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July 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


 


And a Bottle of Rum: 07/31/11

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And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis draws its title from the pirate song penned by Robert Louis Stevenson for Treasure Island. In fact, Curtis's opening chapter includes an explanation of why he chose the title and how the phrase came about.

From there he explores two parallel histories: the creation of rum and its uses over the years. Along with his discussion of how rum has been used, he has some cocktail recipes and their histories.

My favorite pieces of the book were the history of grog (along with its recipe), the history of the mojito (a drink I've never had but was curious about) and the differences between the real Captain Morgan and the brand name.

Rum I remember from history class and the discussion of the sugar trade. Curtis has some thoughts about the triangle and makes some compelling arguments against the simplistic description of the relationships between slavery, sugar and rum. He's not saying there wasn't any correlation, just that it's not as straightforward as a triangle.

Another fascinating piece of rum's history, is its similarities with gasoline (petrol). I remember from my days of listening to my dad and his antique car buddies talk shop is that cars run on gasoline because in the early days of car tinkering (when they were primarily self built or engines but onto carriages), gasoline was cheap (if not free) because it was the waste product from making kerosene.

Rum came about under similar circumstances. The sugar refining process left tons of this black gooey mess that was a pain to dispose of, until some enterprising hooch makers found a way to distill it into a cheap (if not free) alcohol. The only problem, lead in the pipes often lead to poisonous liquor. But carting it around in barrels (yo ho ho!) leeched out those impurities. So in a strange turn of fate, rum shipped overseas (or kept on a ship and mixed with water and lime juice) was a much nice spirit than what was drunk locally on the islands.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


A Toast to Tomorrow: 07/30/11

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A Toast to Tomorrow by Manning Coles was one of my first wishlist books crossed off the list when I began to seriously try to read from it. It dates back to 1941 and was published in Great Britain as Pray Silence.

Klauss Lehman is a high ranking S.S. officer. He's the Chief of the German Police and he wants to break Goebbel's racket of letting Jews escape by donating 80% of their assets to the cause. Except Klauss might not actually be who he thinks he is. Things start to unravel when he recognizes a World War One era code tapped into the background of a propaganda radio play.

Before the big reveal of Klauss Lehman's secret, I was wondering why I had put the book on my wishlist. The juggling Klauss has to do once he figures out who he really is and whose side he's really on, I knew I had made the right decision when I put it on the list.

I'm not going to reveal the secret. It's worth the fun of reading. The book is thought provoking and humorous. It reads like an Alan Furst novel but it was written during WWII, not decades after it.

Five stars.

Comments (0)



Vampire Theory: 07/29/11

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I was intrigued by the description of a young woman becoming a vampire to save her town from other vampires. That's what was promised in Vampire Theory by Lily Caracci. It's not exactly what was delivered.

Most of this long book is a paranormal drama set in a high school. Emalyn Archer is a student who takes notice of a new boy. When he starts behaving oddly and strange things start to happen, she begins to suspect he's something other than human.

As the book description says up front that Emalyn won't survive with her humanity intact, I expected her fall to come in the first third or maybe at the halfway point. It doesn't. That's how the book ends. I had really hoped to see the aftermath of her failure. I wanted to see her come to terms with her transformation. There is none of that.

Copy received from the author.

Two stars.

Comments (0)



City of Spies: 07/28/11

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City of Spies by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan is a graphic novel set in 1942 in a large city. Evelyn escapes reality by writing her own comic book in the style of Superman. Before she knows it she and her new friend Tony are in the middle of a spy plot that might involve Nazis.

The book opens with one of Evelyn's comics. For me it was an awkward start. The obvious homage to the golden era Superman felt somewhat forced especially out of context. Fortunately though the story of Evelyn moving into the city to temporarily live with her aunt and her adventures with Tony makes up for the awkward start.

Later instances of Evelyn's hero comic make sense. They are placed in the context of her story and we can see where she draws her inspiration.

Although I found the first couple pages a rough start, the rest of the book more than made up for it.

Five stars.

Comments (2)


The End of the Alphabet: 07/27/11

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The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson has been on my wishlist since the book first debuted in 2007. A copy of the beautifully designed slim volume appeared at our local BookCrossing meeting and I was immediately smitten with it. As I have such a huge to be read pile, I dutifully waited until everyone else in the group who wanted a chance to read it, had. Waiting took three years but it was well worth it.

Ambrose Zephyr and Zappora "Zipper" Ashkenazi have a good and happy life together. All that comes crashing down when Ambrose is diagnosed with a terminal disease and has a month to live. He decides to visit his way through the alphabet, one city at a time.

