Vision in White (CBR4 #12)

I may manage to keep on track with this Cannonball Read thing yet. If I manage to post a review a week for the rest of the year I will make the 52 book, full cannonball mark and a donation will be made to the college fund of Lil’A. If not, but if I manage to get another fourteen done (that means finishing and reviewing Ready Player One and thirteen others) I will have made my personal goal. Its looking do-able. Here’s review #12:

Here’s the problem that I’m running into. I’m reading a couple of big books at the moment with a lot of information to unpack (I just finished The Illuminator, working on  Theodore Rex and Ready Player One (FANTASTIC!)) so I keep turning to quick, fluffy reads in-between. But the problem becomes what to say about them? Specifically what is there to say about Nora Roberts’ Vision in White?

Remember before when I said Roberts has a formula – a highly enjoyable, reasonably well written formula – that allows the reader to telegraph the upcoming events of her stories with out too much effort? This book is perhaps the best exemplar of that yet. I really like the set up of the story in this first in a quartet book. There are four friends since childhood (which reminds me of the post on pajiba about friends) who used to play Wedding Day in which they would plan out and enact weddings between themselves, siblings, animals, etc. As adults the four, Parker, Laurel, Emmaline, and Mackensie, have each fallen into their own particular niches to create a high quality wedding and event planning company Vows based out of Parker’s family estate. Keeping up? However, this story is about Mackensie, resident photographer.

Mackensie, or Mac, is the resident photographer. And I do mean resident. Her photography studio is on the Brown estate in the former guest house. Early in the story the romantic lead shows up in the form of one Mr. Carter Maguire. Carter is everything that Mac is not. Shy, well-educated, rooted in family, and a teacher. They however do share a spark a – voila – a tense dating relationship begins where Mac is likely to run off in fear at any moment. In a benefit of Roberts’ style we get inside Carter’s brain as well and he’s just as perplexed by Mac, even though he’s been harboring a crush for over a decade, as she is by him.

I know this is more a recap than a review, but I feel as though you should be warned before diving in. Are you looking for a quick read (although topping 300 pages) that is the first in a four book series focused around the world of wedding planning with four friends who literally live in each other’s backyard? Can you handle being able to telegraph the story for yourself? Then happy reading. It was a pleasant read that left no lingering effects for this reader, making it not the best Roberts’ has to offer.

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The Illuminator (CBR4 #11)

I received The Illuminator from my trusty friend with the reading materials and she told me nothing of the plot except that I would love it, be ridiculously angry with it, and that it was set in the 14th century. This is not a lot to go on, but I knew that illuminators were the lovely lads who painted all the detail work into those beautiful manuscripts the monks were busy copying. So, I jumped right in.

She was correct on all three counts. I did love it. I loved it enough to keep reading it although I felt my ear drum was going to explode on a flight. I loved it enough to keep reading it when I was sure it was going to do nothing more but piss me off. I love it enough to tell you to read it, but only if you are like my friend and me and enjoy a good emotional thrashing. And yelling about characters that have disappointed you (thus the ridiculous anger).

The Illuminator is Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s first novel. Previously she was an English teacher and a librarian. Vantrease uses her knowledge of the time and, in time honored historical fiction strategy, takes what is known of a few big names (Bishop Henry Dispenser, John Wycliffe, Julian of Norwich, and John Ball) and create a plausible story in which they appear. The novel roughly covers the years 1379-1381 and leads up to the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 and the various ecclesiastical shenanigans that are going on at the time. Our main characters are the widowed Lady Kathryn of Blackingham, her family and servants on the manor, and Finn the illuminator. Each character has a story arc of their own which work well to bring to light the reality of life in the time as well as tell a good story.

Jewels of the Sun Review (CBR4 #10)

So apparently I wasn’t done with my romance kick after just the one book. I knew it couldn’t be that simple. So here we go, once more into the breach…

Nora Roberts’ Jewels of the Sun analyses what would happen if you woke up at 29, divorced, disillusioned, disappointed in your professional ability and perhaps independently wealthy.  Oh, and your grandmother’s cousin has died and left her cottage in Ardmore, Ireland without a tenant.

If only this were my life…

But I digress. We meet Jude at the top of the story, as she is working her way through driving on the wrong side from Dublin to Ardmore, down on the coast. She’s in just the sort of predicament I’ve outlined above. Her husband asked for a divorce after 7 months, having fallen for another woman, she’s not a very good professor at the college in Chicago so she quit. Her grandmother sent her off to a family home which is currently without a tenant, and she is here to stave off a nervous breakdown. She would know; she has a degree in psychology.

Jude’s the kind of character you vote for.  You want her to discover who she is outside of everyone else’s opinions and expectations. And there seem to have been a lot. This is a romance, so there must be a romantic lead and his name is Aidan, the local publican. She’s planning on being gone in 6 months time, as that’s all she’s allowed herself for this respite and he’s not looking for anything serious.

But that’s not what the fairy king has in mind.

Did I not mention the fairies? Oh, they’re involved in this one. Roberts has left her grounded in (rosy) realism storytelling and headed over into the land of the supernatural. And I kind of love it. This book is actually the first in a series of three, something very common in Roberts’ world, and there is a story of love lost between the fairy king and the original owner of the cottage, who still haunts the place waiting for the love which was lost. Now it’s up to Jude and Aidan, and eventually Aidan’s siblings and their respective romantic interests, to express a true love outside of the empty promises the fairy king once offered a fair maid.

