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August 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 Sign Painter: 08/31/11

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The Sign Painter by Allen Say is a semi-autobiographical picture book. When he was sixteen the author worked as a sign painter.

Here the story is about a boy (presumably Say) and the man (presumably his teacher). They start in the city but get a contract to paint billboards along an American highway. From the picturesque mesa filled landscape, it's probably route 66 or similar.

The artwork sucked me. It's one of those books with a striking cover and equally striking artwork on the inside. The paintings are done in the style of Edward Hopper. On page 32 there's even a passing homage to Hopper's "Night Hawks."

Four stars.

Comments (0)


The Doorbells of Florence: 08/30/11

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When I have some spending money I like to check the Friends of the Library book store at my library. There's bound to be a little treasure there waiting for me. One of those recent treasures was The Doorbells of Florence by Andrew Losowsky.

The book began as a series of Flickr photos of doorbells on a trip to Florence. The photos inspired some idle contemplation of what might be behind those doorbells. And that lead to some creative writing.

The result is a slim and utterly charming volume of one page what-if stories. Each story starts with a color photograph of a doorbell. As it's a short book, it can be read easily over a morning cup of coffee or while waiting in line. But it's one that has stuck with me. Everyone I've shared the book with has enjoyed it.

The book apparently went on to inspire a stage play. I've included the link to the story below.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


A Thief of Time: 08/29/11

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I've been reading Tony Hillerman's Navajo mysteries on and off since college — twenty years. I haven't them in order and while things do progress through the books, it doesn't really matter to the individual mysteries.

My most recent read, from my personal collection, was A Thief of Time. The title refers to grave robbery. It begins with an archeologist finding something remarkable on a site she might not have the permits for. She goes missing shortly after making her discovery.

Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee treat the case as both a homicide and a missing persons. She has been gone for so long she's probably dead but there isn't evidence to definitely push the investigation in that direction.

Mixed in with the mystery are reflections on Navajo beliefs about life and death. There's discussion of life on and off the res. and the disputed borders. Finally, there's the permitting issue: what can be explored and what can't.

As with all the other books I've read in the series, I found it a page turner. It was a good mix of thought provoking passages and mixed into an entertaining who-done-it.

Five stars.

Comments (2)


What Are You Reading: August 29, 2011: 08/29/11

What Are You Reading?

We've survived the first week of schools. While the kids got away with a week without homework, I wasn't so lucky! There are no homework free weeks in graduate school. Despite the homework I did finish The Ghost and the Goth and I'm about halfway through Dreaming in Hindi. Both are excellent.

I gave up on a review book, The Days of the King by Filip Florian. I'm not sure if I will write a review of it or not.

We finished Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. As the book is told completely from Dashti's point of view, through her diary, the book relies completely on her ability to carry the story. As an audio book, there are long sections that are poetic descriptions of things around her. The actress playing Dashti tended to over-emote these sections, making everything overly earnest. I think this is a case where the written version is probably better than the audio version.

My current audio book is I Am Not Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos. It's odd to say the least but I'm enjoying it.

I finished four manga volumes I had out from the library. I'm up to volume 26 of Fullmetal Alchemist and frankly, I'm ready for the series to end. The final battle is taking forever. In Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle I'm up to volume 12. Things there are starting to line up more with xxxHolic.

At night the picture book reading continues. My favorite picture book was Square Cat by Elizabeth Schoonmaker. The story is charming and the artwork is adorable. The weirdest picture book goes to Monkey Truck by Michael Slack; a monkey shaped truck saves the jungle from a tsunami.

I want to finish Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan and Attention All Shipping by Charlie Connelly. After that I'd like to start on The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets by Nancy Springer and The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff.

