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November 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



 

November in Review: 11/30/10

While the ratings were more spread out than in previous months, I had no one star books. That means I didn't have to abandon any books! While the vast majority of my books were from the library, I read more from my personal collection than I have in recent months.

I read thirty-seven books which I now need to review. In terms of my ROOB score, I've had my best month of reading from my personal collection since July. My score is down to -2.54.

Books reviewed this month

    Rating out of 5 stars (as posted on GoodReads)

    Five Star books:

  1. The Fairy Princess by Dennis Danvers (personal collection)
  2. Hell of a Fix by Matthew Hughes (personal collection)
  3. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (library book)
  4. The Real Martian Chronicles by John Sladek (personal collection)
  5. San Francisco Then and Now by Bill Yenne (library book)
  6. Strange But True America by John Hafnor (review copy)
  7. Sugar Would Not Eat It by Emily Jenkins (library book)

    Four Star books

  1. Amor Fugit by Alexandra Duncan (library book)
  2. City Makers by Remi A. Nadeau (personal collection)
  3. Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka (library book)
  4. Crow Call by Lois Lowry (library book)
  5. I Miss You Everyday by Simms Taback (library book)
  6. Inside Job by Connie Willis (library book)
  7. King & King by Linda de Haan (library book)
  8. ttyl by Lauren Myracle (library book)
  9. Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin (library book)
  10. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman (personal collection)

    Three Star books

  1. The Broken Ear by Georges Remi Hergé (library book)
  2. The Department of Mad Scientists by Michael Belfiore (library book)
  3. Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (personal collection)
  4. The Light, The Dark and Ember Between by J.W. Nicklaus (review copy)
  5. Night of the Ninjas (Magic Tree House #5) by Mary Pope Osborne (personal collection)
  6. Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple (library book)

    Two Star books

  1. Babymouse: The Musical by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (library book)
  2. Ground Truth edited by John Pickles (library book)
  3. Monsters on Machines by Deb Lund (library book)
  4. Peppermints in the Parlor by Barbara Brooks Wallace (library book)
  5. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen (personal collection)
  6. Selfless by David Michael Slater (review copy)

    One Star books

Genre Source

Books and stories read this month (reviews coming)

    Personal Collection

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  2. The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald
  3. The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson
  4. Foundations of Library and Information Science by Richard Rubin
  5. Influences: A Lexicon of Contemporary Graphic Design Practice by Anna Gerber
  6. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury
  7. Library Blogging by Karen A. Coombs
  8. Pinkalicious: Tickled Pink by Elizabeth Kann
  9. A Thief of Time (Navajo Mysteries, #8) by Tony Hillerman
  10. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

    Library book

  1. The Academic Library and the Net Gen Student by Susan Gibbons
  2. And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis
  3. Around the World With Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis
  4. Blogging and RSS: A Librarian's Guide by Michael P. Sauer
  5. Brain Camp by Susan Kim
  6. City of Spies by Susan Kim
  7. Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100 by H. A. Rey
  8. Filipinos in Alaska, 1788-1958 by Thelma Buchholdt
  9. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle
  10. Flotsam by David Wiesner
  11. Foiled by Jane Yolen
  12. Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000 by Eric Wight
  13. Ghostly Ruins: America's Forgotten Architecture by Harry Skrdla
  14. The Green Ripper by John D. McDonald
  15. Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent
  16. Magpie Magic: A Tale of Colorful Mischief by April Wilson
  17. Monster Hunt by Rory Storm
  18. The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater
  19. Northern California Off the Beaten Path by Maxine Cass
  20. The Octonauts and the Sea of Shade by Meomi
  21. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
  22. Round Like a Ball by Lisa Campbell Ernst
  23. Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication, and Community Online by Meredith G. Farkas
  24. Stardust by Neil Gaiman (audio version read by the author)
  25. Virtual Worlds, Real Libraries: Librarians and Educators in Second Life and Other Multi-User Virtual Environments edited by Lori Bell
  26. We Blog: Publishing Online with Weblogs by Paul Bausch

    Review copy

  1. Once Wicked Always Dead by T. Marie Benchley

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How to Train Your Dragon: 11/30/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Like many of the reviews I have listed below, I learned about the Cressida Cowell series from seeing the film adaptation of How to Train Your Dragon. I liked both versions even though they are so very different. But the spirit of the book carries through to the film.

The biggest difference is the dragons. They have the same names and species types but they are smaller. They are the size of the fire lizards in the Pern books instead of being something big enough to ride. The other big difference is that the Vikings already use them as trained hunters and fighters.

How to Train Your Dragon as a title is more direct than it is in the film. The book opens with Hiccup and the other boys (no girls, sadly, who were an improvement in the film) trying to catch dragon hatchlings to keep and train. So it's no surprise that Hiccup ends up with Toothless, nor something he has to keep secret. Toothless's name though here isn't ironic; he's a runt and literally toothless.

So how does one train a dragon? If you follow the handbook, it's by YELLING VERY LOUD. If you're Hiccup, it means listening to dragons and realizing they can speak. Dragonese, spoken about in greater detail in How to Speak Dragonese (review coming), is sort of a dragon pig latin with some potty humor thrown in for good measure.

