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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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Canadian Book Challenge: 2019-2020



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Scarface Claw: 08/30/07

Scarface Claw

Judy and Charlie brought back a small pile of adorable children's book from their recent trip abroad. Scarface Claw is another of those books.

Scarface is your typical bad boy tom. He's big; he's mean and he's territorial. He will growl and hiss at any cat and any dog (including the dogs from Hairy Maclarry from Donaldson's Dairy). Scarface isn't scared of anyone... except... himself!

Scarface has more of Dodd's humor and adorable illustrations. Scarface while scary to the dogs and cats of the story is rather cute in all his posturing. He's probably a big old lap cat when he's down prowling at the end of the day.

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Seeing in the Dark: 08/29/07

Seeing in the dark

Seeing in the Dark is a short but dense series of essays on different aspects of amateur astronomy. Each chapter is a different topic or a different experience from Timothy Ferris's life.

Ferris begins his fascinating book by describing how he got hooked on astronomy as a child. He includes a loving review of an older science book: A Child's Geography of the World by V. M. Hillyer. I was so excited by his review of his childhood favorite, that I bought a copy for myself!

Seeing in the Dark took me longer than I expected to read. It's full of so many interesting details and facts that I had to savor each chapter. One of my favorite bits was his meeting with Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997), the man who discovered Pluto. Apparently the Smithsonian asked him for the telescope he used to make the discovery. Tombaugh turned down their request. Why? He was still using it!

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Crewel World: 08/29/07

Crewel World

Crewel World is the first in the Needlecraft Mystery series and probably the last one I'll read. It's supposedly a cozy mystery but I found it one of the most depressing books I've read this year. Usually in a cozy the death of a character isn't the focus of the book except to provide impetus for the main character to solve the crime. Here, though, the tragedy of the death was the central focus for a large chunk of the novel.

Roughly speaking, Crewel World is divided into thirds. The first third introduces the characters, especially the sisters: Margot and Betsy and the town of Excelsior, Minnesota. The second and most depressing third focuses on Margot's death (not a spoiler as it's mentioned on the back of the book) and the harsh reality of the clean-up from a violent death.

In the final third, Crewel World finally falls into being a cozy mystery. While trying to figure out what to do with the store and her life, Betsy begins to realize that something isn't right with how the murder is being investigated. In learning how to run her sister's store, she sees what the police are missing.

My favorite pieces of the book were the beginning and the ending thirds. Betsy's depression after her sister's death is so well written that I was on the verge of tears while reading through the planning of the funeral. I just don't know if I want to grow that emotional roller coaster on future books in this series.

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Slinky Malinky: 08/28/07

Slinky Malinky

Judy and Charlie brought back a small pile of adorable children's book from their recent trip abroad. Slinky Malinky is one of those books.

Slinky Malinky is a cat who likes to steal things. Slinky goes out at night, finds things and brings them home. One night, though, Slinky gets too carried away and ends up with more things than he can handle. This adorably written and illustrated book by Lynley Dodd chronicles Slinky's nighttime misadventures.

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Amara: 08/27/07

Amara

Amara was one of the first book rings I signed up for through BookCrossing. The ring got stalled or lost along the way, so I purchased my own copy. Finally after having the book sitting on my shelves, I've bothered to read the book. Frankly, I wish I hadn't.

Amara the rampaging, blood thirsty mummy has very little to do with the over all plot of the book, save for killing off a bunch of otherwise pointless characters late in the book. The bulk of the story is actually a bunch of poorly written, ill-conceived erotica. There's a house with a basement where kidnapped people (of both genders) are being raped through plastic barriers but the experience is so pleasurable that they actually enjoy their situation (um, yeah, sure) and there's an Egyptian Copt who is apparently God's gift to womankind. So in between the Copt's sexual exploits and the torture in the basement, the actual plot of the curator and her detective boyfriend tracking down Amara before she can kill again lumbers along.

Frankly the book bored me to tears. Erotica. just isn't my thing and the sex in this book seemed to be the only point. Of all of the books I've read this year, Amara is one of the worst.

