29 July 2014

Wordless Wednesday 300

Busy Bee, 2014

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Today's Read & Giveaway: Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown

Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding BrownImagine it's the 1670s and you, an English woman, are helping carve out a piece of civilization in the American colonies. Now imagine that after you witness the brutal murder of your neighbors, you are captured by Indians and find yourself alone and enslaved in the harsh New England wilderness. Could you conquer your fear and keep your faith in God long enough to survive? That's the true story of Mary Rowlandson, who lived to tell her tale to the world.

Later, Mary will trace the first signs of the Lord's displeasure back to a hot July morning in 1672 when she pauses on her way to the barn to watch the sun rise burnt orange over the meetinghouse. She feels a momentary sinking in her bowels as it flashes like fire through a damp haze, putting her in mind of the terrors of hell. She has never been adept at reading omens.
Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown (Penguin USA / NAL, 2014, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: New England, 1670s
  • What I know of the historic Mary Rowlandson: Rowlandson was born in England and settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During King Philip's War, she was captured and sold into slavery and lived for almost a year among the Indians under both physical and psychological duress. Near starving and grieving her losses, she fought to keep her fear in check and survive in the hopes of being reunited with her children. Although she began to see the Native Americans as people, she never truly thought of them as anything but savage heathens. Several years after she was restored to her husband, she wrote her story, which became the first best-seller of the New World.
  • What I know of the novel: I haven't yet read the book, but my understanding is that the first half tells the story of life in the colony, the massacre, and Rowlandson's months in captivity. The second part of the story imagines how Rowlandson struggled to fit back into the Puritan community. She faced two principal issues: First, her neighbors now considered her damaged goods. Second, after living in the wilderness, she began to feel uncomfortable under the constraints of her church.
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Why I want to read it: I've read Rowlandson's original narrative, and I'm curious about how Brown has filled in the gaps and details of the story. I'm especially interested in how Brown imagines Rowlandson's life after she reentered society.

Thanks to the nice people at NAL, I am pleased to offer one of my readers a copy of Flight of the Sparrow. Because the publishers will be mailing the book, this giveaway is open to only those with a U.S. mailing address. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner on August 8 using a random number generator. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll erase all personal data from my computer. Good luck!

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28 July 2014

Graphically Reading: Thoughts on the Graphic Medium

One of the wonderful benefits of blogging has been the chance to broaden my reading horizons. Until I started Beth Fish Reads, my exposure to comics consisted of my lifelong, daily addiction to comic strips and the comic books I read as a kid.

I guess I should start by admitting I was kind of a lame comic book reader. My favorites were of the Richie Rich ilk. I loved Archie, and I read Superman sporadically, but I was never a superhero fan. I have a few bound comics from my childhood, including a couple of Tintin books as well as some comic strip collections.

I was/am completely eclectic when it comes to daily comic strips. I read everything except Mark Trail. I remember Apartment 3G and  Mary Worth (neither of which appear in my current local paper); Peanuts when there were still new strips; and Pogo, Bloom County, and Calvin and Hobbes (R.I.P.). I read them all from Prince Valiant (so slow but oddly addictive) to Shoe, Nancy, and Doonesbury.

So why did it take me until 2009 to return to reading graphic books? No idea. (Note: My reviews for all the books shown in this post, except the last one, can be found by clicking "Graphic Novel" or "Graphic Nonfiction" in the "Select a Label" pull-down list in the sidebar.)

Over the last few weeks, my Twitter stream has shown a rise in interest in the graphic format, which prompted me to check my archives. I was surprised to discover I've written 80 posts tagged as either graphic novel (includes comics) or graphic nonfiction, especially because I haven't written about all the graphic books and series I've read since I picked up that Nancy Drew (don't bother) almost six years ago.

One of the points I like to make when I review GNs (the term I'll use here for fiction, nonfiction, comics, series, and stand-alones), is that graphic is a format, not a genre. No matter what your reading tastes are, there's a GN for you. So many people associate GNs with only superheros or only fantasy. Others are sure they all are geared to children or teens or that they're meant only for fun escape reading. The truth is very different.

