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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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Chain Letter: 11/30/07

Chain Letter

I missed Christopher Pike's books when I was a kid. I've only recently started reading them but I like his take on the horror genre. His books are complex enough to be interesting but short enough to only take about a day's worth of reading.

Chain Letters either through the mail (pre internet days) or via email always close with a threat of bad things happening if the chain is broken. Chain Letter follows a group of high school friends who witness those bad things first hand.

Alison and her friends are listed on a chain letter sent by the mysterious "Caretaker". Someone wants to make them pay for a crime they committed last summer. Did they actually kill a man on a desert highway? Is the Caretaker trying to avenge his death?

Chain Letter looks at how cruel teens can be to each other. It's an examination of "man's inhumanity to man" and the resolution to the mystery is tight and satisfying.

The characters return in Chain Letter 2: An Ancient Evil. The sequel while also entertaining is very different in tone and theme. Although Chain Letter isn't as highly rated as its sequel, I enjoyed both and think they complement each other.

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"The Bird Shaman's Girl": 11/30/07

F & SF

The fifth story in October/ November issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is a short story by Judith Moffett that builds on the novel The Ragged World (1992) in which the Hefn invade Earth to force humanity to stop its ecological destruction of the planet.

In this short story the Hefn appear to be working as guardians for the childlike humans. They have taken charge of the government and child welfare. In the middle of all of this is Lexi, a young actress who has accused her grandfather of sexual abuse. Unfortunately they are part of a religious cult.

Frankly I didn't like this short story. Having not read any of Moffett's prior work I came to this story not knowing or caring about her vision of Earth. She does try to offer enough exposition to carry the uninitiated along but these long segments of back story break up pacing and slow the whole thing down at a time when the main characters are racing to rescue the kidnapped Lexi.

Perhaps fans of the Hefn stories will enjoy this story more than I did. I frankly was glad when the story was over.

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M is for Malice: 11/29/07

M is for Malice

When the Nattie Challenge blog announced the Baby Steps Challenge" of reading three books by the end of the year, I felt ready to tackle a few more of the alphabet series. I'm reading M, N and O for this challenge.

M is for Malice finds Kinsey Millhone tracking down a missing member of the wealthy Malek gravel family when the patriarch dies. Guy Malek left home in 1968 and hasn't been heard from in 18 years.

Unfortunately for Guy and Kinsey, a simple missing person case ends up being a murder investigation of an especially violent nature. Although I enjoyed the book, I figured out who had committed the murder. I did though have to read to the end to learn why the murderer did it.

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National Velvet: 11/28/07

National Velvet

National Velvet is another one of those books I've been meaning to read. As a child I enjoyed the 1944 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney. When I was reading books for the BookCrossing Literacy Train, I made sure to add this one of the pile to get some classics into the mass release.

Velvet Brown, the protagonist, finds herself the sudden owner of a group of horses through a series of unusual events. Of all the horses she falls in love with the most ornery, a piebald nicknamed "The Pie." With her new horse Velvet decides to out do her famous mother (who had swum the English channel in her youth).

With her mother's earnings and help from the son of her mother's trainer, Velvet sets out to do the impossible: win the Grand National. There are two problems: she's too young and the wrong gender.

When the National Velvet plot moves onto the Nationals and the fallout from Velvet entering, I was reminded of Babe: The Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith. The Sheep Trials which Babe wins are a wonderful parody of the melodrama that is the fall out from Velvet's participation in the Grand National.

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The Prisoner of Zenda: 11/27/07

The Prisoner of Zenda

The Prisoner of Zenda is one of those books I've been meaning to read for about twenty years. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I finally took the time to read this classic adventure written by Anthony Hope in 1894.

The Prisoner of Zenda brings the fairy tale of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper (1888) and Pudd'nhead Wilson (1893-4) into the adventure genre for adults. Anthony Hope's story of a king kidnapped on the eve of his coronation and his English cousin who takes his place is derring-do at its best.

Sure the story has been done over and over again but that's because the story is so entertaining. It was written at at time before two world wars forever altered the map of Europe. Ruritania exists in a time when it was possible to still imagine tiny kingdoms and principalities tucked among the better known countries. Think of Ruritania existing along side the duchy of Luxembourg and the principality of Monaco.

The hero and narrator of Zenda is twenty-nine year Rudolf Rassendyll who shares a name and certain physical features with soon to be crowned Rudolph IV of Ruritania. Unfortunately for all those involved, Rudolph IV is an idiot and easily falls prey to a plot to take the crown away from him and possibly end his life. To keep things in check while the king can be found and rescued, Rudolf Rassendyll must play the king.

