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April 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

Reading Challenges

My Kind of Mystery Reading Challenge 2017 February - January 2017-8


 

The Birthday Ball: 04/30/11

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Although I am long past my childhood, Lois Lowry has become one of my favorite authors in the last decade. She writes for a wide range of ages from preschoolers up through high schoolers. I put her books in the same category as Anita Shreve; I know each book will be very different but well worth the read.

Lowry's 2010 middle grade book is a fantasy called The Birthday Ball. It's set up a little bit like Mark Twain's The Prince and Pauper except with a female lead, Princess Patricia Priscilla. Her sixteenth birthday is arriving and she's forced to pick a future husband from the suitors who have arrived to help her celebrate. She'd rather not.

In fact she'd rather experience the village life her maid describes to her every day. So she borrows her clothes, sneaks out and enrolls herself in the local school.

When the book first started and the premise was being set up I have to admit I cringed. If The Birthday Ball were written by anyone else, I probably wouldn't have given the book enough of a chance. Once "Pat" starts going to school and making friends she begins to blossom as a character.

In terms of tone, The Birthday Ball is one of Lowry's lighter fares. It's silly like The Willoughbys but it does have a positive message for young girls.

Four stars. Review copy via NetGalley.

Comments (0)


Tirissa and the Necklace of Nulidor: 04/29/11

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Tirissa and the Necklace of Nulidor by Willow has and old fashioned sounding title; something Edith Nesbit or similar would have used. It's to point though, being the story of Tirissa who has to learn the truth behind her necklace and the massacre that happened at Nulidor ages ago if she wants to save her own town

A lot of post-Dungeons and Dragons fantasy is quest driven. You have your usual types coming together either to find a BIG treasure, to stop a BIG bad, or because someone has had a BIG vision of things to come. Along the way they fight battles, hang out in inns, collect magical items and I fall asleep.

Tirissa though she goes on a journey, she does so at her own pace, making mistakes along the way. She also has a clearly defined and compelling reasons for her travels. She needs first to escape the Deadening, an even that has turned her family and villagers into dispassionate, nearly mindless shells of their former selves, and later, to find a way to reverse the Deadening and prevent it from spreading.

Although Tirissia isn't especially strong, doesn't have any amazing magical powers or any of the typical modern day fantasy heroines, she is crafty and is able to come to a rudimentary understanding of how to use the Deadening to her advantage.

I'm not going to go into a full explanation of what happens. It's worth reading to find out for yourself.

I received the book for review.

Four stars.

Comments (2)


In Mike We Trust: 04/28/11

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I was invited to be a judge on last year's Nerds Heart YA brackets. In Mike We Trust by P.E. Ryan was the book my co-judge and I voted to move to the next round.

Garth is a gay teenager living with his mother. Both are grieving the recent death of his father and their emotional state gets in the way of their coming to terms with Garth's sexuality. He wants to be out to everyone; Mom would prefer he wait until they know for sure that it's safe for him to be that out.

In the middle of this chaos comes Mike, Garth's uncle and identical twin to his father. Although identical in appearance he's the polar opposite in personality. All though he's a conman and moocher he's the only one who seems completely willing to accept Garth on Garth's terms.

As some of the other reviews have mentioned the ending doesn't feel realistic but neither does the beginning. The set up is obviously contrived. But it doesn't matter. The book is mostly about Garth and Mike and the misadventures they have. It's a fun book with a likable protagonist.

Five stars.

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On a Scary Scary Night: 04/27/11

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Walter Wick, the photographer and illustrator of the I Spy Games has his own series of books out now. One that caught our eye at the library was On a Scary Scary Night.

The book tells the story of a trip through a haunted town at night. Each illustration is one stop on the trip and full of often times difficult I Spy like games. Sean and I found the puzzles in thin book much harder than anything we ever faced in an I Spy book.

That said the illustrations out do the I Spy ones. I think when Sean is a little older and has more patience for a tough puzzle book we will go back and try this book again.

Three stars

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The Iron Man: 04/26/11

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The Iron Man by Ted Hughes was re-titled The Iron Giant after the 1999 animated film was released with the new name. It's the story of a friendship between a giant robot and a young boy and also the danger that such a large sentient machine can pose.

The version I read was released when the film came out. Except for names and elevator pitch there is little else the film and the book have in common.

The most recent Iron Man edition has illustrations by Laura Carlin. From the few pages I've seen online her pictures seem to get to the heart of the story. If I were to re-read the book, I would want to read Carlin edition.

The book has episodic chapter with the robot crashing into the village and eventually being rebuilt. There's the town's fear of him and his friendship with the boy and then some chapters about the robot's own hopes and dreams.

I wish the film edition hadn't used the film's title. There's nothing wrong with just putting, "the book that inspired the film" on the cover and leaving it at that. The changed title altered my expectations.