Of course such a goal with an advanced (but unstated) illness makes the whole A to Z thing quixotic. But that's part of its bittersweet charm. This isn't a children's alphabet book so there's no unspoken guarantee that Ambrose will make it to the end. I knew that from the very beginning and yet I kept hoping that he'd prove me wrong.

The End of the Alphabet is one of those small but powerful books, memorable for its simplicity of story telling and depth of emotions. It's there with books like The Little Prince and The Doorbells of Florence (review coming).

Four stars.

Comments (0)


Stella, Princess of the Sky: 07/26/11

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Stella, Princess of the Sky by Marie-Louise Gay is one of the Stella and Sam series of books. I included on my list of astronomy themed books for children ages 5 to 8.

The book begins with a conversation between Stella and Sam about the sunset and how the sky changes over the course of the day. It prompts the children to stay out that night, camping under the stars. They observe the sky above and the animals around them.

The illustrations capture the changing colors of the night: pastel oranges and pinks at sunset, deepening purples to blues as it gets later and brilliant whites for the stars. The question and answer approach of Sam and Stella's conversation can inspire children and parents to make their own observations about what they see and hear at night time.

It's more than just a book out basic backyard astronomy. There's also good talking points about nocturnal animals and other night time things. This book would do well in any number of themes that teachers or parents might have in mind.

Four stars.

Comments (4)


Big Red Lollipop: 07/25/11

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Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan was inspired by her own childhood as a younger sister who desperately wanted to go with her sister to a birthday party even though she wasn't invited. It's told from Rubina, the oldest sister's point of view. She is invited to a birthday party, something her immigrant mother has never heard of and she tries to explain that only she is invited. Her mother though says she can only go if she can take her middle sister.

Things don't go well and Rubina isn't invited to many parties after that. When the middle sister is ultimately invited to a birthday party, Rubina steps in and convinces their mother to leave the youngest sister at home to avoid a repeat.

The story gave me pause, not over the realization that birthday parties are a very Western thing, but over the fact that where I live all of the siblings are typically invited. We live in a very diverse neighborhood and until I read Big Red Lollipop I never wondered if diversity had anything to do with the inclusion of siblings at birthday events. Whatever the reason, I'm glad we typically invite everybody.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


What Are You Reading: July 25, 2011: 07/25/11

What Are You Reading?

I did manage to finish 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson but I'm only halfway through The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Maybe this week I'll finish Zusak's book. It's good but I can only read it in short bursts.

I've been busy with school work so I haven't gotten any review books read. I'm still on the first chapter of The Goddess Test.

The silliest book I've been reading this week is Bagelmania by Mountain Lion Books. It's a bagel compendium. It's a little too pro Lender's Bagels for my tastes but other than that it's fascinating. I first heard about it on the radio (NPR, I think) four or five years ago. I've been searching everywhere for it. I found a copy via Better World Books.

This week I plan to finish Bagelmania and Rampant. I hope to also get started in earnest with The Goddess Test.


Finished Last Week:

  1. 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson (library book)
  2. The Cloud Searchers (Amulet, #3) by Kazu Kibuishi
  3. The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins
  4. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin
  5. Pickles To Pittsburgh by Judi Barrett
  6. The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman
  7. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 7 by CLAMP
  8. XXXHolic, Volume 16 by CLAMP
  9. Zero by Kathryn Otoshi (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Bagelmania by Mountain Lion Books (personal collection)
  2. Bombardiers by Po Bronson (personal collection)
  3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (personal collection)
  4. The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter (review copy)
  5. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (personal collection)
  6. Rampant by Diana Peterfreund (library book)
  7. Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (library book)
  8. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (personal collection)
  2. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (library book)
  3. Once Wicked Always Dead by T. Marie Benchley (review copy)
  4. Seventhfold Spell by Tia Nevitt (review copy)
  5. The Tale of Nameless Chameleon (personal collection)
  6. Tuey's Course by James Ross (review copy)
  7. Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield (library book)



Comments (56)

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Anne of Green Gables: 07/24/11

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My first introduction to Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery was a beat up paperback with cover art from the TV series. I found the book when walking to my grandmother's house from high school. I felt sorry for an orphaned book about an orphaned girl. I figured it was a sign that I should read the book.

I re-read the battered book and the other books in the series through college and on to graduate school when I was newly married. Then I put the books aside and got on with my life. That was until 2010 when Nanowrimo was rolling around again. I decided to work my way through the book as inspiration for my own novel in a month.

