Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Captive Prince by Scott Chantler

The Captive Prince by Scott Chantler is the third graphic novel in the Three Thieves series, of which I as completely oblivious so I was initially confused by what I was reading, being dropped in the middle of a story that had obviously already started.  Dessa and her companion Fisk, an Ettin, and Topper, a Norker, are on the run from a queen in the north, presumably one with dragons.  But I’m guessing the events that led to the three of them being on the run was told in books 1 and 2. 

The main characters seem somewhat static but are interesting.  The drawings are fun and vibrant, with an edgy sophistication and a minimalist expressiveness.  It is evident that the audience for this (and presumably the previous two) graphic novel is middle grades and high school.  Jumping into the series in the third book as I did was an oversight on my part.

Nonetheless, I was able to catch up with where the story, and the Three Thieves, had been.  I may have even picked up on a running gag in this third book.  The impetuous behavior of Dessa results in the three accidentally saving Prince Paladin and they soon find themselves in his kingdom being honored as heroes.  Although Paladin’s father has other plans for his son, the prince and the runaway girl begin to grow closer even as trouble continues to converge, with bounty hunters and kidnappers all coming together in the climax.  And there’s a cliffhanger epilogue tacked onto the end. 

Although Dessa and her companions don’t change, the prince is deeply affected by the events that occur in this third book and I can only hope he appears again in a future volume because, as the epilogue lets the reader know, there is definitely more to come.  Now, of course, I want to go back and read the first two books in the series, the ones I didn’t even know were out there.   

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon

Sticks and Stones:  Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon is  a well-balanced look at bullying, the implications it has for the individual, for the community within the school environment and beyond, and what bullying says about our society in general.  That bullying is not a new phenomenon is evident; that the means of bullying has changed is also apparent.  With the internet comes new forms of abuse and attack.  Bullying is no longer limited to the schoolyard or playground for now it can come into the home via texts and social media sources, like facebook and others.  The role of media, how "bullycide" romanticizes (or sensationalizes, if you will) the issue of bullying over all.

Bazelon dares to ask the questions about bullying that immediately come to mind:

  • Where and how does bullying begin?
  • What can be done to empower the individual and diffuse the situation where bullying occus?
  • Where and how should bullying be handled? 
  • What tools are needed and  how effective are they?
By beginning with the stories of three children who experience bullying for differing “reasons” the author puts a face on the victims and their bullies.  The reader follows the timeline of the bullying from its beginnings to the conclusion in a series of chapters that leave off and then pick up again each story.  The author delves into the backstory of the victims and their bullies and it quickly becomes obvious that bullying is a complex issue, one that is not easily explained and as convoluted as the experience of being bullied itself.

Throughout the book, the author manages to be compassionate while pulling no punches.  She is relentless in her pursuit of the truth.  She is not interested in justice so much as solutions.  Her judgment of those who can protect the children involved—including the bullies—is not limited to the schools and/or the parents.  Judges who interpret and apply the law in ways that contradict, facebook with its inadequate sense of accountability, and a police force that cannot enforce laws that have not been defined. 

The issue of bullying is complicated.  Obviously.   Bazelon’s research goes into the roots of psychological/sociological research and resources, looking at how they are applied in different school environments and how well they succeed.  The strength of the book lies in its ability to neither revictimize the victims nor vilify the bullies.  The emotional strength of the book lies in a delicate balance of journalistic integrity and a mother’s own need for compassionate resolution.

I have deep feelings about bullying, especially cyberbullying, and this book measured up to my rather high expectations.  Had the author offered a simplistic solution, I’d have called her and the book out for being inadequate to an obviously large task.  Instead, I have the privilege of saying that this book is one I would highly recommend and should be read by anyone whose life crosses that of a child—every parent, educator, etc.  Statistically, as the author points out, bullying occurs in a small proportion of the community in general.  Hopefully, nobody would need to read this but the advice given, particularly to parents, about what should be done to empower children, is invaluable and, ideally, will prove to be unnecessary.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is a novel that has been made into a movie and I have a sneaking suspicion that more people will be familiar with the story, because of the movie, than will ever even read the book.  Which is unfortunate because the novel is interesting to read, creative and challenging as well. 

By now, anyone who has heard of the movie knows that the story moves from the past through and into an imagined future.  The characters of each part of the story are connected with one another in a way that is merely suggested throughout the first half of the novel and then driven home in the second half.  However, these are not connected short stories (as in Ringwald’s When It Happens to You) nor is it a clearly albeit fractured linear narrative (as in Otto’s A Collection of Beauties).  The novel begins in the 19th century and ends there, moving first forward into the future and then back into the past. 

That is a technical feat, in and of itself.  What makes it all the more impressive is that each of the pieces of the story is told in a unique tone, harmonizing one with the others.  The first is told through journal entries, the next through letters, drawing on the epistolary novel tradition.  But then one narrative is written as a thriller, another as an unreliable narrator’s comic adventures, yet another as an interview, and the central story is told as though one were sitting at the knee of an elder who is sharing a history that ripples back into the stories that precede it and hint at the ones that will follow. 

