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December 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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Maid of Murder: 12/31/10

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At the start of the year I was asked to review Maid of Murder by Amanda Flower. I agreed to the review because a college librarian as amateur sleuth sounded interesting. Plus she has a brother who is a long time mathematics graduate student, a character I can also relate too.

India Hayes, academic librarian and reluctant bridesmaid must solve the mystery of who killed her childhood friend at the wedding.

I really expected to like this book but I found the pacing too slow. A cosy mystery is one part banter, one part red herring and one part crumb trail of clues. Maid of Murder was too heavy on the banter and family drama. The personal issues drowned out the mystery parts of the book.

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Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000: 12/30/10

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Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000 by Eric Wight is the second book in this series of chapter book / graphic novel hybrids. The first in the series was short listed in the Cybil's last year. That's how my son and I first came across the series.

This time Frankie needs only a handful of points to move up to the next level in scouts. Since he didn't complete the knot tying badge his only other option is to win the Pine Run 3000, a model car race held once a year.

Plot wise the book is very similar to Babymouse Burns Rubber, a graphic novel nominated for this year's Cybils, being a combination of actual race events and imaginary scenes. Of the two race themed graphic novels, I preferred Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000.

My son has had this book on his wishlist since he read the first in the series. He loved this book, tearing through it in about an hour.

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Waking Up Wendell: 12/29/10

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A recent favorite book of my daughters is Waking Up Wendell by April Stevens. It has earned its way onto the multiple reads pile and was for about two weeks the nightly bedtime story.

The story begins in a tree outside Number 1 Fish Street. The birds wake up the dog who in turn wakes up the owner who puts the dog outside where he can wake up the resident of Number 2. And so it goes through a chain of events through each house and each resident until at last Wendell is awoken.

The book's first winning detail is its attention to sound. Each home is associated with a sound, a disturbance, be it a bird, a dog, a sewing machine, or a hungry cat, for example. All these sounds are written out as onomatopoeias that are easy and fun for young readers (such as my daughter) to read and perform.

The second great aspect of the book are its characters. Although they are all drawn as swine, they stand in for the diversity people and families who might live on any street. There are so many different characters to relate too. Sometimes we just stop to make up stories for the different houses.

And finally there's the simple fact that it's a counting one to ten book. At one end of the street is Number 1 Fish Street and at the other end of the block is Wendell's home, Number 10 Fish Street. The counting aspect of the book gives children a way to predict what happens next.


10 Best Graphic Novels: 12/29/10

10 Best Graphic Novels for 2010

I've saved the graphic novel list for last. I thought about not posting it at all since my all time favorite for 2010, Calamity Jack, is a current Cybils nominee. The other books weren't published this year, although Adventures in Cartooning and The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook were on the 2009 Cybil's short list. Ottoline Goes to School is technically a hybrid and is typically shelved with the fiction books instead of the graphic novels. That said, the illustrations are such a rich part of the story that I have put it on my graphic novel list.

10. The Broken Ear by Georges Remi Herge (1937)

9. American Born Chinese by Gene Leun Yang (2006)

8. The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2007)

7. Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell (2008)

6. Owly: The Way Home and the Bittersweet Summer by Andy Runton (2004)

5. Adventures in Cartooning by James Sturm and Andrew Arnold (2009)

4. Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi (2008)

3. The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis (2009)

2. Salmon Doubts by Adam Sacks (2004)

1. Calamity Jack by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and Nathan Hale (2010)


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The Fairy's Return: 12/28/10

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Earlier in the year before Harriet started reading, she went through a princess phase. She's still mad about princesses but now she prefers to draw them instead of reading about them. She also went through a period where she wanted to be read to during her long baths. So we read through Gail Carson Levine's short chapter books.

The Fairy's Return by Gail Carson Levine is her unique take on the Golden Goose fairy tale. There's Robin, the baker's son and the very bored Princess Lark, and a fairy trying to do good but not necessarily getting it right.

Harriet's not familiar with the original story but she thought it was funny that the boy and the girl both had bird names. Of all the books from this series we read, this one didn't hold her attention as well as others did.

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10 Best Odd Ball Books: 12/28/10

10 Best Odd Ball Books for 2010

These are my ten favorite odd ball fiction books. Some of them are tween books and some of them are adult books. All of them share memorable characters and stories that refuse to be categorized. I suppose they could be called "literary fiction" but it's their odd-ballness, rather than their literary merrits that earns them a spot on this list.

As with my other lists they weren't published this year but they are readily available. I found most of the copies via my local public library.

10. Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine by Ann Hood (1987)

9. Bird by Rita Murphy (2008)

8. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker (2009)

7. Receive Me Falling by Erika Robuck (2009)

6. Swine Not? by Jimmy Buffett (2008)

5. My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath (2008)

4. Keys to the City by Joel Kostman (1997)

3. Swim to Me by Betsy Carter (2007)

2. The Woman Who Wouldn't by Gene Wilder (2008)

1. Tepper Isn't Going Out by Calvin Trillin (2001)

Comments (6)

Boundaries of Home: 12/27/10

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Boundaries of Home by Doug Aberley was another of my GIS research books. It came up when I was reading about public participation GIS, a term coined by the author actually five years after the book was published.

