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February 2011

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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Saving Max 02/28/11

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Saving Max by Antionette van Heugten sells itself as a thriller about a whip smart autistic boy who is accused of murder and the mother who does everything in her power to support her son and see him exonerated. Those points are there but the story is too flawed for me to recommend.

The novel has four main flaws that kept me from wanting to finish the book. First is the characterization of Max. Second is his mother, Danielle, who is supposed to carry the story but is an unlikeable and unbelievable character. Third is the medical staff which seems out of place in a novel set in modern times. Finally, there's the plotting and pacing of the mystery which takes far too long to get started.

Let's start with Max. He's the titular character. He's the reason for there even being a book. He's described as "whip smart" and a highly functioning autistic child. The problem though, is that these are attributes only. In the 120 pages I read, he hardly has any lines, any actions, any purpose other than to be talked about by the adult characters in the novel. Informed attributes do not make believable characters. Characteristics should be shown, not told!

Then there's Danielle who is supposedly a devoted mother and brilliant (perhaps "whip-smart"?) attorney who is up for partner. Except, she doesn't show any of this brilliance. Instead of using the legal system to her advantage to help her son, she rants and raves when the hospital staff aren't giving her access to her son. Then after he's accused of murder she again ignores the legal system to skulk around like Jessica Fletcher to investigate on her own. No. I don't buy that for one moment.

So then there's the medical staff. They might as well be photocopied right out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or perhaps the even older Snake Pit. Patients rights have progressed some since then and parental rights along with them. Had Saving Max been set thirty years ago, I would ignore their outrageous behavior. But all the way through the first hundred pages I'm wondering why Danielle doesn't just sue their asses instead of flailing around.

The final straw for me was the pacing of the mystery. I don't expect there to be a body on the first page or even at the end of the first chapter. I do however, expect the mystery to happen in the first fifty pages. Saving Max, though, waits until after one hundred pages to finally produce a body and frame Max. Those first hundred pages are just Danielle regretting her decision to take her son to this horrible hospital but doing nothing useful to undo her mistake.

So by the time the mystery actually started I realized I would never get to know Max, I hated his mother, I didn't find anything credible about the setting and I didn't care who had actually killed the other patient or why.

I received the book for review.

One star.

Comments (4)

What Are You Reading?

What Are You Reading: February 28, 2011: 02/27/11

This week I wasn't as swamped with academic research and writing. I am working on a project for my materials for children ages 5 to 8 class and that means lots of trips to the library to pick up appropriate books.

I did, however, finish a bunch of books I've been working on. The best book from last week was Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace.

My Currently Reading List is mostly text books. My fun reading: Azumanga Daioh, Kraken and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie has mostly sat unread this week. It's not that I'm not enjoying them; I just have been too busy to read them.

A book I'd like to start soon is The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan. I've swiped it out of my son's room. I'll probably start it after I finish The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Alone on a Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo (personal collection)
  2. Busy Woman Seeks Wife by Annie Sanders (library book)
  3. Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace (review copy)
  4. Going Around The Sun: Some Planetary Fun by Marianne Berkes (library book)
  5. How You Got So Smart by David Milgrim (library book)
  6. June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner (library book)
  7. Oz: The Hundredth Anniversary Celebration by Peter Glassman (library book)
  8. The Planets by Gail Gibbons (library book)
  9. The Psychology of Management by Lillian Gilbreth (ebook)
  10. The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague (library book)
  11. See You Soon Moon by Donna Conrad (library book)
  12. The Toynbee Convector by Ray Bradbury (personal collection)
  13. Twin Spica Volume 3 by Kou Yaginuma (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Almost Single by Advaita Kala (library book)
  2. Azumanga Daioh Omnibus by Kiyohiko Azuma (personal collection)
  3. Essentials of Children's Literature (7th Edition) by Carol Lynch-Brown (personal collection)
  4. From Cover to Cover by Kathleen T. Horning (personal collection)
  5. Introduction to Cataloguing and Classification by Arlene G. Taylor (personal collection)
  6. Kraken by China Miéville (personal collection)
  7. Management Basics for Information Professionals by Edward G. Evans (personal collection)
  8. The Secret Lives of Princesses by Philippe Lechermeier (library book)
  9. Shattered Glass by A.C. Katt (review copy / ebook)
  10. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Diary of Pelly D by L.J. Adlington
  2. The Improbable Cat by Allan Ahlberg
  3. Oops-a-Daisy by Claire Freedman
  4. Seven Sins for Seven Dwarves by Hilary Goldstein
  5. Stardust (Audio) by Neil Gaiman
  6. Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R.L. LaFevers
  7. The Tilting House by Tom Llewellyn

Comments (24)


The Improbable Cat: 02/27/11

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I spotted The Improbable Cat by Allan Ahlberg sitting on the recommended shelf in the children's library. I liked the cover an was curious about the title. I'm glad I read it even though it wasn't what I was expecting.

The cover, the silhouette of a cat sitting before a fire doesn't look especially ominous. The title invokes a slight sense of mystery. What exactly makes a cat improbable?