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Hairy Maclary From Donaldson's Dairy: 08/26/07

Mrs. McTats and the Houseful of Cats

Judy and Charlie brought back a small pile of adorable children's book from their recent trip abroad. Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy is one of those books.

Hairy Maclary is a dog who likes to go on walks about town. He takes along his canine friends from around the village. The story is told in rhyme and is quite a tongue twister in parts. The story also ends in a way that ties this book together with another of the ones Sean was given: Scarface Claw.

The book has joyful illustrations. Each dog is a cute and individual character. They all look very happy but still are very much dogs.

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The Ebony Tower: 08/25/07

Sixteen Short Novels

I'm on schedule to finish Sixteen Short Novels in time for September's BookCrossing meeting. My most recent read was "The Ebony Tower" by John Fowles.

"The Ebony Tower" returns to the theme of mentorship, telling another version a meeting with a roll model. In this case, it's a meeting of artists. David Williams, a frustrated artist detours from his holiday with his wife to interview the cantankerous Henry Breasley who lives in seclusion with two beautiful former art students: Diana (the Mouse) and Anne (the Freak). David spends the weekend being lectured on morality, sexuality and modern art. He is tempted to join this hedonistic lifestyle in the wilderness but does end up returning to his wife saying that he "survived."

The story captures the culture class of the fifties and the seventies, at a time when things were becoming more informal but the era of free love was waxing.

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The Happy Prince: 08/24/07

The Happy Prince

The version of The Happy Prince and Other Stories I read is a Penguin 60s and only has half the stories of the original collection: "The Happy Prince", "The Young King", "The Devoted Friend" and "The Model Millionaire." The longer collection also includes: "The Nightingale and the Rose", "The Selfish Giant", "The Remarkable Rocket", "The Birthday of the Infanta", "The Star-Child" and "The Fisherman and His Soul." As I have not read these stories, my review won't include them except to say, I'm glad I read a short version because the four I read were pretty tedious reading.

I have read other Oscar Wilde works and have enjoyed them for their wit and humor but these stories that are something between a fairy tale and a parable were rather dull reads. The only I really enjoyed was "The Model Millionaire" which I'm sure was originally from a different short story collection. The Model Millionaire, while it contains a lesson like the other three, is still aimed at an adult audience and the moral comes in a true shaggy-dog story fashion.

The other three seem to be about the importance of self sacrifice and the futility of doing good works but they are told in such a heavy handed fashion that I wanted to toss the thin book across the room on a number of occasions. As the book is only 60 pages long, I decided to persevere and finish the damn thing before I tossed it.

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Find Anthony Ant: 08/24/07

Find Anthony Ant

Find Anthony Ant was a birthday gift for Sean from his maternal grandmother. It is like the Where's Waldo books but aimed at a younger reading audience. The pictures while complex enough to be entertaining and interesting, are still simple enough for young children to find Anthony Ant relatively easily.

For slightly older readers, each illustration that stretches across the facing pages includes a maze. There are also other characters to find on each of these pages too.

Sean has enjoyed the book so much that he has taken it to school to share with his friends during Circle Time.

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My First Pets Board Book: 08/23/07

My First Pets Board Book

Harriet picked out My First Pets Board Book on a recent trip to a book store. She likes the different photographs of animals, especially the pages with the cats and kittens.

As with most DK board books, My First Pets... relies on excellent photographic illustrations. This book is more interesting than the "Touch and Feel" series of books. It starts off like the My First ABC Board Book with pages of labeled photographs relating to differing animals. Then it goes onto discuss the different things animals eat, what they look like up close and ends with a counting exercise. Harriet loves the variety.

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The Truth: 08/22/07

The Truth

The Truth is the last of the Terry Pratchett books I'm reading for my Beach Blanket Bonanza challenge, although I do now have a copy of Feet of Clay on my TBR pile. I have to say that my summer reading has renewed my interest in Pratchett's Discworld books.

The Truth like the other two books I've recently read, takes place in Ankh-Moorpork. The Watch are present but only on the sidelines. They are trying to hold the city together while the Patrician stands accused of murdering a member of his staff.

