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December 2006

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

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The Gashlycrumb Tinies: 12/31/06

The Gashlycrumb Tinies

Ian and I are both fans of macabre humor and especially of Edward Gorey. Surprised that we didn't own a copy of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Ian bought a lovely copy for me for Christmas. I have already read it at least twice (possibly three times) and I'm seriously considering doing a series of 3D renders based on this book (one per letter). My goal isn't to reproduce the drawings or the children, just to explore the settings.

The book is short, only twenty-six pages long. Each page is a different child and a different death, usually by a stupid or self destructive method. It's in the vein of a Victorian cautionary tale except that the deaths described are so extreme to be gothic parody.

The pictures though don't actually show the deaths. The children are instead juxtaposed against an environment that at first glance looks ordinary, albeit a little off. Only little Zillah hints at death with her skull-headed doll. It is the verse at the bottom of each page that brings all the elements together to create a grizzly and delightfully surreal twenty-six line poem.

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The Straw Men: 12/30/06

The Straw Men

I got a copy of The Straw Men by Michael Marshall (Smith) back in 2004. It was a battered copy that came with a group of books found in the middle of the street outside of an apartment building. The apartment manager gave them to me not knowing what else to do with them but not having the heart to throw away a truckload of abused but readable books.

The Straw Men was a book that I've been wanting to read since I got it. The blurb at the back of the book sounded interesting and a little like the X-Files. Back in 2004 I was still buried under rings, rays and relays and just couldn't justify further delaying things by reading a book not committed to another BookCrosser. Now that I'm basically caught up (except for again having too many relays promised to other members) I have been able to read books completely for fun along with the ones that are earmarked for a specific release.

The book wasn't quite what I had hoped it would be. The mystery never quite got going. Although there are moments of extreme violence the story seems too withdrawn to actually be engaging. Then there is the problem of the odd English dialect. I don't know if I should blame the author (who is British) or the publisher (an American branch of Penguin books) for the mangled American English. Nonetheless the story is often times interrupted by the strangest turns of phrases that are somewhere between American and British English that make the horror quite laughable.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

This book promised to be scary but it never was. I never learned what fear is even though the blurb said I would. Bah. It was interesting and intriguing but never scary. It was nothing more than an over-written who done it with an ensemble cast and enough modern day references to quickly date the book.

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Steps: 400

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late: 12/29/06

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay up Late!

Sean's last Hanukkah gift was two books by Mo Willems: The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog and Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late. Parents will find this story of the pigeon who doesn't want to go to bed very funny. I think I've heard every excuse that the pigeon uses from Sean. As with the other pigeon books the narrator warns the reader about the pigeon and his need to go to bed. After he leaves, the pigeon speaks to the reader, trying to stay up as late as possible.

As Sean has his stuffed owls, the pigeon has a stuffed bunny whom he clutches throughout the book. That little detail of the favorite toy will ring true to young readers and their parents. I like these books because the lessons are presented with humor without being blatant or patronizing.

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The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog: 12/28/06

The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog

Sean's last Hanukkah gift was two books by Mo Willems: The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog and Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late. In the story of the hot dog, the pigeon reluctantly learns to share when a hungry duckling questions him about a hot dog he has found. The pigeon having found a hot dog is about to devour it when a duckling begins to pester him with the sorts of questions that children like to ask: "Does it taste like chicken?"

The duckling is like a younger child, forcing the pigeon to experience first hand what it is like to be on the receiving end of all that pestering. The duckling is either like a younger child at preschool or even a younger sibling. Without intervention from an older authority figure the two young birds are able to work things out. Reluctantly but happily the two do end up sharing the marvelous hot dog.

The artwork and lettering reflects the youth of the two characters. The birds are drawn simply and loosely. They appear to have been drawn with crayon as if drawn by a child.

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Steps: 3500

Number 9: 12/27/06

Number 9

My librarian friend and fellow Bookcrosser "lovemylife" sent me another small box of rescues from her library. Number 9: The Little Fire Engine is the other children's book from the box that I immediately had to read. Of the two books, Number 9 is the strongest story. While being a story of an old man and his anthropomorphic fire engine, it does show the dangers of fighting fires and the way in which the elements can help or hinder the fight. At one point the building actually collapses in part on the engine showing the balancing act that fire fighters must manage between the safety of others in a disaster to that of their own.