Hiccup is pretty much the same. He likes the draw. He keeps a journal and the novel is supposedly a transcript of his first journal. He's good with dragon husbandry, though the dragons in the book are more intelligent and less animal like than they are in the film. I find the film dragons more believable.

I would argue that the movie though different in the big details is the same in spirit. While much of the changes I see in the film I see as improvements, I am disappointed that Hiccup's mother is removed from the plot. Hiccup has a completely functioning family in the book and that is replaced with a dysfunctional father / son relationship.

I liked the book. My son didn't. He loved the film and wasn't willing to put up with the differences. That said, he loved How to Speak Dragonese and plans to read the rest of the books in the series. So if you want a perfectly faithful adaptation from book to film, don't read this book. If you don't mind letting the two things to be separate stories that share a title and some other points of similarity, you'll like the book.

Other posts and reviews:

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San Francisco Then and Now: 11/29/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)San Francisco Then and Now by Bill Yenne was one of the first books to go on my wishlist. Now I know as a computer geek, I should take the last on, first off approach but I feel like I should go with the first on the list books first. It's one of those books that's been on my wishlist for so long, I can't remember why exactly I added it.

The book as the title implies, is a photographic comparison of present day places with places photographed in previous decades. With each pair of photographs there is a short explanation of what has changed and what has stayed the same.

It's the sort of book that needs to be read twice. The fist time I suggest just going through to enjoy the photographs. The second time, go back and read the captions. A third time might be good to go through the places in city in person with the book in hand.

The book is almost nine years old and the city has changed since the present day photographs were taken. Now San Francisco isn't one of those places that changes rapidly and repeatedly. It's more of a slow evolution except when mother nature shakes things up with earthquakes and the fire storms that so typically follow.

Other posts and reviews:

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What Are You Reading?What Are You Reading: November 29, 2010: 11/29/10

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.

This week I mostly read and reviewed library books but my current reads are mostly from my personal collection. I'm not reading as many as I am working on finishing two term papers. The large list of finished books is due mostly to traveling for Thanksgiving. I had time to read in the car and I took along a bunch of books I had almost finished reading. I didn't read them all they way through from start to finish. Some of them only had a chapter or two to finish.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100 by H. A. Rey (library book)
  3. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle (library)
  4. Flotsam by David Wiesner (library)
  5. The Green Ripper by John D. McDonald (library)
  6. Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent (library)
  7. Magpie Magic: A Tale of Colorful Mischief by April Wilson (library)
  8. Filipinos in Alaska, 1788-1958 by Thelma Buchholdt (library)
  9. Pinkalicious: Tickled Pink by Elizabeth Kann (personal collection)
  10. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (library)
  11. Round Like a Ball by Lisa Campbell Ernst (library book)
  12. Stardust by Neil Gaiman (audio version read by the author) (library)

Currently Reading:

  1. Bite Me by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  2. Food, Girls, & Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (review copy)
  3. Information Seeking in Electronic Environments by Gary Marchionini (personal collection)
  4. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart (personal collection)
  5. The Portable MLIS by Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Babymouse: The Musical by Jennifer and Matthew Holm (library book)
  2. The Broken Ear by Georges Remi Hergé (library book)
  3. Crow Call by Lois Lowry (library book)
  4. The Department of Mad Scientists by Michael Belfiore (library book)
  5. The Real Martian Chronicles by John Sladek (personal collection)
  6. Strange But True America by John Hafnor (review copy)
  7. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman (library book)




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Strange But True America: 11/28/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)I remember as a child, all the way through my teens, reading local history pamphlets and books. We did a lot of family camping trips, driving to out of the way places and every place we stopped seemed to have a gift store that sold a book about it's unusual history. Invariably the book would be illustrated in pen and ink cartoons. Strange But True America by John Hafnor with illustrations by Dale Crawford is done in the style of these books but it covers all 50 states.

Each state gets two pages: a page of text and a full-page illustration. The text covers either a person, event or unusual place from the state. I'm sure that every state has dozens of such stories to cover. The topic for each state isn't the obvious one or even the second most obvious one. These are odd ball stories but still fascinating.

California's story, for instance doesn't cover the gold rush, the missions, the golden gate, Hollywood or anything along those lines. Nope; it's Murphy's Law. Interestingly, "Murphy's Law" was either coined in California or in Wyoming. Or possibly both places. Sure, it's not what I would have chosen for my state, but I did learn something new!

At the back of the book there are a few extra pages of nationwide oddities, like near misses with unexploded bombs. This coda is a nice way of bringing the book to a close.

I received a copy for review from the author.

Other posts and reviews:

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Crow Call: 11/27/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Lois Lowry has a new book published frequently enough that many of her online bibliographies aren't up to date. Wikipedia lists the most current books (that I am aware of) but I'm not saying it's a comprehensive list either.

Lately it seems that Lowry has been drawing more and more from her own life for her books. It could be that she has always done this but I am most familiar with the books she's written in the last decade.

Lowry's first picture book, Crow Call<, draws from her experience as child going on a hunting trip with her father. He had recently returned from fighting in the Second World War and took her out to hunt crows as a way to reconnect.

Now the book isn't specifically autobiography. The girl in the book is named Liz, not Lois and the time period isn't specifically named. Bagram Ibatoulline's Andrew Wyeth inspired paintings though help point at a late 1940s time frame.

