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Rating System

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

Reading Challenges

My Kind of Mystery Reading Challenge 2017 February - January 2017-8




 

 


August in Review: 08/31/08

Last month I said I would aim for 31 reviews for August after burning out in July. I didn't listen to myself. I came in at two under last month's high of 45. I am still trying to gear my reviews down for September and am still aiming at only one per day.

  1. Amore by Laura Wolf (August 23)
  2. Andromeda on the Street of Ducklings by Judi Hendricks (August 24)
  3. Another Dawn by Sandra Brown (August 5)
  4. Another Perfect Day by Steven Popkes (August 22)
  5. Bad Manners by Chris Manby (August 26)
  6. The Bamboo Confessions by Lauren Weisberger (August 19)
  7. Bounty by Rand B. Lee (August 23)
  8. Busy Horsies by John Schindel and Casi Lark (August 3)
  9. "But Wait! There's More!" by Richard Mueller (August 27)
  10. Childrun by Marc Laidlaw (August 11)
  11. Church of the Dog by Kaya McLaren (August 19)
  12. Click edited by Arthur Levine (August 9)
  13. Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James (August 24)
  14. A Day in the Life of my Great Brit Book Tour by Adriana Trigiani (August 4)
  15. Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs (August 11)
  16. The Dinosaur Train by James L. Cambrias (August 6)
  17. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (August 13)
  18. El Tigre by John H. Manhold (August 15)
  19. Five by Julianna Baggott (August 7)
  20. Flip and Flop by Dawn Apperley (August 8)
  21. The Fourth Watcher by Timothy Hallnan (August 10)
  22. The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner (August 18)
  23. A Grave Mistake by Stella Cameron (August 27)
  24. The Great Waldo Search by Martin Handfold (August 3)
  25. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (August 29)
  26. I Know a Woman by Quinn Dalton (August 31)
  27. Leaving a Light On by Claire LaZebnik (August 9)
  28. Lifetime Loser by James Ross (August 2)
  29. Moving Day by Cindy Chupack (August 12)
  30. An Open Letter to Earth by Scott Dalrymple (August 20)
  31. Persistence of Memory by J. M. Snyder (August 16)
  32. Poison Victory by Albert E. Cowdrey (August 1)
  33. The Political Prisoner by Charles Coleman Finlay (August 18)
  34. Pump Six by Paolo Bacigalupi (August 30)
  35. The Regent's Knight by J. M. Snyder (August 21)
  36. Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace (August 31)
  37. Simplexity by Jeffrey Kluger (August 25)
  38. Smoky the Baby Goat by Mary Elting Folsom and Veronica Reed (August 7)
  39. There's a Cow in the Cabbage Patch by Clare Beaton and Stella Blackstone (August 15)
  40. The Truth About Nigel by Jennifer Weiner (August 16)
  41. The Two-Month Itch by Sarah Mlynowski (August 29)
  42. Voodoo Dolls, C-Cups and Eminem by Melissa Senate (August 17)
  43. Yoga Babe by Lauren Henderson (August 14)

Most of my reading this month was in the form of short stories, divided evenly between the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and American Girls About Town. The F&SF reviews are an ongoing project that I started last year; I will be finishing my reviews of American Girls About Town in September.

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Shades of Darkness, Shades of GraceShades of Darkness, Shades of Grace: 08/31/08

Take The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, remove Hercule Poirot and transplant the story to Minnesota and you get Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace by Catherine Johnson.

Kay recounts matter-of-factly the way her brother's new bride Pamela single handedly sets out to destroy her new family. She is a fowl mouthed, cocaine addicted alcoholic and gold digger. The only good she brings to the family is a daughter born early on in the marriage.

Kay's dispassionate narrative of the four years from the marriage to the end of the book never wavers. It reads a bit like Truman Capote's true crime book In Cold Blood. It was her own cold blooded approach to the role as protagonist and narrator that first made me see the connection to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Kay reminded me of Dr. Sheppard.

Visit Catherine Johnson's website.

Read more reviews at:

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American Girls About TownI Know a Woman: 08/31/08

"I Know a Woman" is really nothing more than a series of inter-related conversations. It's sort of like the Lake Wobegon monologues that come near the end of an episode of A Prairie Home Companion.

Here the narrator is a thirty-something ex-wife of a born again Christian who left her husband after he discovered one of his employees was moonlighting as a striper. She starts her monologue with the tale of Judy the striper and moves on to her relationship to her and she tries to use Judy's story as an explanation for why she chose to leave her husband.

Her story though never gives an adequate explanation of why she left or what she's doing with her life now that she's single. Her monologue gets sidetracked with her crashing of a millionaires only investment club and the resulting conversation with a one handed man named Neil.

Although the separate pieces of the monologue are interesting, there's no satisfying cohesion to them. The story just ends after yet another tangent. With tighter editing it could have been better.

Visit Quinn Dalton's website.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionPump Six: 08/30/08

The first story in the September issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, "Pump Six" was published earlier this year in Pump Six and Other Stories. Having so enjoyed the title story, I would love to read the rest of the book.

"Pump Six" is a near future tale of a water treatment engineer just trying to live his life and keep the sewage pumps running in a city that is slowly but steadily falling apart. The city happens to be New York but it's a New York in a time when the stock exchange is no longer running, skyscrapers are crumbling from a lack of maintenance, the last taxi was spotted years ago and blackouts are common.

