Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting" by Pamela Druckerman

304 pages

Due to the nature of her work and her husband’s, American journalist Pamela Druckerman found herself living in Paris when her first child was born. Unlike many foreigners living in France, Pamela didn’t idolize Paris. She admired the city and its residents but still considered herself a true American and was determined to raise her daughter that way. Still, as Pamela observed French children and compared them to the ones she remembered from back home and saw on visits to the States, she realized that French parents must know something Americans don’t. The French little ones threw fewer fits. They ate at tables with adults, eating what the adults ate and entertaining themselves for hours if need be. French parents’ lives didn’t revolve around their children, and (gasp!) their children seemed to actually flourish, not suffer. Pamela set out to study French parenting and explore the philosophy that produced these well-behaved, well-adjusted children. What she learned in the subject of this book.

I had a few problems with this book, but I got a lot of out it. The bad stuff: I think Druckerman generalizes too much. I do see a lot of the behavior that she calls “American” parenting here in the US. There are lots of so-called helicopter parents, who don’t let their children out of their sight and have no life outside of their children. I know plenty of parents who think their children who think their children can do no wrong and parents who think they should be friends with their children instead of disciplining them. Still, there are plenty of parents in the US who don’t do that—in fact, many children are somewhat or completely neglected. My husband and parents, who are all teachers, have plenty of kids in their classes whose parents never show up to their school performances, sporting events, or parent-teacher conferences. I think Druckerman’s perspective is strictly upper-middle-class, so her views are limited. Still, I think she makes some very valid points, and there is a lot of wisdom in French parenting that many American parents would do well do learn from. I also think Druckerman does a good job of offering practical suggestions for putting the French philosophy into practice, with specific examples of what they do that works. I got a lot of ideas that I plan to try if/when I become a parent (note that I said “try”—I know every child is different and it’s impossible to come up with practices that will work for every kid). This is definitely a book I’d recommend to anyone I know who’s expecting a baby. 

Flower of Life: Volume 2

by Fumi Yoshinaga, 174 pages

Hanazono's class gets caught up in quiet, unassuming fellow schoolmate Sumiko Takeda's homemade shojo manga just as the school's preparing for exams and then the annual cultural festival.  As Hanazono and Mikuni take on the challenge of writing their own comic for the manga club's contribution to the festivities, Majima's unquenchable opportunistic nature sees potential self-profit in the romance-filled pages circulating around school.  Class D's competitive spirit kicks in!

This is probably the most fun, unpredictable school cultural festival story I've come across (school festivals are a very common story frame in manga--and I've read a lot of manga!).  I won't spoil you, but I laughed out loud multiple times, was a little gob-smacked, and had my heart strings tugged on.  I might have to buy these...after all, it's only a four-volume series....

*worries her greedy OCD completionist tendencies will get the better of her budgetary common sense*  :-P

14 Nights: Volume 1

by Kristina Stipetic, 128 pages

Scarred, unfulfilled Nikita finds a kindred spirit in his timid fellow health department drone, Lucian.  But their love story encounters a relatively sizable speed Nikita wagers he can break down in a mere two weeks.

For more information on the first volume of this surprisingly sharp, funny, and sweet graphic novel romance, please see my full review at!

A Night Like This

by Julia Quinn, 373 pages

Anne Wynter is employed as governess to the rambunctious, independently-minded daughters of a well-to-do family, but the situation is exponentially better than the awkward, dangerous, and demoralizing past she's left behind.  She wants nothing but to maintain the status quo and not attract any undue attention, but when she catches the eye of a titled prodigal recently returned from exile, her plan to remain happily anonymous falls apart.  For his part, Daniel Smythe-Smith is tired of running away from his past and is content to follow his newly engaged heart, relieved at last to be home with a price no longer on his head...or so he thinks.  When danger once again seems to stalk him, and doesn't hesitate to drag those he loves into its nets, he believes he knows the culprit.  But whose past is catching up with whom?