The story beyond being about a father and daughter reconnecting is about respecting nature. They go hunting for crows who have been going after the crops. Liz's job will be to use the crow call to call the birds to where her father can shoot them. She's excited to be out with her father but nervous and a little sad about being part of this killing. Over the course of the book through questions and answers Liz and her father come to an understanding for the benefit of the crows.

I read the book aloud to both my children, though I mostly checked the book out for myself. The hunting aspect of the book was a good teaching moment. We live on the border between an urban and a rural area. We have farms and wildlife that we pass on the way to school every morning. That wildlife includes crows and ravens but here they aren't seen as a threat to the crops so hunting crows was a completely alien concept to my children. They also liked how things turned out for the best and seeing the photograph at the end of the book of a young Lois dressed like Liz in the book.

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The Department of Mad Scientists: 11/26/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)I love to browse the new shelves of nonfiction books at my local library. One recent title that caught my attention because of it's goofy title was The Department of Mad Scientists by Michael Belfiore.

The book covers many of the recent advances by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, some which have made their way into civilian applications and others that are perhaps on the horizon. There are chapters on artificial limbs, the internet, GPS and driverless cars.

The chapter that made me pick up the book was the one on artificial limbs. It has a brief history of prosthetics and the problems faced in the development of arms and hands with better fine motor skills. Ultimately it's a matter of weight and balance. Even a lightweight limb that is strapped on will quickly become a tiresome burden to the person using and wearing it if it is off balance. The newest ones being developed use technology similar to what the Segues use to auto-balance, taking most of the work of balancing the limb off of the user's body, thus making it feel lighter and more natural.

The other chapters were just as well written but ended up being topics I was already very familiar with. That familiarity made the rest of the book an easy read. I ended up finishing it in the course of a single weekend when I had expected to take at least a week on it.

Other posts and reviews:

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FSFThe Real Martian Chronicles: 11/25/10

John Sladek died in 2000. "The Real Martian Chronicles" was apparently found in his papers and was previous unpublished. Although I've been reading humorous science fiction for most of my life, I've never run into Sladek's work before. Now that I have, I hope to track down his other books and stories.

"The Real Martian Chronicles" is one of the funniest stories I've ever read The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It's written in diary form and is about a British family moving to a Martian colony and trying to make a normal life for themselves.

While there's big stuff going on behind the scenes, the protagonist is worrying about mundane things like having enough custard. His always upbeat tone of voice no matter what he's describing is a big part of what makes this story work. It reminds me quite favorably of Martian Time Slip by Philip K. Dick except that it's shorter and sillier.

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The Broken Ear: 11/24/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Last year when I was waiting for the new library to open I went through a Tin Tin phase. Before the old library closed, I checked out all the Tin Tins I could. I already have most of those book reviewed but The Broken Ear slipped through the cracks. So here we are a year later.

Tin Tin joins the hunt when a statue that belonged to a South American tribe is stolen from the Museum of Ethnography. Left in its place is a note apologizing for the inconvenience. Can Tin Tin piece together the clues and find the statue?

From there the hunt for the statue becomes a shell game. The only one who knows the truth is an uncooperative parrot. Here the plot becomes something out an Avengers episode. I'm thinking of "The Bird Who Knew Too Much" (15 February 1967).

The Broken Ear is typical Tin Tin. Lots of puns. Lots of chases. Lots of silliness mixed in with the clues.


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Babymouse: The Musical: 11/23/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Babymouse: The Musical by Jennifer L. Holm was nominated last year for Cybils. This year there are two other Babymouse books on the first panel list. I actually first read Babymouse: The Musical last December and I reread before reading the latest two nominations.

So Babymouse is a white mouse living in an excessively pink world. She goes to school and has adventures, mostly fueled by her over-active imagination. She's basically the American rodent equivalent of Hello Kitty.

In this book the school is putting on a musical. Babymouse wants to be a part of it. Her attempts to be part of it are mixed together with her wild and crazy (and pink) daydreams.

The one saving grace of the book was its length. It's a middle grade graphic novel and short. Beyond that I don't see the appeal of the series. Pink's not my color. Plus I don't like female characters being called Baby; it's demeaning. Next there's the plot itself, the school play (or musical) has been done to death.

Other posts and reviews:

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The Zookeeper's Wife: 11/22/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman was on my wishlist. I can't remember why exactly it was on my list. Maybe I read a review or maybe one of my book group friends was reading it. Anyway, a copy appeared at a recent book club meeting and I had to snatch it up.

The book is the account of the Poland Zoo during WWII and the Zabinski family who ran the zoo. With the Nazis at their zoo they worked with the resistance and hid Jews in plain sight.

But the book is more than just their heroic efforts. It's the story of Warsaw, the zoo, the animals, the ghetto and how all those pieces come together.

Some readers complain about the book's tendency towards listing things. Maybe it's because I'm a library science student now. Or maybe it's because I'm a list maker. I liked the lists: bugs, animals, musicians, and so forth. I found that they enriched the book.

Other posts and reviews:

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What Are You Reading?What Are You Reading: November 22, 2010: 11/22/10

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.

Mostly I reviewed library books last week but I did sneak in a review book and a short story from my personal collection. Most of my reading (and not shown here) has been in the form of academic journal articles. Of the books read, about a third of them are wishlist books that I checked out from the library and read. Another two thirds of them are either text books, as the semester is wrapping up, or books related to my term paper research. There was also one review book.

