Computer Not Working

My computer isn’t working. I’m very sad about this. I don’t know when it will be back, but hopefully soon! There probably won’t be a lot of updates while I wait for it (unless I really decide that the laptop is ok, which I may or may not since I hate the mouse). *sigh* Hopefully this won’t last long.

Stan Berenstein Has Died

I read on Drawn! just now that Stan Berenstein, one of the co-creators (with his wife Jan) of the Berenstain Bears, has died. It’s very sad. They have been publishing Berenstain Bear books since the 1970s and many of us grew up reading them. And they are as popular today as ever (believe me, I pick them up off the floor of the bookstore nearly every shift I work). New books in the series were still coming out all the time. Stan will be sorely missed!

Christmas Meme

I haven’t done a meme in quite a while, and I liked this one, so I stole it from Whirled Peas. I’d love to hear other people’s answers if anyone else wanted to answer it too.

1. What you want for Christmas… if your friends were millionaires. Only one item, but the sky’s the limit.

I’d like a first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. They are incredibly rare and expensive, but I would just adore owning one.

2. What you want for Christmas… for real. One tangible, real item that a normal human could buy in stores.

I would really like the big pretty book about the musical “Wicked”. I think it’s called The Grimoire, but I’m not positive. It’s big and green and designed to look old.

3. What you want for Christmas… in abstract. True love, world peace, whatever. With explanation.

I would like for no child to ever go without a chance at good education and good books to read. I don’t think any child should ever want for intellectual stimulation or be denyed the ability to read as much as they want. Every kid should have access to good books and interesting ideas.

Book: Eye of Fortune

Eye of Fortune
Denise R. Graham
illustrated by Emily Fiegenschuh
2004

This is the fourth book in the “Knights of the Silver Dragon” series. I very much disliked the books immediately before and after it in the series, as is probably evident to anyone who read my reviews of them, but this one was much better. It is my favourite of the first five books. Not only does it feel like a good Dungeons and Dragons adventure, but the characters are accurately portrayed and the writing excellent.

I loved how the characters were shown in this book. They were very much their character class (wizard, rogue and bard), but also very three-dimensional. They made logical conclusions and put pieces together intelligently. The plot flowed well. There were no breaks for sneaking out scenes or other unimportant filler scenes. They even managed to logically create a balanced party by running into a fighter and a cleric. The cleric was one of the most amusing characters I remember encountering in recent books. He was a half-orc who seemed totally unaware of his powers (intelligence far below average). I would love to see someone run such a character in a game.

The illustrations were wonderful. I loved the cover illustration with the fortune teller gazing into her magic eye as Kellach looks on critically and Driskoll looks on amazed. It captures the characters wonderfully. The interior art is just as good. I am continually impressed at Miss Fiegenschuh’s ability to capture the characters and essence of what this series strives to be (and occasionally achieves).

This book is wonderful. The adventure is beautifully done and could make a wonderful Dungeons and Dragons campaign. The characters are perfectly portrayed and the writing and illustrations complement each other quite well. This book I would definitely recommend!

Book: Return to Oz

Return to Oz
Joan D. Vinge
1985

This is the novelization of the 1985 Walt Disney Pictures movie “Return to Oz”. The movie was based on the second and third books in the Oz series by L. Frank Baum. I’m not generally fond of movie novelizations, but this one wasn’t awful. It didn’t offer anything new, and the movie gave more insight to the characters’ heads than did the novel, but the story was laid out simply and well.

The movie had a delightful Oz feel to it (even the darkness was very Ozian). The novel, however, with it’s dry retelling of the movie events, somewhat missed out on that. The story is perfectly straightforward with few little mistakes. The problem is just that, there is no personalness to the story, no character. Each action is meticulously described, but not the reasoning or feelings behind it. I have no idea what was going through Dorothy’s head when she was conceiving of the Gump plan or choosing trinkets in the Nome King’s vault. The book was so transcribed that it was hard to care what happened. It completely lacked a human touch.

