Twilight: The Unbearable Lightness of Being... Edward Cullen

Twilight Recap: Bella has caught sight of Edward Cullen in the cafeteria and now dreads attending Biology class with him in light of his strange and hostile behavior last week. 

Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

   For the rest of the lunch hour I very carefully kept my eyes at my own table. I decided to honor the bargain I’d made with myself. Since he didn’t look angry, I would go to Biology. My stomach did frightened little flips at the thought of sitting next to him again.

You will recall from last week that Bella has spent the bulk of her lunch hour (a) not eating anything, (b) studiously sipping sugar soda, and (c) seriously considering faking an illness in order to hide in the nurse's office for the entirety of Biology class. While studying Edward, she decided that "If he was glaring at me, I would skip Biology, like the coward I was."

Open Thread: Because Everyone Else Does These

I can never really participate in those Open Thread "what are you listening to" threads that everyone does on the weekend, because I listen to things that pretty much no one has ever heard of. Not because I'm cool or anything, but rather because I'm hopelessly geeky. Really, there is no coolness to be had from hanging out with me, but I'm okay with that. *grin*

But lately I've been thinking we need open threads around here because by gum I like hearing you guys speak and I like hearing you speak on things that aren't necessarily ON TOPIC to whatever inane thing I've decided to write and publish online that day about ElfQuest or H.G. Wells or the nuances between a Nook and a Sony Reader.

So this is a completely open talk-about-whatever-you-want thread. But because it's an internet law that these have to be about music, here is my "what are you listening to" entry for the week. Are you ready? It's *really* nerdy. Ok, deep breath. Here:

I am listening to Heather Alexander's "King of Elfland's Daughter".

It's filk music, which is new folk music designed around fantasy/scifi works of fiction. This particular song is based on the novel of the same name, which can be bought in paperbook form here or downloaded in ebook form here

I would have liked this song regardless (I'm a huge fan of Heather Alexander / Alexander James) but it's interesting to me that the YouTube clip has spawned some interesting Twilight comparisons. Would you give up your mortal life to go off with the King of Elfland's daughter? The consensus on the YouTube board is that it pretty much depends. For myself, I like that the song implies that the two have something of a childhood history together -- and knowing how the fae sometimes traditionally operate in literature, it's not 100% clear how much of a choice the young man was given...

I really need to read the book, but I haven't gotten to it yet.

Tropes: In Defense of Adaptations

Earlier this month I re-read H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" only to discover that I'd never actually read it before.

Let me back up. I knew the story, of course -- when I was a child, I owned one of those "Great Illustrated Classics" versions, a tiny little pocket-sized book that was covered in illustrations every other page. I cannot remember how I came by the book, but I suspect my parents bought it for me under the impression that reading would improve my mind, and that anything deemed a 'classic' by the powers-that-be would not threaten my moral fiber with ungodly thoughts. (I wasn't, in contrast, allowed to read anything with dragons on the cover until I went away for college, due to their association in my mother's mind with Satan.)

eReader: Running CM7 on a Nook Color from SD Card (REPOST)

Recently I noticed that my Running CM7 on a Nook Color from SD Card post has over 100 comments! As far as I'm concerned, that's really awesome, but at the same time, I thought I should start a clean thread for new people coming to the process.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. With a clean post, I can incorporate some "lessons learned".
  2. With a clean post, new commentors won't have that sinking "oh dear, do I need to read all these before I go on" feeling. I hate that feeling when I'm starting a new project.

So here we go...

Getting Your Stuff Together

Here is a list of all the things you will need:
  1. A Nook Color.
  2. A micro SD card. There's no mandatory size / format / manufacturer for this process, but quality does matter and I have no idea how you tell the "good" ones from the "bad" ones without buying them first. I use this micro SD card - I own three of these now, all from this listing on Amazon, and two of them are running CM7 for Nook Colors so I know they work well. 
  3. You'll need a way to connect your micro SD card to your computer - something like this.
  4. An image-writing program like WinImage. I used WinImage85 in my tutorial.
  5. The CM7 installer image here. Note that the ".gz" extension is a compressed format - you'll need to unzip it with a program like WinRar
  6. The CM7 build here. (Download the file. Do not unzip - just leave as is.)
  7. The CM7 google apps installer here. (Scroll to the bottom until you see this download link.)

Prepping Your Nook Color

A lot of people don't need to prep their Nook Color for this method, but several commentors in the initial thread noted issues with starting from scratch on an NC running 1.2.0 firmware. Because of this, I would recommend using the UnLockr method of flashing your Nook Color to the 1.0.1 firmware. The video can be found here (The UnLockr) and it's very quick and easy to follow their video -- the process should take maybe 20 minutes.

Installing CM7 to the SD Card

Now a slew of videos to follow along with:
  • Video 1 is an introduction to the process and gets you from "What is this whole CM7 thing that Ana keeps talking about?" to "Mmkay, we're putting the SD card in the computer now."
  • Video 2 is a step-by-step computer tutorial showing how to use WinImage to write the CM7 installer to the SD card and how to move the CM7 build file over to the imaged card.
  • Video 3 shows you how to put the SD card into your Nook Color so that the CM7 installer can build CM7 onto the SD card for actual use, and what to expect when you boot up CM7 for the first time.
  • Video 4 is another step-by-step computer tutorial for where to put the gapps (Google apps) installer on your SD card for installation to the CM7 build.
  • Video 5 shows you how to walk through the Google apps installation process, how to connect to WiFi, and how shiny and cool CM7 is once you've done this final step.