The engineer protagonist knows something is amiss with the world and when pump six finally fails beyond his ability to repair it, he begins to wonder why and more importantly if the rest of the cities ills are interconnected.

The story takes place in the 22nd century based on the age of pumps. The technology that keeps the sewage from backing up is about one hundred years old and it has outlived the company that built it. It's a frank but chilling reminder of the legacy technology that modern day cities function with. Take for instance the New York subway system; it first opened for business in 1904. Or for a much older city, consider the many layers of history and legacy structures in London as described in Underground London and London: The Biography.

If you enjoy urban dystopian tales, I also recommend:

Paolo Bacigalupi's website.

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Howl's Moving CastleHowl's Moving Castle: 08/29/08

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones (1986) is a delightful fantasy story full of spells, political intrigue and interesting characters. It was adapted into a wonderful film directed by Hayao Miyazaki in 2004.

Sophie Hatter one day finds herself bewitched into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. Having no one else to turn to, she decides to seek out the Wizard Howl who was "known to amuse himself by collecting young girls and sucking the souls from them." (page 4)

As with many of Diana Wynne Jones's books, Sophie is left in the dark about much of the political situation that her apparently reluctant hosts, Howl and his apprentice Michael, are part of. Nonetheless, by her own proximity to them, she is pulled deeper and deeper into the fight for Ingary being launched by the Witch of the Waste. She must also sort through the complicated relationship of Howl and the demon who moves the castle, Calcifer. Through a combination of stubborn determination, hard work and dumb luck, Sophie succeeds in often times unexpected ways.

I came to this book both as a fan of Diana Wynne Jones and of the Miazaki film, I was pleased to recognize the film in the book. Yes, there are differences but the spirit of the book was translated into the film. The novel and the film feel like coherent entity expressed in different media.

There is a sequel to the novel called Castle in the Air (which is hinted at in closing credits of the film).

Visit Diana Wynne Jones's website.

I read this book for the Herding Cats Challenge. You can see my full list of books here.

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American Girls About TownThe Two-Month Itch: 08/28/08

"The Two-Month Itch" reminds me most of "The Lady or the Tiger" except that the choices are Gavin or Bobby. Written in the second person, you must decide to either given in to your impulse to kiss Bobby on the plane trip to Arizona or stay true to your boyfriend of almost two-months, Gavin.

The story of the trip to visit the parents plays out in parallel narrative streams: one where you did kiss Bobby and one where you didn't. In one you're wracked with guilt and in the other you regret that missed kiss.

The story's conversational tone is humorous and bordering on slap-stick. I didn't warm to it until the parallel narratives began, labeled as Option A and Option B with ever sillier subtitles like "The One Where You Cheated, You Whorebag" (page 235). "The Two-Month Itch" would have fit perfectly in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and is very similar in tone to "Enfant Terrible" by Scott Dalrymple.

Visit Sarah Mlynowski's website.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

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A Grave MistakeA Grave Mistake: 08/27/08

A Grave Mistake came highly recommended to me by a friend. She and I usually agree on books so I was surprised when I couldn't make it past chapter 5.

The back of the book sounds like the type of book I'd normally enjoy with the homicide of an unidentified man, a loan shark who's treatening one of the main characters and finally a confrontation of an unknown foe.

Unfortunately seventy pages in, nothing had happened except for long passages about Jilly Gable's insecurities and some sex scenes. The sex wasn't interesting enough to keep my attention. So I stopped reading not really sure what the book was about except that it takes place in Toussaint, Louisiana.

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction"But Wait! There's More!": 08/27/08

Since I'm currently forced to find new work to make up wages in my salary, I found "But Wait! There's More!" by Richard Mueller, the last story in the August issue of FSF, timely and amusing.

Cullin McSherry, a Hollywood writer, needs work. Having exhausted the usual sources for work, he turns to the writing gigs section of Craigslist. He finds a gig writing about Nascar (but hates Nascar), a job as a ghost writer (but he knows the celebrity and has watched his friend lose his home from a previous ghost writing job for him), writer for a gay porn site (there's always at least one post like this), and finally one that sounds too good to be true but hooks him in any way. Cullin McSherry figuratively sells his soul by agreeing to write for an infomercial that literally buys and sells souls.

What follows after Cullin gets the job isn't the usual reveal that his employer is the devil. Instead it's a funny poke at society as Mueller extrapolates what would happen if there was a Soul Bank running infomercials.

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American Girls About TownBad Manners: 08/26/08

Christine, an American, living in London, recounts her disastrous dates with a man she only calls by the nickname "the Prince." In the end she realizes he isn't right for her and sets out to declare her independence.

I have to admire her patience with "the Prince" as he is an appalling character. He needed a good telling off.

As the title suggests the story is about manners. Christine in her dates with "the Prince" is constantly comparing herself to Eliza Doolittle for his constant nagging about her diction, her choice in art, and of course her manners.

Genuine bad manners do come into play, but how, I won't tell. It's a cute story and I don't want to spoil it.

Learn more about Chris Manby.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

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SimplexitySimplexity: 08/25/08

Simplexity by Time magazine senior writer Jeffrey Kluger tries to explain eleven chapters the complexities of the world and how they can be understood in simple terms. Most of the chapters deal with human systems: the stock market, evacuations during emergencies, social structures, business, sports, technology and the arts.

