Sunday, November 18, 2007

The challenges of new technology

After I wrote yesterday's post, I kept thinking about this hysterically funny video that my husband introduced me to a few months ago, and here it is. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is the ink-and-paper book on its way out?

There is much discussion about the future of books - will everything be digitized? Will books no longer exist in the beloved format we grew up with?

It wasn't until college that I made the shift to using a computer to write papers. Yep, that's how ancient I am. At first, I had to write everything out on paper and then type it into the computer. I didn't actually compose anything on the computer for a few years. It just felt, well, weird. Little by little I began writing drafts of things on the computer, which I would then print out, edit on the printout with colored pens, and then enter the edits on the computer. These days I don't even have a paper printout of most things I'm working on. I don't know what I'd do without word's "track changes" feature!

The same thing goes for reading things on the computer. It's kind of funny to notice that many people at work in the generation older than I am tend to print out their email and use lots of paper file folders to organize and store things. It was a revelation to some of them when I showed them how to make subfolders in Outlook to organize their email messages - they'd been printing everything that might be important and filing it away. And whenever something is longer than a few paragraphs, they print it out to read it. Reading from the computer screen feels hard on their eyes.

I laughed so hard the other day when I was reading a book. I was wondering what time it was, and instead of looking at my watch I glanced down at the right-hand corner of the book, and I was surprised when I didn't find a clock there, like I do on my computer screen! I read a lot straight from my computer, especially since I got a laptop a few years ago.

So it isn't much of a stretch to think that younger generations are not going to have that warm, fuzzy feeling from holding a paper-and-ink book in their hands. Maybe the thought of using a book someone else has read, complete with coffee stains and sticky spots will be revolting to them - they may well be used to reading books on their own personal devices. These "books" won't rip, warp, smell like secondhand smoke or get spots of mildew on them. They may well be waterproof and happily hang out in the bathtub or at the beach. Who knows?

Here is a review of the new Sony reader. Here is one on amazingly thin, flexible electronic paper. And for more information about the very cool item in the picture above, check out this article about Seiko Epson's UXGA e-paper display.

What about you? Do you think that one day you will curl up with a digital book? Or do you think our paper friends will be around for a long, long time?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Skeleton Detective visits the Amazon

Gideon Oliver, hero of fourteen mystery novels all involving skeletons, is back. He is joined by his old friends John Lau (FBI agent) and Phil Boyajian (On the Cheap travel guides editor) on a boat trip down the Amazon river. Gideon thinks he'll be getting a nice, sunny vacation away from dreary, overcast Washington - but he is in for a surprise.

The book opens with a scene from years earlier, in which three graduate students have a harrowing encounter with Chayacuro headhunters, with only one escaping back to civilization. That young man eventually becomes world-renowned ethnobotanist Arden Scofield, who has booked the same boat as Gideon and his friends, along with several colleagues and acquaintances for a research trip.

It quickly becomes apparent that no one on the boat cares much for the bombastic, pompous Dr. Scofield, and the reader can be fairly certain who the victim of this murder mystery is going to be. Elkins gives a lot of information on the different boat passengers, and it isn't until over halfway through the book that a murder actually takes place. But I was so taken by the description of the Amazon and its inhabitants that I didn't mind one bit. The sensory images are so vivid that I felt as though I were there on that boat with the other characters.

Once again Gideon Oliver's skills as a forensic anthropologist are called into play, and as always I am fascinated by the many things bones can tell a careful observer about the person who once moved around in them. The mystery is fairly straightforward, without too many confusing twists and turns, so that an observant reader will be able to figure out whodunit. My only problem with this book is that it mentions that Gideon Oliver is in his 30s. I started reading this series in the 1980s, and so in my mind Gideon is at least 15 or 20 years older than I am. It's not fair that he gets to stay so young, and now I'm older than he is! How did that happen?

This is one of my all-time favorite mystery series. It combines engaging characters, realistic dialog, fascinating geographical locations, interesting biological facts, and gripping storytelling. It is not absolutely necessary to read them in order, I suppose, but I would suggest starting at the beginning if only for the sake of continuity. The first couple are pretty good, but they definitely get better, for the most part, as they go along.

