22 September, 2010

Review: Dick and Jane and Vampires by Laura Marchesani and Tommy Hunt

Has it really come to this?

Has it?

It seems that it has.

When I saw this at my local pusher of all things printed, I thought perhaps I'd gotten punchy after hours of birthday shopping for a tween. No, it was really there. Dick. And Jane. And Vampires.

Make it stop.

To give the credit where it is due, this is a brilliant adaptation. I've taught multiple children to read with  Dick and Jane. (Although I myself was reared with Mark and Laura. Either they were less expensive or the early steps Dick and Jane made into integration so disturbed my parents that Mark and Laura were pressed into action.) This is a seamless addition to the series. Tommy Hunt has the iconic illustration style spot on. His vampire is slightly off what a true period vampire would be, but close enough that he fits in. Considering he's a vampire. Laura Marchesani hasn't taken Dick and Jane too far from an early reader's comfort zone, making this one of the rare Children's Book For Adults that still serves as a child's primer. Oh! Oh! A Bat! isn't far from See the boat! See the red boat!. If you're the sort of parent inclined to do so, you could teach your child to read with this book. Should you? Well, there are any number of things people will do with their children that I'd rather they didn't, but in a world with Sweet Farts or Walter the Farting Dog; Banned From the Beach I think that Dick and Jane and Vampires is acceptable fare.

Not that you were asking me. We both know you already bought this for the Vampire obsessed young parent in your social circle. I know you're not laughing with them. I'm not either. It's ok. If you really want to score points you'll team it with a vintage edition of Fun With John and Jean. (Those were the special versions of Dick and Jane made for the Catholic schools. Jean spends some quality time contemplating the Virgin Mother instead of the toy boats.) Dick and Jane don't want to judge you, they just want to play.

20 September, 2010

Sony PRS-650: The First Date

There's a well deserved cliche about trading in your beloved for the younger model. I do have a roving eye. Something about the extra equipment a Kindle packs makes me think "What If" although I know my preferences run to Sony. Sitting on the shelf in all it's graphite glory, the Kindle 3 seems to say "How do you know if you haven't tried?" It's true, Sony isn't meeting all my needs, but I love how it looks in red and the things it can do to an epub! I always put the Kindle down.

My beloved Sony PRS-505 cover snapped. (I bought that cover in  London, I could go on for pages about it, but I won't.) So, as one does, I thought "Should I replace the cover or the reader?"  After all, a few hundred bucks or opening the box I put the old cover in - same thing.  Mostly. Sort of. (Hey, I'm not a debt counselor, don't bring your bourgeois guilt to me!) I slid on my flip flops, grabbed a new handbag to counter my Sunday Scrubbing Clothes and took myself off to the Sony Style store.

They had no idea what I was talking about. There's some PS3 launch going on. (I played that sex toy meets Harry Potter looking thing at Lollapalooza and Darling, I was not impressed. I have to say Darling. I went shopping in Palm Beach. Sunglasses on the head, air kisses, skeletons walking around when it's not even Halloween, it's just what we do.) But there they were, tucked into a little corner. And there I was, flush with cash from a brief stop at my savings (hah!) account and ready for a new love. We did a little speed dating, the PRS-650 and me. Sure, I flirted with Pocket, but size matters. (Didn't we learn that with iPad?) The PRS-650 felt lighter, the screen was brighter, I knew I'd made the right choice. I could kick the PRS-505 to a cousin, I could put it on ebay, it would be fine. Someone would love it. PRS-650 had me laughing at it's jokes and thinking about taking it back to my place. Then it happened.

You know how you're with someone at a party and everything is going great, the place seems a little too bright and the conversation a little too loud but the person you're with seems so incredibly clever that it's worth it? Then, out of nowhere, they say something like "I can tell you're not one of those women." Or maybe it's "Like our President - that moron!" Suddenly you notice their nose hair needs trimming, your feet hurt, you didn't get enough sleep last night and oh my goodness - is that food in their teeth? Eeeww. (You don't? Um, ok, you know that guy in the mosh pit who cheers while forgetting he has a beer in his hand so it ends up getting dumped all over your head? Yes. Like that.)