Kluger's book is a potpourri of topics with enough information to lead to further reading if one is interested. He thankfully keeps himself out of the picture making the book about the topic and thankfully not about his struggle to write the book. Having a book focus on the topic and hand was refreshing after the disappointing Geography of Bliss.

Although my over all impression of the book is positive, I found some of the chapters mind numbingly dull. The opening chapter on the stock market had me preparing to write a negative review. The ending chapter on complexity science in the arts also left me yawning. My favorite chapters came in the last half of the book: the one on linguistics and language acquisition was by far the most interesting one. Another fascinating chapter is the one on the business of technology and how it drives the complexity of product designs.

Read other reviews at:

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Collected Ghost StoriesCollected Ghost Stories: 08/24/08

Collected Ghost Stories is just that, a collection of all the ghost stories M. R. James (Montague Rhodes) published over the course of his writing career (roughly 1904-1935). When he wasn't writing, he was British mediaeval scholar and later the provost of King's College. His work in mediaeval studies comes through in his ghost stories.

This 350 page volume contains thirty-one ghost stories written in a Gothic style. The ornate language and slow pacing of the stories requires extra time when reading. Many of the stories were written to be read out loud and they still work best when read at the slower pace of spoken text.

My favorite story in the collection comes early in the book: "Number 13" which plays on the tradition of hotels not having a room #13. "Number 13" supposes the existence of such a room in a hotel that claims not to have a room. Where does this extra room come from?

Learn more about M. R. James.

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American Girls About TownAndromeda on the Street of Ducklings: 08/24/08

Andy (short for Andrea) goes to Paris on a moments notice. A lack of planning has left her with only one option: staying at Chez Pauline in a room let by an ex patriot Briton.

"Andromeda on the Street of Ducklings" is part travelogue and part melancholy reminiscence on a life left behind.

The reason behind Andy's trip is the glue that holds this story together. Paris is an escape and a therapy wrapped together. It might even be the start of her recovery.

Learn more about Judi Hendricks.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionBounty: 08/23/08

After having so enjoyed "Litany", the cover story for the June 2008 issue, I'm stuck on how to review "Bounty" from the August issue. I've read through the four page story three time and it still fails to leave much of an impression with me.

"Bounty" follows four hunters as they brutally track down a "perv." They finally catch one of the two they had been chasing. The big reveal of who had hired them to hunt the perv down reads like its meant to be a shocking ending. For me, the reaction was more of a mixture between "huh" and "so what." On further reflection and a couple more readings, I settled on "but Brimstone did it better."

Read more at The Fix.

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American Girls About TownAmore: 08/23/08

The next story in the collection is "Amore" by Laura Wolf. Linda comes from a large family and can't understand why her siblings think her love life is weird. She wants to find a foreign man to sweep her off her feet and take her far away from Ohio.

After a long line of men from all corners of the world, Linda meets Raffaele, an Italian. She hopes he's her ticket out of Ohio.

Most of the story follows Linda's disastrous attempt to make a multi-course meal for Raffaele and her family. Here the tale is reminiscent of A Thousand Days in Venice and its sequel A Thousand Days in Tuscany, the memoirs by Marlena de Blasi.

"Amore" bases it humor around funky sexual obsessions and women not being able to cook. Granted, it's a short story, but these clichés weren't enough to make it interesting.

Learn more about Laura Wolf.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionAnother Perfect Day: 08/22/08

"Another Perfect Day" reminds me most of Connie Willis's time travel books. As this short story by Steven Popkes is on the lighter side, I would say it's more like To Say Nothing of the Dog than Doomsday Book.

A man polishing his gun on the anniversary of his wife's death is visited by a man named Wilson Taylor who claims he' from the future and wants to stop his suicide. There's only one problem, he's not the right man, not in the right state and it's not the right year.

Usually what follows in these type of time travel stories is the person traveling from the future gets stuck for a while and the person in the past can't comprehend the notion of time travel. Not so in this story. What happens instead is more amusing than the typical plot.

Visit Steven Popkes's website.

Read more at The Worm Seat, The Barking Dog, The Arch of Time.

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The Regent's KnightThe Regent's Knight: 08/21/08

The Regent's Knight by J. M Snyder was originally published as an ebook and then republished in an anthology called Forever After. Although I read it in the anthology, I have chosen to use the original artwork. Reviews of this book when it was first released in March was how I first heard of J. M. Snyder and became and avid lurker on her blog.

In The Regent's Knight, the kingdom Pharr is under siege, King Adin is missing in battle, presumed dead and his son, Amery is the reluctant regent. To become King he must marry and it must be a woman of noble birth. Amery though has long had his heart stolen by Sir Tovin Raimus, one of his top knights.

Given the impossible situation that Amery and Tovin are in and their youth (mid twenties) the angst level is much higher than it is in Persistence of Memory even though the situation in that post-apocalyptic world is probably worse for everyone than the war is for Amery and his subjects. Amery being still early in his relationship with Tovin is too focused on the logistics of their relationship to see the bigger picture. In other words, he's a terrible regent.

The story though isn't really about Amery; it's about Tovin and how he has to balance his duty to the kingdom and his love for the regent. Years of service to the King has taught him maturity and given him perhaps a more jaded take on life. I really wanted more insight into what Tovin sees in Amery because it isn't obvious in the seventy pages of the novella except that it isn't the regent's position in society.

