Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review: The Victorian Home by Judith Flanders

OK, I have to admit: I got this book from the library because some troll on Amazon called it "feminist, liberalist, sick, and twisted."  Wow.  Who wouldn't want to see what had set this dude off?
It turned out to be focused on women, how hard day-to-day life in a very polluted London could be for a woman who had to do laundry with soap instead of detergent, deal with the fact that most homes had cesspits in the cellars or right underneath them (ewwww), and clean rugs with no vacuums  -- all while wearing approximately 40 pounds of clothing "to keep off the chill," which was thought to cause illness.
Since I never trust a non-fiction author who refuses to cite/footnote, I was very pleased with the amount of footnoting Flanders included.
Below is my official, brief Amazon and Goodreads review:

This book was fantastic!
Flanders walks the reader from room to room in a Victorian middle class home, enlightening and entertaining as she explains topics which vary from why Victorians were so obsessed with covering and draping everything to dealing with annoying solicitors. Her footnotes and research are thorough, widely varied, and useful. If she makes a claim, she backs it up!
The book is huge, and yet it is easily readable and flows if it had a plot.
I planned to skim it, ended up reading it voraciously, and -- now that it's due back at the library -- will be purchasing my own copy.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book Review: Prudence by Gail Carriger

Author Gail Carriger began her steampunk paranormal world of tea and parasols with Soulless, which is book one in the Parasol Protectorate series.  (The whole series is a delightful blend of steampunk, espionage, vampires, werewolves, and Victoriana.  It has references to sex -- straight and not-so-straight -- in it, but no real descriptions of anything. It's probably a bit much for the junior high crowd, but a high school kid ought to be just fine with it.)  Carriger then jumped back in time in her fictional world with a 4-volume (the fourth not yet released) series of prequels, beginning with Etiquette and Espionage.  (This series is definitely YA, and it does contain some of the same characters as the Protectorate, as werewolves and vampires are immortal.)  Most recently, Carriger has released Prudence, which begins what appears to be at least a duology set 20 years after the end of the Parasol Protectorate series and featuring the daughter of the two main characters therein. Below is my review thereof:

This was less YA than Etiquette and Espionage, but much more so than Soulless and the rest.  There is a bit of talk about making love, but no actual activity other than a bit of kissing.  There are some humorous nudity scenes with not much description of bodies.  Overall, I think only the most strict parents would disapprove of this.  I certainly wouldn't have found it shocking when I was 14 or so.
As for the rest, the characters are fully developed and delightful, as usual for Carriger.  (I was disappointed that she never tells us what's become of Tunstell, Primrose and Percy's father.)  And many of our old favorites (Professor Lyall!!) appear again.
The plot moves along trippingly and with much fun, but the book does end on a mild cliff-hanger, with a couple of big issues obviously waiting for the next book, which I believe is called Imprudence. :)  (I hope it's out soon!)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Political Cartoonist Pat Bagley On Teaching In Utah

The fat dude with the whip is new state superintendent of schools, Brad Smith, a freakin' LAWYER with NO EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE WHATSOEVER, and a known public school hater.  The cartoon refers to this event which Max explained so very well.
(Remember to click the pic if  you wish to enlarge it.)

The only good thing about the Utah state Legislature and the evil Brad Smith this year is that the public is FINALLY beginning to turn in favor of teachers.  I see far more support and far fewer nasty tweets and comments.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Entering The Season Of Heat And Noise

You might think that a teacher would look forward to spring and summer.  After all, summer means recharging after a long battle each year.  And I do like that, but spring and summer are not my favorite parts of the year.
The number one reason is the heat.  I have never tolerated heat well.  I flush, my hands and feet swell, and I can't sleep.  When it's cold, I can add another layer of clothing or another blanket to the bed, but when it's hot, there's only so much I can take off -- as scraping off layers of skin will just create a different set of problems.  When it's hot, I can't sleep and I'm grumpy all the time.  I have headaches and aching joints.  I hate it.
Summer in Utah is hot.  I'm fine until it hits 80, then tolerably patient until 90.  After that, I'm miserable.  And since July can often bring many days in the triple digits, I spend weeks longing for cooler temperatures.  The vents in the house are such that A/C could only be installed in about three rooms, and the cost of installation and of using it is just not worth it.  I have a swamp cooler, but on days where the heat is over 100, a swamp cooler only blows the hot air around.  Ugh.
The second reason is the light.  The days are long in the summer.  Dozens of birds love one particular bush right by my window, and they gather to sing the sun as it begins to glimmer over the mountains.  This would be sweet, but it happens at about 3:30 AM.  And, after a hot night, 3:30 is about when it's finally cool enough for me to doze off.
Also, because evenings are long and nights are warm, my third problem arises: noise.
Only about 3 houses on my street don't have dogs, and most of the others for blocks around have multiple dogs.  The owners, naturally, don't give a &^%$# about anyone else, so they leave their dogs outside 90% of the time once the temperature hits about 68.  There is no room in my house where I cannot hear dogs barking -- even with all windows closed -- once the weather warms up.  And since most of these lovely people leave their dogs out all night, no hour of the day is safe.
Also, when it's warm people stay outside more.  Little kids scream and scream as they run and play.  Teenagers congregate in large groups, shouting at each other, skateboarding, and thumping basketballs -- often all night long.  Adults talk on their cell phones outside, play music while in their yards or while washing their cars, have outdoor parties, and leave their windows open so all conversations can be heard.  And, to hear each other over the sounds of air conditioning units, cars, and other neighbors' parties/kids/dogs, each person gets louder and louder and louder.  This usually goes on until the birds arrive and start chirping.
Yes, I own earplugs, but it hurts to wear them longer than about an hour.  I also own silencing earmuffs, but they make me sweat in the heat, and I cannot sleep in them.
Thus, I spend my summer months hot, in pain, sleepless, and with my nerves on edge most of the time.
Is it any wonder I prefer autumn and even winter over this?  At least I can sleep and find a little peace!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest

