it up…. Currently playing:  Mere Saath Chalte Chalte (from the Humko Deewana Kar Gaye soundtrack)

 

 The girls in this video are all so beautiful, and I just love this movie!  AND… It’s hard to listen to Hindi music without dancing!  Okay, back to work :-) ******

Okay, I cut the ARC-alanche list and pasted it over the Mt. TBR Inventory, deleting all the previous mess.  Then I added the link to my LT catalogue, and renamed the new page It’s an ARC-alanche!!  I had went through and updated the list in anticipation of focusing entirely on these books this year, and STILL I had a book that had escaped the pile… lol.  I think it’s complete now.  As I review books, I’ll add the links and strike off the completed titles.  1 down, 66 to go :-/

And now I’ve got my challenge page updated, including the books I plan to read for each challenge so I can strike them out and link the reviews as I finish them.  I’ve retitled the page Reading is Challenging!

Yay!!  Getting soooo much done!

Okay, so one thing I need to do is to go through and check all my images to make sure they have alt titles, as MawBooks pointed out that the ALT title helps the search engines find the images, and by that, my blog :-)

Then I’m good to go on checking out the mini-challenges, I think :-D

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

Title:  Of Bees and Mist

Author:  Erick Setiawan

Paperback:  405 (Advaced Reader’s Edition)

Published:  August 2009

ISBN:  9781615233502

Acquired:  Received from Barnes & Noble’s First Look online book club

Challenges:  ARC Reading Challenge 2010, New Author Challenge 2010

“If you have something to say, then say it,” said Meridia.  “I know you’ve been talking to Mama behind my back.”

A smile slow and calculating parted the girl’s lips.  The liveliness in her eyes extended to her mouth, which now took on a delight almost to fiendish for her thirteen years.

“You’re wearing… the necklace Mama gave you.  You wear it three, four times a week.”… Malin’s laugh leapt up with contempt.  “You’re just like the rest of them.  So easily fooled.  When I first met you, I thought you had it in you to stick it to her….  Can’t you see how cheap that necklace is?  I wouldn’t be surprised if she fished it out of  a garbage bin.  And yet you wear it like it’s the most precious thing you own.”

“I wear it because I like it.  Mama was generous enough to give it to me.”

“Have you listened to yourself lately?  Every other sentence you say is ‘ Mama this and Mama that.’  It makes me sick to hear you go on!  Well, she’s not your mother and she never will be.  Why do you bend to her every wish?  Why does everyone?  If you only knew the things she says behind your back.”

 -Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, pages 128-129

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan is descibed on the back of the book as an adult fable, and I had to Google “fable” to understand how they could call it this, as my previous understanding of the term was “a short story told for the purpose to entertain an audience while teaching them a life lesson.”  You know, “Moral of the story is…”  But Of Bees and Mist is not a short story, and I’m not exactly sure if it’s got a moral. 

According to Google, there are two specific definitions of “fable” that can apply to this book:

A fable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized.

A story about mythical or supernatural beings or events.

In Of Bees and Mist, Setiawan tells the story of two families of strong matriarchs who are brought together by the marriage of Daniel and Meridia.  Eva, Daniel’s mother, is a larger-than-life personality with poise and charm and sweeps everyone up into the palm of her hand by her charisma.  Once in her grasp, however, she expects them to do her bidding and never argue or suffer the consequences.  She takes particular aim at her own husband, Elias, as well as her youngest daughter, Permony, of whom she has always seen as competition for her husband’s affection.  She continually nags, berates and cajoles them for differing reasons and effects.  With Elias, she peppers him with swarming bees at all hours, particularly at night when he’s trying to rest (she naps during the day so she can keep at him) until he breaks from exhaustion and flies off the handle.  As to Permony, Eva treats her as the whipping girl and gets out her frustration and irritation on the young girl.  When Meridia comes along and takes up Permony’s cause, expresses her own opinion and shows herself to be both beautiful and intelligent, Eva can’t stand it.  She levels her sights to destroy her new daughter-in-law.