I wanted to re-read my old battered copy (yes, I still have it) but it was in storage. So instead I downloaded a scanned copy from the 1908 edition and read it on my computer.

In the almost twenty years since I last read Anne of Green Gables I had of course forgotten details and misremembered others.

I still remembered the basics: Martha and Matthew wanting a boy to help around the farm. Instead of a boy, they get Anne and can't decide what to do with her. I remembered Gilbert Blythe and his pranks on her early on.

What surprised me most about the re-read was the novel's episodic nature. After a couple introductory chapters in which the major players are surprised, the book settles into relating a bunch of different scrapes Anne gets into.

The next thing that surprised me was just how much Anne babbles. I remember her talking a lot but the first third of the book is mostly her monologs. My goodness does she babble!

This third read through Anne of Green Gables was my most critical in that I was trying to see how it was put together and what made it tick. In the past I was reading it first for curiosity and the second time to revisit with Anne. My taste in books has evolved somewhat over the years but I'm still glad I re-read it.

Four stars.

Comments (10)


Tyranny: 07/23/11

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Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield caught my eye at the library. It's a graphic novel that looks at causes of anorexia and the devastating effects it has on people.

The book starts near the end of the story with the protagonist, Anna, wondering how she has gotten to this point in her life. She goes back and examines her home life and how little things piled together to make her stop eating and fearing food.

Throughout, Anna's anorexia is personified by this scribble woman whom she calls Tyranny. She nags Anna when she eats and praises her when she doesn't. She pushes her to exercise to the point of exhaustion and so forth. Slowly over the course of the book Anna begins to look more and more like her inner demon.

The book is raw and upfront about the dangers of a poor body image and the destructive nature of anorexia. The scribble scrabble line drawings work well to reinforce the themes and emotions of the story.

Four stars.

Comments (0)



Labyrinth: 07/22/11

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Labyrinth by Kate Mosse was a book club selection. It's an archeological mystery in the present day and a 13th century historical fiction linked. The two plots are linked together by location and both have female protagonists with names beginning with the letter A.

In the present day Alice Tanner finds a potential tomb site inside a cave while helping with an archeological dig. Afterwards she begins to experience lapses in memory. A body is found near the site and she becomes the primary suspect. With her spotty memory she has trouble defending herself.

In the past Alais is given a ring by her father and told to protect it with her life. It holds the key to the Grail's secret hiding spot. It must be kept hidden at all costs.

Alais's story takes up two thirds of the book. I wish it were only a third of the total story because the historical melodrama got old fast. She's supposed to be a strong character, full of conviction but she is basically a pawn of the plot. To get through the book I had to skim through most of Alais's parts.

Two stars.

Comments (4)


Once Wicked Always Dead: 07/21/11

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Once Wicked Always Dead by T. Marie Benchley tries to be a thriller and ends up being a train wreck. It has strange pacing issues, characters acting without understandable motivation and a whole cast of stereotypes.

Molly Madison's parents are killed en route to her home and her husband is carrying on a homosexual affair. She needs some time off and decides to head home to her parents' ranch in Montana. It's there that she realizes she's being stalked by serial killer. While Molly is trying to cope with her life being in turmoil, she begins to fall in lust with Clayton the ranch foreman.

Here's where things start to fall to pieces; the book can't decide if it's a romance or a thriller. Nor can does it know how to balance the tropes of the two genres. The clashing motifs and changes of tone left me with literary whiplash.

Then there's the serial killer stalker. While Red John might be interesting plot device in The Mentalist the show gets away with it by not making every mystery relate directly to his crimes. But in a book with only one crime that's fighting for precious pages with a marriage gone bad and hot cowboy sex, a stalker serial killer is silly and not in a good way.

One star

Comments (2)


The Sevenfold Spell: 07/20/11

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The Sevenfold Spell, an ebook by Tia Nevitt, re-spins the tale of Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of a spinner affected by the proclamation banning all spinning wheels after the curse is put on the newborn princess.

Doesn't that sound like a brilliant way to rethink a well known fairy tale? I was excited to dive into this novella. Coming in at 97 pages it's a fairly quick read, although slower for me because I'm not much of an ebook reader.

When the book stays focused on the task at hand: describing how the curse has affected the kingdom it's a page turner. Unfortunately it has these huge lags in the plot devoted to sexually explicit filler. I'm not against reading sex in books but it has to have a point. Here it really doesn't except to add about twenty or thirty pages to the book.

What could have been there instead would be more character development for Talia. Her friendship with Rose could have been expanded. Her relationship with Willard could have been given some depth to make their sex scenes actually meaningful.