Gave Up On:

  1. The Days of the King by Filip Florian (review copy)

Finished Last Week:

  1. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale (audio) (library book)
  2. Curious George Goes to a Movie by H.A. Rey (library book)
  3. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 24 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  4. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 25 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  5. If Rocks Could Sing by Leslie McGuirk (library book)
  6. I'm Going to Grandma's by Mary Ann Hoberman (library book)
  7. The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade (library book)
  8. Monkey Truck by Michael Slack (library book)
  9. On a Windy Night by Nancy Raines Day (library book)
  10. Square Cat by Elizabeth Schoonmaker (library book)
  11. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 10 by CLAMP (library book)
  12. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 11 by CLAMP (library book)
  13. Yoko's Show-and-Tell by Rosemary Wells (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Attention All Shipping by Charlie Connelly (personal collection)
  2. Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russell Rich (library book)
  3. Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan (library book)
  4. I Am Not Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos (audio) (library book)
  5. A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks (personal collection)
  6. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman (library book)
  2. The Best Cat in the World by Lesléa Newman (library book)
  3. Mañana Iguana by Ann Whitford Paul (library book)
  4. Mr. Sweetpants and the Living Dead by Albert E. Cowdrey (personal collection)
  5. Nylon Road by Parsua Bashi (library book)
  6. 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert (library book)
  7. Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand (library book)

Comments (38)


Nylon Road: 08/28/11

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The graphic novel format has become an inviting medium for women to write their memories. Parsua Bashi's memoir, Nylon Road is another tale of growing up female in Iran. Readers who enjoyed the Perseopolis books will like Nylon Road.

What sets Bahsi's memoir apart is the dialog she has with herself at different ages. She examines and reexamines the decisions in her life against the person she was at different stages in her life.

Bashi's also more critical of her move to Europe. She records her culture shock and the prejudice she experience (some actual, some imagined).

Four stars.

Comments (0)


Manana Iguana: 08/27/11

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Mañana Iguana by Ann Whitford Paul was one of Harriet's recent picks at the library. On Monday (Lunes) Iguana decides to host a fiesta on Sunday (Domingo). Although her three friends are excited about the party, they don't seem very excited about helping plan or set it up.

It is a Spanish and English retelling of The Little Red Hen but recast with an Iguana, a Rabbit (Conejo), a Turtle (Tortuga) and a Snake (Culebra). Rabbit's excuse is always that he is "too fast." Turtle meanwhile is "too slow." Snake will help as soon as he has hands. Fortunately for Iguana, her friends do eventually learn their lesson (though not soon enough to attend the party).

This version though would be good in an ELL (English Language Learners) class or a dual immersion English / Spanish class. It does teach some practical vocabulary such as the days of the week, the various animal names and a couple other words here and there. It could also be easily translated either by the teacher or by the students (depending on their skills) completely into Spanish. The story also would be good for re-enactment as a student play.

Three stars.

Comments (2)


Arcadia Falls: 08/26/11

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Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman was recommended to me by the blog, A Life in Books. The review compares it to the gothic romance novels of Barbara Michaels and I was intrigued.

Meg Rosenthal, recently widowed, and her teenage daughter move to Arcadia Falls, where she will be teaching at a boarding school that was once an artists' commune. She is also there to finalize the research on her thesis as the school will be a source of primary sources.

Shortly after arriving one of the students falls to her death during a night time event. Her death brings to light unusual similarities with the death of one of the school's founders, Lily. Fortunately for us, Meg has found the Lily's long lost diary and can compare the recorded history with Lily's version of events leading to her death.

To further complicate things, Goodman tosses in long passages of a fairy tale written at the school. It's supposed to set the Gothic mood of the novel and give clues to mysteries at hand but it didn't work for me. It read like a whole pile of filler instead of being a meaningful contribution to the novel.

Lily's story ended up being the most realistic and compelling piece of the novel. Meg is too scatter brained and passive to count as a convincing lead character. Even when she's worried about her daughter's safety, she can't manage to act decisively. She's tossed up again a pair of villains with ties to the older mystery who are constructed out of nothing but cliches that the ending is laughable. What Arcadia Falls needed was a twist ending so that everything was actually in Meg's mind.

Three stars.

