As I settle into this job, I’m trying to clarify my criteria for books I will review. The first criterion is easy. I intend to give preference to Mensa authors. Secondly, I’m looking for quality of writing. As I said in my first review, there’s a lot of good writing out there, both commercially published and self-published. But there’s also some bad writing. It’s sad when someone goes to all the work and expense of publishing without having done proper editing. I’ve received several books like that. They had good bones, but that’s all. They won’t get reviewed. For those of you who are thinking of publishing, the best investment you can make is money in a good editor and/or time in a good read and critique group.
Finally, there are some genres I just don’t want to read. The two that come immediately to mind are any books that feature graphic violence and anything about the Nazis. I just don’t want those images in my mind. And yes, I will discuss this with you if you have a book that might fall in one of those two categories.
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A book that surprised me this month is The Schnoz of the Rings: A Parody of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings by John J. Osterhout. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1960, a few years after it was published in the U.S. I’m definitely a fan. So when I saw Osterhout’s book, I was ready to dislike it. How could you possible parody something so wonderful? Well, he did, and he did a good job of it. What is most interesting to me is that he has created something that has a life of its own. I don’t think you need to have read the trilogy to enjoy this book. He creates a world that parallels Tolkien’s world, but it works on its own merit.
His main character is Froyo Bagpants, a halfbit. He goes adventuring with Grandkopf the Gray. You get the idea. I thought at first that the “cute” names would keep me from getting into the story, but by page two I had forgotten about that.
These characters work in their own right and are funny. The eating scenes are priceless. Halfbits like to eat and they do it often: first breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, snackies, afternoon tea, and dinner. You’ll begin wondering what’s on the next menu.
As with Tolkien, Osterhout gives us some anthropological detail in appendices that give us a general orientation to The Mire, where Froyo lives, and some specifics about such things as etiquette, measurements, and money.
I won’t give you a lot of details about the plot beyond telling you that Froyo must destroy the magical Schnozring by throwing it into Mount Drool. But you knew that already. You can learn more about the book by going to JohnOsterhout.com.
Without being prompted, Osterhout has written on the importance of having your work professionally edited. I recommend his essay to you.
One word of warning: Osterhout describes his book as ribald. My parents might have called it “earthy.” You’ll probably want to read at least some of it before you give it to your young teens.
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Another novel I enjoyed this month was The Seal of Thomerion by Daniel J. Heck. I’m in awe of the author. I don’t know how you go about writing a book this complex. It’s also a little bit of a throwback; it’s an interactive novel in a style that was popular in the ’70s and ’80s, according to the author. I didn’t read one then, but I sure had fun with this one.
For those of you who are not familiar with the book style, you read a few pages and then you’re given a choice. It may say something like, “If you would solve this problem by doing “a” go to page 23; if you’d solve it by doing “b” go to page 29.” You create your story line with the choices you make. Heck tells us that there are 46 possible endings to your quest ranging “from utter defeat to glorious and complete victory.”
The lead character in the story is you. You have to save your brother-in-arms, Fedwick, who lies unconscious and feverish, the victim of a curse. Your only chance of preventing his death is to figure out, with the help of the wizard Bartleby, who cursed him in the first place.
The style takes a little getting used to. It’s written in present tense. The narrator is like a movie director telling you what to do through each scene and prompting you to make choices at appropriate times. You soon adapt, though, and I think you’ll enjoy this one.
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And now for something different, though still in the fantasy genre. This book was written by a middle school student for her contemporaries. Surviving Monster Middle School is written and illustrated by Abigail Schlegl and her mother, Stacey. It’s the story of Jade, who wakes up one morning with all of her memories wiped away. Gradually she learns from her roommates, Opal, Sapphire, and Ruby, that she’s a student at Monster Middle School. Now she must solve the mystery of who she is, why her memory was taken away, and whether she can retrieve it.
As with the first two books, the author has built a world that works. Jade must navigate this fantastic place where nothing is quite what it seems. As she learns her way around, we do too.
This is Schlegl’s second published novel. It’s not for adults, though it’s fun to dip into to see how people that age are looking at their world. I think it would be fun for your daughters or granddaughters who are of middle school age or a little below. You can check Abby’s website at www.abbyschlegl.com.
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For nonfiction this month, I offer you Thanks for the Dance: Transforming Grief into Gratitude when Your Spouse Dies by Fred and Jeri Abrams. The title refers to the fact that we can be thankful for the time we did have with a loved one, even through our grief.
Although this book is probably shelved in bookstores in the self-help section, it’s actually a memoir. Fred and Jeri met each other in a grief support group after each loses their spouse. Their experiences are different. Fred’s wife, Nancy, died after three years of illness. Jeri’s husband, Steven, died five weeks after a cancer diagnosis. They recognize that their experiences are unique to them, but, at the same time, have much in common with all those who lose a spouse.
They share with us what they learned through their own experiences and those of their friends. They’re candid, not hiding things that are negative, as some authors might. My husband passed away three years ago. I can attest to the fact that they’re right on in their observations. Even this many years later I found this book useful, and I have to admit, I cried through parts of it.
I highly recommend this to anyone who has lost a spouse. I think it would even be useful to those who are helping a spouse through a final illness.
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Discover Your Personality: When You’re Unsure About Your Myers-Briggs® Results by Brian Jones is an interesting example of good writing. Even though I’ve never taken the Myers-Briggs test, I still read this book with interest. It’s almost a primer on how to understand statistics in daily life. The book is short, only 86 pages, but it gets right to the point—no wading through verbiage from an author in love with his own voice.
One strange thing about it, though is that Jones doesn’t tell us about his credentials (which are extensive; I looked them up on line) for writing this book, certainly something of concern to anyone who is thinking about buying it. His web site is www.discoveryourpersonality.com.
Although Jones is a member of San Diego Mensa, as am I, I’ve never met him—something to look forward to.
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In the short space I have left, I’d like to acknowledge some of the books I received that, for various reasons, I won’t get a chance to review. They include three humor books: Dinner is on Me: A Gallimaufry of Computer Generated Cartoons by Gilbert Krebs, Nature’s Viewpoint: Fun Cartoons of Animals and Flowers by Thomas Hollyday, and Thinkerer: A Thinker Who Tinkers with Words and Ideas by Leslie Miklosy. Others include Write Right: A Style Sheet for Everyone by Michael Gilbertson and Winsome Whelp, a companion text to British literature by Marie Carnegie.