Read via NetGalley.

Three stars.

Comments (2)


Tuey's Course: 07/19/11

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Tuey's Course by James Ross is the third of the Prairie Winds Golf Course series. It, though, has little to do with golf (and could use some more).

Tuey is a down and out African American man living in the inner city. He feels he is being targeted by a ruthless cop who is regularly fining him and his business for things that other businesses seem to get away with. When he can't get a fair hearing or even a sympathetic ear, he's driven to extreme measures.

I read the book against the context of some recent local police and government scandals. That angle of Tuey's Course therefore had a hint of believability. Tuey though doesn't have the means to demand justice and the book doesn't give us a character who does to see that piece of the plot to its conclusion.

Instead of a complete follow through on Tuey's problem, there is a smattering of a golf story. Really it's more of a golf novella woven into the book.

The deal killer though for me was Tuey's ghetto speech. I get that he's poor and he's probably under educated as well but the dialect is over done and gets in the way of the plot. Dialect is a very difficult thing to do well and in most cases should be left alone or at best, hinted at through sparsely used local slang.

Review copy from author.

Two stars.

Comments (0)


The Tale of the Nameless Chameleon: 07/18/11

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"The Tale of the Nameless Chameleon" by Brenda Carre is a high fantasy tale of a women using her own bad situation to rid the kingdom of Sham of its despot ruler.

The story is written as high fantasy and I'll be upfront with my distaste for this type of fiction. In all the effort of using poetic language and a pile of metaphors on top of a lexicon of made up words leaves little room for character or plot development.

After having read the story three times I am left with nothing about the narrator except that she is a street urchin forced to working for the House of the Twelve Sages. I don't think a fourth or fifth re-read will bring any more details to light or commit them to my memory.

One star.

Comments (2)


What Are You Reading: July 18, 2011: 07/18/11

What Are You Reading?

As predicted last week, I did finish The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx as well as another volume of Twin Spica by Kou Yaginuma and xxxHolic Volume 14 and 15 by CLAMP. All four books were excellent.

I finished two review copies: Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler and the first issue of Doctor Who: The Ripper by Tony Lee.

The silliest book I read was F U, Penguin by Matthew Gasteier which takes a harsh but funny look at all the cute animals clogging the internet.

This week I plan to finish 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson and Rampant by Diana Peterfreund. Both are very good so far. If I'm really organized I'll also finish The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

I can't wait to get these books reviewed. It was one of the best weeks of reading I've had in a long time.

Gave Up On:


Finished Last Week:

  1. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer (library book)
  2. Doctor Who: The Ripper (Eleventh Doctor Comics, #1) by Tony Lee (review copy)
  3. F U, Penguin: Telling Cute Animals What's What by Matthew Gasteier (personal collection)
  4. Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler (review copy)
  5. Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes (library book)
  6. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (personal collection)
  7. Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest by John Lechner (library book)
  8. Twin Spica, Volume: 05 by Kou Yaginuma (library book)
  9. Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set...Test! by Carol Barnum (library book)
  10. XXXHolic, Volume 14 by CLAMP (library book)
  11. XXXHolic, Volume 15 by CLAMP (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Bombardiers by Po Bronson (personal collection)
  2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (personal collection)
  3. The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter (review copy)
  4. 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson (library book)
  5. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (personal collection)
  6. Rampant by Diana Peterfreund (library book)
  7. Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (library book)
  8. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Daddy Book by Todd Parr (library book)
  2. Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris (personal collection)
  3. Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems (personal collection)
  4. Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers (library book)
  5. My Dog Toby by Andrea Zimmerman (library book)
  6. Our Lady of Immaculate Deception by Nancy Martin (library book)
  7. Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert (library book)



Comments (30)


Grave Sight: 07/17/11

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Charlaine Harris's most popular series is the one starring Sookie Stackhouse. I've read some of the short stories from the series but don't want to commit to a long series of vampire mysteries. That said I'm still curious about Harris's popularity. I am borrowing from a friend the first three books of the Harper Connelly series. The first book is Grave Sight.

Harper is a psychic. Her specific skill is seeing how people died. If that death involves murder she can often see the murderer's face. She travels from town to town with her brother (via marriage) taking assignments to help people find their loved ones.

After quickly solving the case she has come to do she's lured into a year's old murder mystery. She doesn't want to take the case because she can already tell it's going to bring up uncomfortable memories and facts for everyone involved.

I liked how the psychic elements were described. They seemed credible without being overbearing. The set up of the series was probably the best part of the book.