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Steps: 7000

The Little Lost Puppy: 12/26/06

The Little Lost Puppy

My librarian friend and fellow Bookcrosser "lovemylife" sent me another small box of rescues from her library. These are often times old books that have spent the last many decades on the shelves and are now ready to be retired but aren't of interest to patrons of the library book sale. She knows I love old books and will read anything. She also knows I have young children so this box had many wonderful old children's books.

Among the recent set was Little Lost Puppy, a book published when my mother just one year old. I'm pretty sure I've read the story before and maybe from a copy my mother owns. Regardless, I was thrilled to see it in the box.

The story is beautifully illustrated and follows the day of two cops in a small town who are trying to find a lost puppy. In the course of the day they find a lost bird and a lost kitten. Ultimately they find the puppy too but how they find him I won't say. I don't want to spoil the best of the story.

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Steps: 10000

On the Night of the Seventh Moon: 12/25/06

On the Night of the Seventh Moon

Victoria Holt mixes German fairy tales and Norse mythology to create this romantic suspense story. A young woman who believes in the magic of the Brothers Grimm stories comes face to face with a stronger magic, that of Loki. Has she met and married her true love or was it all a drug induced dream to cover a much darker and savage event?

Anyone familiar with the classic shell game will be able to predict the major plot points in On the Night of the Seventh Moon. While such an obvious plot may ruin things for some books, Holt is a good enough story teller to be consistently entertaining. There is nothing taxing to reading this mystery and yet the twists and turns are still satisfying.

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Steps: 3500

Russell and the Lost Treasure: 12/24/06

Russell and the Lost Treasure

Judy and Charlie gave Sean this sequel to Russell the Sheep. In Russell and the Lost Treasure, Russell learns the importance of family after having an adventure to find a hidden treasure chest. Whereas the last book was simply a silly story about the frustration of insomnia, this story is more sentimental.

Russell doesn't find valuable treasure. Instead he finds a camera and a blank photograph album. He decides to make the best of it by filling the pages with photographs of the other sheep. Through Russell's photography we learn about the other sheep and their relation to Russell. The sheep stop being just background elements as they are in the first book and become individuals with their own likes and dislikes. They are Russell's family and the memories he captures in his book becomes his "treasure."

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Steps: 3500

Encyclopedia Brown Strikes Again: 12/23/06

Encyclopedia Brown Strikes Again

Of the four Encyclopedia Brown books I've read so far, Encyclopedia Brown Strikes Again is my least favorite. Leroy's motivation for solving these crimes is unclear and at times he seems to be doing it just for greed or other equally obnoxious reasons. There is one mystery where Leroy stalks his friend Sally out of jealousy. It isn't cute; it's creepy.

Then there is the lengthy vacation with the Browns where Leroy and the rest of us have to listen to the local lore and then solve some ancient mysteries. These have no immediacy and just come off as long boring tales that managed to put me to sleep before I got to the question at the end.

There is only one good mystery in this book, a classic locked room mystery. How does one swap a glass of ice for a glass of ginger ale without making a noise?

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Steps: 3500

Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues: 12/22/06

Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues

Of the four Encyclopedia Brown books I've read so far, Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues is my favorite. The mysteries are interesting, believable and easy to figure out. I was able to read the book in the course of about an hour and it was a fun hour.

These mysteries involve simple riddles, the sort of thing one could expect a child of Leroy Brown's age to be able to solve. Other books concentrate too much on Brown's intellect and his personality. Those other books make Brown seem like an obsessive spoiled and unlikable brat; he can be like The Great Brain minus the conscience of a younger brother to keep him in line.

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Steps: 10000

Animal Kisses: 12/21/06

Animal Kissses

Harriet is three and a half months old and already she has a little library of her own. Animal Kisses is her latest book, a gift from Judy and Charlie. As with books designed for young children, it is comprised of bright colors, bold line drawings, repetition of themes and tactile experiences.

Animal Kisses has a different animal on every pair of pages. For each animal the reader is asked if he would like to kiss this animal. The question includes a tactile aspect. For example: "Do you like scratchy cat kisses?" The other animal kisses offered are a cow, dog, bear, fish and pig. Like so many of these books, the last page tries to include the reader in the story; this time it does it by asking "What kind of kisses do you like best?"