The main focus of the story though, is on a local wordsmith, William de Worde who is Ankh-Moorpork's local bard turned newspaper reporter. He and some industrious Dwarves and an overly enthusiastic vampire photographer have found a way of turning lead into gold: the hard way. They have invented the printing press and they are going head-to-head with Commander Vimes to get to the truth behind the Patrician's alleged crime.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the newspaper and the trouble they had gaining legitimacy. I found the mystery part of the book took too long to get off the ground compared to the fast-pacing of Men at Arms.

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Marine Life: 08/21/07

Marine Life

Marine Life is a book Sean borrowed from school. It is a beautiful pictorial catalogue of different types of sea life in the fashion of the DK books, but by a different publisher.

The book doesn't offer any sort of explanation of the different ocean environments but the illustrations are so beautiful that it's a good starting point for discussing marine biology.

I think Marine Life is part of a series of illustrated books but I haven't seen any of the others in the series. Were I to come across others, I would like to read them with Sean.

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Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats: 08/21/07

Mrs. McTats and the Houseful of Cats

Judy and Charlie brought back a small pile of adorable children's book from their recent trip abroad. Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats is one of those books.

Mrs. McTats reminds me of my grandmother who was always bringing home strays. Mrs. McTats, though, is collecting a new cat a day. She starts with her one cat and soon finds herself with 24 others. Each cat gets a name starting with another letter in the alphabet adding to the fun of the book.

What makes this story so charming, though, are the illustrations by Joan Rankin. They are charming water colors and each animal has a distinct personality. The illustrations compliment the fancy names Mrs. McTats gives her new pets.

But wait — there are 26 letters in the alphabet! What about Z? Z is a dog.

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Rowing to Latitude: 08/20/07

Rowing to Latitude

Some of the best books I've ever read have just fallen into my lap. Rowing to Latitude is one of those books. It was part of a book box of library rescues I took from another Bookcrosser last year. After sitting on my shelf for a year, I finally read it for the Armchair Traveler Challenge.

Rowing to Latitude chronicles a number of kayaking trips that Jill Fredston took with her husband, Doug. When they aren't kayaking, Jill and Doug work as avalanche experts in Alaska. Most of the the trips described are along the Alaska coast or along rivers that end in the Arctic Circle. The final chapters of the book cover their trips around Greenland.

I enjoyed the Alaska and Canada trips the most as they describe areas I am familiar with either through direct experience or through reading and correspondence with friends.

Fredston writes vividly, involving all the senses. Full color photographs included in the middle of the book verifies just how well she writes.

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Who Said Boo? 08/20/07

Who Said Boo

Sean borrows the best books from school. One of his more recent checked-out books is Who Said Boo? by Anne Miranda and Ross Collins.

A little girl home early from tic-or-treating answers the door expecting to see kids wanting candy. Instead her house is invaded by a bunch of ghosts, ghouls and monsters. While she's startled by their eerie boos coming from throughout her home, she isn't scared. Why? Her house is already haunted!

The story of Halloween spirits trying and failing to haunt a home is really funny. Better yet are the illustrations and the fun of the different types of pages. Each page opens or unfolds in a different way. Young readers will probably accidentally rip the pages at the folds; it's an unfortunate side effect of the book being so creatively constructed.

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Marker: 08/19/07

Marker

Marker is the last of the Robin Cook books I read for the Medical Mystery Madness challenge. It was also a disappointment, thought not as much as Chromosome 6 and Abduction.

The book suffers from a slow and predictable plot with a ridiculous motivation for the villains behind the mysterious deaths. The cause of the deaths was easy to figure out and frankly better done in a more entertaining fashion in "The Curse of the King Kamehameha Club" (Magnum P. I. (season 1, February 18, 1981). Both versions have mysterious deaths by heart failure of otherwise healthy people and a rivalry over property motivating the deaths. But one has tropical camp and the other is just an otherwise dry and uncreative medical thriller that fails to thrill.

Fortunately now I have managed to read through my back log of Robin Cook novels. I have released them through BookCrossing and can use the free shelf space for more interesting books.