Having read both stories back to back, I've come to the conclusion that I like Snyder's writing style to try more of his books. The story I thought I would like, I did but I didn't love it. The story I was wary about, Persistence of Memory, I ended up loving.

Learn more about J. M. Snyder and read her blog.

Read other reviews at

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionAn Open Letter to Earth: 08/20/08

I love a completely silly and very short story when I need to unwind at the end of the day. "An Open Letter to Earth" by Scott Dalrymple in the August issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction fits that bill perfectly.

Like Ruth Nestvold's "Mars a Traveler's Guide" or Robert Reed's "Character Flu", "An Open Letter to Earth" is only a few pages long and more a monologue than a story. In this case, it is a letter from an unnamed extra terrestrial who rants about humanity and tries to explain why he and other visitors to Earth find the human species so interesting. He then goes on list ways that we can improve ourselves and our time on Earth.

It's cute story with some very silly points (like the request that the term "alien" be replaced with "Chuck Norris"® and that hamsters would be the perfect intergalactic currency. It also has some important warnings about protecting the environment, ending wars and celebrating diversity (even if the Chuck Norris can't tell humans apart).

Read the interview at the magazine's blog.

Read more at Raindancer's Writing Life, The Arch of Time, Musing Aloud, Keylmann-Report (Deutsch).

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Church of the DogChurch of the Dog: 08/19/08

Imagine if Pollyanna grew up, became an art teacher an moved to a ranch run by an elderly couple. That's the gist of Church of the Dog by Kaya McLaren.

Set in Oregon farm country, Church of the Dog follows the lives of Edith, Earl, their grandson Daniel and their mysterious guest Mara O'Shaunnessey who can astral project herself into dreams and sometimes heaven. The novel is told in the voices of the four main characters, though it later settles on just Daniel and Mara.

The chapters are divided up by season and the book covers a year and a bit of Mara's stay on the ranch and the way in which she changes it. Although the ranch is the central setting of the novel, Mara's classroom, Daniel's home (the "ugliest house on the street" (page 25), the church and the Grand Canyon also have important roles in this unusual and sometimes hard to follow story.

With such potentially different narrators, I was surprised at the sameness of their voices. Earl and Edith make sense for their sixty year marriage but Daniel and Mara should have sounded more different than they do. I found it difficult at times to distinguish who had taken over telling the story and would have to flip back to see which names was listed.

Fans of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg and The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom will enjoy Church of the Dog.

Learn more about Kaya McLaren.

Read other reviews at:

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American Girls About TownThe Bamboo Confessions: 08/19/08

Lauren Weisberger's story "The Bamboo Confessions" follows Kate as she takes a backpacking tour of Vietnam. It's a story of impulse, adventure and unlikely friendships.

Kate goes on the trip without her boyfriend and without the blessing of most of her friends and family (including her boyfriend). She is repeatedly warned that she won't last because she "doesn't like to be alone."

Unlike some of the previous heroines in this book, Kate actually adapts and grows during her trip. She complains less as the trip continues, makes friends and grows as a person.

As a former exchange student, I enjoyed traveling along with Kate and the others. I giggled when they rebelled against their leader, Claire. I nodded at the disconnect Kate feels when calling home and hearing the life she has left behind going on without her as she compares it to what she's experiencing in a town that only gets mail once a week.

Learn more about Lauren Weisberger.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

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The Geography of BlissThe Geography of Bliss: 08/18/08

Inspired by research done in the Netherlands on the World Database of Happiness (page 7), NPR correspondent and self proclaimed grump Eric Weiner decided to travel to the happiest countries in the world to see if he could figure out the secret of happiness.

Weiner's tour included The Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India and home to the United States (Florida). Like so many recent travelogues the book quickly stops being about the research and becomes a blow by blow account of the journey. When Weiner pulls himself out of the picture and focuses on the culture of the place he's visiting the book is fascinating. Unfortunately, as he becomes more jet lagged he spends more of his time grousing.

The first hundred pages or so are interesting. I especially liked the chapter set in Bhutan and how it contrasted to Qatar. By Iceland, things started to wind down an his observations on human nature began getting repetitive.

To learn more about the Eric Weiner, please see his website.

Read more reviews at:

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionThe Political Prisoner: 08/18/08

"The Political Prisoner" by Charles Coleman Finlay in the August 2008 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is the sequel to "The Political Officer" (April 2002). Maxim Nikomedes returns a political prisoner to the political mess he helped create on a world founded by religious fundamentalists.

Try as I might, I just couldn't get into the story. I don't know if I would have enjoyed it more if I had read "The Political Officer." Although I found the comparison to the Amish interesting the concept wasn't enough to sustain such a long story. My enjoyment of "The Political Prisoner" was sabotaged by two similar but better stories: Persistence of Memory by J. M. Snyder and Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold.

To learn more about the author, please see Charles Coleman Finlay's website and blog or read his interview at the magazine's blog.

Read more at The Fix, The Worm Seat.

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American Girls About TownVoodoo Dolls, C-Cups and Eminem: 08/17/08

Originally I had two reviews planned for today: a story from American Girls About Town and a story from the August issue of FSF. Unfortunately iCal has decided to delete all my entries for planned reviews. So I have been wasting my time fighting with that P.O.S. application rather than concentrating on writing reviews.

Rebecca Simon is engaged to her boyfriend of six months. Her family isn't happy especially her 14 year old sister who is as annoying a plot element as Dawn's addition was to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So I just imagined Dawn with a perm whenever Madison did anything in this story.