PRS-650's touch response stopped working. I could tap, I could select, but the swipe to turn a page froze. I reset, I re-requested, I begged it to come back from it's selective unresponsiveness. Nothing. Look, there are enough emotionally distant, needy and unresponsive people in my life. I don't need to take anything from my reader. Thinking it was me, I tried to turn a page on the Pocket again. It responded eagerly (a little too eagerly if you ask me) but PRS-650 still refused to budge. Open menu? Sure. Select item? No problem. Turn the page? It was holding a grudge.

I went back home to PRS-505. We haven't talked about it. I sort of want to ask if PRS-505 has ever considered getting rejuvenated. You know, a brighter screen might be just the thing. We could forget about the lack of PDF scaling or note taking if we had some additional clarity! (I can't see it happening. PRS-505 has abandonware issues.) I'm not sure what we're going to do long term. I'm glad I got to see what PRS-650 was like before things went too far. I'm sure it's going to make someone happy, but I suppose it's not going to be me. Maybe it was just a bad first impression. I'm not sure what I'd say if PRS-650 called me. (Did I leave my number?)

16 September, 2010

Review: Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

If you told me this book was published in the 1980's, I'd believe you. That's not a negative sentence, it is just an indicator of how strongly Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor reminded me of an early Nora Roberts or even maybe a Billie Green. It was refreshing to read a story where the characters' relationship was rooted in things like conversation. I've gotten so used to the obligatory chicka-bow-wow of most contemporary romance that I'd forgotten how to read without it. It's like turning the literary dial from HBO After Hours to the Hallmark Channel.

It's hard to tell I loved the book, isn't it?  Let me take a moment for the marketing. Look at that cover! It's beautiful. It's the perfect cover for a holiday gift book. It says 'A Novel' so you know it isn't a romance. I mean, it is, but if you call it A Novel then people who aren't into reading romance will adore it, because hey, they like novels. It's got that "Nicholas Sparks (note, he does not write romance, he writes... did you guess it?... novels where couples fall in love!) meets Skipping Christmas" ready for gift giving appeal. Everything about the marketing for Christmas Eve At Friday Harbor gently whispers bestseller and I salute the production team. Toss a couple pensive profiles to the right of the main boat and you've got the Lifetime movie poster.

The book itself is a perfect comfort read. You've got the holiday tragedy as the book opens with Mark claiming his orphaned niece, Holly. There's the requisite ugly dog, the dinner disaster, the small town where everyone knows Mark's name, the estranged brothers trying to make a go of it collectively for the child, the well intentioned but obviously too self involved girlfriend and the girl next door type recently arrived in town to open a toy shop and forget the losses of her own not so distant past. Mark recognizes that Maggie is the sort of girl he'd put in the friend category, Maggie notices that Mark is the complete opposite of her type but still very attractive, and it's on. You know the shelf life of the current girlfriend is limited no matter what Mark says.

There are fantastic elements here. Mark's strained relationship with his siblings, his sincerity as he bonds with Holly, Maggie's baby steps out into dating again, it all feels real. You understand exactly why they make a great couple and exactly why they hesitate to become one. My problems with Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor are small. The most significant is Holly. I find it hard to believe that a child who has suffered such a great loss would ask Santa for a new mother in just a few months. The timeline doesn't work for me. A year, two years, even eighteen months - but her very first Christmas without her mother and she's ready to replace her? I don't see it. But if you give the plot that suspension of disbelief then everything else flows naturally. The second quibble is that the book is short. On consideration, I'm not sure if that's a fair complaint. If Kleypas sexed it up to current romance standards, the book would be conventional length and I would have read the same number of pages. I think it may be that less is more. Buy this one for Grandma but sneak a read for yourself first.

