Monday, October 19, 2009

Sister Wendy's American Collection (2000)

Sister Wendy is a petite British nun with bucked teeth and is absolutely marvelous at introducing art to the art deficients like me. I first saw her on PBS as she talked about pieces of art, dressed in her habit, her hands working in front of her just from the elbows.

In this book, Sister Wendy shows us art housed in six different museums in the United States. There are sculptures, paintings, fabric, and even musical instruments from just about everywhere in the world from ancient Egypt to modern art.

The fabulous thing about this book is that she will explain the symbolism or the technique used in a way that doesn't patronize or is condenscending. She sounds inspirational and passionate when her topic is of a religious tone. However, when the topic is violent or sexual in nature, she continues on without embarassment or shame. I love how she tells us how the pieces make her feel to help us explore our own feelings.

Referring to a part of the Raft Cup by Zhu Bishan, she says, "If you look at the traveler's expression, well-fed he may be, but his face is filled with wonder and with longing. Here is the man who could have had it all but wasted his opportunity. Of whom might this not be more true than the emperor? For all its complexity, this is a genuine cup. Every time the emperor drank from it, he would be eyeball to eyeball with that face -- ecstatic and yet forever yearning. I would love to know his thoughts."

The items of art are grouped by the museum that displays them, but inside each group they are randomly ordered, not arranged by medium, country or artist of origin, or even era. For instance, a page of Mondrian art, all geometric and primary colored, is followed by a 17th century Japanese painting of an exiled emperor on Okinoshima, featuring gentle colors and waves.

I highly recommend this to people, even if or especially if they aren't, knowledgeable about art.

My rating for this book: ++++

Friday, October 16, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

50,000 words in the 31 days of November! That's the challenge. Quantity over quality matters here. I would do this if I wasn't taking my online courses. I will encourage my daughter, however, since she has aspirations of being a writer.

Along with keeping track of how much you have written, they also give you help in the form of mini challenges that you must include in your writing. One example might be to include a certain item in your story.

What a fun way for budding writers to push themselves.

In case you think I was copping out with my excuse of classes -- I am putting it in my log with the hope of finding it again next year.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Al Capone Shines My Shoes (2009)

Gennifer Choldenko has added another chapter to life of 12-year old Moose, his autistic sister, Natalie, and his friends who live on the grounds of Alcatraz prison, the home for the worst criminals. I have to chuckle when I read the description of how these children, one just starting first grade, hop on a ferry to go to school in San Francisco without a parent to fuss over them. They play baseball on an area right under the cells and some inmates are allowed to work in the residences of the families. Considering most parents won't let their kids cross the street unattended, things sure have changed.

That question aside, Moose finds that favors you get from people like Al Capone can carry a very heavy obligation. In the first book, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Mr. Capone managed to obtain a coveted spot in a special school for Natalie. In this book, Moose finally meets the man face to face.

My father stops near the bars of a cell on the west side. Just one man in this cell, a big beefy guy with dark black hair, dark eyes, a round face, big lips, and the kind of smile that makes you like him without thinking twice about it. He's got shoe polish and a buffing rag on his bed along with a pair of shiny black guard's shoes.

The man stands up and sticks his pudgy hand through the bars. In the shadow of his left side a jagged line cuts across his face - a scar. "That your boy, boss?" he asks.

My father nods. "Moose, meet Al Capone."

I highly recommend this story for readers who enjoy intrigue and some historical fiction.

My rating for this book: +++ 1/2

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shiver (2009)

It tore my heart out, because I heard his voice. The wolves sang slowly behind him, bitterweet harmony, but all I heard was Sam. His howl trembled, rose, fell in anguish.
I listened for a long time. I prayed for them to stop, to leave me alone, but at the same time I was desperately afraid that they would. Long after the other voices had dropped away, Sam kept howling, very soft and slow.
When he finally fell silent, the night felt dead.

Grace had watched the wolf watching her from the woods and had been mesmerized by his gold eyes. Sam had watched the girl watching him from the house and had been mesmerized by her. Until one day a boy with golden eyes showed up on her porch, totally nude and suffering from a gunshot wound.

He looked nothing like a wolf, but everything like my wolf. Even now, without his familiar eyes open, a little part of me kept jumping with irrational glee, reminding myself -- it's him.

