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August 2010

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: 08/31/10

In August I read 35 books and reviewed 33 I had finished in previous months.

In terms of my ROOB score, my score continues to slide as my library numbers increase. I'm up to a -2.43.

Review wise, it was another month with almost two-thirds of the books earning a 4 or a 5. As is typical for my reviews, half of the books were either picture books or tween fiction. Three quarters of my reviews were of library books. The remaining quarter came from review books and my own collection.

Books reviewed this month

    Rating out of 5 stars (as posted on GoodReads)

    Five Star books:

  1. The Arrival by Shaun Tan (library book)
  2. Border Town (边城) by Shen Congwen (library book)
  3. Catwings Return by Ursula K. LeGuin (library book)
  4. Flanimals by Ricky Gervais (library book)
  5. Harold's ABC by Crocket Johnson (personal collection)
  6. The Octonauts and the Great Ghost Reef by Meomi (library book)
  7. Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell (library book)
  8. A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander (library book)
  9. Receive Me Falling by Erika Robuck (review copy)
  10. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (library book)
  11. Un Lun Dun by China Miéville (personal collection)

    Four Star books

  1. Alida's Song by Gary Paulsen (library book)
  2. Guy Wire by Sarah Weeks (library book)
  3. Jane on Her Own by Ursula K. Le Guin (library book)
  4. The Kids' Guide to Digital Photography by Jenni Bidner (library book)
  5. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems (library book)
  6. Mary Modern by Camille Deangelis (personal collection)
  7. Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault (library book)
  8. Tea for Ruby by Sarah Ferguson (personal collection)
  9. Walter Wick's Optical Tricks by Walter Wick (library book)

    Three Star books

  1. Bird by Rita Murphy (library book)
  2. Circus by Lois Ehlert (library book)
  3. Good Morning, Gorillas (Magic Tree House #26) by Mary Pope Osborne (library book)
  4. Pirates Past Noon (Magic Tree House #4) by Mary Pope Osborne (library book)
  5. Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez (personal collection)
  6. Size Eight in a Size Zero World by Meredith Cagen (review copy)
  7. The Tarot Cafe Volume 2 by Sang-Sun Park (library book)
  8. Uncle Andy's Cats by James Warhola (library book)

    Two Star books

  1. High Tide in Hawaii (Magic Tree House #28) by Mary Pope Osborne (library book)
  2. Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood by Tony Lee (personal collection)
  3. Science Fiction and Alternate History by David Scholes (review copy)
  4. When Teachers Talk by Rosalyn Susanne Schnall (review copy)

    One Star books

  1. Horns by Joe Hill (library book)
Genre Source

Books and stories read this month (reviews coming)

    Personal Collection

  1. City-Makers: The Story of Southern California's First Boom by Remi A. Nadeau
  2. Gallop!: A Scanimation Picture Book by Rufus Butler Seder
  3. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
  4. Mary Modern by Camille Deangelis

    Library book

  1. American Fantastic Tales edited by Peter Straub
  2. The Angel of Forgetfulness by Steve Stern
  3. At Ease: Navy Men of World War II by Evan Bachner
  4. At Home with Books by Estelle Ellis
  5. The Avenue of the Dead by Evelyn Anthony
  6. The Best Cat in the World by Leslea Newman
  7. Bone, Volume 5: Rock Jaw, Master of the Eastern Border by Jeff Smith
  8. Bone, Volume 9: Crown of Horns by Jeff Smith
  9. Brownie & Pearl Get Dolled Up by Cynthia Rylant
  10. Coast to Coast by Catherine Donzel
  11. Cook-a-doodle-doo! by Janet Stevens
  12. Crow Call by Lois Lowry
  13. The Department of Mad Scientists by Michael Belfiore
  14. The Function of Ornament by Michael Kubo
  15. Here Are My Hands by Bill Martin Jr.
  16. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
  17. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
  18. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  19. Northward to the Moon by Polly Horvarth
  20. Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot
  21. Raiders' Ransom by Emily Diamand
  22. San Francisco Then and Now by Bill Yenne
  23. The Scrambled States of America Talent Show by Laurie Keller
  24. Steinbeck's Ghost by Lewis Buzbee
  25. Three Little Kittens by Tanya Linch
  26. Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield
  27. Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester by Alfred Bester
  28. What Do You Love? by Jonathan London

    Review copy

  1. Aging with Grace by Greg Liberman
  2. Finding Marco by Kenneth C. Cancellara
  3. Gerry Tales by Gerry Boylan

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Uncle Andy's Cats: 08/31/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)It's time for another confession. Sometimes I read pictures books just for the fun of it. Uncle Andy's Cats by James Warhola is one of those books that I saw on display at the library and just had to read it.

The author and title grabbed my attention along with the thought, "as in Andy Warhol?" Yes, as in the artist, Andy Warhol. Uncle Andy's Cats is a sequel to Uncle Andy, a book I didn't happen to see at the library. This book focuses on the large colony of cats that lived at his "factory."

From an art history perspective, the book is a fascinating slice of history. It's like learning about Ernest Hemingway by way of learning about his cats. That said, I didn't opt to check it out for my children because neither one has heard of Warhol which just leaves his irresponsible cat hording. A picture book seems like an odd choice of venue for this story.

Other posts and reviews:

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Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood: 08/30/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)When I was about twelve, I got bitten hard by a literary crush on Robin Hood. I spent my summer vacation reading every single Robin Hood book my library had and renting every single Robin Hood film the local video store had. So when Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood by Tony Lee was short listed for the Cybils this year I was thrilled.