The second mother in the equation is Ravenna, who has gained a reputation in their small town as not being quite right in the head.  A great deal of the time, Ravenna lives in her own world, mumbling her own private language to herself while constantly cooking for no one in particular.  She lives her life behind a veil of forgetfulness, hiding from a past no one will talk about.  However, occasionally she finds her way to the surface, and is a force to be reckoned with.  Her essence and spirit has lasting power and Meridia is able to sustain herself in between Ravenna’s moments of sanity.  Whereas Eva has a vile and evil presence that drives people to bitterness and contention, Ravenna has a soothing and calming effect, bringing peace with her and driving out Eva’s bees.  It is between these two women that the battle of Good versus Evil seems to play out.

Along with the bees that pour from Eva’s lips to attack those at whom she directs them, there are other supernatural elements.  There are the three different mists that are characters in their own right in the book.  The white mist that encases the house that Meridia grew up in which keeps it the temperature and hearts within the home cold.  The yellow mist that comes in the evenings to take Gabriel, Meridia’s father, away to his mistress’s house and the blue mist that brings him back in the mornings.  There is a ghost that inhabits the mirrors, as well as fireflies that visit, protect and guide Meridia, and roses and marigolds that seem to war for dominance over Eva’s lawn.  AND, there is Hannah, Meridia’s best friend from childhood, who returns for visits with her as an adult when times are hard for her.  No one ever sees Hannah, but I don’t think she’s Meridia’s imaginary friend.

The worst evil Eva commits is to make a deal with a man whom she knows is wicked to marry her daughter in order to profit monetarily from the match.  Worse yet, when her daughter confesses to discovering the man to be part beast (a pig-man), and to raping young girls in their basement, Eva sends her back to him.  Telling her daughter she doesn’t want a scandal surrounding her name.  For Eva, saving face and her pride are her most precious treasures.

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Honestly, Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan is a complex story with many facets.  One of the things I found most amazing was that Setiawan hung so many guns on every room of a mansion in this book, and fired them all.  There are no strings left untied, everything was used.  Another thing I was impressed by reading Of Bees and Mist is the difference in storytelling between Western and Eastern cultural style.  This book really showed off the Oriental thought process of fluidity, connectivity and moments of experience, whereas in the Occidental custom, storytelling and philosophy is linear and cause-and-effect.  Because of this, Of Bees and Mist doesn’t follow the “this-then that-then that happened” but was more like friezes in the lives of the characters within, with the balance of their lives being weighed out in the end.

I may re-read this book later… I haven’t decided.  There were just so many aspects of the story that I think I’d could still get more out of it.  Overall, Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan is a fantastic story that sweeps the reader along.  I was surprised how much time and pages went by as I read.  Though I’m not exactly sure why I’m not giving this a 5 out of 5, it’s still a great book, and so I’m giving it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

homers-odysseyTitle:  Homer’s Odyssey:  A Fearless Feline Tale, Or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat

Author:  Gwen Cooper

Hardback:  289 pages

ISBN:  9780385343855

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

The last thing Gwen Cooper wanted was another cat. She already had two, not to mention a phenomenally underpaying job and a recently broken heart. Then Gwen’s veterinarian called with a story about a three-week-old eyeless kitten who’d been abandoned. It was love at first sight.

Everyone warned that Homer would always be an “underachiever,” never as playful or independent as other cats. But the kitten nobody believed in quickly grew into a three-pound dynamo, a tiny daredevil with a giant heart who eagerly made friends with every human who crossed his path. Homer scaled seven-foot bookcases with ease and leapt five feet into the air to catch flies in mid-buzz. He survived being trapped alone for days after 9/11 in an apartment near the World Trade Center, and even saved Gwen’s life when he chased off an intruder who broke into their home in the middle of the night.

But it was Homer’s unswerving loyalty, his infinite capacity for love, and his joy in the face of all obstacles that inspired Gwen daily and transformed her life. And by the time she met the man she would marry, she realized Homer had taught her the most important lesson of all:  Love isn’t something you see with your eyes.

Homer’s Odyssey is the once-in-a-lifetime story of an extraordinary cat and his human companion.  It celebrates the refusal to accept limits -on love, ability, or hope against overwhelming odds.  By turns jubilant and moving, it’s a memoir for anybody who’s ever fallen completely and helplessly in love with a pet.

