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The Blood of a Dragon (Legends of Ethshar)The Blood of a Dragon by Lawrence Watt-Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's late, so this will be relatively brief (for me, that is - which means it will probably be one of the longer reviews here on GoodReads).

Lawrence Watt-Evans' Ethshar books are the preeminent modern light fantasy series. They're eminently readable, and particularly enjoyable because most of them feature intelligent, reasonable, fundamentally decent protagonists who take sensible precautions, make intelligent choices, and cope with the unexpected logically - although not necessarily with superhuman perfection.

That's what makes the Ethshar books so refreshing: they're about people who are about as intelligent as most fantasy readers, I think. Or as intelligent as I am, anyway. :D

Whereas most modern genre fiction either features "heroes" who constantly miss the obvious in order to bloat the plot and page count to forest-killing proportions, or else have characters who are so annoyingly perfect and flawless that they have all the excitement of a particularly dull 1950s Superman comic.

It's nice to read books about people using their brains to deal with interesting problems that don't necessarily involve Saving the World. And it's a pleasure to read about people who make reasonable moral choices.

But the main protagonist in The Blood of a Dragon is something of an exception to that rule (as is Tabaea the Thief from The Spell of the Black Dagger). Dumery of Shiphaven is spoiled, paranoid, self-centered, doesn't think ahead, and repeatedly demonstrates both bad judgment and a surprisingly questionable morality. He only ends up succeeding because of pure luck (and, perhaps, stubbornness), and that's very unusual for an Ethshar protagonist.

To make up for that, we also have Teneria of Fishertown, a very sensible witch-apprentice. Her encounter with Adar the warlock is gripping, with fascinating implications for the world of Ethshar - implications which will, I suspect, be addressed in the forthcoming Ethshar novel The Unwelcome Warlock.

But Dumery? He's a jerk. Oh, there's a paragraph or two where he has a mild moral crisis over his behavior, and regrets his acts. But it felt to me as if Watt-Evans was almost forcing the character in that direction; it didn't ring quite true.

So although this is quite an enjoyable read, it's not the best of the Ethshar series - and it's definitely not a good introduction to Ethshar. I'd strongly suggest starting with The Misenchanted Sword and proceeding in order of publication, if you can.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: the book has a spriggan. It's one of the funnier spriggans, too - and they're all funny. I don't know what it is about spriggans, but they always make me laugh and tug my heartstrings!

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The Cyborg and the SorcerersThe Cyborg and the Sorcerers by Lawrence Watt-Evans

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lawrence Watt-Evans is the best light fantasy writer of the past twenty years. He's put out some serious, massive fantasy tomes lately, too - as if P.G. Wodehouse were forced to write Wagnerian operas. Not that his serious stuff is bad, mind you! It's just not as good as his light fantasy.

But once in a while he steps out of the fantasy field altogether, and the results are usually impressive. The Cyborg and the Sorcerers is a relatively early science fiction novel from Watt-Evans; I think it might be his first, but it's not easy to find a straightforward bibliography of his novels.

TCatS is actually a mixed-genre novel; Slant, a STL-traveling interstellar elite military cyborg scout, finds a planet where the inhabitants have developed the ability to use magic. This is cursorily explained as the product of mutation, originally, although the ability can apparently be developed in any human being by a trained sorcerer.

One of the most refreshing things about Watt-Evans is that he almost never resorts to the "missing the obvious" plot coupon. His protagonists are generally sensible, reasonable people, and most of them are intelligent. Even better, they use that intelligence...intelligently. This is an astonishingly rare event in modern science fiction and fantasy fiction. One common shtick that often comes up in SF-meets-fantasy books is a refusal by SF characters to believe that magic could possibly be real. Slant accepts the "magic" he sees (albeit within the context of the mutation theory) after witnessing a reasonable amount of evidence.

It's the ship's computer, which is in many ways Slant's master, that has more difficulty accepting the idea of magic - although it nonetheless manages to come up with some intelligent ideas of its own.