When David's family takes in a sickly gray kitten and begin to lavish more attention on it than they do the family dog, Billy, I expected a story in the vein of the Bad Kitty books or maybe a wild cat like Angus in the Georgia Nicholson books. This cat though, is something other, something belonging in an X Files or Doctor Who episode than a chapter book.

There's no actual violence, just an ever growing ill at ease mood. The cat becomes more and more of an obsession for the family and less and less catlike in the process. Think of Stitch raiding the refrigerator in Lilo & Stitch where he lets his guard down and Nani sees his extra appendages. This "cat" is like Stitch but with far less good will.

Middle graders and tweens who are beginning to discover Gothic horror, like Poe, will like The Improbable Cat.

Five stars.

Comments (2)

The Tilting House 02/26/11

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)My goal this year is to read books from my wishlist. That list consists of books I have come across either as citations in my research or as recommendations on blogs or from friends. That said, I'm still a sucker for a pretty cover and I'm especially vulnerable to the new books on display at my library. The Tilting House by Tom Llewllyn falls into that category.

The Peshik family has moved into a Victorian style home in Old Tacoma, Washington. The house though has a few problems, like floors that tilt, a disappearing porch, and talking rats.

The episodic chapters in The Tilting House will please fans of books like The Wayside School by Louis Sachar or Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. The house and all its oddities is a catalyst for different adventures that the Peshik family and their friends have.

While there is some progression in character development and in plot, neither is as well defined as it is some children's literature. The episodic nature though leaves a number of questions unanswered. That open-ended aspect to the book leaves room for a sequel or two. I hope that's the case because there's so much left to explore inside the Titling House.

Comments (0)

The Diary of Pelly D: 02/25/11

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In my last month of working for the Census when I needed something different to read. Megan at Posey Sessions suggested The Diary of Pelly D by L. J. Adlington. I'm glad she did.

This dystopian homage to The Diary of Anne Frank opens with Toni V. finding a diary while he's digging at a construction site. He's supposed to turn in anything he finds but decides to keep the diary. Every night after work when he's back at the flop house style dormitory, he reads from Pelly D's diary.

Pelly and Toni's stories are woven together into the tapestry that is their country's history. Instead of having lengthy passages of exposition or the question and answer style of world building (as used in The Maze Runner by James Dashner), Pelly D lets both characters live in their world and experience it for the good and bad.

For Pelly's part of the novel society comes unraveled as genetic markers become the basis for a new caste system. In Toni's time the damage is done but maybe just maybe there's a glimmer of hope for improvement.

I liked the open ended feel to the book. There's room for interpretation and discussion about the nature of Pelly and Toni's country. Readers who enjoy dystopian social commentary such as 1984, Lord of the Flies or Fahrenheit 451 will like The Diary of Pelly D.

Five stars.

Comments (4)

Seven Sins for Seven Dwarves: 02/24/11

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When I'm reading, I am always drawing connections between my current read with previous books. Sometimes those connections are obvious, when an author is drawing from known works. Sometimes though, it's my own strange internal cataloguing making the connections.

For the case of Hilary Goldstein's short story, "Seven Sins for Seven Dwarves" in the May / June Fantasy and Science Fiction, it's a mixture of both. Obviously from the title alone we have Snow White and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The sins, though, refers doubly to Snow White having her choice (or not) of seven able bodied dwarves, and to their assigned jobs of keeping seven sins locked away from the world of man.

But here's where things get strange, not so much for the story but for my own odd ball way of thinking. The brothers you see are named for their order. And so I couldn't help but think of Stardust and the brothers vying for control of Stormhold. So while Goldstein's seven were clearly dwarves, I kept imagining them as miniature versions of the brothers (as portrayed in the film).

Silly connections aside, I enjoyed the story very much. It wasn't a perfect read for me but still very entertaining. Thus it's a four out of five stars.

Comments (0)

Stardust (Audio) 02/23/11

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Ah... Stardust. Except for the original graphic novel, I have now enjoyed every version available. Stardust by Neil Gaiman was the very first book I'd read by him. I wasn't reading graphic novels at the time so he and his Sandman series was right off my radar. But Stardust was just my speed and I loved it.

Then I forgot out it. It was one of the last library books I read before we moved across the state. I was so busy with moving and looking for a new job and adjusting to living in the Bay Area that Neil Gaiman didn't stick in my mind.

In the time that I moved and settled and started a family, Gaiman wrote other prose books. My bookish friends were reading them and recommending them, two in particular, Good Omens and Coraline. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, Stardust was adapted to film and the pieces began to fall into place.

When I was reading The Graveyard Book I heard from those same book blogger friends that Gaiman was reading his own books for the audio versions. They uniformly said I had to listen to them. I kept that in mind when this last November we had to drive down to San Diego for my brother's wedding. We wanted audio books to keep the children entertained and Stardust seemed like the perfect choice.

The book comes on five discs with a sixth one containing an interview with Gaiman where he talks about the many forms of Stardust, including the film, and what it is like to record an audio book.