-Inside dust cover of Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Okay… breathe…  I’m going to do my best to review this book on the its merits alone, and not gush about the author herself.  It would be easy for me to go on about how, upon hearing that my daughter, also named Gwen, loves animals and has a black cat, was really excited by the book when I got my advanced reader copy and wanted me to read it to her, emailed me for my address and not only sent her a signed copy of the finished book with a beautiful hand-written card and pictures of Homer, but also sent her a copy of the audio book.  AND that, with all that she’s got going on in her life with book-signings, fundraisers and feeling under the weather, she still takes time message us and even remembers my daughter’s cat’s name.  But this is a review of the book, not the author, so I will focus my attention on that.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper is a memoir of how the things that we might never choose on our own can be exactly what we need.  It is about recognizing value in someone or something and building your life around it.  It is about how, by looking at life and love through the eyes of another, we take on the traits we admire in that person.  In Gwen Cooper’s case, that person was a blind wonder cat, through whom she learned courage, how to love, and perseverance.

One thing I really like about this book is the format.  It’s set up as a journey from who and where Gwen was when she got the call from the vet about the eyeless kitten whom nobody wanted and would likely be put down if she, his last chance, didn’t adopt him, continues through jobs and moves and romances, and ends with what she has learned and insights she has gained through knowing and loving and living with Homer.  But, each chapter is also a tale in and of itself, making it a book that can be devoured straight through (honestly, it’s very hard to put down) or you can nibble on it and ponder each lesson.  Also, each chapter begins with a picture, usually of Homer, but occasionally of Scarlett or Vashti, Homer’s big sisters, and a quote from the other Homer, the Greek storyteller.

Another thing that I enjoyed with this book is Gwen’s sense of humor.  There are so many laugh-out-loud moments,  like bringing her date in and the two of them being greeted by a cat who not only discovered the tampons, but how to unwrap them, proudly carrying them in his mouth to show to his mommy.  Also, there is a quality to her writing that made me feel like we’ve been friends for years.

Like life, though, the book isn’t all sunshine and roses.  There are real dangers and some terrifying moments, like waking up to find a burglar in her apartment.  As well as the heart wrenching days after September 11th, when Gwen tried desperately to get back to her cats who were trapped in their apartment, just blocks from where the two towers had stood.

I found Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper to be moving and inspirational, at times hilarious and touching, and am thankful that there was a vet who refused to accept that an eyeless kitten was better off being put down, that Gwen Cooper was in the vet’s contacts list and opened her heart to him, and that she has shared Homer and his wisdom with all of us.  I give Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper 5 out of 5 stars.  It’s one of my favorites and I’ll be rereading it again and again :-)

Falling Woefully Behind… or, Life as Normal

After having the flu and being down in my bed for a whole week, then each girl taking their turn with it, it seems like I will never get caught up.  In between being sick, Halloween and Trick-or-Treating, and parent-teacher conferences, we’ve had a dental emergency (Sam’s tooth broke while she was eating a sucker and the dentist has made a fake one to replace it), the dog has fleas, cats that went missing and were found, and the pizza man not only can drive to our house blindfolded, but also knows all our names and who ordered which food item and drink… and even brings a treat for the dog, whom he knows by name.  *Sigh*  So, it is NO surprise that our house looks like the city dump was relocated to our interior. 

It would seem that cleaning the house without being told is NOT an innate quality in children.  It would also seem that we were too much for our house elf, who has either ran away or committed suicide.  Alas!  I stand in the doorway of the kitchen, staring at the sinks, counters and table overflowing with dirty dishes and debate whether to clean it up, buy new dishes, or set fire to the room and declare it a total loss.  Should I clean the house?  or move…. hmmm….

Well.. I’ve been trying to clean it… though, frankly, the furry oatmeal monster growing in a bowl keeps giving me the evil eye and threatening to kill me in my sleep.  Equally frightening is the pot with what I’m guessing once was spaghetti… though, I can NOT remember the last time we had spaghetti… that the plague of orange lady bugs have claimed as their promised land and are prepared to defend it to the death.

On the upside, while I was sick I managed to finish Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper, which I absolutely loved.  AND while cleaning, I managed to finally finish Confessions of a Shopoholic by Sophie Kinsella, which was meh… okay, I guess.  I keep sitting down to write the review for Homer, and I just don’t know where to start.  I look at the screen for  a second, then click over to a game site.  I’ve just not felt up to writing a review, I guess.  Or, more to the point, doing the WORK of getting links, book cover, and thinking about what I want to say and then putting it into something that makes sense.