Comments (2)


Mr. Sweetpants and the Living Dead: 08/25/11

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"Mr. Sweetpants and the Living Dead" is one of my favorite Albert E. Cowdrey short stories I've read in recent issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction. OK, by "recent" I mean last year. I'm a little behind on my reading.

Love is eternal, even after death. So is stalking. Five Star Protective Services is called in to protect a celebrity from his dead lover. Of course it takes a little while for the celebrity to convince security that he's being stalked by a dead man but he does. Mostly though it's the stalker who makes the truth obvious by making a nuisance of his dead self.

To make things more interesting, the protagonist and the celebrity have a history. They've known each other since well before they settled into their current jobs. There's an emotional tension between the two that sometimes gets played for laughs.

Four stars.

Comments (0)


Waking the Moon: 08/24/11

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Elizabeth Hand's books were recommended on a science fiction / fantasy reading list. I had only read one of her short stories, "The Far Shore" so I set about to read as many of her novels as I could find.

The first book I found was Waking the Moon. It starts at a prestigious university. A young woman falls in with the wrong crowd, falls in love and discovers the dark truth behind how the university and much of the world is being run. To keep the truth a secret she is forced to leave the university.

The rest of the book deals with the aftermath of those events. The main character is grown up and has been working on a digital archive and doesn't quite have the life she had once hoped for. Meanwhile her ex-roommate has become famous but dangerous.

The events way back when unleashed a sleeping goddess who is systematically planning her revenge on the patriarchy. She is blood thirsty and willing sacrifice her son as a means to reaching her goal.

Although the book is long by my standards (512 pages) it was a relatively quick read. The first third which has scenes at the university reminded me a bit of the darkest parts of Revolutionary Girl Utena which I was watching around the same time as I was reading the book. Later pieces of the book are more straight up horror and less Gothic fantasy. It was a strange but compelling book to read.

Five stars.

Comments (2)


10,000 Dresses: 08/23/11

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10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert is about a child named Bailey who was born a boy but sees herself as a girl and has plans to be a dress designer. Bailey's family doesn't want to talk about dresses or the fact that he sees himself as a she. If he'll just shut up and put up the problem will go away. Except it doesn't and fortunately for Bailey's sake, there is a dress designer down the street who is willing to support her dreams.

It's a book that was on my wishlist and I probably heard about it from the I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? blog. I honestly don't recall for sure. But we live in the Bay Area and Ewert is a local author.

I read 10,000 Dresses to both my children. Neither are gender confused but neither is exactly conventional in their boyishness or girlishness. They have nearly identical likes and dislikes except one is a girl and one is a boy. They sat and listened to the book and when I was done they began debating Bailey's gender. In the end though (when they couldn't decide) they decided that it didn't matter, but what did, was that Bailey's parents were mean. Dressmaking or wearing shouldn't be just a girl thing, they decided.

Four stars.

<Comments (4)


The Best Cat in the World: 08/22/11

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Lesléa Newman, probably best known for Heather Has Two Mommies wrote a book to help anyone grieving over the loss of a beloved pet. It's called The Best Cat in the World.

Victor and Charlie have grown up together but Charlie is now an elderly and ill cat. When he dies Victor is heart broken. He can't sleep. He can't eat.

Eventually he reluctantly agrees to give a kitten home that Charlie's vet can't keep. The second half of the book shows Victor comparing Shelley to Charlie. As any pet owner knows, every pet is an individual and we have to adapt to our new pet and not expect a replacement for our old pet. It's a hard lesson for Victor to learn but he eventually does.

I read this book with both of my children. They have both grown up with Caligula cat. Although she is currently in good health, she's sixteen and cats only live so long. We have started to talk about how we will adopt a new shelter cat after Caligula. The book while it has lovely illustrations and a good message, was a bit long winded, especially for Harriet.

Three stars.

Comments (0)


What Are You Reading: August 22, 2011: 08/22/11

What Are You Reading?

School starts this week for all of us. While on our road trip, the kids and I got back in the habit of reading bedtime stories together. Those bedtime stories are inflating my numbers in the Finished List.

