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September 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

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Great Joy: 09/30/10

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Harriet's got the holidays on her brain right now. She's been wanting to read stories about Christmas and Hanukkah. One of her first choices was Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo.

The book takes place during WWII in a large city. Frances and her mother live in an apartment while her father is away fighting in the war. Frances has a part in the upcoming Christmas pageant but she is preoccupied by the organ grinder who has come to street corner across from her bedroom window.

The story's about charity during hard times. Frances can see that the organ grinder has no where to go even during the cold snowy nights and she wants to help. Her mother though, alone and feeling vulnerable and stressed with her husband oversees is understandably reluctant to offer help. Frances though persists and comes to a small compromise which is revealed at the end.

All of this is backed up with beautiful illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline. It's one of those books that can be read once for the words and again just for the pictures.

Comments (0)

Queen of Candesce: 09/29/10

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For the 2009-10 Canada Reads challenge I started reading Karl Schroeder's Virga series. In typical fashion I read the series completely out of order. I stared with the final book, The Sunless Countries and went back to the beginning with Sun of Suns. Now I'm at the second book, Queen of Cadesce.

In the previous book Venera Fanning fell to her presumed death. Except she's living inside an artificial world. So instead of going splat, she's burned by a man made sun and lands on the crumbling remains of Spyre.

Queen of Cadensce certainly kept my attention better than Sun of Suns did. Venera on her own comes alive. We are left with her thoughts on revenge and survival as she explores the ruins of Spyre. Although falling apart, Sypre is inhabited. It's a ghost town in the making with the closed up estates of crumbling mansions of once great families.

Spyre is as much a character as her inhabitants and Venera Fanning herself. I love Schroeder's world building and I felt I had more time to explore in this book than in the first.

Comments (0)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: 09/28/10

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Ever stall on reading a book because you're in a mental tug of war? That's what happened with me and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. On the one hand, I loved the cover and the synopsis sounded exactly like my kind of book. On the other hand, I'd struggled with The Yiddish Policeman's Union and was reluctant to try another 700 page book by the same author. It took a bunch of my twitter book buddies asking if I'd read it with them to finally make up my mind!

Joe Kavalier, a Czech refugee and his New York born cousin Sam Clay collaborate on a new comic book series, The Escapist. The book takes them through the early days of the comic, through the Golden Age of comics through the witch hunt that was Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings regarding comic books and juvenile crime. While completely fictional, these cousins were inspired by real life teams: Jerry Siegel and Joseph Shuster (creators of Superman), Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (creators of Captain America and others), Will Eisner, Jim Steranko among others. These real life artists do make cameos in the novel and serve as inspiration and competition for our two unlikely heroes.

Although I was expecting to put a solid three weeks or so into the book, I ended up tearing through the tome over the course of a weekend. I loved the setting, the semi fictionalized history of the American comic industry, and Cay's struggle with his sexual identity. The only way the book could have been better would have been with some panels from The Escapist.

Comments (2)

Elena's Serenade: 09/27/10

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Harriet and I are falling into a new routine where once or twice a week we stop by the library on the way home from her preschool. I pick up my hold books, she plays on the computer for a little bit and then she goes to the shelves and picks three or four picture books to bring home. Her methodology seems to involve picking a specific shelf and then pulling books off at random until she finds covers that tickle her fancy.

One a recent trip to the library Harriet picked the G section of the shelves. From there she found Elena's Serenade by Campbell Geeslin. It met with her approval based on the cover having a cute little girl wearing a pink skirt and a sun and a moon.

Elena's Serenade is more than just the story of a cute little girl. She is headstrong, determined and focused. Her father is a glassblower and she wants to be one too. He says no, first saying she's too little and will get hurt. When she persists he says girls can't be glassblowers.

Elena though doesn't let his reasons stop her from fulfilling her dream. On her brother's advice, she dresses as a boy, grabs a glassblowing tube and makes the long journey on foot to Monterrey Mexico where she can apprentice with the best glassblowers.

The book though isn't strictly about learning how to blow glass. It's more about the journey and how she grows as a person along the way. The story takes a magical realism turn as Elena makes her journey. She meets and helps animals and other forces of nature along the way and she learns how to play traditional Mexican songs on her glassblowing pipe. The experience helps her reap exceptional and magical affects from pipe when her apprenticeship begins.

So how did it play with Harriet? She liked the glassblowing and she liked the magical parts. The journey seemed a little long for her and I had to work hard to keep her attention in the middle part of the story. Although she talked about the book a little when we were done it didn't inspire her enough to request a re-read.

This book has recently been optioned. Done well, it could be an interesting film.