Okay… lol… so my confession’s over.  I’m off to start writing the reviews.  Or do dishes.. or just burn the kitchen down… still not decided yet.

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

Looking Glass WarsTitle:  The Looking Glass Wars

Author:  Frank Beddor

Hardback:  364 pages

ISBN:  0803731531

From the website:

The Looking Glass Wars unabashedly challenges the world’s Carrollian Wonderland assumptions of tea parties, dormice and a curious little blonde girl to reveal an epic, cross dimensional saga of love, murder, betrayal, revenge and the endless war for Imagination. Meet the heroic, passionate, monstrous, vengeful denizens of this parallel world as they battle each other with AD-52’s and orb generators, navigate the Crystal Continuum, bet on jabberwock fights and slip each other the poisonous pink mushroom. Finally, someone got it right. This ain’t no fairytale.

Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland throne, was forced to flee through the Pool of Tears after a bloody palace coup staged by the murderous Redd shattered her world. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the surreal, violent, heartbreaking story of her young life only to see it published as the nonsensical children’s sojourn Alice in Wonderland. Alyss had trusted Lewis Carroll to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere would find her and bring her home.

But Carroll had got it all wrong. He even misspelled her name! If not for the intrepid Hatter Madigan, a member of the Millinery (Wonderland’s security force) who after a 13 year search eventually tracked Alyss to London, she may have become just another society woman sipping tea in a too-tight bodice instead of returning to Wonderland to battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

I found the concept of The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddorto be utterly fascinating.  What if Alice Liddel as the Reverend Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) had been telling the truth:  She was the rightful heir to the Wonderland throne, exiled to England while her black imagination-practicing aunt Redd ruled by ursurption.  What if, in telling Dodgson, she had been hoping the book he’d write would prove her credible, but instead he’d took her for only being highly imaginative and had twisted her tale until it barely resembled the truth.

Unfortunately, either because I’m just not enough of a Wonderland fan, or I wasn’t in the right mood for the book, I found I couldn’t get into it.  I can’t say what I found “wrong” with it, can’t say what I’d wish more for or less of.  The writing is more than worthy, the concept imaginative, and it has sparked a bit of hatred from die-hard Carrollians, but it just didn’t grab me.  It has everything I like, fantasy, adventure, maybe it could’ve used more humor.  It is a mystery why it missed the target with me.

I would recommend it to anyone who likes both the Alice books and darker stories.  There are also sequels to this book, as well as one of Hatter Madigan’s tale.  I’m satisfied that my adventures in the Looking Glass Wars is ended, personally, but I will probably watch the movie when it comes out, which doesn’t seem to be planned at the moment, but I’m sure there will be one someday. 

I give The Looking Glass Wars  by Frank Beddor 3 out of 5 stars.  It just didn’t do anything for me, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it.

Here’s a trailer for the book:

Fruits Basket volume 1 by Natsuki Takaya

Fruits Basket 1Title:  Fruits Basket Volume 1

Author:  Natsuki Takaya

Paperback:  216 pages

ISBN:  1591826039

Challenges:  Manga Challenge

From the back cover:

A family with an ancient curse…

And the girl who will change their lives forever…

Tohru Honda was an orphan with no place to go until the mysterious Sohma family offered her a place to call home.  Now her ordinary high school life is turned upside down as she’s introduced to the Sohma’s world of magical curses and family secrets.  Discover for yourself the Secret of the Zodiac, and find out why Fruits Basket has won the hearts of readers the world over!

First off, a caveat:  This is my first manga, and my first review of a manga book.  I’m not exactly sure how one writes a review for manga.  I could read a bunch of reviews then write it, but I’d probably end up regurgitating what I’ve read, then.  I don’t even know if the title is supposed to be italicized like novels, and can’t exactly use a quote from the book since it uses pictures to tell the story.  But, here goes….

