Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, & Other Typographical Marks

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by Keith Houston

Published 2013

So I actually really like punctuation.  I’m not going to claim to be a punctuation genius (although a misplaced apostrophe – or lack of one when needed – does make me cringe and die a little inside), but I honestly find it fascinating.  Why do we have it?  How did we get it?  Who wrote the first question mark?  Heady questions, my friends!

While Eat, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss is still my favorite punctuation book (mainly because the subtitle, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation is brilliant), Shady Characters was a great deal of fun.  Although Houston lacks Truss’s cutting humor, he definitely made the history of pilcrows, hashtags, interrobangs, and more quite readable.  Passing over everyday commoners, like periods, commas, and the like, Houston focuses on more obscure (and some virtually unused) items on our keyboard, discussing history, development, and usage of various typographical marks.

Possibly my favorite discovery in this book is that the hashtag (#) was used in computer language to indicate that the rest of that line of code was unnecessary or superfluous notes – and suddenly the usage of # for tagging everything makes perfect sense. #stuffeveryoneelseprobablyalreadyknows

There were also a decent number of pictures in this book, and the photos of old manuscripts and the like with ancestors of some of the punctuation we use today were pretty nifty.

All in all, this book was a pleasant and intriguing journey through the history of some of our more obscure punctuation marks, and some that I wish we used more often (or at all).  If you’re a grammar geek, or someone who simply enjoys non-fiction on random topics (or both, like me!), Shady Characters may be the read for you.

Alex O’Donnell and the Forty Cyber Thieves

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by Regina Doman

Published 2010

I was quite sleep-deprived when I posted last night, so hopefully that entry made as least a modicum of sense.  Don’t ask me why I posted a picture of Gypsy Jack; I really have no idea.

Alex O’Donnell is the fifth installment of Doman’s Fairy Tales Retold series, and was definitely my favorite.  Alex, whom we first met in Waking Rosehas finished college and is heading home while he decides what to do next.  He’s been dating one of Rose’s friends, Kateri (the crazy activist one), but Kateri, unknown to Alex, has decided that this relationship just isn’t going to work out in the long run.  When Alex invites Kateri to come visit his family, she decides it will be the perfect opportunity to break up with him in person.

However, when she gets there, the O’Donnells are nothing like she’s expected, and life gets complicated fast.  Alex’s dad has accidentally received a large sum of money – and events go haywire from there.

First off, I have to say that this book isn’t super realistic, but at the same time, it’s plausible (even if not probable), and that keeps the story going.  The O’Donnells are fantastic, and I actually ended up feeling like Kateri wasn’t good enough for Alex (about my only real gripe with this book was that it really felt like Kateri expected Alex to do all the changing to make their relationship work instead of acknowledging that they both had weaknesses that they needed to work through).  If you’re interesting in ninjas, sword-fighting, computer-hacking, or running your own hotel, this is definitely a book for you.

Although this story fits with the others – Rose and Fish even make a brief appearance – it can definitely be read as a stand-alone.  There are religious themes throughout, but it’s not a preachy book.  Doman does a fantastic job tailoring her modern story to fit the original Ali Baba, and the snippets of the original tale at the beginning of each chapter of this book really tie things together.

All in all, this book is a rollicking adventure that I definitely recommend.  4/5.