Month: May 2012

The Sandman

by Neil Gaiman

New York city girl Barbie has recently gotten divorced from Ken and is living in a shabby tenement building with a group of odd women. There\’s a lesbian couple, her friend Wanda who used to be a man, and a decidedly creepy guy named George upstairs. Oh, and the most demure-looking lady of the bunch is Thessaly, but she turns out to be one of the most aggressive characters in the whole story. Barbie doesn\’t seem to have any particular goals in her life, but her dream world is becoming more vivid, bursting into her real life as she herself sinks deeper into the dream (where she\’s a princess on a quest, of course). When her friends realize she\’s trapped in the dream-world they make efforts to follow her and bring her back, with completely unexpected consequences. There\’s a wicked little girl, a mysterious villain called the Cuckoo, some friends who are turncoats and others who stay true… and in the end Sandman himself makes an appearance.

This is the sixth Sandman book I\’ve read. And hm, it didn\’t quite work for me again.  It was just such a strange story. A lot of it didn\’t feel cohesive to me. The part about Wanda who stayed behind in the real world to keep watch was probably the most interesting to me, but it also had a lot to do with gender identity, an issue I\’m not very familiar in reading about. The story overall had quite a lot of gruesome parts too, which doesn\’t sit well with me. I found the whole thing rather dissatisfying and a bit confusing. I\’m willing to press on and try the next Sandman volume, though- unless there\’s a lot more gore in further volumes. Anyone? give me a heads-up, please! 

Readers interested in Sandman, please take a look at some of the other bloggers I linked to below. They give a much more thorough idea of this book and its concepts than I could.

Rating: 2/5 …….. 192 pages, 1992

more opinions:
new readers start here
Michelleliana
The Incurable Bluestocking

with sliding pictures

by Beatrix Potter

I haven\’t been posting about baby books lately because we\’ve been reading the same ones over and over again. But just the other day visited the library and found a few new ones. This one is kinda cute. I usually don\’t care for adaptations of famous stories that use little gimmicks, but when the kid has a very short attention span this will keep her sitting in my lap through all the pages. It\’s quite simple: each page has a very abbreviated part of the story about Jemimah Puddle-Duck and the sneaky fox who wants to eat her for dinner. There\’s a picture with another picture made out of strips; you pull a tap and all the strips shift and the picture changes. My one-year-old finds this fascinating, and she also loves it because the book is so teeny, just a few inches square, that it fits perfectly in her little hands. I can\’t leave it within reach or let her read it by herself though because I\’m worried she would tear it. And even though the story is abbreviated it\’s still hard to make sense of- parts are left out, the sequence is not complete and the sentences a bit complex, so I end up just making up simple phrases about the goose and fox. The pictures don\’t really show what\’s going on in the story, either. Really, all this book has going for it is the sliding pictures which intrigue the baby.

rating: 2/5 …….. 10 pages, 1994

by Thornton W. Burgess

Unlike the other Burgess books I\’ve read so far, the titular character isn\’t really the center of the story until the end. Or rather, the mystery about him is what the story revolves around. Any astute reader will know right away what is confusing all the animals of the Green Forest when voices are heard while their owners are sound asleep or in other parts of the forest. Sammy Jay is accused of waking everyone at night with his screams, Sticky-Toes the tree frog is grumbled at for being noisy, and plenty of other animals think they hear their friends saying unkind things about them, until everyone is upset and hardly anybody will talk to anyone else. Except for the possum who plays a central role here as he is friends with the mockingbird who is fooling everyone with his voice. He carries things a bit too far and is afraid no one will want to be his friend after how he\’s tricked them, but Billy Possum makes amends and when he is finally introduced the other animals are so amazed by his beautiful song and voice skills that they are eager to forgive and get to know him.

The obvious message here is to not deceive your friends, but I also noticed that the story illustrates some good problem-solving. When Sammy Jay adamantly protests that he\’s not screaming in the night and nobody believes him, he simply moves away so that it\’s obvious he\’s not the source of trouble. It\’s not the first time Burgess has shown how the characters use logic to figure out things that puzzle them, but it stood out to me for some reason this time.

I read this one on my kindle.

Rating: 3/5 ……… 72 pages, 1914

more opinions:
Across the Page

by Thornton W. Burgess

I\’ve never been sure quite where the Green Forest and Sunny Meadow of Burgess\’ animal world is supposed to be, but a few books make it clear that it\’s a northern state. This one features a possum who is from \”Old Virginny,\” often stated to be far away down south, so that makes it fairly clear. Plus, the possum and a few other animal characters with a certain style of name (Ole Mistah Buzzard, Unc\’ Billy Possum) also talk in a strong southern drawl, quite different from the other creatures. What I found most entertaining about this book, though, were the little songs Billy Possum made up, especially the one about his wife\’s duties.

