Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Update 4/30

On Friday, I update my library and share what new books I bought or received during the past week.

Here I am, easing back into blogging (again - I seem to be taking more and more unscheduled blogging breaks this year). I can't believe April is almost over. I won't say it was the cruelest month - good things happened, as well as bad - but it was an emotionally difficult month for me.

On to the books! We were away last weekend and I was quite excited about the package waiting for me when I got home.

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker (for review)

Don't forget that tomorrow (Saturday, May 1) is Free Comic Book Day! Why this is not a national holiday, I don't understand.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Architecture Links

Some random architecture links for you to enjoy:

Via mental_floss, I bring you Couch Cushion Architecture; A Critical Analysis. Very funny.

Loved the photos of the crypt at Church of the Intercession in Harlem.

Via Inspired? Or outta my #*@$+% mind?, Man decorates basement with $10 worth of Sharpie. No, really, its cool.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 4/27

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
Today's teaser is from A Corpse at St. Andrew's Chapel: The Second Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon by Mel Starr. I actually finished this book already, but I haven't started anything new yet.
What does a man need arrows for if he cannot discharge them at another? Some were needed for practice - which reminded me again that I needed to resume Sunday afternoon archery trials on the castle forecourt - but arrows loosed at targets may be retrieved and reused.
I really enjoyed the book, by the way. I'll write a review soon, I promise.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 4/20

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
Today is the "I have a terrible cold" edition of Teaser Tuesday, so I'm featuring the same book I did last week: Happy Hour by Michele Scott.
"Good food makes you grow big and strong and have a smart brain." She winked at them.
"Frozen burritos?" Jeremy replied.
Too smart for his own good.
Much longer than two sentences, I know, but I thought it was kind of funny.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Update 4/16

Almost every Friday, I update my library and share what new books I bought or received during the past week.

Since its been so long since I've done this, I have a ton of new books to tell you about:

An Anthology of Light Verse: Modern Library No. 48, edited by Louis Kronenberger: It was published in 1935 and I picked it up at a used book shop, just for fun.

Happy Hour by Michele Scott: This came from the author for review. It was my teaser this past Tuesday.

Water Music by T.C. Boyle: It's this month's book club selection. Book Club is tonight and I've barely made it a quarter through this thing. Let's just say, I'll probably have another installment of DNF's soon.

A Corpse at St. Andrew's Chapel: The Second Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon by Mel Starr. I got this via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti: I bought this at the library book sale after having read, oh, let's guess, about 200 reviews for it when it came out.

Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson: I bought this at the library book sale. I know nothing about it, but I love Robin McKinley so I have high hopes.

Have a wonderful, book-filled weekend!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 4/13

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
I'm so late today! Oops! My teaser today is from Happy Hour by Michele Scott.
Sometimes we need a reminder of how to be great, why we should be our best. The way your family speaks of your mom, I get the feeling she gave her best all the time, and I'd like that reminder.

Monday, April 12, 2010

DNF's: Books Not Finished

Here's my first foray into The DNFiles (as Raych calls it). I tried and I tried, but I just couldn't finish the following books. And I never give up on books! Maybe someday I will, but for now, I need the room on my bedside table.

The Sunne In Splendour: A Novel of Richard III by Sharon Kay Penman: I read almost half of this book while we were away last Christmas. But, guys! Its 879 pages long! Its huge! And every other character is, I swear, named Henry or Richard or Edward/Edmund. And then half the time, they were just referred to by their title - except that since the book spans just years and years, everyone's title changes a dozen times. I got so lost. And then I just stopped caring. I'm sorry, Ms. Penman. I know you're one of the grande dames of historical fiction and I really did like the historical mystery of yours I read (The Queen's Man). But I think your straight historical fiction may just be too much for me.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke: This is another chunkster that I just couldn't finish. I only made it about a quarter of the way through this one - but that means almost 200 pages, as this thing clocks in at way over 800. Maybe it was the style - sort of a Victorian farce meets historical document - or maybe it was just too slow for me, but I just could not get into it.

Feel free to argue in the comments why I should give these books another chance.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Octavia E. Butler Week - Friday Wrap-Up

Over the past week, I have reviewed/discussed four different books written by Octavia E. Butler: Fledgling, Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, and Kindred. Today, I'd like to have a discussion about these works more generally and about some shared themes I saw. I appreciate all the comments I've gotten so far on each post and welcome more. As a word of warning, some of my comments below contain spoilers.

No point in beating around the bush - we're starting out with the hard stuff here today. When I wrote my review of Kindred, I had to look up synonyms for "horror." That was just the word that kept coming back for me as I thought about the events in this book. The horror of slavery, the horror of what happens to Dana, the unbelievable horror that slavery really happened in this country and for so long.