Two stars for the edition I read.

Comments (2)


Flanimals Pop-Up: 04/25/11

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Flanimals is one of those series that Sean and I adore and the rest of our family things were stark raving mad for all our giggling over them. The first two books in the series we managed to find via the library so when Flanimals Pop-Up by Ricky Gervais came out we had to get a copy.

The Flanimals books also seem to give booksellers and librarians headaches. Some places shelve the books with adult humor because Ricky Gervais is mostly known for his work on things like The Office. The other half shelve them in the children's section.

The book is a short but funny revisit to the Flanimals who showed up in the first couple books. The pop-out creatures are complexly articulated so I recommend the book to children old enough to be careful with the book. The Mernibler page might also scare younger children.

Four stars.

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What Are You Reading: April 25, 2011: 04/25/11

What Are You Reading?

I'll be turning in my second children's book project on Friday. That means I'm done with reading for the project. Next week's post should be a saner amount of books on the "Finished Last Week" list.

The reading strictly for fun last week included The Brother Gardeners, Soul Eater Volume 1, xxxHolic Volume 3 and Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 12. Harriet also read to me There is a Bird on Your Head! and Watch Me Through the Ball! both by Mo Willems.

Right now I have another Elizabeth Hand book going, Mortal Love. It's not striking me in the same visceral way that the other two did but I'm still enjoying it. I'm also reading through some more anime. I really want to finish Ouran High School Host Club Volume 2 soon.

Coming up I'll be reading a Harry Harrison book, more manga, more assigned reading for school and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Finished Last Week:

  1. The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession by Andrea Wulf (library book)
  2. Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury (library book)
  3. Clementine (Clementine, #1) by Sara Pennypacker (library book)
  4. Clementine's Letter (Clementine, #3) by Sara Pennypacker (library book)
  5. Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass (library book)
  6. Fullmetal Alchemist, Volume 12 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  7. Highway Robbery by Kate Thompson (library book)
  8. Madeline at the White House by John Bemelmans Marciano (library book)
  9. The Owl and the Pussycat by Anne Mortimer (library book)
  10. Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes by Salley Mavor (library book)
  11. Poppleton Forever by Cynthia Rylant (library book)
  12. Punished! by David Lubar (library book)
  13. Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson (library book)
  14. Soul Eater, Vol. 1 by Atsushi Ohkubo (personal collection)
  15. Ten copycats in a boat, and other riddles by Alvin Schwartz (library book)
  16. There Is a Bird on Your Head! by Mo Willems (personal collection)
  17. Watch Me Throw the Ball! by Mo Willems (library book)
  18. XXXholic Volume 3 by CLAMP (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. From Cover to Cover by Kathleen T. Horning (personal collection)
  2. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  3. Management Basics for Information Professionals by Edward G. Evans (personal collection)
  4. Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand (library book)
  5. Nick Of Time by Ted Bell (library book)
  6. Ouran High School Host Club, Volume 2 by Bisco Hatori (personal collection)
  7. Through The Triangle by C.P. Stewart (review copy)
  8. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (library book)
  9. XXXholic Volume 4 by CLAMP (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Ann Can Fly by Fred Phleger (personal collection)
  2. The Illusions of Tranquility by Brendan DuBois (personal collection)
  3. Love that Dog by Sharon Creech (library book)
  4. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (library book)
  5. Smile by Raina Telgemeier (review copy)
  6. Wheel of the Moon by Sandra Forrester (library book)
  7. Where is that Cat? by Carol Greene (library book)



Comments (38)

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Illusions of Tranquility: 04/24/11

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The moon is a popular location for off world colonies. Often its seen either as part of mankind's evolution. Other times it's a set up for a disaster story.

"Illusions of Tranquility" by Brendan DuBois is somewhere in the middle. It looks at the difficulties of maintaining a colony while putting up a strong front for visitors.

The main character's job is to drum up donations without letting on the true dire state of things on the moon. She's compelling enough to carry the story.

Five stars

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Ann Can Fly: 04/23/11

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Six years ago I took possession of a retired elementary school teacher's classroom library. Most of the books I've since read and donated to various local schools but one gem I've kept is Ann Can Fly by Fred Phleger.

Ann's father has taught her how to fly and now they are flying together to her summer camp in Colorado. The flight starts at Montgomery Field in San Diego. As a native San Diegan I felt an unexpected thrill at recognizing their take-off point. In fact much of their flight path covers familiar territory for me and gave me many things to talk about with my children during the book.

I read this book to Harriet at a time when she was going through a period of "girls do this" and "boys do that." It was nice to show her a positive portrayal of a girl doing something outside of her rubric. It helped her to rethink her strict cataloguing of gender roles.

Four stars.