The story itself is a gentle quest. Tristan Thorn has grown up in the village of Wall where every nine years there's an open air market held on the other side of the hole in the wall. The market though isn't what draws him across the wall, it's the quest for a fallen star to win the hand of the girl he loves.

There's just one small problem, the star is a pretty and very angry young woman with a broken leg. There's also the fact that she's holding something that will determine who will be the next Lord of Stormhold.

The plotting in the novel is slower in its set up, something I had forgotten, being more familiar now with the film. But listening to Gaiman read his own words and do the voices for the characters made even the slow bits delightful.

Gaiman doesn't just read, he creates his characters. He does remarkably well with all the different voices. While they weren't the voices I might have imagined for them, they work. Even if you have read the book before, you should listen to the audio version.

Comments (4)

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus: 02/22/11

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Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers is the third in this middle grade paranormal mystery series. It's one of the very short list of series I am actively following. It also breaks my usual rule of only reading series books that can be read out of order.

In book three, Theodosia is still trying to pick up the pieces from the Staff of Osiris mess. There are those who continue to insist she is more than just a precocious London child. To add to the chaos, a mysterious and sinister looking hypnotist claims to know something about Theodosia's origins that could have repercussions for the whole world.

The introduction of the hypnotist / seer reminded me of The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King (review coming). That in turn made me think of the film Young Sherlock Holmes for the Egyptian connection. What's different about Theodosia, though, is that magic is real in her world. Spells and curses and dark magic are a constant threat to her.

One part of the book that initially worried me was the return of Theodosia's brother, Henry. He's so different from his sister that I was afraid his return would upset the flow of the plot. He, thankfully didn't. But he does act as a catalyst for Theodosia to question why he and she are so different and why she has skills in recognizing curses that so few seem to have.

Coming out this year is book four, Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh. While book three is my current favorite from the series, I suggest new readers start with the first book and work their way through in order.

Five stars

The Theodosia Throckmorton series includes:

Comments (0)


Oops-a-daisy! 02/21/11

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Oops-a-daisy by Claire Freedman was a Harriet favorite over the summer. It's the story of a young rabbit learning how to hop. Each time she hops she falls over one way or another.

The accompanying illustrations are adorable and charming. They capture the mother's loving patience and Daisy's range of emotions from determination, frustration, and confidence.

Daisy learning to hop is much like a young child learning to walk. Harriet was reading the book in the final run up to her October dance recital. She was getting nervous about knowing all her steps and the words to the song. Seeing Daisy learn how to hop was just the boost she needed to keep practicing herself.

Four stars.

Other posts and reviews:

Comments (0)

What Are You Reading: February 21, 2011: 02/21/11

What Are You Reading?

What my Finished Last Week list doesn't show is the twenty or so academic articles I read for an essay due today. Nor does it show that I had Reference Desk observation paper to write as well.

My Currently Reading List is mostly text books. My fun reading: Azumanga Daioh, Alone on a Wide Sea, Kraken and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie has mostly sat unread this week. It's not that I'm not enjoying them; I just have been too busy to read them.

A book I'd like to start soon is The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan. I'll have to swipe it out of my son's room.

Finished Last Week:

  1. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King (library book)
  2. Once I Was a Cardboard Box — But Now I'm a Book About Polar Bears! by Anton Poitier
  3. Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Alone on a Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo (personal collection)
  2. Azumanga Daioh Omnibus by Kiyohiko Azuma (personal collection)
  3. Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace (review copy)
  4. Essentials of Children's Literature (7th Edition) by Carol Lynch-Brown (personal collection)
  5. From Cover to Cover by Kathleen T. Horning (personal collection)
  6. Introduction to Cataloguing and Classification by Arlene G. Taylor (personal collection)
  7. Kraken by China Miéville (personal collection)
  8. Management Basics for Information Professionals by Edward G. Evans (personal collection)
  9. The Psychology of Management by Lillian Gilbreth (ebook)
  10. The Secret Lives of Princesses by Philippe Lechermeier (library book)
  11. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Batman Handbook by Scott Beatty (personal collection)
  2. Cook-a-doodle-doo by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel (library book)
  3. The God of the Hive by Laurie R. King (personal collection)
  4. Influences: A Lexicon of Contemporary Graphic Design Practice by Anna Gerber (library book)
  5. Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks (library book)
  6. My Big Dog by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel (library book)
  7. Nanosferatu by Dean Whitlock (personal collection)

Comments (30)

Influences: A Lexicon of Contemporary Graphic Design Practice 02/20/11

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A lexicon is a language's vocabulary. Influences: A Lexicon of Contemporary Graphic Design by Anna Gerber and Anja Lutz tries to build a vocabulary of influences in the graphic design profession.

The book sports a pretty pink cover and inside it's laid out like a dictionary, alphabetical entries. What's different though, is these entries are done by responses from graphic designers.

In book form, Influences is a bit overwhelming to read. I suppose if I were a graphic designer and more familiar with more of the represented artists and agencies, I would have gotten more from the book. I think in the right hands it would be an excellent reference.

The site Objects in Space had an article on Influences that explained the project was originally designed to be a wiki but grew into a book. A wiki with clickable links and maybe a tag cloud to see how the different influences stack up would work better than the book. I'd love to see videos and mind maps and other visuals linking together the collective creative process.