I finished two review books: Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker and Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. I finished one novel: Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder, and one non-fiction: The Wrong House by Stephen Jacobs.

We are still listening to Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale in the car. It was our audio book for the return journey but it ran longer than the drive. We have one and a half discs left, or roughly an hour and a half. I am enjoying the story but the narrator (Dashti) is seriously getting on my nerves. She's so earnest about everything (Ancestors forgive me!).

The weirdest and most memorable book I read last week was Monkey Food. I'm a little younger than the author but I do still remember the 1970s. My daughter, though, is turning out to be precocious in her reading. I caught her reading over my shoulder. Although it's a memoir of childhood, there's pot smoking, frank talk of sex, nudity and so forth. I told her to wait until she's a teenager. She was disappointed but agreed to wait.

My upcoming reads will be text books. I also want to finish Fullmetal Alchemist volume 24, The Ghost and the Goth and get started on Dreaming in Hindi. There will also be lots and lots of bedtime stories.

Gave Up On:

  1. Mind Snare by Gayle Greeno (personal collection)

Finished Last Week:

  1. The Absolutely Awful Alphabet by Mordicai Gerstein (library book)
  2. Animal House by Candace Ryan (library book)
  3. Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael Kaplan
  4. Bulldog's Big Day by Kate McMullan (library book)
  5. Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker (review copy)
  6. Disappearing Desmond by Anna Alter (library book)
  7. Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder (library book)
  8. Monkey Food: The Complete "I Was Seven in '75" Collection by Ellen Forney (library book)
  9. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier (review copy)
  10. The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane Auch (library book)
  11. The Twelve Bots of Christmas by Nathan Hale (library book)
  12. The Wayside School Collection by Louis Sachar (audio / library book)
  13. The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock by Stephen Jacobs (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. The Days of the King by Filip Florian (review copy)
  2. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 24 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  3. The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade (library book)
  4. A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks (personal collection)
  5. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Angelfish by Laurence Yep (library book)
  2. Donorboy by Brendan Halpin (library book)
  3. Empress of the World by Sara Ryan (personal collection)
  4. Flotsam by David Wiesner (library book)
  5. Kraken by China Miéville (personal collection)
  6. Nick of Time by Ted Bell (library book)
  7. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (personal collection)

Comments (30)


Donorboy: 08/21/11

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Donorboy by Brendan Halpin is one of those books I found by walking the shelves at my local public library. Rosalind is forced through a tragic accident involving "foodstuffs" to live with her biological father, a man who had been in her life nothing more than a sperm donor for a married pair of lesbians. Now that they are dead, their daughter is sent to live with him. Neither one is exactly thrilled with the situation.

The entire novel is made up of email exchanges, usually of the two main characters, fifteen year old Rosalind, and Sean her "father" sending emails to friends to complain or ask advice. Sometimes Sean will make an attempt to email her directly and sometimes she will send back a snarky reply.

For Rosalind her grief and anger are so deep and consuming that she doesn't want to adjust to her new situation. I didn't expect her to call him Dad or anything but an attempt at civility would have been nice. Instead she's angry and self destructive.

Also by relying solely on written communication, there's no real chance to see Sean and Rosalind together. Is she at all like him? Does he see any of himself in her? What happens when they are together?

It was a quick but not entirely satisfying read.

Three stars.

Comments (0)


Empress of the World: 08/20/11

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Empress of the World by Sara Ryan was a wishlist book given to me by a fellow Bookcrosser ages ago. It sat on my shelf for a good couple of years until I made the commitment to read my wishlist books.

Nicola Lancaster is at the Siegel Institute Summer program to study archeology. She quickly hooks up with a group of friends but doesn't expect to fall for one of them. Nor does she expect it to be a girl!

Empress of the World is a quiet and thoughtful book with comedic moments and gut wrenching ones too. The group dynamics of Nic and her classmates feels real. None of them are perfect; they are flawed, moody, goofy teenagers.