Couple of things to note here:
  1. First, make sure you're right-clicking WinImage and selecting "Run As Administrator" because that will affect what options are available from inside the image-writing program. 
  2. Second, if you're feeling adventurous you can combine the Google Apps installation into an earlier step, but I think it's best to install everything in "baby steps" to keep it simple.
  3. Third, if you boot up the NC and just see the little blue CM7 surfer guy but nothing seems to happen: Wait about 5 minutes. The first boot takes awhile. If it doesn't clear up, press the "n" button on the front of the device a few times. Then hold the "n" down. Then graduate to hard-rebooting (holding the power button until it turns off and then rebooting). Then move to the next step section:

Troubleshooting Your Nook Color

Three out of four dentists don't have any trouble with their installation, but some people do have some issues. Let's go through them here.
  1. It just doesn't work -- it's broken. This is the scariest thing, but we'll see if we can't fix it, ok? Turn the NC off. Pop the SD card out. Boot up the NC. Does it boot up with the B&N software? If no, you'll need to reinstall the firmware by going back to the UnLockr. If yes, then worst case you have to start the CM7 install over again. Wipe the SD card (you'll need a partition manager like this one here) and start over -- or you may consider trying a different SD card brand.
  2. CM7 boots up but the Google Market is force-closing. Yuck. Can you redo Video 4 and 5 and reinstall the gapps package from within recovery mode? This is your best bet -- probably the first install didn't go right for some reason. Or, if you're having trouble downloading from the market, you may be running into:
  3. CM7 boots up but the WiFi connection isn't working. The easiest way to test this is to reboot into the stock B&N OS and see if the WiFi works there. If the WiFi works on the B&N environment, but not on the CM7 environment, you may have Cynthia's problem: she managed to clear it up by going into the tablet settings and setting the "save" settings from SD card to external memory.

Backing Up Your Nook Color

You may just want to backup your system data and apps, in which case I strongly recommend the Titanium Backup and Titanium Media Sync apps from the Google Market. However, if you want to back up the entire kit-and-kaboodle of your SD card as an image, you can do so with WinImage.
  1. Turn off your Nook Color. 
  2. Remove the SD card and insert it into your computer card reader. 
  3. Open the WinImage program as adminstrator.
  4. Select Disk --> "Creating Virtual Hard Disk image from physical drive..."
  5. Pick your SD card at the prompt. 
  6. Save the image as an "*.ima" file to your local computer. 
  7. After the image is saved, you'll be able to browse the partitions in WinImage - just ignore this and shut it down. 

To restore the image to a new SD card, follow these steps:
  1. Pop in a new SD card of the same size (or larger). 
  2. Open the WinImage program. 
  3. Select Disk --> "Restore Virtual Hard Disk image on physical drive..."
  4. Pick your new SD card at the prompt. 
  5. The image will save to the SD card - when you pop it into your Nook Color and boot up, everything should be the same as it was when you backed up the initial SD card. 
Warning: Writing this image to the new SD card will partition the new card and the only way to get the card back to normal is to use a partition manager like this one here.


As a final note, credits must be given where credit is most definitely due:
  1. Credit to The Unlockr for the stock firmware 1.0.1 factory reset method
  2. Credit to the Cyanogen team for the CM7 build, the gapps install, and their tutorial here
  3. Credit to VeryGreen for the size-agnostic SD card CM7 installer.
  4. Credit to Quinxy von Besiex for his article on SD card vs internal memory rooting
  5. Credit to Quinxy von Besiex for his bluetooth keyboard instructions which I use with this keyboard.
  6. Credit to the community of MobileRead for introducing me to the concept of CM7. 
  7. Credit to all my commentors for helping me improve this tutorial! 
I hope that someone finds this tutorial helpful, and I appreciate any and all comments, emails, questions, and constructive criticisms.

    Claymore: Choosing Death Wisely

    Claymore Recap: Clare has traveled in secrecy to the Holy City of Rabona. Her assignment is to quietly engage and defeat a powerful yoma who has been preying on the priests of the city cathedral. If she is discovered in the course of her assignment, the human guards of the city will put her to death as an abomination.

    Claymore, Episode 4: Clare's Awakening

    Episode 4 opens with Clare taking a serious blow from the yoma; a blow that she could have avoided, but she took upon herself in order to save the lives of the two human guards who had been chasing her. This sacrificial act doesn't kill her, but her survival is more a credit to her own powers of healing than to the people whose care she must endure. The soldiers call her a demon and sneer that "humans should defend humans"; the priest, in his fear and disgust of the Claymore bodies has decided to provide us a very clear example of Worst Aid in bandaging Clare's uniform rather than her actual body.

    Review: Shave the Whales

    Shave the Whales (Dilbert, #4)Shave the Whales
    by Scott Adams

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Shave the Whales / 0836217403

    "Shave the Whales" is what I consider to be the third "real" Dilbert collection, i.e. containing only cartoons that haven't appeared in any other published Dilbert collection and not one of the "re-collections" or "theme collections" that Adams is so fond of releasing, although of course my counting may be a touch off.

    This collection contains strips from fairly early in Adams' career, and though several of them are quite funny, I'm not sure how well they hold up over time. There's a strong reliance on puns (as if the title "SHAVE the Whales" didn't clue you in on that), and a lot of Russian and/or Gorbachev jokes that seem very dated on rereading these strips. Some of Dilbert's adventures on blind dates, too, don't hold up as well as the more recent strips, and it's probably a good thing that Adams' moved away from his "one defining characteristic" shtick with the female characters in the strip and decided to let them become a little more nuanced.

    I love the Dilbert strips in general and if you're really interested in collecting them all, this volume is a must for a home library, but if you're really just a fan of the office strips and the established characters, you may consider giving this early volume a pass.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

    View all my reviews

    Review: Your Movie Sucks

    Your Movie SucksYour Movie Sucks
    by Roger Ebert

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Your Movie Sucks / 9780740763663

    I bought this during the Amazon Kindle sale and it's certainly a bargain -- there's a huge wealth of reviews here, most of them with at least one or two good laughs and several of them screamingly funny. I'm exactly the sort of cynical soul that absolutely loves a well-turned 1-star review of material that deserves it, though, so of course I would be predisposed to like the book.

    Others may be slightly less enthralled with the material here. Ebert is quite humorous and writes very well, but a few of the reviews fall a little flat and seem a touch mechanical -- these occasions are few and far between, and I forgave them because when you're writing a hundred reviews a day (or however many -- there are even film festival films here that most people will have never heard of!) it stands to reason they won't ALL be home-runs. Then, too, some of the plot details come off a little wrong in some cases, particularly with some of the scifi movies -- one wonders if Ebert was given an early copy to review or if some of the technobabble was so rapid-fire that he naturally missed a few details. Whether this is a failing of the movie (for failing to be more clear) or a failing of the reviewer (for failing to pay better attention) will be subjective to the reader, I think.

