Monthly Archives: October 2008

The Memorist – Review

The Memorist: M.J. Rose

Publication Date: November 1st, 2008

First Line:

Beneath a dome nature had carved out of limestone, David Yalom circumnavigated the rim of the underground canyon without once glancing into its black crevasse

Review:

The Memorist When Meer Logan was a little girl, she was always haunted by images of a life that wasn’t hers. Her father always believed that Meer was reliving past-life memories that were triggered by a mysterious Beethoven melody that only Meer could hear. During these dark days, Meer’s drawn illustrations were always of a small treasure chest, but Meer could offer no explaination as to why this treasure chest was the only element she ever drew, and no one could figure out where Meer had even seen such a box.

Years later, when Meer is an adult, her sixty-five year old father, refered to as the “Jewish Indiana Jones”, works in an antique auction house in Vienna, and finds the gaming box, matching all of Meer’s drawn pictures, listed on in the catalog. Inside the box is a letter that implies that the gaming box was a present from Beethoven to his beloved. Inside the letter are clues to an ancient flute that is said to possess mystical powers to control memories. Upon this revelation, Meer flies to Vienna, Austria and soon she and her father are on the trail towards finding the powerful flute. But, an ancient artifact like this is not found easily. Meer and her father, Jeremy, are soon swept away in an adventure story filled with murder, music, and vengence.

The story is told through the course of nine days, and is told through many different perspectives. Although Meer is at the heart of the novel, other characters include Malachi Samuels, the elusive reincarnationsist that thwarts the FBI at every move and the man who helped Meer control her visions as a child. Sebastion Otto, David Yalom, and ISTA make up the colorful set of characters that round out the story.

What I found the most refreshing about this novel, is that it is part historical novel, (Beethoven/Vienna buffs will be pleased), it is a murder mystery, an adventure story. For the first time in a long time, a book actually took me out of my element and put me in a brand new world. People always tell me that they read because they want an escape from their life. I read because I like stories, not so much to escape. This book felt like an escape to me, and I can see the appeal of reading for that reason. I feel like the past few books I’ve been reading have been such duds, and this book is a welcome breath of fresh air. The writing is descriptive, yet terse. The characters are fully developed, full of their own history and stories. The 9 day timeframe is the perfect box to contain all the events that take place. I can’t say enough about this book. Meer is a fantastic heroine, vulnerable, but still instinctively smart and clever.

At 531 pages, this book is not a quick read, nor should it be. It helped that as I was reading this book I watched an episode of Passport to Europe, where the host Samantha Brown flew to Vienna. That helped me visualize the setting and the locations and make the story that much more real.

FINAL GRADE: A+

The Memorist
by MJ Rose
Mira Books, 2008
ISBN 0778325849
531 pages

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Footnotes of the Internet #2

www.nanowrimo.org

November is National Novel Writing Month, and this website above is dedicated towards giving novice writers, and even veteran writers a push towards having a productive month. According to the About Page on the website, “The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

The About page is really funny, mostly because they push quantity over quality, but then again, that could possibly be a good thing. “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

If you’ve ever wanted to take that leap into writing, or if you’ve been dealt a hefty load of writer’s block, this is the challenge to just over that obstacle, to throw away all excuses, to pull out that pen and paper and write, write, write those run-on sentences, those cheesy opening sentences and to have fun while you do it. =)

The website also offers a lot of cool features. There are forums for group discussions (writing tips, plot ideas, etc), a daily blog, various word count scorecards and widgets, and programs for young writers. There is even going to be a write-a-thon on November 15th that involves fund-raising, and an all day writing and awards fest in San Francisco, CA.  I have to work that Saturday, and I’ll be attending this years California Library Association Conference this year, so I won’t be going to the write-a-thon, but it sounds like it will be a lot of fun. =) I hope someone in the blog world reports back on that event.

Plus, the added perk is that there is a Neil Gaiman pep talk, albeit from last year, but still relevant. Though it is recommended to save this spiel for the 3rd week of writing.

The recap of the challenge rules:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.

Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Still confused? Just visit the How NaNoWriMo Works page!

Footnotes of the Internet #1

www.podcastle.org

I heard about this website from somebody that I met during the Book Group Expo this past Sunday. Its a weekly Podcast, specializing in Fanstasy stories. The stories range from Podcast Minitures, about 10 -15 minutes to length, to the full length stories that range from 45 minutes to over an hour. The website is updated every 3 to 4 days, and the stories have been given the standard Ratings system of G, PG, R, and X based on vulgarity, violence and content. The archives go back as far as July 2007.

You can download the stories, or you can listen on the computer straight from the website, and the entire service is free. If you write fantasy stories, the website is currently a

“paying market for new fiction or reprints. Please see our submission guidelines for more details. And if you have any questions, please e-mail us. Thank you!”

You can also check out their sister sites, Escape Pod and Pseudopod for more free science fiction and horror podcasts, respectively.