Throughout the narrative Rassendyll gives amusing commentary on politics and the responsibilities of leadership. All the while he is putting himself in harms way both in his portrayal of the king and in trying to rescue Rudolf IV.

I am releasing the copy I read soon through BookCrossing as it came to me from another member. I will however be keeping my eyes out for a nice hardback edition for my personal collection.

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"The Recreation Room": 11/27/07

F & SF

The fourth story in October/ November issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is a short story by Albert E. Cowdrey that draws heavily on his personal experience as an evacuee of hurricane Katrina.

In a way reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier's story "Don't Look Now" this Katrina ghost story begins with a prophesy from a psychic. Jim is warned: "There be dead folks in your attic." Who has died (or will die) in Jim's attic is the lingering question throughout "The Recreation Room" because Madame Lott has never been wrong before.

"The Recreation Room" is mostly a social commentary on the events of Katrina from New Orleans' near destruction, the victims, the chaos during the flooding and the failure of FEMA and the rest of the federal government to react. It isn't until the last couple of pages that the story finally comes into its own as a well written ghost story. This is fantasy in the vein of H. G. Wells and Jonathan Swift.

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Nanowrimo Finished on a Cliffhanger: 11/27/07

Today I wrote myself cross-eyed by pounding through 4,500 words bringing my total to 50,523 words. I am once again a Nanowrimo winner and I am glad to be taking a break from Tangent. Sam and Joseph ended up being two of the most intense characters I have ever written and they have worn me out.

Around the time I wrote my last post about Tangent, I realized I would only be halfway through my novel by the time I reached the minimum fifty thousand requirement for Nanowrimo.

Rather than stress myself out with trying to finish ninety or so thousand words by November 30th, Ian suggested I "cliffhanger out" the story saving the second half for next year's Nanowrimo project. After mulling on his suggestion for a week and realizing I could easily fill fifty thousand words with just the first half of the plot I saw the wisdom of Ian's suggestion.

Next year's sequel will be called Secant. Ian and came to the same logical conclusion for the title. It will cover Sam and Joseph's travels below the surface of Hale. The year will give me time to learn more about things like battleships, industrial design, warfare, architecture and so forth.

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Affinity: 11/26/07

Affinity

Every book has it's own history and even if we don't mean to, we come to each and every book with some sort of expectation. In the case of Affinity I came to the book with two sets of misconceptions. The person who gave me the book via BookCrossing said it was a graphic novel, so I immediately thought of English language manga. Later the person explained that they meant "graphic" in the sense of being explicit and the words used were "sick shit." So when the book arrived with the cheesy cover art, I was disappointed that it wasn't a graphic novel and a little worried that it would be poorly written erotica.

Although Affinity is classified under the horror genre, it was neither "sick shit" or poorly written erotica. If anything, it was sort of a sweet paranormal love story without the benefit of a pink and purple cover art depicting shoes, purses or vampires. The book most reminded me of James Patterson's When the Wind Blows but better written.

Affinity is a love story and a mystery. Quent comes to realize his childhood has been a lie. His memories aren't his and he begins to realize he has powers that most people don't have. In steps the only woman to capture his heart, Feather, who seems to have powers like his. Why do they seem to know each other? What happened in their past and who is behind keeping all those memories a secret?

The book though flawed still captured my interest. I found it an entertaining read.

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Class President: 11/26/07

Class President

The fifth grade elections are coming up and there are two candidates: Lucas and Cricket. Julio finds himself in the middle of the election madness when he shows his leadership skills regarding two playground problems: Arthur's broken glasses and the banning of soccer during recess.

Class President is the third in the series by Johanna Hurwitz. The first two are Class Clown and Teacher's Pet. It is the only book in the series I've read but I would read others if I ran into them.

Hurwitz makes good use of the 100 pages to develop her characters. We learn about Julio Sanchez, his family and what it's like to be Puerto Rican. The book is entertaining and informative without being preachy.

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The Great Ringtail Garbage Caper: 11/25/07

The Great Ringtail Garbage Caper

The Great Ringtail Garbage Caper presents a message of environmental protection from the point of view of a clan of desperate but resourceful raccoons.

Over a summer a clan of raccoons learn how to drive a garbage truck to guarantee a food supply for the entire community when the local garbage collectors are too efficient with their pick ups.