The books of the Gideon Oliver series in order so far:
  1. Fellowship of Fear
  2. The Dark Place
  3. Murder in the Queen's Armies
  4. Old Bones
  5. Curses
  6. Icy Clutches
  7. Make No Bones
  8. Dead Men's Hearts
  9. Twenty Blue Devils
  10. Skeleton Dance
  11. Good Blood
  12. Where There's a Will
  13. Unnatural Selection
  14. Little Tiny Teeth
Little Tiny Teeth by Aaron Elkins (Berkley Hardcover, 2007)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A sweet coming-of-age novella

Fifteen-year-old Tirza and her twin brother, Tracell, are the eldest children of Lord and Lady Eircelly. Lady Eircelly is much admired in the household as well as the surrounding village not only for her kind, resourceful ways, but also for her skills, enhanced by the crystals she wears, at foretelling the future - and being prepared for it.

At a time when Tirza thought she'd be getting ready for her long-awaited 16th birthday celebration, the country is suddenly beset by war. Her father leaves with every able-bodied man and horse, to join the other troops and fight the enemy attackers. When the village burns down, everyone comes to the manor house; with a house full of scores of wounded, homeless people, the importance of any sort of coming 0f age celebration recedes.

Tirza's brother, in the absence of his father, rides his outgrown pony around the area, helping fight the attackers and take care of the villagers. All he would like for his birthday is a horse, and Tirza is determined to get one for him, somehow - especially when he rides up to the house, battered and exhausted, and instead of dismounting he simply puts his feet on the ground and allows his little pony to walk out from beneath him! But where, at a time when every healthy horse is so desperately needed in the war, can she hope to find one for her brave, beloved brother? When she is given her own crystal the day before her 16th birthday arrives, she holds it in her hand and thinks the very words her mother is wont to say: "I'll just see what I can do about that."

This is a sweet story about faith and love during difficult times. My library shelves this among the adult books, but I think it is perfectly suited for teens as well. The only complaint I have is that it is such a small, short book - only 85 pages, but I was surprised to find that it is priced at $14.95 (my copy's hardbound). I got mine from the library, of course, but I'd certainly think twice about paying that much for a book I could read in an hour or so.

It has been a while since I've read anything by McCaffrey, and I enjoyed returning to her fictional world, which always has such interesting characters that I come to deeply care about.

Also - for any of you Pern fans out there, did you know that a Dragonriders of Pern movie is in the works? Click here for more information. According to IMDB, it should be out in 2008.

If Wishes Were Horses by Anne McCaffrey (Roc, 1998)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Meredith Gentry's Sixth Adventure

Meredith is a half-human, half-faerie princess (as well as former private investigator) and heir apparent to the throne of the Unseelie Court. The only problem is that she will only gain the throne once she has proven herself to be fertile (it has been years since any sidhe have been born, in either court). The current Unseelie queen, Meredith's sadistic, questionably sane aunt, has given Meredith some of her incredibly handsome guards to serve as Meredith's lovers. Whichever of them gets her pregnant will become king. Even though they are all dear to her, she can't help but be terrified by the thought that that she will not end up with the one she truly loves.

I know I say this all the time, but it is crucial to read this series in order. Hamilton does some recapping, but if you haven't read previous books, you will be annoyed and confused.

The book opens with an intriguing situation: the King of the Seelie Court has accused two of Meredith's bodyguards of raping a woman in his court. The odd thing about this is that he has taken her to court in Los Angeles, where Meredith has fled after too many attempts on her life in the faerie realms. The sidhe do not lie - if they are forsworn, they are banished from faerie. Meredith swears one of her guards was with her at the time; King Taranis says otherwise. At the hearing, it quickly becomes clear that there is more to the situation than meets the eye.

I enjoy Laurell Hamilton's books for many reasons. She is a master of suspense - it is so hard to put her books down! Suspense is woven through the books in such a way that even when one plot thread comes to a head, there is something else waiting in the wings that has slowly been building tension in the background...and so on, throughout the course of the novel. Another reason is that she plays with what is commonly considered good and evil so that there is no black and white. What might appear to be horrific on the surface, once examined, turns out to be merely different, another way of thinking, a cultural difference, or something done for a noble reason. The Seelie Court, known for its beauty and glory, is not so wonderful (but it is not all bad, either). The Unseelie Court has its share of horrors, but it is not without its beauty and goodness, too. What matters most is personal choices, why they are made, how they are made, what is lost, what is gained.