As the book was written before GIS became widely available for public consumption through DGI (distributed geographic information), Aberley seems down on maps. He describes them as something for mass consumerism and not something that's taken seriously by the public. In the introduction he describes how the public has lost all context of where they live beyond being a small dot on a fold-out map.

The book goes on to explain how small community groups and individuals can create personal maps either by drawing maps based on walks through the neighborhood and surrounds or by augmenting professionally made maps (like the USGS quadrangles).

The USGS quadrangle suggestion was something that struck home with me. Back when we were still living on the peninsula we bought the map of our area (the northern half of San Mateo County) and marked with pins. We still have the map (minus the pins) in our downstairs hall way, and it was one of the things I referred to when the San Bruno neighborhood was on fire after the PGE pipeline explosion.

Now though, there is a faster, more immediate way to custom map one's neighborhood, Google Maps. As the book predates Google Maps by twelve years, I found the frustration over map access, especially for cooperative mapping, interesting in its historical context.

Comments (2)

What Are You Reading: December 27, 2010: 12/27/10

What Are You Reading

I'm ping-ponging up and down California this week. Blogging from the road is tricky as is reading on the road. Most of what I finished last week came before the holiday madness. I went through a small pile of library books (mostly picture books) and one review book.

My current reads are an even mixture of library books and my own personal collection. Kraken was a Christmas gift. It's huge and dense and I plan to read about ten pages a day and thus slowly work my way through it.

My reviews from last week are mostly library books. This year seems to be have been the year of the picture book on my blog. I hope to diversify more next year.

Finished Last Week:

  1. The Ballerina with Webbed Feet by Pam Van Scoyoc (library book)
  2. Copper by Kizu Kibuishi (library book)
  3. Food, Girls, & Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (review copy)
  4. Monster Trucks by Mark Todd (library book)
  5. The Nightmarys by Dan Poblocki (library book)
  6. The Sign Painter by Allen Say (library book)
  7. Tinkerbell and the Wings of Rani by Teresa Radice (library book)
  8. The World at Night by Alan Furst (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis (review copy)
  2. Kraken by China Miéville (personal collection)
  3. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart (personal collection)
  4. Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bagigalupi (library book)
  5. West Coast Journeys by Caroline C. Leighton (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Alex and Lulu by Lorena Siminovich (library book)
  2. Forever by Rachel Pollack (personal collection)
  3. Harriet's Halloween Candy by Nancy Carlson (library book)
  4. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker (review copy)
  5. The Octonauts and the Frown Fish by Meomi (library book)
  6. The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene (library book)
  7. The Tarot Cafe Volume 3 by Sang-Sun Park (library book)

Comments (20)

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County: 12/26/10

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Truly Plaice, a very large and physically imposing young woman, narrates The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker. She and her "perfect" sister, Serena Jane are separated after the death of their father, the mother having died in childbirth.

The story though isn't so much about Truly as it is about Aberdeen County and the other people who live there. It reminds me a bit of Cicily Alaska, fictional town in Northern Exposure.

It took me a long while to warm to Truly as a character. That's part of the point of the book though. She physically can't fit in with the feminine norms of her town. As a child her father resorts to dressing her in overalls as they fit her better, there just aren't any dresses large enough for her growing frame. Truly doesn't try to fit in just to be accepted and she in turn befriends a few other oddballs and outcasts.

Ultimately it was the other characters in the book that won me over completely. Truly I can take or leave but her kith and kin are fascinating.

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The Octonauts and the Frown Fish: 12/25/10

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The Octonauts and the Frown Fish is the third in the series by Meomi. In this one, the Octonauts come across a fish with a giant frown. They want to help to cheer the fish up.

They take the fish around to the best under the sea entertainment spots. Still the fish frowns. If anything, the fish's frown gets bigger! They even try building an exosuit for the fish so he can join them out of the water.

The Octonauts books are wonderful first and foremost for their adorable but highly detailed illustrations. Next the stories themselves are delightful. Best of all, the guest star for the book (in this case, the Frown Fish) is always a real thing. The Frown Fish is a type of catfish (synodontis Nigriventris).

After my son reads an Octonaut book, he and I look up the featured animal together. I've included the link for the page where we read up about the Frown Fish. I'm not going to tell you what makes him so special to avoid spoiling the story.

We checked the book out from the library.

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Harriet's Halloween Candy: 12/24/10

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Here it is Christmas Eve and my review randomizer has picked a Halloween book review for posting!

Harriet and I read Harriet's Halloween Candy by Nancy Carlson a week before Halloween. What I didn't expect was how prophetic it would end up being.

In the book, Harriet has a great haul during trick-or-treating and her little brother doesn't. Their mother insists that she has to share with her brother. At first she does it reluctantly until she nearly makes herself sick with them. Then she realizes she has far more than she could ever eat and decides to share them fairly with her brother.

As it turns out, my Harriet found herself in a similar situation except with her big brother. They both went trick-or-treating for the first time this year. Sean though got too shy with all the crowds and decided to beg out of it after only two stops. So Harriet ended up with about ten times the amount of candy. At first she didn't want to share but by midway through November she decided, like the Harriet in the book, that sharing with her brother was a good idea after all.

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Tarot Cafe Volume 3: 12/23/10

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I had said in my review of the second volume that I was done reading The Tarot Cafe by Sang-Sun Park. Rhiona suggested I should keep going and the artwork style (my biggest complaint about the series) would be explained. My husband shortly there after checked out the first four volumes. I decided to read number three to see if I liked it any better than two.