Comments (2)


The Mysterious Benedict Society: 04/22/11

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The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart had been on my wishlist since it was first published. I had a chance to buy it when it back then but I decided not too. Thus it was one of the first books to come off my wishlist when I began my project last summer.

The book begins with Reynie Muldoon taking a series of tests. Those who pass get to enroll in a special school. Reynie being an orphan has nothing to lose; if anything, the school will be a huge improvement. In all four students pass by different methods and they are invited to perform a secret mission to save the town and quite possibly the world.

The has all the hallmarks of a British children's story: the orphan going to a boarding school, a mysterious evil and lots of puzzle solving. But it's not; it's set in the United States. There was a time when these sorts of books were set and written here but it's been about a century. The Mysterious Benedict Society has a kinship with the Ruth Fielding series from the 1910s.

My favorite character in the book is Constance. She's portrayed as obnoxious, lazy and contrary, there are reasons behind her flaws. The observant reader might be able to decipher the clues behind her secret. I didn't but I was having too much fun seeing if the Mysterious Benedict Society could save the day.

Five stars.

Comments (2)


Love that Dog: 04/21/11

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In my usual back-to-front approach to reading, I read the sequel, Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech first. Having loved that novel told in a series of poems, I decided to read the first book, Love that Dog.

The book begins with Jack first starting to learn poetry. He doesn't want to for two reasons. His father thinks poetry is stupid and he's grieving for his dog.

Jack writes poetry reluctantly at first until he reads "Love that Boy" by Walter Dean Myers. The poem inspires him to write the titular poem and further encourages him to keep on writing.

Like the second book, many of the poems are direct homages. The book includes a lengthy bibliography for students or teachers who may be interested in reading the originals or learning more about the different styles Jack writes in.

Four stars.

Comments (2)


Smile: 04/20/11

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Smile is Raina Telgemeier's graphic memoir about her tween and teenage years, punctuated by extensive orthodontic work. In sixth grade she fell and knocked out her upper front teeth. She went through numerous procedures to repair her smile.

I'm about five years old than the author, guessing from the historical clues she puts into her memoir. I also went through some orthodontia but nothing like she went through. I do however, share a headgear experience. One detail she didn't put in her memoir (maybe she didn't try it) the fact that headgear makes a great lock pick. Not hygienic, I know!

But it was the surrounding details that brought the book to life, things like the Nintendo NES games she was playing, life during and after the Loma Prieta earthquake and the illustrations of San Francisco.

The details made the book real for me. Of course it is real in the sense that it's a memoir. But it was more real than many of the memoirs I've read. It's book I've been recommending to everyone I know between the ages of fifteen and thirty.

2010 Cybils short list for graphic novels

Five stars

Comments (4)


Where Is That Cat? 04/19/11

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As anyone who lives with cats knows, cats do their own thing. When a non-cat person shows up the cat will invariably sit in that person's lap. Where is that Cat? by Carol Greene is all about once such cat and the old lady he befriends.

Miss Perkins finds a kitten whom she names Fitz. She's not much of a cat person but she can see he needs a home. She offers him a temporary one while she searches for someone to adopt him. Except every time someone comes by, Fitz is hiding.

Sharp-eyed children will enjoy finding Fitz. Harriet had fun comparing Fitz's hiding spots to our own cat's favorite hiding spots.

But best of all the book is about Fitz finding his forever home through gentle, perseverance. Miss Perkins also comes to realize she might not be a cat person but she has room in her heart and her home for one little kitten.

Five stars.

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Wheel of the Moon: 04/18/11

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Wheel of the Moon by Sandra Forrester is tween historical fiction that looks at the colonial practice of sending orphans from the British Isles to be indentured servants.

The book opens with Pen's mother drowning in a flash flood. Unable to pay her mother's debts and with no other family to rely on, Pen heads to the London streets. After finding a new family she's grabbed out of the ruins she calls home and sent across the ocean to the colonies.

The book though suffers from two main problems: pacing and characterization. Pen isn't an interesting enough character to carry the book. She's a dishwater dull Mary Sue. Meanwhile the book takes too long to get started, dragging on with setting up the situation and then once the she's finally in the colonies it's a race to the end of the book. It would have been better to start with Pen on the ship with a few flash backs to explain how she got to where she is.

The book would be fine as part of a larger history or social studies unit. Alone though there's not much to this book.

Two stars.

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What Are You Reading: April 18, 2011: 04/18/11

What Are You Reading?

I'm not really sure how to categorize last week's reading. It's a mixture of project reading (Charlotte's Web, My Brother Charlie and The Pepins and the Their Problems), listening to my daughter and son read (Can I Play Too? and The Crack in the Wall), some review reading (The Best American Comics 2010), other homework (Introduction to Cataloging and Classification) and finally reading for fun.