The characters, too, are complex and fascinating. With each book Hamilton's characters change and grow; they never have it easy, but it is great fun to root for them. They are certainly worth rooting for! My only complaint about this book is that it was way too short. Past books in the series have easily been double the length of this one, so that was a big disappointment. Now I'm stuck waiting for the next book in the series. Sigh.

Books in the Meredith Gentry series:
1. A Kiss of Shadows
2. A Caress of Twilight
3. Seduced by Moonlight

4. A Stroke of Midnight

5. Mistral's Kiss
6. A Lick of Frost
7. Swallowing Darkness
8. Divine Misdemeanors

A Lick of Frost by Laurell K. Hamilton (Ballantine Books, 2007)

Other blog reviews: The Movieholic & Bibliofile's Blog

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Which book you have reread the most?

Not surprisingly, according to a recent survey, the most reread book is - you guessed it - Harry Potter, at the top of the list.

The top ten reread books are, according to the survey:

1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

2. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

4. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

6. 1984 by George Orwell

7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

8. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

10. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Of these books, I've reread seven of them least three times. Of the remaining three, I've read 1984 once and hope never to read it again (glad I read it once, but that was enough). And Catch-22 is on my list to read again some day. But - I'm sure this is a shocker - I've never read The Da Vinci Code. Am I the only one left who hasn't?

I never really thought about books in terms of "re-readability" before. But there are certainly some that I reread on a fairly regular basis. Some because I want to refresh my memory before continuing in a series (which may well be one of reasons HP was #1 on the list), and some because I just love to return to the characters and world in which the book is set (Jane Austen's books fit this category).

I have often reread books by Laurie R. King, Laurell Hamilton, Madeleine L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones, Charles de Lint, Charles Dickens, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, Douglas Adams, Eva Ibbotson, Jane Yolen, Barbara Kingsolver, and Anne Lamott - that list is just off the top of my head. As I was writing down the authors, I realized that one of the criteria I use for categorizing writers in the "my favorite writer" category is that they absolutely must write re-readable books!

What about you? Do you have books or authors that you regularly reread? Are you like the people in the study and know within the the first chapter or 50 pages, etc., if you will reread the book? I don't think I know for sure till I finish the book. What is it about these books that makes you want to take the time to reread them when there are so many other books out there that you haven't read?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Rachel Morgan's second appearance - even better than the first!

Rachel Morgan, bounty hunter witch, returns in this second book in the series. The death threat against her from the first novel appears to have been revoked, but Rachel can't rest easy. After all, someone sent a demon to kill her, and the mystery behind that attack still needs to be resolved. Still, the bills must be paid, and when she is called to consult on a serial killer case for the local (human) police, she agrees - even though (or perhaps because) her nemesis, Trent Kalamack, appears to be involved.

Someone is killing ley-line witches, and Rachel must go under cover as a student in order to catch the killer. To complicate matters, Rachel's living vampire roommate is having some serious "issues" that make Rachel fearful of Ivy and worried about her at the same time.

I enjoyed this installment in the series even more than the first. The mystery was solid and exciting, and while Rachel is impulsive and easily carried away by her emotions, she is beginning to learn to keep her cool - a little. The characters are more fully developed, and interesting shades of gray are being revealed. Rachel (and the reader) come to understand that things are not always what they seem, and characters may indeed be good in some ways and evil in others. Life is complex, and Rachel's life is insanely complicated (luckily for the reader). I look forward to her further adventures.

Books in The Hollows series:
1. Dead Witch Walking
2. The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
3. Every Which Way but Dead
4. A Fistful of Charms
5. For a Few Demons More
6. The Outlaw Demon Wails
7. White Witch, Black Curse
8. Black Magic Sanction

The Good, the Bad, and the Undead by Kim Harrison (HarperTorch, 2005)

Harry Potter, Savior of Pakistan?

Thanks to Molly, who emailed me the link to this entertaining and informative article about schoolchildren in Pakistan likening their political situation to characters and situations in the Harry Potter novels. I enjoyed the way they were able to extend and explore the metaphor!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Librarian takes research out to the woods - and brings back a lost cat!

