May 31, 2011

Trawling the Net

In addition to doing my homework, I've been reading Doug LeMoine's blog, which has been around for a ridiculously long time. A friend linked it on Facebook. Specifically, she linked to where he'd typed up English Sentences Without Overt Grammatical Subjects, a satirical linguistics paper that is NSFW. (His actual entry about pornolinguistics is here.) Since I like circular things, he has posted about Facebook grammar, from the era when status updates had to be in the third person.

I've been doing other things too.  Just thought ya'll might find this one interesting.

May 28, 2011

Review: The Invasion

By K. A. Applegate
Available now from Scholastic
Review copy

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I started reading the Animorphs shortly before the eleventh book was released. I was in third grade then, and too old for the series when the last book came out. But I was still following the series, because the Animorphs were my favorite. I drove my parents crazy whenever a new one came out. (I ordered most through Scholastic book clubs, but that wasn't always possible.)

Since I've been saving mine in a box to give to future generations of my family, the re-release couldn't have come at a better time. My eldest baby cousin is just now old enough to read them and now she can buy her own copies. Based on THE INVASION, Scholastic has not updated the books. The characters are too young to have cell phones. Most references to video games are made-up, whereas most pop culture references are to enduring stuff like Star Wars or Star Trek. I can mostly think of future references that will have aged (Alanis Morisette, NIN), but will still be understandable. I hope Scholastic continues to leave the books as they were.

The story begins when Jake and his best friend Marco meet up with three other kids at the mall - his cousin Rachel, her friend and his crush Cassie, and odd-man-out Tobias. They decide to go home together (smartly) and to cut through a construction site (dumbly). There they meet a dying alien who gives them the power to morph into any animal they touch, for two hours at a time. But he gives them this power because Earth is being infiltrated by parasites that will enslave humanity. Five normal junior high schoolers are now the only ones with the ability to save the world. They can't trust that anyone isn't already infected - not their families, not their teachers, not the police.

What parents should know about the Animorphs is that it is a dark series. I remembered how dark the books got at the end, when the kids are suffering the effects of waging a long-term guerilla war, but forgotten that they were never light. It's easy to forget, since the books are extremely funny and full of absurd situations. In THE INVASION, a good person dies within the first three chapters. The main characters are constantly in mortal peril. In their first engagement with the evil Yeerks, the main characters fail in their objectives. Jake, Marco, Rachel, Cassie, and Tobias accomplish amazing things throughout the series, but they're always at least one step behind their enemies.

Reading THE INVASION reminded me of how awesome this series is. There's excellent character development and lots of adventure. Kids with non-nuclear home lives are affected by their circumstances, but never pitied or ridiculed. Animal lovers and budding sci-fi fans will be especially intrigued by the series.

Since the Animorphs have been previously published, fans on a budget can readily find the books at secondhand stores.

May 27, 2011

Review: The Hypnotist

By M. J. Rose
Available now from Mira (Harlequin)
Review copy

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M. J. Rose's Reincarnationist series is popular, but I've remained skeptical. I find reincarnation kind of goofy. Objectively, reincarnation is far less goofy than vampires or fairies, which I like. I prefer to treat it like magic instead of something serious, however, because if I take it seriously I find it kind of horrifying. But I did enjoy Kirsten Miller's THE ETERNAL ONES, so I decided to give Rose's THE HYPNOTIST a chance.

I have not read the first two books in the series, but I caught up pretty quickly. Lucian Glass is an FBI agent specializing in Art Crime, who is obsessed with proving that Malachai Samuels is a criminal. Samuels is a member of the Phoenix Foundation and dedicated to proving that reincarnation exists. In order to do so, he is trying to find Memory Tools, mystical objects created long ago to help people remember past lives. I found most of Rose's approach to reincarnation palatable, but I'm still giggling over the Memory Tools (which include a "fragrant pot of wax").

