Review: During the Reign of the Queen of Persia

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I don’t really know how to review this book because I don’t know how to evaluate it. For example, I can’t even really pinpoint the climax. Was it one of the several character deaths? When Gram sold the property? The attempted suicide? The fire? I really don’t know.

The story isn’t even linear. It begins after a major event, that is later retold about 3/4ths into the novel, then ends after the beginning. So the timeline is all over the place.

Was it interesting? Fairly. Some of the characters really came alive; the setting was vivid. Lots of interesting events happened. The writing was beautiful.

But what was the point of the novel?

The preamble before the book in my edition talks about the titular Queen of Persia (the matriarch grandmother) and also about the fever dream of childhood summers. I guess you could pinpoint those, but I didn’t really get much of a sense of either of those. The book is collectively narrated by 4 cousins, two sets of sisters, as the “we”. But not only do they describe things it was unlikely for them to know (for example, Gram’s early marriage to Grandad and their sex life), but they step back and describe some cousins as apart from and yet together with the “we”. If narrating as a collective, that collection should be fixed. Instead, the people in the “we” keep changing to suit the story.

Finally, the ending is pretty abrupt and unsatisfactory. Although since I can’t pinpoint a protagonist or a climax, I’m not sure what kind of ending could possibly work. The best way I can describe this novel is as a beautiful road to nowhere.

3 stars.

This book fulfills the female author, came out in the year you were born, and an author you’ve never read before requirements for the challenge.

Reading Through the “Top” 100 Picture Books: 100-96

While balancing my creative need to write and pay attention to my incredibly needy lovely toddler, I got the great idea to find a list of the best of the best picture books, read them to her and write about our reactions. I was also getting tired of going to the library and just randomly grabbing books off the shelves and hoping they would be good. When choosing books for myself, I typically come across a review or hear a mention on a podcast and think, that book sounds amazing, and add it to my growing list of books I’ll probably never have time to read. Considering a typical book that my daughter and I borrow from the library is read about 15 times (usually consecutively), I want those books to be good ones that I don’t hate to read.

So I found the School Library Journal list of Top 100 Picture Books. I couldn’t really find a firm date on it, but I’m assuming it is around 2011-2012. So a little dated, but I’m not sure how many revolutionary picture books have come out in the last 2 years. So starting with book #100, we are going to read these books 5 at a time and gauge both our reactions, their re-readability, and a few other tidbits as they come up. So I hope that you enjoy our journey, and find a few new favorites to enjoy as well.

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100. The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss

So the moral of this story is to not give up. It’s not subtle. I suppose young children haven’t already been beaten over the head with this sentiment yet, but the book isn’t clever or all that interesting. The drawings are all in shades of white and yellow, with a few hints of green and orange near the end. I also felt like this book didn’t age well, some of the language seems a bit weird to me; instead of saying “the carrot wouldn’t come up”, it seems like it should read “the carrot wouldn’t grow”. Peanut didn’t seem to mind the tediousness of this book, and asked for it a few times.

At the time of its publication, it was one of the shortest picture books, at 101 words. The author was also close with and a mentor to renowned author/illustrator Maurice Sendak. He illustrated some of her other children’s books, but this one in particular was illustrated by Krauss’ husband.

99. The Maggie B by Irene Haas

This one was hard to find, because only one library in the entire metro area of where I live had a copy, and it was in storage. We did get our hands on it, and read it a few times. It’s a cute book, essentially a fantasy day for a little girl and her baby brother on a ship that apparently has a farm on it, including orange trees and goats. There’s a few rhymes and “songs” interspersed throughout, which was Peanut’s favorite part, especially the lullaby near the end that Margaret sang to her baby brother. The thing that struck me as odd about it would be that such a small girl (she appears to be under the age of ten) was able to cook a seafood stew. Child labor, much? Or maybe I’ve been slacking with Peanut’s culinary training.

98. Duck on a Bike by David Shannon

I didn’t find this book particularly funny, but it apparently struck the right cord with Peanut, because she thinks it’s hilarious. The story is that a duck on a farm finds a bike and decides to try riding it, and then meets each animal on the farm who makes the noise of that animal (Neigh, said the horse), except the narrator translates that into what the animal may have been really thinking (“You’re going to hurt yourself on that!”). In the end, a bunch of abandoned bikes are found (how convenient), and all the animals go for a joyride. For some reason the idea of farm animals riding bikes is high entertainment for toddlers, but I thought the book was fairly repetitive and boring.