Two stars

Comments (0)

My Big Dog 02/19/11

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Harriet picked My Big Dog by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel on a recent trip to the library. She initially chose it for the cute Golden Retriever face on the cover but ended up loving it because it's the story of a cat who doesn't want to learn how to live with a dog.

As soon as we cracked the book open and saw that the narrator was a cat talking about he does not want to share his home with a dog, we were in love. We were also reminded of another favorite, Alice: the Cat Who Was Hounded by Jules Rosenthal. Both are stories of house cats content in their lives and having everything turned upside down by the introduction of a new dog. Another great example of cats and dogs learning to live together (or not) is Poor Puppy by Nick Bruel.

What sets My Big Dog apart is the point of view. The others are told from a human perspective. This one though is told from the cat's point of view. Another difference is that the cat and the dog become friends on their own. There is no human intervention as there is in Alice nor is the rivalry allowed to continue as it does in the Bad Kitty books.

If you have cats and dogs in your life, My Big Dog is a great book to read.

Five stars.

Comments (0)

The Batman Handbook 02/18/11

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One of the huge temptations in life is the Friends of the Library bookstore. A severe lack of shelf space and more importantly, money, has forced me to curb my old buying habits. So I get only the rare gem, maybe one book every couple of months. One of those gems is The Batman Handbook by Scott Beatty.

The book is printed in blue, gray, black and yellow and stands out from the average book. It really is what it says, a handbook for anyone who wants to be Batman. There are sections on equipment, vehicles, suits, fighting techniques and so forth.

Along with the instructions are lots and lots of illustrations. It has the look of a graphic novel or graphic memoir but it's something else. It's a parody, a discussion of the DC Canon, insights into Batman's personality and the different Robins he's worked with.

The book was a delightful read and something that my husband, son and I all enjoyed. I'm sure we'll be re-reading it.

Five stars.


Mirrorscape 02/17/11

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Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks has a gorgeous cover and an intriguing premise. There's an artistic and magical battle going on between the Fifth Mystery (the artist's guild) and the Rainbow Rebellion, a strange but colorful underground society that wants to expose the corruption that runs rampant through the Mysteries and the very core of Vlam.

The book starts off strongly with Melkin Womper being apprenticed by Ambrosius Blenk, a master of the Fifth Mystery. He's sent to the capitol city to begin his work, able to finally be an artist without worries of repercussions for not being able to pay for the necessary licensing (or Pleasure as it is called).

Once at his apprenticeship the story loses its momentum. Mel is given menial tasks to perform which of course he doesn't want to do. These chores could have been a great way to further introduce us to Mel's world and to life in the capitol. It should have been a chance to discuss the mores of Mel's society.

But it isn't. It's the excuse to introduce Mel to the bullies of the school and to railroad him to point where he discovers the true power behind artwork the Fifth Mystery masters create. The bullying felt forced and really took me out of the world.

Finally, with all the descriptions of the artwork and the fascinating world of Vlam and given the author's illustration background, Mirrorscape needs to be a graphic novel. The illustrations would give Wilks a chance to show his world without bogging down the plot. If there ever is a graphic novel version, I would love to give Mirrorscape a second chance.

Two stars

Comments (0)

Nanosferatu: 02/16/11

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With a title like "Nanosferatu" one might expect a vampire story with modern technology. That's sort of true but it reads more like a Batman Beyond origin story than a modern retelling of a classic vampire film.

The story also suffers from stereotyped characters and piss poor accent writing. Sprachmaus, especially, might as well be one of Goebel's scientists but the story is set in modern or near future times. Even given the conceit of the story, how is that possible?

And then there's the man they work for. Of course he has to try it on himself! He might as well be Derek Powers (minus the glow in the dark skeleton). What's missing is the superhero to put things to rights. Instead, being a horror story, the main character's greed and lust is his downfall.

Comments (0)

Cook-a-doodle-doo 02/15/11

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When my son was a year and a half old my husband was teaching night school to help make ends meet. On nights when he was teaching I had to make dinner and keep my son out of trouble at the same time. The only way I could do both was to teach him how to cook.

The cooking lessons (scrambled eggs, biscuits and other simple things) were a hit. He and now his sister loves to cook. So Cook-a-doodle-doo! by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel was a perfect picture book for the three of us to share.

The rooster main character is the grandson of the little red hen. He has inherited her cook book and sets out to make strawberry shortcake. The rooster though has better friends than his grandmother and knows how to ask them for help.

As someone who has taught (and is still teaching) two children how to cook, I found the book hilarious. The children enjoyed it too, recognizing the mistakes the friends were making.

The book includes the recipe the friends were baking. We didn't get a chance to try it out but maybe the next time we check out the book, we will.

Comments (0)

The God of the Hive 02/14/11

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The advantage of reading books slowly off the to be read pile, is that when there's a cliff hanger such as at the end of The Language of Bees, I was able to keep going with The God of the Hive with little more than a week of waiting.