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The Outsider: 08/19/07

The Outsider

Don't let the cover art of this reprint fool you. The Outsider was a year or so before it became the Roswell TV series. So while the cover has the actors, the way the characters are described in the book is very different. But for fans of the show, there are enough similarities to make for a quick and entertaining read.

The Outsider introduces the characters, the town or Roswell and the premise of teenage aliens living among us much in the way that the pilot did for the series. Max is forced to reveal his powers to save the girl he's had a secret crush on for ages. She in turn must decide whether or not to protect his secret.

Liz's acceptance of Max takes longer in The Outsider than I remember it taking in the pilot. Her reasons for distrusting him posted some interesting ethical questions. Powers that can heal can also kill and Liz must decide whether she can trust Max.

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How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? 08/17/07

How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?

The How Do Dinosaurs... series of books by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague are popular at Sean's school. We have two at home, How Do Dinosaurs Learn to Read? and our most recent purchase How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?.

Mark Teague's illustrations are reminiscent of 1930s and 1940s commercial art (think Saturday Evening Post) giving the book a wonderful visual authority and playfulness. Here are dinosaurs acting like preschoolers while their baffled and horrified human parents try their best to raise polite dinosaurs.

My favorite page has a dinosaur who glares at his food refusing to eat what is on his plate. It reminds me so much of Sean at his most stubborn. He and I have gone head to head over what and how much he should eat at many a meal. Sean's favorite is the dinosaur throwing his spaghetti in the air because it reminds him of Harriet who throws her food when she's done eating.

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Last Exit to Brooklyn: 08/15/07

Last Exit to Brooklyn

Last Exit to Brooklyn is one of those infamous books that caused an uproar when it was first published and is now kept in print for its historical merits.

Curious about the book, I got a copy through BookCrossing about 2 years ago and I have finally gotten around to reading it. While it's classified as a novel, it's really more accurately six short stories tied together by location and characters. The stories are all written in free flowing dialect that ignores conventional spelling and grammar. Topics covered include: alcoholism, homosexuality, homophobia, transsexual identity, poverty, gang rape and life in the projects.

For all difficult subjects, coarse language and grammarless writing, the book is actually a quick read. It took me about twenty pages to fall into the rhythm of the stories. The stories compare most to the modern day blog rant. In fact, the similarities with the modern blog spoiled some of the book's charm for me and I began to wonder how well it would translate into LOLCAT.

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Barbie Holiday Songs: 08/15/07

Barbie Holiday Songs

When Sean was two he came from his day care carrying a pink music box covered with winter holiday icons. Each one played a recognizable carol or song. He was completely addicted to the silly box. The day care provider asked Sean to give the box back as it was actually part of a book: Barbie Holiday Songs but the music box had fallen off the book.

I gritted my teeth when I heard it was a Barbie book. I'm not a fan of Barbie and being a girl, I've done my share of playing with them to keep other friends happy as a child. I did not want to discourage him because of my own dislikes when there was nothing wrong with a bright pink book about sentimental holiday traditions. I don't believe that girls and boys are fundamentally different (beyond the obvious differences in anatomy). So if Sean wanted a copy of the book, I would find him a copy of the book.

It took some doing. The book was published in 1999 and this was 2004. It was long out of print and I wasn't even completely sure of the title. I did finally locate a copy. The book was an instant hit with Sean and for months we had to sing all the songs in the book before he went to bed. All these years later, it remains one his favorite books. Always around summertime he brings out the book and we have to read the story and sing the songs.

Each page is a photograph of Barbie and Stacy. I do like the sets they're posed in for the miniature work. The story too is rather sweet so I can see its appeal. After three years and scores of readings, I'm warming to the book.

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When the Wind Blows: 08/14/07

When the Wind Blows

I picked up a copy of When the Wind Blows at one of the recent BookCrossing meetings. I haven't read any of Patterson's books but the book came recommended. I think for now it will be my last of this author's books for now.