This book is a good reference for the story of the movie, but as a novel it fails miserably. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Book: Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming

Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming
Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley
1991

This book is light and funny and thoroughly enjoyable to read. The plot is a novel idea – a demon tries to set up a fairy tale (Sleeping Beauty) so that it comes out wrong to prove that evil is more at work in the world than good. To do this, he constructs the principle characters (Beauty and the Prince) from parts of other people that are expressly chosen to make their task unlikely (cowardly legs for the prince and a scorned woman’s head for Beauty). Through it all he is fighting a bureaucratic system of evil (of course evil is entirely bureaucracy, it only fits) and an angel who can summon whatever he needs at a moment’s notice. The book and the writing are delightfully funny.

This is a very well written book. The plot is paced well and the pace is generally good, varying from laid back to fast paced. The characters are also extremely well done. Azzie, the demon, is creepy and very much trying to be evil, even if sometimes one can’t help but feel for him. His “assistant”, Frike, is perhaps creepier than the actual demon, although his is human. His desire to partake in any questionable activity that Azzie can come up with is endlessly entertaining. Babriel, an angel set to make certain Azzie doesn’t cheat, is another fascinating character. He isn’t good as one generally thinks of angels, but he is good to a fault and the dichotomy there (he helps everyone, because that is good, even a demon) makes him an interesting character to watch. My favourite of the main characters was the witch, Ylith. She was funny and realistic at the same time. She added a much needed touch of human common sense to the book. The cast was very well balanced.

This is a light book and generally a pretty quick read. I enjoy it a great deal and defiantly recommend it to anyone else!

Book: Sign of the Shapeshifter

Sign of the Shapeshifter
Dale Donovan and Linda Johns
Illustrator: Emily Fiegenshuh
2004

This is the third in the “Knights of the Silver Dragon” series. It isn’t the worst I’ve read from the series so far, but it is far from the best. There were a number of problems with the book, but the most glaring was the lack of a good plot. There just wasn’t much there to work with. The characters were done alright, they managed to remain pretty much the same people they were in the first two books, which was good. Overall, this book was unsatisfying and disappointing.

The idea of this series, as I understand it, is to provide stories about kids having Dungeons and Dragons adventures. The problem with this novel is that they aren’t having much of a D&D adventure. Only one of the monsters they meet in the book is one from the official Dungeons and Dragons books. There are literally hundreds of official monsters, many possessing the qualities needed for the plot, so I really don’t see any excuse for not using them.

The other big thing that is required in a D&D adventure is that the heroes seem at least marginally heroic (it really doesn’t take much), but this book makes it painfully clear that the writers don’t think the kids could have this very un-heroic adventure unless the adults are safely out of the way. The excuses for the adults to not be remotely involved are flimsy and feel contrived. That isn’t necessary and it felt artificial and cheapened the accomplishments of the main characters. The ending was very frustrating in this book. It felt extremely rushed and slapped together. There wasn’t a lot of plot to wrap up, but it still felt like the authors weren’t sure how to end the story. It was awkward.

The illustrations in the book were good; as good as they have been in the rest of the series. The cover is probably my least favourite so far, but the interior illustrations were extremely well done. The chapter heading illustration (one small picture that heads each chapter and is different in each book) is probably my favourite in the series thus far. It is a symbol that is important to the plot and very interesting to look at. I continue to wonder about he fact that the kids wear the same clothing every single day, but that is pretty typical of D&D (where you can’t change the clothing on the little metal figure that represents your character), so it actually fit with the concept very well.

This book isn’t very good, and I wouldn’t recommend it (even for people who don’t care about the Dungeons and Dragons aspect of the book). If you are going to read the series, read the first book and the fourth. Skip the second, third and fifth.

