Book Review – Such Small Hands

TITLE: Such Small Hands
AUTHOR: Andres Barba
TRANSLATED: Lisa Dillman
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHED: 2017 (Original Spanish Version – 2008)

 

At the very beginning of this story, there’s a car accident involving seven year old Marina and her parents.  Her father died immediately, her mother later at the hospital, as they tell you several times in the book.  She’s sent to live in an orphanage with a random group of possessions and a doll whose eyes quit opening and closing like they should.

The other girls in the orphanage are unsure of how to act around her, and what ensues from that is a weird dance of small children who want to know each other and yet can’t bring themselves to say what they mean (or perhaps lack the ability to do so).

 

There’s something about Spanish fiction.  It’s like this beautiful string of poetry that dances in on a gentle breeze, twirls around you a few times, and then leaves you breathless.  Unlike American fiction, there’s no fucking blue chair to understand (ie, no heavy descriptions to bog you down), you get a strand of blonde hair here or a white scar there, never before you need to know about them, and never again after their usefulness is done.  Because it’s not about the overly described thing in the corner that doesn’t even matter, it’s about the moment and about you being a part of it.

The skin around the scar contracted in a fleeting spasm and the girl opened her mouth as if she wanted to devour everything: the air, Marina’s arrogance, her own fear.

This book is in three parts.  Part one is the accident and getting Marina to the orphanage, all Marina’s point of view.  Two and three switch between the other girls, who are seen as a descriptioneless collective.  Parts of a whole that we never talk about individually because they aren’t ‘the other girls’ if we do.  In fact, their names are mentioned individually and then as one collective long name with no spaces.  To Marina they are one, so to us they will be too.  Part 2 is about Marina and the other girls seeing each other and keeping their distance.  Part 3 is about the contact between them.

I want to talk more about part 3.  About how something so sad and so helpless can be made so beautiful.  But I also don’t want to give away what happens.

The book was terribly sad, but in a beautiful wrapper in such a way that I hungered for more.  I felt like the girls, who just wanted to reach out a finger but were afraid of interrupting the magic if they did.  I wanted to know more about so many things, but I knew as soon as I did, it would have the subtlety of a pencil to the butt and that wasn’t at all what I wanted.

It’s only a novella, or maybe even a novelette (My very basic word count estimate is 20k, so novella, but it’s definitely not an accuracy level I’d swear by) which actually enhances the story.  This could be a novel, but you wouldn’t want it to be… it needs to be the single movement and not the whole symphonic performance for the night.  So I give it a very high 4/5 – read the book, somewhere quiet with no distractions, and let it be your own music.  But I don’t think you’ll need to read it more than once, because I think this one will haunt you for a long time to come.

 

 

Book Review – Welcome to the Symphony

TITLE: Welcome to the Symphony: A Musical Exploration of the Orchestra Using Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5
AUTHOR: Carolyn Sloan
ILLUSTRATOR: James Williamson
FORMAT: Hardcover w/attached music panel
PUBLISHED: 2015

Welcome to the Symphony is a fabulous book.  It’s probably best suited for slightly older kids because of lots of big terms… 4-7 maybe?  But the not-quite-3-year-old I read it to enjoyed the music part of it.  I’m sure he won’t be saying timpani anytime soon.

Anyway, the book follows three little mice.  One of them is at the symphony for the first time, so the other two mice explain it to their friend as the book goes along.  It’s a really direct approach to terminology “Tempo is how fast or slow music is played” – AND behavior at the symphony.  “Don’t clap yet, they’re just warming up!”

Plus, as it works its way through a pretty well-known piece of music (I remember this as a background to some cartoons), it explains all the instruments and you can compare them to each other pretty easy.  Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Trumpet, French Horn, Trombone, Timpani.  (And there’s a page about other instruments you may find in a modern symphony that you didn’t find in this piece of music such as the piano, harp, tuba, etc).

In all, this is a really thorough explanation of the symphony and a great introduction for a kid.