Finished Last Week:

  1. And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis (library)
  2. Around the World With Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis (library)
  3. Blogging and RSS: A Librarian's Guide by Michael P. Sauer (library)
  4. City of Spies by Susan Kim (library)
  5. The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (personal collection)
  6. The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson (personal collection)
  7. Foundations of Library and Information Science by Richard Rubin (personal collection)
  8. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  9. The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater (library)
  10. Once Wicked Always Dead by T. Marie Benchley (review copy)
  11. We Blog: Publishing Online with Weblogs by Paul Bausch (library)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle (library)
  3. Bite Me by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  4. Food, Girls, & Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (review copy)
  5. The Green Ripper by John D. McDonald (library)
  6. Information Seeking in Electronic Environments by Gary Marchionini (personal collection)
  7. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart
  8. The Portable MLIS by Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)
  9. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (library)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Ground Truth edited by John Pickles (library)
  2. King and King by Linda de Haan (library)
  3. Monsters on Machines by Deb Lund (library)
  4. Peppermints in the Parlor by Barbara Brooks Wallace (library)
  5. The Secret Lives of Fairy Tales (personal collection)
  6. Selfless by David Michael Slater (review copy)
  7. Sugar Would Not Eat It by Emily Jenkins (library)




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Sugar Would Not Eat It: 11/21/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Harriet's favorite types of books fall into a small number of categories: books with characters named Harriet, books about cats, books about princesses and books about cute children. Sugar Would Not Eat by Emily Jenkins falls into categories one and two.

Leo has just had a birthday party with all his local neighbor friends. He made a chocolate cat with blue frosting roses. He has one piece left. He decides to share it with a small Prussian blue kitten he's found outside his apartment building. He's dismayed and frustrated when Sugar the kitten won't eat the cake. One by one he goes to his neighbor friends (including an old lady named Harriet) and each one gives him the advice typically given to parents of picky eaters. Sugar though isn't a child, she's a kitten.

My initial reaction was one of horror at the thought of Leo trying to make Sugar eat chocolate cake. Chocolate's not good for cats and most cats don't have the gene that allows them to taste sugar. Cake is way outside what a cat would consider food. Depriving the kitten of food to make her eat something she won't eat is cruel.
My daughter also knows that cats can't eat chocolate cake and can't taste sugar. She knows about chocolate because we have a cat her grandparents have a dog. So we've warned her and Sean about offering chocolate to the animals. She recently learned about taste buds in preschool and we got to talking about how a person's sense of taste is different from a cat's or a dog's.

So she and I went into the book with the same knowledge but our reactions were completely opposite. Where I saw cruelty and a book about irresponsible pet care, Harriet saw broad humor. She got right away that it was parody (though not necessarily parody of parents and children at the dinner table). She also of course loved the inclusion of a character named Harriet. She's the only Harriet she knows so running into them in fiction is always a thrill for her.

Most importantly though, the book is one that uses words she can read. So when we were done reading the book together and talking about it, she re-read it to herself a bunch of times. She also re-read it to me a few more.

So the five out of five stars is Harriet's rating. Although I still don't love it as much as she does, I have come to appreciate it's appeal.

Other posts and reviews:

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Ground Truth: The Social Implications of Geographic Information Systems: 11/20/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Ground Truth: The Social Implications of Geographic Information by John Pickles is an oft-cited book. Having seen it appear in the references of so many of the books and articles I have been reading for my GIS and disaster recovery term paper, I requested a copy of it via Link+ to see if it would be useful for my paper.

The book is a series of essays on GIS and society. There are some articles that argue for GIS (and more broadly cartography) as being a power struggle. Those who make and control the maps have the power over those who don't. Other articles look at the social welfare aspects of GIS and how it can be used and abused in the tracking of demographic or medical information.

While these essays were interesting and informative, none of them were on topic for my paper. I already have so much in the way of background and historical perspective for my paper that I didn't feel that this book had anything more to contribute and if anything was tangential to my topic.

Other posts and reviews:


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Monsters on Machines: 11/19/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Anytime I see a monster book at the library I snag it and bring it home for my son to read. I borrowed Monsters on Machines by Deb Lund because it looked appealing to both of my children. Harriet likes monsters but doesn't have the patience to sit through chapter books like her brother. Lund's Monsters on Machines is brightly illustrated and short enough for Harriet.

The basic gist of the book is that a team of monsters are meeting in the morning at a construction site. They are monsters who use monster machines to build skyscrapers. Each monster has his or her own job and machine to get the job done. This part of the book is excellent but the ending spoils the fun of having monsters going to work.

Why oh why can't monsters just be monsters in books? Why do they have to be revealed to be children or in this book, child monsters? Why can't a book about construction sites have monsters actually working instead of pretending? When ever a monster book pulls that reversal at the end it's like having the carpet pulled right out from under my children's feet. They HATE these endings and in turn end up hating the book.

Other posts and reviews:

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Selfless: 11/18/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)I was asked to read and review Selfless by David Michael Slater at the start of the year. I agreed because the blurb sounded interesting and I liked the cover with the dradle tossed in with the D&D dice. Then work for the Census began and after that school and I set the review aside for far too long.