So… the story is about how the possum misses his family, and travels south to bring them back to his new home. While he\’s gone the rabbit throws a surprise party, which the mischief-making quartet of fox, weasel, crow and jaybird try to crash so they can steal the food. Instead, they get trapped inside a hollow log by a porcupine\’s butt and laughed at by all the animals who figured out their plan. When the possum returns with his wife and eight little ones, the story shifts into telling of his misdeeds. He has a weakness for eggs, and makes a mistake during one raid on the farmer\’s henhouse. Gets himself caught inside and can\’t escape for some time. It doesn\’t seem that he learned his lesson from getting stuck in the henhouse; to the end of the story I could easily picture a realistic fat, leering possum waddling around in a sneaky manner, not the cutesy-dressed ones in the illustrations.

I read this one on my e-reader. It felt a lot shorter than the other books (which are short enough) but that might just have been the format.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 54 pages, 1914

by Thornton W. Burgess 

I\’m enjoying delving once again into a little collection of Thornton Burgess that is gathering on my shelves (and in my kindle). This one is about a young fox who gets himself into trouble. Reddy thinks he\’s so clever he starts showing off and of course he goes too far. He steals one of the farmer boy\’s pet hens and the boy comes after him with his hound, determined to catch the fox. Reddy tries to evade him but fails and Granny Fox has to step in and save him. Unfortunately, because of how Reddy\’s actions endangered them, the foxes have to move from their home. The other animals in the forest are aware of what\’s going on. When they see Reddy get hurt, many of them say he well deserved it, and were even glad. But some felt sympathy for him (in spite of the fact that Reddy had often tried to catch and eat them for breakfast!) and a few took pity on him and helped him out. It was a great example of showing compassion to your enemies.

I\’ve noticed there\’s a broad character arc happening throughout the entire series with Farmer Brown\’s Boy. In this book, one of the earliest ones, he\’s sneaking through the forest with full intent to shoot the fox, the birds screaming in alarm at his presence. In one of the later books, he\’s obviously a friend of all the animals, and the resident creatures try hard to persuade newcomers that he\’s perfectly safe and harmless. I wonder in which book he has the change of heart. It was sort of apparent in the one about the squirrel, but didn\’t seem entire yet. So I\’ve been trying to read them in order, as far as that\’s possible. I only have about half the books and very few are at my library, so I search whenever I go to a used bookstore, trying to complete the collection on hand. Burgess published several a year (they\’re short) so just looking at the list of works on wikipedia doesn\’t quite do it- they\’re a bit out of order. But the author himself left clues: at the end of nearly every story he mentions an animal character and announces that the next book will be all about him. So you can line them up in order and get the events chronologically throughout the entire series. Except, as noted, I only have half of them so there\’s gaps. Well, that just makes reading these all a bit more interesting!

Rating: 3/5 …….86 pages, 1913

I have just spent the better part of two days rearranging furniture and shifting some 750 books in order to have them all situated in my bedroom. This is because before the bookshelves were mostly in the room the kids use as a playroom, and the baby was starting to pull books off shelves, or (worse, I think) pick at and tear the edges of dust jackets. This is one of her favorite activities; she has more fun pulling all her books off her shelf than actually reading them (lately she tries to turn the pages herself and sometimes gets frustrated trying to open the book at its spine! lots of screaming ensues- it\’s so funny).

So I moved them all. In the process everything got thoroughly dusted and all the adjustable shelves flipped (because they start to bow from the weight of books- does anyone else do this? flip their shelves periodically?) and the nonfiction section re-organized a little bit. I also pulled a short bookcase out of my closet and dedicated it to TBR books. It all looks so nice and tidy, now. Before, there were plenty of books tucked in horizontally across the others because I didn\’t have more shelf space. With the addition of one little bookcase I was able to spread everything out evenly, with room to spare. The TBR is in the little bookcase, but doesn\’t quite fill it completely, and also the last lower shelf of the tall cases. The tall case next to the lamp is all non-fiction, which continues around the corner and fills the second bookcase too (except the bottom shelf which has oversize books). The rest is all fiction. Bottom two shelves behind the rocking chair has random stuff like magazines and sketchbooks, which I could move out when the room is needed for books. Across the top are the puzzles and games.

I\’m pleased overall. Something about moving and re-organizing and re-familiarizing myself with all my books feels very satisfying. I keep turning over in my hands titles I\’d dearly love to re-read! And now my bedroom feels like a little library, which is very cozy.