    Then, too, Ebert seems to have a few, ah, "sensitivity blindspots". He uses the word 'retarded' as an adjective in several reviews, not as a pejorative, but merely in a descriptive sense, however, I think this is not a term that all readers will appreciate seeing in print, as I believe there are better descriptions available. He may also have some blinders with regards to female characters and roles; at least one review questions the appropriate age of the actress with regards to her character, and several movies are lambasted for having women be inappropriately violent towards men -- all well and good, but I can't recall the same criticism being level in the reverse, towards a movie that is overly violent towards women. Maybe none of those were released in this time period, and therefore couldn't be included in the book, but one begins to wonder if the former is sensational and the latter merely commonplace.

    For myself, personally, I enjoyed this book immensely. I'll read it again and again for fun, and it was a great bargain choice for myself. I'd give it five stars except for some of the sensitivity quirks of the writing; I was able to look past them, but I would feel a little uncomfortable recommending this book without pointing out some of its flaws.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: Ex-Gay, No Way

    Ex-Gay No Way: Survival and Recovery from Religious AbuseEx-Gay No Way: Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse 
    by Jallen Rix

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Ex-Gay, No Way / 1844091872

    I want to start by saying that this is an excellent memoir and a very necessary book -- I highly recommend this book to anyone who is gay (or thinks they might be) and is worried about reconciling their sexuality with Christianity, as well as a recovery tool for anyone suffering from the religious abuse that occurs in the name of "turning gays straight". We need to live in a world where books like this are no longer necessary, but until that level of tolerance is found for everyone, books like this are crucial in helping people to connect and recover.

    "Ex-Gay, No Way" tells the life and trials of gay man Jallen Rix as he struggles with his sexuality within various Christian communities, and as he goes from various Christian "ex-gay" groups that promise to turn gay men and lesbian women into either straight individuals or -- failing that -- eternally celibate ones. Not surprisingly, the promise turns out to be a hollow one, and Rix points out with gentle irony that very few of these programs have any real results to show for their efforts.

    What is interesting about Rix's story is that he sought out these groups somewhat voluntarily; by which I mean he went because of social pressure, but not because his parents bundled him off to "ex-gay" camp when he was still a minor and without a legal right to protest. This point of view provides an interesting understanding into the self and why social pressure within, say, a church group can pressure a normal, healthy individual into submitting voluntarily to heart-breaking religious abuse.

    If there is a criticism to be leveled at Rix's memoir, it might perhaps be that some stronger editing could have been applied. Several chapters, particularly once we get past Rix's memoirs proper and into the psychology of the "ex-gay" movement, feel like concentrated block-quotes from beginning to end. I understand that Rix is trying to provide a voice for the community that has sent their experiences to them, but the many quotes seemed to break up the flow of writing and made it hard to follow the narrative.

    Perhaps this is also an issue of formatting -- for the eBook version I was reading, there was very little to distinguish a quote from Rix's own writings, so often I'd go through a page or two or a quote only to get to the end, see the signature, and realize that I hadn't been reading Rix's experience at all. After a lot of backtracking, I finally got frustrated and laid the book aside until I could read it on a larger screen.

    It's worth noting that this isn't going to be the perfect book for everyone -- not even for all LGBT or QUILTBAG peoples. Rix admits in the beginning that his book has fewer experiences of lesbian women than of gay men; he also notes that his book is very pro-Christianity, and that he considers facing (and -- probably -- eventually embracing) a Christian upbringing to be an essential part of understanding one's heritage. I do see his point of view, but not everyone who has been subjected to religious abuse may want to start their road to healing with a very pro-religious memoir like this one -- so be forewarned of that going in.

    I'm glad that Rix's book exists, and I'm glad that the people within it were given a chance to share their voice. Though this wasn't quite the novel I was expecting, I'm still very glad that this book exists and that I took the opportunity to add it to my library.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: New International Version Bible

    NIV Bible
    by Zondervan

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    New International Version Bible / 0310435641

    I bought this eBook version for my mother during a Kindle sale, and I'm really thrilled with how easy it is to read and navigate. The Table of Contents lists each book of the Bible at the front of the file; once you drill down to the book you want, you can then hyperlink to the actual chapter you desire. It's incredibly easy to pick up, very intuitive, and that easy navigation is so crucial when dealing with a 1,000+ pages of eBook.

    I really like the formatting here. Zondervan has kept their "section headings" in place so the text isn't just broken up by chapter-and-verse but also by the topical sections. I never did see an example of footnotes -- but I grew up with the "study version" so maybe that doesn't come standard with this one. I think it's just as well; my mother wouldn't want to be hyperlinking back and forth between pages and notes.

    For myself, I like this translation, and I appreciate that Zondervan made an attempt at gender-neutrality where appropriate. There's really no point in arguing about this -- either you're going to prefer "let HIM take up HIS cross" or you'll prefer "let THEM take up THEIR cross", so pick which one you prefer and stick with that translation.

    If you're looking for a well-formatted eBook version of the Bible, you could do a lot worse than this version here. Four stars for stellar formatting and one extra star for reminding us that women read the Bible, too.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Twilight: Being Flung From the Narrative

    Twilight Recap: Just when she thought it was safe to relax at school, Bella has spotted the frightening Edward Cullen across the cafeteria. The sight of him puts her immediately off her lunch, and she must grapple with the fears he evoked in her Biology class the last time they met. 

    Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

       I sipped my soda slowly, my stomach churning. Twice Mike asked, with unnecessary concern, how I was feeling. I told him it was nothing, but I was wondering if I should play it up and escape to the nurse’s office for the next hour.

    Sometimes it strikes me that Bella rarely takes the long view of things. As a character, she's not exactly impulsive, but at the same time she seldom seems to think past her current decisions. I almost wonder if we couldn't apply this trait to every major character decision she's made thus far.