Volume Three is like volumes one and two: a mixture of episodic stories based around the fortunes the main character tells and some on going plot points introduced in the first volume and carried on through the second and now third volumes.

There's a lot of lost love, broken taboos, revenge and rampantly high emotions. There's also still the artwork where everyone looks like everyone else. I always feel like I should take notes to keep track of who's who because I can't tell visually and the plot's just not keeping my attention.

I swear: I'm done. I know I'm only at the halfway point but I don't care. The series and I don't get along.

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The Secret of the Old Clock: 12/22/10

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About two years ago when we first started taking Harriet to the library she insisted that I read the Nancy Drew series. Now what a then two year old toddler knew about a series that started in 1930, I don't know. But I have a policy in this family: if my children recommend a book to me, regardless of my personal opinion on of the book, I read it. In return, I get to recommend books to them. The system works remarkably well.

The book Harriet chose for me was The Bungalow Mystery, the third in the series. Since then I have been reading through the series as I have the chance. I'm not reading them in order but I a have found the process of reading them (after refusing to read them as a child) enlightening.

What I hadn't realized when I started this journey through Riverdale, was that the books had been rewritten or heavily edited (depending on the book) starting in 1959. The series starts with The Secret of the Old Clock.

This post will be two reviews in one. When I first read The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene back in February, I checked out a copy of the rewritten 1959 edition. I held off on reviewing it because the Wikipedia article outline a number of big differences. I wanted to read the original before I decided what I thought of the story. In September I found (again through the library) a reissue of the original 1939 text. I was glad to (re)read while the text was still fresh in my head.

The basic plot, regardless of which version you read is this: Nancy hears of a potentially missing will that would benefit a pair of sisters hard hit by the Depression. The current beneficiaries are a well to do family with no social graces and a pair of obnoxious daughters. Nancy's investigations take her into the countryside to a summer cottage and right into danger.

The original version is twenty pages longer and has a more chapters (of shorter lengths). These extra establish the poor behavior of the Topham sisters so that Nancy's desire to see them lose their inheritance is understandable. In the rewritten version most of these establishing scenes with the sisters are cut out, making Nancy's behavior seem spiteful and irrational.

The next big change is how the Horner (changed to Hoover) sisters are described as living. In the original they are described living hand to mouth on the funds they earn from their egg farm and from their dressmaking. They are typical Depression era characters. Changing their family name to Hoover in the 1959 edition brings to mind the Hoovervilles (coined the same year as the book was first published) but feels out of place for a book written at the start of the Depression.

Finally there is drunken groundskeeper who rescues Nancy after the thieves have locked her up in the closet. In the original his dialogue is written in typical for the time period Negro dialogue. Yes, he's written as a stereotype but so are most of the other characters in the book.

Changing him into an old, white (but still drunk) man in the 1959 doesn't make things better. He needs to be there to keep the dialog open. Even the beloved Nancy Drew series falls prey to tropes and stereotypes. We can use these moments to open a dialog with our children. Make it a teachable moment instead of sweeping it under the rug.

On behalf of Nancy though, she treats the guard better than she does the Topham sisters. Nancy is presented as being polite, resourceful and respectful person until she is mistreated or sees someone else being mistreated.

If you decide to read (or reread) the Nancy Drew books, do yourself a favor and get copies of the Applewood Books which are reprints of the originals texts, not the 1950s and 1960s rewrites.

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Forever: 12/21/10

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"Forever" begins like an epic fantasy poem. Forever is one of sisterhood of virtues personified. Forever, as her name implies, is death. Every so often the sisters play a game where the loser has to spend a day on Earth in the body of a human being. This time, Forever loses.

The remainder of the story reads like a paranormal mystery. A young woman is struck with a feeling of dread every day at 3:14. She becomes obsessed with understanding the reason behind this odd feeling. She seeks helps from different specialists but none can offer her a reason or a diagnosis. She goes on with her life and ultimately is faced with both the answer to her life long mystery, and a new dilemma that could result in great personal sacrifice.

Normally this type of story bugs me but Rachel Pollack pulls it off. Even with the extended prologue of the sisters and their bet, the ending came as a rewarding surprise.

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10 Best Tween Books: 12/21/10

These are my ten favorite tween books read this year. None of them were published this year but they are readily available. Most of them I checked out from my local library.

10. Raiders' Ransom by Emily Diamand (2009)

9. Nation by Terry Pratchett (2008)

8. Bhangra Babes by Narinder Dhami (2005)

7. Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins (2004)

6. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (2004)

5. Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech (2008)

4. Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck (2006)

3. The Kayla Chronicles by Sherri Winston (2008)

2. Gossamer by Lois Lowry (2006)

1. Scat by Carl Hiaasen (2009)

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Alex and Lulu: Two of a Kind: 12/20/10

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Alex and Lulu by Lorena Siminovich is the story of best friends. Alex is a noisy, adventurous dog and Lulu is an artistic, thoughtful cat. One day Lulu begins to doubt their long standing friendship. It's up to Alex to convince her that they can be different and still be friends.