Selfless is an episodic coming of age tale of Jonathan Schwartz. He and his family live in Pittsburgh. It's the 1980s. He has a sister who wants to use him for psychological home-brew experiments. He has his grandparents who survived the Holocaust and are a world removed from his experiences in Pennsylvania. Finally there's his father, a famous author, now suddenly accused of plagiarism.

I liked the set up of the book. The situations were just a step or two outside of plausible, making them potentially humorous while still being somewhat credible. The main character is likable but flawed. He reminds me a little of the boy from Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. Plot-wise, it's a mixture of a standard Philip Roth novel and Pharmakon by Dirk Wittenborn.

And yet for all these positive features, the novel failed to come together for me. The book left me feeling that something was missing, like a nearly complete puzzle except for one lost piece.

Other posts and reviews:

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Peppermints in the Parlor: 11/17/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)When I was in the library The Perils of the Peppermints caught my eye. Knowing my personal history of reading books out of order, I decided to check first before grabbing it. Sure enough, it's a sequel. I opted to read the original first, Peppermints in the Parlor by Barbara Brooks Wallace.

A young well to do girl, Emily Luccock, is sent to live at Sugar Hill Hall in San Francisco after the untimely death of her family. She remembers happy times there with her aunt and uncle and is shocked to see her aunt now working as an employee in the old family home! The house has been changed into a rest home, run by a strict and stingy matron. Emily does what she can to save her family and uncover the sinister plot behind the house's transformation.

The title refers to a tempting bowl of peppermints left in the parlor that are only there for the matron and her guests to eat. The residents and employees will be punished if they are caught eating from the bowl. Punishment includes being locked in a dark room with only a bench to sit on.

I really wanted to like the book but there were things that just bugged me. First and foremost was the location, San Francisco. Now as it turns out, the author did spend some time living in San Francisco in a white mansion with ties to the sugar industry but somehow the San Francisco in her novel didn't ring true for me. Except for the sugar connection and the ever present fog, the city could have been any city.

The other biggest draw back for me was the way the dialect was rendered. The house servants and the fishmonger's boy (unfortunately named Kipper) all speak Dick Van Dyke cockney. It's San Francisco so why are they talking like that? If you want to know what the old San Francisco accent sounded like, listen to Granny in the Sylvester and Tweetie cartoons.

That being said, I still want to read the sequel, The Perils of the Peppermints.

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FSFThe Secret Lives of Fairy Tales: 11/16/10

"The Secret Lives of Fairy Tales" by Steven Popkes is five short, inter-related exposés on the lives of fairy tale characters. The stories covered are "The Emperor's New Clothes", "Snow White", "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Rumpelstiltskin" and "Cinderella."

My favorite of the lot is the first. The emperor in this version knows full well that he's dealing with con men. But he has his own reasons for playing along and he has ways of dealing with pesky children who don't want to keep quiet.

"The Secret Lives of Fairy Tales" is akin to the old Fractured Fairy Tales and similar stories to come since then. Think of it as an adult version of the Gail Carson Levine Princess Tales series.

Other posts and reviews:

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King & King: 11/15/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Back when Harriet was in the middle of her pretty princess phase and wanted to read nothing by princess stories, I added King & King by Linda de Haan to mix.

King & King starts like any typical fairy tale. The Queen wants to step down but needs to see her son married first. So she invites all the eligible princesses from around the lands. Now if this were a typical story, he wouldn't pick a princess but he would pick a young lady, a local peasant girl.

Nope. Not this time. The prince picks a boy named Lee. But best of all, the Queen doesn't throw a stink. She doesn't even bat an eye. She loves her son and sees her problem solved. So the book ends with a wedding with all the princesses in attendance.

So why not five out five? I love the story. I love the positive message. But, I'm not keen on the artwork. It's just somewhat off. I'd love the see the book redone with different illustrations.

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What Are You Reading?What Are You Reading: November 15, 2010: 11/14/10

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.

Most of what I reviewed this week were actually from my personal collection. The rest were library books. All except two books I read this week were from the library. The books were a combination of research and wishlist reading. The wishlist reads were fun and a nice distraction from all the homework I have!

Finished Last Week:

  1. Around the World With Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis (library)
  2. And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis (library)
  3. The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson (personal colection)
  4. Influences: A Lexicon of Contemporary Graphic Design Practice by Anna Gerber (library)
  5. Library Blogging by Karen A. Coombs (library)
  6. A Thief of Time (Navajo Mysteries, #8) by Tony Hillerman (personal collection)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (personal collection)
  3. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle (library)
  4. The Green Ripper by John D. McDonald (library)
  5. Information Seeking in Electronic Environments by Gary Marchionini (personal collection)
  6. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  7. Once Wicked Always Dead by T. Marie Benchley (review copy)
  8. The Portable MLIS by Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)
  9. We Blog: Publishing Online with Weblogs by Paul Bausch (library)

Reviews Posted:

  1. City Makers by Remi A Nadeau (personal collection)
  2. Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Sciezcka and Lane Smith (library book)
  3. Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (personal collection)
  4. The Fairy Princess by Dennis Danvers (personal collection)
  5. Inside Job by Connie Willis (library book)
  6. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Green (personal collection)
  7. Wonderful Alexander by Ursula K. Le Guin (library book)




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FSFThe Fairy Princess: 11/14/10

"The Fairy Princess" by Dennis Danvers in the March / April issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction isn't fantasy as you might expect from the title. Instead it's a science fiction Christmas carol in the vein of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Here the androids are sex toys. They are rentable like DVDs are and when they are returned they have to be cleaned and their memories wiped. But like the replicants in Dick's novel, the androids want their memories and they've found a way to hold onto them.