The book was easy enough read with short chapters and an easy to follow plot but the premise was too ridiculous and the characters were less well drawn than the average superhero cartoon. Max in how she was described reminded me of Tara from Teen Titans (the animated version, not the comic) with all the same faults: amazing power, abysmal self esteem.

There are no surprises in this book except perhaps that Max can lay eggs (but um, eew!) The rest of the plot plods along for 400 pages or so with with a predictable and unsatisfying end.

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Buzz: 08/13/07

Buzz

Buzz is one of the books we got at Chaucer's books on our trip last month to Santa Barbara. It is a wonderful introduction to arthropods. It's designed for ages 4 to 8 but the photography and layout of each page makes it interesting enough to read as an adult. Be prepared to spend some time with the book as it has 144 pages.

The book though isn't just a light weight text book about all things arthropod. It also contains games (some that require scanning and printing first) and recipes. Buzz has one of the most convincing arguments for eating bugs that I've ever read: crabs, lobsters and shrimp are arthropods too. That's right, crickets taste like crustaceans! It's no different than reptiles tasting like chicken.

Buzz doesn't advocate just going out and harvesting a bunch of garden bugs for eating. Like mushrooms, many arthropods are poisonous. The book, does, however, give pointers on where to get edible ones.

In reading this book I learned about: arthropod anatomy, how to cook them, how to tell butterflies from moths, the different classifications by wing type and different larval types.

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Black's Beach Shuffle: 08/12/07

Black's Beach Shuffle

Back in May when I read Breeni's review of Black's Beach Shuffle, I knew it was a book I would love. Before I had a chance to buy a copy for myself, she RABCKed me her copy. Now having read (and loved!) the book, I will buying a second copy for my best friend for her birthday and possibly one for my personal collection. Breeni's copy is now on its way to Australia to another BookCrosser.

Black's Beach Shuffle is the great San Diegan novel. The title itself tells anyone who's been to San Diego (or grown up there, like I did) what to expect. Black's Beach is as the author puts it "a clothing optional" beach and that's putting it politely. Looking at the cover art with all the computers one can guess that the high tech sector of the "Golden Triangle" and the industrial parks behind UCSD (also near Black's Beach) will play a part in the book. In a nutshell, Black's Beach Shuffle is a mystery involving a post dot-com bubble start-up being investigated by a P. I. who is also in a band.

The description of EyeBitz.com was so much like some actually sketchy dot-com's I've worked for that I figured out their part of the mystery but there was still enough left to keep me guessing and reading.

The best part though are the descriptions of San Diego. The locations are correct, the culture is there (including the love/hate relationship with the Padres). Rolly, the protagonist, lives within spitting distance of my best friend. This 180 page mystery was a quick trip home and I stayed up past my bed time to finish it. Black's Beach Shuffle is one of the most entertaining books I've read so far this year.

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My Friend Mac: 08/12/07

My Friend Mac

Clueless, negligent or absent parents are one of the cliches of children's fiction that annoys me especially when it serves no point beyond giving the protagonist carte blanche to run willy-nilly and get into mishaps (excuse me, have adventures). My Friend Mac is one of those books that falls into the trap for the soul purpose of uniting a young boy with a young moose.

Ultimately the story is supposed to be about responsibility, life lessons and growing up but it's done in a ham fisted way. Baptiste, the protagonist, eager to have a friend of his own and fueled by his father's stories of a best friend named Mac, wanders far into the forest and adopts a moose calf.

Any sensible parent at this point in to plot would either tell young Baptiste that he can't have a moose as a pet or if they did say yes (as these parents do), set some ground rules for how the moose should be cared for. These parents don't; instead they the moose grow up in the house causing havoc with everything until ultimately the moose becomes an adult bull and leaves of his own accord to find more of his kind.

It's only after the bull Mac nearly kills Baptiste that the parents start to listen to the real reason behind their son's desire for a moose friend. Baptiste is lonely and bored living with his parents out in the middle of no where. So in the end, Baptiste gets to go to school and finds a human friend named Mac. Oh joy.

The one nice thing I can say about My Friend Mac is about the illustrations. They are very well drawn and a good introduction to how moose change as they grow.