I bought the book to celebrate the start of training for the Census. Although I started reading it immediately (rare for me, I tend to let them ferment a little before reading), it has been sitting on my to be reviewed list for nearly a year. It may well be a year by the time the review actually gets posted.

For anyone new to the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King, most of the books can be read as stand alone volumes. The God of the Hive though should be read after The Language of Bees.

The book beings where the previous book left off. Mary and Estelle are an airplane trying to make it to London. But the remains of the cult are after them and they are forced to land in a remote and isolated landscape. Their only ally is a strange hermit named Robert Goodman. He is as enigmatic and strange as the Green Man.

Meanwhile, Holmes and Damian are across the channel and cut off from Holmes's usual network. Damian is injured and Holmes has to rely on a nurse he has wrangled into helping.

Finally there is Mycroft who has his own part to contribute the story. His part is woven together with Russell's and Holmes's chapters, making for the most complex book in the series yet. Had this book come earlier in the series, I don't think it would have worked as well as it does now. Mary Russell has had time to learn from her husband and has matured as a character. She's ready to hold her own part of the novel.

Some day if the author tires of the series or wants to take a tangent, I would love to read a stand alone book with Robert Goodman as the protagonist. He's such an interesting character and he clearly has more of a back story than is covered in The God of the Hive.

There's a new book in the series coming out later in 2011 called The Pirate King. From the author's blog, it sounds like she's having fun writing it. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Comments (0)

What Are You Reading: Feburary 14, 2011: 02/14/11

What Are You Reading?

Normally I catch up on my fun reading on the weekends. This weekend though, I didn't have time. I was too busy doing research for an analytical essay due in a week.

The books I did manage to finish are mostly picture books that I read first for my materials for children class and later re-read with my own children for fun. Their favorites this week were The Falling Raindrop by Neil Johnson (my daughter's favorite), The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague (my son's favorite) and Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (my favorite). The only book of any sort of length that I finished was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I do own the other two (as my husband read them last year) and I will get to them as time permits.

My current reads are a mixture of text books and long fiction. After six weeks of reading Kraken I am only up to page 210. As I will be mostly writing my two papers and doing my assigned reading, I doubt I will finish much this week, except for picture books I either read for class or with my children.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (library book)
  2. The Falling Raindrop by Neil Johnson (library book)
  3. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 4 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  4. How You Got So Smart by David Milgrim (library book)
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (personal collection)
  6. Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers (library book)
  7. Red-eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley (library book)
  8. The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Alone on a Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo (personal collection)
  2. Azumanga Daioh Omnibus by Kiyohiko Azuma (personal collection)
  3. Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace (review copy)
  4. Essentials of Children's Literature (7th Edition) by Carol Lynch-Brown (personal collection)
  5. From Cover to Cover by Kathleen T. Horning (personal collection)
  6. Introduction to Cataloguing and Classification by Arlene G. Taylor (personal collection)
  7. Kraken by China Miéville (personal collection)
  8. Management Basics for Information Professionals by Edward G. Evans (personal collection)
  9. The Psychology of Management by Lillian Gilbreth (ebook)
  10. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. At Home with Books by Estelle Eliis and Caroline Seebohm (library book)
  2. Class Trip by Rand B. Lee (personal collection)
  3. Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier (library book)
  4. The Gypsy's Boy by Lokiko Hall (personal collection)
  5. Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot (library book)
  6. Pokémon Adventures Volume 8 by Hidenori Kusaka (library book)
  7. Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett (library book)

Comments (30)

Pink Brain, Blue Brain 02/13/11

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I don't normally read books about gender differences because so much of the so called differences strike me as utter crap. When I saw Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot on display in the new books section of my library I was instantly drawn to the cover. First there are two grumpy toddlers on the cover, a boy in blue and a girl in pink. Secondly there's the subtle message of the title: "Pink Brain" is in baby blue and "Blue Brain" is in bubble gum pink.

Lise Eliot who is an associate professor of neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science begins by explaining she expected to find measurable differences between male and female brains. Turns out that boy brains and girl brains aren't all that different.

There are too many examples and too many facts to even begin to cover in my short review here. I recommend reading Eliot's editorial on the ASCD Inservice blog and following her blog if you want more detailed information.

The book is full of interesting graphs and statistical analysis. It was refreshing to read a gender studies book that actually mentions the overlap between the genders. At the back of the book is a lengthy bibliography and end notes section.

From my own limited experience parenting one of each, I can tell you my two while obviously different personalities and temperaments are also very similar. Both love the color pink. Both love Hello Kitty. They tend to like the same TV shows and same video games. They of course have their own personal favorites too: my son likes owls and monsters and my daughter likes princesses and cats. So it was nice to read a book that gives parents scientific data that backs up the wide range of likes and dislikes children of both sexes have and share.

Five stars

Comments (2)

Echoes from the Macabre 02/12/11

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Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier is a collection of short stories, many of which are also in the Don't Look Now collection. It was also the last book I read for the Tuesday Book Reads twitter book club. I'm just too busy with schoolwork to keep up with a weekly reading schedule.