While Kindred is demonstrably about slavery, I also saw this theme pop up in the other books I read. In Parable of the Talents, Lauren and the other Earthseed members are enslaved in the name of religious re-education. The symbiots in Fledgling are held voluntarily - but how voluntary can it be when your life depends on staying?

Another loaded topic - and one that, as a Caucasian woman, I can give only my thoughts on. I'm not capable of talking about race in a larger sense, or even of analyzing all the ways Butler discusses race. But in everything I've read from Butler so far, race is there as an issue, whether overt or not, so it would be impossible for me to write this post without at least touching on the subject. Examples of racial discrimination are present everywhere in Butler's books, even if its not vital to the plot. Like, in Parable of the Talents, Bankole is a doctor but his white neighbors distrust his skills, because he is black.

The topic of race is somewhat related to that of slavery. The black characters in Kindred are enslaved because they are of the wrong race. But in the other books I mentioned above, race isn't, that I saw, a factor in the slavery aspect. For example, in Fledgling, Shori is an Ina (a vampire), so therefore is of the race that holds the power. But she is also black, the result of the mixing of genes from an African-American woman and Ina. So she is held to be inferior by many of the other Ina and is Other, even to them.

Butler was raised Baptist but walked away from it. So its really, really interesting to me that she ended up founding a religion. Unlike L. Ron Hubbard, I don't think she did it intentionally. But there are people practicing Earthseed, the religion she created in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. They call it SolSeed. I wonder what Ms. Butler would think of that.

Octavia E. Butler
This isn't a theme, obviously, but these books do all share one very important point: they were written by Octavia Butler. An African-American woman, writing science fiction. Add in her personal history - dyslexia, her father dying when she was a baby, her spiritual upbringing - and its clear that there are not a lot of writers like her. All in all, she was a remarkable woman.

I hope you have enjoyed my week celebrating Octavia E. Butler. There are many more books from her I haven't read, so maybe I will do this again some time in the future. If you have a suggestion for the next Butler book I should read, please leave it in the comments.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review: Kindred

In Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, Dana is a young African American woman living in 1976 California with her white husband. Starting on her twenty-sixth birthday, she gets sucked back in time and across the country to the antebellum South by Rufus Weylin, her distant ancestor and a young white slave owner. Rufus calls for Dana whenever his life is in danger, starting with a near drowning when he is a young boy and continuing throughout his life. But Dana gets trapped in the South as a slave, sometimes for just a few minutes, sometimes for extended periods of time. She has to learn to live on the Weylin plantation as a slave, and develops a terrible kind of relationship with Rufus. Because for all that she hates her life as a slave, if she wants to ensure that her family exists in the future, she also has to ensure that Rufus lives to father a child on a free woman named Alice.

One of the hardest things about this book is defining it. The copy I have (a former library copy) is labeled both Science Fiction and African-American Literature. Butler herself called it "a grim fantasy." Except for the time travel element, it could even be Historical Fiction. What struck me, though, was that it is (again, except for time travel) a slave narrative. Slave narratives are the autobiographical accounts of life in slavery and were often published by abolitionist groups to educate the public about the horrors of slavery. It has been years since I read one, but the few that I read stick in my mind, particularly Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs.

It seems to me that what Butler has done is taken the traditional slave narrative and put it in the voice of a modern woman. Which is brilliant. Slave narratives can be hard to read, not just for their tragic contents but because of their old-fashioned writing style. By putting these words in the mouth of a woman whose life echoes my own much more closely, it just made the horror of what I was reading even more real. Isn't that strange? That this fictional account, which includes something as out there as time travel, can feel more real and immediate than the true story of a woman, written in her own hand?

It helps, of course, that Butler is a writer of such skill. For all that I feared for Dana and grieved for the atrocities committed against her and the other plantation slaves, I never wanted to walk away from this book. It was just so well written, so simple and beautiful, I just wanted to keep going.

Read this book. It doesn't matter whether you have to go to a section of the library or bookstore you never go to (whether that means sci-fi or Africa-American literature). Just find a copy and read it.

Buy Kindred on Amazon.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Review: Parable of the Talents

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Talents is the sequel to Parable of the Sower, which I reviewed last year. It picks up a few years after Sower left off and deals primarily with Lauren Olamina's struggle to establish her new religion Earthseed, especially after her community is struck by unbelievable violence.
Lauren Olamina's love is divided among her young daughter, her community, and the revelation that led Lauren to found a new faith that teaches "God Is Change". But in the wake of environmental and economic chaos, the U.S. government turns a blind eye to violent bigots who consider the mere existence of a black female leader a threat. And soon Lauren must either sacrifice her child and her followers -- or forsake the religion that can transform human destiny.
Sower can be unbelievably depressing during much of that book. But I thought that Sower was ultimately hopeful, with Lauren and Bankole in love, married, and starting Acorn as a community of like-minded people. Maybe its just the current political environment, but I found Talents to be even darker. This is the kind of book that makes me question the decency of human beings. Its scary to think of the awful things that happen in this book happening and yet Butler makes it all seem very possible.