Last month Kristin Pietrowicz jumped more than 35 feet from a burning building with her little Persian cat, Phoebe, wrapped in a blanket in her arms. When she landed, she shattered her heels, and her cat ran off into the woods behind her apartment building. She was unable to search for Phoebe herself because of her injuries, but when Lynn Turner, a librarian at the Geological Sciences Library at UNC-Chapel Hill, heard about the missing cat, she added Phoebe the list of other cats that she was looking for. She set traps around the woods, catching some highly annoyed raccoons. Occasionally she'd see Phoebe running away, but the cat was so frightened that Turner wasn't able to get close enough to nab her. She found out that Phoebe loves peanut butter, and when she baited the traps with that - success! That little cat managed to survive for almost a month in the woods - with a broken leg. Kristin was delighted to get her brave little kitty back. Aren't librarians the best?

I'm a sucker for a happy ending animal story (but don't even talk to me about Old Yeller. Or Where the Red Fern Grows. Or Sounder. Or The Yearling. Or The Red Pony). Okay, I'll stop now. But if you'd like to read more about Phoebe's rescue, check out this article from The News Observer, and here is an article about events before the recovery of Kristin's cat.

The time change is a great time to replace the batteries in your smoke detectors. Take a moment to do that!

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Night School tale continues

In this second volume of Matsuri Hino's Vampire Knight manga, the plot is definitely thickening. The love triangle that began in the first book is gaining tension.

Our heroine, Yuki Cross, is the adopted daughter of Headmaster Cross, who runs Cross Academy. His pacifist philosophy is to educate the vampires (the night class) in order to form a bridge between them and humanity. Yuki and her childhood friend, Zero Kiryu, are the Guardians who protect the academy (particularly the day students from the night students).
If you plan to read this series, you might want to stop here to avoid any spoilers to Volume 1.

The night class president is Kaname Kuran. He saved Yuki from a terrifying vampire attack when she was a child, and she has adored him ever since. Plus he's a total hottie, so all the day school girls have massive crushes on him as well. In the first volume, it comes to light that Zero is, in fact, a vampire. There is a difference between vampires who are pureblood (like Kuran) and those who were once human (like Zero). Human-born vampires eventually become mad, completely losing their humanity. Yuki wants to try to help him - but how far is she willing to go? The arrival of an accomplished vampire slayer complicates matters - especially when it becomes clear that he knows exactly what Zero is and warns Yuki to stay away from him.

The story and characters of this series are gaining depth as the series progresses. I am looking forward to seeing how things develop in Volume 3.

There are three volumes of the Vampire Knight series available in the U.S. so far (according to Amazon, anyway). Volume 4 will be available in April, 2008. For a review of Volume 1, click here.

Vampire Knight, Volume 2 by Matsuri Hino (VIZ Media, 2007)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Secret passages, hidden tunnels, and an alluring sword

Araminta Spookie returns in her second adventure, The Sword in the Grotto, and she's as adventurous and impulsive as ever. Life at the Spookie house is definitely more exciting, now that the Wizzards - Araminta's friend Wanda and her parents - are living there. It is fun to have ghosts around, too, but there seems to be a problem with Sir Horace (the suit-of-armor ghost). He's been moping around the house for days, and no one knows why. Finally he disappears altogether, and it isn't until the girls go looking for him that they come across some old books and discover that Sir Horace is days away from his 500th birthday.

Immediately they decide that a surprise party is just the thing to cheer him up. When they accompany Wanda's father to the beach, they discover some caves, and from one of the caves they spy a sword, deep down in an inaccessible grotto. It would be just perfect for Sir Horace's birthday, the girls decide. But how to get it? Not to worry - Araminta has a Plan. Only the Plan doesn't take into account that Uncle Drac has taken up knitting - or that high tide in a cave can be lethal.

This is a fun addition to the Araminta Spookie series that addresses the questions that arise at the end of the first book. We see Araminta is no longer so lonely, now that she has Wanda to spend time with, even though she can be as exasperating as a sister. The writing is light and humorous, and Araminta is a likable, feisty character whose narration often makes me laugh out loud. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which the girls come across Edmund, Sir Horace's ghostly page: "Edmund was floating around us in a rather annoying fashion and was generally getting in the way. I could see what an irritating boy he must have once been."

To date, the books in the Araminta Spookie series are:
  1. My Haunted House
  2. The Sword in the Grotto
  3. Frognapped
  4. Vampire Brat
The Sword in the Grotto by Angie Sage, illustrated by Jimmy Pickering (Katherine Tegen Books, 2006)