I've read GNs that have explored serious issues, such as the Holocaust, immigration, family, love, sexuality, death, and sickness. Others took me into the kitchen, back through history, into the future, and to makebelieve lands. From fantasy to historical fiction, from mystery to true crime, from contemporary novels to contemplative short story collections: artist/writers have covered every conceivable genre and have written to audiences from the earliest readers to the most sophisticated scholar.

My own tastes are wide ranging, although I tend to be attracted to fantasy (as a huge, broad category) and memoir. I still don't read X-Men or superheroes, I'm not much taken by Manga (yet), and I don't like traditional print novels that have been turned into GNs (based on a sample of about four). I love beautiful, colorful art (Saga) as much as simple black and white (Anya's Ghost). I am as addicted to more literary GNs (The Unwritten) as I am to the fun and goofy (Bones).

If you're new to the graphic medium, you might want read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. I read it soon after it was published (my copy is from 1993), and I remember it as being a fascinating look into the graphic medium throughout history and as comic artists geared up for the changes coming in the twenty-first century. Although the book may be due for a revision (adding eComics and new color technology, for example), it remains a serious, comprehensive introduction to this form of storytelling.

Among other topics, McCloud discusses comics lingo, different styles of art, and the evolution of common icons. He talks about how and why comics work as sequential art and explores some of the issues unique to the format (such as how to draw sounds, movement, and time). If you're unsure how to read a GN or want to know the difference between Western and Eastern comics, McCloud comes to your rescue.

One of the more frivolous things that stuck with me was this (and I'm paraphrasing): When it comes to comics, you really can judge a book by its cover. After all, comics (GNs) are where words and pictures meet.

Thursday: There is still so much I want to say about the graphic medium, I'm going to continue this discussion later this week. I want to talk a little bit about the range of artwork in GNs as well as the different forms (collected issues, single issues, series, stand-alone titles). In addition, I want to share some of the GNs I've read and not yet reviewed plus the titles I have on my reading stack.

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26 July 2014

Weekend Cooking: Hey Bartender (Film)

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Hey Bartender (documentary)The cocktail is back! Actually, it's been back for a number of years, but some of us are still hooked on wine and craft beers and think of cocktails as either the businessman's martini or those sweet, unimaginative "ladies' drinks" from the 1950s and 1960s.

Director–writer Douglas Tirola is here to elevate bartenders to their rightful place. Bartending in the big leagues is not about rum and Coke but about mixing and developing drinks using the freshest ingredients and the best of flavors. The art, science, history, and career of bartending are the subjects of Tirola's Hey Bartender, an award-winning 2013 documentary film.

This fascinating look at the life behind the bar focuses primarily on two men: A middle-aged man who owns a local bar in Westport, Connecticut, and a young ex-Marine who works at one of the most popular bars in New York. Their very different experiences and places in life offer a nice counterpoint, but we also meet influential men and women who are at the top of the heap in the cocktail universe.

If you've ever wondered about the rise and fall and rise again of the mixed drink in America and/or the art, wisdom, science, and showmanship of the men and women who stand behind the bar, this film is for you. Whether you drink or not, have a favorite bar or not, you'll discover something new in Hey Bartender. This film is not about how to make a cocktail; it's about the individuals who are striving for recognition and respect in the food world. And guess what? They are finally getting their place in sun, exemplified by newly developed James Beard awards, a week-long annual conference in New Orleans, and the ever-growing attention of the media.

This is a don't-miss film that will have you staking out your own spot at the corner pub and asking the bartender for his or her recommendation.

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24 July 2014

Review: The Age of X Series by Richelle Mead

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle MeadLast month, I finally got around to reading (well, listening to) Richelle Mead's Age of X series, which is set in the future but in a world that is familiar enough to be easily recognizable. The first book, Gameboard of the Gods, was initially published in June 2013, and the second book in the series, The Immortal Crown, came out this May.

I haven't read any of Mead's earlier work (most famously the Vampire Academy books), but I was curious about the Age of X books--despite some mixed reviews--because the series is geared to adults, has dystopian elements, and touches on several complex themes and issues.