In the end, Rebecca and Michael do get married just as planned even though everyone thinks they are too young. Madison doesn't get her way and Rebecca isn't cursed after all.

I personally can't imagine the two sisters being as close as they apparently are, not being eleven years apart in age. I have a younger brother and the seven years between us made it seem like we were only children for most of our lives at home.

Learn more about Melissa Senate.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

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Persistance of MemoryPersistence of Memory: 08/16/08

Persistence of Memory by J. M Snyder was originally published as an ebook and then republished in an anthology called Forever After. Although I read it in the anthology, I have chosen to use the original artwork. The novella was a 2008 finalist in the GLBT category for the EPPIE Awards.

Persistence of Memory, set in future in a time when the government culls population at random for use in its army. Memories are erased and all the focus is on training to be a soldier. Snyder asks, can love persist against such odds?

After five years of planning his escape, Joah manages. He only knows his name (which he shouldn't) and that he wants to be free. He fights the chip in his head that demands he go back to the base and he runs on a leg wounded by a bullet until he can run no more. Fate, or love, or luck or some combination of all three has brought him home. Can his husband, Tobin, help him pick up the life that was taken from him when he was culled?

My only complaint with Persistence of Memory is that it's too short. It comes in at 62 pages and I want more. It's a well told story in an interesting science fiction setting. It's full of raw human emotion with a poignant ending.

Learn more about J. M. Snyder and read his blog.

Read other reviews at

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American Girls About TownThe Truth About Nigel: 08/16/08

"The Truth About Nigel" by Jennifer Weiner reminds me favorably of another short story I recently read: "The Kiss in the Carry-on Bag" by Richard Peck. Both are about mistaken identities and romances that cannot be.

To Sarah Compton "he was just Nigel." They were new employees at the First Bank of London and were bumbling along together in learning their jobs. Except, Nigel wasn't Nigel and Sarah hadn't found a new boyfriend. What Sarah had found instead was unwanted attention by the tabloids.

"The Truth About Nigel" has a sweet ending, though not the Hollywood ending that one might expect. For all the frustration and annoyance, Sarah learns the value of being friendly and may have found a better suited mate than Nigel.

Of the stories I've read so far in the collection, "The Truth About Nigel" is one of my favorites. The top spot so far goes to "Leaving a Light On."

Learn more about Jennifer Weiner.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

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El TigreEl Tigre: 08/15/08

El Tigre by John H. Manhold with it's catchy title and colorful cover is a conversation piece. Whenever I was reading this book in public, people wanted to know what it was about. It's a historical fiction about a young Prussian aristocrat who makes a life for himself as a professional soldier and in the process becomes a legendary figure known as El Tigre for his skill and speed in battle.

Although El Tigre is a fictional character he was inspired by Manhold's family history and his own interests in the old west. In an online interview, Manhold explains how he uses the alias "El Tigre Viejo" (the old tiger) in the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS).

El Tigre is full of interesting history. Sometimes the presentation of the facts gets in the way El Tigre's adventures through excessive "info dumping" but the setting is interesting enough to keep the reader engaged. It was interesting to see how the political situation in Europe meshed with the situation in the new world between Spain, Mexico, the fledgling Republic of Texas, the United States and finally, California.

Learn more about John H. Manhold at his website.

Read more about the book at:

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There's a Cow in the Cabbage PatchThere's a Cow in the Cabbage Patch: 08/15/08

There's a Cow in the Cabbage Patch is a delightful children's board book from England. It's a collaboration between Clare Beaton, known for her handcrafted illustrations and Stella Blackstone.

The cow and a number of other farm animals have gotten loose and are making nuisances of themselves. Can the two farmers round up the animals before they cause too much trouble?

Stella Blackstone's rhymes are cute and humorous but it's Beaton's felt, bead and button quilt collages that make the book extra special. Beaton describes herself as a "tremendous hoarder and collector of everything", especially fabrics, just in case she'll need something for her artwork. Her enthusiasm shows in her whimsical pieces.

There's a Cow in the Cabbage Patch is the second book by Blackstone and Beaton that I've enjoyed with Sean and Harriet. If you enjoy this one you should check out Secret Seahorse.

Learn more about Clare Beaton and Stella Blackstone.

Read more about the book at:

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American Girls About TownYoga Babe: 08/14/08

"Yoga Babe" by Lauren Henderson follows a unnamed woman through her yoga class. If you believe her, she's a babe and deserving of any extra perks in life that may come from it.

"Yoga Babe" is the first story in American Girls About Town that I have genuinely hated. I don't care how perfect she is. I don't care how imperfect her yoga partner is. I don't care about how important it is to be seen at the yoga class or what clothes one should or shouldn't wear. I don't care how smooth her legs are or how stubbly her partner's legs are. I just don't care!

If you enjoy stories about shallow, self absorbed characters, then by all means enjoy "Yoga Babe." I, though, want my ten minutes back.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

Learn more about Lauren Henderson.

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Doomsday BookDoomsday Book: 08/13/08

Doomsday Book (1992) by Connie Willis takes place in the same world as To Say Nothing of the Dog (1997). In 1993 it won a Hugo and Nebula and the Best Science Fiction novel from Locus Magazine.

Kivrin travels back to 14th century Oxfordshire at Christmas time. She's there to experience a mediaeval Christmas but influenza and later the blue illness puts Kivrin at risk. Meanwhile in 2054, her Oxford colleagues are dealing with their own influenza outbreak and are under quarantine to avoid another pandemic during the Christmas holiday.