Like Sookie, Harper tends to get a little more buddy-buddy than I like. Her relationship with her brother and business partner is necessary for the plot but its presentation is heavy-handed.

The solution to the mystery was unfortunately pretty obvious.

Three stars.

Comments (4)


Our Lady of Immaculate Deception: 07/16/11

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Our Lady of Immaculate Deception by Nancy Martin caught my eye at the library for two reasons: the ugly cover and the title similar to Courtney J. Webb's Immaculate Deception.

This book is apparently the start of a new mystery series featuring Roxy Abruzzo, the niece of a Pittsburgh Mafia boss. She sort of wants to go straight but can't control her urges. She runs an architectural salvage business and that sometimes leads her into mysteries and other trouble.

Although I liked the first chapter, I didn't manage to get very far in the book. Roxy didn't grab me as a likable or believable character and she's the most realistic of all the quirky characters running amok in this novel.

Did not finish.

One star

Comments (2)



Waiting for Wings: 07/15/11

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Lois Ehlert's best books specialize on some aspect of nature. Waiting for Wings is no exception. This book teaches about the life cycle of the butterfly.

As with Eating the Alphabet and Planting a Rainbow, Waiting for Wings shows a variety of flowers and the species that like them.

At the back of the book Ehlert provides a chart of the different flowers with their names and the different species of butterflies in all their forms. It's a great introduction to the most common types of butterflies and a good way to get children thinking about the similarities and differences of various species.

Four stars.

Comments (2)



Knuffle Bunny Free: 07/14/11

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Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems concludes the Trixie and Knuffle Bunny trilogy. Trixie explored her local block, her city and school and now Holland. In each story she has misplaced Knuffle Bunny but this time she left it on a plane now bound for China!

Knuffle Bunny Free is about that time in a child's life when they for one reason or another are ready to part with once beloved toys. Maybe they've out grown them. Maybe they have worn them out. Or maybe they've lost them. It's a rough time; a time of growing up a little bit more and a time for separation anxiety.

For Trixie, having lost Knuffle Bunny in such a permanent way, she's forced with the realization that she has to do without. For her parents there's the shocking truth that children's toys are seasonal, one time things. What was ubiquitous is now out of stock with new styles offered instead.

The book though has two endings, or perhaps an ending and a coda. Both are beautiful, bitter sweat and perhaps tear inducing.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


Looking Like Me: 07/13/11

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I'm took a materials for children ages 5 to 8. The class required a lot of reading and analysis of children's books. One of the books I chose to use for homework was Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Christopher Myers. I chose the book because I appreciate Walter Dean Myer's poetry and Christopher Myer's collages caught my eye when the book was on display at the library.

The book opens with a boy looking at himself in the mirror and admitting that he sees a handsome dude looking back. From there he builds his identity by how his family, friends and neighbors see him. He's a son, a brother, a grandson, a friend, a musician, an artist and so forth.

The story uses the repetition of "BAM" and the meter to rhythmically build on the theme of self identity and community. Christopher Myers collages blend colorful silhouettes with images of the street and nature to counterpoint the poetry with eye catching compositions.

Christopher Myers is Walter Dean Myers's son. To learn more about both of their careers, I recommend Pass it Down by Leonard S. Marcus.

Three stars

Comments (0)


My Dog Toby: 07/12/11

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Harriet being such a cat person surprised me when she went through a brief run of dog books. One of her picks in that time was My Dog Toby by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha.

Toby is a beagle. He's affectionate but untrained. The protagonist's brother says he's dumb. She thinks her brother is dumb. But she has to admit that all her friends' dogs can do at least one trick.

Instead of giving up, she decides to teach Toby one trick. Sit! Sit! Sit! and so forth. Persistence pays off, showing that even old dogs can learn new tricks!

Four stars.

Comments (0)


The Daddy Book: 07/11/11

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The Daddy Book by Todd Parr is a picture book celebration of fathers. Harriet picked out the book at the library because she saw some fathers who reminded her of her own. She brought the book home and read it to Ian.

The fathers in The Daddy Book aren't idyllic representations. These are silly, unique but loving men who are fathers. They are playful. Sometimes they are disorganized and they might even wear mismatched socks!

The text is large with easy to read words meaning it was something that Harriet could read to Ian. It was a nice moment of bonding for both of them.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


What Are You Reading: July 11, 2011: 07/11/11

What Are You Reading?

I have a bunch of books going from my to be read pile. Next week's post should have many of them finished. This week though I finished only library books and review copies. Two of the review copies I finished were via NetGalley and were excellent: The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike and Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin.