Outlaw re-imagines the Robin Hood legend and tries to take the swashbuckling camp out for a grittier and more realistic version. Unfortunately the monotone illustrations don't couldn't carry the story. Every page was so dark that the line work was hard to see.

Thinking back to when I was the age this book is intended for, I would have been disappointed. Sure, I would have read it, but I would have been wanting more swashbuckling and more romance and less grit.

Other posts and reviews:

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Circus: 08/29/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)My children are fans of Lois Ehlert. They discovered her books independently of each other. My son found her through Eating the Alphabet (1996) and Planting a Rainbow (1988). My daughter found her through her illustrations of the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom series by Bill Martin Jr.

Harriet's latest pick from the library is Circus. Ehlert's usual bold and geometric illustrations are taken to a new extreme. They are so saturated that they are almost hard on the eyes. All the pictures are set against a black background which intensifies the affect.

Although she liked sitting through the story to see all the different circus acts she decided not to re-read it. That makes a first for an Ehlert book. Typically we'll read it once together, then she'll look at the illustrations by herself and then ask me to re-read, all in close succession.

Other posts and reviews:

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What Are You Reading?What Are You Reading: August 30, 2010: 08/29/10

It's Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

I love being a part of this and I hope you do too! As part of this weekly meme I love to encourage you all to go and visit the others participating in this meme. I offer a weekly contest for those who visit 10 or more of the Monday Meme participants and leave a comment. You receive one entry for every 10 comments, just come back here and tell me how many in the comment area.

I got a ton of reading done but this week I have to concentrate on my text books.

Finished Last Week:

  1. The Avenue of the Dead (Davina Graham, #2) by Evelyn Anthony (library book)
  2. Brownie & Pearl Get Dolled Up by Cynthia Rylant (library book)
  3. Coast to Coast by Catherine Donzel (library book)
  4. Cook-a-doodle-doo! by Janet Stevens (library book)
  5. The Department of Mad Scientists by Michael Belfiore (library book)
  6. At Ease: Navy Men of World War II by Evan Bachner (library book)
  7. Gallop!: A Scanimation Picture Book by Rufus Butler Seder (personal collection)
  8. Gerry Tales by Gerry Boylan (review copy)
  9. At Home with Books by Estelle Ellis and Caroline Seebohm (library book)
  10. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (library book)
  11. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (library book)
  12. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (library book)
  13. Steinbeck's Ghost by Lewis Buzbee (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. Battlestar Galactica by Jeffrey A. Carver (library book)
  3. Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, #1) by Charlaine Harris (personal collection)
  4. How to Crash a Killer Bash by Penny Warner (personal collection)
  5. Opur's Blade by James Ross (review copy)
  6. The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1) by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  7. The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1) by Carolyn Keene (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Bird by Rita Murphy
  2. Guy Wire by Sarah Weeks
  3. Harold's ABC by Crocket Johnson
  4. High Tide in Hawaii by Mary Pope Osborne
  5. Icarus Issue 5
  6. Mary Modern by Camille Deangelis
  7. The Ocotonats of the Great Ghost Reef by Meomi
  8. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  9. Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

Up next, text books, of course along with some fun reading. Among the fun reading is Wizard World by Roger Zelazny and The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc along with a small pile of picture books I'll be reading with Harriet.



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Icarus Magazine Issue 5: 08/29/10

 cover artAt the start of the month I was offered a chance to review issue five of Icarus Magazine. It is a quarterly magazine featuring gay speculative fiction. A single issue costs $13 and a year's subscription costs $50. Electronic issues cost $6.99.

The issue I read had stories by Julian Lopez, Hal Duncan, Alex Jeffers, and a poem by Jerome Stueart. By far my favorite piece of "The Mariachi's Serenade" by Julian Lopez. I'm a sucker for a well told ghost story. But all the stories were interesting and made for a lovely afternoon of reading.

The magazine also has reviews, news and interviews.

Right now my finances are up in the air thanks to me going back to school and my husband starting a new job. If things were settled, I would get myself a subscription.

Other posts and reviews:

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Harold's ABC: 08/28/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)In Harold's ABC, Harold can't sleep and he goes on a nighttime walk with his trusty purple crayon. As he walks he works his way through the alphabet from A to Z.

As his journey progresses his creativity gets the best of him. Soon he finds himself lost and eventually he's on the moon. Thankfully some quick thinking and one last bit of creativity will see him home and in bed sound a sleep.

As a child I liked seeing how Harold's night time world grew out of the letters of the alphabet. The page that sticks with me most is the city filled with skyscrapers, all made with E shaped windows.

Now that Harriet's a little older, she has also discovered the Harold books. She likes to see how he builds things from the letters. Sometimes I can hear her giving a running commentary of what Harold is doing. It's cute to listen to.

Other posts and reviews:

My adventures with Monkey

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High Tide in Hawaii (Magic Tree House #28): 08/27/10

cover art (Link goes to Powells)Sean stopped reading the series with Thanksgiving on a Thursday but we had the next book checked out as well. I read High Tide in Hawaii on my own because I hate to return library books unread.

In High Tide in Hawaii Jack and Annie travel to Hawaii to either an island or a time when the Hawaiians are still living by traditional means. While there they learn how to surf and how to hula. They also survive a tsunami and save the villagers.

As it happened, I read the book right around the same time I was reading Nation by Terry Pratchett. Although the two cover the same subject, different cultures coming together in the face of a tsunami, Nation's approach seems more even handed and well thought out. Of course Nation has about three times as many pages to tell its story but I really wanted more out of High Tide in Hawaii.