The story teaches the importance of sharing the environment with nature while still be entertaining. The way in which the raccoon clan is set up reminded me a bit of the society in The Giver by Lois Lowry.

This book was made into a CBS Storybreak animation by Hanna-Barbera Australia but I haven't been able to find much information about it online. I probably saw the cartoon as a child but I don't remember it.

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Mystery of the Moaning Cave: 11/24/07

Mystery of the Moaning Cave

Fans of The Lost Boys will recognize the city of Santa Carla in this 1968 young adult thriller by William Arden. For readers who know California, Santa Carla is roughly Santa Cruz with a little bit of Santa Clara thrown in.

In The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, the three investigators decide to solve the mystery behind a recently moaning cave rumored to be the resting place of El Diablo, a Zorro-like figure. The cave sits on the property of the Crooked-Y Ranch.

The three investigators use a number of clever approaches to track down the source of the moaning. The story is fast paced and entertaining. The mystery is complex enough to keep older readers engrossed and straightforward enough to keep the younger readers turning the pages too.

This book is the first of the three investigators books I've read. I enjoyed it enough to want to read more in the series if I find them.

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Ashenden or the British Agent: 11/23/07

Ashenden or the British Agent

Ashenden or the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham is somewhere between a short story collection and a novel that chronicles a series of adventures of failed writer turned spy, John Ashenden.

With the characters who recur within the stories make these the book gel. Unfortunately the stories are inconsistent in quality and without an overall sense of progression, the book isn't as satisfying as it should be.

Although my reaction to Ashenden as a whole was lukewarm, there were moments that I really enjoyed. Maugham peppered his scenes with little bits of detail that bring the characters to life. For instance there's a scene early on where Ashenden is bathing but is unhappy that he can't turn the taps with his toes like he feels all good bathtubs should work. Yet, he's too lazy to sit up and adjust the temperature with his hands, so he just sits there getting colder and colder as the bath water cools. These moments of character insight make me want to try other books by Maugham.

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Nanowrimo and Thoughts on Stereotypes: 11/23/07

Last night I crossed 40,000 words on this year's Nanowrimo. Having hit a good stopping point I popped over to the forums to see what the other Nanowrimo participants were doing. I divide my time in the Erotic and Science Fiction forums.

Why the Erotic Forum? It's the only spot in Nanowrimo that has any sort of mature discussion of writing LGBT characters. I usually populate my books (whether Nano inspired or not) with a few gay or lesbian characters because it seems more realistic to me. I don't do it to "get off" on writing them or to make my other characters seem more normal. I do it because it feels right.

Every year around the third week of November someone will post in the Erotic Forum a rant against all the stereotypes that end up in LGBT romance novels. The rant is usually filled with a useful check list of things to avoid (and so far I think I've avoid these pitfalls). Typically the rant ends with the conclusion that people shouldn't write LGBT characters unless they are part of the LGBT community.

If we only write what we know then our books will be very plain. Should I not write any male characters (straight or gay) because I'm not a man? Should I avoid writing any characters who are older than me? From a different part of the world from me? If I only populated one of my Nanowrimos with female thirty-something married web designers who have been born and raised in California, I wouldn't finish the project. I'd be too bored to finish!

So onto the point of stereotypes. I don't like them in fiction either that I write or read. The abundance of stereotypes in the heterosexual romance I've read has been enough to make me swear off most of the genre. I try to approach all of my characters (even the minor ones) as individuals with their own likes and dislikes. I've seen enough of what is expected of me as a straight woman based on stupid stereotypes to want to cubbyhole any of my characters.

I have ten thousand more words before I can claim a win again this year for Nanowrimo. At the rate I'm going I could be done in about four or five days. My plot though is just starting to unfold. In previous years the plot and the word count have met up at the 50K mark but this year I think I have another twenty or thirty thousand words to go beyond the minimum to truly wrap up Tangent.

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Journey to the Orange Islands: 11/22/07

Journey to the Orange Islands

Pokémon the series follows Ash's adventures in different Pokémon leagues. The Orange Islands are adventures from the second season. Journey to the Orange Islands covers the opening of this season when Ash, Brock and Misty travel to the Orange Islands on an errand to fetch an unusual poké ball.

Tracey West's adaptation covers the first three or four episodes of the second season. Ash, Misty and Brock meet up with an a young artist, also named Tracey, and Brock finds a new home. The second season expands the pokémon world as Ash learns that different environments have different sorts of pokémon.

