Archive for February, 2010

Review of The Lost Conspiracy, by Frances Hardinge

Monday, February 1st, 2010

The Lost Conspiracy

by Frances Hardinge

Harper, 2009. 568 pages.

The Lost Conspiracy is an amazing work of imagination. Frances Hardinge has created a fantasy world completely unlike any other I’ve ever read about, yet she makes the whole thing seem real.

There are two peoples on Gullstruck Island, the Cavalcaste and the Lace. They are separated by religious differences and language differences, and the Cavalcaste do not trust the Lace. There is only one Lost among the Lace, the girl Arilou. Her sister Hathin takes care of her, but is not at all sure that she is truly Lost. Arilou has never mastered any language known to Hathin, but she pretends to understand and declare Arilou’s wishes and proclamations.

The Lost are important people on the island. They are able to separate their senses from their bodies. So they are used to send messages, to check the weather. They can see without being seen and go anywhere they are needed — or their senses can.

The author describes the Lost:
“Like all Lost, he had been born with his senses loosely tethered to his body, like a hook on a fishing line. He could let them out, then reel them in and remember all the places his mind had visited meanwhile. Most Lost could move their senses independently, like snails’ eyes on stalks. Indeed, a gifted Lost might feel the grass under their knees, taste the peach in your hand, overhear a conversation in the next village, and smell cooking in the next town, all while watching barracudas dapple and fflit around a shipwreck ten miles out to sea.”

Then comes a terrible day when all the Lost on Gullstruck Island suddenly die — all except Arilou. Hathin fears that means Arilou is not really Lost, just an imbecile. But people decide that the Lace are to blame, and Arilou must be the mastermind behind it all. Hathin must get Arilou to safety, if she can find any such place.

This is a dark story, with lots of death and revenge-seeking. It’s also a mystery — Why did the Lost die, and who killed them? It’s an adventure story as Hathin tries to protect Arilou. It has many humorous parts along the way. And it’s an amazingly imaginative story, as we discover a multitude of fantastic details about that other world. It seems so real, yet completely different from our own world.

This book is a work of genius, all woven together with intricate imaginative details. The darkness of the story kept it from quite winning my heart, but my imagination was interested enough that I definitely wanted to find out what happened.

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Review of The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, by Steve Leveen

Monday, February 1st, 2010

The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life

How to get more books in your life and more life from your books.

by Steve Leveen

Levenger Press, 2005. 123 pages.

This book is a celebration of reading. Steve Leveen talks about how to get more books into your life, with ideas like making a personal lifetime reading list, listening to audiobooks, and sharing books with others in book clubs. As an avid reader myself, most of his ideas were not new to me, but I did enjoy reading the ideas of another book lover for savoring books.

Some of his writing is a celebration of the reading life:

“Book love is something like romantic love. When we are reading a really great book, burdens feel lighter, cares seem smaller, and commonplaces are suddenly delightful. You become your best optimistic self. Like romantic love, book love fills you with a certain warmth and completeness. The world holds promise. The atmosphere is clearer and brighter; a beckoning wind blows your hair.

“But while romantic love can be fleeting, book love can last. Readers in book love become more skilled at choosing books that thrill them, move them, transport them. Success breeds success, as these lucky people learn how to find diamonds over and over. They are always reading a good book. They are curious, interested — and usually interesting — people.”

I especially like his conclusion:

“On the first page of this little guide, I suggested that I could help you find more time to read. I hope that by employing some of the ideas in this little book and others you discover, you’ll fall deeply in book love — not once but perpetually. Then you will not have to worry about finding the time to read; that time will come to you. You will naturally do some things less as you read more. What those things will be is obviously your decision.

“Finally, I hope you read some books for no reason other than pure enjoyment. Let a fine story grab hold of you, let yourself be embraced in this uniquely human pleasure with sweet abandon. As you collect books for learning, also collect books that make you laugh and cry and shudder and forget the real world completely. It is good for us in more ways than we know.”

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Review of Victory of Eagles, by Naomi Novik

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Victory of Eagles

by Naomi Novik

Read by Simon Vance

Books on Tape, 2008. 10 hours, 30 minutes. 9 compact discs.

This is the fifth book about the dragon Temeraire, his captain Will Laurence, and how the Napoleonic Wars would have gone if dragons were in the fight on all sides.

Because of what they did at the end of the last book, Temeraire and Laurence are in disgrace. But the powers that be can’t punish Captain Laurence as they would like to, because they need him to keep Temeraire under control. But can anyone really control Temeraire and stop his insidious ideas about rights for dragons from spreading among the other dragons?

This book is not as upbeat and positive as the other books, because it starts out with defeat. Napoleon successfully invades England. But can he keep it? This is where Temeraire may make the difference.

I was sad when this book ended, since Naomi Novik hasn’t written the next book in the series yet. Simon Vance does a great job with the accents of dragons and men, and I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to him tell this saga as I travel back and forth to work.

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Review of The Dream Stealer, by Sid Fleischman

Monday, February 1st, 2010

The Dream Stealer

by Sid Fleischman

Pictures by Peter Sis

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2009. 89 pages.