The problem is there's just too much going on in too few pages. The book suffers from the same problems as most of the other books where Jack and Annie meet people. The people are there happily living in their own little bubble unaware of the world outside of their existence. Now that might not be how Osborne imagined these characters but that's how they come across. Unfortunately this typically happens in places that have a history of colonization. I don't know if it's to avoid that unsavory topic or if it's just to keep things simple. The result though is yet another "noble savage" to teach Jack and Annie some sort of life lesson which they can then pass onto Morgana or Arthur or Merlin, etc. It quickly becomes tiresome.

Other Magic Tree House books reviewed here:

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Bird: 08/26/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)I spotted Bird by Rita Murphy by the beautiful cover art and checked it out from the library at the same time that I got My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvarth. Both covers reminded me (in passing) of Up.

Miranda lives with the elderly widow, Wysteria. They live the old seaside Bourne Manor, shut off from the rest of the world. Their lives revolve around the sea and the house: making nets, keeping a lantern lit for ships at sea and keeping the drafts out of the house.

Miranda though is young and curious. She strives to make the most of her world and explores all the old rooms when she can. One of her explorations opens her world when she finds the late captain's kite collection. Flying kites leads to leaving the house and that brings her in contact with a boy. Nothing is ever the same for her after that first meeting.

Although it's a short young adult novel, it reminds me a great deal in tone and theme of Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.

Other posts and reviews:

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Guy Wire: 08/25/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Guy Wire by Sarah Weeks is the fourth book in the Guy Strang series. It's a prequel framed by Buzz being in the hospital after he's hit by a car.

The flashback explains how Guy and Buzz met and became friends. Although I wanted more of Guy and his current family drama, I warmed to the book as the two boys became friends.

As it turns out I haven't managed to read any of the books in the series in order. Fortunately the books stand alone fairly well, and this one does that the best of all of them.

I really like the series. I'm currently reading the first and the third books and will get reviews posted on those books as soon as I can.

Other posts and reviews:

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The Octonauts and the Great Ghost Reef: 08/25/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)My children are more environmentally conscious than I was at their age. They also love cute things like Hello Kitty and Kirby. So when I saw The Octonauts and the Great Ghost Reef by Meomi at my library I had to check it out.

As soon as I started reading the story, both children dropped what they were doing. They snuggled next to me on the couch for me to read the book.

The Octonauts are a group of animal underwater explorers. In this book they decided to spend their vacation on the Great Reef. When they arrive though, they find a ghost town with only one elderly sea turtle left.

In the course of their investigation they discover that the town has choked all the sunlight from the coral. To save the town they must save the coral and learn to build in a more environmentally friendly way.

Along with the story each page has all the illustrated animals and plants labeled. We read the book through once for the story and a second time to see all the different animals and plants.

I will have to look for the other books in the series.

The Series:

  • The Octonauts and The Only Lonely Monster (2006)
  • The Octonauts and the Sea of Shade (2007)
  • The Octonauts and the Frown Fish (2008)
  • The Octonauts and the Great Ghost Reef (2009)

Other posts and reviews

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Un Lun Dun: 08/24/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Un Lun Dun by China Miéville was an impulse buy. I knew I wanted to read another Miéville book but I didn't know which one. I also only had about fifteen seconds to make my choice. So I picked the one with the cover I liked best. Now I would have probably loved any of the Miéville books on offer that day but Un Lun Dun has become a family favorite: read and loved by my husband, my son and me.

The book begins like a typical tween fantasy quest with a young girl (or in this case, two young girls) seeing a strange other-worldly creature. Zanna's been told she's the Shwazzy. One evening while Zanna and Deeba follow a strange broken umbrella they end up in an alternate London, or as the inhabitants call it, Un Lun Dun.

Had Un Lun Dun followed the typical Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or Peter and Wendy blueprint, it would have been a perfectly acceptable fantasy. It's full of delicious puns and commentary on life in London. The pages are illustrated by the author in a style similar to those by John Tenneil.

Miéville though didn't take it easy with Un Lun Dun. Instead he takes the expected story and turns it inside out. He makes an adventure into a misadventure and turns a generic fantasy into a witty urban fantasy. At the end of the book he thanks Neil Gaiman for Neverwhere inspiring him to write Un Lun Dun. Yes, there are some Neverwherish aspects to Un Lun Dun but they are put through Miéville's own perspective.

Fans of Miéville's books will also see nods to "Reports Of Certain Events In London" from Looking for Jake, The Scar and Iron Council.

If you've read the book and want to discuss it, leave your comments here or ping me on twitter.

Other posts and reviews:

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Mary Modern: 08/23/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Mary Modern by Camille Deangelis is one of those books that's been making the rounds at our Tri-Valley BookCrossing group. I've been going through a Gothic phase in my reading and thought it was time to pull this book off myself. I'm glad I did.

Dr. Lucy Morgan is a geneticist living in her family home now owned by the local university. She and her lover Gray want to have a child but are unable so she resorts to starting up her father's research to clone her grandmother, Mary. What she doesn't expect is a fully grown Mary with memories dating back to 1929.

When I was first reading the book and describing it to friends, I called it a modern day Frankenstein but as I continued to read the book I realized the book had more in common with Philip K. Dick than Mary Shelley. The central theme isn't so much about cheating death but about memories and their power over the human condition.

There is also a B plot involving time travel, with a man who in 1958 wrote a book about every day life in the twenty-first century. While it's mostly a throw away plot device, it further adds to the over all P.K.D. experience. With Philip K. Dick in mind I predicted the ending and that took the book from being a three star book to a four star book.

Why not a solid five? There's the problem of Mary supposedly being from 1929 and from a well to do, well educated, college town. She doesn't act like a woman who came to age during the Roaring Twenties. She acts more like a woman from the teens than the twenties and that inconsistency gets in the way of an otherwise delightful book.