I have one picture book on my finished list: How to be a Baby... by Me, the Big Sister by Sally Lloyd-Jones. I actually didn't read it, except to help with a few words here and there. My daughter read it to me. It's 32 pages and it took her an hour but I didn't mind one bit.

Most of my finished books you'll notice are mangas or graphic novels: two Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle volumes, one Fullmetal Alchemist and Gingerbread Girl.

Next week I hope to finish The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx. I'd like to get started on The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, which my husband bought yesterday. He devours YA books. I also have another xxxHolic volume to read as well as another Twin Spica.

Gave Up On:

  1. These Granite Islands by Sarah Stonich (library book)

Finished Last Week:

  1. Fullmetal Alchemist, Volume 21 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  2. Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin (review copy)
  3. Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes about the Stars and Legends of the Movies! by Stephen Schochet (review copy)
  4. How To be A Baby . . . By Me, The Big Sister by Sally Lloyd-Jones (library book)
  5. The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike (review copy)
  6. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 5 by CLAMP (library book)
  7. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 6 by CLAMP (library book)
  8. The Writing Circle by Corinne Demas (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (personal collection)
  2. Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler (review copy)
  3. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (personal collection)
  4. Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (library book)
  5. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (personal collection)
  6. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury (library book)
  2. A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve (personal collection)
  3. Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals (library book)
  4. Fullmetal Alchemist 05 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  5. The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (review copy)
  6. Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer (personal collection)
  7. Something to Do by David Lucas (library book)



Comments (36)

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Compost Stew: 07/10/11

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>When we moved to our current home we made the decision to compost. Given where we'd be keeping it and the wide range of temperatures that our patio goes through over the course of a year (from freezing to over 100° F) we knew it wouldn't make sense to get a worm composter. We opted for a bin that just relies on microbial decomposition.

My son was two when he helped me build the compost bin. For my daughter, it's just been a permanent feature of our balcony garden her entire life. Composting is what we as a family do.

Compost Stew by Mary McKeena Siddals then was a must read picture book for both my children. It's organized as an alphabet book with a composting suggestion for each letter.

I would recommend the book as a story time book for Earth day or a read-along at schools that run a campus garden.

Five stars.

Other posts and reviews:

Comments (0)


Something to Do: 07/09/11

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Something to Do by David Lucas caught my attention last summer when my children were complaining of boredom. Little Bear in this book has the same problem and it's up to Big Bear to find something to do.

Big Bear takes Little Bear on a walk in the forest. Little Bear goes reluctantly. He doesn't start to have fun until he picks up a stick and starts to doodle in the dirt. Pretty soon both are drawing landscapes in the dirt.

The book highlights the importance and magic of the imagination. David Lucas's illustrations, especially the line drawings in the dirt bring to mind Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon books.

Five stars.

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Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet: 07/08/11

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Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet is the first in a new series by Graham Salisbury. Trouble always seems to find Calvin even when he's doing his best to avoid it. At home he has to give up his room to a girl from Texas. At school he's got a couple of bullies to avoid. To make matters worse, one of the bullies has a crush on the girl from Texas!

The Calvin Coconut books are set on the island of Oahu. As Graham Salisbury explains on the series website, he has set the books in his old elementary school. What this means is that the characters in Calvin Coconut seem real without being an obvious lesson on Hawaiian multiculturalism.

Instead of focusing on Hawaiian culture being different, Calvin and his friends learn through trial and error how different Texas culture. What strikes them as normal strikes Calvin's house guest as weird. Being in a Pacific rim state too, I find Hawaiian culture more normal than Texan, so I can relate to Calvin's bewilderment.

The books are best for children in second through fifth grade. There are delightful illustrations by Jacqueline Rogers to accompany the silliest of the scenes in the book.

There are four books planned and I've read two. I hope to read the others.

Four stars.

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A Change in Altitude: 07/07/11

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Anita Shreve is one of those authors I deeply respect. She is always experimenting with different stories and voices. Although I might not love one of her novels, I will always be challenged by it. I will also remember it!

A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve has the honor of being the only book I've been tempted to buy from seeing a book trailer. This is also a book that prompted me to ask on LiveJournal what people call roundabouts. See Margaret's an American and she says they are called traffic circles but where I am in Northern California we call them roundabouts in the British fashion.