There are many parallels to Twilight such as the love they feel for each other seemingly impossible to continue, the head wolf who teaches and takes care of new wolves, the jealous she-wolf threatening Grace with harm, and the theme of a sensitive sense of smell. I tried my hardest to not let Twilight influence my appreciation of this book but it was hard.

Fantasy romance readers will love this story by Maggie Stiefvater.

My rating for this book: +++ 1/2

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dexter by Design (2009)

Jeff Lindsay keeps the Dexter story going with another in his series. Dexter is now married and has a baby along with his wife's other two children, Astor and Cody. Astor and Cody have had a violent childhood and Dexter sees that they are related to him almost deeper than by blood. He sees that he will need to "train" them as he was trained by his adopted father, Harry.

Harry's daughter, Deb, is a detective in the same police department where Dexter serves as a blood spatter specialist. She knows about his Dark Passenger and has used Dexter's unique talent to help her solve cases and advance in her career. She gets Dexter to help on a case and they find their way to the door of a suspect. Almost as soon as she identifies herself, the resident pulls out a knife and stabs her. Dexter mistakes the other resident as the stabber and holds him until help arrives. Unfortunately, this is not the stabber and the confusion allows the real one to escape.

While Deb lays in the hospital recovering from her blood loss, her boyfriend, Chutsky, helps Dexter track down the suspect as far away as Cuba. Unfortunately, the suspect is busy tracking down Dexter and his family. What a fool.

I love this series but be warned. It is not for everyone. The book's characters are echoed in the series on Showtime but the story lines are different.

My rating for this book: ++++

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Persistence of Memory (2008)

Vampires, shape shifters, and witches...oh, my!

This is the first book by Ameilia Atwater-Rhodes that I have read. It was fast, intense, and quite complicated. Erin has spent time in a psychiatric hospital and is taking a small pharmacy of pills to control hallucinations and panic attacks. Some of these dreams involve another girl named Shevaun. At least she thought they were dreams until one day she woke up in a strange place and was called Shevaun. Shevaun is a vampire and she also has dreams where she is a human girl named Erin.

She drew a deep breath. "I don't want to be tied up."
"I didn't think so. Now if you aren't Shevaun, why don't you let me know who you are?"
"I've been trying to--"
"So do it," he snapped. Then it was his turn to take one of those deep, calming breathes before he asked, "What's your name?"
She gave him that and more. "Erin Misrahe. I live in Massachusetts. I'm sixteen." She hoped that that might make him back off a little, since he was obviously older and they apparently had some kind of serious relationship.
"Do you often wander around in other people's brains...Erin?" he asked, hesitating only a little on the name.

So maybe she's not crazy after all. With the help of her shape shifting friends and Shevaun's witch friend, Adjila, Erin tries to get control of her life and maybe find a little normalcy. Or not.

I would recommend this book to teens who are fans of vampire books even if it's not really my cup of tea.

My rating for this book: ++

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Catching Fire (2009)

This sequel to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games gives us another gripping, amazing page turner. We left off with Katniss and Peeta both surviving the games, much to the Capitol's disgust and the thrill of all the districts. We start this book as the victors prepare for the annual tour around the districts, but not all thirteen! It seems that something is going on and that Katniss may have been the catalyst to get it started.

This year is the 75th anniversary of the games and there is a special twist this year. The contestants will be victors from previous years. There are only three victors in Kat's district: Peeta, their mentor, Haymitch, and herself. Haymitch has enjoyed a bit too much liquor over the years to survive these harsh games so it falls again on Peeta and Kat. On their Victory Tour, Kat gets hints about a possible groundswell of rebellion.

The night of my engagement, the night Peeta fell to his knees proclaimed his undying love for me in front of the cameras in the Capitol, was the night the uprising began. It was an ideal cover. Our Victory Tour interview with Caesar Flickerman was mandatory viewing. It gave the people of District 8 a reason to be out on the streets after dark, gathering either in the square or in various community centers around the city to watch. Ordinarily such activity would have been too suspicious. Instead everyone was in place by the appointed hour, eight o'clock, when the masks went on and all hell broke loose.

How will Kat protect Peeta, keep up the image that they were lovers, survive the games, and support the rebellion? Many things are going on at once in this book and Kat does not falter and continues to be an unlikely hero.

Many sequels start and end with a bang but the middle book(s) are just financial boons for the author, filler for the fans. This book is equally as exciting as the first book and expectations are very high for the third.

Science fiction and action readers will love this series. I highly recommend it.

My rating for this book: +++++