The hard part in discussing this book is judging it on its own merits. In some ways, Parable of the Talents does actually stand on its own quite well, since the tone of it is so different from Sower. This book is told mostly through Lauren's journal, introduced by her daughter Larkin and interspersed with journal selections from Bankole (Lauren's husband) and Lauren's brother. So rather than just getting Lauren's opinion, we get multiple points of view. Which was hard in its own way. While I don't always agree with Lauren's actions, I find her to be a very sympathetic character, someone I emotionally root for. for me, Larkin was not. She presents herself as a historian, a chronicler of events. But she is, for obvious reasons, emotionally involved in the actions of the book. She blames her mother for how unfairly life has treated her and her bitterness seeps into her words. Is it fair of me to dislike her for her anger? No, of course not. She has an incredibly hard life, filled with tragedy and heartbreak.

I have to give credit, though, to Butler for creating this world, filled with these characters, and making them so real and believable. Clearly, this is a powerful book and one that I highly recommend. I do wish that the ending wasn't so rushed, but that is a minor quibble in the overall impact of the book.

Buy Parable of the Talents on Amazon.

Parable of the Sower was nominated for a Nebula for best novel in 1994. In 1999, she received the Nebula for Parable of the Talents. According to Wikipedia, Butler had originally planned to write a third Parable novel, tentatively titled Parable of the Trickster and mentioned it in a number of interviews.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 4/6: Kindred

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
In keeping with my Octavia E. Butler theme this week, my teaser is from her famous novel Kindred:
I liked the boy, and from what I'd heard of early nineteenth-century medicine, they were going to pour some whiskey down him and play tug of war with his leg. And he was going to learn brand new things about pain.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Review: Fledgling

Octavia Butler is an amazing author. I'm pretty sure you can't go wrong with reading any of her books. I could almost just leave it at that - no review, just demand that you go read Fledgling. Instead, I will try to articulate what I thought was so interesting about this book.

First, there's the writing. The prose was spare, I thought, but incredibly compelling. There was something so irresistible, to me, about how simple yet descriptive the writing was.

The second interesting thing about this book was the story. I thought there would be more of an action arc but overall it wasn't very action driven. Instead, the story was engaging, moving forward interspersed with bursts of action. In fact, Fledgling was a real page-turner. I really wanted to know what was going to happen next.

The third interesting thing about this book is the ideas. There are some very uncomfortable moments in Fledgling - a grown man has sex with someone who looks like a child, people are kept as possessions, even if they are there voluntarily, and, as in all of Butler's books that I have read, race is never a comfortable issue. But there is so much to think about it in here and no easy answers. It makes for a just fascinating read.

I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't given a plot summary. As so often happens, I found the description on the back of the book to be misleading. But I rather liked not really knowing what would happen, so I don't really care to correct it and lay it out for you here. In short, though, Fledgling is about a 10-year-old black girl who is actually a 50-plus year old vampire.

It does feel a little like there should be a sequel to this book - like Fledgling set up the world and the next book would expand on it. Sadly, Ms. Butler passed away after its publication, so this is all we have of the world of Fledgling. But its a really interesting book and one that I would recommend to anyone who likes their SF/Fantasy a little smarter.

Buy Fledgling on Amazon.

Octavia E. Butler Week

Welcome to Octavia E. Butler Week! No, its not a national holiday or her birthday (which is in June). This is just an opportunity for me to talk about the work of an author who is quickly becoming one of my favorites. As an avid sci-fi reader my whole life, I had heard marvelous things about Butler's work for years. But it wasn't until this time last year that I finally got around to reading one of her novels, Parable of the Sower (link goes to my review). Sower blew me away - it was so good and the dystopia so spot on. It took me a while, though, to work up the courage to read more though. Spot-on dystopia is a scary thing. I finally dove in, though, so this week I'll have reviews of other Butler books. I'd love to be able to start a discussion of Butler's work and maybe about who she was and why her career was so important. In addition to being one of the few prominent African-American women writing science fiction, she was the first sci-fi writer to receive the prestigious McArthur Genius Grant. Ms. Butler died unexpectedly in 2006.

For a little more information about Octavia Butler, you can see her author page at SFWA, her Wikipedia entry or visit, a fan site.

Photo of Octavia E. Butler signing a copy of Fledgling via Wikipedia.