The book opens with newlyweds Margaret and Patrick preparing to climb Mount Kenya. Mostly it's Patrick's dream but Margaret is more or less willing to play along. They are going with other immigrants to Kenya who have done the climb before. It's apparently the thing westerners do for fun and to prove themselves. The climb though doesn't go as planned and it changes things between Patrick and Margaret.

The rest of the book is the aftermath of the climb and how Margaret grows as a person. Through hard work, emotional distress and sacrifice she finds her place in Kenya and it isn't as Patrick's wife. It's a great story of a fish out of water, economic and social inequalities and politics.

Since reading the book I've been putting my copy into the hands of my friends and family — anyone willing to give it a try. It has taken the top spot as my favorite Anita Shreve novel, beating out Sea Glass.

Five stars.

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 05: 07/06/11

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 5 by Hiromu Arakawa continues to build Winry's character and expand upon her story and history with the Elric brothers. Ed and Al unaware of what's happened to Hughs are on their way to the south to consult with their alchemy teacher. Winry tags along to see Rush Valley, the nation's capitol for automail.

I suppose I'm being too flippant with describing Winry. She shows up so much sooner in the first anime that it's hard to come to terms that she's still a relatively new character by the time she makes the trip to Rush Valley.

In Rush Valley, Winry comes into her own as a character. Here the story in the original anime and the manga are very close but the manga's pacing is faster. Also the geography of Rush Valley is better described in the manga than in either anime. The book takes time to draw the city landscape to really give one a sense of the place.

Volume 5, then, is a pause in the present day action. It's a moment to pause after a death and a moment to reflect on how Ed and Al came to be the people they are. It's also a chance to introduce the supporting people in their lives.

Five stars

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The Lake: 07/05/11

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"When things get really bad, you take comfort in the placeness of a place."

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto was originally published in 2005 as Mizuumi. The proceeds from this beautiful and haunting translation by Michael Emmerich will go towards Japanese tsunami relief.

Chihiro, the narrator of the novel, is coming to terms with the death of her mother and her new status as an adult on her own. Her father is living but she has always been closest to her mother and she feels now is the time to be herself, whatever that means.

Chihiro starts her story off describing her mother and father's unusual romance and to some degree how growing up in a night club affected her childhood. But it's written in a detached, trancelike fashion. She also speaks of her mother's illness and death and sleeping on the floor of the hospital room.

Then things change focus to Nakajima, the man in her life. He's clearly a somewhat broken, fragile person but the two of them make an odd but comfortable couple. Most of Lake is her discovery of his past.

From reading through reviews already posted, many reviewers are upset over the blurb on the back of the book (and the description provided with the book on GoodReads and Amazon). Since I was reading an eGalley, I didn't have a back of the book to read. If I had, I would have.

So rather than spoil the book, let me describe Nakajima as I saw him in my head. Physically he is described as an older version of Kimihiro Watanuki: tall, very thin, prone to fainting and living on his own as long as anyone can remember. Now take Watanuki and give him a childhood experience similar to that of the protagonist in Ghost Hound and you get Nakajima.

My only complaint, and it's a minor one, is that the book took a little to long to get started. Chihiro lingering over her mother's illness takes a while to get through. It's a bit maudlin and her mother doesn't strike me as somone who would have enjoyed such a drawn out memorial.

Four stars.

Review read courtesy of NetGalley

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Olivia Goes to Venice: 07/04/11

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With the exception of Olivia Helps with Christmas, we own every one of Ian Falconer's Olivia books. When I heard he had a new one out, Olivia Goes to Venice, I had to get a copy.

Venice is one of those places I would love to see in person. For the moment, though, it's a place I travel to in books. Olivia now has had a chance to go.

Her family adventure involves pigeons in Piazza San Marco, tons of gelato, and a problematic gondola ride. All of these places are rendered with digitally augmented photographs with the gauche black, white and red paintings of Olivia and her family.

The book ends with Olivia leaving her indelible mark on Venice by taking home the wrong souvenir. I'm glad this book is fiction because otherwise Venice would never be the same.

Five stars.

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What Are You Reading: July 04, 2011: 07/04/11

What Are You Reading?

My reading list consists of a lot of picture books read with my children, as well as the manga I've been reading with my oldest.

With The Last Little Blue Envelope out now, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson is suddenly a hot commodity at the library. I wasn't able to renew it so I had to get it read in a couple of days. I also finished Arcadia Falls which fell apart near the end. Two novels from TBR that I finished were Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn and City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.

I finished one review book, an egalley called Cara Mia by Denise Verrico.

Coming up this week, I hope to finish The Writing Circle by Corinne Demas, The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike and The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx. After that I plan to start The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer and Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford.