The novel chronicles Slant's attempts to cope with the demands of the computer, and finally to escape its control altogether. It's well-told and entertaining. It does feel a little bit sketchy, though. I can't help but feel that another fifty pages or so would have helped the book; Slant could frankly use a bit more depth, and apart from the computer the other characters in the book feel a bit empty. There's an emotional potential in Slant's psyche that isn't sufficiently addressed, to my way of thinking. His past has been partly erased from his memory, and his world has been destroyed; slower-than-light travel has made him a chronological castaway, forever cut off from his birthplace and time. His struggle to recover an important memory is just slightly too easy.

There's one slight anachronism in the book, one hardly worth mentioning - but since I brought it up, I will. It's mentioned at least twice that Slant's skeleton has been reinforced with steel. That strikes an odd note. I'm surprised that Watt-Evans didn't make up some sort of space-age alloy, such as the adamantium that Marvel used long before for Wolverine.

I also recently came up with a solution for one of Slant's problems. But since it involves a spoiler, and I don't want to have to hide the whole review, I'm going to put it in a separate comment on the review itself - if GoodReads will allow it.

Oh, one more thing: although I usually like the cover art for the Ethshar books, and this one seems to be by the same artist who did several of the early Ethshar entries, I think it was an unfortunate choice to make all the characters on the cover look like Biblical patriarchs. It probably hurt sales.

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My spoiler-comment is behind this cut:
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bobquasit: (Default)
I installed the Google Books app on my phone today. Now that I've upgraded the Android OS from 1.5 to 2.1, it's working a lot better, and I can use a lot of apps that I couldn't before.

It's a cool app; it makes reading on that tiny screen pretty easy. Lots of flexibility. I just wish that it had an auto-page feature, to scroll at a steady pace from page to page. If it could be controlled by tilt, that would be really neat.

There are two reading options for most books: the original text format, and "flowing text". The original text is basically a scan of the original work, sized to fit the screen. Since the books are old, the text often has that old-fashioned, worn look. The flowing-text editions are in modern, resizeable and customizable fonts, sharper and easier to read - but so far, I've found quite a few transcription errors. In one case, a book that had a large initial letter to start off each story (i.e. "Charon leaned forward and rowed.") was totally screwed up, with the initial letter appearing somewhere in the middle of the story.

Another feature that would be useful would be recommendations: if it let you rate your books, and then recommended new ones for you based on your preferences. Basically what Netflix does with movies.

There are some wonderful free books available. I'm tempted to try to recommend a new one each day, but I don't know if that's possible. The problem is that a lot of books old enough to be copyright-free are also difficult for most modern readers to read comfortably. I'm used to older books, but even I find some older books tedious. That said, there are still some great ones that are very readable.

Here's one, Fifty-One Tales by Baron Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett Dunsany - he who had so much influence on H.P. Lovecraft and many later authors. The first story, "The Assignation", is only 202 words long - but it's a gem. I hope you'll try it.

(Let's see if LJ can embed a Books listing.)

Edit: No, it can't. I'm getting increasingly annoyed with LJ.
bobquasit: (Sebastian Riding)
We started reading A Christmas Carol about two weeks ago; Sebastian had seen several films of it, and wanted to read it. So I took out a large illustrated (but not abridged) edition from the library.

He loved it. I kept expecting him to get bored; the language is a bit archaic, after all! But even though I asked if we should switch to something else, his interest never flagged.

Reading it was a startling experience for me. When Bob Cratchitt breaks down and sobs for his son, I teared up as well. It's strange, but I can really, really get into a part emotionally. I wish there was some practical use for that ability, other than just reading to Sebastian. Although, of course, there really isn't anything more important than that, for me!

Apparently my reading of the reformed Scrooge was very funny; Sebastian laughed and laughed. My reading was generally based on Albert Finney's portrayal in the 1970 movie Scrooge, incidentally. One of my favorite versions, along with the Mister Magoo one.

It was fun to see many odd little points that never made it into any of the movies. Dickens seems quite ravished by some of the female characters, for one thing. I enjoyed some of the odd little cultural references; I'd never heard of "Smoking Bishop" before, for example (it's a kind of mulled English punch with wine, baked orange juice, cloves, and port).