15 September, 2010

Review: Yuk (Bing Bunny) by Ted Dewan

I'm not planning on making a habit of reviewing children's books necessarily, but I'm a little bit in love with Bing. There is every chance that at least one of my children will smuggle Bing into her college suitcase (or her military duffle, or her angrily packed trash bag or....). Most of the Bing books are out of print. They may come back to life as an iPad app, but my experience is that truly great things for children have trouble finding homes.

This title encapsulates everything I love about Bing. He's hopelessly in love with Flop, who seems to exist somewhere between a parental figure and a stuffed animal. Flop is both the voice of reason and a source of anxiety for Bing. It would be a little dysfunctional if not for Flop's total acceptance of Bing.

When Bing fails to meet Flop's needs, rise to his expectations, or perform in socially prescribed ways they sigh and embrace the differences. "It's just not a Bing Thing." It's the perfect relationship in a way. Take the events of the epic Yuk. Flop is totally into tomatoes. He's so into them he just can't understand why anyone would ever find them distasteful. Bing likes things that emulate the admirable qualities of this perfect food, why won't he deign to try this one? Flop is at a loss. Things escalate, Bing does things he regrets, Flop gets angry, it all spirals out of control before anyone can intervene. Then a deep breath is taken and acceptance is found. Bing and Flop don't have to like the same things. Bing isn't here to be a mini-Flop. Bing is Bing, and his things are his things.

I've read this book to many children, even eerily silent classes of children. I've never had a child fail to respond to Yuk's message of individuality and love. Some parents, however, are disappointed that Bing isn't forced to love tomatoes. After all, Flop has his best interests in mind. Bing should at least give them a shot. (I feel for their children.)

13 September, 2010

Review: The Duke's Captive by Adele Ashworth

Yesterday I was thinking that what one will allow in a character changes with age. When I was younger if I had encountered a book like The Duke's Captive I might have loved it. Certainly I forgave contemporary heros who hung around truck stops looking for delicate amnesiacs to take home and clothe. I managed to tolerate submissive secretaries and 'love scenes' that lacked consent. (Let's not even talk about the Plantation Novel genre.)  Even a deadbeat dad was fine if he showed the appropriate remorse.

Alas, I am so much older now. I wanted to like The Duke's Captive so very much. Adele Ashworth is a wonderful writer. Certainly, she loves her Dukes (Duke of Scandal, Duke of Sin, The Duke's Indiscretion...) but who in Romanceland doesn't? Sadly there are two problems here. The first is that the book relies far too much on knowledge of Ashworth's 2008 release A Notorious Proposition. The second is our heroine, Viola. (I've changed my mind, three problems.) The third is the central theme of the book - what is rape? What is consent? If you believe that consent is the word yes, no matter the context in which it is issued, stop here. If you have any familiarity at all with Stockholm Syndrome read on!

Ian once spent 5 weeks locked in a dungeon where he almost died of neglect. The reader who hasn't read A Notorious Proposition will have absolutely no idea why, even after a late in the book rumination on how he came to be captured. (It's his own fault, of course. He was practically asking for it. No, I did mean to put it that way. That's the rape defense - he was ASKING for it.) Having survived his ordeal, Ian is plagued by memory troubles and a desire for revenge. I mean justice. No, I mean revenge. (Oh, who knows. Since he ends up with Viola the man is obviously unfit to make his own choices in life.) Fast forward and skip over all the plot points. Ok, so Viola's sisters had kidnapped Ian, he's really mad, he's going to make Viola pay as one of his captors through this TOTALLY elaborate plot because he wants to have sex with his rapist and - what? No, you have that right. Ian believes (and I concur) that Viola raped him. But he wants to have sex with her anyway. I know! But he does. Right, so Viola is a widow and she's been living with her four year old son (Wait, how long ago was Ian freed? Secret baby in Victorianland, y'all!) and making a living as an artist of dirty pictures when Ian shows up and she practically faints.