Tracey's writing style is a little simplistic at times but the story is still interesting enough to keep fans of the series entertained. I haven't seen most of the later seasons so I am looking forward to reading through my son's collection of books from seasons 2 and onward.

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Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Carnival Prize: 11/21/07

Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Carnival Prize

Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Carnival Prize is another of the books I read for the BookCrossing literacy train. It is one of a series of mysteries all staring Cam Jansen, an elementary school aged girl with a photographic memory (Cam for "Camera").

Cam and her friends are participating in the school's fund raising carnival. Something is amiss with the dime toss. It appears to be too easy to win and soon all the prizes are gone. Is the game rigged? If so, by whom and how?

I really enjoyed this book and would read more from the series if I run into any. The story is well written and the mystery has enough clues to keep observant readers engaged.

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The Mysterious Island (Secrets of Droon 3): 11/20/07

F & SF

The Secrets of Droon series of books began in 1999 with The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet. I happened to have a copy of the third in the series, The Mysterious Island, which I read before donating it to the BookCrossing literacy train.

The series comes highly recommended at Amazon but I found the one book I read to be nothing special. There are numerous series of books where children from present day get to travel to far away fantasy lands. These lands have names like Neverland, Oz, Narnia and so forth. Droon from what I saw is no where as interesting as Neverland, Oz or Narnia (and I'm not much a fan of Narnia). Droon is more akin to Dragon Land (Dragon Tales, PBS 1999).

In The Mysterious Island, Eric, Julie, and Neal travel down the staircase to Princess Keeah's ship. It might as well be Max, Emma and Enrique traveling to Dragon Land to Princess Kadoodle's ship: the characters seem interchangeable to me. Anyway, these three end up on a mysterious island with bugs and other weird stuff. The island belongs to evil Lord Sparr's witches. Ho hum.

I suppose younger readers who have started with the series from book one and are fans will enjoy book three. As a stand alone fantasy it doesn't hold up.

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"The Star to Every Wandering Barque": 11/19/07

F & SF

The third story in October/ November issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is a short story by James Stoddard that paints a rosy utopic future for mankind. For some unknown reason a sunset inspires all of mankind to see the world differently one day.

The protagonist, an A/V technician for NASA, has his depression over the Columbia destruction lifted. He reports over the course of days how the world changes not only for himself but for everyone else. Ultimately the change in mankind brings about world peace, an end to hunger and the development of deep space travel.

Overall I enjoyed this short story but it is clearly one man's version of utopia. Stoddard's vision of the perfect future isn't necessarily my vision of utopia but it is still an entertaining story for what it is.

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At Play in the Fields of the Lord: 11/18/07

At Play in the Fields of the Lord

Author Peter Matthessen is a naturalist and documentary filmmaker. At Play in the Fields of the Lord is a novel set in the Amazon. The same year he wrote the novel he also worked on the famous but somewhat controversial documentary Dead Birds.

At Play in the Fields of the Lord is another take on Heart of Darkness. A mercinary and a family of missionaries both come to a remote village for polar oppsoite reasons leaving the villagers in a tug of war. As with Conrad's tale, fantasticism ultimately destroys the fanatic.

Matthiessen's version of the dark journey up river is a far more straightforward narrative to Conrad's. I liked At Play in the Fields of the Lord more than I did Heart of Darkness but I still find the themes rather hard to swallow.

Readers who have enjoyed Barbara Kinsolver's Poisonwood Bible will probably like At Play in the Fields of the Lord.

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Thundershock in Pummelo Stadium: 11/17/07

Thundershock

When the Pokémon cartoon was at the height of its popularity in the States, a bunch of books were published as well that more or less follow the series. Thundershock in Pummelo Stadium follows Ash on the Orange Islands, a series I'm not all the familiar with. According to Amazon.com, it is the 16th book in the Pokémon chapter books adapted by Tracey West.

Ash has one more badge to win before he can join the Orange Islands league and battle in the league wide competition. Thundershock covers the last badge and his competition in the Winner's Cup on Pummelo island.

There are some side plots involving a quest for an antidote to Vileplume stun spores and some brief interference from Team Rocket. Ultimately though the book focuses on the full battle (all six pokémon taking turns).

If you're not a regular player of the games or fan of the dubbed series, this book can be skipped. If you are a fan of either the series or the games, give the book a go. It's short and entertaining for what it is.