My only issue with the book is that you have to hit right on the number for the audio pad to work.  Most of these books, you can hit anywhere in the square; there are a lot of reviews on Amazon that say “This didn’t work!” and I suspect that they’re stemming from that issue.

Regardless – the book works, the toddler loved hearing the instruments, and when he’s a little older, I think this would be a great resource to teach him about music.

5/5 pages and 5/5 musical notes. :p

Book Review – Baxter Barret Brown’s Cowboy Band

TITLE: Baxter Barret Brown’s Cowboy Band
AUTHOR: Tim A. McKenzie
ILLUSTRATOR: Elaine Atkinson
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2006

 

So, Baxter Barret Brown’s Cowboy Band looked interesting enough and I picked it up to check it out and realized it came with a CD of bass fiddle music.

*Sigh*  I really shouldda left this one on the display.

I googled the guy and apparently he’s a moderately successful fiddler, so of course he’d write a series about it (Note – I had no idea, apparently this is book 2).

I wanted to like this book, but it’s every single stereotype that I hate and by the time I was 2 pages in, I realized I was using one of those hick accents to read with because the book is written with the expectation of one.

But the book is… weird.  BBB wants to fiddle with the cowboys so he takes his Bass, which is about 3x the size of Baxter,  shows up at a ranch, and proves all the ways he and his bass can be useful – melting down a string for a branding iron, using it as a bridge for cows, a wagon, a….  ARGH.  You don’t treat an instrument like that and doing it cutesy in a book like this for kids isn’t going to teach kids how to treat an instrument.  (And yes, I do expect a little realism in my children’s books, even the silly ones… FIT THE WORLD YOUR STORY IS IN)

The words are part of the illustrations and in some places are a little hard to read.  Also, the toddler had ZERO interest in this book when I tried to read it to him.

The music on the CD isn’t bad, but it’s not worth the book.

I’m giving it 2/5 pages for the book and 3/5 musical notes for the CD.  Because I can.

Writer Wednesday – D.R. Perry

1. Who are you?
Who are you, who, who, who, who? I really wanna know! Ahem. Okay, time to stop singing The Who. Hi, I’m D.R. Perry and I’m living la vida dorka.

2. What type of stuff do you write?
I write spec-fic and silliness. Also some poetry. So far, my books have been Paranormal with loads of humor. My series is called Providence Paranormal College and it’s about what happens when shifters, vampires, faeries, psychics and magic users all go to an Ivy League school in New England.

3. What do you want to pimp right now?
Hey, I do interviews, too! I just got done with Summer Splash and now it’s Autumn Authors over at my website (http://www.drperryauthor.com/news). I also do Friendly Neighborhood Fridays, where I talk to cover designers, web designers, editors, and the folk who help authors get their book into publishable shape.

4. What’s your favorite book?
My favorite book is like my favorite color and song. They change all the time! I would have gotten thrown off the bridge on Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. Red, no bluuuue! Grave Beginnings by R.R. Virdi, no A Fox’s Love by Brandon Varnell, no Dream Stalker by Amy Hopkins. I. Can’t. Decide! Aaaaaargh!

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
Let’s see. There’s the mom hat (I have one kid with fur and four legs, another with hair and two), the gamer hat (I play WoW and pen and paper RPGs), and the audio hat (I used to be a karaoke DJ). I love my family, my fun, and my music. Couldn’t live without them!

6. Where can we find you?
I’m all over the place! Well, on the Internet, anyway. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads, Author Central and my website, complete with mailing list. Oh, and you can also find me at author events in Rhode Island. No, it’s not an island and not Long Island. We’re a tiny state in the US, but the food here rocks!
FB: https://www.facebook.com/drpperry/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DRPerry22
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/d.r.perry/
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/drperryauthor/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8588997.D_R_Perry
Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/author/drperry
Website: http://www.drperryauthor.com/
Mailing List: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/p9i8u6

 

 

The Importance of Being Covered

Always judge a book by its cover. At least, that’s what we should do as writers. The cover is the first thing anyone sees of our books, so it’s important that the cover reflects what’s inside. If a reader would love your sci-fi book about Kung-Fu aliens from planet Borax, you wouldn’t put a dude in Civil War era clothing on your cover, right? Is it possible to have something that jarringly inconsistent between cover and content as the above example? Yes, it is. I should know. I made that mistake myself.