The stand out story though in the collection is "The Birds." While the Hitchcock film is set in California, the original is set in England, in a rural village miles from anything. That isolation combined with the relentlessness of the birds makes for a nail-biter of a story. Although it's not specifically science fiction it is reminiscent of dystopian fiction.

I enjoyed the book, both for the new to me stories and for the re-reads from Don't Look Now, such as "Don't Look Now" and "Not After Midnight."

Comments (2)

Unseen Academicals 02/11/11

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I introduced my husband to the Discworld series back when we were dating in college. He has since gone on to be a fan of the series and I have settled into a love/hate relationship. Pratchett's books either completely wow me or completely turn me off.

Unseen Academicals is the 37th Discworld book. In this one, the faculty of Unseen University have to participate in a football game in order to keep their accreditation. There is also a strange sub plot involving fashion that never really went anywhere as far as I could tell.

My husband who has been in academia for most of his adult life either as a student or most recently as a professor, found the book hilarious and spot on. For me though I found the academic jokes few and far between, hidden amongst a whole bunch of dishwater dull sub plots. I skipped to the end and when the book even there refused to end (which is apparently funny), I gave up.

For a similar and better done version of the plot, I recommend episode 11 of Best Student Council, "Winning Five." Same plot but shorter and sillier.

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Class Trip: 02/10/11

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"Class Tri" by Rand B. Lee in the March / April issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction has the honor of being the first story in the magazine I could not finish.

It's apparently another installment in a series of short stories involving human and alien contact. This one recounts one of the earliest contacts between the humans and the aliens and just to make things "interesting" aka tedious, is told in a non-linear fashion.

Let me put it this way. Besides being incomprehensible, it was boring. Dull as dishwater. I normally adore first contact stories. The more alien the better. I normally love xenolinguistics. But this one put me right to sleep. Then it gave me a headache. Then it made me throw the magazine across the room, which wasn't good since I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop at the time.

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The Gypsy's Boy 02/09/11

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"The Gypsy's Boy" by Lokiko Hall is the story of a boy who is traded to a gypsy for a horse. The trade ended up poorly for both parties: the horse died and the boy went blind. So the boy is taken in by an old woman in the gypsy camp and trained to do chores.

Everything is fine until the old woman dies. Then the, now blind man, is left on his own. But his other senses have grown stronger and he can hear things others can not, including the voice of a wind spirit.

The romance that plays out in the second half of the book reminds me quite favorably of Stardust by Neil Gaiman. The wind is shocked to be heard by anyone human and is unwilling to trust her heart to him, much as Yvaine is angry at and mistrustful of Tristran for most of Stardust. In both cases, though, things run their course and both pairs become unlikely couples. Both supernatural women are left alone in part because their very natures ultimately betray their hearts.

"The Gypsy's Boy" is another beautiful story from the May / June issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I would like to read more stories by Lokiko Hall.

Five stars

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Pokemon Adventures Volume 8 02/08/11

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My son's liked Pokémon since he was two and a half. He's moved away from reading the books to just playing the games. Sometimes he still watches the cartoons. Recently he found Pokémon Adventures Volume 8 of this tween managa by Hidenori Kusaka and slipped it into my library book bag.

Although it's the 8th in the series, it's actually the start of a new story arc and it's tied to the recent video game. The story follows a new Pokémon trainer as he sets out on a new adventure after his Pokémon (and one of Professor Ash's) are stolen.

There are the usual early days of a Pokémon quest: the introduction of the characters, doubts about one's ability to quest and of course the bad guys up to mysterious but silly plans.

Since I haven't been keeping up with the series the characters in this volume haven't stuck with me. Fans though who are current with the series will enjoy it.

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At Home With Books 02/07/11

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I have curbed my willy-nilly library borrowing to focus instead on reading books from my wishlist. I have started with my oldest wishlist books first. Many of these early ones I no longer remember why I wanted to read them in the first place. At Home with Books by Estelle Ellis and Caroline Seebohm is an exception to that rule.

In fact I remember perfectly where I learned about the book; Bookcrossing. I was a fairly new member and read about it in the Book Talk forum. The book sounded fascinating, especially to someone who just gone through the fourth move in short succession and who no longer had a good clear idea which books were in my personal library.

At Home with Books is a coffee table book that looks at a select group of large personal libraries. These are libraries of people who can afford to have a lot of books, displayed beautifully. These aren't libraries like mine or like people I know where books are stacked two and three thick on shelves, are stuffed in boxes under the stairs, are under beds and in dresser drawers.

These are libraries where someone has decided on a theme; like the one that is devoted only to New York books. Each book is labeled and catalogued and different subjects are in different rooms. But the whole library itself is only about New York.

While I found the photographs gorgeous to look at and some of the stories fascinating, the overall effect of the book was overwhelming. After awhile the book got to be too much and I believe it or not, I felt like my library was inadequate. Sure I've catalogued my entire family library, but there isn't a central theme (beyond we like these books) and they aren't shelved with specific call numbers. Nor are our books in perfect shape or especially rare or unique. They are old, new, dog eared, and odd ball.

Three stars.