The book is presented as a colorful book of opposites with the plot of friendship holding the book together. Harriet liked the opposites part of the story and she liked the cute dog and the equally cute cat.

Lulu's concern though went right over her head. Her reaction to that part of the story was one of confusion. "Of course they are different! I'm different from my friends. Everyone is different. What is she worrying about?" she explained.

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What Are You Reading: December 20, 2010: 12/19/10

What Are You Reading

My grades are in and I did very well. Now that I'm not doing research, I'm catching up on a combination of my to be read pile and my wishlist reading. Of course with children, I am also reading (or being read to) picture books and similar. My daughter has been reading Curious George to me a couple pages a night.

The one review book that I'm still working on is Food, Girls & Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff. It's a pretty easy read and I'm enjoying it. The main character's personality reminds me of Garth, the protagonist from In Mike We Trust by P. E. Ryan. Of course the story's completely different but the two share some themes: a lack of familial communication, problems at high school, trying to fit in while being true to one's self and so forth.

My two favorite reads from last week are The Batman Handbook by graphic novelist, Scott Beatty and Bite Me by Christopher Moore.

Finished Last Week:

  1. A Barnstormer in Oz by Philip José Farmer (library book)
  2. The Batman Handbook by Scott Beatty (personal collection)
  3. Bite Me by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  4. The Country Child by Alison Uttley (library book)
  5. LMNO Peas by Keith Baker (library book)
  6. Olivia Helps With Christmas by Ian Falconer (library book)
  7. The New Gay Teenager by Ritch C. Savin-Williams (library book)
  8. Night-Night Little Pookie by Sandra Boynton (personal collection)

Currently Reading:

  1. Food, Girls, & Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (review copy)
  2. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart (personal collection)
  3. The Nightmarys by Dan Poblocki (library book)
  4. West Coast Journeys by Caroline C. Leighton (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Adventures of Tittletom by Ellis Credle (library book)
  2. Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel (personal collection)
  3. Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken by Daniel Pinkwater (library book)
  4. Knitty Kitty by David Elliot (library book)
  5. The Long Retreat by Robert Reed (personal collection)
  6. Make-Believe by Michael Reaves (personal collection)
  7. Waiting for the Phone to Ring by Richard Bowes (personal collection)

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Bad Kitty Gets a Bath: 12/19/10

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We are a family of Bad Kitty fans. We have every single book in the series, having followed it from the very first picture book. With Bad Kitty Gets a Bath, Nick Bruel changed from picture books to hybrid graphic novels.

The title says it all: Bad Kitty gets a bath. She's stinky and dirty from a run in with the dog. Bad Kitty, with her normal bad attitude, needs extra special care when bathing, like a suit of armor, an ambulance waiting in the driveway, plane tickets to go into hiding until Bad Kitty forgets about the bath and a clean set of underwear for example.

Despite all this silliness and ridiculous illustrations, the book is also a useful guide for washing cats. They do occasionally get dirty and need baths beyond what they can do for themselves. So this book while being entertaining is also instructive.

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Make-Believe: 12/18/10

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I am so far behind in reading my issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It's betting beyond funny and into pathetic. It's October while I'm writing this review for a story from the March / April issue. I'm midway through the May/June issue. You can see, it's getting bad. My short story to be read list is getting as long as my books to be read list.

"Make-Believe" by Michael Reaves begins with a man giving an acceptance speech. In that speech he recounts how and why he became a writer. He reminisces about an event when he was five.

Now if this were a classic Twilight Zone episode, here's where Rod Serling would make his appearance. He'd say something pithy about childhood, memories and this play-date being in the Twilight Zone or some such.

Let me put it this way; I like the Twilight Zone. I like ghost stories. "Make-Believe" has elements of both. It was my kind of short story. It was a good combination of suspense, horror and goofy sentimentality.

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The Long Retreat: 12/17/10

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Robert Reed, how I love his stories. A Robert Reed story in Fantasy and Science Fiction for me means, a time to curl up in a comfy chair for a leisurely read.

Reed's story in the January / February 2010 issue is a delicious mood piece that feels like an Escher print brought to life. Lt Castor is the ailing emperor's most loyal servant. They are in an endless retreat against invading armies but there is no where to run to.

The ending, if such a thing is possible given the set up of the story, is satisfying and dare I say, perfect. Before you read the book, don't read the blurb before the story. While not exactly a spoiler, it does take away from the fun of Reed's story.

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The Adventures of Tittletom: 12/16/10

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While I was searching through the Link+ site for books off my wishlist I was inspired to try again to find a book Ian remembered reading as a child during his year in England. With that in mind The Adventures of Tittletom by Ellis Credle from the description posted on looked like it could be Ian's book.

Ian described the book as being about a boy who had misadventures and an attitude that was "such." He lived in a rural place and put rice in a boot at a wedding. As it turns out, The Adventures of Tittletom wasn't the book I was looking for. It was however, the last book I checked out that wasn't the right book. I found the right book on Google Books but I'll save that story for another post after I finish reading it.

The Adventures of Tittletom is a funny chapter book about a boy with more names than I care to count but everyone calls him Tittletom. He's the only boy in a family of sisters.

Each chapter is a different adventure. There's a story about a goldfish who gets loose and has to be tracked down. There's another one about a goat who only likes children.The last couple are about a skunk and a trip into town that doesn't go as planned.