We're getting bogged down with too much plot. Fast forward again. Ian kidnaps her and holds her hostage in a tiny cabin where she isn't at all concerned about her son but instead is pissed that Ian doesn't understand that he'd be dead if it wasn't for her and he wanted sex so much that the only Christian thing to do was give it him because it was true love. (Really, am I the only one thinking of a certain crazy teacher and her too young lover right now?) But then she realizes if he doesn't get to have sex with her again he will never be whole so she says "whatever, bang me", and he does. Because they are so hot for each other. It must be love if they want to have sex! It isn't Stockholm Syndrome at all! Even though the whole time she's been thinking "Dude, I will totally ruin you with your secrets" and she exposes him to intense public humiliation in the end he realizes that it was not her fault that her family abducted, drugged, starved, beat, and attempted to kill him. She was a victim too. She did her best. She keeps his secrets. (What?) Oh, I forgot, he was also chained to a wall the whole time.

And you know, I think I had Stockholm Syndrome too because I was sort of starting to see his point. Yes, large parts of their interpersonal dynamic made me hunger for a shower and some quality therapy, but overall she did assist in freeing him. She did offer him what care she could because - wait. Viola wasn't in fear of her life? She was just in fear of being homeless? She kept an earl (he gets a social upgrade between books) captive because her mom might get mad? Ok, maybe she just doesn't want to articulate that... what? She is bitching that her sister doesn't want to talk to her anymore? The one jailed and transported for trying to kill Ian? Viola is saving money in a special account to give her sister if she ever forgives Viola for freeing Ian?

Wow. Viola's martyr act just got a whole lot less tolerable. Ian's sister makes a cameo to give Ian proof of Viola's love instead of the hair pulling, bitch slapping, drop kicking the reader is longing for and all is well for these two little lovebirds. Of course, she's a rapist with some scary situational ethics and he's suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, but why quibble? She raped him, he raped her, it doesn't really matter if you liked it. Plus, she had a child. Everyone knows that having the child of the man you sexed up while he was dying, chained, and drugged silly means you care. Ok. I'm getting a little misty just remembering. I'd better leave it at that.

03 September, 2010

Review: It's A Book by Lane Smith

Normally I show the front covers but in this case, I think the back cover is more appropriate.

You can't review a book like this. It's a small picture book so within a sentence or two I will have typed more text than the pages contain. Generally you would say what age it's good for, if it's clever or dull, how well juice spills wipe off the pages. Target market stuff.

But It's A Book is not really just a children's book. It's an anti e-book statement by a very popular children's author known for being sly. It's more of a cultural event than a children's book. After all, few children grabbing this in their sticky little palms will be unaware what a book is.

As a cultural statement it reminds me of the dude that wants you off his lawn. These kids today and their know nothing ways, their crazy Model-T Fords and their greaser hair. They'll never amount to anything. (Wow, did I just compare e-readers to the Greatest Generation? That's the problem with cultural screeds. They lend themselves to hyperbole.)

This IS a book. And it's an entertaining book if you hate e-reading. It's an entertaining book if you like watching children pretend to be scandalized. The annoying little ignoramus is full of the manic eager to please chatter of a certain kind of child. The besieged monkey is spot on with his fatigued contempt in his role as the elder child free relative. They are as Odd Couple as an Odd Couple ever was. (Lane Smith says he modeled the monkey a bit on Buster Keaton. I'm more of a Harold Lloyd kind of girl myself.)

It's A Book is most entertaining as a gift for the pearl clutchers you know. You see, that lovely little guy up there? He's a jackass. He's not a mule, a donkey, a small misshapen pony - he's a jackass. In a book. Children might read this book. Children might see the word jackass. They might see it used in ways with multiple meanings. JACKASS. (See? You can't stop.) There are people who are worried about this. I think it's the same people I see with their 3 year old in the R rated movie while my kids are safely at home reading It's A Book, but I might be judging.

I totally want to scan this, turn it into an iPad app and THEN give it to my e-reader hating family member. Hm. I wonder if I'm a mule.