Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Review: Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman

The Audible Publisher's Summary:
Failed academic Frank Nichols and his wife, Eudora, have arrived in the sleepy Georgia town of Whitbrow, where Frank hopes to write a history of his family's old estate - the Savoyard Plantation - and the horrors that occurred there. At first, the quaint, rural ways of their new neighbors seem to be everything they wanted. But there is an unspoken dread that the townsfolk have lived with for generations. A presence that demands sacrifice. It comes from the shadowy woods across the river, where the ruins of Savoyard still stand. Where a longstanding debt of blood has never been forgotten. A debt that has been waiting patiently for Frank Nichols's homecoming...

An accidental find - I had queued Rosamund Lupton's Sister as my next listen, but at the last minute found Christopher Buehlman's debut novel "Those Across the River". I found the publisher's description intriguing - but also pretty lacking in depth. A few important notes (no spoilers) that ought to have been in the above summary:
  • The novel takes place in rural Georgia, following WWI where Frank served in France. Frank still has nightmares of his time in France and he's hoping to leave those nightmares in Chicago.
  • Frank's maternal grandfather was General Savoyard - a plantation owner, a slave owner, a general and a pretty shitty excuse for a human being. When slaves were freed following the civil war Frank held onto his slaves, tortured them, committed Nazi-like atrocities until he was killed by his slaves.
  • Whitbrow Georgia is a pretty backward, uneducated place - hillbillies, ignorance, racism, good 'ol boys are all prevelant in Whitbrow.

    Those Across the River is original and intriguing. The plot twists aren't entirely a surprise as the truth of the woods and the woodland creatures are revealed, but there are certainly a few moments where I think "huh, I didn't expect that". Mr Buehlman is not Stephen King, this is not an edge of your seat scream out loud novel. What it is, is an enjoyable novel start to finish that I would read (or listen to) again.

    Narrator Mark Bramhall  (The Magicians, The Magician King, Skeletons at the Feast, etc) is rapidly becoming one of my favorite audible narrators. There are some production errors in the audiobook version with some sentences just breaking off - like a word was just cropped out, or as though the narrator skips a breath between passages or there was a scratch on the CD (the latter not possible due to my mode of listening - iphone/audible app), but in large part the quality of the novel and narration makes up for the marginal production quality.

    Those Across the River was written by Christopher Buehlman and published by Penguin Audio. Those Across the River was released on September 6th, 2011 and has a runtime of 9 hours 5 minutes.
  • Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    A few from today....

    {SIGH}...not the right lens tonight. I took the boys to the school for a romp and had the shorter range lense with me - great for close-ups. Not so great for dogs zooming around...


    Ring around the play yard?

    Goofball pic - Not sure what Teller is looking at all goober-lippy (maybe the screaming herd of soccer kids on the adjoining field?) Kipling is offering "put yer head down".

    And of course Woo had to jump over stuff - cause he can :-)

    Photographic Experimentation

    I bought a new camera, it arrived last night not really enough time to play with it before dark, so first light this morning I was out seeing what I could get for shots. I went around and around - Canon DSLR or Nikon DSLR? The camera offerings from both in my price range weren't quite what I wanted. I really wanted to be able to get decent action shots of the dogs, as well as decent portrait and nature shots. I ended up with the Pentax K-r from Costco. The ISO range, the FPS and the online reviews were really quite good. Feature for feature the Pentax looked like the biggest bang for my camera buck - The package from Costco included a camera bag, the camera body, a couple of lenses and an SD card (which annoyingly arrives separately from the camera).

    Here's the review that sold me on the Pentax:

    You'll all have to bear with me as I work out the features of the new toy. A baby step here and there. Hopefully you'll appreciate the patience of my subjects :-) All images are thumbnailed - click on images for larger versions.

    From this morning which I think is largely the right lens with the wrong ISO:

    And then this afternoon - much better light. ISO set to 200:

    Love independent weaves! Makes photographing one's own dog possible!

    Wrong ISO here - shooting towards the setting sun and in the shade. I do like the effect though.

    Kipling's turn! Thanks for your help Jill!

    Teller as captured by Jill.

     Strummer - an honorary golden for the day

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    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    Tuesday Training - September 27th, 2011

    A glorious fall day to play agility. I went out with my new camera to play with settings (haven't gone through them yet!) and to work Teller a bit in agility. Here's what we set up (and yes, that weave entry was just like that - and the dogs NAILED it, Teller nailed it with my layering #9:

    Monday, September 26, 2011

    Kipling at 23 weeks (and the big boys too).

    I'm smack in the middle of my first cold in three years and boy, this one has smacked me for a loop. On the mend I think, but all the stuff that needs to get done STILL needs to get done and today the boys needed to be groomed and trimmed. First up was Murphy - who INSISTED that he got to be first. For Murphy it's not about the grooming, it's about the cheese!

    9/26 - Murphy - Kodak z981
    9/26 - Murphy - Kodak z981
    Next up was Teller - who enjoys the grooming as much as the cheese - though his favorite part of the process is the photo-op.

    9/26 - Teller - Kodak z981
    9/26 - Teller - Kodak z981
    Then after a round of cold medicine and a bowl of chicken soup (for strength) it was Kipling's turn - who for his age is a pretty professional grooming victim.

    9/26 - Kipling - Kodak z981 
    9/26 - Kipling - Kodak z981 

    9/26 - Kipling - Kodak z981 
    9/26 - Kipling - Kodak z981 

    9/26 - Kipling - Kodak z981 

    9/26 - Kipling - Kodak z981 
    And THEN, before anyone got puppy spit all over their head, it was time for a portrait!
    9/26 - Murphy, Kipling and Teller - Kodak z981 

    9/26 - Murphy, Kipling and Teller - Kodak z981 

    9/26 - Murphy, Kipling and Teller - Kodak z981
    Kipling says "enough with the posing, I'm bored"

    Saturday, September 24, 2011

    When is it OK to give a puppy more freedom?