Other posts and reviews:

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Uglies: 08/22/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Sigh. I love reading. I love blogging. Unfortunately I read much faster than I write reviews for my blog. Add into the mix my own faulty memory... and I find myself thinking I've posted reviews when I haven't even written them yet. For example, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, I read in October 2009. I really thought I had already posted my review but realized I hadn't when I started to write the review for the sequel, Pretties.

In this first book, Tally is nearly sixteen. When she is, she'll be given the operation to make her a pretty. She'll move into the city with all the other pretties where she'll have access parties, toys and other fun stuff.

Tally though is having second thoughts about being a Pretty. She's the youngest of her friends and therefore the last to go. Left alone she's feeling abandoned. While finding ways to spend her free time she makes new friends, friends who show her what life outside of her closed society is like.

The first third of the book builds a utopia based on a mandated homogeneity. People who are all the same, or at least all within the bounds of what society considers "beautiful" and who have all their needs cared for in excess will be happier and therefore easier to control. While I found the limits of this society and how it was affecting Tally and her friends interesting, I didn't really dive into the book until Tally leaves the confines of her city.

The second third follows Tally as she explores the remains of a long dead society, colloquially called the Rusties. Here we see glimmers of our current society. By keeping the details vague the remains could be almost any city, making the book all the more compelling.

There aren't just ruins out there. There are people. Some of them work for Tally's society but others are off the grid. They live without the operation and they try to recreate an older style society. This fringe society reminded me a bit of the rebel encampment in the caves as described in The Host by Stephanie Meyer. The difference here though, is that less time is spent on mundane details, meaning the pace of the book doesn't suffer from a momentary pause in the action.

As Uglies is the first in the series, it ends on a cliffhanger, leaving Tally to make the ultimate sacrifice to possibly save her friends and to bring an end to the flawed utopia she grew up in. Although the book is the first and ends as it does, the book can stand well by itself.

Other posts and reviews:

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What Are You Reading?What Are You Reading: August 23, 2010: 08/22/10

It's Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

I love being a part of this and I hope you do too! As part of this weekly meme I love to encourage you all to go and visit the others participating in this meme. I offer a weekly contest for those who visit 10 or more of the Monday Meme participants and leave a comment. You receive one entry for every 10 comments, just come back here and tell me how many in the comment area.

The textbooks are here and classes start in earnest on Wednesday.

Finished Last Week:

  1. City-Makers: The Story of Southern California's First Boom by Remi A. Nadeau (personal collection)
  2. Finding Marco by Kenneth C. Cancellara review copy)
  3. Raiders' Ransom by Emily Diamand (library book)
  4. Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. Gerry Tales by Gerry Boylan (review copy)
  3. Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, #1) by Charlaine Harris (personal collection)
  4. At Home with Books by Estelle Ellis and Caroline Seebohm (library book)
  5. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (library book)
  6. The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1) by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  7. The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1) by Carolyn Keene (library book)

I decided to return Conspiracy of Kings unread. I just don't have time and it is due at the library soon. Next up are my text books, Avenue of the Dead by Evelyn Anthony and At Ease: Navy Men of World War II by Evan Rachner.



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The Arrival: 08/21/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)When I need inspiration for something to read, I walk the shelves of my local library. I'm especially fond of walking the shelves of the tween and middle grade books. One of the gems I've found this way is The Arrival by Shaun Tan.

The Arrival tells the story through pictures alone of a man leaving his home and family for a foreign country to seek work. He arrives passport in hand to a place vaguely familiar but not entirely a real world place. It's a metropolis inspired by big cities around the world but doesn't represent a single one.

Tan's realistic sepia tone illustrations peppered with fantasy elements gives the impression of watching an old silent film, a UFA fantasy perhaps. In bookish terms, his drawings remind me of the illustrated half of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Other posts and reviews:

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Tea for Ruby: 08/20/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Every so often Cheerios includes a free book in the box of cereal. We got our copy of Tea for Ruby by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York that way. As it's illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, the illustrator of the Fancy Nancy books, the author's name didn't register when I first started reading it to Harriet.

Ruby, who appears to be a normal suburban child who one day receives a invitation to have tea with the Queen. Her family reminds her of her manners and she practices so she'll be ready. Tea with the Queen ends up being tea with her grandmother. Now the grandmother in the book is drawn like any generic grandmother but it was on this page that things clicked into place.

See Harriet asked how it was the grandmother could possibly be a queen. And I blurted out something like, "the pictures are wrong!" I gleefully explained (or tried) who the author was and how her two daughters are in fact princess and have a queen for a grandmother. I showed her a picture of Queen Elizabeth II. The funny thing, she didn't believe me. My princess obsessed daughter doesn't believe they actually exist.

Other posts and reviews:

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Border Town: 08/19/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)I can easily fall into ruts in my reading. I tend to gravitate towards California writers. When I feel myself falling into one of these ruts, I walk the shelves of my local library. One of the gems I found this way was Border Town (边城) by Shen Congwen.

Cuicui lives on the edge of a river with her ferryman grandfather. She has learned his job but is also intrigued by thoughts of love and romance. Her two suitors though aren't of her liking, she has grander notions that go beyond the two sides of the river.

It's a beautiful book, one that can easily be read on a lazy afternoon. It seems like such an innocuous volume. But like so many artists and intellectuals Shen was ultimately assigned the job of toilet cleaner after the Cultural Revolution (see "A Public Space" in the links below for more information)

Other posts and reviews:

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Jane on Her Own: 08/18/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)When I read Catwings Return, Jane the kitten was my favorite character. OK, second favorite, since I have to be partial to a flying cat named Harriet. So I was curious to read Jane on Her Own by Ursula K. Le Guin.