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Spider-man 3: 11/17/07

Spider-man 3

Sean is turning out to be as much a fan of Spider-man as I am. I've been reading the comic on and off since I was Sean's age. Back in 2002 when the first film came out I remember thinking that Tobey Maguire was perfectly cast. Not only does he completely capture the earnest geekiness of Peter Parker he's gorgeous to look at in the spidey suit.

I have enjoyed all three films but so far, Spider-man 3 is my favorite. All of the major characters have hit their stride. Spider-man is an established quantity now. Peter has told M.J. and he is comfortable in his job (as comfortable as he ever is).

When Ian and I first watched the Spider-man 3, Ian complained that the plot was too busy, too complicated. I liked the change of pace. I liked that time had obviously passed between the second and third films and we either had to figure out what had happened or had to know from our understanding of the comic. Huge drawn out origin stories bug me (see film two) so it was refreshing to just have the villains come without much fuss.

While Ian has been out of town, I've shown Spider-man 3 to the kids. They're on their second or third time of watching it. Sean took to the film immediately, having no trouble sorting out the three villains and their plots or even that Harry switches sides at the end to redeem himself. Sean also had no problems figuring out Venom's three forms (icky slime thing, Peter's second suit and Eddie's evil black widow version of spider-man).

The other thing I've loved about all three films is how beautiful and lived New York looks. The city is shown throughout the seasons and in different times of the day. It isn't the odd miniature sets and funky neon of the Burton Batmans or the overly British Gotham of the newest incarnation. It just is a beautifully captured New York.

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Seeing a Large Cat: 11/16/07

Seeing a Large Cat

Seeing a Large Cat marks a change in the narrative style of the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Starting with this volume the mysteries balloon from two hundred fifty pages to almost five hundred pages. The main source of these extra pages is the "manuscript H" which is apparently written by Walter "Ramses" Emerson.

Over the course of the second half of the series (where Ramses, Nefret and David are adults), the writing style of "manuscript H" improves as does the manner in which it is integrated into the over all narrative. In this first attempt, though, the "manuscript H" inserts interrupt the flow of the story and stall the start of the actual mystery until page 125.

The mystery itself is rather simplistic once all the family drama of the early days of the rivalry and romance of Ramses and Nefret and the historical background of 1903 Egypt are pared away. A woman is found in an unknown side tomb of KV-20 (called tomb 20-A in the novel). The woman is mummified but her modern dress quickly gives away the fact that she was only recently murdered. Eventually the plot progresses enough for Amelia et al to investigate, get in trouble, need rescuing and finally escape of their own accord. Unfortunately these action scenes are buried under long dull passages. There are times when Amelia Peabody needs to be gagged.

A huge hindrance to the pacing is the tedious attention to detail. Peters (Barbara Mertz) is a trained Egyptologist and probably knows the Valley of the Kings as well as I know my local neighborhood. It helps to come to these later novels with a basic knowledge of the history (both ancient and recent) and geography of Egypt.

The other problem with the novel is Peter's growing love affair with her characters. She has become so enamored with the Emersons and their kith and kin that every single character has to be lovingly followed and described. This love affair only gets worse as the series progresses.

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Sock at Work: 11/15/07

Sock at Work

Sock at Work is my least favorite of the three books from Adventures from the Book of Virtues books I read for the literacy train.

Socrates the bobcat (Sock to his friends) is apparently lazy. Funny, he didn't seem lazy in the last two books but then only one character gets to have any traits in a story.

So anyway, Zach and Annie want to go swimming right after a big storm (idiots) but oh no(!) the swimming hole is full of storm crap. They can't go swimming until they clean out the pond. Sock, though, doesn't want to help.

Time out then for a story about how the Camel got his hump. This story within a story is supposed to teach about the importance of teamwork. Sock, though, learns from the story that if he doesn't help his "friends" will tease him until he does.

And as a parting thought, what's up with the cover art? Are they on drugs?

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Reading Bones: 11/15/07

Cross Bones

I like to keep a book in the bathroom for when I am bathing Harriet. My current bath time book is Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs. Since I was pregnant with Harriet, Ian has taken charge of Sean's baths but with him out of town, I now have to bathe both children.

Now that he's five Ian sits in the bedroom within ear shot of Sean. It gives Ian time to do some work on his thesis or to read and it gives Sean the privacy that he is starting to want. Last night when it was Sean's turn for a bath I expected that he would want me to leave for some privacy.

Sean, though, had different plans. He wanted me to stay and keep him company. More importantly he wanted me to read to him. I asked him what he wanted me to read, thinking he would want one of his books. No, he said, he wanted me to read from my book.