Gave Up On:

  1. These Granite Islands by Sarah Stonich (library book)

Finished Last Week:

  1. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (library book)
  2. Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman (library book)
  3. Art & Max by David Wiesner (library book)
  4. Babymouse: Beach Babe by Jennifer L. Holm (library book)
  5. Cara Mia by Denise Verrico (review copy)
  6. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (personal collection)
  7. Dear Tabby by Carolyn Crimi (library book)
  8. I Am Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems (personal collection)
  9. Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn (personal collection)
  10. Navajo Made Easier: A Course in Conversational Navajo by Irvy W. Goossen (library book)
  11. Pigs Make Me Sneeze! by Mo Willems (library book)
  12. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 4 by CLAMP (library book)
  13. Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen (library book)
  14. XXXHolic, Volume 12 by CLAMP (library book)
  15. XXXHolic, Volume 13 by CLAMP (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (personal collection)
  2. Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (library book)
  3. The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike (review copy)
  4. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (personal collection)
  5. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  6. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 5 by CLAMP (library book)
  7. The Writing Circle by Corinne Demas (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (review copy)
  2. Bumped by Megan McCafferty (review copy)
  3. Filipinos in Alaska by Thelma Buchhold (library book)
  4. Junonia by Kevin Henkes (review copy)
  5. Princess Academy (audio) by Shannon Hale (library book)
  6. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  7. The Way They Wove the Spells in Sippulgar by Robert Silverberg (personal collection)

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Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho: 07/03/11

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Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello opens with Ed Gein. Taxidermy, furniture and clothing made of human flesh and bone, cannibalism and run down cluttered homes. If you see any of these motifs in film you owe them to one real life monster named Ed Gein. And Psycho was the first to draw creative inspiration from his crimes. Ed Gein, though, makes Norman Bates look like a pussycat.

From the true crime this reissued book about the making of Psycho goes through all the steps that lead to the progenitor of the modern horror film. There's a chapter on Robert Bloch's novel and how it came to be purchased by Alfred Hitchcock.

Most of the book though is about the film itself. Of most interest to me was how the film was shot like an extended episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Although there was speculation at the time that it might be used for the series, Rebello argues (quite effectively) that the approach was a cost saving measure and as well as a chance for Hitchcock to step away from the elaborate (and expensive) full color films he had been making at the time. A low budget also gave Hitchcock more creative freedom because no one was worried about where the money was going.

I read an egalley via NetGalley.

Five stars.

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Filipinos in Alaska: 1788-1958: 07/02/11

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A year ago I began a concerted effort to read books off my wishlist. Being a list oriented person, I decided to start with the oldest wishes. Many of these early wishes go well beyond my memory as to why I had wanted to read them.

One of those mystery books is a bound book of mimeographed text and photocopied photographs called Filipinos in Alaska: 1788-1958 by Thelma Buchhold. Now I do have an interest in Alaska history and I did once write a paper on Filipino culture in college but I can't for the life of me remember either hearing about this book or wanting to read it.

That's not to say I didn't get anything out of reading it. It was actually fascinating in its own way. The earliest chapters track any potential Filipino shipmate who might have made a port of call in Alaska. Later it tracks known Filipino families as they settled. The final chapters read more like a phone book of Filipinos who were living in Alaska in the 1950s.

As a census (small c as it's not done by the Census) of a specific minority in Alaska it's an interesting and focused document. What's missing though is a secondary analysis of the data. What do the numbers mean? Why did they settle where they did? How did they contribute to Alaska culture? What is their legacy.

Three stars.

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Junonia: 07/01/11

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On June 11th, I made Junonia by Kevin Henkes my featured wishlist book. A few days later while checking NetGalley, I saw that I had been invited to review the book. Score!

Alice Rice and her mother and father go to Florida every February for her birthday. This year she is turning ten but things aren't quite the same. Some of her dear friends can't make it this year and another dear friend is brining along a boyfriend and his daughter! It looks like her most important birthday might be a bust.

Perhaps the best way to describe this book (as at least two other reviewers have on GoodReads) is to call it a middle grade Mrs. Dalloway. Just as Mrs. Dalloway is focused on getting ready for her party, so is Alice. There's the same determined sadness to their methods. For Alice, it's the missing friends, the troubled Mallory and her frustration over never finding a junonia.

I've also read reviews saying the book wouldn't appeal to anyone except almost ten year old girls. I disagree. I think anyone, boy or girl, who has had their plans dashed by events out of their control will see themselves in Alice.

I read the book via NetGalley.

Four stars.

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