Comments (0)

What Are You Reading: September 27, 2010: 09/27/10

What Are You Reading?

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.

Four of my finished books were for research. Most of the others were graphic novels. I am continuing to read for research. I would like to finish The Red Pyramid and The Quest for Merlin's Map this week but the research will of course, come first.

Finished Last Week:

  1. The Emergence of Maps in Libraries by Walter William Ristow (library book)
  2. Integrating Geographic Information System into Library Services by John Abresch (library book)
  3. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (library book)
  4. Nylon Road: A Graphic Memoir of Coming of Age in Iran by Parsua Bashi (library book)
  5. Otto's Orange Day by Jay Lynch (library book)
  6. The Political Mapping of Cyberspace by Jeremy W. Crampton (library book)
  7. Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters by Scott Rosenberg (library book)
  8. The Tarot Cafe, #3 by Sang-Sun Park (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox (personal collection)
  2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  3. Donorboy by Brendan Halpin (library book)
  4. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  5. Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks (library book)
  6. The Portable MLIS by Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)
  7. The Quest for Merlin's Map by W. C. Peever (review copy)
  8. The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1) by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy by Clive Cussler (personal collection)
  2. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (library book)
  3. The Last Ember by Daniel Levin (library book)
  4. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld (library book)
  5. The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine (library book)
  6. The Revolutionary Paul Revere by Joel Miller (review copy)
  7. Treehorn's Wish by Florence Parry Heide (library book)

Comments (24)

Treehorn's Wish: 09/26/10

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There are three Treehorn books, though I wouldn't go as far as to call the set a trilogy. None of the three seem tied to each other expect that they are all about Treehorn and his disinterested parents.

The series ends with Treehorn's birthday. Ever hopeful, Treehorn cleans out his closet in hopes of an extraordinarily large gift. Meanwhile the mother is having work done on the kitchen and is too preoccupied with her own project to remember her son's birthday.

Somewhere in the confusion Treehorn finds a jar containing a genie. Treehorn gets three wishes. Treehorn could wish for unlimited comic books or a huge gift but he opts for something more basic.

I think Treehorn's Wish is the first genie story I've read that doesn't have wishes getting out of control. It's a simple, sweet and sadly charming book.

Comments (2)

Halloween Town: 09/25/10

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"Halloween Town" is the longest story in the October / November issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I remember liking the usual setting (a town down a very deep crevasse perpetually in shadow so that it's always twilight. Unfortunately the plot of the story hasn't stayed with me.

Clyde Ormoloo can see into the darkest recesses of a person's soul when he's in full light. So he has requested a move to Halloween town at the bottom of Shilkonic Gorge. The townsfolk don't take kindly to strangers so he has to work hard to win his place amongst them.

As with John of "John's Reading" I found the length a bit long. The novella is around seventy pages long. There's a lot crammed into the plot: a dead cat, potentially dangerous creatures living in a cave, a power struggle over the control of the town and ultimately Halloweentown trying to reinvent itself.

The tone of the story and the sense of an underlying dark mystery reminded me of The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert. Of course the setting is completely different but there is a kinship in the mood.

Comments (0)

The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy: 09/24/10

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I read my first Clive Cussler novel, Raise the Titanic, when I was about ten. It was on a family camping trip, one of those long drives. I was hooked. I've been reading him on and off ever since.

My husband knows how much I enjoy Cussler's books. Last month when he was at the book store to buy a family copy of The Red Pyramid he spotted The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy, a new middle grades adventure by Clive Cussler. Of course I had have a copy. That it was set in the San Francisco Bay was an added bonus.

The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy is the sequel to The Adventures of Vin Fiz (2006). In that one the Nicefolk twins receive a magic box from a mysterious visitor, Sucoh Sucop. They use it to turn their toy airplane into a full-sized one that flies by magic.

In the sequel they decide the use the box again, this time to create a lifesize speed boat, Hotsy Totsy, to participate in a race from San Francisco to Sacramento and back. Along the way they are chased by the Boss and his henchmen, recurring baddies from the first book.

The best way to describe The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy is to say the Bobbsy Twins meet Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It's somewhere between parody and homage to those types of books. Since I grew up reading both The Bobbsy Twins and Clive Cussler's books, I enjoyed seeing what he did with the genre.

That said, the book wasn't a perfect escape for me. The narration is a little rough in places. Cussler needs a little more practice modifying his usual voice for this genre and age group. He's at his best when he's describing the race and the local scenery. I'm sure the rest will improve as he continues the series.

Comments (2)

The Last Ember: 09/23/10

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A couple of people recommended The Last Ember to me after I blogged about enjoying The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Both described the book as a "Jewish Dan Brown mystery." After having read it, my response to that recommendation is yes and no.