One of my favorites reads last week was My Brother Charlie. It's the story of fraternal twins and the oldest one, Charlie, is autistic. It's told from his sister's point of view and instead of dwelling on his autism, she instead lists all the ways he and she are alike as well as his strengths. It's a picture book with gorgeous painted illustrations.

This week's reading is a mixture of homework and manga with a review book thrown into the mix (Into the Triangle). I will probably finish the reference library book soon. The Lost Hero continues to be on hold while my son reads it.

Finished Last Week:

  1. The Best American Comics 2010 by Neil Gaiman (ebook / review copy)
  2. Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems (library book)
  3. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (library book)
  4. Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones (library book)
  5. The Crack in the Wall and Other Terribly Weird Tales by George Mendoza (library book)
  6. Fortune Cookies by Albert Bitterman (library book)
  7. Homemade Love by Bell Hooks (library book)
  8. Introduction to Cataloging and Classification by Arlene G. Taylor (personal collection)
  9. Kitten's Autumn by Eugenie Fernandes (library book)
  10. My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete (library book)
  11. The Pepins and Their Problems by Polly Horvath (library book)
  12. XXXholic Volume 2 by CLAMP (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. From Cover to Cover by Kathleen T. Horning (personal collection)
  2. Fullmetal Alchemist, Volume 12 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  3. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  4. Management Basics for Information Professionals by Edward G. Evans (personal collection)
  5. Nick Of Time by Ted Bell (library book)
  6. Ouran High School Host Club, Volume 2 by Bisco Hatori (personal collection)
  7. Soul Eater, Vol. 1 by Atsushi Ohkubo (personal collection)
  8. Through The Triangle by C.P. Stewart (review copy)
  9. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (library book)
  10. XXXholic Volume 3 by CLAMP (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd (library book)
  2. The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  3. My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World by Gilles Bachelet (library book)
  4. Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf (personal collection)
  5. Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi (library book)
  6. Too Many Pumpkins by Megan Lloyd (library book)
  7. Treehorn's Treasure by Florence Parry Heide (library book)

Comments (28)


Proust and the Squid 04/17/11

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Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf is a tricky book to review. It's a book I wanted to read it since it came out. I can't even remember where I first heard about it. Given its topic, the biology behind human reading, I probably heard about it on NPR or somewhere similar. Not a month after reading it off my wishlist, per my on-going reading resolution, I had to re-read it for my course on materials for children ages 5 to 8.

Maryanne Wolf is the Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University. Her other books have been aimed at the science community but Proust and the Squid is a more generalized book has sixty pages of endnotes but no inline citations nor footnotes. While these missing citations do make the text flow more like a novel, I would prefer to have them so I can more easily decide if I want to read further on subjects or points made in the book.

The central thesis is that reading is not natural. There hasn't been enough time for reading to have evolved as something hardwired into the brain. Yet, for people who find reading easy, take the complex mechanism behind the miracle for granted.

I can remember some aha moments in the early days of learning to read, like the time I asked what why there was an apostrophe in "o'clock" and learned that it really meant "of the clock." The fact that my own language could have these lazy moments built into it that we were some how just supposed to know, both fascinated and enraged me. I felt like things were rigged!

Another interesting observation about reading is the difference in brain activity between morpheme based languages (such as English) and logosyllabary (such as Chinese). They apparently activate different pieces of the brain and hybrid languages, like Japanese use both regions as needed. This part caught my attention as my children are both learning Chinese in school.

The book is best when it sticks to the science of reading. Every so often, especially early on in the book, Wolf waxes poetic about her own love of reading or what I as a reader is experiencing while reading the passages she has selected in her book. These parts while they set up the backdrop for the research can be skimmed or skipped (unless you are also reading the book for school).

Four stars.

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Pump Six and Other Stories: 04/16/11

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I've wanted to read Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi since I read the titular story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2008. I finally found a copy via Link+ and got it read over the holidays.

The book has ten stories, two of which are in the same world as The Wind-Up Girl, a book I bought over the holidays and plan to read this year. Those two stories are "The Calorie Man" and "Yellow Card Man."

Although not all of the stories are set in the same universe or timeline, they work together like an exquisite corpse, building a dystopian novel told in ten episodes across ten out of order time periods.

If one is to take the stories out of the book and place them in chronological order, the first would be "Softer." It's not really science fiction but it reiterates the themes of the book. In this story a man ponders the why behind the decision to kill his wife as he washes her body in a bubble bath. The themes of life, death, immortality and amorality run all through the book but it feels like this man could be patient zero, the person who sets things into motion that will in turn lead to corporations running the world, people being allowed to live forever but not being able to breed, becoming cyborgs who can eat mud and inorganic items and regrow limbs at will but don't know what a dog is, and other people who turn children into living instruments for their own entertainment.