There's a sequel out called Rules of Hearts. It was published in 2007. Based on the strength of Empress of the World I have added it to my wishlist.

Four stars.

Comments (0)


Kraken: 08/19/11

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Kraken by China Miéville is a book that defies easy classification. It's at the crossroads of a busy intersection with science fiction, urban fantasy, horror and mystery / thriller. It's very long, requires a good deal of concentration and a full vocabulary to finish.

As the book is so long and complex, I've included thrice the amount of links to other reviews as I normally do. If you're seriously considering reading the book, I recommend you go through the posted reviews. You may love the book. You may be confused by it. You may hate it.

Billy Harrow works at London's Natural History Museum where he specializes in mollusks. His pride and joy is a giant squid he taxidermied. At the start of the book, "Archie" the squid has gone missing. Billy calls the police and when they don't have any leads, he sets out to find Archie himself.

Billy's search leads him into an alternate London (not quite as alternate as Miéville's Un Lun Dun but more along the lines of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. The other possiblity is that the search for Archie makes Billy aware of all the oddities of London that are there just under the surface of day to day perception.

I was reading Kraken at the same time I was reading Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus. I imagine Billy living in the present day London of Theodosia where shabtis can (and do) go on strike, tattoos can be sentient, and there's a Kraken cult trying to awaken the sleeping monster that is London.

But... there's a point where no matter how beautiful the language or how imaginative the scenes, a book begins to drag. Kraken suffers from that. There's a lot of filler.

Three stars.

Comments (2)


Angelfish: 08/18/11

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Angelfish by Laurence Yep, Robin is half Chinese and feels out of place. She loves to dance ballet but she's going to spend her summer working a tropical fish store after she accidentally breaks the shops's front window. The biggest problem though, is the shop's owner is grumpy, old and fiercely traditional. He doesn't see a place in the world for a girl like Robin.

As with so many of Yep's novel, the central theme is the coming together of different generations. As they learn from each other a friendship grows hesitantly that benefits not just Robin and Mr. Tsow but the rest of the neighborhood.

Mr. Tsow has hidden, unused artist talents that he has given up to run the shop. His friendship with Robin gives him a chance to express himself by helping out at the dance studio and in other ways.

It took a little while to get into the book because of all the prejudice both on Robin's part and on Mr. Tsow's part. But as the novel unfolds the reasons behind these preconceived notions come to light. These are problems across not only generations and cultures but regions and languages (Cantonese vs Mandarin).

Despite the rough start where I wasn't sure I'd like or understand either Robin or Mr. Tsow, I ended up loving the book.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


The Shipping News: 08/17/11

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Quoyle moves to Newfoundland after his wife tries to run away with his life's savings after selling their daughters into the sex trade. The wife fails on both accounts and loses her life in the process. It sounds like an unlikely way to start a novel but E. Annie Proulx makes it work in The Shipping News.

Quoyle is described as average in all ways. As a child he never could do whatever his father expected of him. As and adult struggling in his job as a reporter he can never write to please his editor. He's not set up as the most likable of protagonists and perhaps I read at first to see if he'd fail in his endeavors after his move. Remarkably, he doesn't.

If anything, Quoyle reminds me of Dr. Martin Ellingham of Doc Martin who returns to his ancestral home after washing out as a surgeon in London. He's just as out of sorts as the new G.P. as Quoyle is as a reporter for the local paper. But both find their places eventually.

Newfoundland, home of his ancestors, some who are rumored to have been stark raving mad, suits him. Even if he arrives not knowing how to swim, fish or do anything else that the locals expect a resident to know. Despite all that and perhaps with careful egging on by his aunt, Quoyle manages to muddle along and make a place for himself and his daughters.

At the start of most chapters, Proulx includes a type of knot or other maritime piece of information relevant to the chapter. These snippets come from Ashley's Book of Knots, a book she found at a garage sale. I have to admit that I looked forward to seeing which knot would be introduced next. I've also added her source material to my wishlist.

Five stars.