In Jane on Her Own, Jane just doesn't fit in at the farm. She's restless, nervous and skittish. She decides to return to the city of her birth to face her fears and find her forever home.

In the City she finds a new life as "Miss Mystery." The book blurb says the man she lives with "keeps her prisoner" and "exploits her for money." Yes, he trains her to show off her flying talent and yes he makes money from their show but he didn't strike me as a bad person.

But the ultimate redemption for Jane isn't in her life of show business. It is with her wingless mother. Finally she can face her fears and move beyond them to find a forever home for both herself and her mother.

What bothers me most though about the book is Jane's stuttering. When I first "met" her I took her "HATE HATE HATE" as just typical kittenish talk. If a kitten were to talk, why not like that? In Jane on Her Own her simplistic talking is described more as a response to her difficult kittenhood. It seemed after all the bravery she'd shown in the previous book that this tidbit was out of character for her.

I borrowed the book from the library.

Other posts and reviews

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Ottoline Goes to School: 08/18/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Ottoline returns in Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell. In keeping with my accidental trend of reading sequels first, I read this book before Ottoline and the Yellow Cat.

The book pretty much stands alone although I was left wondering why Ottoline has a bear for a friend. In this book Ottoline decides she needs to go to school because that's what children do.

Ottoline is picked up in a bus where she rides with other extraordinary children (the son of the invisible man, for instance) and their pets. Ottoline, of course, brings along Mr. Munroe. He's supposed to be another student but he gets relegated to the stalls with the pets.

As with Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, there's a mystery. This time it involves a haunting at the school and the disappearance of certain items from the students.

Ottoline's school for me was the antidote to Hogworts. Sure it has points in common: ghosts, uniforms, secret passageways, magical creatures but it strikes me as a much happier place. There isn't some unspeakable big bad waiting in the wings to take out Ottoline and her friends; it's just a school.

Like the previous book, the pages are illustration heavy. I would consider this book a graphic novel hybrid.

I checked the book out from my library but I would love to own a copy some day.

Other posts and reviews:

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Good Morning, Gorillas (Magic Tree House #26): 08/17/10

cover art (Link goes to Powells)In Good Morning, Gorillas by Mary Pope Osborne, Jack and Annie meet Jane Goodall and learn about sign language. It's one of the last books my son and I read together before moving onto longer and more complicated books.

They are sent into the jungle by the tree house to find a new way of communicating as one of Morgan's four-part spells. They quickly meet up with a group of gorillas. Their interaction with the creatures bring to the forefront a plot point that has been developing over the course of the series: Annie's ability to speak with animals. It's the first time though that her talent is overtly discussed.

Although some of the interactions with the gorillas seemed hokey to Sean and me, we both liked the introduction of Dame Jane Goodall. I have one of her books on my to be read pile which I showed to Sean. After finishing the book we took a little extra time learning about her work and about different famous gorillas who have learned sign language.

Other posts and reviews:

Other Magic Tree House books reviewed here:

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A Pattern Language: 08/16/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Back in my first life as a masters student, I was planning my thesis around the codification of the city on the Hollywood road film. I blame (or perhaps credit) this wacky idea on my long commutes. See, UCLA is in Westwood and I lived in Pasadena at the time. There is no straight shot between the two locations thanks to the Hollywood Hills. That means I had a fifty mile commute in typical L.A. traffic (gridlock) and plenty of time to ponder stuff while I started at the dashed white line blipping by my windshield.

Before I could apply Hollywood's interpretation of the city and its roadways in the Road Film genre, I had to understand the symbols used in Los Angeles and more broadly, the United States. Why had we settled on the signs, patterns, and other symbolic short cuts that we had? In trying to come to an understanding of the language of the city and its roads, I started to read books by the bucket load on things like Los Angeles history, the automobile, urban architecture and the like.

When I didn't get accepted to the PhD program I stopped my research. Maybe now that I'm back in academia again or maybe it's just been long enough for the burnout to have faded, but I've started re-addressing my interest in the city.

One of those books I didn't get to in my first round was A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander (et al). It's a huge architectural, urban planning tome, coming in between 900 and 1200 pages depending on which edition you read. I don't expect many (if any) of my regular readers to rush out and get a copy to read for fun. OK, I know of one friend who has read it (I don't know if it was for fun or for school), so maybe there will be others.

Although I'm not an architect, I loved the book. The 900 pages (older edition) flew by quickly. At the time I read it, I was just starting out as a Non-Response Housing Unit Follow Up Enumerator (aka one of those door to door census takers) so maps, city planning and basic human behavior was forefront on my mind. What I was reading and what I was experiencing in the field meshed.

The gist of the book is this: people naturally live together in groups and these groups naturally form patterns that can be analyzed to judge the stability of the population. For areas to grow they need access to certain other areas in predictable, easy to reach locations. More importantly, these patterns can be put into place to help a city or neighborhood's success. I see a lot of the current day "green neighborhood" planning coming right out of this book.

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Tarot Cafe Volume 2: 08/15/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)I am struggling with my review for volume 2 of The Tarot Cafe by Sang-Sun Park. It continues the story of Pamela and her extra special tarot readings.

The first episode finishes the story of the Jester. There's also a new character, an accidental werewolf who has survived an abusive relationship and is looking for answers. The volume concludes with a glimpse of Pamela's past which gives clues to why she does her after hours tarot sessions.

Here's though where I hit a problem with the series. I love the stories but the artwork leaves me cold. Except for Pamela, I struggle to tell the other characters apart. I realize stylization is a big part of the art form but Park's characters seem to fall into about three, maybe four prototypes. I need a little more variation to connect with the characters.

