Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Fire In My Hands (Soto) -- Summer Reading Challenge

A Fire In My Hands, Gary Soto, 2005

image coming

Another warm day, another trip of errands briefly interrupted by a stop in the air-conditioned library. Actually, I had time to spare, and I thought I could find something that I could possibly read in a half-hour. (No, that wasn't likely to happen in any case.)

As I walked past the 800s shelf -- Literature -- I looked for something thin that wasn't labeled Young Adult. Yeah, I failed at that as well.

But I did pick out a slim volume by Gary Soto, whom I hadn't heard of before now. Some business to take care of before I continue.

As a child I was fascinated by poetry. By the rhymes and by (although I wouldn't know it at the time) the meter. There would be poems at the start of each section of a reader (or text book?) we had way back when.

I have since fallen out of love with it, particularly in its modern incarnations. Specifically, I hate free verse. I hate random words on paper. I liked the rules, and working in the rules makes a successful poem that much more successful in my mind. When there are no rules, what is success? I read it ... and nothing. In wanting to know these rules, I took a Creative Writing class at Brooklyn College where the teacher (I don't recall if she was a Professor or not) explained the rules and then gave examples that broke all of them, without explaining how and why to break them for effect. (Shout-out to Xaverian High School English teacher John Mucciolo for explaining a bit about breaking the rules with purpose -- I believe he went on to be a principal in Ramapo, NJ.)

What I liked about Soto's collection (some of which dates back to before the 2005 publishing date): he went back to childhood memories, and some adult memories about his children. He told stories without a lot of excessive pretentious verbiage (see what I did there)?

I didn't like the free verse where lines broke sometimes in the middle of a two-word phrase, but I could read it like a story -- not so much prose, but like a guy talking to me. Such conversations can be choppy and disjointed to.

I appreciated the imagery he created without going for crazy allusions and allegory.

And since I'm from the Northeast -- Brooklyn, all my life -- and he's from the Southwest, a Central Valley Mexican, I found the change of viewpoint, scenery and all that to be a refreshing change of pace.

Also, his name to last poem is one that was commissioned by NASA before the Millennium. I didn't know this going in, so it was a happy discovery. Gotta love it.

So if you're a non-poetry person looking for a book of poetry to read, I can recommend this one.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dead Strange (Lamy) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Dead Strange: The Bizarre Truths Behind 50 World-famous Mysteries, Matt Lamy, 2012

I went back to the 000 (General References) shelf of the library and looked through the reference books and the "How To" for different software programs. It looked like I was going to have to take a "supernatural" book.

That said, I like this book. This is the kind of book I would have loved as a kid. I didn't read a lot, and part of the problem in the early grades was that there weren't books like this in my school library. It jumped from the Dr. Seuss level to 100-page novels without any in-between! (I remember discovering chapter books with my children and thinking how wonderful they were.) I remember taking out a book on magic because it interested me, but it was too dense for me to get through.

Anyway, back then, I would have loved books about supernatural stuff, and this book has 50 things in it (although a couple are kind of related). And the best part is that each section is only 2 or 3 pages long. Long enough to give you an idea about the subject. Short enough not to put you to sleep or drag on endlessly.

Using my usual standard, it reads better than a click-bait web article "The Bizarre Truths Behind 50 World-famous Mysteries!! -- (You won't believe Number 23!)". Yes, it could be a little more in-depth, but it's another young adult book meant to get them interested. It's not a college thesis.

Drawbacks? Cross-referencing would've been nice. Also, there's at least one reference to something weird without mentioning that it isn't in the book. A bibliography would've been good, as well as a "for more information..." page.

I read this while sitting in an inner tube floating on my pool on a couple of early summer mornings before the Sun got too high and too hot.

Library reading challenge. Catalogue number YA 001.94L. Young adult.