Cabinet of Curiosities

Katie Humphreys has a Bachelor’s Degree in History and is a graduate student in Museum Professions specializing in Museum Education at Seton Hall University, with an anticipated graduation date of May 2012. Her thesis topic is museum programs serving adolescents whom have been affected by the juvenile justice system. To balance out the depressing nature of her research she has taken up sewing and the Cannonball Read. Currently underemployed at a local historic site, she has grand visions of running K-12 programming for historic sites; including onsite school class programs, outreach programming, summer camps, and teacher trainings. Her thoughts, ramblings, and retweets can be found at @krhumphreys or her blog

I spend an inordinate amount of time invested in the prospect of education and what it means. I have viewed it from many angles, and the more I learn about education, the more I know that we don’t…

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A not so funny thing happened on the way through the exhibit…

This past weekend, my friend was incredibly magnanimous and offered to accompany me to a visit of the American Museum of Natural History for my birthday. This friend is not a museum person, in that her mind was not necessarily built for what an Art museum has to offer, but through an extended friendship with me she has developed a love of natural history museums. Like any seven-year old you might know, she’s really just here for the dinosaurs and life dioramas.

I am totally cool with this arrangement.  In the past three years I have been inside plenty of museums of various types, shapes, and prestige levels as part of pursuing my degree. This being the case, I am happy to have a bit of company on any of my excursions. Since I know my audience, when we arrived at the museum we immediately had a snack, and headed up to the fourth floor to the dinosaurs. Now, being ourselves we got off the elevator and made a series of turns to avoid the stroller set which brought us into what designed as the end of the exhibition.  We would find this out later.

However, since the level of design on the fourth floor is quite divine, we felt no ill effects of our choice. The floor was completely reinstalled between 1994 and 1996, and 14 years later it still holds up with more contemporary installations around town. The fossil halls of the fourth floor are continuous loop telling the story of vertebrate evolution. The exhibits are not arranged in chronological order such as you find in other museums, but instead the fossil halls display the specimens according to evolutionary relationships. This serves to dramatically illustrate the complex branches of the tree of life, in which animals are grouped according to their shared physical characteristics.  This organization schema is fantastic for the walk-and-gasp crowd which I was traveling with. We were able to work through the various halls and make the connections for ourselves, and turn to the texts to support our conclusions. There were also audio-visual booths at the end of certain branches of the exhibition which would further explain the group of animals you had just seen with video clips from the appropriate curators and scientists, also very handy for the type of museum visitor who does not wish to stop to read, but doesn’t mind being told a story. This was the very essence of informal learning.

As we did the floor backwards we ended at the Orientation Center. There is a fantastic video narrated by Meryl Streep which explains the way in which the floor is laid out, including AMNH’s involvement in pioneering a method of scientific analysis called cladistics, which is grouping by shared characteristics and ancestors.  It was also a nice place to sit for a few minutes and rest our feet before we headed downstairs.

Downstairs is unfortunately where things went a bit awry. We spent time working through the Primates Hall, through Eastern Woodlands Indians and Plains Indians Halls which dead-end in the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples. While all of these Halls could use an update, the walkway between the Plains Indians Hall and the Hall of Pacific Peoples perhaps irritated me the most. On the walls are various photographs from the area and Mead’s travels and they have been nearly destroyed by the hands of time and children. The majority of the labels have peeled off and there is no way to know exactly what you are looking at. This was my moment of crankiness, I was astonished at the lack of care this area of the museum was enduring beyond the normal amount of care I would expect as a museum professional, given that it is also home to the statue from Easter Island which since the movie A Night at the Museum is a photo opportunity for families and is therefore a sought out location.

After a trip though the Akeley Hall of African Mammals we continued downstairs to the second floor and the Halls of African Peoples and the Stout Hall of Asian Peoples. This is where my friend had her moment of anger. She and I attended the same high school many moons ago and received the same history and culture education. It was a step above the norm for public schools in our area, but it still left much to be desired in its covering of African and Asian peoples so we were looking forward to these Halls and had agreed to spend the time to see them even though our feet were very tired and we had another forty blocks of walking ahead of us before the end of our day.

While there is much that is fantastic in the Stout Hall (hello wedding dress from Azerbaijan) there seems to also be a hold over from a more closed off time in cultural understanding. The museum is rightly proud of the recreation of a healing ceremony performed by an Eastern Siberia Yakut shaman but around a few corners is something of which they should be quite ashamed. In a tableau which appears to be depicting the history of Isfahan in the 17th century there is a man on a flying carpet in the corner. I admit that in keeping up with a fuming mad friend I was not able to stop and read the entire label attached to this scene, but the only part of the label which could have explained this piece of the rather Aladdin-esque puzzle was that the area was known for acts of magic and romance.

Why did they do it? Why is it still there? I do not know. But, I think this in concert with the poor care shown in areas surrounding the Margaret Mead Hall of Asian Peoples we see an endemic problem in the museum community. We are not sufficiently aware that the level of care and the manner in which we keep areas up to date demonstrates to the public the respect we have for the cultures on display. As a visitor I felt that these areas were being deemed unimportant due to stereotyping in one and lack of care in the other. This is not what I want, or have other visitors, experience in a marquee name in the museum field.

Because if they do, why would they then seek out smaller museums with smaller budgets and expect different?