All of this happens in a world where that declines and rises and declines again. For instance, in the Pump Six story, the main character is one of a handful of people who still knows how to keep the aging city's infrastructure running. In "The Calorie Man" the corporations have taken over and the main character travels through the remains of cities along the Mississippi river. It feels as if the pump mechanics of the world have died off now, even though they aren't set in the same time line.

It's a great collection of short stories. Some are nightmare fuel. All of them are thought provoking.

Four stars.

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The Last Olympian: 04/15/11

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The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan closes out the Percy Jackson saga with a siege on Manhattan by Kronos and his army. The Camp Half Blood students form up an army in the hopes of keeping Mt. Olympus from falling.

All the way through the books this epic battle is hinted at so it's the natural conclusion for the series. As a reader of fantasy series, I find these gigantic battles tedious. That said, The Last Olympian is one of the best I've read. The best though still goes to The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Now in terms of clever thematic titles, The Last Olympian is great. It's not the obvious solution. It's something better and something that will get kids thinking about foreshadowing and dramatic plotting and other literary devices. It was something my son was talking about for weeks after finishing it.

As all the books are retellings of Greek stories and myths, The Last Olympian draws parallels with The Iliad. The choices Percy makes and the character he aligns himself with reveals an interesting depth to his character.

I'm not going to go into specifics, as I don't want to accidentally give away spoilers for the previous four books. Start at the beginning with The Lightning Thief and work your way through.

Four stars.

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My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World: 04/14/11

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When Harriet gets into her reading ruts I like to slip something in to her pile to mix things up a bit. When she was stuck on cats, I was delighted to find My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World by Gilles Bachelet.

If you just read the words, Gilles Bachelet's cat is like any other playful cat. The cat does all the things cats do. But there's an elephant in the room and yes, that pachyderm is the cat in question.

Harriet has a good sense of humor and a flair for the bizarre. An elephant being a cat was just her kind of book. Afterwards we went through a long list of other things that could possibly be cats but probably shouldn't (cows, giraffes, octopuses ...) be.

There are two more books in the series, When the Silliest Cat Was Small and Des nouvelles de mon chat which hasn't been translated from French yet. Fortunately I can read enough French to read a picture book!

Four Stars

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Too Many Pumpkins: 04/13/11

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Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White was one of my wishlist books, and a rare picture book to have made it on the list. I typically only add longer books to the list. The how and why of this book being on the list is beyond my memory, but I'm glad it was.

The book opens with Rebecca Estelle gardening and watching with disdain as the pumpkin truck rumbles by. She detests pumpkins from her childhood where for a month she and her family had been forced to eating nothing but pumpkin dishes when money was tight. Things go amiss when a large pumpkin rolls off the truck and smashes to pieces at the side of Rebecca's yard.

My children and I know from experience just how easily pumpkins can grow. We had one take root in our composter one year and spread pumpkin vines all over our balcony garden. We even got a couple tiny pumpkins for all its effort.

So immediately both kids could guess where the story was going. Rebecca Estelle having a nice yard and garden has unwittingly provided the perfect place for a wayward pumpkin to take root. Everything she does to avoid having pumpkins grow in her yard only makes things "worse."

In the end Rebecca Estelle learns to come to terms with pumpkins, though she still doesn't want to eat them. They do, however, provide a way for her to reconnect with her community.

The illustrations that accompany the story are wonderful and take the "too many" to its logical extremes. There are pumpkins in a rocking chair, on the porch, and in all sorts of other unusual places. It's worth stopping to take it all in and to talk about all the places pumpkins could end up growing.

Five stars.

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The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein: 04/12/11

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Requiem for the Author of Frankenstein by Molly Dwyer. Intrigued by the historical fiction of Mary Shelley's life, I decided to give Peter Ackroyd's book, The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein a try.

Where Dwyer carefully looks at the elements of Mary Shelley's life that could have come together to inspire Frankenstein. Ackroyd's book though focuses not on Mary Shelley. Instead the two main characters are Victor Frankenstein and his school chum Percy Shelley. Excuse me while I mutter to myself an scratch my head. Except for marriage and the encouragement of one spouse for another, what exactly does the poet have to do with his wife's novel?

I got about one hundred pages into this book before the misogyny got too much for me. Mary Shelley is relegated to the background while her fictional creation and her husband go about being macho. Percy and Mary are so out of character that I couldn't finish the book.

One star.

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Treehorn's Treasure: 04/11/11

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Treehorn's Treasure by Florence Parry Heide is the second in the Treehorn trilogy. In this one, the tree in the backyard briefly grows paper money and Treehorn is able to use it to buy the comics collection he has been wanting.

This book works with the same practical magic logic as The Shrinking of Treehorn. Something Treehorn puts in the tree makes the tree grow the paper money. When he removes it, the tree stops.