Book Group Expo recap

I went to the 3rd annual Book Group Expo in San Jose today. In essence, its an expo for people in book clubs, but I think it was a relevant and fun expo for any reader or writer, in a group or just on their own.

I got to the convention center fairly early, and was treated a tote bag filled with fliers, a fleece blanket, and two free books! The books that I recieved in the bag are Literacy and Longing in LA by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack, and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Walking through the market place, I was able to pick up another set of ARCs from the famed Hatchett Book Group of the Hatchett Book 14 book giveaways you see on most book blogs nowadays. My additional books are The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters by Lorraine Lopez and Hungry Woman in Paris by Josefina Lopez.

I attended 2.5 salons today, I say .5 because I was late for the first one. The topics were interesting, but it was listening to the author’s talk that was really the best part of the day. I was introduced to a large number of authors, of various topics and genres through these salons. The one I particularly enjoyed was called “The Liar’s Club: and The Art of Storytelling.” Of the 3 authors on the stage, there was one in particular that caught my eye, Rabih Alameddine. He was hilarous. He was eloquent, funny, sarcastic, worldy, I could just keep going. He had some very insightful thoughts into the role of the author as a storyteller. There was one line that he said that stuck with me all day, “We are the stories and the myths that we believe in. Unless we understand that, we can’t communicate.” I took it to mean that even though the story comes from the writer’s imagination, chances are something in that book has happened to somebody at sometime someplace. Alameddine spoke quite a bit about understanding the history of life around the main character as a way to understand the main character itself. There are layers of stories between people, and they overlap, and you have to understand one person’s story in order to understand anothers.

I ended up buying his book, The Hakawati, in the marketplace soon after the salon was over. He was a very friendly man, and he even signed my copy of the book. I am really excited to start reading his work. I read through the first couple of pages and I fell in love with his writing already. I hope the momentum stays.

One thing I noticed most, was the authors I took special note of were the authors that were the most eloquent when speaking in the salons. I was surprised at the number of authors that could not answer a simple question properly, would stray off into tangents, or make jokes that weren’t funny. Other authors were on point and witty. I know its taboo to pick a book based on the cover, but is it the same form of judging to pick a book based on the author’s ability to articulate his/her thoughts verbally in front of a large crowd of mostly middle aged women? What I really gained from today, is just a longer To Be Read list, especially since I now have specific authors to look for. Time to put those library cards to use.

A few of the notable authors that caught my attention today are:

– Van Jones, author of  The Green Collar Economy.

– Melanie Abrams author of Playing

– Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City

Polygamous borrowing habits

Although I like to think of myself as monogamous in regards to my books, (I can only read one book at a time), I do like to be polygamous with my borrowing habits. I usually walk out of the library with about 5 books each week, and end up returning them all, having read only half. My newest endeavor is racking up library cards. I now have one city and two county library cards, which gives me access to over 50 libraries in the Bay Area. My assumption is that now I won’t have to wait for months to read the next book in a series because one library system only has one copy to share with all its branches, and I’m not fond of buying books in the middle of the series.

cat

Charanavi – Review

Charanavi (Animal Fortune-Telling) Have you ever wondered if you are a Sensitive Lion or a Helpful Koala? Then the Charanavi is the reference book for you. This cute little book is filled with personality types defined by 12 animals, and each animal is broken down into 4 to 6 categories based mostly on birthday. You find out which animal you are by filling out a simple formula based on two number tables in the first few pages. Following the formula, I am a Sensitive Lion. The personality descriptions match those of generic horoscopes, broad to encompass everyone who reads it, but focused enough to be somewhat true for the individuals it actually belongs to. Along with the personality summary, there is a chart for which of the animals I am best suited with, a chart depicting my levels of fortune and luck over the next few years and other famous Sensitive Lions. There is even a romance compatibility chart in the back of the book. My boyfriend (the Restless Monkey) and I are 95% compatible. Whew.

I think this book would make a great ice-breaker at parties, family get togethers, it might even be a fun way to start off the first day of class to get the students to know a little about each other. I don’t particularly believe in horoscopes and numerology, but I did have fun looking up my birthday, my boyfriend’s (The Restless Monkey) and my sister’s (The Powerful Tiger) just to see what it says for them and to see if we are compatible or not.