Although the book is run of the mill, Sean and Harriet both like the book. While Harriet right now likes the bright colors, Sean has been enjoying reading the book to her and sometimes to me.

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Steps: 10000

Pokémon 2000: 12/20/06

Pokemon 2000

Sean has been watching every single Pokémon movie he can get his hands on at our local video store. "Texaswren" a Bookcrossing friend knows Sean likes Pokémon and sent him two books, one of which is the adaptation of Pokémon 2000. I read the book this weekend while Sean was "following" Isabel the crocodile hunter.

Pokémon 2000 is clearly designed for young readers with its limited vocabulary and large, clear font but it also has some important pages for clueless parents of young pokémon trainers, namely a seventeen page introduction to the world, the characters and the various pokémon types. After that the story unfolds pretty much as it is shown on screen, though simplified. The book chooses to stick more closely with Ash than the film does so some scenes from the film are missing in the book. It also includes some nice color stills from the movie.

Overall I enjoyed the book and Sean has enjoyed it as well. The story is short enough for Sean to sit through with enough words he recognizes for him to help with the reading and yet it is complex enough to keep him interested.

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Steps: 10000

The Tokaido Road: 12/19/06

Tokaido Road

The Tokaido Road was the main connecting highway between Japan's two capitals: Tokyo and Kyoto. The novel of the same name takes place on that same highway as "Cat" flees after the poisoning of one of her clients and goes in search of Oishi, her only hope in avenging the death of her father and clearing her own name. Along the way she must fight off agents of Lord Kira but she will find help in the most unlikely of places.

If that's not enough, she's also a noblewoman in disguise and trained in various arts and fighting techniques. It sounds exciting but it is too over-written. It reads like fan fiction of any of a number of anime series except that so much detail is thrown in that even the fight scenes take a long time to read and therefore seem to go in slow motion. Robson clearly did enough research to know the Japanese terms for all the things she's describing but she writes her book assuming an audience ignorant of Japanese culture and so she wastes extra words on describing simple things rather than just naming them.

There is also the problem of what exactly Cat knows and what she doesn't. She knows how to fight like a samurai and how to disguise herself like a dirt poor man but she doesn't have any concept of money or other basic survival techniques. She seems to randomly forget what things are or how the world works to give the author a vehicle for further info dumping in the form of flowery descriptions or melodramatic dialogue.

Here's my BookCrossing Review:

I have to stop reading historical fiction, especially those based around actual people rather than just set in a certain time period; they just bug me. I got so tired of wading through all the lengthy descriptions of the different Japanese costumes. Good lord, just call them by what they are actually called, put a dictionary in the back of the book and move on. Please no more lengthy descriptions of what every single Japanese meal tastes like! Please no more haiku (even if it is written by a Master)! Please no more random use of Japanese words when 90% of what people are saying is in English; or at least be consistent . If every other major character's name is kept in Japanese (albeit transliterated), then leave the main character's in transliterated Japanese. Her name isn't Cat; it's Neko.

My final thoughts on this book; save yourself the trouble of slogging through every detail and watch some anime instead (subbed, not dubbed). You'll learn just as much and probably be better entertained.

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Steps: 15000

An Acquaintance with Darkness: 12/18/06

An Acquaintance with Darkness

The American Civil War has been inspiration for a number of ghost stories, romances and mysteries but until An Acquaintance with Darkness, I can't recall reading a Gothic horror set in this era, especially one set in Washington D.C. Gothic horrors usually takes place in New England, the birthplace of the American version of the genre. Even Stephen King keeps up the tradition by setting most of his novels in or near Maine. When reading this political thriller about the assassination of Lincoln, I was a little put off by the inclusion of various Gothic elements (body snatching, night flowers, strange servants, etc.) into the story. In fact it was this waffling between genres (thriller and horror) that ultimately put me off the book completely. It could never settle on which genre it was and the two were never properly woven together into a coherent story.

Here's my BookCrossing review:

The set up was great; a nice combination of historical fiction and suspense but the pay off disappointed me. Valentine's actions are neither justified nor horrific enough to make him the villain of the story. He just sort of is and his motivations are never fully explained nor are his odd assortment of characters living and working with him. They are just there to be Gothic trapments and that's not enough.