Despite the adult content warning it's a good story. It's not that explicit. Mostly the details are left to the imagination. The point isn't on the sex except as a discussion of sex trafficking.

And for the sentimental, it has a happy ending.

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Dreaming in Cuban: 11/13/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)I first heard of Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia from its excerpt in Havana: Tales of a City. Enchanted by what I had read there I added the book to my wishlist. Random BookCrossing luck a few months ago put the full book into my hands.

Dreaming in Cuban is two parallel and related stories. One is about an ailing matriarch in Cuba in the 1970s. The other is about her estranged grand-daughter living in New York in the 1980s. The chapters are dark, moody, sometimes humorous, always emotionally charged.

In both the excerpt and the full novel, I was most reminded of Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo. That said, in its full version, I found Dreaming in Cuban to be slow going in parts. It didn't flow as well as the sample chapter had Havana.

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Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings: 11/12/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Alexander of Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin, is a young tom, a completely ordinary cat with a wanderlust. He grows up believing that the world ends at the gate as it's the farthest he can see from the window.

As so many young cats do, Alexander finds his way outside and begins to explore. Along the way he's nearly run over by a truck and is scared up a tree. It is while he's up the tree that he's befriended by the Catwings.

Alexander poses an interesting problem for the catwings. He's the first non-winged cat they've seen since leaving their mother in the City. He though quickly becomes part of their extended family.

Alexander reminds me of a cat who adopted my grandmother twenty five years ago. We had just come back from watching Oliver & Company when there was this orange tom sitting by the front entry way as if he belonged there. My grandmother was a cat person, she already had a couple in door cats. This one didn't appear to be interested in becoming an in door cat but he did make it clear that he had claimed her yard as his new home.

Since he looked like Oliver in the Disney movie, we named him Oliver. The next day he showed up with a young female cat, a beauty with long white and brown fur. We named her "And Company" which quickly got shortened to "Anne."

Just like Alexander who had a home near by, Oliver and Anne were from a house a couple doors up the street. They just weren't happy there. Their original owners did stop by eventually and said "oh, so that's where you've got to," and left it at that. They never asked for their cats back.

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Inside Job: 11/11/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)At the start of the year I was going through a science fiction binge. On my radar at the time was Connie Willis. I chose two novellas: D. A. and Inside Job.

Rob is a confirmed skeptic. He's sitting in at a psychic reading hoping to debunk an up and coming celebrity psychic. What he sees isn't what he expected. Apparently the psychic is channeling the spirit of a well known skeptic!

The book is short, silly and delightful. I read it in about an hour. I love her humorous books.

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: 11/10/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Jane Austen's books in their unadulterated form are not my cup of tea. I've tried and failed on numerous occasions to read through a single novel. But for some whacky reason I like adaptations of her novels (Clueless and Bride and Prejudice for example). Throw in the fact that I prefer brain noming zombies over blood sucking vampires and I knew I had to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Graham-Smith (and Jane Austen, sort of).

So there's Mr. and Mrs. Bennett trying to get their daughters married off. And there's Mr. Darcy, arrogant sod as always (who is apparently dreamy to all creatures female except me). But things aren't all peachy in the English countryside thanks to the Dreadfuls (aka zombies, but in polite society, one doesn't call them zombies).

The Bennett sisters when they aren't being courted are out there trying to keep the gentry safe from the Dreadfuls with their zombie fighting ninja skills. In the edition I read there were some cheesy illustrations that get in the way of the charm of the book. Since I read the book last summer, there's now a graphic novel; I hope the drawings are better in that version. The original drawers were dreadful (and not in a good way).

The book was a quick read, perfect for when I was waiting to pick my son up from school. If anything, it follows too closely the original novel. The Austen heavy sections are (to me) as boring as ever. If I could improve the book I'd put in more zombies (including zombifying Mr. Darcy).

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City Makers: 11/09/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)If you read my review of Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, you know about my abandoned research. Since I was looking for the origins of certain city oriented conventions that we now take for granted, I was eager to find source material. At the same time, UCLA was retrofitting its main library and in the process was culling the shelves. Every so often they'd have a book sale and I'd snatch up any of the older books I could. One of my favorite finds was The City-Makers by Remi A. Nadeau.

The book was first published in 1948. It covers the earliest days of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. Nadeau outlines how various economic factors compelled the sprawling growth that's now associated with the Los Angeles basin and neighboring valleys: ranching, mining, railroads and real estate. As the book only covers the 1800s, the entertainment industry isn't included for discussion.

What fascinated me most was the financial influence of Bay Area venture capital. Orange Grove, which later became part of Pasadena, was funded by venture capital from Leland Stanford.

That's something that continues to this day. The projects have changed over the years but they are still being funded by Northern California money. When I was at UCLA we worked in computer labs funded by Silicon Valley money. The Labs had been destroyed in the Northridge earthquake (1994). The caveat to the money was that "new media" which included web design had to be taught. That's how I ended up on my career path.

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Cowboy and Octopus: 11/08/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith is one of those picture books that made me do a double-take when I saw it on display at the library. My second immediate reaction was to slip it into my bag of books to check out.