Some of the choices I had in the 000 series:

Monday, August 7, 2017

Eyes & Spies (Lloyd Kyi) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Eyes & Spies: How You're Tracked and Why You Should Know, Tanya Lloyd Kyi, 2017
Art by Belle Wuthrich

While walking up and down the aisles at my local library branch recently (a cooling center for a hot day), I mused that I should just grab a book from each shelf and see how many I could read this summer. It became sort of a Summer Reading Challenge, but a poorly planned one. For one thing, I originally considered the fiction shelves: grab a mystery, science fiction, historical, young adult, graphic novel/manga, etc. Then I thought about the shelves lining the walls, with numbers corresponding with the Dewey Decimal system. I could try to read on from each leading digit. Now there's the rub. First, I'm not big on non-fiction, and second, a lot of the material was reference-oriented. Also, many of the books were quite large and would likely be pretty dense reading.

And there's the other thing about wanting to enjoy what I'm reading and read some of the things that I've been waiting to get to.

So, yes, I cheated a bit and scanned for some shorter books. And that also meant grabbing some Young Adult material just to increase my chances of getting through the books.

The first book was from the 300s, which is the Social Sciences. I took a picture of some of the options. I settled on Eyes & Spies. I liked the title and I was curious what it had to say.

Since it's non-fiction, there isn't much to review or comment on. I liked some of the historical context it gave, including some information I hadn't known. It didn't say a lot about the state of computers now that I wasn't familiar with, but it's a good primer for middle school students. I don't remember if it had an index or bibliography/list of sources/suggested reading, and I wish I'd made a note of it. (I read this a couple weeks back, and I've already returned it.)

It's definitely more information than you would find in one place on any site on the Internet and it reads quick. You could research this on your own, but you don't have to. That said, you probably should use this book as the beginning not the ending. There are a lot of eyes out there and the technology is constantly changing.

I'd recommend this for any middle schooler who used the Internet a lot -- that is, all of them.

Library reading challenge. Catalogue number YA 323.448K. Young adult.

Some of the choices I had in the 300 series (and a couple of misplaced 400s):

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Dresden Files: Fool Moon (Butcher)

Dresden Files: Fool Moon, Jim Butcher, 2001

The first volume of the Dresden Files had vampires, but it wasn't about vampires, even though they played an important part. The problem there was wizardry, and that was a nice change from what you might expect.

The second volume has werewolves, and it is definitely about them. But there's still a twist to it, and that's the ground rules. Bob, the air spirit Dresden keeps in his cellar, explains about different types of werewolves from folklore and how people become them. Hint: getting bitten by a werewolf won't turn you into one -- otherwise, the world would be overrun with werewolves. (My note: consider that any virus that could spread so easily would either become a mass epidemic or kill everyone, and itself, pretty quickly.)

All the different types are encountered here, including the mysterious Tera West, who Dresden isn't too sure what she is. It's certain that she isn't as human as the others because his soul gaze didn't work on her. She is the fiance of Harley MacFinn, who is a loup-garou, the most powerful werewolf type Bob mentions, and also the least controllable. He has a circle of protection to contain him in his home, but it has been broken. West needs Dresden to contain MacFinn or innocent people will die under the full moon -- or is it that more innocent people will die?

Dresden doesn't have to worry about the White Council in this book as much as he does a greater adversary: Lt. Murphy. She hasn't been pleased with him for keeping secrets from her during investigations. Their working relationship is quite strained as Murphy wants an answer to the investigation while Dresden wants to protect her from the worst of this business. She brings him in on an investigation where bodies looked liked they've been ripped about by wolves. The last was a month ago, during a full month. The latest, another full moon. Doesn't take much to realize a consultant should be brought in. The problem with the latest crime scene is that it's out of Murphy's jurisdiction and the Feds have moved in. She needs this win for the Special Investigations Unit.

And, naturally, Johnny Marcone ends up being involved in all of this.

The action keeps moving, and there's a good cast of characters. Most of them seem to want Harry dead, but some need him alive -- at least for now. This is not a sophomore slump in any way. And there are plot hooks for the future. It should be interesting to see where it goes.

I'm coming back to this series at a later time.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dresden Files: Storm Front (Butcher)

Dresden Files: Storm Front, Jim Butcher, 2000

I heard about the Dresden Files many years ago, probably as long ago as they've been around. I've been told I'd probably enjoy them. Whoever said that was probably right.