The idea for this book was inspired by the author’s daughter, who made animals sounds before saying any words. And maybe she liked bicycles?

97. Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox

This book is pretty simple and Peanut seemed to enjoy it. It basically consists of pointing out several sheep by a descriptor (“Here is the bath sheep, and here is the bed sheep”), and then asking “Where is the Green Sheep?” every few pages. It rhymes a little. Peanut is a little older and already knows most of those descriptors, but for a younger toddler it can be a semi-learning tool. Near and far, moon and star, etc. I did feel like the word “sheep” got tiresome after about 3 consecutive reads. You know how you repeat something over and over, and the meaning feels like it got lost? Yeah, try reading sheep about 20 times in a row. 

There is a fascinating talk transcribed on the author’s website about the process of writing a children’s book. I highly recommend taking the time to read it. And obviously, check out the green sheep plush available for purchase.

96. Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Weber

Despite the aged drawings (this book was written in the 1970s), the story is cute. Ira has been invited to go sleep over at his neighbor’s house, and he is undecided about whether he wants to bring his teddy bear or if he’s ready to sleep without it for the first time. It’s fairly long for a children’s book, but it kept Peanut’s interest. She even asked for it a few times. I’d say more, but on the off chance you read it, the ending is too cute to be spoiled.

Of course, you can always check out the 1991 HBO-produced musical animation based on the book. It unfortunately won’t play on a mobile device, but if you get a chance, you can view it on a computer.

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Next time, books 95-91!

January: Week Three

This is the week I start actually doing something. But first, RL wants me wax poetic about the things I love in my kitchen. She gives a list of things to like or dislike, and despite going into thinking there is nothing redeeming about my kitchen, I came away realizing it’s not so bad. Some of the major problems are structural though, and I will need to come up with a way to work around it. But the paint is good, lighting is good, floors are good, etc.

So after that, my first hands-on task was to do a 15 minute elimination sweep. I didn’t actually do the whole 15 minutes, but I filled a box and then some. The next day, I carted the box to Goodwill and I’m not looking back. DONE.

Task the second was to take 20 minutes and spot all my frustration zones in the kitchen. I took some pictures.

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First up is the area next to my knives. To the right is where I have both my can opener and the dish drying hold area. It just collects junk, and the piles kind of slide all over. Including to the floor in some not so shining moments.

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Next is the counter area where I used to designate as a baking/prep area, but it honestly just didn’t work well. So now it collects junk also.

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Then the bar. Sometimes I wish we had a less “open concept house” and more cabinets. This bar is just another place where junk stacks up and it always looks terrible.

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Last place is on top of the dog’s crate. Which is yet another place where stuff collects. I can’t wait until we no longer need this crate to be honest. We could really get rid of it now, as we sometimes let Suzi have free reign of the kitchen area and just close the bedroom door and the baby gate. This might be something I explore further.

So the week’s chapter ends with a discussion about all the various types of organizing tools/gadgets that you can purchase and where you might use them. I have a bunch of them already, but I might add a few more to the kitchen after I dive into next week.

Review: BtVS Season 10 New Rules

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I’ve enjoyed most of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novels, but this one was surprisingly excellent. If you haven’t been keeping up to date with the graphic novels, I highly recommend you do so, so that you can get here. It hit my fandom spot in all the right places. I also really love all the story lines they’ve mined from the magic seed idea. The only character that needs an arc is Willow. They seem to have forgotten about her mostly, although she did have her own short series.

Nicholas Brendan (Xander) has joined the writing team now and I don’t know if it’s because of him, or what, but I feel like these issues really came back to basics with a lot of the characters. I can’t wait to see where it’s going!

5 stars

This fulfills the book with non-human characters, the book with magic, the graphic novel, and the book based on or turned into a TV show requirements.

Review: Think Like A Freak

2015/01/img_2423.jpg“Think Like A Freak” by Stephen Dubner & Steven Levitt

I think I would have liked this book a lot more if I had not listened to the podcasts previously. It definitely just rehashed all the same material that they’ve had over the course of the past year or so. I really enjoyed the first Freakonomics book. The second felt less like an additional book and more of an addendum, which is interesting because the second book is actually 5 pages longer.

Some interesting anecdotes sprinkled throughout, as is the modus operandi for the Freakonomics duo. Some stuff about hot dog contest eating, soccer playing, and our reluctance to quit things or admit that we don’t know something. This book is written sort of in the manner of “here are ways you can challenge the way you think about things”, but it doesn’t really do that. It mostly just gives examples of how conventional wisdom is often wrong. (I can tell you how to challenge your thinking without spending a couple hundred pages discussing it – question everything!)