And it's quite interesting to note that Marley's Ghost specifically claims to have obtained this chance at redemption for Scrooge. Since it's spelled out just a page later that the spirits of the dead cannot interfere with the world of the living, I can't help but wonder how Marley gained the opportunity to do so, and why he did it for Scrooge; there's no explanation for it in the text. I also can't help but think that for saving Scrooge, Marley must have received some reward. He surely deserved it!

Anyway, Sebastian gave the book five out of five stars.
bobquasit: (Default)

Mister Penny flyer Mister Penny flyer
The librarian at the library created this from scratch for the reading I'll be doing on February 25th. I like it, but it feels strange to be called a storyteller!

bobquasit: (Hot day)
Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3 (Lost Treasures)Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3 by James Lincoln Collier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Teddy-Bear Habit is the story of the adventures of a twelve-year-old boy in Greenwich Village in the mid-1960s. George Stable is...not rebellious. No, he's more real than that. He simply tries to get what he wants in a world of adults who don't understand, and is not above stretching the truth or breaking some rules if that's what it takes. He doesn't glory in that, and at times almost feels a little guilty, but he does what he has to.

It's been a long time since I was his age. But to me, that attitude rings very true. Most kids, I think, do what they think they must to get what they really want. George, the first-person narrator, feels extremely real and modern - even though the book is now almost forty-five years old.

In fact, The Teddy-Bear Habit reminds me very strongly of another first-person story of a New York teen who lives somewhat outside the rules: Holden Caulfield. Truth to tell, the book really strongly reminds me of The Catcher In The Rye, so much so that at times the two books have been slightly merged in my memory. The Teddy-Bear Habit was written 16 years after Catcher, of course, but both books have a remarkably modern, timeless feeling. The city of New York plays a key role in both books, perhaps a bit more so in The Teddy-Bear Habit. George's inner voice is remarkably like Holden's, but younger and not as alienated.

George wants to be a rock and roll star, and to be on television. His father hates rock and roll, and won't allow a television in their house. He (the father) is, however, an extremely funny character; a modern painter who makes a living writing and drawing comic books. The passages about his heroes, Amorpho Man and Garbage Man, are simply hysterical. I could have read a whole book of that stuff!

George has another problem, too: he's a decent singer, and is learning to play the guitar secretly from a music-shop owner, but he has self-confidence issues. He is, simply, dependent on his teddy bear. When it's not around, he's a "loser".

Complications ensue, ones that you'll surely find very memorable. The book is at times quite thrilling. But between the humor and the thrills, it never loses that "real" feeling.

There are a few jarring moments when the Beatles or Murray the K are mentioned as examples of modern coolness. But then, the book was published in 1967.

Speaking of which, avoid the "Lost Treasures" edition if you possibly can. The original edition (and most later ones, until recently) featured wonderful illustrations by Lorenz, whose work also appeared often in The New Yorker, where he was art editor for many years. The illustrations are very funny, and should not be missed! I don't know why they were eliminated from the Lost Treasures edition, but eliminating them makes as much sense as eliminating the classic Tenniel illustrations from Alice.

I recently read the book to my son, age nine. He loved it, and demanded that we seek out the sequel. Unfortunately the sequel doesn't live up to The Teddy-Bear Habit, and isn't quite appropriate for my son - yet. But The Teddy-Bear Habit itself is firmly ensconced as a favorite for both of us.

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bobquasit: (Daffy)
With Every Drop of Blood:  A Novel of the Civil WarWith Every Drop of Blood: A Novel of the Civil War by James Collier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this one up along with several other books by James Lincoln Collier at the library. I've long been a fan of his Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3, and since I was thinking of that at the library one day, I picked up several more books of his on a whim.

But With Every Drop of Blood almost got returned to the library unread. I read another book of his first, Outside Looking in, and it had been rather disappointing. And despite the old maxim, the cover of With Every Drop of Blood was remarkably boring-looking, at least for me. Still, I hadn't gotten around to returning it before I ran out of reading material, so I ended up giving it a try.

I'm glad I did. It turned out to be one of those books that you can't put down; you have to know what comes next. Gripping, you know what I mean? It's the story of a Southern boy during the Civil War, but told in relatively modern language (albeit not irritatingly so).