I have a book about a sarcastic brainiac Nerd Queen tutoring a half-asleep
shapeshifting jock with a closeted geek streak. There are Star Wars references, puns running rampant along the pages, and goofy situational comedy. I have a gal who turns into an owl saying “hoo boy,” for crying out loud. But readers who like that kind of thing didn’t find my book because this was the cover:

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That cover on my book was like a bowl of salsa on a package containing a chocolate cake. People saw it and expected steamy love scenes. I did a live event with that cover and got snickers. No, I don’t mean people threw candy bars at me. They laughed, but not for the reasons I intended. Even worse, they scurried away, desperate to avoid the stigma of buying what looked like a bodice-ripper in front of the PTA president at the local Farmer’s Market.

I knew it was all that pouty shirtless man’s fault, so I replaced him. Nothing against pouting, shirtlessness, or men, you understand (because I do like those things). It’s just that I realized they belonged to literature light-years away in the Steamy Galaxy from my book. So, I checked around for titles with content similar to mine and discovered I needed something like this instead:

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And lo, the author said “let there be shirts” and there were! And they were illustrated! This is exactly the cover I needed on my goofy, geeky, unsteamy book. And do you see that library? That lets the picture tell readers these two are students because people don’t always see “Paranormal College” on a thumbnail. It worked, too. See the little badge? Yeah, I went from barely (ha, pun!) any interest in this book to nominated for an award.

So, go ahead and judge a book by its cover. Also, remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. What would this article be without the pictures, after all? Point, set, and match, Mr. Pouty Shirtless. I’ll save his picture for some other…um, project. Yeah, I’m winking at you from behind my computer screen now. Thanks for reading!

Book Review – Smile

TITLE: Smile
AUTHOR: Luis Sanchez
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHED: 2014

On my little book date, I discovered a wonderful series of books called 33 1/3, the name of course coming from the size of a record, which was cool because they’re a series of music books.
The first one I found was Smile, which dealt with the Beach Boys, a band I grew up with. I wasn’t familiar with Smile as a piece of work, at least by name, which isn’t saying much because I never know titles of things. So, you know, I was excited to find this.

Except here is the thing. The little book reads a lot like a badly organized college paper (And this from a guy with a PhD in Musicology), and by a guy who totally misses the point.
The first thing the book talks about is a SNL (Saturday Night Live) promo skit where Brian Wilson is chased by the surfing police and sent out in the water on a surf board which he hardly manages to use, at one point using the board backwards even. Cue rant by Sanchez about how the skit misses who the Beach Boys are, yadda yadda, whatever.
Except that you can watch the skit on YouTube, and if you watch it, it’s clearly satire, it’s meant to be cheezy as heck, and Sanchez would still miss the point if it was the broad side of a barn.

Then, the book flops around back and forth about how fat Brian Wilson is and a few other things, but it never really talks about SMILE whatsoever, and by the time I got halfway through the book, I didn’t really know what the point of all this was, and, even worse for a book… I didn’t care.

So, the book had promise, but Sanchez clearly didn’t.
Two out of five pages.