The chapters are episodic and filled with adorable illustrations. The whole thing can be read in about half an hour.

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Knitty Kitty: 12/15/10

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>Grandmothers are so typically described as sitting in rocking chairs, wearing shawls and knitting as they rock even though the grandmothers my generation had in our families weren't like that and my children's grandmothers are certainly not like that. Yet, the trope is alive and well, especially in children's books such as Knitty Kitty by David Elliott.

The grandmother here is a matronly calico who sits in a pink and green polka dotted armchair, knitting as she watches three rambunctious kittens. As they play she knits a hat, a scarf and some mittens, presumably to keep them warm.

Mittens don't stay on kittens, no matter how lovingly they were made. These kittens have other ideas for the clothing knitted for them. How grandma reacts to their creative use of her gifts highlights for me and my children that bond that families share.

However on a whole my two didn't relate to most of the book. They liked the illustrations and the rhyming text but a knitting grandmother wasn't something they could relate to. Their grandmothers walk dogs, teach school, volunteer in libraries; they are athletic and energetic. In this way the book failed to connect.

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Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken: 12/14/10

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Daniel Pinkwater is another author my local library has introduced me to. Two of his books were sitting on their recommended children's books recently: The Neddiad (review coming) and Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken. Now since one is a middle grade book and the other is a picture book, I didn't notice that they were by the same author until I sat down to write my reviews.

Beautiful Yetta is about a Yiddish speaking chicken who breaks free from her cage and escapes the truck brining her into the city. While she's trying to figure out a safe place to be she saves a wild parrot from a hungry looking cat. The book is written in English, Yiddish (with transliteration) and Spanish.

The book is set in Brooklyn and at the end of the book Daniel Pinkwater includes a little background on the story. There are in fact wild parrots (just as there are in South Pasadena and San Francisco) and kosher butchers. He says he doesn't know if chickens speak Yiddish but thought it would be fun to suppose they could.

I read Beautiful Yetta before I read The Neddiad and I was skeptical at first. It's not that I don't believe in chickens or parrots in urban areas; I've seen both. It just seemed like an incredibly odd choice of story. Now having completely enjoyed Melvin the Shaman from The Neddiad I've come to realize that odd ball characters and plot lines are what he specializes in. I can certainly say that Yetta has stuck with me both as a story and as a character.

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Waiting for the Phone to Ring: 12/13/10

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"Waiting for the Phone to Ring" by Richard Bowes is another installment in what will be a roman clef. I wrote in my review of "I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said" that it was my favorite stories from the December 2009 issue. I can't say the same of "Waiting for the Phone to Ring."

In fact, like about half of the reviews I've read, I really can't remember the story. It made no lasting impression on me. There's a vague sense of a man being visited by his past twice in the same day after years of being alone. But that's not enough to go on to write a review.

I'm going to go further and say I'm getting tired of F&SF's commitment to long series of stories. I'm bored to death of Fred Chappell's Shadow series. I'm growing weary of Cowdrey's obsession with New Orleans, the Civil War and the Bayou. I suspect that Bowes will be another one of these authors whose appearance in an issue will make me cringe.

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What Are You Reading: December 13, 2010: 12/13/10

What Are You Reading

My first semester as an MLIS student ended last week. The first couple of days I spent pretty much in a stupor not doing much of anything. Then I got back to freelance writing until Friday when my son had the day off and my daughter came down with a stomach bug which she promptly shared with the rest of us.

Last week's reading can be summed up as the remaining MLIS books, a couple fun reads and a small pile of picture books. This week I'm working on some wishlist books that are due at the library soon as well as a novel I've promised to a friend, namely, Bite Me by Christopher Moore. It is probably the most insane book I've read by him which is saying a lot since they're all a little off. It's set in San Francisco and is hilarious.

My reviews from last week include some catching up on my part. I have one review I had been meaning to post for an entire year! Some day I would love to be caught up on my reviews but for the foreseeable future I expect to see more of these year-old posts.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Information Seeking in Electronic Environments by Gary Marchionini (personal collection)
  2. Naked Heat by Richard Castle (personal collection)
  3. The Noisy Way to Bed by Ian Whybrow (library book)
  4. "Stand Back," Said the Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!" by Patricia Thomas (library book)
  5. Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers (library book)
  6. Waking Up Wendell by April Stevens (library book)
  7. The Z was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. A Barnstormer in Oz by Philip José Farmer (library book)
  2. The Batman Handbook by Scott Beatty (personal collection)
  3. Bite Me by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  4. The Country Child by Alison Uttley (library book)
  5. Food, Girls, & Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (review copy)
  6. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Afternoon on the Amazon (Magic Tree House #6) by Mary Pope Osbourne (personal collection)
  2. Boats: Speeding! Sailing! Crusing! by Patricia Hubbell (library book)
  3. Brownie and Pearl Get Dolled Up by Cynthia Rylant (library book)
  4. A History of Cadmium by Elizabeth Bourne (personal collection)
  5. Looking for Jake: Stories by China Miéville (library book)
  6. One to Nine by Andrew Hodges (library book)
  7. Sector 7 by David Wiesner (library book)

Comments (18)

Sector 7: 12/12/10

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David Wiesner is another "new to me" authors introduced to me by the children's wing of my library. Sector 7 was on display along the walls above the picture book shelves. The gorgeous cover got my attention immediately and I had to take it home to peruse.