The "Doomsday Book" of the novel's title is Kivrin's record of her travels. She originally calls it her "Domesday Book" after named after the Survey commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1085. The book slowly transforms into the "Doomsday book" as events make Kivrin believe this book will be the record of her death.

With so many fantasy books where someone from the present travels to the past, the present-day hero usually can save the people of the past with his or her knowledge of "modern science." Connie Willis doesn't give Kivrin that power, nor does she make disease easy to beat in the future. Yes, the methods are more advanced but epidemics and pandemics are still possible.

Learn more about Connie Willis.

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American Girls About TownMoving Day: 08/12/08

"Moving Day" by Cindy Chupack is about two women suddenly finding their marriages over. Madeline's husband of two years thinks he might be gay; Mrs. Rothman is now a widow after 52 years of marriage.

Although the story does have some humorous scenes it's mostly a sad a story about endings.

The story follows Madeline as she first reacts to Mark's news. She tries self help books, therapy and finally talking to her family and friends. Only after she breaks her silence does she start the healing process but there's no happy ending for Madeline at the end of this short story.

I enjoyed the story but was also saddened by it. I know of a handful of relationships that have ended in the way that Mark and Madeline's marriage ends.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

Learn more about Cindy Chupack.

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Deja DeadDeja Dead: 08/11/08

Back in December 2007, I received Cross Bones, the second in the Temperance Brennan series. Déjá Dead (1997) is the book that started it.

Déjá Dead is a pun on déja mort (already dead), a term that comes up in one of the autopsies of bodies found dismembered and stuffed in garbage bags. To Tempe the recent murders look oddly familiar, giving her an unsettling feeling of déjá vu.

Like the Cross Bones, the book suffers from being too long. A little bit of Quebecois culture would suffice in setting the stage and showing that Tempe isn't a native of Montreal. After a while, though, the plot gets bogged down with Tempe's endless asides on the cultural quirks and her own troubles with Québec's dialect of French.

The other main weakness which is supposed to be a feature of the novel is Tempe's personal life. Unfortunately, like so many mystery-thrillers, all that personal life padding is a big red flashing sign saying that Tempe and / or her loved ones will be targets of the yet to be discovered killer. It's so painfully obvious by about page 50, that when these events do finally played out, it's a relief to have them over.

Whether in the book as an older, wiser character living in Montreal or as the younger and almost completely socially inept television version, Tempe's personal life is still a boring distraction from the mysteries.

Learn more about Kathy Reichs by visiting her website.

Read more reviews at:

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionChildrun: 08/11/08

"Childrun" by Marc Laidlaw in the August 2008 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction marks the return of Gorlen Vizenfirthe to the magazine. His last appearance was in the September 1996 issue.

"Childrun" takes the Pied Piper of Hamlin tale and turns it on its head. Gorlen, hoping to earn a meal and a place to sleep with his music comes to a town where strangers aren't welcome, especially ones that appeal to children. Where there should be a school house full of boisterous children is just one strange pupil and a weary teacher looking for a way out.

"Childrun" is a fun horror laced shaggy dog story. Even having figured out the punchline early, I still enjoyed it. Time permitting I will have to look up the adventures of the bard with the stone hand.

To learn more about the author, please see Marc Laidlaw's website or read his interview at the magazine's blog.

Read more at The Arch of Time, The Barking Dog, The Worm Seat, In Order to Write.

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The Fourth WatcherThe Fourth Watcher: 08/10/08

The Fourth Watcher by Timothy Hallinan is the sequel to A Nail Through the Heart (which I haven't read).

The return of a father long since declared legally dead in the United States, Poke Rafferty finds himself and his family in a dangerous tug of war involving the Secret Service, a Chinese gangster and North Korean counterfeit money.

The book is set in Bangkok and the city is as much a character in the book as the human ones are. Hallinan does a good job at fleshing out the novel with lessons on Thai culture and language.

The Fourth Watcher is set in the present and oddly enough is written in the present tense. While this approach works now the immediacy of the book's narrative might make it seem dated in a few years.

Learn more about Timothy Hallinan.

Read more reviews at:

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American Girls About TownLeaving a Light On: 08/10/08

When I first started "Leaving a Light On" by Claire LaZebnik in American Girls About Town I was preparing to write a negative review. I was outraged at Kathy and at Larry. Then as the story unfolded went from hating it to loving it.

The story follows Kathy as she for reasons unknown goes to a fancy Los Angeles bar where she orders a martini (even though she doesn't really like them) and waits. She flirts a bit with Brad the bartender but ultimately settles on Larry even though he is clearly wearing a wedding band.

Kathy and Larry are both looking for a way to pretend at being young and single again. The story is about the consequences of our actions and the ways we can bend the rules.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

Learn more about Claire LaZebnik.

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ClickClick: 08/09/08

Reading Click: One Novel Ten Authors is easier than writing a review about it. This ten chapter young adult novel has ten chapters each written by a different well-known author. The chapters could just as easily stand alone as short stories except that they all build on each other.

The novel , the brain child of Arthur Levine, is centered around the life and legacy of photographer George "Gee" Keane. After his death, his granddaughter, Maggie receives a box containing seven sea shells with the instructions: "Throw them all back." Her brother, Jason is given a collection of photographs, including one of Mohamed Ali, and a camera. Those gifts go on to influence the rest of their lives.