So that's what I did. While Sean bathed I read a chapter to him from Cross Bones. We mostly read about skull reconstruction. He really seemed to enjoy listening the to the book and I think we have a date for another chapter tomorrow night.

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Responsibility: Annie Shows Off: 11/14/07

Annie Shows Off

Annie Shows Off is another story based on a 1996 PBS series called Adventures from the Book of Virtues. I am glad I didn't have the entire collection to read through.

In this book, Annie and Zach need to learn to take responsibility for their actions. They also need a serious grounding.

Annie's mother is a single parent trying to provide a good home for her daughter. She runs a bakery and has scraped together enough money to buy Annie a well needed new bike. To help out, Annie is asked to make a few deliveries on her new bike. Annie and Zach though decided to go racing in the mountains instead. Cakes and bike are ruined in the process and Annie nearly kills herself.

Annie and Zach get a lesson in responsibility from their oddly named forest friends. They use the myth of Daedalus and Icarus to teach them to take responsibility for their actions.

Happy to have learned a new life lesson, Annie and Zach go home to tell Annie's mother the truth. She happily drops everything to rebake all the cakes (plus one for the forest friends!). What about the heart break and frustration she must be feeling?

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Honesty: Zach's Tall Tale: 11/13/07

Zach's Tall Tale

Zach's Tall Tale is the first story based on a 1996 PBS series called Adventures from the Book of Virtues. If the books are anything to go on, I'm grateful to have missed the television series.

Each book teaches a different virtue through some painfully forced plotting. Then to spice things up, the story takes a time out for an excerpt from a better story that illustrates the same point.

Besides Zach and Annie there are talking forest animals who for some unexplained reason have the names of dead Greek philosophers. But to keep things cool, the animals go by nicknames like "Sock" for Socrates. More on Sock when I review Sock at Work.

In this inaugural book, Zach must learn the importance of telling the truth after he breaks his father's camera. Of course Zach could have saved himself and us a lot of pain if he had listened to his father in the first place but this book is about honesty not obedience.

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Lucky You: 11/12/07

Lucky You

Two people win the Florida lottery and they are total opposites: one's a racist militia man; the other is a female black environmentalist. The heroine of the story just happens to be named JoLayne Lucks. Lady Luck's new found fortune brings her in league with Tom Krome a reporter who just wants her story no matter what she does to him.

It could have been another cute story set around one of Florida's many environmental issues but it didn't catch my attention. The situations felt contrived at best and forced at their worst. Hiaasen was trying for an irreverent tone in the vein of Christopher Moore but he didn't make me laugh or connect with any of the characters. Ms Lucks is so abrasive throughout the book that I didn't care if she succeeded in her environmental quest.

Lucky You is the last of the Hiaasen books I have on my to be read shelf and I think I'll keep it that way for a while. I'm not giving up on him completely as I have enjoyed two of his books tremendously: Hoot and Basket Case.

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Nanowrimo and Thoughts on Writing: 11/12/07

Nanowrimo: Tangent

Paperback Writer has posted a list common pitfalls to avoid when writing novels. As this is Nanowrimo season and lots of us (myself included) are busy cranking out our novellas, I found the "Novel McTen" post useful and interesting.

Among her list of ten I can say I've suffered through at least one book in the list. My favorites (or perhaps, least favorite) are the "Brother McVampires" "Dragon McQuest" and "Happily Ever McAfter".

While I can say with a sigh of relief that my current Nanowrimo hasn't fallen into any of these McTen traps, it is not without problems. Last night just as I was patting myself on the back for getting a day ahead in terms of word count, I realized I had made an error in my world's orientation which is really sad for a book starring a surveyor!

The mantras for Nanowrimo are "quantity not quality" and "no editing" but I just had to fix this mistake. Since I was already at my word count for today before even writing I took ten minutes out of my schedule to find and fix the places where I specifically mention directions. Now when I begin writing again after the children go to bed I can jump back into writing my Nanowrimo and not stress over the mistake.

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Bleach 4: 11/11/07

Bleach 4

Bleach 4 further explains what Hollows are and how they are created. Ichigo and a popular TV psychic learn the hard way the danger of doing haphazard spiritual cleansing.

A mystery also begins near the end of the volume. Someone other than Ichigo and Rukia are taking care of the hollows. Either that or her detector has started to misfire. The who behind the mystery is shown on cover but the how and the why is revealed in volume 5.