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Steps: 5000

Daddy and Me: 12/17/06

Daddy and Me

At the last BookCrossing meeting I picked up Daddy and Me from the Dublin library cart for Sean and Harriet to share. Sean likes it because he can read many of the words and because he likes the pictures of these children playing with their fathers. What I like best about this short book is that these photographs are clearly of actual fathers and their children. Boys and girls are equally represented so that it's not just a book for infant or toddler boys only. The color photography is bold and engaging. Each page has a gerund illustrated: swinging, shaving, banging, buttoning, strumming and the like.

Two pages bother me a little only because they aren't relevant to our particular family: the shaving and banging. Beards or at least mustaches are such a feature among the men in this family that I'm not sure Sean has any concept of what shaving is. The "banging" page shows father and child banging away on a set of pots and pans spread out on the floor. I would have liked to have seen "cooking" illustrated as well as Ian and Sean both love to cook.

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Steps: 5000

Picture Me Numbers: 12/16/06

Picture Me Numbers

At the last BookCrossing meeting I picked up two cute (and unregistered) books in the "Picture Me" series.

Picture Me Numbers shows babies in different animal costumes. Where the baby's face should be, there is a cut-out. At the back of the book there is a spot to slide in a photograph of one's child. Sean has asked that I use his face for the numbers book (although right now the image shows what it looks like with Harriet's face). He says Harriet can have the other book (colors).

The book covers numbers one through ten. Each facing page covers two numbers (1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and so on). The odd numbers are illustrated with the babies in costume and the odd numbers with inanimate objects. There is an underlying unfairness to this book as one baby in each section ends up with an extra item than everyone else. Fortunately for the babies involved, the items were added in as drawings and probably none of the babies worked together in the same photo shoot but it still comes off as appearing unfair in print. The costumes pictured are bumble bees, kittens, dalmatian puppies, flowers, and bears.

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Steps: 10000

Picture Me Colors: 12/15/06

Picture Me Colors

At the last BookCrossing meeting I picked up two cute (and unregistered) books in the "Picture Me" series. Picture Me Colors shows a baby in a different colored costume. Where the baby's face should be, there is a cut-out. At the back of the book there is a spot to slide in a photograph of one's child. As these are babies, I've chosen to use Harriet's face even though I got the books mostly for Sean. I tried Sean's face first but his face looks too old for these baby photographs.

The colors covered are orange, blue, yellow, green and white. The costumes include pumpkins, tigers, flowers, dinosaurs, bumble bees, chickens, monsters, cats and bunnies. The costumes are cute and the babies (some of them have their faces) appear happy but the costumes aren't as quite cute as the Tom Arma books.

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Steps: 10000

The Little Green Caterpillar: 12/14/06

The Little Green Caterpillar

Before Sean's two "rough days" at school he brought home The Little Green Caterpillar to read. It is one of the books that Miss Christina is using to teach from for the younger class (2 to 3 1/2 year olds). She said Sean could borrow it but he had to bring it back in the morning. Fortunately he remembered the next morning to take it back school.

The Little Green Caterpillar is translated from a French children's book and is very similar to The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle except that the caterpillar doesn't come off as such a glutton as the one in the Carle book. Rather than making the story about how much the caterpillar eats, Hooker makes it about the different kinds of things the caterpillar eats and the different creatures he meets before making his cocoon. Of the two books, I much prefer The Little Green Caterpillar as it seems to take a healthier approach to the story of eating and growing up.

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Steps: 7000

My Little Opposites Book: 12/13/06

My Little Opposites Book

Who can resist a book with a giant green dinosaur on the cover? In the case of My Little Opposites Book it was the dinosaur that attracted Sean over the summer. He picked it up at one of the BookCrossing meetings from the library discard shelf that the Dublin public library maintains at the Starbuck's where we meet. From the wear and tear on the book it was clearly a favorite among many young readers. Now that he's reading, he likes it because it's one of the few books he can read to himself with no help. He even has read it to me a few times.

I like it for its bold colors, big shapes and use of gradients to define the shapes. All of the drawings have that same happy and friendly expression that the dinosaur has. It gives the feel that all the characters are enjoying being in the book. With all the smiling its hard not smile while reading the book even though it's just a simple list of opposites.