Some of the chapters are flashbacks to Gee's life. There is one set in Japan after the war, and one in Ireland that explains how Gee got Ali's photograph. As a side detail, there is also a chilling view of the future after the seas have risen.

Although the book flows well together and there are surprisingly few loose ends for a book written by so many authors, one can still the individual authors' personalities shining through. My favorite chapters were the first one by Linda Sue Park, Vincent by Roddy Doyle and Afela by Margo Lanagan.

Click is one of those rare books where I wished for more when it ended. It was just the right mix of easy to read and though provoking. I finished the book a week ago and I am still actively thinking about it.

The entire chapter list by author is:

  1. Maggie by Linda Sue Park
  2. Annie by David Almond
  3. Jason by Eoin Colfer
  4. Lev by Deborah Ellis
  5. Maggie by Nick Hornby
  6. Vincent by Roddy Doyle
  7. Min by Tim Wynn-Jones
  8. Jiro by Ruth Ozeki
  9. Afela by Margo Lanagan
  10. Margaret by Gregory Maguire

To learn more about the book, please see the Arthur Levine website and the interview on NPR.

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Flip and FlopFlip and Flop: 08/08/08

Flip and Flop by Dawn Apperley tells the story of sibling penguins who are tired of playing with each other and the new friends they each make. The basic theme of learning the balance between family time and personal time is a good one but the book could have better.

The problem lies with who the new friends are: a pair of polar bear cubs. The few times I've read this book with my children, they both complain (rightly so) that polar bears live in the north and penguins live in the south. I know it's a work of fiction and Apperley isn't the only one to mix the two species together (Coca Cola) but there's no reason why the other friends couldn't have also been penguins. They could have been a different species or different colors.

If you can get past the polar bears, the story itself is a fun tongue twister with similar difficulty as Fox in Socks or Hop on Pop (both by Dr. Seuss). It gets harder with the introduction of the two bears: Hip and Hop. I just wish they weren't bears.

Visit Dawn Apperley's website.

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American Girls About TownFive: 08/07/08

"Five" by Julianna Baggott in American Girls About Town is very different in tone from the lighthearted "A Day in the Life of My Great Brit Book Tour" but both share the underlying theme of hope.

An ex-baton twirler from Kernersville, North Carolina makes the trip out to California to visit her sister and brother-in-law after divorcing her fourth husband. Although she loved each husband in her own way for their quirks and special talents, she hasn't felt enough of a connection to stay with any of them. She's afraid of becoming rooted in a boring and ordinary routine.

On the other hand, her sister seems infinitely patient. She is always waiting until the right moment. She is still married to her one and only husband and seems to have a successful and perfect life. In the trip westward, though, the younger sister will learn that not everything is easy to wait for.

On the first reading, I didn't like "Five" as much as "My Great Brit Book Tour." The narrator seemed too self absorbed and too willing to meddle in her sister's life. On a second reading, though, the story is sticking with me. It's a subtler tale that needs reflecting on.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

Learn more about Julianna Baggott.

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Smoky the Baby GoatSmoky the Baby Goat: 08/07/08

Mary Elting Folsom died in 2005 at the age of 98. She had a sixty year career as a children's book author and wrote more than seventy books. Most of them were nonfiction but she had a few fiction ones too. One of those fiction books is Smoky the Baby Goat (1947) which was illustrated by Veronica Reed.

Smoky the baby goat is taken to live a the farm of Polly, Mike and Sue and their parents. He is introduced to their dog, cat and rooster. Over the course of the day Smoky pals around with the children and the other animals and learns how to be a goat after trying first to be a person, a dog, a cat and a rooster.

It's a cute story clearly aimed at young readers. All the proper names are written in capital letters and there is a high repetition of words and phrases.

Each page also has a colorful illustration. The words and the pictures flow together. Veronica Reed's style of drawing reminds me of Mark Teague's illustrations in the How Do Dinosaurs... books written by Jane Yolen.

To learn more about Mary Elting Folsom or to share a story about her, see the blog set up in her memory.

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionThe Dinosaur Train: 08/06/08

"The Dinosaur Train" by James L. Cambrias in the July 2008 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction reminds me of "Bread and Circus" by Steven Popkes (FSF February 2008). Here, though, the saguaros aren't playing football; they are performing in a traveling circus in 1980. They are struggling to hold on to the hey day of the traveling act by including a laser light show and disco music. Unfortunately, Brenda, the star of the show, is off her feed and no one knows why.

Cambrias describes 1980 better than many nostalgic stories do. He sets the scene with generic brand cola, disco and Ronald Regan. There's also that lingering feeling that the golden age of American culture was over.

Then there is Brenda the brachiosaurus Imagine if Winsor McCay's Gertie had been real and had gotten that chance to tour the United States and sixty years later, he and she were still touring.

Read more at The Worm Seat, The Barking Dog.

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Another DawnAnother Dawn: 08/05/08

Sandra Brown has been writing romances under a variety of names since 1981. By the late 1980s, she settled on writing all her books as Sandra Brown and in the 1990s, her earlier works were re-released. Those that were under pseudonyms were released now with Sandra Brown listed as the author.