There's an ancient mystery that surfaces when a very well preserved body is found. Jonathan Marcus, an archeologist studying at the American Academy in Rome is called into help. The discovery gives clues that leads him and others on a race to find the Tabernacle Menorah.

So on the surface, The Last Ember shares a similar set up and plot structure. There's a lot of racing around famous spots in Italy. There are rival factions who want the same treasure for their own nefarious reasons. And there's a lot of tangential discussion of ancient facts.


Dan Brown's books are silly. Although they are just as predictable as The Last Ember ended up being, they are over the top and fun to read. I figured out the location of the treasure and the person who would end up being the most knowledgeable and important character of the ensemble when he first showed up. In the case of The Last Ember, it made reading the remainder of the book (about 2/3) tedious to read.

I don't read Dan Brown's books because they are serious mysteries. I read them because they're like Hardy Boys books for grown ups. They start with a real place, a real piece of art and then they throw in madcap adventures, ridiculous pseudo-science and all sorts of other malarkey. The Last Ember was presented much too seriously to be any fun even though the basic mystery was just as simplistic and cheesy as a typical Dan Brown book.

Comments (0)

The Revolutionary Paul Revere: 09/22/10

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Paul Revere always makes me think of my fifth and sixth grade teacher. I was in a combination class and had the same three teachers for three years in a row but my "home room" teacher for two of those years was a fan of the arts. Everything she taught ended up going back to the arts.

When it came time to learn about Paul Revere, of course she read us the the famous poem but she also spoke of his work as a silver smith and the famous portrait of him painted by John Singleton Copley. In the painting, he's not on a horse. He's not being a revolutionary. No, he's proudly holding one of his creations.

So when I was approached to review The Revolutionary Paul Revere by Joel Miller earlier this year, I jumped on the chance. I read it right away too but work for the Census and then my son going back to school and finally my own school work got in the way and I've been neglecting to write this review.

The book starts like many biographies seem to, with the parents. It must be difficult when writing a biography, especially of a famous person, to know when it the right time to start. Some books will go back as far as the grand or even sometimes great grand parents. I personally don't want to spent so much time learning about a person's family tree. A simple diagram and perhaps an annotated list of suggested reading would suffice. Fortunately not too much precious space is spent on Revere's father and the hows and whys behind his coming to the colonies.

The main focus is thankfully on Revere and his entire life, not just those revolutionary moments. That means there is ample time spent on his career, his friendships with other big names from the era, his marriages and his children.

I found the book to be well balanced and fascinating (beyond the initial slow start). Revere isn't painted as a god among men as some biographies of revolutionary war heros do. His flaws are given as much times as his successes.

I received the book for review.

Comments (2)

The Princess Test: 09/21/10

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My daughter is currently princess crazy. Her favorite princess is Princess Pea from the PBS series Super Why! Princess Pea as you can probably guess is the daughter of the princess who passed the pea test. So when I was looking for longer books to read to her during bath time, The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine was an obvious choice.

In Levine's version, set in her fantasy realm of Biddle, Lorelei is a commoner with very royal tastes. She likes the best foods, the purest soaps, the finest materials. A natural klutz and prone to allergic reactions to things that aren't quite right, she spends her time embroidering anything and everything perfectly.

Meanwhile the king and queen of Biddle are trying to find an appropriate princess for their son to marry. They put together a series of tests meant to weed out the list to the perfect match. What they don't consider is that a commoner with uncommon tastes might be able to pass the test!

Levine's humor shines in this book. As it's significantly shorter than Ella Enchanted she wastes no words on setting up a joke or a scene. She jumps right to the point with a biting humor that made the book hilarious to read. The humor though is secondary to a well crafted story which captivated Harriet and kept her going all the way to the end.

Comments (6)

Pretties: 09/20/10

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Pretties by Scott Westerfeld begins after Tally's had her operation. Her mind has been wiped of her days outside of society. She though has this nagging feeling that something has changed. When she's shown the letter she wrote to herself she's shocked at how much she's lost. At the same time, though, she's not sure she wants to go back.

Just as Uglies showed what life was like in the Ugly town, Pretties spends a lot of time in the Pretty town. Unfortunately perfect people who are high on stuff and are suffering from a medically induced stupidity just aren't as interesting as scared teens who haven't been altered yet.

Pretties is a pause in the action. It ends just as things are hotting up. Tally is once again interesting to the higher ups in her society. She might be useful to them and they might be useful to her.

I will probably read the third installment, Specials but I'm not feeling as compelled to rush out and read it as I was after I finished Uglies.