    Metapost: Off Until Saturday

    Faithful readers, I'm afraid I must be offline for Thursday and Friday of this week (also known as "tomorrow" and "the next day"), so there will be no Thursday e-Reader post or Friday Randomness this week -- I apologize. There will be a Saturday Twilight, as usual, so stay tuned for that.

    In other news, for Amazon Kindle users, there is a Big Sale going on this week. So I guess that's kind of an e-Reader related post. Have a fun week, guys -- and keep posting comments as I can read and respond to them on my phone. ;)

    Narnia: Identifying with the Aggressor

    Narnia Recap: Lucy has stepped into the Wardrobe and found herself in the magical land of Narnia. She takes tea in the home of a faun before he confesses that he has been employed to kidnap human children. Lucy begs to be let go and the faun accompanies her back to the magical portal so that she might escape.

    The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Chapter 3: Edmund and the Wardrobe

       LUCY RAN OUT OF THE EMPTY ROOM into the passage and found the other three.
       "It's all right," she repeated, "I've come back." [...]
       "So you've been hiding, have you?" said Peter. "Poor old Lu, hiding and nobody noticed! You'll have to hide longer than that if you want people to start looking for you."
       "But I've been away for hours and hours," said Lucy.
       The others all stared at one another.
       "Batty!" said Edmund, tapping his head. "Quite batty."

    Edmund, the second youngest Pevensie, has already been rather unsubtly telegraphed to us as something of a villain -- his first recorded words in the novel, after all, are a harsh grumble at his sister Susan to stop imitating their mother, and his attitude does not improve materially from there. Now that Lucy has tumbled from the wardrobe back into her own world and is about to receive a harsh lesson in Narnia Time, Edmund will be the first and the most vociferous voice labeling Lucy insane.

    Review: The Stepford Wives

    The Stepford WivesThe Stepford Wives 
    by Ira Levin

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    The Stepford Wives / 9780062037602

    "The Stepford Wives" is one of those rare horror novels that reads even more creepily when you already know the twist at the end. I read it when I was younger and merely liked it; now that I'm older and re-reading it, I find it absolutely terrifying.

    The most terrifying thing about the Stepford men isn't that they objectify their wives into sex-slaves and cleaning-bots; no, the most terrifying thing about the Stepford men is that they don't *seem* like the kind of men who would do that sort of thing. They don't seem overly boorish or loutish or medieval in their thinking; the men help with the housework and give lip service to equality with their protestations that they intend to "change from the inside" the men-only Men's Association. Terrifying, too, is the fact that these men weren't somehow brought up believing that turning their wives into automatons is the right way to live; the Men's Association has been around for a mere six or seven years, and in that short time *every* man in Stepford has signed on to the barbaric replacement of their human wives with mindless servants. Not a single man in Stepford has refrained from turning his wife into an unthinking sex-bot, and based on Joanna's newspaper findings we cannot soothe ourselves with the thought that perhaps the more principled men moved away with their families.

    The men of Stepford are men who are sexist, but seem on the surface not to be. Joanna sits in on a meeting and at first enjoys the flow of the conversation, feeling she has struck a blow for women's equality; it is only when the men start treating her like an object (expecting her to wait on them, and drawing her as an object in the midst of their deliberations) that she starts to feel genuinely uncomfortable in their presence. When Joanna starts objecting to living in Stepford and fearing for her safety, her husband responds kindly and sensibly -- they will move, if that is what she wants, just as soon as the school year ends. This kind response lulls Joanna into dangerous complacency; because she believes her husband does care about her as an equal, she is willing to let precious time slip away, not realizing that her husband's reassurances are completely false.

    "The Stepford Wives" is a true horror story as it counts down inexorably to the end; it's impossible not to feel Joanna's heart-pounding terror as she tries to flee the town (an attempt that resonates all too well after having read Jessop's "Escape" earlier in the year). If there is a moral here, then perhaps it is that prejudices can be easily hidden and can arise from the most unlikely among us -- and that even the most liberated can be tempted to hurt and objectify another, when given the chance.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 6

    Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (Scott Pilgrim, #6)Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour
    by Bryan Lee O'Malley

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour / 9781934964385

    This is the final volume of the Scott Pilgrim series, so if you've been following the series up until now, you pretty much HAVE to read it. The good news is that it's incredibly thrilling and well-drawn and the plot is nicely summed-up; the bad news is that I kind of wish there was MORE of it.

    After Ramona disappeared into the ether in "Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe", Scott has been moping around and generally not dealing with the issues that jumped him in Volume 5. The first half of the volume reads like a Who's Who of Scott's exes as he half-heartedly tries to get back together with each of them and they explain to him that it's utterly over, and that he needs to actually *deal* with the issues that caused their relationships to fail in the first place. Plot-wise, it's well done and really drives home the narrative that you can't deal with problems by just running away from them and hoping things will be different next time; the similarities between Scott and Ramona develop nicely and I like the narrative symmetry.

    Once Scott finally decides to deal with his issues in a meaningful, it's time for a massive showdown with Gideon. This is flashy and meaningful and incredibly well-realized, but there's a LOT of fodder that gets kind of tossed out there tantalizingly and then never really developed -- including Gideon's collector nature and his very brief assertion that he's tampered with Scott's memories, which ties majorly back in to the problems that Scott fundamentally remembers his past relationships very different from how *they* do. I definitely liked these details and thought they added a lot to the story, but I was disappointed at the brevity; I think there's more discussion on these topics on the TV Tropes page than in the volume itself.

    Once again, the artwork here is quite lovely and has come a long way from the first volume. The lines are sharper, the details are better, and the occasional anime-esque panel is very amusing and works well towards the overall video game theme.

    If you've liked the Scott Pilgrim series up to this point, it's hard to imagine you'll be disappointed with this fun, flashy, and nevertheless extremely thoughtful finale.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

    View all my reviews

    Review: Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 5

    Scott Pilgrim vs The Universe (Scott Pilgrim, #5)Scott Pilgrim vs The Universe
    by Bryan Lee O'Malley

    Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs The Universe / 9781934964101

    I've really been liking the Scott Pilgrim series so far -- I love the thoughtful characterization and the exploration of "growing up" in those later young adult years when you're not quite a kid but not quite feeling like an adult either -- but I will admit that some of the earlier volumes have been a little slow-paced for my tastes. This volume, however, is a thrill ride from beginning to end and probably my favorite of the series so far.