Rather than talk about the novels separately, I focused this bullet review on the series so far.

  • Setting. Sometime in the future, the world has been severely altered by a virus that was likely the result of genetic manipulation experiments. People living under the protection of a major government have access to education, the data stream, mass transportation, and so forth. This comes with costs, among which are that all citizens must wear an embedded chip that contains their identity and that religion is regulated to the point of being mostly illegal. Outside the boundaries of the new countries, people are free but live in a dangerous world.
  • The Immortal Crown by Richelle MeadGeneral plot. Mae Koskinen, beautiful debutant turned Uber soldier, is sent to the wilds to retrieve an exiled government worker who is needed to help solve several unexplained murders that appear to have a religious base. She has little trouble tracking down Dr. Justin March, an expert in religion and history, but returning him to RUNA (a country consisting of parts of Canada and the United States) involves some negotiation. Once back in Seattle, the two team up to investigate the murders, which leads them to discoveries about politics, the power of gods, the role of religion, and even their own self-identities. Their work eventually takes them back into the unprotected lands, where the pair uncover human rights violations, forcing them to juggle the purpose of their mission with their own sense of right and wrong.
  • Underlying, deeper plot. Mead draws on the myths and traditions of a number of religions from the Norse to the Greeks and Romans and to the more familiar Western faiths. Although RUNA officially denies any possibility that the gods could be real entities, Mae and Justin's experiences are causing them to question their government, despite the dangers of delving into religious matters. The Age of X books are not about spirituality. Instead Mead explores the idea that the gods do exist, competing with each other for power. We (and the characters) are left to ask, Just how binding are the rituals and agreements the gods demand from the devoted? How would one know which god to trust? Do the gods have compassion for us or are they interested only in using us for their own purposes?
  • Other themes. Gameboard of the Gods and The Immortal Crown also touch on friendship, loyalty, class divisions, medical and genetics issues, doing the right thing, family, and fate.
  • Characters. Mae, Justin, and their friends and family are generally well developed and have distinct personalities. Mae is tough and strong and has a lot to learn about herself. Justin is smart and observant, but is struggling with his own interactions with divine beings. Tessa, a teenage ward of Justin's shows us how RUNA appears to an outsider. She is resourceful but still a bit naive; I'm sure she'll have an increasingly large part in the series.
  • Likes and dislikes. Mead's world building is excellent. The future she envisions is internally consistent and very believable. No huge jumps in civilization as we know it. There are medical  and technological advances, but generally Mae's Seattle is completely recognizable. The intrigue of the gods, their priests, the believers, the shunners, and the politics will keep me reading. On the other hand, Mead is slow to get things moving. By the end of the second book, I wanted to have more answers. Instead, Mead is teasing us, pulling us into the story by increments. Less patient readers may be frustrated.
  • Recommendation. Those who like dystopia and/or books that make you think will do fine with the Age of X series. The more you know about mythology, the more you're likely to get out of the books. On the other hand, I have only average knowledge, and I don't feel lost, so don't be put off by that. Action, mystery, violence, romance, sex, and even some humor carry the plot along. Are these the best dystopian books I've every read? No. But I think they're worth your time.
  • Audiobooks. I listened to the unabridged audiobook editions (Penguin Audio: Gameboard of the Gods, 16 hr, 9 min; The Immortal Crown, 15 hr, 54 min) both read by Emily Shaffer. Shaffer's performance was well done in terms of emotion, pacing, and characterizations. Most of the people we meet in the Age X series are adults who have been through some tough experiences; unfortunately, Shaffer's voice has a teenage tone to it, and I had to keep reminding myself that Mae, in particular, was a grownup. Although Schaffer was not the best choice for these books, she held my interest for 32 hours. However, I may pick print for the third book.
Published by Penguin Group USA / Dutton
Gameboard of the Gods (2013) ISBN-13: 9780525953685, The Immortal Crown (2014) ISBN-13 9780525953692
Source: Review (1 print, 1 audio); bought (1 audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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