Comments (6)

Al Capone Does My Shirts: 09/19/10

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I've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for eleven years. In all that time I've never been to Alcatraz. The closest I've gotten to it was via the Oakland / Alameda Ferry as it was headed towards Angel Island. But I've visited it many times in fiction, my latest trip being via Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko.

Except for a barebones understanding of the plot, namely, a boy and his family moving to Alcatraz, I had no expectations. I was immediately taken in by Moose, a twelve year old who is taller than average and older than his years because of his sister, Natalie. A special school in San Francisco is the family's last hope for Natalie, if they can only convince them to let her in.

In the background is Alcatraz. Families did in fact live there with their children riding a ferry to the mainland every day for school. Choldenko manages to blend historical events into her story, making Moose's world believable and fascinating.

What won me over though, wasn't Alcatraz. Instead it was the relationship (good and bad) between Moose and Natalie. I had just come off reading a terrible book with a similar theme, Saving Max. Natalie was a breath of fresh air. She is given time to be herself, make mistakes, learn, grow and live. Although the other Alcatraz children ask rude questions about Natalie's condition, they go become her friend on her terms, something that I haven't seen much in fiction.

Comments (4)

What Are You Reading: September 20, 2010: 09/19/10

What Are You Reading?

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 finally got the Nancy Drew book finished. The rest of my finished books were children's books, mostly picture books I read with my daughter. For my currently reading pile, it's mostly text books and research books.

Finished Last Week:

  1. 1-2-3: A Child's First Counting Book by Alison Jay (library book)
  2. Angelfish by Laurence Yep (library book)
  3. Bannock Beans and Black Tea by John Gallant (library book)
  4. The Blues Go Birding Across America by Carol L. Malnor (library book)
  5. Chester's Back! by Mélanie Watt (library book)
  6. The Costume Copycat by Maryann MacDonald (library book)
  7. How to Crash a Killer Bash by Penny Warner (personal collection)
  8. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (library book)
  9. The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1) by Carolyn Keene (library book)
  10. What Can You Do With a Rebozo? by Carmen Tafolla (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox (personal collection)
  2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  3. Integrating Geographic Information System into Library Services by John Abresch (library book)
  4. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  5. Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks (library book)
  6. The Portable MLIS by Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)
  7. The Quest for Merlin's Map by W. C. Peever (review copy)
  8. The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1) by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Bone: Old Man's Cave by Jeff Smith (library book)
  2. Celestine: Drama Queen by Penny Ives (library book)
  3. Gentleman Takes a Chance (library book)
  4. Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech (library book)
  5. Iris by Nancy Springer (personal collection)
  6. Our Town by Thornton Wilder (library book)

Comments (26)

Hate That Cat: 09/18/10

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Sometimes I just get a hankering to read something at random. I will go through binges where I'll pick a small stacks of books from my library. Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech caught my eye and I brought it home on a complete whim.

Boy am I glad I did. The book made me cry (after putting a half dozen poetry books on my wishlist first).

Jack keeps a poetry diary. He writes it for school but he relates day to day events of his life: the death of his dog, his run-ins with the mean cat up the street, his uncle who doesn't like poetry, his letters with living poets, and the kitten his teacher gives him.

As it's a middle grade book, it's a quick read. I tore through it over my morning coffee and breakfast. It left me feeling a wide range of emotions. When I was done reading it, I actually felt disappointed. If I could give the book a six out of five stars on GoodReads, I would.

Hate That Cat is the sequel to Love That Dog. I have since read Love That Dog and will post a review as soon as I can.

Comments (8)

Bone: Old Man's Cave: 09/17/10

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Old Man's Cave the sixth Bone book by Jeff Smith started off with a bang. Thorn finds Fone and Smiley and with Ted's help leads them to the Old Man's Cave. They meet up with Phoney and Grandma but Rock Jaw needs Phoney to see something at a mountain. The Locust attacks and it becomes clear just how dangerous the Hooded One is.

With all this action going on I realized I had missed something. I was sitting her looking at a giant talking mountain lion wondering why I had forgotten about him. I had to go back through my reading notes (which are extensive) and there I found my answer. I hadn't read volume 5, Rock Jaw.

The action in Old Man's Cave is heart pounding. I tore through the book in about an hour. I literally locked myself in my room so I could finish it. I don't normally hide when I'm reading, only when the book is really good and I don't want to be disturbed until I finish it.


Our Town: 09/16/10

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Our Town by Thornton Wilder is one of those American plays that you're just supposed to know. For whatever reason we didn't read it at our junior or senior high schools. I wasn't assigned it in college either. So it just sort of slipped by. And yet I knew it was a classic that I should have read; it's referenced all the time. It seems that whenever a play is shown in a film or television show, it's either Romeo & Juliet or Our Town.