Like Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krause Rosenthal (review coming), the Treehorn books work on role reversal. He, though a child, acts as the responsible one while his parents are self absorbed and childish. Treehorn's parents, though present, ignore their son's need for attention. Nor do they listen to him when he mentions what he likes or wants.

What makes the story tick though, are Edward Gorey's wonderful pen and ink illustrations. It would be a very different series with a lighter or comedic touch to the pictures.

Four stars

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What Are You Reading: April 11, 2011: 04/11/11

What Are You Reading?

As this week I was mostly writing for my projects, my list of finished books isn't as bloated with homework. All of the picture books in my list this week are ones I read for my project. For fun reading, usually while my computer was chewing on something, I read a lot of manga. Next time I go to the library I will try to stock up on more volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist but I have a feeling I'm running out of what the library has.

My current reads are a mixture of fun reading and text books. I won't finish The Lost Hero any time soon because my son has it hidden away under his pillow on his top bunk. He's reading it before bed each night. I won't get it back until he's finished. In the meantime I want to finish the Xxxholic volumes I have at home from the library. I also want to finish Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones as it's due at the library soon.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan (library book)
  2. Fullmetal Alchemist, Volume 9 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  3. Fullmetal Alchemist, Volume 10 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  4. Fullmetal Alchemist, Volume 11 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  5. Hot X by Danica McKellar (review copy)
  6. How to Survive a Killer Seance by Penny Warner (personal collection)
  7. Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book by Yuyi Morales (library book)
  8. Pirate Fairies of the 8th Sea by George Webber (personal collection)
  9. Teeth, Tails, & Tentacles: An Animal Counting Book by Christopher Wormell (library book)
  10. We Are in a Book by Mo Willems (library book)
  11. XXXholic Volume 1 by CLAMP (personal collection)

Currently Reading:

  1. Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones (library book)
  2. The Crack in the Wall and Other Terribly Weird Tales by George Mendoza (library book)
  3. From Cover to Cover by Kathleen T. Horning (personal collection)
  4. Introduction to Cataloguing and Classification by Arlene G. Taylor (personal collection)
  5. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  6. Management Basics for Information Professionals by Edward G. Evans (personal collection)
  7. Nick Of Time by Ted Bell (library book)
  8. Ouran High School Host Club, Volume 2 by Bisco Hatori (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Blues Go Birding Across America by Carol L. Malnor and Sandy F. Fuller (library book)
  2. The Egyptian Juke Box by Nick Bantock (library book)
  3. Owls by Gail Gibbons (library book)
  4. Owl Lake by Keizaburo Tejima (library book)
  5. Paula Bunyan by Phyllis Root (ilbrary book)
  6. Sky Burial by Xinran (library book)
  7. What Do You Love? by Jonathan London (library book)

Comments (18)


The Egyptian Jukebox: 04/10/11

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Last year I did a post of "fun facts" about author Nick Bantock. Writing the review inspired me to read all of his books I hadn't yet read. One of those was The Egyptian Jukebox: A Conundrum.

The jukebox in question is a ten drawer puzzle found under mysterious circumstances. The author explains in a serious of one page stories his take on the drawers and how the search for clues affected his life. I think here "juke" refers to its wickedness, rather than it being a coin operated music box.

Did I solve the mystery? No. I tried some but I frankly don't have much patient for this pictorial mystery books. Since I was borrowing the book from the library I also felt rushed to return it.

I did however love looking at the different drawer photographs and seeing what they contained. I like his collage artwork even if I don't fully understand it.

Five stars

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Owls: 04/09/11

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After thinking my son was perhaps done with his owl fascination, his best friend at school recommended a non fiction picture book, Owls by Gail Gibbons. It was so nice to see him eagerly embracing his passion again.

Gail Gibbons's book introduces owls, their life cycle, habitat and other facts to children. Each page has a short easy to read paragraph with a central illustration. Then below and to the side are smaller illustrations with important details labeled and vocabulary defined.

Of most interest to Sean and me were the pages about the barn owl as we have a large population of barn owls in our neighborhood. We learned that it takes about five months from hatching to fledging. We learned how they learn to hunt, something we can hear every night in the early months of summer.

Sean borrowed the book from his school library. Five stars.

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Owl Lake: 04/08/11

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>My son's first passion in life is owls. His interest in them goes back to when he was eighteen months old and saw a pair of burrowing owls at the Coyote Point Museum. Since that time he has collected owl toys, owl pictures and owl books. Those books he can't collect, he borrows from the library.

One of the most gorgeous owl books we've borrowed is Owl Lake by Keizaburo Tejima. The book uses woodcuts to illustrate the tale of an father owl hunting along the side of a lake to feed his hungry family.

Owl Lake is one of those picture books that you read for the illustrations. When we had the book we first enjoyed the art. Then we read the book. Then we went back and looked at the art again.