Book: Spectacles

Spectacles
Ellen Raskin
1968

This is an old picture book (mine was chewed on at some point, probably twenty years ago since I don’t ever remember it in a non-chewed up state), but it is still entirely adorable and wonderfully amusing. It follows the story of a little girl who finds out that she needs glasses after reporting to her mother and teacher that she sees some truly extraordinary things (like a dragon and a giant caterpillar). She absolutely doesn’t want glasses, but ends up deciding they are ok.

There are two things that I think make this book remarkable and worth writing about. The first is the illustrations themselves. Each two-page spread has the little girl and either what she sees or what is really there, and we always see both over the course of four pages. What she sees are wonderful, but slightly fuzzy and monochrome, images. What is really there is always an interesting and creative collection of people and objects that could make the image the girl sees if you didn’t have glasses (and really needed them). Thus, and image of Santa Claus with escalators in the background on one page is a fat kangaroo on another! The pictures always line up completely, which makes them so much fun to look at. A tiny kitten on a couch becomes a giant bulldog! There is so much creativity and skill that must have gone into the creation of these images (especially since she couldn’t have just made the “real” image and played with it in a computer to make the “vision” image).

The second wonderful thing about the book is the layout. As I said before, it’s all about four-page units made up of two two-page spreads. There is no more than a line or two of text on any given left-hand page and each small bit of text is accompanied on that page with a simple black line drawing of the little girl and sometimes the person she is telling her vision to. The right hand page always contains the coloured image. For the first part of the book (before she gets glasses), the first image in a pair is always what the girl sees and the second image is what is really there. After she gets glasses, that flips (showing she sees reality, but can still take off the glasses for some fun fantasy images). It is a very structured layout, but a very effective one. I’m really impressed with it.

I think that part of why this book has remained a favourite of mine for most of my life is the implicit idea in it that magic exists everywhere, if you know how to look at it. How cool is that? And as a kid who needed glasses for the vast majority of my life, I was always privy to that world. I loved taking off my glasses and looking for dragons and lions and Christmas trees in my living room! It’s just such a fun idea!

This is a wonderful book. It’s probably a little hard to find these days (I don’t think it’s in print), but it is well worth it! This is a fun book that really does remain magical for every reading!

Book: From the Back Pew

From the Back Pew: Life and Love in the Last Small Town in America
Wendy Lestina
2003

This is an entertaining book that is made up of the collected “From the Back Pew” columns Mrs Lestina has written over the past few years for The Ferndale Enterprise. Her subjects range from a surplus of Zucchini to the events of September 11, 2001 and her commentary is always amusing. She lives in a small, Victorian town in Northern California called Ferndale, and it happens to be where my father grew up (which is why the book came to my attention). It is a small town where everyone pretty much knows everyone else and the makers of pot-luck dishes can be easily identified by tasting the dish itself.

Mrs Lestina has a wonderful, flowing writing style and an extremely casual and comfortable voice (made largely possible by the medium – newspaper columns). The book is fun to read and feels more like a conversation than anything else. Even when I didn’t know who the people she was talking about were (although many I at least recognized by name), I could follow the flow of what she was talking about. It really made me want to move to a small town! I also liked the episodic format of the book. Each column is completely self-contained (even when they occasionally have running themes or jokes that jump from column to column) and that makes it easy to pick up and put down. I also found it wonderfully good at cheering me up quickly! Nearly every column made me laugh at least once.

I really enjoyed this book. I would definitely recommend it, even if you have never lived in a small town. It’s funny and light and wonderfully well written!

List Updates

These lists have been added or updated:

Alphabet and Counting Books
Animal Stories (Cats, Cows, Dogs and Horses have been incorporated into this page)
Award Winners
Bedtime Stories
City Stories
Dinosaur Stories
Family Stories (Fathers, Grandparents, Mothers and New Siblings have been incorporated into this page)
Fairy Tales Retold
Holiday Stories
Mystery Stories
School Stories
Science Fiction Stories
Teddy Bear Stories

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