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What Are You Reading: Feburary 07, 2011: 02/07/11

What Are You Reading?

A third of my current reads are still text books. The rest are mostly books off my wishlist or to be read pile. From that list I will probably only finish The Hunger Games and Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 4 as both are short, relatively easy reads.

Among my finished reads, many are picture books. Those picture books were homework for the collection building for ages 5 to 8 that I'm taking. Specific picture books weren't assigned but I was supposed to read books that illustrated specific points in our lecture notes and text book reading.

The titles in quotes are short stories. I spent a couple hours on Saturday reading through my back issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I finally finished the July / August 2010 issue. Now I'm on the September / October issue.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Ambient Findability by Peter Morville (library book)
  2. Hard Hat Area by Susan L. Roth (library book)
  3. "Introduction to Joyous Cooking 200th Anniversary Edition" by Heather Lindsey (July / Aug 2010) (personal collection)
  4. "The Lost Elephants of Kenyisha" by Ken Altabef (July / Aug 2010) (personal collection)
  5. "Mr. Sweetpants" and the Living Dead by Albert E. Cowdrey (July / Aug 2010) (personal collection)
  6. No Castles Here by ACE Bauer (library book)
  7. "Pining to Be Human" by Richard Bowes (July / Aug 2010) (personal collection)
  8. Poor Rich by Jean Blasair (review copy)
  9. "The Precedent" by Sean McMullan (July / Aug 2010) (personal collection)
  10. The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague (library book)
  11. Shape Me a Rhyme by Jane Yolen and Jason Stemple (library book)
  12. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig (library book)
  13. "The Tale of the Nameless Chameleon" by Brenda Care (July / Aug 2010) (personal collection)
  14. Twin Spica Volume 2 Kou Yaginuma (library book)
  15. West Coast Journeys by Caroline C. Leighton (personal collection)
  16. William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies by John Carey (library book)
  17. Work and Play by Sydnie Meltzer Kleinhenz (library book) (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Alone on a Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo (personal collection)
  2. Azumanga Daioh Omnibus by Kiyohiko Azuma (personal collection)
  3. Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace (review copy)
  4. Essentials of Children's Literature (7th Edition) by Carol Lynch-Brown (personal collection)
  5. From Cover to Cover by Kathleen T. Horning (personal collection)
  6. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 4 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (personal collection)
  8. Introduction to Cataloguing and Classification by Arlene G. Taylor (personal collection)
  9. Kraken by China Miéville (personal collection)
  10. Management Basics for Information Professionals by Edward G. Evans (personal collection)
  11. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot by Ramsey Shehadeh
  2. The Laughter of Dead Kings by Elizabeth Peters
  3. Pinkalicious and the Pink Drink by Victoria Kann
  4. Sharing Geographic Information edited by Gerard Rushton and Harland Joseph Onsrud
  5. Silence by Dale Bailey
  6. Ten Apples Up on Top by Dr. Seuss
  7. Yo, Jo! by Rachel Isadora

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Pinkalicious and the Pink Drink 02/06/11

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We've been reading the Pinkalicious series by the Kann sisters since the first book came out. Although the books are heavy on the pink and princess themes, it was my son who first introduced the rest of us to the first book. He and his sister remain diehard fans of the series.

Pinkalicious and the Pink Drink by Victoria Kann is a departure from the original format. The series started as a trio of picture books, hardbacks with over sized pages and gorgeous pastel collages. Pink Drink though is a move towards early reader books. Like my two, their original audience is growing up with the series and they've gone from being read to, to being able to read. It makes sense to have books that promote and encourage free reading.

The story is fairly typical for the series and reminds me most of the original. In the original Pinkalicious bakes pink cupcakes with her mother while it rains outside and she's stuck inside. She then goes on a cupcake binge and ends up turning pink from all the frosting. This book also focuses on her cooking exploits. She decides to make pink lemonade to make some money on a hot summer day. Her choices for the recipe, while the correct color don't make sense gastronomically. The results are less than ideal and she needs some help to fix the recipe.

It's a cute book. It entertained both children and it was something that my son could read by himself and that Harriet could mostly read without help. For me though, it's not my favorite. I prefer the picture books.

Silverlicious, the latest in the picture book series is coming out soon. I'm sure we will be buying a copy to add to our family library.

Four stars.

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Sharing Geographic Information 02/05/11

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From September to December I have been read a pile of books about geographic information systems (GIS). I was working on a paper about GIS for one of my two classes. I chose the topic because I was working directly with two GIS implementations and the maps of a third when I was working for the Census over the spring and summer.

Sharing Geographic Information edited by Gerald Rushton and Harlan Joseph Onsrud was one of the books that came up during my research. I saw it as a potential source.

The book is a collection of essays about GIS and sharing information across agencies. The book though won't make into my paper for two reasons: age and focus. The book was published in 1995, and while it's not the oldest reference on my list by any means, it didn't cover any new or different ground from my other reference sources. There are only so many times and ways that I need terms defined. Had I read the book earlier in my research process I may very well have read it more closely and taken notes from it.