This is another historical romance set in the same circles as Quinn's What Happens in London, with Daniel's family being responsible for the traditional talentless musical performances through which the ton suffers every year.  I liked Daniel's and Anne's backstories and found them a little more interesting and involving than the present goings-on (though Anne's is a little more cheezily melodramatic).  But the fact that Quinn actually bothers to give her characters some history and "character" that are more than just thin window dressing makes it easier to forgive the typical yet fun fluff of the main story.  If she'd only carry more of that depth into the central plot, instead of just using it as set-up, I'd like her even more.  Her interconnected tales and characters give a sense of substance to her fictional version of romance-minded English society and she does a nice job of balancing the needs of first-time readers with the rewards for repeat visitors.  Snappy dialogue, a pleasant cast of side characters, and a happy ending, of course.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Dance With Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire book 5

by George R.R. Martin, 1016 pages

I picked up the most recent volume of A Song of Ice and Fire with trepidation, knowing full well it might be several if not many years before we see the two concluding volumes of the series. With each book more and more layers of plot are added as well as new characters are making their debut. It might be hundreds of pages before you find out what happened to a favorite character when they were in a tight spot. Or, in the worst case, you might never find out what happened to least not in this book. Talk about unresolved cliffhangers.

I still enjoy aspects of Martin's world-building and appreciate the care he gives to different cultures across the Narrow Sea. But I am getting tired of Martin's gruesome glee at killing off major characters. For one thing, it makes you very wary about getting attached to any characters at all because you never know if they'll make it to the end of the chapter, let alone show up alive in the next book. So maybe it's a good thing that there will be a long breather before the next book makes it into print. By then maybe I will be so dis-engaged from Martin's world that I won't even care if all of Westeros disappears under thousands of feet of snow and is crawling with blue-eyed zombies.. Winter is Coming. Meh.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Shadow of Night: Book 2 All Souls Trilogy

by Deborah Harkness, 584 pages

Minor Spoilers!!

This is the sequel to A Discovery of Witches, which appeared on bestseller lists last year. The first volume begins when Diana Bishop, a history scholar and a witch, discovers a magical alchemical manuscript in Oxford's Bodelian Library (seen above). At first the book frightens her, awakening powers that she did not wish to possess. When she returns the book to the reference desk, it disappears into the bowels of the venerable library. But other creatures (vampires, demons and other witches) are all after the book known as Ashmol 782. For her own protection, Diana is forced into a partnership with handsome and brilliant geneticist Matthew deClairmont, who also happens to be a long-lived vampire (though not one who presently feeds on humans.)

This 2nd book takes up where the first one ended, with the pair's arrival in Elizabethan England. Diana and Matthew are still looking for the mysterious book, and also trying to find someone to teach Diana how to use her newly acquired powers. They are outlaws as well, since their relationship is forbidden by a covenant of The Congregation, which is kind of like a paranomal Spanish Inquistion. They travel all over Europe and meet all sorts of famous people of the age, some helpful, others lethal. Though there is some mention in the beginning of Diana's outlandish American accent, she doesn't seem to have much problem adapting to the Elizabethan age. It helps that she's a historian, and she does have Matthew to clue her in since he's been there before.

 I had a little bit of a problem with the "timey-wimey wibbly wobbly" stuff. I thought it should prove more of a handicap for Diana than it seems, and everybody is just a little too overwhelmed or charmed by Diana except for the dangerous and jealous demon known as Kit Marlowe. The book also glossed over the problem of travel in 1591. Maybe since the deClairmonts are so rich and powerful, they could jaunt from one country to another without much difficulty. All that nit-picking aside, the story does move along at a fast clip for such a long book. It ends with a lot of loose threads waiting to be knotted tidily up in the third book. If you liked Discovery of Witches, you will probably like Shadow of Night. If you found Discovery a bit too much like Twilight, then you might find the same issue with Shadow.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Hark! A Vagrant" by Kate Beaton

168 pages

These are some ridiculous comic strips, and I loved them. Beaton tackles a variety of topics in history and literature with laugh-out-loud humor that often gets brawdy but never fails to amuse. Admittedly, I didn’t get some of the jokes, but I think that’s due more to my ignorance than Beaton’s talent (not gonna lie—I’d never even heard of some of the historical figures she makes fun of, such as Nikola Tesla). The upside of that is that I actually learned quite a bit, and by learning it through a hilarious comic strip I’m likely to remember it better (why isn’t this stuff in schools??) I really like Beaton’s illustrations as well as her text—sometimes the drawings cracked up me up as much as the words. Overall, a very entertaining collection—I’ll certainly be watching for more of Beaton’s work in the future.