The stupidest thing about me not reading it until now is that I love reading plays. My father did a lot of theater in high school and college and has these massive collections of plays. I can remember reading his books in front of the camp fire when others were toasting marshmallows for smores (and I love smores). So how I missed Our Town, I don't know. Shame on me!

One of my current reading goals is to stop compiling a wishlist without actually doing anything about it. If I want to read these books, I should make the effort to actually read them. That includes plays and the first play I chose was Our Town.

As soon as I started reading it and realized it was metatheater I was instantly and madly in love with the play. I tore through the play in one sitting and then went back and re-read my favorite parts.

Set in Grover's Corners, the play takes place on three different days in three different years. The Stage Director sets the stage for each of these eras, bringing the artifice of the play to the forefront and at least for me, inspiring self reflection and introspection on how fleeting time is and how artificial our lives sometimes are.

Best of all, I finally completely got "As the Day Runs Down." I had realized it was an homage to another story of some sort but I didn't recognize it. In my review I compared it to The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald but Our Town is the obvious fit. If I still had that issue of FSF around I would have re-read the story to compare it more closely with Our Town.

Comments (4)

Celestine, Drama Queen: 09/15/10

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Harriet chose Celestine, Drama Queen by Penny Ives at a recent trip to the library. She was drawn to the duckling dressed in a pink tutu.

Celestine is very much like Olivia the Pig. She has the same flare for drama and personal expression. When the school play is announced she wants to have the most important role. Like Olivia in Olivia Acts Out, Celestine doesn't get the lead role but she makes the most of what she's given.

Although my daughter chose the book she didn't sit through to the end of the story. I think she found Celestine a little too demanding and melodramatic.

Comments (0)

Iris: 09/14/10

Iris is a Greek name. It means rainbow and that is the key to this beautiful and bittersweet Christmas tale form the December 2009 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

I read the story during our first Christmas away from our extended family. Money was tight and we just didn't know how we could afford travel costs, the price of putting our cat in the kennel and of course presents for everyone. So we opted to stay home and have our own tree. That combination of sadness and hope around the decorating of a Christmas tree resonated with me.

In the case of "Iris" the tree belongs to a single woman, a widow, who many years ago lost her daughter in infancy. She suddenly gets the inspiration to collect bits and bobs of specific colors to make a very unique Christmas tree. When they all come together she has a rainbow Christmas tree full of magic and release.

Comments (0)

Gentleman Takes a Chance: 09/13/10

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A popular question in the book blogosphere is "do you judge a book by its cover?" Yes, I say, especially with library books. For the most part, my library book cover lust has served me well. Sometimes though, I find a book I can't finish. Gentleman Takes a Chance by Sarah A. Hoyt was one of those unfinished books.

The book is set in Colorado. It starts during a bad snow storm. Kyrie and Tom share a house. Turns out they're both shape-shifters. Tom mid shower loses control of his thoughts and takes out the bathroom in the process, taking his other form unexpectedly. Tom's problem leads to a mystery at the local aquarium. It involves dragons who are out for blood.

The book though is fraught with problems: typos, weird editing and clunky language. This is a professionally produced book, published by Baen. They did a disservice to the author.

Books like this one are what I point to when people ask me why I review self published books. I see about the same percentage of piss poor editing from the big houses as I do from the self published books. As long as that continues to be the case, I'm not going to ignore the self pubs if the books otherwise sound interesting.

Comments (0)

What Are You Reading: September 13, 2010: 09/13/10

What Are You Reading?

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 didn't get to finish How to Crash a Killer Bash finished because I had to focus on writing my critical note. But I got some other books finished. Most of those finished are picture books I read with my daughter.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Christmas Eve by Suçie Stevenson (library book)
  2. Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals (library book)
  3. Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, #1) by Charlaine Harris (personal collection)
  4. I Miss You Everyday by Simms Taback (library book)
  5. Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins (library book)
  6. The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc (library book)
  7. Opur's Blade by James Ross (review copy)
  8. Sneezy Louise by Irene Breznak (library book)
  9. Wizard World by Roger Zelazny (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. How to Crash a Killer Bash by Penny Warner (personal collection)
  3. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  4. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (library book)
  5. Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks (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)

Reviews Posted:

  1. As Long as He Needs Me by Mary Verdick (review copy)
  2. Bone: Rock Jaw by Jeff Smith (library book)
  3. Cat and Canary by Michael Foreman (library book)
  4. "Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance" by Paul Park (personal collection)
  5. Kiss My Math by Danica McKellar (library book)
  6. The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King (personal collection)
  7. The Talking Baby byJeremy and Karina Sweet (review copy)

Comments (8)


Monster Motel: 09/12/10

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I checked out Monster Motel by Douglas Florian thinking my son would enjoy it. It's a poetry book featuring monsters, ghosts and other creepy crawlies. My son though, wanted no part of the book.