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Don't Look Now: 08/11/07

Don't Look Now

Don't Look Now (also published as Not After Midnight) is a compilation of five short stories by Daphne du Maurier. I read the book for the Classics Challenge. It's my first completed book in the challenge as I'd completely forgotten that the challenge had started in July!

Don't Look Now: The book starts of strongly with a perfect mixture of humor, horror and irony. I can see why Hitchcock liked to use du Maurier's works for his movies. A husband and wife recovering from the recent death of their daughter have gone on a well needed holiday to Italy while their remaining child is away at school. A brief joking encounter with a pair of elderly sisters leads the couple into a nightmarish finish to their trip.

One of the sisters claims to be psychic. She says their little girl is with them always and wants to protect them. Here though is where the story picks up pace and I dare not say more to spoil an excellent ending. The ending though had an excellent pay-off that made me feel both sorry for the main characters and had me laughing.

The Breakthrough: This story mixes the occult with science. A young man and self proclaimed loner takes on a new job at what he thinks is a small military installation. While there he witnesses some bizarre medical experiments. While it was fun to read, it didn't hit with the same sort of punch as "Don't Look Now." The ending left me wanting more.

Not After Midnight: Of all the stories this was my second favorite. It is told in an extended flashback as a confession from a man who suffered a nervous breakdown while on holiday in Greece. The ambiguous ending made the story for me: either the protagonist was cursed or guilt has gotten the best of him. Either ending is satisfactory. If I were a English or literature teacher, I would assign "Not After Midnight" for an essay assignment.

A Border-Line Case: This story reminded me of the Avenger's episode: "What the Butler Saw" mixed with the finale of Remington Steele ("Steeled with a Kiss") with a light dash of Puckoon for flavoring. The IRA bit of the story felt contrived as if the only reason to ever have a story set in Ireland is to have an IRA plot. This otherwise eccentric and fun story doesn't need to IRA piece to make it either interesting or entertaining.

The Way of the Cross: The book ends with a short story reminiscent of Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun without the murder or mayhem. Instead we have Robin who is in the same vein of character as Ramses (a proto-Ramses since this story was written in 1971) who hopes to witness the second coming of Christ. There are no twists in the plot or the humor of the earlier stories. It's just a dull bus strip through Jerusalem.

Over all I enjoyed this collection of short stories but the book would have been better without the final story. It was a nice way to start of my participation in the Classics Challenge.

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Ask Mr. Bear: 08/09/07

Ask Mr. Bear

Ask Mr. Bear is another of the old children's books I found last month. As with Mr. Pingle and Mr. Buttonhouse, I was drawn to the book for its illustrations. In this case, the author, Marjorie Flack also illustrated the book.

The book published during the Depression, follows a young boy on a quest for a birthday present for his mother. As with so many children's books, the boy goes from farm animal to farm animal asking advice from each. When each suggests a gift that they can give and that his mother already has, he moves on to the next.

At last though he is out of farm animals and strikes out on his own into the forest to seek the advice of Mr. Bear. When the boy headed into the mountain, I began to grin, finally remembering reading this story to my brother when we were children. The gist of the story is that it's the thought that counts and that showing love is sometimes the most important gift a person can give.

Ask Mr. Bear is another book I plan to keep to read to my children and to myself.

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Men at Arms: 08/08/07

Men at Arms

Men at Arms is the second book I've read for the Beach Blanket Bonanza. My husband (whom I originally introduced to Pratchett's books) has been selecting the best of the Discworld books for me to read and I have been enjoying these reading "assignments" thoroughly.

Men at Arms is the next in the "Night Watch" group of books. Vimes is on the eve of his retirement from the watch and about to get married. Meanwhile, bodies are showing up in Ankh-Morpork and a new weapon has been stolen. Carrot and a bunch of new recruits set out to solve the mystery and retrieve the weapon before all hell breaks loose.

In Men at Arms, Pratchett sets aside the puns (for the most part) to work on world building and fleshing out his characters. Ankh-Morpork begins to feel like a believable working (as well as it ever does) city. Carrot grows as a character and is rapidly becoming one of my favorites (but then everyone likes Carrot).