I'm not a big Holly Black fan, but I must say that I rather liked this book.  It's far, far less sexual than her usual stuff, it doesn't glorify tattoos for a change, and it really is more YA than a book for adults with YA characters in it (which is what I've read from her before).

Here's the plot summary for you:
Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

What I liked was the character complexity.  Even though Ben (Hazel's brother) felt a bit stereotyped (as if Black had decided she needed some kind of marginalized character so she randomly picked a gay guy who liked the arts -- uh, not too original), nearly everything else in the character development was superb.  The nuances of sibling relationships, the problems of parent neglect and drunkenness, the cleverness of a dual life are all very good.

My only real complaint is that Black has this thing about making all her teen characters into wild children.  They all drink.  They all have a lot of sex.  They all sneak out and party every single weekend.  I find this unreal.
After more than two decades of teaching, I've known kids like this, but they're the minority.  Black never seems to write in even minor characters who behave differently.  It's odd, and, for me, it's off-putting.
Because of this, I was hesitant to pick up this book, but I'm glad I did; this time, it was worth it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Book Review: Stitching Snow by RC Lewis

This bit of sci-fi YA started off OK, but ended up being a huge women's empowerment FAIL.

So, the book basically starts off as taking Snow White and making her Katniss (she fights in cages and has a tattoo that does weird things in black light) but then making everything else Star Wars: the prince is pretty much Han Solo, the first setting (Thandia) is very much like Hoth, the second setting (Garam) is pretty much Tatooine without Jabba the Hut, the other two planets are pretty much Naboo, oh- and one of the seven drones is waaaay too much like R2D2.
All this is OK, even though I got bored halfway through and had to force myself to go on.
But then Lewis turns completely from her original let's-make-the-princess-modern idea.
So, in the end, not only does Lewis have Dane (the handsome prince) tag along so he can teach Snow to fight (even though she already knows how) and follow her every movement, Lewis also has him claim Snow as his sexual property by killing her father when he tries to rape her.  Then, of course, she agrees to marry Dane and they immediately start talking about having babies.
NO!!!  This turns Snow right back into the mold Lewis appears to be trying to break: the princess is the prize to be won and good only for making babies.
Lewis really misses her chance on the ending.
If she'd had Dane stay behind on his own planet, then lead his forces in AFTER Snow had killed her own incestuous father and taken leadership of her people WITHOUT having to be rescued by anyone, then she and Dane could have met as equals to start a better society.
It could have worked.
But it doesn't.
It's an okay YA sci-fi with a huge FAIL at feminism.

Friday, March 6, 2015

What It's Like To Be A Teacher Nowadays

I found this on Martin's blog.  It sums things up very well.  :)

(I've long said that you can drown a junior high school horse but still not get him to take even one sip.)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Writing Prompt Photo: In The Middle Of Nowhere

(Click on the pic to enlarge.)

I'm assuming this phone booth in the middle of sheep pastures on the wind-swept Orkney Islands is a leftover from the days before cell phones.
But maybe Bill and Ted had just landed.  And I missed it.
I don't know.  What's your take?
Write the story, if you like. :)

Sunday, March 1, 2015


So, Rae Carson, author of the fabulous Girl of Fire and Thorns series, has a new series coming out.  I just learned about the first book today:

Here's the Goodreads summary:
Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety? 

Rae Carson, author of the acclaimed Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, dazzles with the first book in the Gold Seer trilogy, introducing a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance, as only she can.

But it's not out until freakin' SEPTEMBER!

Fortunately, the wait for Gail Carriger's new series is nearly over:

When Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama (Rue to her friends) is given an unexpected dirigible, she does what any sensible female would under similar circumstances - names it the Spotted Custard and floats to India in pursuit of the perfect cup of tea. But India has more than just tea on offer. Rue stumbles upon a plot involving local dissidents, a kidnapped brigadier's wife, and some awfully familiar Scottish werewolves. Faced with a dire crisis and an embarrassing lack of bloomers, what else is a young lady of good breeding to do but turn metanatural and find out everyone's secrets, even thousand-year-old fuzzy ones?

Only two weeks until the Custard Protocol is out!