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Steps: 10000

The Top of the World: 12/12/06

The Top of the World

It's a topsy-turvy world when one can be at the top of the world in South Africa and that's the central theme of Ethel M. Dell's romance The Top of the World. The book appears to be a simple romance (girl pines over boy and finally gets boy) and goes as far as to have a giant heart on its cover. It is anything but a simple romance (at least of the sort that were popular at the turn of the last century). It could be described as a proto-bodice ripper. The bodice ripper is mostly an invention of the 1970s but this romance has all the trappings of one (minus the pink and suggestively illustrated cover).

The novel dances a fine line along a number of more conventional plot lines but whenever the heroine (Sylvia) should do the obvious thing, she does something completely unexpected. Does she stay at home to pine over her lost love? No! She goes after him. Does she go home when she can't find her lost love? No. She takes a marriage of convenience. Does she honor and obey her new husband? Decidedly no!

Curious to see how much an aberrationThe Top of the World is for this era of book (it was published in 1920) I did a search on the author, Ethel M. Dell. According to Wikipedia she had a hard time getting published because her first book (like all the others, I suspect) was so unconventional (especially for a female author). She did finally find a publisher and once it sold, she made quite a career from writing. She was eventually able to support herself and her husband on the money she made from writing (some £30,000 a year).

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Steps: 7000

The Spider King: 12/11/06

The Spider King

At the start of this year I joined a BookCrossing challenge to read and release books I had gotten from other members. For them to count towards the challenge I would have to read the entire book. So far this year I've been really good about finishing books I've started. Regular readers of this site (or feed) will know that I've also taken to posting a review for every book I've read.

The Spider King is one of those exceptions to the rule. I gave up on it after only 45 pages of about 300. It's a "biographical novel" of Louis XI but I didn't manage to stick with the book long enough to actually learn anything new about Louis XI.

I knew I was in trouble when I reached chapter two. It was nothing more than an incredibly flowery list of Louis's ancestors, visiting as ghosts as the prince is being born. It was a ham fisted way of introducing a character and the concept of the "divine right of kings."

From there the book went on some sort of long winded tangent involving the war with England, various nobles and a child's birth keep secret from his own mother. It didn't help that the book kept throwing characters into the story without any sort of introduction; a dramatis personae or a family tree would have been useful. So after a week of having managed to read all sorts of other books rather than this "biographical novel" I decided to set it aside.

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Steps: 5000

The Bunnies' Counting Book: 12/10/06

The Bunnies' Counting Book

I picked up The Bunnies' Counting Book for Sean over the summer, probably at BookCrossing but now that Sean's starting to read and is learning large numbers at preschool, this book is back in our rotation of books to read.

The book follows a baby bunny and her family as they meet for a family reunion picnic. The protagonist is the baby of the family (one little bunny). From there her siblings are introduced until her entire immediate family comes into the story (numbers one through ten). On their way to the picnic the story introduces numbers eleven through fifteen. From there the rest of the family arrives and the book moves from counting by ones to counting first by fives and then by tens until there are 50 bunnies present for the picnic.

I like this story for a number of reasons. First it does a good job of introducing counting small numbers and large numbers along with the concept of counting by multiples in a way that is neither too difficult nor heavy handed. It also introduces the concept of the extended family (brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandmother, grandfather, cousins) thus giving Sean and me something to talk about just before he will be seeing his aunts, uncles and grandparents for the holidays. Finally, the illustrations are cute and colorful.

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Steps: 5000

Watch Me Grow Kitten: 12/09/06

Watch Me Grow Kitten

Fate put this book into my hands. The Sunday after Thanksgiving we stopped at a rest stop to change Harriet and to give me a chance to stretch my legs as my coccyx was really bothering me. As Sean and Ian were in the restroom and I was bouncing Harriet around, I saw a copy of Watch Me Grow Kitten sitting on the top of a trash can in one of the picnic table shelters. Hoping it could be a BookCrossing release and worried that it would be ruined in the rain storm that had just started, I snagged the book. As it turns out, it wasn't a BookCrossing book, so someone must have forgotten it at the rest stop.

Anyway, Kitten, is one of a series of DK books that cover the life cycle of different animals. Most of these sort of baby animal books seem to cover only that baby animals are cute and that they eventually grow up. This book is the first one I've read that hints at the biology behind making babies and even includes photographs of a pregnant cat and the same cat later nursing her litter of kittens.