Another Dawn, the sequel to Sunset Embrace, both published in 1985 is stylistically between her earliest works (see my review of Seduction by Design) and her later ones (see my review of Envy). Betrayed at the altar, Banner Coleman decides to carve her own destiny by starting her own ranch. She also has her sights on long time family friend and ranch hand, Jake Langston.

I normally like frontier novels with strong, independently minded female protagonists. Unfortunately for Another Dawn, I've read better novels with very similar plots. Another Dawn is too full of clichés, gratuitous sex and sexism.

Instead of Another Dawn, I recommend the following:

Learn more about Sandra Brown.

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American Girls About TownA Day in the Life of My Great Brit Book Tour: 08/04/08

In 2004 American Girls About Town was published as a charity book. It's profits went to Barnardo's and Make-A-Wish Foundation International. The book contains fourteen short stories by American women authors.

The first story in the collection is "A Day in the Life of My Great Brit Book Tour" by Adriana Trigiani. In it Anna Martinelli reconciles the dream of her book tour with the reality of it. She recounts the nerve wracking cross-atlantic flight with her infant daughter who cries for most of it, the pain of breaking a tooth and the surprise of an unexpected live television interview just minutes after landing.

I liked the humor of the story. The television interview is probably the best scene, though the airplane scene comes in a close second. Trigiani captures the awkwardness of a meeting where one is unprepared and not versed in the pop culture.

The stories in the book are: (Click on a title to read reviews).

Learn more about Adriana Trigiani.

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Busy HorsiesBusy Horsies: 08/03/08

Busy Horsies (2007) is one of photographer John Schindel's busy animal series of board books. It is the seventh book in a nine book series.

Each full color photograph of a mare and her foal doing something includes a short description like "horsies strolling" (page 8). The book is a collaboration with Casi Lark who owns Spanish Mustangs.

I read this book with Harriet. We enjoyed the gorgeous photography of the horses.

The busy animal series books include:

  • Busy Pandas
  • Busy Horsies
  • Busy Bunnies
  • Busy Piggies
  • Busy Barnyard
  • Busy Kitties
  • Busy Doggies
  • Busy Monkeys
  • Busy Penguins

Learn more about John Schindel and Casi Lark.

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The Great Waldo SearchThe Great Waldo Search: 08/03/08

Wally, Waldo, Charlie, Walter, Holger, Valli, Willy, Hetti, and Effy. What do they have in common? They're all the name of a traveler who wears red and white stripes, jeans, glasses and brown shoes. Here in the States we know him as Waldo but he started his journey as Wally in Great Britain. The third book in the series by Martin Handford is The Great Waldo Search (also known as Where's Wally? 3: The Fantastic Journey) and was published in 1989.

The Great Waldo Search requires astute attention to detail. Each scene (spread across two pages) builds on the previous one, requiring the reader to search for a growing number of characters and items. The main focus though on every page is to find three things: Waldo, the Wizard Whitebeard and a scroll. There are also characters from previous scenes hidden in each of the scenes.

The scenes included are:

  • The Gobbling Gluttons
  • The Battling Monks
  • The Carpet Flyers
  • The Great Ball-Game Players
  • The Ferocious Red Dwarves
  • The Nasty Nasties
  • The Fighting Forester
  • The Deep-Sea Divers
  • The Knights of the Magic Flag
  • The Unfriendly Giants
  • The Underground Hunters
  • The Land of Waldos

Sean and I have worked through the book together three times and we still haven't managed to find Waldo on every page. We are completely stumped on "The Ferocious Red Dwarves", "The Unfriendly Giants" and "The Underground Hunters."

If you want to play online, check out Where's Waldo?

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Lifetime LoserLifetime Loser: 08/02/08

It's been about twenty years since the last time I read a novel based around golf. The last one was the very funny The Greening of Thurmond by Michael Zagst (1986).

Lifetime Loser by James Ross covers roughly twenty years in the life of J. W. Schroeder or J. Dub to his friends. He is tricked into buying a share in an illegally purchased golf course after washing out of his own chance at a golf career. The rest of the book follows how the initial swindle plays out for all the parties involved.

The man behind the swindle is Lewferd E. Zermann whose motivations seem to come down to a love of money and a love of evil. Midway through the book we learn of his shrine to Hitler and he goes from being a plausible greedy bastard to being a character on loan from Springtime for Hitler.

The book has its moments and J. Dub is a likeable character but the awkward written narrative gets in the way. Too much of the characterization is done by attributes alone. So an so is the "best at this" or "the worst at that" and frankly that's not enough to build interesting, believable or memorable characters. The book also suffers from weird mistakes involving incorrect word usage, poor grammar and general typesetting errors. More than anything, Lifetime Loser needs tighter editing.

Read more at Great Books Club.

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionPoison Victory: 08/01/08

I was happy to see that the Albert E. Cowdrey had broken away from his recent run of stories based in the south. His story "Poison Victory" in the July issue Fantasy & Science Fiction is an alternate history where Germany has won WWII.

The story follows a German soldier stationed in Russia in 1949 who is conflicted by the outcome of the war. He's made a pretty good life for himself but he doesn't like the methods used to guarantee that life. Events will help him finally make up his mind.

Except for the alternate history angle, there's not much in the way of either science fiction or fantasy. It's mostly just an examination of human nature and man's inhumanity to man.

Read more at The Fix, Suite 101, Fantasy & Sci-fi Lovin' Book Reviews, The Gangster of L'oeuf, Hodgepodge.

Read reviews of other stories by Albert E. Cowdrey:

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