The book's illustrations are done as collage. Cowboy and Octopus are cutouts from comic books. They break free of their relative books and have a bunch of adventures which involve see-sawing, fixing something, Halloween and dinner together.

When my son and I first read it, we couldn't find words to describe the book. But it's stuck with us. My son recently asked to check it out from the library a second time.

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What Are You Reading?What Are You Reading: November 08, 2010: 11/07/10

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.

Half of the things I reviewed this week were actually from my personal collection. The other half were from the library and one was a review book. All except one book I read this week were from the library. The books were a combination of research and wishlist reading. The wishlist reads were fun and a nice distraction from all the homework I have!

Finished Last Week:

  1. The Academic Library and the Net Gen Student by Susan Gibbons (library book)
  2. Brain Camp by Susan Kim (library book)
  3. Foiled by Jane Yolen (library book)
  4. Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000 by Eric Wight (library book)
  5. Ghostly Ruins: America's Forgotten Architecture by Harry Skrdla (library book)
  6. Monster Hunt by Rory Storm (library book)
  7. Northern California Off the Beaten Path by Maxine Cass (library book)
  8. The Octonauts and the Sea of Shade by Meomi (library book)
  9. Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication, and Community Online by Meredith G. Farkas (library book)
  10. Virtual Worlds, Real Libraries: Librarians and Educators in Second Life and Other Multi-User Virtual Environments edited by Lori Bell (library book)
  11. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman (personal collection)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (personal collection)
  3. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle (library)
  4. The Green Ripper by John D. McDonald (library)
  5. Information Seeking in Electronic Environments by Gary Marchionini (personal collection)
  6. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  7. Once Wicked Always Dead by T. Marie Benchley (review copy)
  8. The Portable MLIS by Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)
  9. A Thief of Time (Navajo Mysteries, #8) by Tony Hillerman (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Amor Fugit by Alexandra Duncan (personal collection)
  2. Hell of a Fix by Matthew Hughes (personal collection)
  3. I Miss You Every Day by Simms Taback (library book)
  4. The Light, the Dark and Ember Between by J. W. Nicklaus (review copy)
  5. Night of the Ninjas by Mary Pope Osborne (personal collection)
  6. Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple (library book)
  7. ttyl by Lauren Myracle (library book)




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The Light, The Dark, and Ember Between: 11/07/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Light, The Dark, and Ember Between by J.W. Nicklaus is a slim volume of 15 short stories. Although the book sports a dark and brooding cover the don't expect horror or suspense. These are dramatic character studies, not genre fiction.

The settings are vastly different as are the characters. Old, young, in between, rich, poor, all walks of life. The stories themselves take a moment in time, a turning point and explore those faint glimmers of hope that might be present even at the darkest moments.

I read the book over the course of a couple trips to my favorite coffee house for breakfast. Although the stories are short, each one is an emotional roller coaster. Give yourself a few moments after finishing one before starting the next.

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FSFHell of a Fix: 11/06/10

Matthew Hughes in "Hell of a Fix" asks us to imagine what would happen if someone like Ned Flanders summons a demon by accident. The demon can't return without a signed contract and Chesney refuses to sign.

The whole labor dispute in Hell that arises from Chesney's obstinance. While Hell doesn't freeze over, it does come to a grinding halt. And that has consequences back on Earth.

Chesney and his demon come to an understanding that wasn't anything like what I was expecting. This short story is actually an excerpt from an upcoming novel called To Hell and Back: The Damned Busters which will be published in 2011. Having enjoyed the short story, I will keep an eye out for the novel.

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ttyl: 11/05/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)I've been thinking of reading the Internet Girls series since ttyl first came out in 2004. The covers are cute and I tend to like these sorts of teenage epistilatory novels.

When I mentioned once that I wanted to read the series the person I was talking to said I shouldn't bother. I wouldn't like them, I was told. I don't know if this person honestly though I wouldn't like it or if I was being protected from the discussion of teenage sex.

I ignored the warning and borrowed the book from my library last year when it was on display for Banned Books week. Yes, last year, as in 2009. I have a list of books I want to review that is seven pages long, single spaced. Ttyl has been sitting at the top of the list for just over a year.

After checking it out, I took myself and the book to a nearby coffee shop. I got myself a Frappé to cool down. We were in the middle of our typical early October heatwave. So there I sat, sipping cold coffee through a straw until I had finished the entire book.

The book is about three friends in tenth grade: Angela (SnowAngel), Maddie (mad maddie) and Zoe (zoegirl) who share the news and argue about stuff and try to keep each other out of trouble all via instant messages. In the book there's talk of religion, sex, adults trying to take advantage of teens and the more mundane aspects of tenth grade.The book has its dramatic moments and some ones that made me cringe because I was worried for the characters or annoyed at their poor decisions.

That said, I have two small quibbles with the book: the slang and the typesetting.

There are times when the slang doesn't flow right and doesn't feel genuine. The author tries to stick with actual slang and sometimes that works and sometimes it falls flat because the context is wrong or pacing is off. My favorite example of teenage slang is the mostly made up stuff that Georgia Nicholson speaks in the series by Louise Rennison.