If you look real close, you can see a flat black thing on top of the small shelf- that\’s my kindle. It has twenty-three books on it now! You can click to zoom in on the photo, but I don\’t think it\’s clear enough to read many titles.

The Sandman

by Neil Gaiman

This volume, unlike the others I\’ve read so far, is one straight storyline. It opens with Morpheus at a family meeting- which I appreciated, as I hadn\’t quite been clear on who all the other \”Endless\” were before, or their roles. The others convince Morpheus that his condemnation of Nada (a woman he once loved) to Hell was unjust, and he must set it right. So the Dream King goes to Hell to set her free, but he gives Lucifer due warning that he\’s arriving- and the devil has an interesting plan in store that he is sure will destroy Dream.

It was a good story. I am coming to really like the character of the Dream King. Even though he can be a bit haughty at times. And I recognize, in reading it, that all these volumes twine together in an intricate way that probably won\’t be fully realized until I get to the final volume. Here for example, we come across Hobb again briefly, and other characters and incidents are mentioned or related to in subtle yet important ways (or so it seemed to me). But still, this book didn\’t quite captivate me like the others were on the verge of doing. I find I prefer the short, stand-alone stories, or the ones that have dreams enmeshed in them. And some things are still unclear to me- what is with Dream\’s odd mask, for instance?  it\’s creepy-looking and I don\’t understand why he wears it sometimes when he travels. Was this explained somewhere in an early volume and I just missed it? Hm. I did like the artwork better in this book. The edition I read was an older one, not the newer copy like the three I borrowed before, which all proclaimed they had been recolored. Sometimes the art in those was so dark with heavy contrast it was hard to see. I find I like the lighter contrast of the older books better, where I can see exactly where the ink lies.

rating: 3/5 …….. 224 pages, 1990 

more opinions:
Book Bloggy Blog
Incurable Bluestocking

by Erin Hunter and Dan Jolley

This little trilogy is about another Warriors clan I never heard of (having not read the novels): Skyclan. It\’s a small group of cats living in an isolated gorge. When the book opens the leader, Leafstar, is expecting her first litter of kittens. She\’s anxious and distracted, and very proud when they finally arrive. But not soon after, an elderly woman who lives in a cabin nearby finds the young family and \”rescues\” them from their forest life. Leafstar can\’t find a way to escape the cabin with all three kittens, but despairs at having them grow up as pets- she wants them to live as wild clan cats. The woman\’s resident cat tries to convince her to stay, that life is good in a house, but Leafstar is just waiting for an opportunity to get out.

In Beyond the Code, Leafstar continually struggles with managing her leadership duties and being a good mom cat at the same time. It\’s tough work, even with the help of her mate and the other clan cats. Things are made even harder with the presence of Sol, the \”kittypet\” Leafstar met in the woman\’s cabin who followed her into the wild. He\’s determined to join the clan but doesn\’t quite fit in. The other cats quickly start complaining that he doesn\’t pull his weight and can\’t manage to learn simple skills. Even worse, though, is the foreign viewpoints he introduces. Sol has entirely different ideas of how to solve the clan\’s problems, most of which don\’t fit within the warrior code, and could even place the entire group of cats in danger.

As the title might have you guess, when After the Flood begins the cats are reeling from a flood that swept through their gorge, nearly destroying their home. Not only is everything a mess, but branches and litter from humans create a potentially dangerous situation. Leafstar\’s mate, who spends his nights in a house as a pet cat- wants their kittens to go home with him, where he feels they\’ll be safer.  Arguments abound over who is better able to care for the kittens. Then in the busyness of cleaning up, the kitten suddenly go missing- have they wandered off? or did their father take them away? In the midst of accusations and worry, Leafstar\’s troubles soar when other clan members start to think of deserting the group, too. She has all she can handle with keeping her clan together and finding her lost kittens as well.

Compared to all the other Warriors \”manga\” I\’ve now read, this one was my favorite, in spite of the superior artwork in The Rise of Scourge. It was just a better story. There was far more going on here than just cats fighting over resources and territory. The leader struggles to balance her parenting duties with her work as a leader (I think any mom can relate to that!). The cats have to recover from a natural disaster that nearly wipes out their home and question the wisdom of who chose that place to live in. They face threats not only from natural predators, but from alien ways of thinking- from outsider cats as well as members of the clan, Leafstar\’s very own family! The little segment of Sol\’s backstory- telling of his kittenhood with an absent father and a miserable mom who eventually abandoned them- was actually the saddest part of the whole miniseries for me. It\’s deep stuff for these little kitty books.