    If things seemed rosy at the end of the last volume ("Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together"), this volume is here to turn all that around and curb stomp your heart into a mass of quivering sadness. In following the developing theme that you can't run from your problems because they'll always catch up with you, quite a few of Scott's previous bad decisions start to catch up to him here, including his poor handling of his Knives/Ramona switch-over from the beginning of the series. The storyline in this volume is fast paced and tight, and it's impossible for Ramona and Kim *not* to steal the show -- it's easy to see why Kim especially is such a fan favorite after her stellar role in this volume.

    Another thing I really liked about this volume is the continued evolution of the artform. There's a lot of cute "anime-esque" panels that really fit nicely with the overall video game theme, and it's really nice to see an artist improve and expand their repertoire over time. The regular art style is noticeably clearer and darker to me now, too -- outfits especially seem to really pop and the overall feel is very nicely done and professional.

    If you've been with the Scott Pilgrim series so far, I am fairly confident you'll like this volume. The pace has really picked up, and it's nice to see Scott being forced to confront and deal with his bad decisions up to this point. The characterization development of Ramona and Kim is well worth exploring, and overall I enjoyed this volume immensely.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 4

    Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Scott Pilgrim, #4)Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together
    by Bryan Lee O'Malley

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together / 9781932664492

    I got hooked into the Scott Pilgrim franchise after very much enjoying the movie. I'm surprised at how much the movie resembled the first few Scott Pilgrim volumes, but with Volume 4 we're definitely entering territory where most of this graphic novel wasn't included in the movie. It's not hard to see why most of the material here couldn't make it into the film adaptation -- as delightful as this volume is, there's quite a lot of slow character growth to wade through as Scott Pilgrim does, indeed, grapple to get things together.

    In this volume, Scott must try to find a job, a new apartment, and defeat another evil ex of Ramona's while also grappling with his own past relationship demons in the form of Knives Chau's exceedingly dangerous father. Scott is as sweet and clueless as ever (thinking "the L-word" is, well, a *different* L-word) and the fun video game humor is still here in full force (as when Scott asks if working his way up the restaurant chain is like the Final Fantasy "job system". Characterizations continue to deepen as Scott and Ramona have to decide how they feel about each other over the long haul... and additionally have to deal with the boredom and ennui that can set in from time to time in a stable relationship.

    If you like the Scott Pilgrim series so far, you'll like seeing Scott start pulling his life together and dealing with things a little more maturely than before; if you're not sure how you feel about the series and are looking whether or not to continue, this volume is a little slow and somewhat more of the same, but it's nice to see Scott and Ramona develop their relationship more and start to become "real" adults rather than overgrown kids.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: Claymore, Vol. 3

    Claymore, Vol. 3 (Claymore, #3)Claymore, Vol. 3 
    by Norihiro Yagi

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Claymore, Vol. 3 / 978-1421506203

    I've actually watched the complete Claymore anime first before getting into the manga; I'm really liking the manga source material, as it rather closely follows the anime but has a few extra details and world-building information along the way. I definitely love the clean, crisp black-and-white artwork, but I am still having trouble with the right-to-left / back-to-front reading.

    Volume 3 provides the following scenes:

    Scene 10: Darkness in Paradise, Part 6
    Scene 11: Darkness in Paradise, Part 7
    Scene 12: Teresa of the Faint Smile, Part 1
    Scene 13: Teresa of the Faint Smile, Part 2
    Scene 14: Teresa of the Faint Smile, Part 3
    Scene 15: Teresa of the Faint Smile, Part 4

    For those following along with the anime series, this volume corresponds to:

    Episode 4: Clare's Awakening (An adaptation of Scene 10, Scene 11, and carried over from Volume 2.)
    Episode 5: Teresa of the Faint Smile (An adaptation of Scene 12, Scene 13, and Scene 14.)
    Episode 6: Teresa and Clare (An adaptation of Scene 15 and carried over into Volume 4.)

    This volume covers the adventures of Clare in the Holy City of Rabona as she fights against the powerful yoma and struggles with overcoming her limits in battle. The volume also introduces Teresa from Clare's past, her encounter with the bandits on the road, and her growing attachment for Clare along the way. The volume ends as Teresa is assaulted by a determined bandit and must chose whether or not to follow the Claymore's ultimate rule.

    The only thing I don't like about this volume is that I preferred the more angular facial artwork for Teresa that was on display in the anime. If you liked the anime series, though, I am certain you'll like this manga volume; I recommend it for extra detailing and world building.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus

    Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (Lucky Starr, #3)Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus 
    by Isaac Asimov

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus / 1421049260

    I enjoy Asimov's Lucky Starr series very much, but this novel is definitely my favorite. I particularly love the "Sherlock Holmes meets Space Opera" feel of the series, right down to tall, wiry Starr/Holmes and his beefy, obtuse sidekick Jones/Watson.

    The plot of "Oceans of Venus" follows the usual-yet-delightful Lucky Starr mystery format. Something is quite wrong at the lovely underwater station on Venus -- Lucky Starr's friend and fellow councilman has been accused of serious crimes, and the Venusian settlers are behaving very oddly. Can Starr solve this mystery under the sea without being drowned or crushed to death by the ocean's immense pressure?

    The details of Venus, though in retrospect wrong, are delightful to see here in Asimov's vivid writing; it's extremely interesting to see how science has marched on and what it has learned in the meantime about Venus' surface and climate. The fictional Venusian ocean is beautiful and exotic, and will draw the reader in instantly with its rich, vibrant life -- it's almost a shame, really, that Asimov's original vision didn't pan out to fit with the facts as we know them now.