I don't know if I will continue with the rest of the series.

Other posts and reviews:

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What Are You Reading?What Are You Reading: August 16, 2010: 08/15/10

It's Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

I love being a part of this and I hope you do too! As part of this weekly meme I love to encourage you all to go and visit the others participating in this meme. I offer a weekly contest for those who visit 10 or more of the Monday Meme participants and leave a comment. You receive one entry for every 10 comments, just come back here and tell me how many in the comment area.

I am trying to get through as many of my library books as I can before my textbooks arrive.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Aging with Grace by Greg Liberman (review copy)
  2. The Angel of Forgetfulness by Steve Stern (library book)
  3. Bone, Volume 9: Crown of Horns by Jeff Smith (library book)
  4. Crow Call by Lois Lowry (library book)
  5. Mary Modern by Camille Deangelis (personal collection)
  6. Northward to the Moon by Polly Horvath (library book)
  7. San Francisco Then and Now by Bill Yenne (library book)
  8. Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. City-Makers: The Story of Southern California's First Boom by Remi A. Nadeau (personal collection)
  3. Finding Marco by Kenneth C. Cancellara review copy)
  4. Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, #1) by Charlaine Harris (personal collection)
  5. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (library book)
  6. Raiders' Ransom by Emily Diamand (library book)
  7. The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1) by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  8. The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1) by Carolyn Keene (library book)

Next on my list of to read books are Gerry's Tales (for review) and a Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner.

If you have any questions about the books I finished or am currently reading, please leave a comment. So what are you reading this week?



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Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale: 08/14/10

cover art (Link goes to Powells)As with so many series, we ended up reading Knuffle Bunny Too long before reading the original, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems.

In Knuffle Bunny, Trixie is much younger. She's a toddler working on her first word. She desperately needs to tell her dad that her precious bunny's been left at the Laundromat.

With Trixie not talking for most of the story the focus is on her father (and to a lesser degree her mother) trying to deal with her temper tantrum. Yes, parenting is hard and frustrating but this story lacks the over the top espionage approach to parenting of the sequel.

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Pirates Past Noon (Magic Tree House #4): 08/13/10

cover art (Link goes to Powells)During the ROOB competition I  read through a bunch of the earliest Magic Tree House books. In Pirates Past Noon Jack and Annie go back in time to learn how to be pirates and to discover the identity of the mysterious M.

The earliest books are very short compared the newest ones. They are also short on plot. The gist here is that the siblings are still trying to learn who owns the tree house and how it works the way it does. In the middle of all of this are pirates who are out to get treasure.

If this were a later book there would be more information about piracy, letters of mark, the different nations involved in the Caribbean and so forth. As it stands, the pirates are merely caricatures and a means of putting the children in danger to move the plot.

Other posts and reviews:

Other Magic Tree House books reviewed here:

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Alida's Song: 08/12/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Alida's Song by Gary Paulsen is the sequel to the wonderful Cookcamp. The book begins with a framing story. The boy is now a young man enlisted in the army. He confesses to his grandmother that he's not sure he made the right decision. She then reminds him of the time he came to live with her for a summer at a farm.

The remainder of the novella is set during that summertime. Once again the boy is invited to live with his grandmother. The idea is to give him a safe, loving home during another rough patch in his family is going through. He learns how to run a farm and marvels at how different and sometimes primitive the life of the two brothers is compared to his life at home.

Although the work is hard, his employers are kindly. As the book progresses their friendship with the grandmother and the boy unfolds. It's really a lovely story, something that can easily be read in one sitting over a cup of coffee or cocoa.

I reviewed Cookcamp back around the time I was first evolving my website into a dedicated book blog. I must have put Alida's Song on my wishlist at the same time. In the four years since, I had forgotten why I had added it but I'm glad I did.

I got the book from the library.

Other posts and reviews:

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Science Fiction And Alternate History: 08/11/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)If you're a regular of my blog, you know I like reading science fiction short stories. When I read short stories, I prefer them short and to the point. Science Fiction and Alternate History by David Scholes seemed like a perfect fit.

I wish it were. Frankly I'm not sure what to make of it or how to review it. The stories are extremely short, mostly a page or two. The longest ones run three to four pages.

There really isn't much to any story except a punchline. As individual stories there's not much there except for a surprise ending. Except being so short, the surprise doesn't really hold up. There's not enough development or set up to make the twist a twist.

As a whole book though, there is a hint at a plot progression. I know the book is presented as a collection of short stories but it really works better as a speculative fiction novel containing extremely short chapter.

I received the book for review.

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Horns: 08/10/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Ignatius Perrish went on a bender, did a whole bunch of bad things and woke in the morning with horns growing out of his head. To complicate matters his horns seem to bring out worst thoughts and impulses in people. That's the promising start of Horns by Joe Hill.

The first sixty five pages of the book are wonderful. They're full of people behaving terribly, Ig being horrified at his new power over people and his reluctance to give into his new potentially demonic powers.

Then just as things are gearing up, the mayhem stops for an extended, supper sappy flashback about how Ig and his girl friend met. Part of the premise of the book is that her death prompted Ig's downfall but the flashback completely killed the tone of the book. Before the flashback it had been a dark comedy. The flashback goes for pure schmaltz and I hated every last word of it.

I skipped to the end to see if ever got its opening grove back. The ending was so completely a field of what it could have been that I left the book unfinished.

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Size Eight in a Size Zero World: 08/09/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)In Size Eight in a Size Zero World by Meredith Cagen, Lindsay Chandler lives in Manhattan with her husband, two children and dog. Her husband though is verbally abusive and emotionally distant. The man upstairs appears to be a way out; he's handsome and he acts interested in Lindsay's thoughts and emotions.