There's a bit of synchronicity here, as it happens. The very first thing in the book is a statement by the authors about the language in the book, specifically - and I hate to mince words, but this review is going up on Facebook and I have young readers - the "N-word". They use it several times for historical accuracy, but use it less than the people at the time would have.

That said, the book is certainly appropriate for ages 12 and older, and probably appropriate for most children from 10 up. And it's certainly very readable, very compelling, and fascinating. The only criticism I can make is that it ends rather rapidly. And when I reached the end, I very much wanted to know what happened next!

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bobquasit: (Daffy)
Outside Looking inOutside Looking in by James Lincoln Collier

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An odd book. James Lincoln Collier is particularly gifted at first-person narratives of teenagers that feel very real. But this book feels a bit flat. Fergy has been traveling the country with his parents and sister; his father is a thoroughly unlikeable grifter and egomaniac. His mother inexplicably goes along with this, and his little sister is an out-of-control kleptomaniac. Fergy wants a "normal" life, and when a chance comes to try to escape life on the road, he makes the obvious choice.

The thing is...unlike other Collier books, this one seems oddly flat. It's not a bad book, but everything is a bit more two-dimensional than in most other Collier books; it doesn't seem as real, and the choices mostly seem obvious. I might even say that the plot is a bit simplistic and unbelievable. It's worth a read if you like Collier, but if you're not familiar with his work, try Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3 first - and try to get one of the older editions, one with the illustrations by Lorenz! After that, I'd recommend his historical books over this oddly dated and somehow lifeless novel. He's a very good writer, but this simply isn't his best work.

Update: Looking back, I think I see what the problem is with Outside Looking In. A good story needs to have some point on which the reader can connect. I suspect that may be particularly true for first-person narratives. It's not necessary for the reader to have have the exact same experiences, of course, but in some way there has to be an element with which the reader can identify.

In Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3, for example, George Stable's desire for success drives him to make some reckless decisions. He gets in way over his head. We've all had that same sort of general experience.

But in Outside Looking In, there's really not much to connect to! Fergy starts out living on the road with an abusive father - a man who is SO vile and one-sided that there's no conflict at all. You'd no more consider staying with him than you'd consider staying with a rabid tiger.

That flatness of character, incidentally, also has an impact on Fergy's mother. Why does she stay with such an obviously abusive man? One who is clearly destroying their children's lives, as well as hers? It makes no sense, so she immediately becomes an unsympathetic character.

Fergy's life has nothing in common with that of most readers, I think - unless you grew up constantly on the run in a van with a gang of con men, without schooling or friends. If so, this is the book for you. But for everyone else, I think that the book will leave you cold.

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bobquasit: (Default)
I've been thinking about book reviews. I have thousands of books - many thousands - and I'd like to review more of them. So I'm going to try to work out a short format for reviews. For rare books and ones that I really care about I'll write at length, but I think most books could be covered relatively briefly.

But what would be a good limitation? A set number of words? How many? Or maybe a limited number of characters, as in Twitter? I want it to be short enough to be quick, easy, and readable, while still allowing me to convey something of value about the book.
bobquasit: (Laszlo Late)
Gateway (Heechee Saga 1)Gateway by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pohl won a Hugo and a Nebula for Gateway, deservedly so.

Frederik Pohl was, of course, one of the Golden Age writers of SF. But Gateway showed that he was hardly stuck in the 1950s. It was very innovative for its time. The general tone is quite modern. Much of the book is about the therapy of Robinette Broadhead, an ex-astronaut with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The PTSD is understandable, since his spaceflights were taken in several alien spacecraft that no one knew how to operate; operating out of an abandoned alien base in the solar system, the "prospectors" of Gateway faced an extremely high casualty rate.

Robinette Broadhead is a complex character; unpleasant in some ways, and often not admirable. But since the story is told from his point of view, in first person, it's clear that we're not getting an objective picture of himself or, probably, his experiences.

Pohl also put whole-page inserts in the book, including conversational program read-outs from Robinette's therapist (a computer program), excerpts from science lectures, classified ads, and letters - all of them relevant to the story, of course, and many of them quite funny. The novel itself is not a comedy, I should note, but there are many very amusing moments.