    I truly love this novel as a wonderful nostalgic treat on a rainy day. If you like scifi and Sherlock Holmes and haven't been introduced to the beauty of Lucky Starr, definitely check this novel out. I only wish it were available in eBook form.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Author Interview: Matthew Bayan on "The Firecracker King"

    Ana: Matthew, an excerpt from your novel “Firecracker King” was submitted in the ABNA 2010 contest. Your excerpt started out as a particularly light and whimsical tale with the character of Jake: a young boy who lives an almost idyllic life on the lake, swimming, fishing, and orchestrating elaborate firecracker wars on the night surface of the lake. Just when reviewers had your excerpt pegged as a whimsical coming-of-age drama, you then slapped the readers in the face with a haunting and utterly unexpected dead body pulled up from the river, and the excerpt ended with readers chilled and wanting to know so much more. Can you tell us more about your novel and where it goes from the end of the excerpt? What sorts of themes do you explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience?

    Matthew: I was glad that the twist from idyllic summer to something darker worked. One of the major themes is the contrast between childhood and adulthood. Not that adulthood necessarily becomes evil, but that the simpleness of childhood gets so much more complex and within that complexity people can make bad choices. There are many places in the novel where the reader gets to enjoy the fun of youth; but these places are often shattered by evil people. At its core "The Firecracker King" is about the choices that a boy must make to become a man and the inner strength it takes to do right when it would be so much easier to look the other way.

    Ana: I really like that -- definitely as we move into adulthood the world can seem a darker place sometimes. What was your inspiration when writing your novel? Were you influenced by a specific author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre?

    Matthew: "The Firecracker King" started as a memoir-styled coming of age novel. Somewhere along the way I saw how I could create an overarching umbrella of a murder mystery that pulled together all the bits and pieces. The battle between good and evil inside Jake is very fertile ground for setting the murder mystery. I also like action, so it was easy to get seduced into something I call The Hardy Boys meet Fatal Attraction.

    All of the references to authors within the story are actually writers I devoured in my youth. As I mentioned them I felt they were looking over my shoulder; I wanted them to feel I was doing at least a decent job.

    Ana: For the first few pages of “Firecracker King”, it’s difficult to avoid comparisons to Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” - the setting and characterization seems like such a perfect mixture of the playful spirit of youth and an idyllic summer atmosphere, and it’s easy for the reader to sink into the narrative of living on a lake, swimming every day, and staging exotic firecracker battles at night. And Jake has a young ruthlessness about him as he haggles for firecrackers and supplies his friends at tremendous markups. Of course, the ideal summer gets wrecked rather badly when the dead body shows up… If you could compare your novel to any other existing work, which one would it be and why?

    Matthew: I wasn’t consciously trying to emulate any particular novel or author. However, I’ve had a number of high school and college readers compare "The Firecracker King" to either "To Kill A Mockingbird" or "A Catcher In The Rye". I’m not a fan of Catcher, but To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books. That’s a pretty flattering comparison. You mention Tom Sawyer, but if there is any comparison to Twain, it would be Huck Finn. Huck’s story is much darker with a lot more hanging in the balance. Huck changes over the course of the book as he realizes the evils of slavery and his own mistakes toward slavery. In some ways Jake’s character arc is similar as he ultimately must make a choice that will change his life and the lives of every other character in the book.

    Ana: Is this your first or only finished work, or have you written other novels? If you have written other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?

    Matthew: I have written several other novels, but I feel that "The Firecracker King" is the best so far. I have been very successful with non-fiction, have an agent, etc. However, my agent doesn’t handle Young Adult, so I need to find a new agent for "The Firecracker King".

    I’m working on a thriller that deals with nuclear weapons, the Middle East, and how political corruption in Washington DC threatens our existence.

    Ana: I was first introduced to your novel through the Amazon Breakthrough Award contest of 2010. What prompted you to enter the contest, and what were your overall feelings towards the contest in general?

    Matthew: I had just run "The Firecracker King" through two different writing critique groups and had done major rewrites. I felt it was ready when a friend told me about the contest the night before the deadline. I just thought, “What the hell,” and uploaded my entry. I made it to the quarterfinals and was rather pleased.

    I had read most of the YA entries and saw which ones made it further in the contest and which were culled out. I felt that the judges were looking for something middle of the road, not too threatening, more Miss Marple than Hannibal Lecter. The Firecracker King has violence, murder, betrayal, and a whiff of incest. I didn’t take the manuscript’s elimination as a bad mark on the writing, but more a rejection of the edginess of the material. I’ve since read some really over the top YA novels and I’m beginning to think "The Firecracker King" IS middle of the road compared to some of what’s out there.

    Ana: Ha, well and it's worth repeating that what the grown-ups want to publish may not be what the kids want to actually read -- Harry Potter, Twilight, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and many more popular YA books all have their fair share of violence! Are you currently published or self-published? Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? If you’re not currently published, how can readers “sign up” to be notified when your novel does become available?

    Matthew: Unfortunately, "The Firecracker King" is not in print. Yet. Three agents are currently reading the full manuscript. I don’t intend to self-publish it. It’s Vegas or bust, baby!

    I had a bestseller with "Eat Fat, Be Healthy: When a Low-Fat Diet Can Kill You" which, though non-fiction, was written as “fictional non-fiction.” It got good reviews. The one I liked the best was “reads like a thriller.” Exactly what I had hoped for.

    Yes, my web site is As material becomes available, I’ll update the site.

    Ana: Matthew, thank you so very much for being willing to participate in this guest blog interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

    Matthew: You asked good questions. They made me think about issues in the manuscript that I hadn’t really addressed previously.

    Twilight: A Eulogy for Food

    Twilight Recap: Bella has passed her first weekend in Forks without incident. She has passed the time doing household chores, reading her homework assignments, and visiting the Forks library briefly.

    Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

    Once again we come to one of those delightful Rorschach passages where it's very easy to like or dislike Bella depending on how the reader interprets the passage.

       People greeted me in the parking lot Monday morning. I didn’t know all their names, but I waved back and smiled at everyone. It was colder this morning, but happily not raining. In English, Mike took his accustomed seat by my side. We had a pop quiz on Wuthering Heights. It was straightforward, very easy.
       All in all, I was feeling a lot more comfortable than I had thought I would feel by this point. More comfortable than I had ever expected to feel here.