Writer Wednesday – Janie Franz

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1. Who are you?
Janie Franz
2. What type of stuff do you write?
I write fantasy and some archaeology-based adventure. I also have a couple of contemporary novels (romances for want of a better word)–one about Hollywood and one about the music industry.
3. What do you want to pimp right now?
My six-part Bowdancer series (The Bowdancer Saga and The Lost Song Trilogy).
4. What if your favorite book?
Besides my own? Seriously, unlike many writers I love reading my own work. As for other authors I love Stuart Clark’s Project U.F.L. trilogy and I really enjoyed NM writer Susan Slater’s Rollover. I’ve been a fan of Tony Hillerman and, yes, I LOVED the Harry Potter books.
5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I’m a retired freelance journalist, specializing in music. I’m currently a publicist for a NM music festival, and I do a lot of petsitting/housesitting in New Mexico. I’m a mother and grandmother. I used to be a radio announcer, taught yoga and relaxation, and was a booking agent and publicist for a jamband.
6. What link can we find you at? https://authorjaniefranz.wordpress.com
Words from the Author…
The first con I ever attended was a science-fiction conference in Fargo ND. The guest author at that con was Margaret Weis, the author of the Dragonlance Chronicles. Those were some of the first modern fantasy novels, other than Andre Norton’s work, that carved out a whole new niche for writers.
The thing that impressed me most about Margaret Weis was the fact that she was everywhere! She tablehopped when she wasn’t on a panel. She visited with everybody. When she came to sit at a table where I was visiting with a friend, I was impressed with how ordinary she was. She was a famous author, but she was also human and very funny.
For me as an aspiring writer, with a lot of starts in a drawer, I realized that being a published author was possible. People–real human people–actually did it. And that one way to market was by showing up and talking to people. It was a great eye-opener for me.
Many years later, as a published author with eleven titles out, I am following Margaret Weis’ example: Be Present. As a guest author of Imaginarium in Louisville this September, I hope to Be Present as much as possible.

Book Review – Hip Hop History

TITLE: Hip-Hop U.S. History
AUTHORS: Blake Harrison & Alex Rappaport
FORMAT: Paperback with CD
PUBLISHED: 2006

I don’t even know where to start with this book.
I guess I should go with the statement that I picked it up thinking it was either going to be awesome or total crap, but the library had it on display and I thought they might know what they were talking about.
Then again, my library being a branch of the Nashville Public Library, I should know better.

Yes, I just publicly dissed my library. But that’s a convo for another day.

So this book was on display and I thought that it had potential. The concept is that it’s giving a basic overview of US History “From Columbus to the Civil Rights Era” through specially written hip-hop songs. Each chapter gives the lyrics of one song, and alongside gives explanations of each section of the lyrics.

It’s possible that this book could be helpful if you had no idea about anything (I’m reminded of an episode of The Wild Thornberrys where the mother teaches the older daughter something using this method), but really, I fail to see how this book provides a good history lesson, especially considering how much it assumes you already know.

Here’s a sample of the book:
Back before buffalo wings at Domino’s,
America was where the Buffalo
roamed. What you don’t know?
Thirty thousand years ago some dudes
Came across the Bering Strait
wearing snowshoes.
Eskimos chasing woolly mammoth,
Ice Age white like dandruff.

But the book has assumed you understand Bering Strait and Ice Age, and if you know that stuff, you probably already know how people arrived in North America. And if you don’t already know that stuff, you’re probably going to have some weird image of eskimos sitting at a booth eating hot wings.

Which goes along with my other complaint that the amount of unimportant stuff shoved in just amazes me. At one point there’s a reference to Chubby Checker dressed up for Halloween in reference to the Boston Tea Party.

And the way they explain some of this stuff… Yes, the third amendment technically means you don’t have to let soldiers sleep on your couch and the eighth technically means that you can’t be ordered to drink turpentine for punishment, but is that really the best way to explain the Bill of Rights?

The worst part about this book is that on the cover it even touts this book as a prep for the US History AP and Sat II exams. Wait, what? Before I read that, I thought the target age for this book was somewhere around middle school.

Maybe (okay totally) I’m the wrong demographic for this book. But even being my most objective, I fail to see how this book would be helpful at a higher level. I’m not going to crack the CD, so I can’t vouch for the songs’ musical merit, but as far as a learning tool, it fails. I didn’t learn anything I didn’t know, it glosses over a lot of stuff for more common “history” (the book says Columbus found America, but fails to mention anyone else who arrived here before or around the same time unless you read the appendix), and in a couple instances, the ‘facts’ given are wrong. (The first one I saw said you can’t print something to intentionally defame somebody because it’s “Libel or slander” um… )

I see what they tried to do here, but they failed. Then again, what do I expect from a book announcing its “Flocabulary” and created by MTV? If this book actually helps, more power to it. But from my observation, it gets a 2/5.

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