The second problem, from the point of view of my paper is the book's focus. For my paper I am most interested in how GIS can be used to plan for and respond to disaster. While this book does have essay on interagency sharing of information, none of them were really focused on the problems of including the general public in the equation.

The essays are informative but were not on topic for my paper. Three Stars.

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The Laughter of Dead Kings 02/04/11

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The Vicky Bliss series started in 1973 but I didn't discover it until 1999. We were in the middle of a grueling multi-part move from Southern to Northern California. We were moving as much of the furniture and stuff (books mostly) in our tiny Civic Hatchback (a method I don't recommend). For one of the trips back down to Los Angeles my husband picked up an audio book of Night Train to Memphis not having ever heard of Elizabeth Peters.

I had been reading Peters's Amelia Peabody series since the early 1980s so I was thrilled when he came back to the car with this audiobook. It made the remaining drive much more entertaining especially with the couple off handed remarks about a certain female Egyptologist.

The book was so much fun that I made the effort to collect the first four books in the series and of course read them. I did this all before I started book blogging so I don't have reviews of them to share. Then when I caught up with myself and re-read Night Train to Memphis, this time in book form, I hoped there would be a sixth Vicky Bliss book. For a long time though, the answer was a decided no. The author was concentrating on her much more popular Amelia Peabody series and that was that.

Until 2007 when I saw a rumor posted about a sixth book, though no title was given. I held my breath (but didn't turn blue) and then in 2008 a miracle happened, The Laughter of Dead Kings was published. OK, maybe not a miracle, but it felt like it to me.

If having Vicky Bliss weren't enough, it was set once again in Egypt. And even better, the mystery involves the missing mummy of Tutankhamen. Squee.

Vicky Bliss isn't an Egyptologist but John "Smythe" Tregard has been fingered and she can't resist another caper with him. Interestingly the book is set in the present day, the books always are, but Vicky isn't fourteen years older, nor is she 36 years older from her first appearance. Peters explains in the foreword that Vicky is her present day character and she likes giving Vicky, John and Schmidt access to the latest gadgets.

That said, there are a lot of Easter Eggs for Amelia Peabody fans which makes this every creeping timeline fall into the Dr. Who "timey wimey wibbly wobbly" zone for everything to work. I suppose I should dock the book a star for that, but I'm not going to. I thoroughly enjoyed it, enough so that I even read passages out loud to my husband. I squeed at all the Easter Eggs and loved seeing them traipse around in present day.

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Yo, Jo! 02/03/11

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Yo, Jo! is one of two books Harriet checked out at a recent trip to the library. The illustrations are colorful, probably done as collage. They were an immediate attraction for her.

Jo is a young African American boy living on a busy city block with brownstone buildings. He's walking down the block clearly with a goal in mind. But that doesn't stop him from talking to all his neighbors. It's clearly a tightly knit and safe block given Jo's youth. It's refreshing to see a positive portrayal of a childhood in the city, especially for a child of color.

He and his neighbors talk in slang until Jo comes to an old man. It's his grandfather. Then things become more formal. It was nice to see the counterpoint to the slang. It's a more subtle way to convey the same message as Don't Say Ain't, namely that there's a time and a place for different levels of formality.

Best of all though, the Grandfather, after having a completely formal conversation with Jo starts talking to him in slang too. It brought back fond memories of when my own grandmother would let her hair down a little and talk in slang, or admit to liking rock and roll, and so forth. The connection with Jo and his Grandfather feels genuine to me.

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Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot: 02/02/11

When I read stories or books or watch movies, I am constantly reminded of others ones I've read or watched. It's impossible for me to read or watch in a vacuum. I have a good memory for plots and characters. Sometimes a title will put me into a mindset before I even begin to watch or read as is the case with "Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot" by Ramsey Shehadeh in the Mar/Apr 2010 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

In this case the title made me think of the recent parodies of Victorian fiction. Specifically I thought of Sorcery and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. My initial gut reaction to the title wasn't too far off base.

The story is about a wizard and his unusual familiar who go to a kingdom to sort out the problem of a king who has become far to enchanted with his pet ocelot at the cost of all other things. Caligula had his horse and this emperor has his exotic cat. The wizard has an invisible, sentient chair named Door.

It took me a page or two to wrap my head around the situation. It's silly. It's delightful. It's the sort of "character driven" story that FSF prides itself on.

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Ten Apples Up on Top: 02/01/11

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Although I was a huge Dr. Seuss fan as a child, I missed Ten Apples Up on Top until my son started reading it. I probably missed it because he originally published it under his Theo LeSieg pseudonym. My son first discovered the edited board book version and the graduated to the full version in first grade. He in turn read it to his sister so now both children love it.

Ten Apples Up on Top is the story of three rollerskating friends, a lion, a dog and a tiger and their competition to see who can balance to most apples up on top. As they add more apples their rollerskating adventures become sillier and more extreme, highlighting the absurdity of balancing apples on one's head.

What I love abut Ten Apples Up on Top is that it's fun to read aloud but easy enough for early readers to handle by themselves. That means we can either join together on the couch for family story time or Sean or Harriet can read the book to themselves. Sometimes they even read it to me.

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