I'll also quickly note that Pohl's representation of future society is dystopian and rather prescient. Desperate poverty is, apparently, the norm for most of the world's population. People sell organs and body parts to the rich in order to survive. Much of the environment is hideously despoiled, although there are domed enclaves where the elite live. Health care is more than ever a matter of life and death, priced beyond the ability of most to pay; but for the wealthy, life is comfortable and long. A look at current health care statistics makes the world of Gateway seem not very unlikely. Except that we're unlikely to find an alien base with FTL spacecraft in nearby space, of course.

The ending is rather touching. No spoilers, but one of the strongest and most likable characters in the book is Robinette's therapist; I've always found his final remark oddly moving. It's a pity that he (it) wasn't given more of a role in the sequels.

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bobquasit: (Ordinary)
The Gods LaughedThe Gods Laughed by Poul Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fairly large collection of science fiction short stories from Poul Anderson, weighted towards the earlier part of his career. Quite good, but not all of it is his best work; the older stories are a little simplistic. Still well worth reading, though.

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bobquasit: (Default)
The 13 Crimes of Science FictionThe 13 Crimes of Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good collection of science fiction mysteries, along with an explanation of that relatively obscure sub-genre from Isaac Asimov. I've read a fair number of SF mysteries, and had read most of the ones in the book; most of them are excellent examples of the form. The leading story, "The Detweiler Boy" by Tom Reamy, was not particularly good; putting a relatively weak story first in an anthology is an unfortunate flaw.

But there are a number of gems here, including Larry Niven's "Arm". "War Games" by Philip K. Dick, was simply not readable for me; I can take some PKD, but only in mild doses - and not a lot of it. I don't know if it was the mood I was in, or if the story was particularly Dick-ish (sorry, couldn't resist), but after a page or two I simply skipped that story altogether.

That said, the vast majority of the book is excellent and well worth reading.

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bobquasit: (Sebastian)
We just finished the last chapter of the very last book in The Great Brain series. Sebastian had me read the Publisher's Note at the end and the author's bio on the back cover, too. That last book was certainly more uneven than the others, but it was still good. That said, the previous book (which was the last one actually published by John D. Fitzgerald, the original author) had more of a satisfying "ending" feel for the series.

I'd read that the final book was written by someone else based on John D. Fitzgerald's notes, but the book itself doesn't indicate that this was the case, and I don't believe that it was. The writing felt quite a bit like Fitzgerald's work, although not as carefully crafted as his other books; more of an early draft, I'd say, which was then gone over by an editor who knew his work, but nonetheless didn't quite have the same touch as Fitzgerald himself. All in all, it was a good series. I'm tempted to read it again to Sebastian, but after some thought I've decided that for big series, it's enough for me to read them aloud to him once; after that, he should re-read them himself.

Perhaps we'll read some Heinlein juveniles next. I think he's old enough.

Oh, last night he begged me to stay and sleep in his bed. I hadn't done that in a long time, he said, and he was right; it has been years. But he's so much bigger now that it just wouldn't be comfortable, and in any case he hasn't changed his habit of turning diagonally in bed. Still, I stayed there until he fell asleep, as I almost always do.


Oct. 24th, 2010 11:47 pm
bobquasit: (Sebastian Riding)
So much to catch up on, but I'm too tired - I'll probably miss some of it.

  • Sebastian and I finished the seventh book in the Great Brain series. There's one more, but it wasn't written by John D. Fitzgerald; I suspect it will be a letdown. But the seventh book was a perfect bittersweet ending to the series. Sebastian found it a bit embarrassing, but all in all he loved it and the whole series. I hope the library has the eighth book in stock somewhere!

  • Teri and I were doing some shopping today. One of the places we stopped at was the Wal-Mart in Attleboro. It's a "Super" Wal-Mart, with a complete grocery section. We weren't buying groceries, but I was curious so I looked through it a bit - and was stunned. I've been looking for Underwood Deviled Roast Beef spread in supermarkets for over twenty years now. I haven't seen it in New England for decades. I'd resorted to the internet, buying a case of the stuff (two dozen cans) once a year for about $60. But Wal-Mart had them for $1.72 each! I bought ten. Guess what I had for dinner?