Wiesner is a children's book illustrator and an author of "wordless picture books." From my time judging graphic novels for the Cybils, I've come to think of them as graphic picture books, which I know, is redundant. Nonetheless, I like the term because his illustrations and the stories they portray are as complex and interesting as the graphic novels I've read and sometimes more so!

Sector 7 begins with a field trip to the Empire State Building and a ride to the top (something I would love to do some day). From there things become fantastic as the main character befriends a cloud and goes off to visit the factory or school or city or whatever it is where clouds come from. The adults who run the place want to send the boy home but he manages to have an influence on the clouds before he's returned. The results are magical and absolutely charming.

My son who a year ago wouldn't touch a wordless book, devoured this one. We both went through the book twice on our own and once together. We had fun comparing notes and our versions of the story. My son is actually asking for me to check the book out again.

Comments (7)

Boats: Speeding! Sailing! Cruising!: 12/11/10

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I am a sucker for a well illustrated picture book. Seriously, I think I embarrass my children sometimes as I will gleefully check out picture books just for myself. Add in my fascination with all things marine and Boats: Speeding! Sailing! Cruising! by Patricia Hubbell was irresistible.

The book is like a Richard Scarry word book but done in a style reminiscent of the old tourism posters. The illustrations are built from clip art, etchings and drawings. The drawings would look great framed.

Besides the fantastic artwork, the book teaches a wide range of vocabulary related to ships. There are types of ships, parts of ships and all sorts of interesting words.

It's apparently the fifth in a series of books but it's the only one I've read. I am keeping my eyes out for others in the series when I'm at my library.

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One to Nine: 12/10/10

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I remember hearing about One to Nine: The Inner Life of Numbers by Andrew Hodges. I want to say I heard it on KQED, my local public radio station but I'm having trouble verifying my memory. I know it was an extended review that I heard somewhere was the reason behind me adding it to my wishlist. As I am married to a math professor and have a calculus teacher mother in law and, frankly, like math, I had to read the book.

The book has a chapter devoted to a different number, the first nine natural numbers. So chapter one tries to cover everything numerically interesting about one. Then the book repeats the process with two, three, and so forth, all the way through nine.

I hoped I might pick up something new, a numeric tidbit I didn't know. Or maybe I'd learn a little history about the numbers. What I got instead was an encyclopedia of numerology presented as prose. It was dense, disjointed reading.

What I also discovered is that at least for a layman's book on numbers, I had heard of nearly everything presented in the book. So it wasn't the new and exciting look at numbers I was hoping for. That said, it is still a great reference on things one to nine.

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Brownie and Pearl Get Dolled Up: 12/09/10

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Cynthia Rylant has close to two hundred published children's books. We "discovered" her by way of the Backyardigans and have since then been checking out her books as we see them at the library.

Rylant has a new series of books staring Brownie and her cat, Pearl. Eight picture books are planned and a couple of them were released this year. Brownie and Pearl Get Dolled Up is the second of the series.

Brownie decides to play dress up with her cat. Dressing up includes lots of sparkles and other outlandishness. For me the book was ok. Dress up never was my thing as a child and there's no way I'd ever try to dress up a cat. But Harriet adored the book. We read it together about five times and I think she read it to herself at least another five.

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Looking for Jake: Stories: 12/08/10

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In April 2009 I stopped scheduling my reviews ahead of time. The scheduling process was making reading and blogging feel like homework. Since it's currently an unpaid hobby for me, I decided I had to stop being a slave to the calendar even if it meant falling behind on reviews. To keep things interesting on the review side of things, I started picking which book or short story to review next by random. This process has the advantage of giving every recently finished book or story the chance of being reviewed immediately. The flip side of it, though, is that some things can and do fall through the cracks.

Take for instance, Looking for Jake, a short story collection by China Miéville. It feels to me like I just read it. His stories have that effect on me. But at the same time, I can remember observing the strange coincidence of reading "'Tis the Season" while listening to Christmas music. We were sitting outside on a chilly November day at the Soledad Starbucks. We were on our way home from Thanksgiving and were planning our first Christmas at home. Here it is now, a year later.

Looking for Jake is an excellent collection of short stories. Although Miéville is probably best known now for his long and complicated adult science fiction novels, I think he excels in shorter forms.

The title story is set in the same world as Perdido Street Station. It gives some background into how London came to be the way it is in the novel. I'm glad I had read the novel before reading the short story. Had I not, though, there was still enough there to make a compelling story.

There is also a nod at Un Lun Dun in "Reports of Certain Events in London." I hadn't read the novel yet so seeing the connection when I did later in the spring was a lot of fun.

One of my favorites though is "Details" which to this day has me wary of the cracks in walls and the other random details one sees in the course of a day. Imagine if those flaws in life were actually part of a greater evil. That's the gist of the story. It's so simplistic in its execution and yet so deliciously creepy!

"An End to Hunger" set back in the days of the Nintendo 64, while dated by its technological references is still a fun read. It was also the very first China Miéville piece I had ever read (and like Stardust with Neil Gaiman, had completely forgotten about). So it was a nice surprise and a recovered memory of a new year's morning almost a decade earlier reading short stories at my in-laws' house.