The book sets the stage for a portrayal of a woman struggling to find herself in the midst of a unsatisfying and quite possibly dangerous marriage.  It's a serious topic and Lindsay's choices ring true but the pay-off never seems to come through.

Given the husband's controlling nature, I expected him to react violently to Lindsay's rebellion. It's not that I wanted Lindsay to get hurt but for a frank portrayal of an abusive marriage the darkest parts should be brought to the forefront. Instead, Cagen pulls her punches and lets the story drag out to an ending that lacks the emotional catharsis it should have.

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Rainbow Boys: 08/08/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Last year when Amazon temporarily delisted books with LGBT themes for being "adult material" I bought up a bunch of the delisted books (from Powell's). One of those books was Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez.

Rainbow Boys was Sanchez's debut novel. It's also the start of a trilogy. The other two books are Rainbow High and Rainbow Road. I haven't read the other two and I'm debating whether or not I will.

The book is told from three different male points of view: Jason, a jock with a girlfriend who realizes he might be bi; Kyle who looks straight but isn't and isn't sure he wants to tell anyone; and Nelson who is out to the whole world but can't muster the guts to tell the boy he's crushing on how he feels. Each boy has a unique voice and an interesting personality.

Unfortunately their stories are bogged down with a combination of family drama and a Jack Webb style of including information about helpful groups for teens in similar situations. I'm not against showing how hard it can be for LGBT teens. Nor am I against including real life resources in fiction. But there needs to be a balance and Rainbow Boys doesn't have that balance until near the end.

A book that covers the same topics but does a better job of balancing issues with plot is In Mike We Trust by P. E. Ryan (review coming).

Other posts and reviews:

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What Are You Reading?What Are You Reading: August 09, 2010: 08/08/10

It's Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

I love being a part of this and I hope you do too! As part of this weekly meme I love to encourage you all to go and visit the others participating in this meme. I offer a weekly contest for those who visit 10 or more of the Monday Meme participants and leave a comment. You receive one entry for every 10 comments, just come back here and tell me how many in the comment area.

All except one book were from the library. My numbers are bit inflated because I was reading picture books with my daughter.

Finished Last Week:

  1. American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940's Until Now edited by Peter Straub (library book)
  2. The Best Cat in the World by Lesléa Newman (library book)
  3. Bone: Rock Jaw by Jeff Smith (library book)
  4. Crow Call (Hardcover) by Lois Lowry (library book)
  5. The Function of Ornament by Michael Kubo (library book)
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (library book)
  7. Here Are My Hands by Bill Martin Jr. (library book)
  8. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker (review copy)
  9. Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot (library book)
  10. Three Little Kittens by Tanya Linch (library book)
  11. What Do You Love? by Jonathan London (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Aging with Grace by Greg Liberman (review copy)
  2. The Angel of Forgetfulness by Steve Stern (library book)
  3. City-Makers: The Story of Southern California's First Boom by Remi A. Nadeau (personal collection)
  4. Finding Marco by Kenneth C. Cancellara review copy)
  5. Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, #1) by Charlaine Harris (personal collection)
  6. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (library book)
  7. Mary Modern by Camille Deangelis (personal collection)
  8. The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1) by Carolyn Keene (library book)
  9. San Francisco Then and Now by Bill Yenne (library book)

Next on my list of to read books are volume 9 of the Bone series, A California Girl by Edward Eldridge and Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett.

If you have any questions about the books I finished or am currently reading, please leave a comment. So what are you reading this week?



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When Teacher's Talk: 08/07/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Rosalyn S. Schnall interviewed and surveyed 500 teachers from Chicago public schools. The result of those interviews are transcribed in When Teachers Talk. I chose to read it because I have friends and family members who are teachers and I've heard some interesting stories from them.

The anonymous responses are divided by categories. While one can see patterns when reading through the transcripts, there's no analysis of the data. It's just raw transcripts by topic.

I wanted a lot more from the book. I wanted to see how the different issues stack up against each other. I wanted to see proposed solutions and analysis of attempted solutions that might have failed. A graph or two would have helped too.

Five hundred pages of transcripts by themselves is nothing but noise. There's no way to gauge how bad the problem in Chicago is or how relevant the problem is to other school districts. Without that work I can't recommend the book.

I received the book from the author for review.

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The Kids' Guide to Digital Photography: 08/06/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Sean has been taking photographs since he as about two and a half. He started with my digital camera and moved onto his own a year or so ago. I thought The Kid's Guide to Digital Photography by Jenni Bidner would be a good book for his weekly assigned free reading.

The book has a good introduction to photography and the equipment involved. There are basic pointers on composition, lighting, and so forth. From there the book goes into the ways that digital cameras work and how to use their settings.

The remainder of the book has ideas for digital editing of photographs with some creative projects. The digital editing bits were of the most interest to my son. Besides taking photographs, he's also been dabbling in Photoshop and Illustrator.

As the book was published in 2004, some of the technical aspects are getting out of date but the core skills hold up and will continue to until the point that photography changes into a very different art form.

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Flanimals: 08/05/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)When my son was first discovering his love of monsters, comedian and television writer Ricky Gervais was starting a new series of monster books with Flanimals. Sean and I have only recently discovered the series thanks to the public library picking up the first two books in the series.

Flanimals introduces a bunch of different unusual monster animals. Some are scary. Some are cute. Some start out cute and grow to be scary. There's a food chain too.