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Steps: 5000

Slide 'N' Seek Shapes: 12/07/06

Slide 'N' Seek Shapes

If Sean knew how to write, I'd have him write the review of Slide 'N' Seek Shapes as he's the one who has been reading it to me. Sure, there are a few words here and there that I have had to help him with but the bulk of the book he has read to me and Harriet. It's a book he is currently borrowing from school. He likes it for the pull out tabs that reveal a drawing of an object that illustrates the shape drawn on the page. The shapes included are: circle, square, triangle, rectangle, oval, heart and diamond.

While the illustrations are as simple and straightforward as the limited vocabulary used in this book, they are still beautifully drawn. Rather that use solid colors for the shapes, each one has a subtle gradient to give it more pop. The real world objects are drawn in greater detail than the shapes so that they stand out. The illustrations included are: a tricycle, a quilt, a watermelon, a triangle instrument, a valentine and a kite.

I like that the book throws in some words that Sean doesn't know straight away to give him something new to work on. He has learned "quilt" and "valentine" while reading this book to me.

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Steps: 7000

Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace: 12/07/06

Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace

The Encyclopedia Brown books remind me of The Tuesday Club Murders by Agatha Christie except aimed at elementary school aged readers. Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace has ten short capers (each about seven pages long). Each chapter ends with a challenge to the reader to solve the case. These mysteries are more a case of reading comprehension than actual sleuthing. The solutions to the case are often times too simplistic.

For example, one of the capers ends with a character being disqualified because he did some darkroom trickery on his photograph and therefore couldn't win the photography prize. Most photography contests have a category for composite work but the story never fully states whether or not this contest does as well. The story would have been better if it had included something about the character being in the nonfiction category where composite work or double exposures couldn't be used.

Another caper that got under my skin was the fault of the book being dated more than anything. The clue centers around Palestine and the solution given in the back of the book basically says that it can't be Palestine because it's not a real country. Palestine's unfortunate status is not the point of the clue. The fact that the other places named were cities was clue enough. Where is Palestine a city and not a country (or former country or whatever it is depending on the political situation du jour)?

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Steps: 10000

California Girl: 12/06/06

California Girl

California Girl is a period piece wrapped in a detective novel. It takes place in Orange County (Tustin and Laguna) starting the late 1950s and ending at the close of the century. The bulk of the story is in the 1960s at a time when Orange county was losing its orange groves, America was at war in Viet Nam, LSD and marijuana were drugs of choice and baby boomers were practicing free love.

Some reviewers on Amazon have complained that the book has too many white characters and the Civil Rights movement is never mentioned. In Parker's defense that area was predominantly white and was until recently. That the characters never discuss the Civil Rights movement is in keeping with the character of the area.

Another comment I saw on Amazon was the repeated mentioning of modern forensic tools. I didn't mind them because they drew attention to just how difficult solving a crime can be and to the possibility that the wrong person can be convicted on inconclusive evidence. The story was more interesting that the typical who-done-it where the evidence lines up like a perfect trail to the criminal.

There is just one problem with the story; the identity of the actual criminal. The person behind the murder of Janelle Vonn is the most obvious person. Although with the recent scandals among various Republican lawmakers, I had to chuckle at life almost imitating art.

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Steps: 10000

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus: 12/05/06

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Sean introduced us to Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. It's a popular book; his last day care had a copy and his current preschool has a copy. I have to admit that I was a little put off by the title before I saw the book. It just seemed like such a nonsense title, to the point that it actually irritated me. But one thing I've learned from Sean is to trust him on book recommendations. He really has a good eye and ear for books. My mom then gave Sean a copy for his birthday and I fell in love with the book.

The story is like one of those typical parent / kid conversations that I have on a daily basis with Sean. It's a playful dialogue between the pigeon and the reader after the bus driver asks the reader to watch his bus and to not let the pigeon drive it while he's gone. The pigeon for the remainder of the book tries all sorts excuses to cajole the reader into letting him drive the bus. Each reason is sillier than the next. Of course, the pigeon doesn't get a chance to drive the bus before the driver returns. But there's always that truck over there...