Overall I like how each new volume brings something new to the overall story arc. Each one reveals more information either on characters or on how the world works. Volume 4 does both, bringing in more pivotal characters and better explanation to how the spirit world works.

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"The Diamond Shadow": 11/10/07

F & SF

The second story in October/ November issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is a novelet by Fred Chappell called "The Diamond Shadow." The premise is that light and shadow have forces that can be controlled for magical purposes. A trio of men, a shadow mage, his apprentice and a servant are called before a countess who has a diamond that has developed a disturbingly dark shadow. She wants it taken care of no matter what.

I liked the premise but the execution left me wanting something different. First there are the awkward names chosen for the main characters: Astolfo, Falco and Mutano. Then there is the Countess's ornate style of speaking which doesn't flow as well as it should. Finally there is the lack of explanation as to why the narrator is apprenticing. Without a good sense of where he is coming from and what his view of his world is, it's hard to understand the world in so few pages.

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Feet of Clay: 11/09/07

Feet of Clay

I started reading through the Night Watch series of Discworld books for the Beach Blanket Bonanza challenge I ran. I enjoyed the books I read then enough to keep reading more of the series. I recently finished Feet of Clay and am now starting Jingo.

Feet of Clay is another straight up mystery. There have been a handful of murders and someone is trying to kill the Patrician again. Vimes, Carrot and the rest of the Watch must figure out who is behind the murders, the assassination attempts and why.

The novel is fleshed out with details of Ankh-Morpork's history and culture. We learn more of the Vimes who committed regicide and of the city's peerage. There are a number of humorous scenes involving the heraldry of the various families. In the midst of these scenes, Nobby Nobbs finds himself elevated.

Over all it's a good combination of mystery, world building, social commentary and humor. It was been fun to see how the Watch has changed as it diversifies. All the different cultures have their own prejudices even if they grudgingly agree to work together.

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Fortunately: 11/08/07

Fortunately

Remy Charlip is a choreographer, dancer, poet, artist and children's book author. He's also one of my favorite authors of children's books.

His books are surreal and playful. Fortunately builds on a series of events much like The House the Jack Built nursery rhyme. Each new event poses a new problem that requires a solution. The problem comes with "unfortunately" and the solution is provided with "fortunately."

The basic story follow's Ned's travels from New York to Florida to attend a party he has been invited to. On the way he has a number of misfortunes, each one more surreal than the previous. And yet all these apparently random events do help Ned reach his goal.

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To Bathe in Lightning: 11/07/07

To Bathe in Lightning

To Bathe in Lightning is the sequel to Dancing on the Volcano. I came to this book without having read the first book. I am a firm believer that books in a series should stand alone because it's not always possible to read all the books in the series.

I am feeling very mixed brained about my first time reading book by Anne Gay. She seems capable of building complex worlds and populating them with a variety of characters and cultures. Unfortunately either as a result of coming in halfway through the story or because of the nature of the Second Wave plot, I felt like an outsider only understanding every other sentence. I never really found a character I liked or comprehended. Without that connection I never really cared about all the machinations and backstabbing and whatnot even though the characters themselves were clearly fighting for their lives.

Despite my lukewarm reaction to To Bathe in Lightning I am intrigued enough by Anne Gay's writing to want to try again. If I find a copy of Dancing on the Volcano I will read it. Or if I see another of her books, I will try it too.

I read this book for the "Unread Authors Challenge" run by Sycoraxpine.

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Ten Timid Ghosts: 11/06/07

Ten Timid Ghosts

Now that Sean is older and able to read he has been recommending a number of wonderful books. One of the current favorites among his friends is Ten Timid Ghosts. Sean spoke so highly of it that we ended up getting a copy to add to our collection.

Ten Timid Ghosts is a counting backwards book like Ten Little Lady Bugs except that it is Halloween themed. Ten ghosts get evicted from their home by a witch who has bought their home. The witch uses a number of sneaky tricks to get them to leave. In the end though, they figure out what's going on and they want their house back!

Sean likes the book for all the witch's schemes. She uses puppets and disguises and these make him laugh.

My personal favorite page is the bat she uses to scare away ghost number nine. The fleeing ghost takes the eyes up the stairs to the striped socks of the witch. The spring hanging down from her feet leads to the bat which takes up most of the two pages. It's left wing creates a line that draws the eye from the foyer to the sitting room, by way of a portrait (with a hiding ghost) and a number of other hiding ghosts (like those in Hide and Ghost Seek). This illustration is a good early introduction to the ghosts and their home and that's why I like it so much.