FINAL GRADE: A

Charanavi
by Masahiro Tsurumoto
Natural Spirit, 2007
ISBN 193414000
184 pages

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The Rabbi’s Cat – Review

The Rabbi's Cat The Rabbi’s Cat is a very endearing and sweetly written story of a Jewish family living in Algiers in the 1930s. The story is told through the eyes of the Rabbi’s cat, who one day eats the squawking family bird and develops the ability to talk. The rabbi will not let the talking cat be near his daughter, for fear that the cat will fill the daughter’s mind with dangerous thoughts. So the cat demands to have a bar mitzvah, in order to be a proper Jew and be able to be with Zlabya, the daughter. Throughout the course of this graphic novel, we learn much about the history and beliefs and values of Judiasm as the Rabbi tries to teach these values to the cat, as well as through the cat’s silent obsevations of those around him. The setting of Algiers is a great location, because back in 1930, Arabs and and Jews were able to co-exist, living under strict French control. At one point the rabbi and the cat tag along with Zlabya and her new husband to meet the husband’s family. Here the rabbi is taken out of his comfort zone of Algiers and put into wild and exuberant Paris, and we learn more about tolerance, and faith being tested.

The writing is full of humor, history and emotion. The images are amazing. The dark, warm tones really take you into a new world. I have to agree with what it says on the inside cover of the book. It really does bring to life a lost world, a lost time before the Israeli/Palestine conflict when both groups had a mutual enemy in the French. If you liked Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi then I would recommend this book to be next on your list. If you enjoy this book and would like to learn more about this world, I would recommend the movie The Battle of Algiers, a documentary of how the Arabs in Algiers struggled to break free from French occupation.

FINAL GRADE: A+

The Rabbi’s Cat
by Joann Sfar
Pantheon Books, 2005
ISBN 0375714641
142 pages

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The Constitution Translated for Kids – Review

Constitution Translated for Kids, Second Edition
The Constitution Translated for Kids is a great resource for teachers and elementary school libraries. Cathy Travis does a great job of translating the Constitution into laymen’s terms that are easy to understand. Each page is broken up into two columns, one column containing the original text and the second column containing the translated text. Kids can read both versions right next to each other. Kids can make the connections easier and still be able to interpret the meaning in their own way. There is a glossary in the back and boxes of fast facts divide up the text throughout the book. The book consists of the Preamble, the Bill of Rights and all the 27 amendments since its creation. There is a section of Proposed Amendments with Pros and Cons listed for each item, which can be turned into a great activity for kids in elementary school and possibly up to 6th grade.

This book is a great resource for schools. Its well written, its detailed and is full of activities and discussion topics that teachers can make use of in class. I would even go so far as to recommend this book for ESL learners studying for their citizenship test, or for basic ESL classes. Its a great way to practice a new language with simple writing, while learning about the history as well.

FINAL GRADE: A

The Constitution Translated for Kids
by Cathy Travis
Ovation Books, 3rd edition, c2008
ISBN 0981453415
109 pages

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The Islands of Divine Music – Review

Publication Date: October 28th, 2008

John Addiego writes a very romanticed account of five generations of one Southern Italian family’s history in The Islands of Divine Music. The story begins with young and intelligent Rosari living with her perpetually teary eyed father and sweet older sister, searching for their runaway mother. Rosari gets herself in trouble by naively helping out a pair of criminals in the street, thus forcing her family to make a quick departure to America. On the way there, Rosari’s mother shows up on their front door, and joins them to America, more specifically to San Francisco, CA.

The Islands of Divine Music by
 
 
 

Once in America, Addiego swiftly goes through the lives of Rosari, her engagement to Giuseppe, and their seven children. The following chapters are told from the prespectives of each child, or grandchild of Rosari. Each chapter follows through a different, yet historically significant part of American history, from important baseball games and players, to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. What is unique about this book, is that is more like a collection of vingettes of one family over the course of 80 + years rather than a story that follows the basic “beginning-conflict-climax-conclusion” formula. It is more enjoyable if you pick this book up thinking vingnettes instead of thinking typical novel. Each chapter is its own story, and each chapter has its own focus based on the chosen character’s perspective, although the chapters do overlap with stories and themes of family and loyalty. I really enjoyed the references to San Francisco and the Bay Area, but only because I’m a local. =)

There is little to no dialoge in the book, so at times it did get a bit boring. I like action more than description, but that is my own preference. The first chapter was difficult to get through because it felt a little bit scattered and repetitive. The following chapters really picked up the pace and were enjoyable to read, particularly the scene re-enacting the Dodgers v Giants playoff games and the chapters with Narciso, the dim-witted brother full of good luck, and the chapter in which Santa Claus comes to visit Mickey.  The Verbicaro family is five generations of stubborness, shrewd intelligence and sarcasm. The characters are easily relatable and the situations they find themselves in are not out of the ordinary. Despite the slow start, and the occasional lapse of action scenes, this book is a great read.

FINAL GRADE: B+

The Island of Divine Music
by John Addiego
Unbridled Books, 2008
ISBN 1932961546
241 pages
 
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Graveyard Book Winner!

First, I want to thank everyone who entered this contest, it was my most popular giveaway to date. Its always great seeing the wide range of fans for an author like Neil Gaiman having media is nearly every format available. If he comes out with a music-cd next, I don’t think I’ll be surprised. =)

The Winner of the Graveyard Book goes to

Josette of Books Love Me!

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