We own a small collection of owl books, fiction and nonfiction. I would love to someday add a copy of Owl Lake to our family library.

Five stars

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Paula Bunyan: 04/07/11

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Paula Bunyan can cut down trees just as fast as her big brother, Paul, but she'd rather plant them. That's one of the many differences between sister and brother that Phyllis Root explores in Paula Bunyan.

Children familiar with the Paul Bunyan story will enjoy finding points of similarity between his adventures and hers. Those who are new to the story will like her well natured adventures. My personal favorite part is when she befriends the bear by growling at him.

My only quibble with the book is the choice to make Paula, Paul's sister. Most parents don't give their children such similar names. Name recognition is important in the title but it would have made more sense either to not mention a relationship to Paul or to make her his daughter.

Four stars.

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Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet 04/06/11

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Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet by Xinran. The first is completely shallow: I wanted an X author for my archive list. The second one stems back to 1997 to an online friendship I had with a blogger (although she called her site an ezine). She was very pro Tibet freedom and was my main source of information about Tibet for the seven or so years I knew her.

Sky Burial is a roman à clef. Some places catalog it as nonfiction and some as fiction. My library catalogs it as fiction and since I read their copy, I will do the same.

The book begins in a fashion that normally sends me running for this hills: with the narrator setting up to tell the fabulous story of this amazing character she met as a result of her work as a journalist. It's the same narrational technique employed in Heart of Darkness but Xinran makes it work far better than Conrad. Here the narrator steps aside and story isn't told as a series of extended quotations. It's the literary equivalent of a fade to flashback in a film.
So the actual main character then is Shu Wen, a doctor who enlists in the army in hopes of finding her missing, presumed dead husband. She is sent to Tibet and ends up lost there. Thus begins her strange and eye opening life in Tibet.

Thematically the book is the inverse of Heart of Darkness. Wen's journey into Tibet helps her grow as a person. When she returns to her home she finds her homeland changed for the worse, whereas Kurtz and the man who goes after him are both scared by their journey up the Congo.

Four stars

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What Do You Love?: 04/05/11

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What Do You Love? by Jonathan London has the honor of being the 2000th review posted on this blog. Review 3000 should come sometime in 2014 or early 2015.

Harriet is at that age where she wants to know why we are her parents. She's come to realize that there was a time when she and her brother didn't exist. In her version of the way things came to be: first we got married, then we decided to practice being parents by adopting Caligula cat, then we had Sean and then we were finally ready for Harriet.

With that in mind she is becoming interested in books about families. One of her recent reads to fulfill her interest in all things family was What Do You Love? by Jonathan London.

In this book a mother and child dog go out to the countryside for a day of fun. Throughout their adventure they comment on all the things they love. The book ends by asking the parent and child reading the book what the things they love.

The book was just right for Harriet. It's uplifting and heartwarming. It has a strong family message. It is also told as a list and she is a natural list maker.

After we finished reading the book Harriet first listed off everything she loves in her life. Then she decided to make a book of her all time favorite things. It's fair to say What Do You Love? was a hit.

Four stars.

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The Blues Go Birding Across America: 04/04/11

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The Blues Go Birding Across America by Carol L. Malnor and Sandy F. Fuller is the story of a family of birds traveling across the United States in search of the perfect melody for their next performance.

At each stop the birds learn something about a different species of bird. They learn where it lives. What it looks like and of course how it sings.

My children like to watch the birds that visit our balcony. We have a number of bird reference books. This picture book failed to hold their attention like the actual birding books do.

Three stars.

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What Are You Reading: April 04, 2011: 04/03/11

What Are You Reading?

Alas, Spring Break is over. It ended up being punctuated by the worst insomnia I've had in ages. I did however get through a good portion of my project for school and my son got his diorama built.

My reading this week is primarily books for the project (books for ages 5 to 8) and books I listened to while my daughter read.

I also got one review book from Net Galley read, The Seventhfold Spell by Tia Nevitt finished. It's a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.

The two books I read simply for fun were off my wishlist: Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand and The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie. Both were excellent. Oh and I finished one short story: "Blind Spot" by Rick Wilber and Nick DiChario (FSF Sept/Oct 2010).