    Tropes: The Curse of the Smart Girl

    Recently, in a review of the third Percy Jackson book, I accused all the women in the series of being "Faux Action Girls" -- women whose prowess and usefulness in a given situation is more of an Informed Attribute than anything that the reader ever gets to see. What was interesting (and frustrating) to me at the time was that a lot of the tropers on TV Tropes didn't really see it the same way -- sure, the Annabeth character in the movie was a Faux Action Girl, but the one in the book is smart and intelligent and her advice saves the day more than once in the series. That makes her useful, right? Wrong.

    The problem, at least in my opinion, is that being the Smart Girl in a novel doesn't make a female character strong, useful, and meaningful to the story -- it makes them less so.

    eReaders: Using the Folder Organizer Android App

    So you've set up your Nook Color with CM7 or you've bought your first Android tablet reader and now you're wondering "how the heck do I organize all my apps?" Very simply: you buy the super-cool Folder Organizer app in the Google marketplace.

    Now, Android does have the native ability to create "desktop" folders. But I don't like the native Android folder functionality and neither do most right-thinking people. At least, not the three I've talked to about Android. And one of them may just have been agreeing with me to get me to go away. But that's a big enough sample for me, so tally onward and whatnot.

    The Folder Organizer app by Fabio Collini is the best folder organizer for Android that I've tried. You can find it in the Google market by searching for "Folder Organizer"; it should look a little something like this:

    The raison d'etre of the Folder Organizer app is to let you create desktop folders for your Android apps, but there's a lot of neat extra functionality included, such as the ability to automatically file "unlabeled" (i.e., new downloads) apps into a specific folder, and the ability to set custom icons for the folder links (check out the iPhone/Android icon sets on Deviant Art for a lot of pretty alternatives). Here's two folders that I keep on my Android devices: Reading apps and Writing apps:

    When I click the Reading folder, the folder opens to show all the apps that I've filed under that heading:

    That one icon on my desktop -- the Reading folder -- contains twelve apps in it, so the space saving capabilities of this Folder Organizer app should be pretty obvious at this point. ;)

    So how do you set up Folder Organizer? Well, after you download it from the Google market, you should be able to access it in your app directory:

    There it is, down at the bottom left hand corner. Open that up and you'll find yourself in the Folder Organizer main screen:

    "Labels" are what the folders are called in the app; the "label" term was picked -- I assume -- to convey the fact that an app can be in multiple folder/label categories. You don't have any labels yet, but the "New Label" button at the bottom can fix that. The first time you set up the app, you'll probably want to create a bunch of labels first and then go through the "Apps" screen one by one; here's what the "Apps" page looks like:

    Of course, my stuff is all labeled already. After you've labeled the majority of your existing stuff, you probably won't want to use the "Apps" page anymore; it's easier to just set up a label for "unlabeled" apps and visit that label through the "Label" page each time you download something new and need to tag it. The "Label" page looks like this:

    You can press the little gray arrows to expand the label to see the actual apps in that label; from there you can update those apps to be labeled as you please. The blue arrows let you change the details of the label itself; here are the details for my "#unlabeled" label:

    As you can see, there are a LOT of options available with Folder Organizer. I only use labels for holding apps, but if you go into that "Choose" button, you'll see that Folder Organizer can also hold a plethora of other things, including internet bookmarks, people contacts, and app shortcuts.

    Once you have your labels set up, you'll want to slap them onto your desktop. That's what folders are for, after all. Go to your desktop and long-press to add a widget. The exact process will differ a little depending on what launcher you're using; I use Zeam at the moment, so it's actually more like "Long-Press --> Item --> Widget".

    Pick the "Folder Organizer Folder Link". There's a whole bunch of Folder Organizer widget options, but you want the "folder link" one at the top of the list.

    Then you'll need to pick which folder you want to link to with this widget:

    And, easy-peasy, now your folder will appear on your desktop with whatever icon you assigned to it:

    Aw... look how happy it is!

    Claymore: Protection in a Dangerous World

    Claymore Recap: Clare has completed her duty to her childhood friend Elena and now receives a new assignment from the Organization -- she is to secretly infiltrate a holy city where Claymores are banned and destroy a massive Yoma that has gone on a rampage within the city cathedral.

    Claymore, Episode 3: The Darkness in Paradise

    Episode 3 brings a new assignment to Clare: the holy city of Rabona has been infiltrated by a large and powerful yoma, and priests and guards within the cathedral are being massacred nightly at an alarming rate. The head priest has contacted the Organization for a contract of a single Claymore to be dispatched to the city to save the humans from their monster.

    Review: The Titan's Curse

    The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series #3)The Titan's Curse 
    by Rick Riordan

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    The Titan's Curse / 9781423131977

    I have mixed feelings about the Percy Jackson series, of which this is the third book of five. On the one hand, I love the world, the anachronistic humor, and the general concept; on the other hand, I feel like there's a lot of wasted potential in the series and I'm frustrated by some of the characterization. "The Titan's Quest", for good or ill, continues several traditions of the series so far, and is something of a mixed bag overall.

    On the good side, in terms of epic quests, "The Titan's Curse" does not disappoint. The book starts off strong with the three demi-god heroes -- Thalia, Percy, and Annabeth -- traveling to a snowy boarding school to help Grover retrieve two recently found godlings, and the book takes off with a bang there. Several of the action scenes are a pure joy to read, and the humor is laugh-out-loud funny in many places. Once again, Riordan shows how to write a fun, exciting, heart-warming novel, and I found myself savoring many scenes with complete relish.

    On the bad side, I am just about ready to apply the "Faux Action Girl" label onto every girl in this series. The first two books were bad enough with Annabeth's crippling fear of spiders and Clarisse's aversion to being sensible, but I really thought that "Sea of Monsters" found its footing with Percy realizing that Tyson and Clarisse were individuals in their own right and I thought a lesson had been learned about respecting others. The lesson, however, seems not to have stuck.