The first stories leading up to the central one all break off at a pivotal moment and are picked up again when this capstone story is told, creating a clear and strong arch within the whole.  However, the reader must make a certain investment in the novel as a whole because it is difficult to shift from one part of the story to the other, especially when many of the characters are not immediately sympathetic. 

I often complain about how writers too often condescend to the reader or simply do not trust the reader to make connections.  Rather than allowing a metaphor or allusion to stand on its own merit, this type of author will find a way, usually a clumsy one, to explain to the reader what the metaphor means or how suitable the allusion is, just in case the reader is too stupid to get it.  Mitchell is not only innocent of this affront but he presumes upon his readers to such a degree that the moment I finished this novel I knew it is one that would improve with a second, third, or even fourth reading.  There are metanarrative moments that I know I overlooked even if I did catch some.  

When you know that a book merits rereading as soon as you finish reading it (and I actually realized it about halfway through the novel), is there really any better praise than this?  A remarkable and not easily forgotten novel.   

(Note:  It is worth going to the Amazon link provided if only to see the publisher's disclaimer.  You know how I say that each of the stories ends at a pivotal point?  Well, apparently some people have complained about a printing error because they assumed it was a mistake.  Perhaps I am mistaken in judging too harshly writers who feel they need to explain to their readers every jot and tittle because there are actually readers out there who are oblivious.)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Going Social by Jeremy Goldman

Going Social: ExciteCustomers, Generate Buzz, and Energize Your Brand with the Power of SocialMedia by Jeremy Goldman is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn how to use social media to promote, to build a customer base, to grow a business.  Goldman inserts the experiences and voices of other people—business owners, entrepreneurs, etc.—to lend weight to his own advice.  And he has plenty to offer, drawing on a wealth of experience and knowledge.

I read this book as part of a project that fell through so I didn’t have an opportunity to put much of it to work.  I did, however, take away some obvious tips and ideas.  In this day and age, it’s unimaginable that anyone would try to have success without utilizing social networking sites like facebook, twitter, and google+ and others.  Goldman highlights the strengths of the various resources, as well as sharing the occasional mishap where a seemingly good idea goes viral in a very bad way. 

Some things seem obvious: know your brand and maintain it throughout.  Others bits of advice are not quite so obvious.  Like how to respond when someone has something negative to say.  Should you delete a comment made on your company’s facebook page or should you leave it where it is?  There is a delicate line between censorship and negative press and, for all that it’s been said that there is no such thing as bad press, the online experience is not the same so different rules apply.

Branding and content are obvious issues when using social media but training your staff, utilizing them to the fullest capacity is not so immediately evident.  Or at least it wasn’t to this reader.  Training staff to best utilize the various forms of social media is something one would think is self-evident.  Less obvious is how to take advantage of the 24-7 opportunity of having constantly connected staff at your beck and call.  There is a lot of customer relations content as well that I found enlightening. 

Because I am not a business owner, an entrepreneur, nor using social media to that end, this book was a highly informative.  I think I can now appreciate the subtle manipulation of social networking now better than I could have before.  I grew up without a television so I had to learn how commercials are used to manipulate the audience and now, with the internet and online social networking, I’ve a whole new skill set to acquire.  I learned a great deal.

Whether you’re in the business to learn how to utilize social media or merely curious about how businesses, from small local ones to larger corporations, are taking advantage of these freely available resources, I can’t imagine anyone reaching the end of the book and not learning something immediately useful.  I certainly did.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller was recommended to me by my mother who rarely recommends novels to me.  A dystopian novel told through the narrow vision of Hig, a survivor who is both haunted by the weight of memory and the diminishing hope for the future.  Flying his Cessna with his dog, Hig does what he can to connect with a world that has changed, providing resources for isolated communities, befriended and protected by a man who would not even be an associate before the devastation. 

There is something that is desperately delicate about this novel.   It is less poetic than The Road and far more hopeful than The Age of Miracles and yet holds its own against both.  Hig’s experiences are believable and surprisingly familiar, in spite of the post-apocalyptic  world in which his story unfolds.  If his reality is unreal, his responses, his choices are genuine.   It was hard for me to put the book down, yet I cannot recall anything particularly compelling about the events. 

Is there any better praise than that?  There are a couple of predictable moments but each was gratifying even if inevitable.  The novel’s conclusion felt a bit rushed and wasn’t as enchanting for me as the rest of the novel but, weeks after I finished reading it, I would catch myself thinking about a particular moment in the novel, mulling over the events.  The story haunted me, or perhaps it was just Higs.

I really don’t know what to say about this novel except that I loved it for reasons that don’t come easily.  McCarthy’s novel is poetic and brutal; Walker’s is raw and simple.  Heller’s is emotionally complex and honest, poetic for its truthfulness, and one I would recommend with more ease than either of the other two.   
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