  • We went to a "Books are Wings" party at the Library on Friday or Saturday. The audience seemed a bit young. But when we were looking through the books (each child gets a free one) I let out a gasp of amazement. They had a copy of Mr. Penny! But we'd already picked out another rare book, and weren't allowed to make a second pick. Still, it's amazing that they'd have such a wonderful book.

bobquasit: (Grimjack)
Kingdom ComeKingdom Come by Mark Waid

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not bad. Another overly-earnest story of a future Superman. The art's pretty good. It's a bit too worshipful of Superman - what wouldn't I give for a "The Man of Steel is an asshole" story line, does he EVER do something as human as fart? And if so, wouldn't the result be a super-fart that would destroy buildings and gas whole cities? I get the feeling that young authors who get to write Superman stories are either so intimidated or browbeaten that they act as if they're genuflecting before something holy. It gets kind of sickening.

But still, not too bad. The characters aren't abused or forced to act out of character, mostly. I'd read it again.

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bobquasit: (Lo Pan)
Annihilation: Book TwoAnnihilation: Book Two by Keith Giffen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

One star might be a little brutal, but this book was definitely not "okay". It's muddled, bombastic, and almost unreadable, featuring some of the more uninteresting SF characters from the Marvel pantheon. There are one or two mildly interesting moments, but the art is mediocre at best, the dialog limps and is at times painfully juvenile...all in all, not worth the time or effort to read.

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bobquasit: (Omac)
Green Lantern: Circle of FireGreen Lantern: Circle of Fire by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The new Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) must fight a seemingly unbeatable entity: a malevolent being that seems to be identical to one that he himself created for a comic book as a youngster. The League has been trapped and are helpless. Helpers mysteriously appear, but are they what they seem?

All in all, not bad. A bit earnest and simplistic, but I'll give the writers credit for a good, sincere try. Except that the ending is VERY abrupt and incomplete - so much so that I strongly suspect that the copy I read (from the library) is missing one or more of the final pages. The pages aren't numbered, so I can't be sure.

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bobquasit: (Daffy)
Yesterday I was the Mystery Reader for Sebastian's class. I read them the first chapter of The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald, about the installation of the first water closet (i.e. indoor toilet) in a town in Utah in 1896. The kids laughed a lot.

Part of the Mystery Reader program is that the kids get five clues before the reader appears, to give them a chance to guess who it is. I tried to make my clues literary ones.
Today's Mystery Reader...

  1. Wears the same kind of item on their face that a famous boy with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead wears.

  2. Has the same first name as one of Lucy's brothers from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

  3. Is going to a birthday party tomorrow. [All of Sebastian's classmates had been invited to the party, so I thought this was a good clue for them.]

  4. Doesn't need a comb.

  5. Loves to read, recite poetry and review books.

It may sound arrogant of me (because it is), but I don't think there are too many people who are better at reading aloud than I am. And I did better than usual yesterday, using voices for each character and making occasional brief explanations of historical points. I don't know why the majority of people read so woodenly! It takes so much of the fun of reading away.

At one point the father of the family announced to the watching townspeople that they would be allowed to see the new water closet in groups of six, and that each group would get a demonstration. Several of the students giggled, so I looked up at them, shook my finger, and said "I know what you're thinking!". The class dissolved into hilarity. And when we came to the section where the young narrator was acting as a barker, shouting "See the magic water closet that doesn't stink!" the kids kept joyfully chanting that line over and over.

The chapter was 23 pages long, with an additional full-page illustration. The timing was, luckily, just about perfect. When the closing bell rang, I had only two short paragraphs left to read. After I finished, several of the kids came up and chatted with me about the books that they're reading. Oh, and then Sebastian, Teri and I gave the class a copy of The Great Brain to keep.

I'm going to be a Mystery Reader at least one more time, and even more often than that if I'm allowed!
bobquasit: (Omac Destroys!)
Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom: Doomquest (Marvel Premiere Classic)Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom: Doomquest by David Michelinie

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Unbelievably putrid. Over and over I sat in stunned amazement, asking myself "Did they really publish stuff this bad back in 1981?"