Rating: 3/5 ……… 112 pages (each), 2011, 2012

more opinions:
Portland Book Review

the Sandman

by Neil Gaiman

This volume only had four stories, but I found them all interesting. The first, \”Calliope,\” is of a writer who\’s at a dead end, lost his creativity. He ensnares one of the ancient muses and keeps her captive for years while his popularity as an artist flourishes. Calliope begs Morpheus to help free her and he does- by granting the writer his desire in excess- quite a clever and horrific thing to do, it appeared.

In \”A Dream of a Thousand Cats\” a cat embittered by her human family drowning her kittens seeks out the Dream Cat (now, I realize, Morpheus in a different shape, just as there was a large dark Dream Fox) for answers and learns a secret of the past. The enlightened cat returns to the world to preach to all cats she encounters, telling them they can rise up against the humans- if only the cats would deign to do things together. It was so clever I laughed.

\”A Midsummer Night\’s Dream\” has Morpheus heavily involved in the inspiration and initial production of Shakespeare\’s play- with fairies and all kinds of imps curiously looking on. It was intriguing, but didn\’t captivate me as much as the cat story.

The last tale, \”Facade\” was the one I had the hardest time with. I think again, it\’s because I\’m not familiar with comics and the figures that normally populate them. This one seems to be about a woman superhero figure who is not longer active and finds herself fading, to the point where she just wants life to be over (she\’s been around a long time). But try as she might, she just can\’t die- she\’s invincible, of course. Death (Dream\’s older sibling, personified as a punky girl here, which surprised me the first time I saw her character) happens by and gives her some assistance, not in the way you\’d expect. If I\’ve got this wrong, will someone please correct me? I\’m still not quite sure what was going on there.

I am finding that the more of these Sandman volumes I read, the more I like them. I\’m definitely continuing now. This volume also has a script included in the back- Gaiman\’s original writings of the comic- dialog and scenes described- with notes added into the margins by Neil Gaiman and Kelly Jones (one of the artists). I didn\’t read that, but found Gaiman\’s introduction to the script interesting, as it described some of his creative process. Also something I haven\’t mentioned yet is how wonderful the introductions to all these volumes have been. They\’re written with gorgeously rich language extolling Gaiman\’s praises and describing the wonders of his imaginations. I was fascinated and wonder-struck merely by reading the intro- which did just what it aimed to do, I suppose- draw another reader into the Sandman universe.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 160 pages, 1990

The Sandman

by Neil Gaiman

It took me some time to finally get through this one. I was unsure at first if I wanted to continue reading Sandman at all but some of your comments convinced me it was worth the effort. I found I had to be in the right frame of mind to read this stuff, it can be pretty dark. I find it really interesting that the main character who ties all this stuff together, the Sandman himself (who has so many different names!) usually isn\’t central to the stories. He comes in at the end, or on the side, as someone consulted or who shows up to solve problems. Then it turns out that he is the crux of what happens, but the main character is actually usually someone else. If that makes any sense at all.

Well, as far as I can follow, Doll\’s House has two stories that stand alone, and others that tie into previous Sandman volumes and follow a common theme. These are about a girl Rose Walker whose mother was born to a woman unaware of her existence because she was a victim of the \”sleepy sickness\” (told of in Preludes and Nocturnes) and Rose herself, though she doesn\’t know it- is a dream vortex. Some parts are a muddle to me, but what\’s clear is that Rose ends up living in a tenement house with some very strange fellow tenants in the other rooms. In one storyline she\’s trying to find her brother who\’s disappeared, and in another the hotel she\’s in (while searching for her brother) gets turned over to a convention for serial killers (very bizarre, but also humorous in a dark way). Rose isn\’t aware of her powers, but she starts warping the dreams of those around her, dissolving the borders between dreams and reality and of course Sandman himself has to step in and set things right.

The other two stories I liked better. \”Tales in the Sand\” is of a woman named Nada, a queen of ancient times who was wooed by the Dream King. After discovering his true identity and that to be with him she\’d have to enter his realm, she spurns him and in a rage he condemns her to Hell. The other story \”Men of Good Fortune\” was my favorite. Morpheus (the Dream Lord) visits a tavern in medieval times and hears a man Hobb proclaiming that he never intends to die. Amused, Dream grants the man his wish, and arranges to meet him once every century from that time forward. The story shows their meetings throughout several ages. It was interesting to see how Morpheus\’ attire and hairstyle changed to fit the different times, but he was still recognizably himself. Overall I found the stories in this volume a bit more intriguing, if sometimes also disturbing.

rating: 3/5 …….. 232 pages, 1989

more opinions:
Geeker Joy
Book Bloggy Blog
Reading in Winter

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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