    There are five main female characters in this novel and all of them are pretty much useless and depend on Percy to save the day, despite each of them supposedly being strong, smart, capable women. Two women spend the entire novel chained up and awaiting rescue; another two spend the entire quest engaging in petty squabbles and childish grudges with each other. This is particularly frustrating since one of the girls is several thousand years old and a reader might assume that she would be above petty, childish temper tantrums all the time when, you know, the biggest war of the millennium is rapidly shaping up around them, but apparently not. (Thankfully, Percy is around to rise above it and keep the peace between the squabbling women.) Annabeth's crippling fear of spiders from the first book is recycled here as a fear of heights that causes one of the girls to completely seize up and become useless and/or dangerous no less than three times. Several of the girl characters are essentially defined only in terms of the males around them -- what Percy, Luke, and Nico think and feel *about* the women is portrayed as essentially more important than the women themselves. As a woman, it's frustrating and it feels like the author sees his male characters as people, but his female characters as plot objects.

    In the same way that the female characters are under-developed, the rest of the world building is rather neglected here in this third novel -- now that Percy has hit his stride, it seems like the rest of the world is now defined entirely in relation to him. Characters are either for him or against him, or they're just sitting around on their hands back at camp. (At least three or four of the godling cabins are officially forgotten about now.) The increased hyper-focus on Percy could perhaps be forgiven if he wasn't becoming so blandly perfect! Though still hampered by his lack of knowledge about Greek myths (and you'd think he would have brushed up by now, under the circumstances), nevertheless, he comes up with almost all the winning battle strategies, makes all the right decisions, doesn't allow himself to become hindered or distracted by doubts, phobias, or grudges, and has a perfect, never-wavering moral compass. I know he's the hero of the story, but having a hyper-competent hero who regularly outshines everyone around him with his perfection became a little tedious by the time I reached the end.

    I love the overall world and general concept of the Percy Jackson novels. I like the plot and the over-arching narrative. I love the Greek myths interwoven with the modern day setting, and I love the humor of Riordan's style. I enjoyed this novel overall; I laughed at the funny bits and cried at the sad bits. I'll read the fourth novel and probably the fifth.

    But I reserve the right to feel frustrated with the under-development of all the characters in favor of the perfectly perfect protagonist, and I'm rather tired of seeing all these supposedly strong, smart, capable women being subjected to the Worf Effect just so Percy can be *even better* than all of them at *everything*.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: 13 Drops of Blood

    13 Drops of Blood13 Drops of Blood
    by James Roy Daley

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    13 Drops of Blood / 2940011997488

    "13 Drops of Blood" is a collection of short horror stories from indie author James Daley. I picked up the collection during an online sale and while they didn't turn out to be completely my cup of tea, I want to acknowledge talent where it is due.

    The short stories contained in this collection are a combination mish-mash of straight-up horror and fantasy horror -- the reader will follow various characters through worlds with supernatural elements and worlds that are simply much like ours, but with quite terrible people in it. The horror on display is very visceral, immediate, and realistic without relying on gratuitous "gross-out" details. The author writes with a very clean, stark style and has a special kind of minimalist talent -- this is the sort of writing that looks easy to accomplish but is actually quite difficult to pull off. The stories themselves are in some cases very short indeed, but the impact of the story stays with you, and the opening tale in particular is quite haunting.

    Given all this writing talent on display, I'm not certain why "13 Drops of Blood" didn't please me more as a horror fan. The horror details are wonderfully laid out and quite creepy, but often the element of suspense is missing from the tales -- any "twist" at the end is usually telegraphed well in advance, and there's not really a suspense element to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. (This may be extremely subjective; my husband insists that I've just experienced too much horror fiction at this point and that finding the tales predictable is my own fault, not the author's. That may well be the case.)

    Another flaw is that some of these tales, delightful though they are, suffer from fridge logic -- it's impossible to read several of the tales without later thinking, "Wait. What??" Without spoiling too much, it seems like many of the "twists" would only really work in a short story format and a longer story would have to answer an inevitable slew of questions that would probably un-work the entire tale; it's the classic problem of a really cool setting or twist that can't realistically be set up in a full setting, I think.

    If you like horror tales and don't mind too much if you can "guess the twist" before the end, "13 Drops of Blood" is a really good example of clean, visceral horror in a tasty short story format, and if you have an eReader, you really cannot beat the price here. This collection is well worth a look if you want a creepy collection to while away a night. In the end, the collection didn't please me so much because I really crave the suspense more than the horror, however, I think the writing here is incredibly talented and will probably hit the spot perfectly for many horror fans.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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    Review: The Carnivorous Carnival

    The Carnivorous Carnival: Book the Ninth (A Series of Unfortunate Events)The Carnivorous Carnival
    by Lemony Snicket

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    A Series of Unfortunate Events 9: The Carnivorous Carnival / 9780061757211

    What is there to say about this series that I haven't said eight times before already? Once again, Lemony Snicket tells the beautiful, terrifying, and delightfully sardonic tale of the poor unfortunate Baudelaire orphans; once again, the incomparable Tim Curry lends his rich voice talents to the audiobook narration in a tale-telling that is a pure joy to listen to. And if you've liked the series so far for the last eight books, nothing in "The Carnivorous Carnival" is going to stop you from continuing the series further.

    In some ways, this ninth installment is the scariest of all the books so far. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are forced by circumstances to work in close proximity and daring disguise close to Count Olaf and his troupe; a constant source of tension is simply whether or not the children can continue to maintain their disguise in the company of a man who considers the changing of an identity to be a daily occurrence. At the carnival, the children are forced to pretend to be "freaks" so that people can come to the carnival and laugh at and humiliate them, and it's utterly disheartening to see how this treatment has hurt and embittered the other employees at the carnival.

    If you're reading "The Carnivorous Carnival" for the first time and haven't already purchased the tenth book ("The Slippery Slope"), you'll want to go ahead and order it in advance -- "The Carnivorous Carnival" ends on the biggest cliffhanger of the series so far, and you'll be dying to know what happens next in the unfortunate lives of the poor Baudelaire orphans.

    ~ Ana Mardoll

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