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Black Swan Green: 11/05/07

Black Swan Green

Black Swan Green takes place over the course of a year: from January 1982 to January 1983. There is one chapter for each month. Until the last chapter, the other twelve chapters read more like short stories than chapters in a novel. The plotting is subtle, often focusing on the mundane joys of life than on the big picture events.

The narrator of the book is thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor. He is like Adrian Mole but more likeable and probably smarter. His narration is told in the past tense, somewhere between the impressions he would have had as a teen and the twenty-twenty hindsight of an adult. These months are told in standard prose, not in the pseudo diary entries that many of these teen coming of age books have.

Black Swan Green needed to be read at a leisurely pace. Every book has its own rhythm. For this book I found myself needing to savor each chapter and take a break between chapters. When I can normally read a book in a day to a day and a half, I ended up taking almost five days to read this novel.

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Knuffle Bunny Too: 11/04/07

Knuffle Bunny Too

Knuffle Bunny Too is the sequel to Knuffle Bunny. I have not read the first in the series but having so enjoyed the sequel I will keep my eyes out for the original.

Knuffle Bunny is the favorite toy of a now preschool aged Trixie. She takes her beloved bunny to preschool to show to all her classmates.

Unfortunately for Trixie, her Knuffle isn't the only one! Her preschool friend has one too! Then an even more horrible thing happens, the teacher mixes up the Knuffle bunnies and no one notices until it is too late.

This story of mistaken identities is told against a black and white photographic backdrop of New York City, as is the original. The typical goofy Mo Willems illustrations blend nicely with these snatches of New York. The characters really seem live there even though they are stylistically so different.

For parents the book has some nice humorous looks at the sorts of demands young children make and the sacrifices that parents are so often willing to make to keep their children happy. This book is one that can be enjoyed by children and parents together.

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Zombies of the Gene Pool: 11/03/07

Zombies of the Gene Pool is the sequel to Bimbos of the Death Sun. This book satirizes fandom and has a mystery set during a reunion of 1950s authors.

Author and engineer Jay Omega pals along with his colleague to the reunion of the "Lanthanides" so named because they first joined together in 1957. They have come together thirty years later to dig up a time capsule long buried at the bottom of a man made lake (currently being drained for repairs).

Mostly this book, as its predecessor, Bimbos of the Death Sun, is an antagonistic look at fandom and at the writers of science fiction. She paints a dreary view of the genre, clearly asking through her books why anyone would either want to write or read science fiction. These books would have been better if she had stuck with something she knows more about: the mystery genre.

Since McCrumb writes mysteries she seems compelled to turn these two parodies into mysteries but the murders come so late in the book that they seem more like after thoughts than actual plot points. The murder and ultimate solving of the case takes place within the last 50 to 70 pages of the novels, leaving no room for subtly or red herrings.

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Birthday Card, Where Are You? 11/02/07

Birthday Card Where Are You?

My children love "lift the flap" books and both of them have gone with me numerous times to the post office to mail BookCrossing books. So Birthday Card, Where Are You? makes the perfect book for both Sean and Harriet.

Birthday Card, Where Are You? tracks the travels of a birthday card as it goes from mail box, through the U. S. postal system to the home of a girl having a birthday. Each page except the very last one has a flap to list that shows the insides of something postal: the mail box, the mail truck, the mail bag, the airplane, and so forth.

The illustrations are a little out of date as they have the old logo (the book being published in 1982) but they are still intricate enough to be educational and lovely enough to be interesting and engaging.

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Auntie Mame: 11/01/07

Auntie Mame

Auntie Mame was one of my favorite movies as a child. So when BookCrossing offered me the chance to read the book that inspired the film, I had to jump on it. Of course, real life being what it is, I ended up shelving the book for about three years before I finally read it. The Book to Movie Challenge at SMS Reviews finally inspired me to read the book.

Auntie Mame (An Irreverent Episode) is the first in a series of books by Patrick Dennis (Edward Everett Tanner III). This memoir, while perhaps inspired by real people in his life. In that regard, Auntie Mame is among a number of novels disguised as memoirs: Life on the Mississippi, Tales from Margaritaville, most of Philip Roth's novels and so forth.

I have to admit that while I enjoyed some of the chapters, over all I found Dennis's style of writing rather dry. The situations he dreamed up are bizarre but the way in which he describes them manages to drain the humor right out of the situation.

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