There are two kinds of stories in comics. One tries to say something meaningful, or at least to present some sort of concept that the reader can be entertained by. The other is the visual equivalent of two three-year-olds trying to one-up each other. "My hero is a million times stronger than yours!" "Oh yeah? Well MY hero is a JILLION times stronger!" Over and over and over. There's no sense to it, and no point.

Which pretty much describes this "book".

Oh, and the authors completely abuse the Arthurian legend. In an incredibly lame "future Arthur" sequence, Merlin is "cool", saying things like - and I am NOT making this up - "Okee doke: One 'Return to Sender' spell, comin' right up!"

Merlin as Jar-Jar Binks. It made me want to beat the author with a club.

So to sum up, the only reason to read this thing is if you want to take a look back to see just how incredibly awful some comic books were, even as recently as 1981 (the art is pretty bad, too). And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to do something - anything - to drive the memory of that unbelievably idiotic writing out of my brain.

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bobquasit: (Sebastian Riding)
[As far as I can tell, there are NO other reviews of this book on the web. That's a real pity, particularly since it's very likely that it will never be published again. So I did my best to recapture the charming and memorable qualities of the book in this review.]

The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon ToastThe Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast by Ann Spencer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a lovely book! And how sad it is that I'm almost the only person in the world who seems to remember it. But I've shared it with my son - just read it to him again tonight, to his delight - so I've done my part to share the memories.

The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast was both written and illustrated by the talented Ann Spencer. It's the story of an elderly millionaire, Miss Margrove, whose cat Augie suddenly goes through a strange transformation: he absolutely refuses to eat cat food. One taste of cinnamon toast, and all is undone; he now insists on only the finest gourmet fare. His psychologist is unable to explain this mysterious change.

But Augie is fickle in his tastes, venturing into the haute cuisine of one culture after another. Miss Margrove's stable of chefs eventually lose their tempers and leave. Fortunately an unexpected television appearance by the French Chef, Julia Child, inspires Miss Margrove and saves the day.

The balance between text and art is particularly well done. Each page features large, finely-detailed black and white illustrations. Unusually, there is absolutely no "talking down" to the young reader; words and phrases like "Escoffier", "truite amandine", and "la vie en rose" are sprinkled liberally throughout the text. Nonetheless, the story is quite easy for children to comprehend, and the humor of the words and illustrations is ideal for a child.

I first began reading The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast to my son when he was about four years old, at a guess. He loved it, and still does five years later; it helps that he's a cat-lover (and any child who is a cat-lover is sure to like this book). There are no serious crises, no moments of terror or stress. Augie is naughty at times, but in a very lovable way. It's a perfect bedtime book.

Reading the book aloud takes about one-half hour, including the very necessary time spent allowing the child to look at each picture. As I noted above, some of the cooking-related language is a bit esoteric; if you're not familiar with the words, you may want to look up pronunciations before reading it aloud. It's definitely worth the effort.

There is one illustration which might trouble some parents. When Augie sneaks out to the Omar Khayyam restaurant to be inducted into the wonders of Persian cuisine, the illustration includes a representation of a fairly large painting on the background wall that depicts a naked woman seated (with legs turned sideways) next to a man. So far, my son has never commented on it, and I see no reason to call it to his attention or be concerned. When I was a child myself, I never noticed it through many readings.

For very strict parents, I suppose the page where Augie gets drunk on baba au rhum could also be a concern. My son found it hysterical. So do I.

If you're reading aloud, a passable Julia Child impersonation adds quite a lot to the experience (she has a short but memorable television appearance in the book). It's also useful to be able to sing the old "Let Your Fingers Do The Walking" jingle from the Yellow Pages commercials in the 1960s and 70s. But neither is a requirement, of course!

The book is out of print forever, I suppose. It represents what might now be considered an impossibly "high culture" moment in America, an aesthetic which I cannot imagine will ever return to public awareness, much less popularity. And that's sad. Still, if you're lucky enough to find a copy, it's a wonderful, memorable book.

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February 2016

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