Best of all, there is an honest to goodness mystery (and hence plot) in Men at Arms. It was one of the best mysteries I've read this year with enough clues to get me close to solving it but still tricky enough for some surprises.

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The Ghost Writer: 08/07/07

Sixteen Short Novels

I won't get Sixteen Short Novels finished in time for the August BookCrossing meeting but I am on schedule to finish it by my five month goal of September.

"The Ghost Writer" when stripped bare is the same type of story as "The Lesson of the Master" where a young brilliant writer meets the older established "master" who inspired him to write in the first place. In the process of being disillusioned with his role model, he grows as a person and finds love.

What makes "The Ghost Writer" different is Philip Roth's unique mixture of autobiography and alternative history. This novella introduces Roth's alter ego: Nathan Zuckerman, a character who returns in further Roth stories. Zuckerman, the novice writer here, spends a night at his mentor's house and meets a young woman named Amy who claims to be Anne Frank.

Meanwhile, Zuckerman struggles with the demands of writing the great American story and the great Jewish story. Advice givers tell him that the two are mutually incompatible and his mentor offers no help beyond telling him to "turn words" around. While Zuckerman explores his options as a writer, his first person narrative hits on many of the cliches he's told to avoid: arguments over money, extra marital affairs, and so forth.

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Mr. Pingle and Mr. Buttonhouse: 08/07/07

Mr. Pingle and Mr. Buttonhouse

I was immediately taken by Paul Galdone's line drawing of Mr. Pingle and Mr. Buttonhouse on the cover and had to take the book home. The book is a thirty-two page exploration of long distance friendships. Pingle lives in a red house and Buttonhouse in a lemon colored one. They are 22 1/2 miles apart in a time and place where the only transportation options are the train or the river.

Pingle and Buttonhouse both decide to give the other a surprise visit. Pingle goes by train and Buttonhouse goes by boat. Both have misadventures on their journeys but it works out in the end thanks to the bonds of friendship.

I really like this book. I love Galdone's illustrations and MacGregor's simple story. This book is a keeper.

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Anything Considered: 08/06/07

Anything Considered

Recently Ian and I were talking about capers we enjoyed. We were mostly talking about films: A Fish Called Wanda, The Trouble with Harry, North by Northwest, A Shot in the Dark, The Thomas Crowne Affair (the remake more so than the original), Condorman and so forth. A good caper has lots of running around (though not necessary a la Keystone Cops), a bit of mystery or a theft, some romance and some humor.

Anything Considered by Peter Mayle fits the bill of a caper perfectly and is the first book caper I've read in ages. I had wanted to read Mayle's novels after reading two of his memoirs of living in France. They gave a hint of the humor that was probably present in his novels and Anything Considered verified my suspicions.

Things start simply enough for Bennett. He's broke and looking for a way to fix that problem without slinking back to England for the job he left. He puts an ad in the paper saying he's up for "anything considered" except marriage. When the ad nets him a job pretending to be a wealthy tax dodger in Monaco, he thinks he's died and gone to heaven. Unfortunately things quickly go pear-shaped for Bennett.

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The Elephant's Bathtub: 08/05/07

The Elephant's Bathtub

I picked up The Elephant's Bathtub because I knew Harriet would like the first story in the collection and because I like the jolly orange cover. I also have a thing about story collections for children. I have a acquired a number of them over the last two decades.

The book's secondary title is "Wonder Tales from the Far East" and certainly these stories do take place in that part of the world but the writing at times is rather dry. I don't know the dull writing is a result of the style requirements put on text books in the 1960s or from being watered down from the original public domain works listed in the front of the book.

The stories should be more captivating than they are since they involve far away places, legends, gods, talking animals, magic and other elements of fantasy and adventure. Unfortunately the language is so stilted and so carefully chosen to not be too hard to read or too confusing that the adventure is diluted right out the stories. Also they suffer from a heavy handed approach to making sure every story has some sort of moral at the end. Characters get what they deserve because of how they act. I could just about imagine the narrator saying at the end of each story: "See I told you so..."