My personal opinion is that the contents of the podcast should have been collected in a CD or digital download presentation, and just packages that way. The podcast really sells it with the interviews from people and everything. The book is a little disappointing.

2 stars.

This book fulfilled the non-fiction requirement for the challenge.

10 Books That Have Stayed With Me

I read a lot. So here goes.

The Tanglewood Secret
I read this as a kid, and I must have read it about 50 times. It was one of the first novels I read. I remember it seeming very long, but it’s apparently less than 100 pages.

The Handmaid’s Tale
I think every woman should read this book. It is haunting and surprisingly relevant. It is dystopian, but the narrator still remembers the “before”, and I think that is what gives it the most impact.

Freakonomics
I love pop psychology type books. This was probably the first one I ever read. Now I try to seek them out whenever possible. It challenges me to think differently. I also love the format, of seemingly unrelated anecdotes that demonstrate a larger point.

Kissed by an Angel
This trilogy is amazing. It’s definitely one I think about often, as it went a lot deeper than I would expect for a YA book, especially written before YA got to be popular and good. I particular recall the scene with the cat.

4 Hour Body
This was the first book I read that challenged the conventional wisdom of food. The slow carb diet isn’t perfect, but it was one of the many stepping stones that lead me to where I am now.

For Women Only
This book changed the way I thought about marriage, and how to better interact with my husband. We had only been married for 6 months, and after reading this I was able to “argue better”. It mostly helped me see that we were coming at issues from very different perspectives.

To Kill a Mockingbird
This was the first literary fiction I read that I didn’t hate. I’ve read a lot more since. I think I finished this book in a couple days, and then had to wait until everyone else in the class caught up.

The Feminine Mistake
While I might not agree with this book anymore, it gave me a lot of food for thought and changed how I thought about being a woman in the economy. The book is a little alarmist, but brings up some good points.

The Notebook
I read this long before it became a movie. It is a short but beautiful book. The movie is a piece of junk. Everything that made me love the characters was demolished in the movie.

Brave New World
I didn’t like this book at all the first time I read it. It was the first dystopian book I ever read, and I don’t think I really “got it” because I was 17 at the time. But I frequently think back to it.

Is Pop Culture Worth Talking About?

There are a lot of forums in which to discuss pop culture. It seems to be something that we, as a society, can’t consume enough of. Is it all just noise? When real problems are out there, is it silly to discuss and love pop culture so much?

Part of it is silly, I’ll admit. If I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from, or if I would have a roof over my head tonight, or if I was afraid for my safety, then I would definitely not be sitting in my pajamas typing this. But, despite that, I’ll argue that it is important. Not in a “breaking news” type way, of course. We are fortunate to live in a society that has enough recreational time to devote to creating and enjoying culture. When I stop to think about it, it’s something that I’m truly thankful for.

First of all, pop culture makes us happy. You can be having a crummy morning, but if the right song comes on your iPod or someone forwards you the right cat .gif, it can improve your mood instantly. A really satisfying novel or engrossing movie can shift your attitude. It’s not only just a fleeting pleasure either. I often can think back to something that I enjoyed, and the memory of it still produces happy thoughts.

For those who create, it’s a fantastic emotional outlet. It may even be better than talk therapy for some! Even if what you create isn’t marketable, it’s an excellent way to sort through feelings and thoughts in a way that maybe conversation can’t. Who hasn’t filled a journal or two with horrible poetry or doodles? It may even help those who consume it, to put words to thoughts, or know that someone, somewhere, is having the same problems that you are.

Pop culture is a part of our identity. Just as we equate certain paintings and sculptures with ancient Greeks or Renaissance Italy, the culture that surrounds us identifies us in a particular period of time. It’s also an important part of our individual identity. Your favorite poem or TV show can tell someone things about you that you may not be able to articulate.

Finally, it connects us together. The shared experience of a particular thing can bond people, even if they never meet. This is why cover songs either work well or completely bomb. If someone already has a connection to a song, and a band presents it again, it will either bubble up nostalgia or ire that the group has “messed it up”. It is rarely ever judged on the merits of being a good song on its own; there is always the context of the original to guide it.

You may still think that writing and thinking about popular culture is a waste of your time. Maybe it is. But I will continue to love it and embrace how it changes and delights me.