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Steps: 10000

Mouse Tales: 12/04/06

Among Whytraven's books was an Arnold Lobel book I haven't read before: Mouse Tales. There are seven short tales, all involving mice, and bookended by a father mouse who is telling these stories to his children at bed time, one per child. The seven stories included are: The Wishing Well, Clouds, Very Tall Mouse and Very Short Mouse, The Mouse and the Winds, The Journey, The Old Mouse, and The Bath. Of the seven, my favorite is The Wishing Well as it takes an unusual and humorous approach to the usual wishing well story. The most disturbing of the stories is The Journey because it involves replacement feet. Knowing Sean, I think his favorite will be The Bath because of the absurd bath/flood the little mouse creates just to get clean.

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Steps: 5000

The Stepford Wives: 12/03/06

The Stepford Wives

Ira Levin's Stepford Wives, a story that has inspired two films and entered the lexicon is little more than a long novella. It comes in around 30,000 words and therefore wouldn't even qualify for a winning Nanowrimo entry. It's the sort of thriller where no words are wasted; the narrative is more like a transcript of someone telling a story than a well crafted narration. It can be read in about ninety minutes and even with knowing the punchline (or being able to figure it out) it is still a very satisfying read.

I love Levin's books. They are in my "go-to" pile when I need something both creepy and humorous at the same time. My husband says the book doesn't seem plausible (probably because he's so much like the geeks who turn against their wives). His main complaint is: "If they had the sex bots at the club, doesn't it seem superfluous to off their wives at home?" But that's part of the book's cheesy charm. Only one family per month ever moves into Stepford, so clearly the men are being recruited. They want to replace their wives long before they come to Stepford.

The edition I read ends with a short essay by Peter Straub who analyzes the book's origins against the time when it was written when Betty Friedan's The Feminist Mystique was nine years old and probably owned by most twenty to thirty-something women and the equal rights amendment had passed congress only to be stalled in the state ratification process (though its looking like it might now be poised to pass). Was Levin writing a social satire akin to Swift's A Modest Proposal or was he writing a parody of the NOW movement? Yes. I think that the news of the day (the opening of Disney World, ERA, the closing of the space race, etc) came together to inspire a story that was fun to write and now fun to read. That it inspires discussion: all the better.

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Steps: 3500

Measure for Measure: 12/02/06

I rounded out the month of November by reading Measure for Measure, a comedy by Shakespeare that was among the books I am registering and releasing for Whytraven. I was initially going to comment on how few Shakespeare play's I've either read or seen performed only to realize that when I counted them off, I've actually seen or read more than I originally thought. Nonetheless, I still find the Bard's work difficult to read (I know; they're meant to be performed not read!) but sometimes that's the only option.

Measure for Measure can best be described as Romeo and Juliet but with a happy ending. Or perhaps the sequel to Romeo and Juliet if the two hadn't taken such drastic measures (ha-ha!) at the end. In fact, the woman whose lover is short for this world is named Juliet and the play is once more set in Italy (though this time in Venice).

The play pokes fun at sex in and out of marriage and the "oldest profession" but beyond all the bawdy jokes, is a cautionary tale against morality based government. Juliet's lover, Claudio, is soon to be hanged for getting Juliet pregnant. It's an old law on the books, not enforced for ages until the Duke hands over the city to his would-be successor.

As I read the play I couldn't help but think of the current president and the GOP and their catering to the religious right. The recent scandals that are too numerous to list here are echoed in Angelo's inability to follow the law that he is so eager to enforce against Claudio. So while the play may have been written at the turn of the seventeenth century, it is still relevant and on topic.

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Steps: 11000

Russell the Sheep

Russell the Sheep: 12/01/06

I completely relate to Russell the Sheep. He's a sheep with a simple goal: to get a good night's sleep. He does everything he can to fall asleep: he wears a hat to keep his head warm, he puts the hat over his eyes to make it darker, he tries ear plugs, he moves to a different spot, and so on. Then in the morning none of the other sheep understand why he's still in bed or why he's so groggy later.

If I were a sheep, I'd be Russell. So many nights I end up pacing the halls, trying to sleep on the couch upstairs, meditation and even, counting sheep. I even wear a night cap to bed, though not as fanciful a one as Russell's: mine is black.

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Steps: 7000

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