    Inspired by a feature on NBC's Today Show this week - when is it OK to give kids more freedom? Marginally interesting that 59% of parents think 13 years old is an OK age to bring a cellphone to school, and 44% would send a child home to an empty house at 12 years old (16% think it's OK to send a 10 year old home alone. For what it's worth, I came home to an empty house when I was in 3rd grade (approximately 8 years old), I seem to have grown up OK - did I mention that I walked home 1.5 miles home from school by myself too?
    Murphy is all too willing to demonstrate bad behavior.

    What does this mean for puppies? In my opinion most puppies are routinely given too much freedom from the start - meaning that a lot of owners are forced to work a whole lot harder (and have a lot more to start) to 'fix' bad habits and behaviors than the time it's have taken to add some boundaries to a puppy's routine.

    Puppies are cute and at 9-12 weeks (maybe a bit longer) they sleep well, they aren't all that active most of the time and owners are far more diligent about keeping eyes on puppies when they're hip deep in housebreaking. But what happens afterwards?

    The two things I'm called on the most to 'fix' in my private lessons with dog owners are self-rewarding behaviors mainly counter surfing (incredibly self rewarding) and chasing cats, children, etc (also BIG fun). Counter surfing has the potential to be very dangerous when dogs ingest things that are poisonous, toxic or non-digestible. Chasing cats (other dogs, kids, cars) is dangerous for the cat even if the intent of the dog or puppy is play with most dogs outweighing most cats.

    Both of these behaviors could have been in large part prevented early on in the training process before they become an issue. In my program puppies wear a leash in the house until they are about 6 months old. Sometimes younger, sometimes older. An awful lot depends on the owner and how diligent they are with boundaries and also setting and maintaining restrictions. I find that I can have my puppies out and about in a limited area (one or two rooms) and with my full attention on them when they're about 5 months old, but until that point they're dragging leashes.

    When the leash comes off is dependent on two pretty key training milestones and a lifeskill. The first training milestone is a recall. If you're in the house (relatively low distractions) and I say your name you are to present yourself to me on the first call (not using the word come mind-you) every time - without delay. I'll always reward this recall with something - a young puppy with get food (typically something really good) and an older puppy might get food, play or some attention/scratches/pats. In every case a recall earns praise as well.
    An on-leash puppy Teller chills with Q.

    The second milestone is an incompatible behavior to whatever it is that they're really like to do. If they'd really like to chase the kitty - I'd like to have a solid 'down' from a distance anywhere in the house - also rewarded with something - usually food with a young puppy and progressing to play/attention for older puppies when they make the right decisions.

    With Kipling, this milestone came when the cat (who is not an innocent party in cat chasing around here) ran up to Kipling, 'murrr'ed' and ran away. Kipling looked at the cat, took a step towards the cat, paused, turned around and laid down (he was jack-potted for that decision).

    The life skill is settling off-leash. Exist in space with the other dogs without constant play, bitey face, wrestling - no scoping for things to pick up, no orbiting the space looking for something to do, just settle down with or without a bone and just be still.

    Here's the Today Show link:

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

    The Publisher's Summary:
    The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

    But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

    Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart. 
    From Audrey Niffenegger (Author of "The Time Traveler's Wife"):
    "The Night Circus made me happy. Playful and intensely imaginative, Erin Morgenstern has created the circus I have always longed for, and she has populated it with dueling love-struck magicians, precocious kittens, hyper-elegant displays of beauty, and complicated clocks. This is a marvelous book."

    An instant selling point for me was the Narrator. Jim Dale was the voice of Harry Potter - all seven novels - all 120 hours of Harry Potter novels. Mr Dale's production of the Harry Potter series is a bar to which I hold all audiobooks up to. I'm reasonably sure that Mr. Dale could make a narrated version of War and Peace riveting and magical. That being said, even though it's been years since I listened to the Harry Potter series, I was initially very distracted by Harry's narrator to the detriment of The Night Circus.The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern deserves to be judged on it's own merits though - and it's worthy of standing alone. The novel shifts between time-periods: Various dates in the past, to the present and back to the past again. In audiobook format I had a hard time following the shifts in time (unclear if this is a product of fragmented listening, the audio format or the writing of the novel). As a result I ended up listening to this novel twice because I didn't think I could review it fairly after the first listen. The potential was there from the beginning and I had to determine if the threads could be woven together neatly.

    The second listen was significantly better than the first with the concepts tying up neatly. I appreciated the characters more on the second listen - picking up depth and humanity I'd missed the first time through. Don't misunderstand me, the first listen was enjoyable - it is no Harry Potter, the similarities end with Jim Dale, the storyline is somewhat predictable, with a contest that can have but one victor from two sympathetic and likable characters. but the effort to get from beginning to end was enjoyable. The concept of The Night Circus is original, the writing above-average and the narration superb.

    In the end I'll recommend The Night Circus - 3.5/4.0 on a 5 point scale. If The Night Circus is 'your kind' of fiction you'll probably love it - If your curiosity isn't piqued by the publisher's summary, you probably won't enjoy the novel. That being said, I think that The Night Circus is a perfect young adult novel - one PG-13 sex scene, no violence a nice tidy ending.

    The Night Circus was written by Erin Morgenstern and narrated by Jim Dale. The Night Circus was published by Random House Audio. The Night Circus was released in hardcover and audiobook format on 9/13/2011 and has a runtime of 13 hours 39 minutes.