I recommend this collection to short story lovers, urban fantasy lovers and China Miéville fans who haven't tried his short fiction yet.

Comments (2)

A History of Cadmium: 12/07/10

I read "A History of Cadmium" by Elizabeth Bourne shortly after I finished reading Duma Key by Stephen King. So the two stories are thematically linked in my memory. Both deal with history, bad memories, tragedy and artwork.

Cadmium, like her mother and aunt (in the friend of the family sense) is an artist, specializing Expressionist oil paintings. She's now pregnant and is feeling a new connection to her late mother and the life she and her aunt lived all those years ago.

Of course, this being a story in Fantasy and Science Fiction, there's something more going on with the paintings, and one in particular. The what and why of the painting's unusual behavior helps bring to light some dark truths, long buried in the past.

It's a short, moody and utterly delightful story, one of my favorites from the May / June issue.

The Best SF

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10 Best Cat Picture Books: 12/07/10

10 Best Cat Picture Books for 2010

As I've mentioned throughout the year, my daughter loves stories about cats. We have read a lot of cat picture books together in 2010. This list comprises our ten favorite reads for the year. These weren't necessarily published this year but they should be easy enough to find. With the exception of Cat Dreams, all the books came from our local public library.

10. Excuse Me… Are You a Witch? by Emily Horn (2003)

9.Henry the Sailor Cat by Mary Calhoun (1994)

8. Catwings Return by Urusla K. Le Guin (1989)

7. Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault and illustrated by Fred Marcellio (1991)

6. Opera Cat by Tess Weaver (1993)

5. Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack (1934)

4. Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman (2008)

3. The Nine Lives of Aristotle by Dick King-Smith (2003)

2. Cat Dreams by Ursula K. Le Guin (2009)

1. Hip Cat by Jonathan London (1993)

Comments (4)

Afternoon on the Amazon (Magic Tree House #6): 12/06/10

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A couple years ago, possibly three, my son was given a starter set of Magic Tree House books. One of those books was Afternoon on the Amazon by Mary Pope Osborne.

Jack and Annie are sent via the tree house to the Amazon to track down clues to find and understand Morgan Le Fey. They have to run from killer ants, crocodiles and other dangerous creatures. The book lacks the plotting of later volumes. Jack and Annie mostly just run for their lives throughout the book so it doesn't have much in the way of character development.

It is what it is and when my son was first learning to read he loved it.

Other Magic Tree House books reviewed here:

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What Are You Reading: December 06, 2010: 12/05/10

What Are You Reading

Last week I was completely focused on finishing my term papers. My reading, therefore, was severely curtailed. The books I did read were mostly picture books that I read to my daughter. I also finished up a couple of my text books. The one book I read strictly for fun was the All Action Classics version of The Odyssey.

This week I will hopefully be working on my freelance article writing again. I do, though, have a couple books I want to read: Bite Me by Christopher Moore and Naked Heat by Richard Castle. I should also try to finish Food, Girls, & Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff. It's one of a small pile of ARCs I'm terribly behind on.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Alison's Zinnia by Anita Lobel (library book)
  2. All Action Classics #3: The Odyssey by Homer and Tim Mucci
  3. Information Seeking in Electronic Environments by Gary Marchionini (personal collection)
  4. Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Waking Up? by Bill Martin Jr. (library book)
  5. One Halloween Night by Mark Teague (library book)
  6. Information Seeking in Electronic Environments by Gary Marchionini (personal collection)
  7. The Portable MLIS edited by Ken Hayckcok and Brooke E. Sheldon (personal collection)
  8. Weblogs And Libraries by Laurel Anne Clyde (library book)

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. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart (personal collection)
  4. Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Chick and the Duckling by Mirra Ginsburg (library book)
  2. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (library book)
  3. Raiders' Ransom by Emily Diamand (library book)
  4. San Francisco Then and Now by Bill Yeanne (library book)
  5. Ten Little Fish by Audrey and Bruce Wood (library book)
  6. What Can You Do with a Rebozo by Carmen Tafolla (library book)
  7. When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden (personal collection)

Comments (8)

10 Best Nonfiction Books: 12/05/10

10 Best Nonfiction Books for 2010

These are my ten favorite nonfiction books that I read this year. As with my other ten best lists, they weren't necessarily published this year. As my nonfiction tastes are perhaps more eclectic than the rest of my reading, I can't guarantee that they will all be easy to find.

10. San Francisco Then and Now by Bill Yenne (2002)

9. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman (2007)

8. City Makers by Remi A. Nadeau (1948)

7. The Emergence of Maps in Libraries by Walter Ristow (1980)

6. The Revolutionary Paul Revere by Joel Miller (2010)

5. Kiss My Math by Danica McKellar (2008)

4. A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander (1977)

3. The Essential Basho (1999)

2. Strange Reading by Grant Uden (1936)

1. Pharaoh's Flowers by F. Nigel Hepper (1990)


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Raiders' Ransom: 12/05/10

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The first shelf I always check at the library is the recommended reads shelf in the children's wing. I have yet to be disappointed by what the staff have put there. My latest find this way is Raiders' Ransom by Emily Diamand, a near future young adult dystopian set in what remains of the flooded British isles.

The book begins with the raid on an outlying village and news that the Prime Minister's daughter has been kidnapped. Lilly's village is blamed and she feels like she has to do something to set things right. She sails off with her fishing cat to take a ransom to the raiders and rescue the Prime Minister's daughter.