I don't know what pushed me recently to request Volumes 1-6 as an ebook from the library, but I did and I had a while to wait before my name got to the top. I knew that there was no way I was going to read six books at the end of the school year in the standard loan time/ I "put down" what I was in the middle of and managed to read two volumes. I'll list them as separate entries.

So Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is an actual wizard in the modern world, and that world isn't Harry Potter's with the regular schools and such. Harry's father was a stage magician and named him for famous magicians. Unlike his father, Harry has an aptitude for actual magic. The downside is that magic and technology don't go well together, so he doesn't keep a lot of tech around. This means his old car breaks down often, and he uses a lot of candles.

In Harry's world, he has to make a living, so he works as a private detective and he freelances for the local police department. No one actually believes in magic or that he's anything other than a scam or a fraud. Except that he gets results. Other things that they might not expect to exist are vampires, fairies, air spirits, and other entities from the Nevernever, which while mentioned, we don't get to visit. There's also a ruling White Council, which can hold the power of life or death over Harry. In fact, he's being followed by someone looking for an excuse to kill him, Walden Morgan. Harry has to play by the rules, and magic has a lot of them.

The actual magic spells and potions are interesting. Potions require certain ingredients that appeal to the five senses, and that would include putting a ray of sunshine in. For that matter, sunshine can be held in a handkerchief and shone later.

The two characters who seem to believe in Harry more than the others are Lt Murphy, the head of the Special Investigations unit of Chicago PD (which gets no respect, really) who calls him in to assist her with a case, and Johnny Marcone, the head of the underworld. Marcone has looked Dresden in the eye and not freaked out.

In the first volume, Harry is called in to investigate two gruesome murders where the victims are a wiseguy and a vampire call girl. Right there, you know it's going to be interesting conducting interviews. Especially when Marcone offers to pay Dresden his going rate to take the week off.

At the same time, Harry actually has a reluctant client show up to find her husband. The two cases become intertwined, and before you know it Harry is going to be the next victim -- either of the killer or of Morgan or the White Council. He has to solve the case and stop another wizard from attacking before the next big storm hits Chicago and powers the bizarre rituals behind the killing spree.

As for the review portion of this entry: I enjoyed the book and made sure I had time to squeeze in a second before my loan was over. I liked the interaction between Dresden and the air spirit, Bob, who lives inside a skull in Harry's cellar (underneath his basement apartment) and who knows a lot about creating potions. The fairy, Toot-Toot was meh, a useful creature to move the story along. I like that Harry got a girlfriend, so I don't have to expect a Mulder/Scully thing between him and Murphy, who he considers a friend. And I liked the odd rules for magic, which seems refreshing while sounding archaic in nature.

This is definitely a series I will get back to.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

One Piece, Vol 1-29 (Oda)

One Piece, Volumes 1-29, Eiichiro Oda, 1997-2003

Sometime in June 2016, I heard several of my students talking about One Piece. To be honest, I don't know now if they were talking about manga or anime. I can't say for sure that I saw anyone reading One Piece in particular, but manga was popular with the students. I had an epiphany. If this is something that the students like, then maybe I should partake a little myself. And having an excuse to read the stuff was just a bonus. I had a couple of choices, but given the conversation I was listening to, I figured I'd start here.

These 29 volumes were read between June 2016 and June 2017, particularly during those periods I was riding trains to different schools in the city.

It helps that the Brooklyn Public Library has many of the volumes available. (By coincidence, the first volume that they didn't have was one of the few early volumes that the Barnes & Nobles a block from my new school (with different students who don't seem to read manga) did have. I read a few pages at a time, each day.)

There's not much I can say that you can't find in online encyclopedias.

I enjoy the stories and the actions. There are drawbacks, but I don't know if those are peculiar to One Piece or to the medium in general.

Luffy, the main character, wants to be the world's greatest pirate, but he eats the devil fruit of the Gum Gum tree, which gives him stretching powers, but makes him incapable of swimming. This makes him a bit of superhero in this world.