Finished Last Week:

  1. Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst (library book)
  2. Benny And Penny: The Big No-No by Geoffrey Hayes (library book)
  3. Bird by Zetta Elliott (library book)
  4. Blind Spot by Rick Wilber and Nick DiChario (FSF Sept/Oct 2010) (personal collection)
  5. The Bog Baby by Jeanne Willis (library book)
  6. Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand (library book)
  7. Girls Night In by Lauren Henderson (personal collection)
  8. Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman (library book)
  9. Gracias / Thanks by Pat Mora (library book)
  10. The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson (library book)
  11. Last Night by Hyewon Yum (library book)
  12. Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat by Susan Lendroth (library book)
  13. Olivia Trains Her Cat (Ready-to-Read. Level 1) by Sarah Albee (library book)
  14. The Runaway Mummy: A Petrifying Parody by Michael Rex (library book)
  15. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Christian Stead (library book)
  16. The Seventhfold Spell by Tia Nevitt (review / ebook)
  17. The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (library book)
  18. That Bad, Bad Cat! by Claire Masurel (library book)
  19. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale by Verna Aardema (library book)
  20. The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. From Cover to Cover by Kathleen T. Horning (personal collection)
  2. Hot X by Danica McKellar (review copy)
  3. How to Survive a Killer Seance by Penny Warner (personal collection)
  4. Introduction to Cataloguing and Classification by Arlene G. Taylor (personal collection)
  5. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  6. Management Basics for Information Professionals by Edward G. Evans (personal collection)
  7. Nick Of Time by Ted Bell (library book)
  8. Ouran High School Host Club, Volume 2 by Bisco Hatori (personal collection)
  9. XXXholic Volume 1 by CLAMP (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Function of Ornamet by Michael Kubo (library book)
  2. Golden Conspiracy by Robert James Gilder (review copy)
  3. The Most Wonderful Egg in the World by Helme Heine (library book)
  4. Nature's Building Blocks by John Emsley (library book)
  5. The Noisy Way to Bed by Ian Whybrow (library book)
  6. Storm Cats by Malachy Doyle (library book)
  7. Three Leaves of Aloe by Rand B. Lee (personal collection)

Comments (32)


The Function of Ornament 04/03/11

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In August 2010 I realized I had begun to grow dissatisfied with my reading. Rather than let myself fall into a slump, I decided to change direction. My reading had become dictated by whatever I had picked up on a whim at the library and the ARCs I had to agreed to read and review on my blog. With going back to school and realizing I would be having a lot of assigned reading and limited time due to homework, I needed to refocus my reading efforts. I decided I would, to be the best of my efforts, start reading books off my wishlist. With money being tight, that means checking them out from the library or via the Link+ system. In four months time I have crossed 18 books off my list.

One of the earliest books crossed off is The Function of Ornament by Michael Kubo. I believe it was an Amazon recommendation for me when I was ordering some art history and design books in my early days as a web designer. Back in those days there weren't many books specifically written about web design so I found my inspiration instead from other media. Bauhaus principles of design actually work well for web design.

So here I am a decade later and in the process of changing careers (fingers crossed). I have finally sat down to read The Function of Ornament. It's not what I expected but it was interesting nonetheless. The book has two parts: a short, theoretical introduction to why humans build the way they do and why ornamentation remains so popular in architecture. The remainder of the book are graphical examples of design working with function.

Not being an architect myself, the book was visually overwhelming. It ended up reading by first flipping through to just look at all the pretty pictures (and they are lovely!) and the going back to read in depth about the buildings that caught my eye the most.

I can say I am glad to have checked it off my list. I'm sure an architect or architecture student would get far more out of the book than I probably did.

Three stars

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Three Leaves of Aloe: 04/02/11

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"Three Leaves of Aloe" was one of my all time Fantasy and Science Fiction short stories from 2009. It has since earned a spot in the Year's Best Science Fiction for that year (published in July 2010). And yet it slipped through the cracks of my reviewing schedule.

The story takes place in India. The main character works in an American call center and her teenage daughter has borrowed her cell phone and gotten in trouble at school. The cell phone though is company property and there's hell to pay for it getting into the wrong hands. The only option that will allow her to keep her job is to have the Nannychip installed in her daughter.

It's only after that we learn from the Auntie the consequences of having a Nannychip installed. What I loved about the story was the perfect blending of setting and plot. The Nannychip story could have taken place anywhere and so often would take place in an Western urban setting like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco (if Philip K Dick had written it) or London. It was refreshing to see the same type of story set in India. It seems that science fiction so often forgets about most of the world.

Five stars

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The Most Wonderful Egg in the World: 04/01/11

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The Most Wonderful Egg in the World by Helme Heine isn't a picture book I would have picked for myself. My son though raved about it for a month, having read it in school. As I have an open reading policy, meaning I will read whatever my children recommend to me, I checked out a copy to read together at home.

The king has three extraordinary egg laying hens. He decides to hold a contest. The hen who lays the best egg will become a princess. Dotty, Stalky and Plumy each lay magnificent eggs. They are so wonderful the king can't decide.

Being king, though, he doesn't have to decide. That's what Sean loves best about the book. Rather than picking a single winner when each one does such an extraordinary job, the king makes them all princesses. Sean loves the fairness of the solution.

Harriet sat in with the second reading of the book and liked the fact that there were princesses in it. But she thought that making chickens into princesses was "very silly."

Five stars. Recommended by my son.

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