Each flanimal has a funny comment or two about what they do or where their name comes from. A lot of those jokes are still going over my son's head. He looks at me strange when I start snickering (I read over his shoulder). Nonetheless, there's nothing too racy with the humor. It's pretty sophomoric.

Apparently Gervais is now in the process of adapting the books into a film.

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Receive Me Falling: 08/04/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Receive Me Falling is self-published debut by Erika Robuck. It's told in a parallel structure jumping between present day and couple hundred years in the past. In the modern day, Meghan has recently lost her parents and is now visiting an old family plantation hoping to learn its history as she decides what to do with it. Meanwhile, in the past, Catherine wants to help the plantation slaves while looking for her own way to escape the dreary life on Nervis.

It took about four chapters for the book to grab my attention but once it did, it didn't let go until the very end. In situations like this, I tend to prefer the modern day story to the one in the past. That's true of Receive Me Falling but Catherine did grow on me. Mostly though what kept me reading was the modern day ghost story.

Other reviews of the book have pointed out a number of editing errors (spelling, homophone and punctuation) that Receive Me Falling suffers from. I have to admit that I missed most of them because I was so taken in with the plot. Since I was enjoying the book so much I'm not counting the editing problems against my rating of the book. But be advised that they are there.

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Walter Wick's Optical Tricks: 08/03/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)My kids love the I Spy books. The man behind the photography is Walter Wick. His photography has inspired some of my son's photography. So when we saw Walter Wick's Optical Tricks which explains how he makes his optical illusions for the I Spy books we had to check it out.

The book is a good but short introduction to setting up photographic optical illusions. The ones involving mirrors got Sean's attention most. I think because they are such simple devices but create such amazing results.

So our only complaint with the book is its length. It's like an appetizer to photographic effects. I know if there were a longer and more in depth one, we would love to read it.

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Catwings Return: 08/02/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)After I posted my review of Minifred Goes to School by Mordicai Gerstein, Little Willow recommended that I read the Catwings series by Ursula K. Le Guin. At the library I only found the second book in the series, Catwings Return. So in keeping with my record of reading the second book first, I checked it out.

Catwings Return begins on a farm where young children have a special looking pigeon coupe. Except it doesn't house pigeons; it houses cats with wings. The kittens decide they need to go back to the city to visit their non winged mother.

While looking for their mother in a neighborhood about to be demolished they find a winged kitten. She must be a sibling. The little kitten is too scared to listen to reason. The catwings have to find a way to save their sister and find their mother.

The book is short, only five chapters. I fell in love with it on the first couple of pages. First of all it has the delightful illustrations by S. D. Schindler, who also illustrated Le Guin's Cat Dreams. Next, one of the kittens is named Harriet. My Harriet adores cats and she's now old enough to sit through short chapter books if I read them to her.

Since reading Catwings Returns I've found Catwings at a different branch. I plan to read it to her before I read Catwings Returns. I'm looking forward to starting the series with my daughter.

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http://bookjourney.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/its-monday-what-are-you-reading-46/What Are You Reading: August 02, 2010: 08/02/10

It's Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

I love being a part of this and I hope you do too! As part of this weekly meme I love to encourage you all to go and visit the others participating in this meme. I offer a weekly contest for those who visit 10 or more of the Monday Meme participants and leave a comment. You receive one entry for every 10 comments, just come back here and tell me how many in the comment area.

Most of my books finished last week are library books. Half of them were picture books I read to my daughter. The remaining library books were ones that had been on my wishlist. My favorite book from last week was The Diary of Pelly D by L. J. Adlington.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Celestine, Drama Queen by Penny Ives (library book)
  2. Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman (library book)
  3. The Diary of Pelly D by L.J. Adlington (library book)
  4. Elena's Serenade by Campbell Geeslin (library book)
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (library book)
  6. Indigo Blue by Cathy Cassidy (library book)
  7. Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin (TBR pile)
  8. Little Ballet Star by Adèle Geras (library book)
  9. Mr. McGratt and the Ornery Cat by Marilyn Helmer (library book)
  10. Our Lady of Immaculate Deception by Nancy Martin (library book)
  11. Ten Little Mummies by Philip Yates (library book)
  12. Ten Tiny Babies by Karen Katz (library book)
  13. Vampire Theory by Lily Caracci (review copy)
  14. Where Is That Cat? by Carol Greene (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. American Fantastic Tales:Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940's Until Now edited by Peter Straub
  2. City-Makers: The Story of Southern California's First Boom by Remi A. Nadeau (personal collection)
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (library book)
  4. Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, #1) by Charlaine Harris (personal collection)
  5. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (library book)
  6. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker (review copy)
  7. Mary Modern by Camille Deangelis (personal collection)
  8. Pink brain, Blue brain by Lise Eliot (library book)
  9. The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1) by Carolyn Keene (library book)
  10. San Francisco Then and Now by Bill Yenne (library book)

Next on my list of to read books are the remaining books in the Bones graphic novel series, Aging with Grace by Greg Liberman and possibly The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

If you have any questions about the books I finished or am currently reading, please leave a comment. So what are you reading this week?



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Puss in Boots: 08/01/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)We own a copy of Puss in Boots, a retelling by Rochelle Larkin which I reviewed in May 2008. That said, my daughter was attracted by the bold cover illustration on the 1991 reissue of Malcolm Arthur's 1977 translation of Charles Perrault's version.

The 1991 reissue has new illustrations by Fred Marcellino. It was his first time illustrating a children's book and it was a Caldecott Honor book for that year.

Plotwise there isn't much difference between Larkin and Arthur's versions. They are both working from the same source material. No, it's the illustrations. They are bold, colorful and worthy of framing. After reading the book once to my daughter we flipped through the book a couple more times just taking about Marcellino's work.

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