The problem is that these devil fruits aren't as rare as you might think. And they come in many varieties, granting many different powers. I guess they're rare in that I haven't seen any fruit tree duplicated, but it seems that every pirate Luffy and his crew come up against have also eaten devil fruit. So sinking like a stone isn't such a bad thing for pirates.

The books have 11 chapters in each volume, so I've read over 300 chapters. Also, some of these are available in omnibuses containing 3 volumes. I'm currently waiting for volume 30 to become available, so I'm writing this mid-story.

That is one of the problems: the story lines go on forever. There are entire chapters that are devoted to a single fight between two combatants. I add this last clause because the past couple of volumes have been, essentially, one long, drawn-out fight.

Not all the fights make the transition from anime to manga very well. Sometimes I stare at the images trying to see exactly what is happening. It isn't always obvious.

I have to say that it has moved the story along. Luffy filled out his crew (even adding prior enemies). They mentioned the Grand Line, so they went there. It didn't seem as frightening as it should have been, but it was definitely dangerous. At this point, Luffy wanted to find the island in the sky. And so he did. That story line seems to be drawing to a close -- at least I hope it is. Parts of it have been a mess to keep track of as the story shifts points of view.

Problems aside, I'll keep reading it as long as the library keeps supplying me. And I'm likely to move on to other series after. (I'm open to suggestions.)

I'll probably have another entry after I read another 30 or so books.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Post (Cooper)

Post, Brenda Copper, 2016

The story is set in the Pacific Northwest after society breaks down, but through disease and natural disasters, not war and bombs as in a typical post-apocalyptic novel. People now live in small communities, growing their own food, hidden for their survival. Walking the roads could be dangerous. Sage, the girl at the center of the story, likes to go outside. She's quick, so she can escape any travelers she encounters, but her constant outings put the Garden in jeopardy, and she's told that the next time she leaves, she won't be allowed back in.

This is actually fine by her, because she wants to go. She wants to see a big city. And she has seen an airplane, so she knows that there must be something. So Sage is sent to Portland, to find what the world is like now.

Sage runs into some trouble on the road and is rescued by a man from another community. She is allowed to stay the night, but in the morning, she is sent off with another girl, Monday, who is given the same job: find if the world has recovered.

They get there, after some missteps, and mistrust, and get involved in an uprising as Portland is in the middle of a power struggle. Sage does find the plane and the pilot.

(There would be more here had I written this entry a few months ago.)

I enjoyed the book. I liked the character development. The kids weren't whiny -- something that bugs me when I read, essentially, young adult novels. (I know I may not be the target audience, but really!) If I had one problem with it, it was too short. It needed another chapter, or an epilogue, just for a little more closure. Yes, I wanted to know what happens next, though not necessarily a sequel.

Actually, I wouldn't mind a sequel set in this world, but I'd want another story, not just "and then this happened".

I got this book from its Kickstarter campaign.

Statistics: ebook, fiction, post-apocalyptic, short

Monday, July 10, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Rowling, Tiffany)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I & II, J. K. Rowling and John Tiffany, 2016

First of all, if you don't like reading scripts, you are not going to like this. This is the script of the play, though I wonder how they staged some of it. But that's the magic of theater, isn't it?

The story picks up right where Book 7 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) leaves off, at the Epilogue in Kings Crossing. It even replays that scene.

We learn that it isn't easy being the son of Harry Potter (and it still isn't easy being Harry Potter), nor being the son of Draco Malfoy. Albus Severus Potter meets Scorpius Malfoy, and they become friends, which is facilitated by Sorting Hat placing Potter in Slytherin. (Gasp!) Who is this Cursed Child of the title? Is it poor Scorpius, rumored to be the son of Voldemort and Astoria Greengrass, Draco's late wife, who was sent back in time to be impregnated, to carry on the Malfoy name when Draco wasn't up to the task? (Such an idea seems silly on the face on it, but I think it served one purpose: to plant the seed that some Time Turners still exist).

(Here's where I wish I had written this up back in January -- the point of this blog is to help me remember these details!)