Comments (2)


Nick Of Time: 08/16/11

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Nick of Time by Ted Bell is the first book in the Nick McIver series. Nick McIver and his sister Kate live with their parents on a small island in the English Channel. It's 1939 and a Nazi invasion of the island is a real threat. Even with the danger of U-boats, Nick loves sailing around the island with his dog Jip.

Things change though when he spots a U-boat surfacing just off the coast. Then he finds a time machine and gets a deadly threat from a long dead pirate. Nick has to go fight the pirate while Kate will have to handle the present day Nazis.

I like World War Two historical fiction. I love Robert Louis Stevenson's books. I usually love time travel stories. So I should have loved this book. But I didn't. In fact, I couldn't finish it.

The first problem I had with the book was the pacing. The first chapter is about nothing except Nick's love of sailing. I suppose it's for building character but it also eats up precious time and bloats the book.

That opening chapter is a symptom of an over all problem with the pacing. Pages and pages are spent on unnecessarily long descriptions of the island, the war, Nick's love of sailing and other settings around the island. Then out of nowhere, the pirate crew shows up. There's no build to it, no explanation. Nada. Just bam: evil pirates and a hint that they want whats in the box in the cave.

The chest in the cave was the final straw for me. They find it early on in story but don't actually use it until a hundred pages or so into the book. In most time travel stories once the device is found it's activated either on purpose or accidentally and off the main character goes to have his adventure. Here though more time and pages are wasted on introducing in a castle and a hermit.

The more that the magical device is explained, the less believable it becomes. I lost my patience and moved on to better books.

One star.

Comments (0)


Flotsam: 08/15/11

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It's funny and sad how great books slip through the cracks in my review schedule. Flotsam by David Wiesner is one of those books. It was the first book of his that I read and it's the last one I'm reviewing.

Flotsam is a wordless picture book about a boy who finds a Brownie style camera washed up at the beach. He takes the camera to a camera store and has the film developed. The photographs reveal a magical under sea world and a glimpse at generations past in the final photograph.

In fact the final photograph is so wondrous that half the book is spent on it. It shows a child holding up a photograph of another child, presumably taken with the same camera. In that photograph is another child holding up a photograph. And so forth all the way back to a black and white photograph of a child dressed in clothing of the same era as the camera, standing before a place like Coney Island. The boy taking a hint from the last photograph uses his last photograph to show himself holding the photograph of the previous child, thus continuing the chain.

An an actual photograph of a photograph like that wouldn't hold as many iterations as the one in Flotsam does. But it is a magical camera so clearly it has remarkable properties.

Flotsam is a good way to get children thinking about how photographs can record the past and to get them talking about different eras.

Five stars.

Comments (2)


What Are You Reading: August 15, 2011: 08/15/11

What Are You Reading?

I'm posting late this week because I've been on a trip to the mountains and out of reach of the internet. While I was up there, I hardly did any reading. I did manage to finish Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford and Tall Blondes by Lynn Sherr while on the trip. On our drive to and from, we've been listening to the Wayside School Collection a seven disc audiobook omnibus read by Louis Sachar. We will finish the book tomorrow on the last leg of our drive.

Up next is the audio book version of Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. We will start it after the Louis Sachar book finishes. I suspect it will be what we listen to in the car over the next week. We have more audio book than we have time to drive home!

I also want to finish Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder because it's as awesome as everyone has said. Then I'm going to run to the library and checkout the sequel.

For review books, I want to finish Peter Nimble and then see what's new and waiting for me at NetGalley.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford (personal collection)
  2. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (personal collection)
  3. Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (library book)
  4. Tall Blondes: A Book About Giraffes by Lynn Sherr (library book)
  5. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 9 by CLAMP (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Bombardiers by Po Bronson (personal collection)
  2. Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder (library book)
  3. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier (review copy)
  4. A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks (personal collection)
  5. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  6. The Wayside School Collection by Louis Sachar (audio / library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Azumanga Daioh Omnibus by Kiyohiko Azuma (personal collection)
  2. The Falling Raindrop by Neil Johnson (library book)
  3. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 6 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  4. Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin (review copy)
  5. The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier (review copy)
  6. Yotsuba&! Volume 1 by Kiyohiko Azuma (personal collection)
  7. Yummy by G. Neri (review copy)



Comments (40)

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The Falling Raindrop: 08/14/11

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The Falling Raindrop by Neil Johnson was Harriet's library choice when she was learning about weather at her preschool.