The poems are cute but not especially memorable. The monsters aren't very scary and the emphasis seems to be on humor. For me the humor didn't hit the mark.

Comments (2)

Kiss My Math: 09/11/10

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My husband is a college math professor. He also runs a math tutoring site. His mother is a high school math teacher. My mother majored in math in college but later switched to marketing research. Math has always been part of my life. Even before I met my husband I never had the sense of math being a "boy thing." Nor do I remember being intimidated by it, except for a brief time in 5th grade where reciprocals were a completely alien concept.

That said, I am aware that many young women have felt intimidated by math and I've witnessed the extra competitiveness women are put through in college when they chose to major in math. Why they should have to prove themselves is nonsensical and maddening.

So when I saw Kiss My Math by Danica McKellar on prominent display at my local library I had to check it out. No, I wasn't thinking about the actress who played Winnie on The Wonder Years when I checked out the book. No, I was thinking, "A math book aimed only a girls, how insulting!" After that I took a calming breath, counted to ten, and decided I should read the book before I passed judgement on it.

By the end of the first chapter though, I was madly in love with the book. First and foremost, McKellar includes many personal stories about how she ended up majoring in math and how she struggled with the subject in junior and senior high school. So the book is part memoir along with being a pre-Algebra book.

The book is written in a chatty style with it's own over the top lingo in the same vein as the Georgia Nicholson books by Louise Rennison. The math though, is solid. The instruction is given in an engaging and humorous way and there are enough problem sets to help the lessons stick.

I loved the book so much that when I heard about Hot X coming out, I put it on my wishlist. I now have an ARC to read and review in the upcoming months.

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The Talking Baby: 09/10/10

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I'm a parent. I have two children. My youngest will starting kindergarten a year from now. When my oldest was an infant, baby signs as a stop gap for communication was the hot parenting trend. Putting all that effort into a sign language variant seemed futile for both me and my son. Instead I followed my mother's advice which was: "just talk constantly."

So when I was given the opportunity to review The Talking Baby by Jeremy and Karina Sweet I said yes. I was curious to see what suggestions they'd have for encouraging language acquisition for infants.

The Talking Baby is a slim volume, at 57 pages (counting the resources). The book has one to two page topics, each with a cartoon illustration to highlight the key concepts. The topics are things like: providing a happy home, being like a cartoon character, repetition, words to begin with, adding a second language into the mix and so forth. All of the advice is very straight forward and reassuring. It's the sort of stuff parents do naturally but might not think about or understand the benefits of certain techniques.

As other reviewers have said, the book is probably best for parents of children under two. If you're a parent of a child between six and eighteen months, this book should be on your radar.

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Bone: Rock Jaw, Master of the Eastern Border: 09/09/10

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By Volume 3 of Bone, Eyes of the Storm, I knew I wanted to finish reading the entire series. I grabbed every volume I had read yet from my local library and proceeded to read them. Unfortunately what I didn't realize was that Volumes 5 and 9 were missing. In fact, my local library doesn't have those two volumes. So I had to put them on hold and read them out of order from the rest of the series.

In Volume 5, the Bone cousins are separated from the group. They've befriended a rat creature pup whom Smiley has named Bartleby. Along the way they meet up with Rock Jaw, an enormous mountain lion who knows the history of the valley. He's basically the ambassador Kosh of this series and his knowledge of the situation shows that the war isn't as cut and dry as the villagers think.

Rock Jaw was the first volume I read without the full color panels. While I missed the luscious colors at first I did find the black and white kept me more focused on the plot. I also finally realized that Bone cousins do in fact look like bones. It's only really obvious when they're black and white.

I wish I had been able to read this volume in order but I didn't mind going back to read it when it was finally available.

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Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance: 09/08/10

"Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance" is the novella from the January / February 2010 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It's a spiraling tale of a meeting out in the woods, one that's doomed to repeat itself.

I normally like metafiction. I've written about it before on this blog. I read "Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance" by Paul Park with high expectations. I could see where it was going but I never really clicked with it.

The problem for me was the constant starting and stopping of the story. In that regard it reminds me of another metafiction that didn't work for me, Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer. There was so much emphasis on the telling of the story that the cool circular plot gets pushed aside.

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The Language of Bees: 09/07/10

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I associate books with places, not necessarily where they are set but where I was when I read them. The Mary Russell / Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King brings to mind the Pacific Surfliner. I read the entirety of The Beekeeper's Apprentice en route to San Diego from Los Angeles.