I first heard about Fruits Basketfrom a friend who said his niece loved it.  I’d been circling the manga pool and dipping my toe in every time I went to the book store, but had not as yet jumped in.  I’d also been sampling anime with Maggie, and so I thought this series would be a great place to start.  This book was originally published in Hane to Yume magazine in 1999.  It was finally published in English in 2004 by TOKYOPOP (if you click the link, you can read the first chapter online).  It is also a 26-episode anime series, AND an online petitionpleading FUNimation to make a second season of the show (I’ve signed, btw ;-) )

So, right from the start, I know I’m going into a beloved series and am fairly safe in thinking I’ll like it, which, of course, I did.

The story is about how orphaned Tohru, who has never fit in anywhere, comes to stay with the Shigure, Yuki and Kyo Sohma, members of a family who suffer from a strange curse that transforms them into the animals of the Chinese Zodiac.  It’s a book about transformations, both the humorous, and often inconvenient, physical transformations of the Sohmas themselves (and embarrassing, especially since transforming back to human form renders them naked).  It’s also about how Tohru’s kind and quiet spirit affects them, causing them to mature and let go of some of their anger and bitterness, and to grow in affection and acceptance of one another.

Maggie’s Review:

I really love-love-LOVE Fruits Basket!  Yuki and Kyo are cute and it’s so funny when they fight.  Yuki’s mysterious and it’s funny when Kyo gets mad (which is all the time) and gets cat ears, eyes, teeth and tail and hisses at Yuki.  I like the whole Zodiac thing.  It’s funny, especially when Shigure is acting like a pervert :-D  Kagura is CRAZY!  She’s in love with Kyo, and she shows it by destroying him and beating him up and flipping him through the wall.  One thing I did NOT like about it is that it’s got a lot of cuss words in it.

Maggie is funny, she says she doesn’t like the cuss words, but she sure does laugh a lot at them.  BTW, the cuss words used are Damn, Dammit, and Bitch and Bastard are used once in the second book when Kyo and Uo are playing a card game (both have anger issues).  No F-bombs, or other strong words are used.  The books are labeled for teens, which I didn’t catch until after she’d watched the whole anime series, read book one and got halfway through book two. 

and now, a few moments of love’s reflection by Kagura Sohma :-D

and, after writing this, I realized that, technically, Vampire Kisses:  Blood Relativeswas my first “manga,” though it’s not really manga because it reads like a normal American book, not right to left.  It’s the right-to-left reading of FB that’s made it so dificult for Mags to read on her own.  I’m sure a few books in and she’ll be okay.  Also, since she won’t let me put FB on BookMooch or PBS… she’s already made off with the book… I guess she’ll be re-reading it on her own, which should help her manga-reading abilities.

Well, off to Hardee’s for dinner and to finish up FB vol 2 :-D

Summer Blahs and Distractions… and a new computer doesn’t help!

Yeah, I’ve seen a few of you expressing this same thing.  Just a general sense of blah and a disinterest in anything.  Maybe it’s the heat, it’s baking our brains -though, it’s been unseasonably mild here, so I can’t use that as an excuse!  I just can’t seem to focus or concentrate on reading.  I just can’t seem to bring myself to caring about anything.  I turn on the tv and fall asleep.  I start reading a book and space out.  The house looks like a tornado went through, but I just step over the messes.

Here’s the thing.  I was feeling a bit blah-like before I got the computer, but since then, I’ve been 10 times worse.  I suddenly realized yesterday when I forgot to get up and wake up my daughter for her summer club that maybe I’ve been on Facebook playing the games a little too much.  Yeah, okay… so I didn’t go to bed for three days playing online stuff, is that a bad thing?  LOL…

Well, at least it didn’t take five or six months to realize maybe I was spending too much time online, you know.. like it did with SecondLife.  And we all need a break from the everyday, right?  Okay, so break’s over.  Time to get back in gear.  First up, cleaning the house before FEMA steps in.  I did mow yesterday, so that’s good, right?  Or was it the day before yesterday… 

I did manage to finish reading Fruits Basket volume 1yesterday.  I was trying hard to wait until I wrote the review before going on to volume two, but… halfway into the second book now, and I think I’ll give up that plan… LOL.  Maggie made me read it!

Speaking of Maggie, she has a friend spending the night tomorrow, and she’s been involved in a play with the summer reading program at the library for which her performance is tomorrow evening.  She’s excited, of course, and is happier that her best friend will be there than she is about my going.  And Maggie starts summer school on Tuesday, which will set me back into a schedule again.  Yay for routines!