The cover features an inviting, minimalist sketch of an anthropomorphized raindrop streaking downwards on a diagonal. Most of the book is just that, the single raindrop falling and thinking about things on the way down.

The raindrop about midway through the book starts to fear for the worst. When the raindrop started to get afraid, so did Harriet. When the approaching ground becomes an approaching campfire, Harriet seriously considered stopping the book.

After a few deep breaths she decided she would see the book to the end. The main character, being a raindrop, "survived" the fall to earth and is evaporated into the sky to repeat the process. Harriet was relieved with the ending but didn't like being scared just to learn something she already knew.

Three stars.

Comments (2)


The Unsinkable Walker Bean: 08/13/11

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The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier begins with a tale of how Atlantis sunk at the hands of a pair of sea witches. Now all these centuries later it appears that the story is true and Walker Bean's grandfather is suffering from their curse. Walker has to return a cursed skull to hopefully free him from a paranormal illness.

Walker Bean apparently lives in an alternate Earth version of the seventeenth or possibly eighteenth century. There's a world map included in the book and while the landforms are familiar, the names are not. I found this unexplained map disconcerting; it would have been just as easy (or perhaps easier) to not have to think about Walker's adventures in the context of an alternate Earth. It doesn't add anything to the story.

Besides the curses and the sea witches, there's a strange eight legged man who is scurrying after Walker. I swear I've seen him somewhere else but I can't think of where right now. In the context of this graphic novel, he was just one more "what-the-heck" element. Why does he have so many legs and what is his motivation?

A lot of weird stuff happens in this first volume that should be explained but isn't. I don't mean pages and pages of exposition, a simple one line of dialogue would do just find. As it stands, though, I had to re-read sections hoping I had missed something only to find that things happened just because. A little randomness if fine but a whole book of it leaves me not wanting to pick up volume two.

I read this graphic novel as a judge for the Cybils.

Two stars.

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Azumanga Daioh Omnibus: 08/12/11

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Last summer my husband started watching the Azumanga Daioh anime about a group of girls going through high school. The anime was an instant hit with both children. In fact it was our daughter who spotted the Azumanga Daioh Omnibus by Kiyohiko Azuma and insisted that Ian buy it.

This manga is a panel comic, more similar to the traditional North American comic strips. As it has a plot that changes over time, it's most like For Better or Worse. The Omnibus covers all four books, one book for each year of high school.

The youngest girl, the extremely gifted Chiyo-Chan, is elementary school aged but has been bumped to high school. She is by far our favorite character in the series. Along with the developing friendships, there is an on going rivalry between the English teacher and PE coach. There is tall Sakaki who wants nothing more than to befriend a neighborhood cat. Then there is a transfer student who is almost immediately nicknamed for her place of origin, Osaka. To show her distinct accent, she's given sort of a southern drawl in the translation (both the omnibus and anime).

Although the book is huge it's a quick read. The four panel format plays for gags and sometimes physical humor. It took me two days to read the book but I probably could have done it in one setting.

Five stars.

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Gingerbread Girl: 08/11/11

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Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin is a graphic novel that spans the course of a date between Annah and Chili. Annah lives in Portland, works at Powell's, sushi and men and women. She also believes that her mad scientist father removed the Penfield homunculus and turned it into a twin sister named Ginger. With her sister run off, Annah can't feel the intensity of emotions everyone else can and she's desperate to reunite with Ginger.

The events of Annah and Ginger's lives unfold as the evening progresses. To make things more interesting the story jumps from character to character, each one giving their version of things. It starts with Annah, moves to Chili and on through a variety of other characters, including a pigeon and a dog.