Nonetheless, I did enjoy a few of the stories in this collection, including the title piece and I'm hoping as my children grow they might enjoy reading some of them too. For the moment I'm hanging onto The Elephant's Bathtub but I might BookCross it in the future.

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Shock: 08/04/07

Shock

Shock as a title has many meanings in this mystery from Robin Cook. It refers back to the hospital's history as an insane asylum, it's also the shock of white hair that serves as a clue, and it is the shock that the two protagonists feel when they figure out what is happening at the Wingate Clinic. I suppose too it could be the "shocking" ending which I had guessed but was still delighted to read.

Once again Cook returns to gynecology for his medical thriller. At leas this time his heroines don't suffer from fits of hysteria like they do in Coma. While the book is basically a modernized Coma with elements of Chromosome 6 though with slightly more plausibility and a more entertaining plot.

The story revolves around two Harvard students who want some time off from college after they graduate and see the means and opportunity with an ad for egg donations. The Wingate Clinic just north of Boston will pay their way to Italy for an extended stay if they are willing to let the clinic harvest their eggs. After 18 months of fun in Italy they decide that maybe selling their eggs to the seedy looking clinic wasn't such a good idea after all and they decide to hack into the clinic's database to see what happened to their eggs. The story then unfolds in true horror / thriller fashion as they go about doing their investigation.

Their methods and successes are silly and humorous an the villains are almost in the league of the mustache twirlers asked about in a recent Booking Through Thursday. It's the cheesy factor that makes this book a light and fun read.

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Attic of the Wind: 08/02/07

Attic of the Wind

Attic of the Wind is one of a number of library discards I picked up for Sean and Harriet at the last BookCrossing meeting. I was drawn to this book both for the title and for the whimsical watercolor and line drawn illustrations.

The book is written in verse and is basically a sentimental piece about all those inanimate things we grow fond of and then misplace. It's basically the What Dreams May Come for kipple. As a somewhat jaded packrat, the book is a bit too schmaltzy for my tastes but I do still love Ati Forberg's illustrations. and will keep the book for the artwork.

Sean was also drawn to the illustrations and had fun pointing out all the different things including bubbles, snowflakes, kites and balloons. Harriet liked the rhythm of the poetry. She loves to be read to and would probably be happiest if I read to her all her waking hours.

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Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes: 08/01/07

Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes

The final one of the Commander Toad books we took on our trip was Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes which combines horror and humor through the use (and abuse) of grape puns.

One by one the crew of the Star Warts is devoured by giant grapes. It is up to the doctor and his sneezing assistant to rescue the crew and find a way to stop the grapes. The solution to the problem is one of those classic eureka! moments when one learns from a mistake or mishap.

On a side note, I liked the limited use of color in the illustrations in all the books but Planet of the Grapes especially. Green and purple are the two dominant colors in the illustrations but the colors are put to good use. They are colorful but not too garish.

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Commander Toad and the Dis-Asteroid: 08/01/07

Commander Toad and the Big Black Hole

The second of the Commander Toad books we took on our trip was Commander Toad and the Dis-Asteroid which centers around the dangers of miscommunication. The Star Warts receives a distress call involving "swell beans". They think the senders of the message need more beans when what they really need is something completely different.

Reading this book was fun because at the time we were growing some pea pods which aren't all that different from green beans. It was neat to see something from our day-to-day life included in a very silly story.

Sean also liked the puns that are rampant in this book and in the Planet of the Grapes. He's just getting to be old enough to "get" puns although they still takes some explaining.

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Commander Toad and the Big Black Hole: 08/01/07

Commander Toad and the Big Black Hole

Back in the 1980s, Jane Yolen wrote a series of early reader science fiction / humor books involving Commander Toad and the crew of the Star Warts. At our last trip to the library we checked out three of these books for Sean to read on our trip down to Santa Barbara.

The first of these that we read is Commander Toad and the Big Black Hole and I think it's our favorite because it has some good gross-out humor and a parody of Home on the Range which requires really poor singing. The inclusion of long tongues, off key singing and food being splattered makes for two laughing kids when we read the book out loud.

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