At the same time, there are a variety of odd things happening at the Met. There's a legal battle over the ownership of a dilapidated statue of Hypnos. Paintings that had been bequeathed to the museum, then stolen, are now being returned - in pieces. The construction crew on the new Islam wing keeps losing workers. And all of these things are possibly related.

The subtitle proclaims THE HYPNOTIST to be a novel of suspense. Rose takes an approach I'm not overly fond of - you know whodunit from the beginning, but you don't know why. (Well, there are a ton of crimes in THE HYPNOTIST. You know who done most.) At the same time, discovering why is most of the fun. Rose keeps the pages turning, which is the most important thing for me in the suspense genre. As I said, there are a lot of crimes to explore. Rose thankfully doesn't linger over the terrible things that happen to her characters. The violence is never described in loving detail. At the same time, much of THE HYPNOTIST is in villain point-of-views. It sometimes feels icky.

Most of the crimes in THE HYPNOTIST revolve around art and antiquities theft, which I find very interesting. Cultural heritage is an ephemeral but powerful thing. I might've enjoyed the book more without the reincarnation aspect, but I still found THE HYPNOTIST to be a good read. The plot is tight and driving and the good guy characters are likeable enough.

May 26, 2011

You Are What You Read

Scholastic's new social networking venture is There is a children's version available here and teacher guides for younger readers and older readers.

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The main thrust of the site is sharing your Bookprint: five books that shaped your life. Personally, I'm still working on mine. I know WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams, THE TRICKSTERS by Margaret Mahy, and THE VISCOUNT WHO LOVED ME by Julia Quinn deserve to be on it. But then I think, perhaps not those. As for the other two, there is some fierce fighting going on among my bookshelves. (I can see THE SCARLET LETTER and A TALE OF TWO CITIES* gearing up to have an Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.)

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Not that I think my Bookprint is that interesting, compared to the variety of people who have contributed to the site. Users include Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, and Suzanne Collins. Here are two top ten lists generated by the site:

The 10 most influential books picked by adults on

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2. The Holy Bible

3. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

6. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

7. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

8. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

9. The Giver by Lois Lowry

10. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

The 10 most influential books picked by kids on

1. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

6. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

7. Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney

9. The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

10. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

View a video about the site here.

*Please note that the linked edition is $2.24 at Amazon.

May 23, 2011

Review: Hotel No Tell

By Daphne Uviller
Available now from Bantam
Review copy

Book Cover

I didn't really know what to expect with HOTEL NO TELL. I hadn't read the first book about Zephyr Zuckerman, SUPER IN THE CITY. But the press release promised comedy and the cover struck me as a modern update on noir. I'd just seen Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and had visions in my head of a funny update and deconstruction of noir detective tropes.

Not so much.

And yeah, I can be harsh on books when they aren't what I was expecting. But I liked HOTEL NO TELL and identified with Zephyr almost immediately.

HOTEL NO TELL gives about equal weight to Zephyr's life with her family and friends as to her case. She recently broke up with long time boyfriend Gregory, because he wanted kids and she didn't. Everyone is acting like she's silly to break up a good thing for a stage she'll grow out of. Since I don't want kids of my own, I know how pushy people can be when you bring up that fact. (Even my family does it, and they know I have no maternal instincts.) She also has to help two close friends with their personal crises: one isn't adapting to suburbia and the other . . . well, people she comes in contact with have a tendency to die in freak accidents.

As for the case? Now a junior detective with the New York City Special Investigations Commission, Zephyr gets her first chance to go undercover. $100,000 has been embezzled from a small hotel. Shortly after going undercover, Zephyr finds the owner's nephew in a customer's room, dying from an Ambien overdose. As with any good detective story, the two seemingly unrelated cases are intimately related.

Daphne Uviller's prose style didn't capture my attention at first, but I liked her vocabulary. After a couple of chapters I managed to get into the rhythm of HOTEL NO TELL. From there the story was fast-paced and funny, if rarely hard-boiled. Zephyr's world is somewhat cartoonish, but there's a strong emotional core. I certainly intend to spend more time in her world.

