Monthly Archives: April 2008

A Mystery of Wolves: Little Fur #3, by Isobelle Carmody

A Mystery of WolvesI wonder how many little girls had their little-girl-daydreams in shades of green and blue instead of pink: living all alone in the wilderness (albeit a wilderness with hot running water and central heating) with a menagerie of owls, wolves, foxes, hares, crows, and so forth to talk to and take care of. Certainly I was among them. And certainly the Little Fur books were written precisely for that demographic.

Little Fur is half elf and half troll, and she lives all alone in the wilderness and acts as a healer to the creatures who show up in her forest. It’s a modern day setting, with humans and cars and churches and gas stations, but magic keeps the humans from ever being aware of magic, or of Little Fur. This book, third in the series, has her questing after her lost cat Ginger; following an owl’s advice, she frees a wolf from the city zoo and ventures in search of a wolf pack known as the Mystery.

When I saw Pirates of the Caribbean, I was almost uncomfortable at how brazenly the movie pandered to its target audience. I was the target audience, and I loved the movie, and yet – I wanted for it to once cut against the grain of “What does the audience want?” I suppose I feel the same way about this book. It’s too eager to please me, too daydreamy; I want it to be more cantankerous. That feeling is only enhanced by the illustrations, which are charmingly like what my friends were drawing in fifth grade, and the dialogue – when it tries to be Deep and Serious – does in fact sound like a fifth grader trying to be Deep and Serious.

It’s an enjoyable adventure and a deeply charming book, but the fondness I have for it is more a fondness for my childhood daydreams than anything to do with literary value.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, by Peter Sis

The WallSis’s graphic-novel-memoir describes his youth in communist Czechoslovakia and the effects of government oppression, from his childhood in the 1950s until his emigration to the U.S. in 1984.

The artwork is impressive, dense pen-and-ink line drawings in black and white with splashes of color. It makes use of graphic-novel sequential panels and montages when appropriate, but is generally written more like a picture book or heavily illustrated nonfiction book, with full-page spreads and captions at the bottom. As beautiful as the artwork is, I most liked the excerpts from Sis’s journals, which expand on the brief captions.

There’s humor to offset the grim subject matter, and the book moves easily between the personal and the political. It works well as a personal and easy-to-read introduction to the Cold War and life under the communist regime.

Another Kind of Cowboy, by Susan Juby

Another Kind of CowboyTwo teenagers – a closeted gay boy and a poor little rich girl – form a prickly friendship after they meet at dressage lessons.

The premise was promising, and I was interested in the Nanaimo, British Columbia setting, but this book doesn’t even rise to the level of competence. Juby definitely knows her stuff when it comes to horses, and does all right except when she has to tackle human emotions; some of the passages have all the subtlety of an anvil.

As Alex tacked up Detroit… he was confused and dismayed by his growing feelings for his friend. What could have been simple admiration for Chris’s talent was amplified because Chris seemed interested.

Sometimes fourteen-year-old Maggie and May, with their shiny eyes and glossy brown hair, reminded Alex of otters. Their relentless playfulness had the effect of raising his spirits, no matter what else he was fretting about.

There are cardboard villains, cardboard plots, cardboard themes. (Guess what? Drugs are bad!) It’s a book that never seems to try to go beyond the obvious, the surface, the stereotypical.

Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960s Anti-War Movement, by Carl Oglesby

Ravens in the StormThe 1960s Anti-War movement is something that’s always been vaguely of interest to me but I’ve never seriously studied it, so I picked up this book as an introduction to the history.

That was a mistake on my part, because it’s not a history; as the title indicates, it’s a personal history, or a memoir, of Carl Oglesby’s involvement in the SDS. Oglesby started out as a technical writer/editor for a defense subcontractor, got vaguely involved in politics by a circuitous route, and subsequently discovered through research that the Vietnam war was a really, really dumb idea. (The ‘ravens’ in the title refer to Oglesby’s characterization of himself, and others, as neither a hawk nor a dove – not a pacifist for the sake of pacifism, but opposed to stupid and unwinnable wars). Oglesby eventually found himself elected president of the Students for a Democratic Society, writing and delivering anti-war speeches, staging nonviolent protests, traveling to Vietnam and Cuba, and trying to bring moderates and even conservatives into the movement. This, as the movement was radicalizing itself, beginning to make overt appeals to Marxism and revolution and violence.

I feel like this book would be better appreciated by someone with a solid grounding in the relevant background and history, because there were many points where I wished for more context, more information, instead of some level of assumed knowledge. The book is clearly one person’s individual point of view, and while it’s always calm, measured, and politically moderate, it doesn’t quite strive for objectivity. In some ways it feels more like long-after-the-fact persuasion and editorializing and self-justification than mere recollection of the era.

That said, it’s a fascinating story. I loved reading about the divisions within the movement, the conflict between moderation and radicalism, especially since I am sometimes equally tempted by both sides. It was also interesting to read about the slowness of the radicals to embrace women’s lib – with liberal publications still making their female employees get the coffee! And it’s scarily timely to read a book that deals with paranoid administrations fighting unpopular and unwinnable wars

How Much For Just the Planet?, by John M. Ford

How Much For...So, why was I reading a Star Trek novel? I have read a bunch of Next Generation novels in my day, but I never really appreciated original-flavor Trek, mostly because of Kirk’s fondness for womanizing and punching people.

But I had been told by reputable sources that this was perhaps the best Star Trek novel ever written, and out of a general appreciation for John M. Ford’s writing, I picked it up. The plot concerns a newly-discovered planet with huge reserves of dilithium crystals, the essential energy source for both the Klingons and the Federation. Because the planet lies in a treaty zone, both the Federation and the Klingons get to have a crack at courting the planet to get it to join up with one side or the other. And from there, things get a lot wackier.

There is bursting into song. There are references to classic old movies. Alas, I’m not terribly familiar with either Gilbert and Sullivan or classic old movies, and a lot of the funny stuff went over my head. But I did enjoy the wackiness of it, and the everyone-working-at-hilarious-cross-purposes of the plot, and it’s my own fault that I wasn’t better able to get the jokes.