Raiders' Ransom is set in the 22nd century in a world where the oceans have risen and technology has failed. The ecological disaster and failed technology is fairly typical in dystopian fiction. So often though the characters have no working memory or understanding of how this dystopia came about. Raiders' Ransom is different: Lilly and the others know what happened. They might not know everything but they have a much better sense of what has happened than the average dystopian character.

The only thing that confused me at first about the book was the alternating points of view. Most of the book is told from Lilly's point of view but some of the chapters are told from Zeph's. He a child growing up with the raiders. His chapters help explain what has become of the flooded areas and gives an interesting look at the history of the raiders and the fate of London.

There's a second book out, Flood and Fire. I am hoping to see it on the recommended shelf soon at my library. I'm itching to see what happens next.

Comments (2)

The Chick and the Duckling: 12/04/10

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My daughter is a beginning reader. One of the books she recently picked to read to me was The Chick and the Duckling by Mirra Ginsburg.

The book is about two eggs who hatch: a chick and a duckling. The duckling takes charge and chick wants to do everything the duckling is doing. That works fine until the duckling discovers swimming!

As the book is designed for beginning readers, it has a lot of repetition and simple, easy to sound out words. For me sitting through the story, it's pretty dull, but for Harriet it was perfect. She was able to read it and found the story (such as it is) humorous.

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Ten Little Fish: 12/03/10

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My son has grown up with Audrey, Don and Bruce Wood's books. They are a family of children's book authors and illustrators. He rediscovered them on his own in first grade and has read through his school library's collection. His most recent read was Ten Little Fish by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Bruce Wood.

The book begins like most books with "ten little" in the title. There are ten fish in school and one goes away. Wash, rinse, repeat. Typically though at one, the remaining member either finds where the others have gone, as in Ten Little Lady Bugs or the other ones come back like in Ten Timid Ghosts. Ten Little Fish is different, ending instead with the last fish finding a way to start a new school of fish.

Of the Woods books I've read, Ten Little Fish is my least favorite. It's not the biology lesson that bothers me, it's more just a reaction to there being too many "Ten Little" books. I know counting books are popular with children; I see that in my own two. I know counting helps teach numeracy. But could we have eleven little? Or twenty little? Or binary little? Or something a little different? Please?

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10 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books: 12/03/10

10 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for 2010

These are my ten favorite science fiction and fantasy books read this year. They weren't all published this year but they are readily available. Most of them I checked out from my local library.

10. The Sunless Countries (Virga #4) by Karl Schroeder (2009)

9. Nightwings by Robert Silverberg (1968)

8. D. A. by Connie Willis (2007)

7. Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby (2009)

6. The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint: (2009)

5. Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi (2008)

4. Veracity by Laura Bynum (2010)

3. The Maze Runner by James Dashner (2009)

2. Mary Modern by Camille Deangelis (2007)

1. Un Lun Dun by China Mieville (2007)

Comments (2)

What Can You Do With a Rebozo? 12/02/10

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What Can You do with a Rebozo by Carmen Tafolla is one of Harriet's current favorite books. She picked it for its colorful cover with a little girl holding up a red rebozo over her head. The girl on the cover reminds my daughter of one of her best friends.

A rebozo is a sturdy and colorful Mexican shall that women use for a number of purposes from covering their heads to slinging their children. The book has a number of other uses from super hero capes, to blankets, to slides and all sorts of ideas.

What Can You do with a Rebozo is on our frequent check out list. Harriet has taken to using her purple "night-night" blanket as a makeshift rebozo.

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10 Best Picture Books: 12/02/10

10 Best Picture Books for 2010

It's the last month of the year and the time when book blogs start posting top ten lists. Usually I wait until the very end but this year I plan to spread the lists out a little more.

Our choices weren't all published in 2010 but they are readily available. Most of then we read via our local library. I put these books on the list because they appealed to both my daughter and son. They are best suited for ages 3 to 8.

10: Yoko's Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells (2001)

9. Jin Jin the Dragon by Grace Chang (2008)

8. One Yellow Lion by Matthew Van Fleet (1992)

7. Why I Will Never Ever Ever Ever Have Enough Time to Read This Book by Remy Charlip (2000)

6. Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown and Lee Dillion (2003)

5. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (2009)

4. Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty (2009)

3. Is there a monster over there? by Sally O Lee (2010)

2. The Book That Eats People by John Perry (2009)

1. Sugar Would Not Eat It by Emily Jenkins and Giselle Potter (2009)


Comments (2)


When Pigasso Met Mootisse: 12/01/10

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When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden introduces children to painters Picasso and Matisse. But to be silly Picasso is a pig drawn in a Cubist style. Matisse is a bull and drawn in the style of Matisse's work at the end of his career.

Let's step aside from the historical figures and look at the book by itself. It's the story of a rivalry between two headstrong artists with very different but equally strong opinions of what good art is. They get so sick of the competition that they seek some peace and quiet. Except that they end up as across the street neighbors and have to come to an understanding.

By itself it's a colorful, humorous, over the top book with a heartwarming ending. Harriet likes the story for all those reasons. But it's such a silly story that she doesn't want to believe that the book is based (albeit loosely) on real people.

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