As the story unravels, we meet Amos Diggory, father of the deceased Cedric, and Amos's niece. The three of them hatch a plan to steal a Time Turner (there is a secret one, which survives, should it prove needed) and go back and save Cedric's life. But whatever they do, playing with time, has serious consequences, including people disappearing (such as Ron and Hermione's daughter, Rose, because the two never got together).

As you can imagine, they have to fix things, without making things worse, including confessing to the people in a doomed world what's going on, to get their help to set things right.

I can agree with someone's online assessment that it's a nice story, but I wouldn't want it to be canon. It reads like fan fiction, but only because it's a little light in its words -- it is a script, after all. Plus, there are limits to theater.

Unlike each Potter book, this one spans several years, and there are big gaps, where you might wonder what the characters are doing. It tells a story, but it closed off others and will make life difficult for other stories to take place. I guess we all have ideas where we'd like the Potter people to go and to do afterward -- or even in those missing years before the Epilogue.

Statistics: library e-book loan, script, continued series

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Happiness Handbook (Sonne)

The Happiness Handbook, Lisa T.E. Sonne, 2015

Not my usualy read. This is basically a collection of 1-2 page long affirmations, to be read daily or all at once. Listed with no apparent order or theme. No chapters to speak of, nor any appendix or list of references at the end.

This book was a gift I received at an after-the-holidays birthday gathering. I didn't want to put it off because, if asked, I'd like to say, yes, I read it. I figured that I could probably get through it in a couple of mornings on the train. Instead, I found myself playing games on my iPad a little more often rather than reading.

There wasn't anything too deep within the pages beyond the expected "you can be happy"/"you should be happy" vibes. Despite some interesting quotes from people, I would be hard-pressed to tell you any specific idea presented within the pages.

Fluff. Worse: it turns out I never finished it. I found my bookmark just before I started writing this. (I read the book in February.) I quickly tried to skim the last 20 or so pages and ... stopped.

Moved on to the next book.

Statistics: hardcover, approx 220 pages, non-fiction, inspirational, self-help

Monday, April 3, 2017

500 Sundays (Crystal)

500 Sundays, Billy Crystal, 2005

Catching up on this year's readings, so far. Not that there's much of it.

500 Sundays was the name of Billy Crystal's one-man Broadway show, telling stories about growing up with his father, and life after that. The title comes from the fact that his father's one day off was Sunday, which he spent with his kids. Unfortunately, he died when Billy was only 14, which meant that they only had about 500 Sundays together. He doesn't go into every one of these. In fact, there's plenty that happens on weekdays at the Commodore Music Store in Manhattan.

I saw Crystal's show, so reading this was almost like reading a transcript of the show. I remembered quite a few of the stories, in particular, the fact that the first time he was in a movie theater, he was sitting on Billie Holiday's lap. Dad was in the music biz, particularly around Jazz. Billy Crystal grew up in that show-biz environment.

A lot of heart-warming stories are contained within, and it's an interesting contrast to two biogrpaphies I read recently: one by Don Rickles and the other by Martin Short. I guess I like reading about funny guys, even when their lives aren't all that funny.

The book continues past the 500 Sundays of the title and continues with his growing up, getting into show business, and, of course, life with his mother. The end of the book comes with two tragic events. I'm not giving much away to say that dealing with the grief of his mother's passing is the first one. The other is 9-11. Actually, there was anecdote from the show abut 9/11 that he left out of the book. Maybe it wasn't a good note to end the book on. (I think it came earlier in the show, because it involved meeting then-President Bush.)

One of the reasons I remember his story involving Bush and, believe it or not, Regis Philbin, was because I heard him tell it on a morning radio show in the months after 9/11. When he told it in the show, he changed the payoff line, which admittedly wasn't incredibly funny in its original form, to one that took a shot at Bush. That might've been funny in 2005, but it would not have been something he could've said to the President during a World Series game in 2001. It's just as well he omitted it.

Anyway, it's a sweet, fun read that drops quite a bit of names and gives you a bit of background about Crystal.

For my own notes: this was a hardcover book, not an ebook. I picked it up at a library sale.