Here’s a gentle but exciting story about a little girl from Mexico who took on the Dream Stealer.

The Dream Stealer is supposed to only steal bad or frightening dreams, but he started feeling afraid of them himself, so he stole some good dreams, including a dream Susana was dreaming about her best friend who moved away.

Susana wants her dream back, so she figures out a way to trick the Dream Stealer and force him to take her to his castle to find her lost dream and get it back. But there are some frightening dreams stored at the castle.

This book would be nice for a first chapter book to read aloud to children or for a child ready to read chapter books on his own. There are thirteen short chapters with plenty of illustrations. The story is interesting and imaginative, and you’re never too frightened for plucky Susana.

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Review of He’s Just No Good for You, by Beth Wilson

Monday, February 1st, 2010

He’s Just No Good for You

A Guide to Getting Out of a Destructive Relationship

by Beth Wilson
with Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D.

GPP Life (Globe Pequot Press), Guilford, Connecticut, 2009. 271 pages.

“Destructive relationships make women small. They eclipse the vitality and expansiveness of our spirit, reducing the parameters of our world. They make us feel unworthy and ‘less-than,’ eventually leading to a hunger in our soul as we inhabit a relationship that doesn’t nourish us. Instead of being as luminous and full as the feminine moon, we become too constricted to bring forth our light — and may no longer feel the right to shine.”

So begins Beth Wilson’s book, designed to help women face unpleasant realities. First, she discusses the dynamics of a destructive relationship. They are hard to spot when you are in the middle of one, because we don’t want to admit what’s happening. She asks some questions that will help you evaluate if this applies to you.

She doesn’t focus on obvious abuse, physical abuse and threats of violence:

“This book is about the more subtle behaviors that, unchecked, systematically disintegrate a woman’s vitality and self-confidence. Verbal abuse coupled with cruel behaviors are the main culprits we’re focusing on.

“Verbal abuse is tricky. Unless it’s blatant — threatening physical assault or direct character assassination — it can be more likened to a razor blade than a machete. In the hands of an extremely skilled man, it can be a scalpel of control, with each incision creating a small but significant wound that must be perpetually mended in order for a woman to remain intact. And because these people want to avoid being labeled ‘abusive’ — and many of them have convinced themselves that they are not — their first line of offense is to undermine, manipulate, confuse, invalidate, and dismantle a woman’s sense of self, and her self-confidence. This they do very well. The more easily you can spot words and actions that undermine and invalidate you, the better off you’ll be. This book will help you understand his maneuvers and sleight-of-hand tactics so you can make better sense of a crazy-making situation — and see things for how they really are. It will help you learn how to differentiate between thoughtless words and actions and those devised to undo you.”

After analyzing destructive relationships in their various forms, Beth Wilson helps you decide whether to stay or go, and if you go, helps you to plan when and how. Then she gives you advice for recovering and going on to live a better-than-normal life.

I could relate to the fantasies she described in the chapter on why people stay.

“When it comes to destructive relationships, love is not enough. It can’t fix our problems and it can’t fix our problem person. But why should we let that stop us? We try to love harder, to be kinder, to be more understanding and more patient, often bending ourselves into elaborate contortions to take up the slack and, hopefully, achieve a more harmonious relationship. Unfortunately, all the qualities that define love prove to be futile instruments for change. More often than not, they simply add to our stress and make us more anxious to please in an effort to demonstrate our undying devotion. We overcompensate. Meanwhile, he keeps on doing what he’s doing.

“The truth is, none of us can force another person to change, not even if our intentions are noble. And though love can transform, when it comes to toxic men we can’t love them strong enough or hard enough. We can’t heal them and make them into someone better. We can’t fill the holes in their heart and the pain of their childhood. Recommitting ourselves daily to be a better wife — or a better girlfriend — hoping to fill in the gaps so all will be well is simply unrealistic and, sadly, an exercise in futility.”

Here’s a book to help women face reality so they can make better decisions about how to act. This is a life-affirming book.

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January Stats

Monday, February 1st, 2010

So, after NaNoWriMo in November, I’m now keeping track of how I do at writing and blogging. I get a kick out of numbers, so here are my stats for January.

I succeeded in spending 30 minutes per day on my book! It is still a ways from being ready to submit again, but I am making progress. I added a net change of 1,531 words and wrote 2,363 words in my “planning” brainstorming file.

On my blogs I wrote 19,872 words, for a grand total of 27,660 words. That’s a lot less than the NaNoWriMo goal, but it’s still a lot of words. And to be fair, when revising a book, you do a lot of deleting words, too!

I wrote 43 book reviews, and I DID finish reviewing all the books I read in 2009! I still have 7 books to review that I read in 2010, and I still want to post all the reviews to my main site. But getting them written was a great accomplishment.

For the Comment Challenge, I didn’t meet the stated goal, but I did leave 44 comments and I did discover some new kidlit blogs I hadn’t read before. I’m going to see if I can increase that amount in February.

Also this month, I applied for a job which would enable me to stay in the public library even if the budget cuts go through. So here’s hoping!