When I saw the cover of the ninth book, The Language of Bees which harkens back to the series opener I was taken back to that train ride. Nostalgia compelled me to bring the book along for our trip down to Los Angeles for a mini family reunion.

After numerous adventures all over the world (including San Francisco), Russell and Holmes are back in Sussex home. It was so refreshing to return to the roots of the series, back to beekeeping and a mystery set on British soil. There is just one kink in the return to normalcy, the appearance of Holmes's adult son!

Unlike the other novels, The Language of Bees follows a parallel structure with half the book told from Mary's point of view and the other half following Sherlock and told in a more detached third person perspective. At first I was nervous about this turn of events, fearing King would be trying to mimic the more recent Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. Thankfully she stays true to her characters and to the overall tone of the series.

A Sherlock Holmes mystery though just wouldn't be the same without a trip to London. It's there that the action begins to pick up as both parties follow the trail to the missing wife and daughter to a strange religious cult and beyond. Cults have been done to death but King makes it work here by comparing its structure to that of an unhealthy colony of bees.

While most books stand alone in the series, this one is dovetailed with The God of the Hive. I recommend you get both of them to read back to back.

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Cat and Canary: 09/06/10

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Cat and Canary by Michael Foreman is the story of a pair of pets who spend their time having adventures in Manhattan while their owner is at work. The canary introduces the cat to the local pigeons giving the two unlikely friends access to even more of the city.

This is a book my daughter and I don't agree on. Harriet didn't like the pets getting out of the apartment without their owner's knowledge. She thought they should get in trouble for disobeying. She also was worried that the cat would get hurt, lost or worse, killed.

Since neither the cat nor the canary get hurt, I found the book delightful. I just couldn't convince Harriet though about the book's merits. The 3 star rating reflects our disagreement.

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As Long as He Needs Me: 09/05/10

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In As Long as He Needs Me by Mary Verdick, Kitty and Clem are on cruise from New York to Montreal, a trip that may tear their marriage apart. Kitty faces the temptation of a dashing Englishman and Clem has to overcome his own weaknesses.

Closed environments can make for interesting character studies. Take for instant Murder on the Orient Express with a murder and a train full of suspects all stuck in a snowdrift. As Long as He Needs Me had the potential to pull apart a marriage and put it back together. Unfortunately the heroine was so unlikable that I was unable to finish the book.

Kitty is written as overbearing, nagging, racist, and self entitled. Every scene I read begins with her either nagging Clem or passing a quick judgment on the people around her. Best of all, at the close of the book, we learn that her daughter sent her off for the cruise so she and her fiancé could get married without her interference. I only know this because I skipped to the end. That tidbit alone justified me leaving the book unfinished.

Before they even make it to the ship, Clem and Kitty are robbed of all the money they had for the trip. Of course they'd taken it as cash. And of course it was a black boy who robbed them while pretending to help them. From that scene onwards I started keeping track of how people were described. Interestingly, ethnic descriptions were typically only given to characters who do something wrong to Kitty.

From all the positive reviews of this book I feel like I must have read another book entirely. Follow the links below for very different opinions on the book than mine.

I received the book for review.

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What Are You Reading: September 06, 2010: 09/06/10

What Are You Reading?

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 hope to finish up Wizard World and How to Crash a Killer Bash this week. Next up are: Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve, The Griffon and the Minor Canon by Frank Stockton, The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc and Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. But first and foremost, I will be doing my assigned reading.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Battlestar Galactica by Jeffrey A. Carver (library book)
  2. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff (personal collection)
  3. The Scrambled States of America Talent Show by Laurie Keller The Scrambled States of America Talent Show (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, #1) by Charlaine Harris (personal collection)
  3. How to Crash a Killer Bash by Penny Warner (personal collection)
  4. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  5. Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins (library book)
  6. Opur's Blade by James Ross (review copy)
  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)
  9. Wizard World by Roger Zelazny (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Circus by Lois Ehlert
  2. Bone: The Dragonslayer by Jeff Smith
  3. The Magic Gourd by Baba Wagué Diakité
  4. Mr. Darcy Vampyre by Amanda Grange
  5. Thanksgiving on Thursday (Magic Tree House #27) by Mary Pope Osborne

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Mr. Darcy, Vampyre: 09/04/10

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If you're a diehard Jane Austen fan or an avid reader of vampire novels, step away from this blog. Ignore this review. If you're like me and not really a fan of either, stick around.

Let me say upfront, I loved this book.