The typesetting is annoying because it's too fancy. Each character has her own font and her own color. Plus the emoticons they use look nothing like any of the little icons that Yahoo!, AIM or iChat or similar IM options use. Nor are they the text emoticons either. Instead they are custom jobs for the fonts and they look out of place. I realize that chat text can be modified to a custom font, color and size these fonts are just too fancy for the typical chat window.

In light of those two quibbles, I've given the book a 4 out 5 instead of the full 5 stars.

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Singer of Souls: 11/04/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple caught my attention when I was walking through the science fiction and fantasy offerings at my library. I'd actually eyed the book on a couple of times. I finally grabbed the book because I recognized the author's name; he's Jane Yolen's son.

So Singer of Souls is about a heroin addict and musician named Douglas. He decides to clean up his life and seeks out the help of his grandmother who lives in Edinburgh Scotland.

While there he hones his craft and meets up with the fae who come out amongst the humans during the annual arts festival. Music and lyrics together equal magic in the right hands. Douglas realizes he has power but it comes at a price.

I want to say I loved the book but I can't exactly. It started strong. I loved Grandma McLaren. I loved the blending of magic and urban life. Then things end abruptly. I knew how it had to end because I'd skimmed the first chapter of the second book, Steward of Song but I was expecting a gradual building to that outcome. Instead it's tacked on in the last chapter. What's the fun in that?

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Night of the Ninjas by Mary Pope Osborne (Magic Tree House #5): 11/03/10

cover art (Link goes to Powells)Earlier in the year when I was part of the Read Your Own Book Challenge, I read through my son's collection of The Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne. He has the first eight and a couple other ones from later points in the series.

Night of the Ninjas is the fifth in the series. Jack and Annie have discovered the identity of the owner of the treehouse. She now has sent them back to Japan on a quest to help her gather the first part of a magic spell. They must do it by learning the way of the ninja.

Fighting against the ninjas are evil samurai. I don't typically think of samurai as being evil but that's the role they're cast in for this book. Along the way though, in a Karate Kid fashion, the children are taught how to be one with nature to defeat their enemies (or at least hide from them).

It was an okay book but it lacks the depth of later books in the series.

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I Miss You Everyday: 11/02/10

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Harriet chose I Miss You Everyday by Simms Taback at a recent trip to the library. She liked the cover art and decided to take the book after giving the book a quick flip through to see what the interior illustrations were like. Some weeks she's like this, being extra picky about which books she wants to bring home from the library.

I Miss You Everyday is the story of a young girl living in a city who is missing a friend or relative who lives across the country. She walks through the process of how she plans to visit her loved-one.

The solution is a ridiculous but memorable one. The book reminds me a little bit of Flat Stanley except that the girl isn't flat. The solution would be a box instead of an envelope.

The book's colorful illustrations and the silly plot made for a winner. After reading the book to Harriet, she went back and re-read it to herself, having fun pointing out the girl on each page.

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FSFAmor Fugit: 11/01/10

I'm normally on top of literary allusion but I completely missed it with "Amor Fugit" by Alexandra Duncan in the January / February issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

For me, it was the story of Ourania, a young woman who was living an idyllic albeit somewhat broken and definitely isolated life with her parents. Her mother was with her in the day and her father was with her at night but she couldn't remember them ever being together.

Now that should have been a good clue that something metaphorical was up. But no. Not for me. I blame on being in the middle of working for the Census. Working odd hours seven days a week makes a person a little strange.

See what everyone else got that I completely missed was that Ourania's parents were embodiments of day and night. Did I see it? Nope. But it's there and even if you don't get the symbolism, it's a lovely story.

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What Are You Reading?What Are You Reading: November 01, 2010: 11/01/10

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.

A third of the books I read were actually from my personal collection. I finally finished The Red Pyramid and I loved it. Although my list doesn't show much in the way of academic reading, the vast majority of my reading is actually from peer reviewed journals. I have an annotated bibliography due soon and am reading and note taking like crazy for it. This week I will write the bibliography.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Babymouse #13: Cupcake Tycoon by Jennifer L. Holm (library book)
  2. Boats: Speeding! Sailing! Cruising! by Patricia Hubbell (library book)
  3. Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve (library book)
  4. I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed by Lauren Child (personal collection)
  5. Imagine a Place by Sarah L. Thomson (library book)
  6. The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon by Robert Whitaker (library book)
  7. Monster Hunt by Rory Storm (library book)
  8. My Big Dog by Janet Stevens (library book)
  9. The Octonauts and The Only Lonely Monster by Meomi (library book)
  10. Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman (library book)
  11. A Toast to Tomorrow by Manning Coles (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ebook)
  2. The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (personal collection)
  3. Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve (library book)
  4. Information Seeking in Electronic Environments by Gary Marchionini (personal collection)
  5. Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by G. G. Chowdhury (personal collection)
  6. Monster Hunt by Rory Storm (library book)
  7. The Portable MLIS by Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)
  8. A Thief of Time (Navajo Mysteries, #8) by Tony Hillerman (personal collection)
  9. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Battlestar Galactica by Jeffrey A. Carver
  2. Bhangra Babes by Narinder Dhami
  3. Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
  4. Klondike Cat by Julie Lawson
  5. Mr. McGratt and the Ornery Cat by Marilyn Helmer
  6. Pass it Down by Leonard S. Marcus
  7. Thief of Shadows by Fred Chappell




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