May 11, 2011

Read Every Day Charity Auction

Scholastic's Read Every Day program is hosting a charity auction to raise funds for Reading Is Fundamental and Reach Out and Read, two literacy programs that recently lost federal funding. The auction is here and features original artwork by twelve children's artists. Lots close on June 5, so don't wait to long to bid if you're interested.

For those interested in owning one of the works but unable to afford the original, poster-sized reproductions will be sold after the auction closes. The proceeds from these sales will also benefit RIF and Reach Out and Read.

Artists include Mary GrandPré (Harry Potter, pictured above), Norman Bridwell (Clifford), Bruce Degen (Magic School Bus), and nine others.


Book CoverIn other Scholastic news, the first two Animorphs novels by K. A. Applegate are now available for purchase. You don't even know how crazy I was about this series.  You will soon . . .

But the thing you should know is that everyone is in danger. Yeah.  Even you.

ETA: 4/29/12:  Reach Out and Read has a three-star rating from Charity Navigator.  Same for Reading is Fundamental.

May 10, 2011

Conflicted Reviews: Wither and Nickel Plated

I haven't been reviewing much lately. One problem is that I keep reading books I'm deeply conflicted about.

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WITHER by Lauren DeStefano showed up at my house unexpectedly. I was ridiculously excited and started it immediately. A number of bloggers that I respect reviewed it well. I could soon see why they were enamored. Rhine has been married to Linden, a rich young man. However, she does not love him and was kidnapped from her home with her brother. She wants to return to her previous life, before she dies in four years. There's a strong emotional core to the story. And it's a good story.

But the premise is awful. Men die at twenty-five and women at twenty, due to genetic engineering. Yep, an entire generation was modified at once and they all die at exactly the same ages. If the science wasn't ludicrous enough, people react in strange ways. There are still older generations alive to keep things running. But Rhine's generation isn't going to school and going into research science and medicine. Nope, society totally collapsed and it's all rich guys marrying pretty girls. (Lots of women get killed. Why, if you want to propagate the species, would you kill women left and right?)

So, over a month later, I still haven't finished WITHER. I can see why others find it compelling, but the story can't overcome the premise, for me. Lauren DeStefano invests energy into the setting. It is the Chemical Garden trilogy, after all. Normally I would love that emphasis on setting. But in this instance, it kept forcing me to confront my issues with WITHER. I'm too interested in genetics to let it roll off.

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Another novel I've been having trouble with is the more obscure NICKEL PLATED by Aric Davis. Nickel is a 12-year-old runaway who makes his money as a detective - and a drug dealer and blackmailer. The blackmail is fine, since he's blackmailing pedophiles and turning them in. The drug dealing is less fine, but at least it's only marijuana. Still enough to get the poor kid he has selling it in trouble. (I don't just mean with the law. I mean with other people who might consider the high school their territory.) But a good detective does need some gray shading, especially in a noir-style novel.

Nickel has just been hired by a teen girl to find her younger sister. The girl was kidnapped, but her parents thought she just ran away. Interspersed with the mystery are scenes from Nickel's day-to-day life and infrequent explanations of his past. Pretty intriguing stuff until he agrees to help a woman launder counterfeit money.

Not cool. There's a reason some governments execute people for counterfeiting. It kills. It destroys economies and the poor are always hurt the worst. That's not a shade of gray. It's wrong. And the text doesn't acknowledge how wrong it is. There's no hint that we're supposed to see Nickel as anything other than a struggling hero. It really turned me off a book I was enjoying. The reviews on Amazon are good, so clearly others were more charmed by Nickel's ambiguity in NICKEL PLATED.

There you go. I just keep coming across books with stories I love but other aspects I find repellant.

May 7, 2011

Free Comic Book Day

It's Free Comic Book Day! The AV Club has deets on which books will be given out this year. The store locator is here. So go find a shop near you and try out some comics for free.


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