Mr. Darcy Vampyre by Amanda Grange begins with the wedding day of the two Bennet sisters. Elizabeth begins her new life as Mrs. Darcy and will be going on a surprise wedding tour our Europe even though things are still unsettled in France. In their journey Elizabeth begins to fear that Darcy isn't the man she thought he was.

Half of the negative reviews I've read focus on Grange's depiction of Austen's most famous couple. Frankly, I've never managed to understand either of them or their supposed mutual attraction at the end. Elizabeth doesn't strike me as all that head strong and Darcy comes off as an arrogant son of a bitch. Nonetheless, they are a literary perfect couple full of "twu wuv."

The other half of the negative reviews comes from the vampire camp. Vampires have evolved (mutated?) since I was in college into moody, moralistic, drop dead gorgeous, angsty, sex gods. Vampires further get divided into those who use humans as their playthings: eat them, bang them, torture them and very rarely turn them; and those who are too tormented by their inner demons to dare touch a human. Think of the Angelus / Angel divide. Mr. Darcy seems to be a hybrid of Angel and Edward (minus the sparkling). I include Edward into the mix only because Mr. Darcy can go out in broad daylight. The hows and whys behind this unusual ability are explained in the book.

The only problem I had with the book was Darcy's ability to go out of doors in daylight. I will put up with this one bit of hand-waving as the book was otherwise for me, a nice modern rendition of a Gothic novel. See the only vampire novel I really like is Dracula and there's a lot homage to it in how Mr. Darcy Vampyre is told even if the vampire himself borrows from more recent tropes.

The best way to describe Mr. Darcy Vampire is to say it's a paranormal sequel written in the style of Bram Stoker but with a happy ending (since it is a romance, after all). Since it's an old style book the vampires do most of their deeds off screen, leaving Elizabeth to comment on odd behavior, or other strange things (like missing mirrors).

I recommend this book wholeheartedly to people who like Jane Austen adaptations (but not necessarily the originals) and people who like Dracula but aren't necessarily into the current vampire craze.

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Bone: The Dragonslayer: 09/03/10

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The Dragonslayer is the fourth installment of the Bone series by Jeff Smith. By this volume I was well and truly hooked. I went through a weekend reading the remainder of the series except for volumes 5 and 9 which weren't available at my library.

Phoney Bone has hatched a new scheme, to charge protection money from the villagers. He's calling himself the Dragonslayer but as far as he's concerned, dragons aren't real. They're just a local superstition, right?

Wrong! Phoney's in over his head again and he's dragging along Smiley and Fone. Besides the dragons, there are the rat creatures, lead by the ferocious Kingdok, and the Hooded One who could be worse than either the dragons or the rat creatures.

By The Dragonslayer the series is going at full speed. The plot threads are weaving together, conflicts are brewing and it's hard to stop reading.

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Thanksgiving on Thursday (Magic Tree House #27): 09/02/10

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Thanksgiving on Thursday by Mary Pope Osborne was the book that killed my son's interest in the series. It seems that every series feels the temptation to do an issue, book or episode for the major holidays. This book sends Jack and Annie to experience a thanksgiving feast with the Pilgrims.

Yes, there were pilgrims. Yes they got help from the local indigenous population. But the holiday we celebrate now on the fourth Thursday of November evolved over time and except for sentimentality has nothing to do with that first feast.

So Jack and Annie go back the pilgrims and make a dogs breakfast out of trying to help prepare for the meal. I get that they are children but they were completely useless, more so than usual. My son who was going on seven at the time that we read the book was shocked at how little they know. He's grown up in an urban setting his entire life but he has more domestic life skills than both children combined.

Frankly it would have been more interesting, unique and educational to have sent Jack and Annie back to 1941 when Congress designated the fourth Thursday as a national holiday of Thanksgiving. I bet most kids don't know that part of the story. It would certainly be refreshing compared to yet another rehashing of the same old Pilgrim story.

Other Magic Tree House books reviewed here:

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The Magic Gourd: 09/01/10

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The Magic Gourd by Baba Wagué Diakité was a recent library book find. I can't remember if it was my son or my daughter who checked it out. I read it to both of them.

The book retells a fable from Mali. Rabbit helps Chameleon out of a tight spot. As payment for his help, Chameleon gives Rabbit a magic gourd that will always provide him with a good meal. A greedy king (there's always a greedy king) hears about this magical gourd and decides he has to have it. Rabbit and Chameleon have to trick the king to teach him about sharing.

The kids and I liked the illustrations. Each piece of the story is told in the bottom of the bowl shaped gourd. The pictures are interesting and worth enjoying.

What my kids had trouble though was the pacing of the story. It's a little long winded for such a short story. Although the kids stuck around to see the pictures the story didn't hold their attention.

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