Maggie with an Airhead tongue

Maggie showing off her long Airhead tongue

Coming soon, I promise… a review of Fruits Basket volume 1 with Maggie’s guest review, too.  She made me read it, I swear!  She may look sweet, but you should see her claws!

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Title:  Neverwhere

Author:  Neil Gaiman

Paperback: 400 pages

Date Published:  1996

Publisher:  Harper Torch (div of HarperCollins)

ISBN:  9780380789016

“So what are you after?”  Richard asked Hunter.  The three of them were walking, with extreme care, along the bank of an underground river.  The bank was slippery, a narrow path along dark rock and sharp masonry.  Richard watched with respect as the gray water rushed and tumbled, within arm’s reach.  This was not the kind of river you fell into and got out of again; it was the other kind.

“After?”

“Well,” he said.  “Personally, I’m trying to get back to the real London, and my old life.  Door wants to find out who killed her family.  What are you after?”  They edged along the bank, a step at a time, Hunter in the lead.  She said nothing in reply.  The river slowed and fed into a small underground lake.  They walked beside the water, their lamps reflecting in the black surface, their reflections smudged by the river mist.  “So what is it?”  asked Richard.  He did not expect any kind of answer.

Hunter’s voice was quiet and intense.  She did not break her step as she spoke.  “I fought in the sewers beneath New York with the great blind white alligator-king.  He was thirty feet long, fat from sewage and fierce in battle.  And I bested him, and I killed him.  His eyes were like huge pearls in the darkness.”  Her strangely accented voice echoed in the underground, twined in the mist, in the night beneath the Earth.

“…And I shall slay the Beast of London.  They say his hide bristles with swords and spears and knives stuck in him by those who have tried and failed.  His tusks are razors, and his hooves are thunderbolts.  I will kill him, or I will die in the attempt.”

-Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, pages 226-227

Meet Richard, Richard Mayhew… Dick.  Mild-mannered, Scottish born, hard-working London resident and all-around nice guy.  Richard is affianced to the eager, forward-thinking and career-driven (read:  controlling and pushy) Jessica who sees Richard as a project:  lots of potential, but also lot of work.  Richard’s life is dull, he has no family, and Gary, his co-worker, is his only friend… other than Jess… I mean Jessica.

Then, as he and Jessica are on the way to dinner with her boss, they come upon a strange girl, hurt and bleeding, in need of help.  Richard is compelled to help the girl, to which Jessica gives him an ultimatum:  Either he leaves the girl for someone else to help, or he can consider their engagement over.  Richard has no choice BUT to help and leave Jessica to dine with her employer alone.

However, in helping the girl, whose name is Door, he quickly finds his life is turned upside down, literally.  Suddenly, he no longer exists.  People don’t seem to see or hear him.  Cabs won’t stop for him.  Even the people in his office don’t know him and his desk and all his cubicle’s contents are gone.  Bewildered and feeling alone, he returns to his apartment to take a bath, only to be surprised by his landlord showing his place to a couple looking to rent.  He is forced to return to London Below to find Door and to find a way to get his life back.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is like Alice in Wonderland meets Grimms Fairy Tales, with a bit of Wizard of Oz and an ending reminiscent of El Dorado.  London Below is like a walk through history.  Every thing and everyone who has slipped through the cracks and has been lost, overlooked, and forgotten can be found in London Below.  Creatures lurk in the sewers and under subway platforms, and everyone is dangerous. 

Neverwhere is an urban fairy tale, with the teeth to scare you and fill your inner child with wonder.  I really enjoy Gaiman’s writing style, as well as his ability to weave a magical web of a story that draws you in and keeps you entranced.  When it was exciting and intriguing, I couldn’t put it down; I had to know what happened next.  And when it wasn’t being scary, I didn’t wantto put the book down because I was enraptured by the story itself.  The idea that somewhere Roman soldiers who deserted are huddled around a campfire, telling dirty jokes in Latin.

With Neverwhere, Gaiman flexes his imaginative muscles, but it’s more than just a fantasy book.  It has  a mystery to solve, both Richard and Door mature through their adventures, and prejudices have to be overcome if they want to survive.  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a well-crafted story and I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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Ever wonder where Gaiman gets his story ideas? In this vid clip, he reveals his source :-)

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