As I'm right now nearing the end of Fullmetal Alchemist I am fully willing to belive Annah's story. That said, the book leaves the conclusions up to the reader.

I read the book via NetGalley. You can also read it online.

Five stars.

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Yotsuba&! Volume 1: 08/10/11

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Yotsuba&! Volume 1 is by Kiyohiko Azuma, who also created Azumanga Daioh. A new family moves in next door, a father and his young and some what odd daughter, Yotsuba.

The first book the family moves in, has trouble with boxes and many different people get stuck in the bathroom because the lock doesn't always work. The only way out is through the small window.

Yotsuba has an unbridled enthusiasm for everything. Azuma captures the unsual ways children see things at a young age. It's made it a little more mysterious by giving Yotsuba a dubious back story. All we know so far is that she was found by her father somewhere "left of Japan."

Five stars

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Yummy: 08/09/11

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Yummy by G. Neri won the 2010 Cybils award in the young adult graphic novels. It's a fictionalized retelling of the events that lead up to the death of 11 year old Robert "Yummy" Sandifer in Chicago.

It covers events that happened in 1994 and made the cover of Time Magazine. This all happened at a time that I was busy finishing up college and living in a town with exactly one over the air television station. In other words, I only heard of Yummy in passing so the graphic novel was mostly new to me.

The story is told from the point of view of a fictional classmate, Roger. He goes through Yummy's childhood and how he has come to live with his grandmother, a woman overwhelmed by a houseful of children. Being small for his age and overlooked at home, Yummy acts rough and becomes rough.

Most of the book takes places between the time when Yummy on his initiation into the local gang kills a neighborhood girl with no ties to gangs. At first the neighborhood tries to protect Yummy but as the investigation intensifies they have to give him up.

All of this is told with gritty black and white line illustrations and sparse text. There is some speculation by Roger as to the whys behind Yummy's short life but mostly it is an account of what happened.

Were this book completely fiction I would be more critical of what it portrays. Why do so many of the stories of inner city neighborhoods focus on the crime and the violence. There are other stories to be told from there that don't involve guns, crimes, killings or gangs.

Three stars.

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 06: 08/08/11

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 6 by Hiromu Arakawa finishes the Rush Valley and Dublith plots. It also gives background on how Ed lost his arm and leg and how Al lost his body all together. It also introduces the start of their friendship with Roy Mustang.

Ed and Al's time in Dublith is an interesting break between the original anime and Brotherhood. In the first anime a lot of time is spent replaying Ed and Al's first trial as apprentice alchemists. It involved a month of surviving alone on an island. They are kept watch on (but not helped) by the husband of their teacher. In Brotherhood his involvement on the island is completely removed so I was surprised to see it in the manga. The second anime, while much closer to the manga, is not a perfect adaptation.

Besides showing how the brothers went from competing all the time to being as close as they are in the present day part of the story, the book shows why they are so hell bent on finding the philosopher's stone. The transmutation of their "mother" is as gruesome as ever, although a little more tasteful when rendered in black and white.

Finally there's Roy Mustang who comes to them on word of there being a pair of alchemy prodigies in this out of the way town no one has otherwise ever heard of. In the first version of the anime the boys go to Roy instead of him seeking them out. He also (and completely out of character) has them board a train he knows is in the process of being hijacked. Given Roy's soft heart but drive to make his way to the top, him seeking out new pawns makes way more sense than him putting untried children into a dangerous situation on a train.

Five stars.

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What Are You Reading: August 08, 2011: 08/08/11

What Are You Reading?

This week I was mostly doing homework or going on picnics with my children. We went to Point Reyes on Wednesday and hiked the Earthquake Trail. So it was a slow week of reading. I've posted the best pictures on Google+.

I gave up on Libryinth. After about 100 pages it just wasn't going anywhere. I didn't like the dual plots and found the world building clunky at best. Another book I almost gave up on was The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D. Baker. I didn't like all the side quests through the various retellings of fairytales.

I finally finished The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter and really liked it! I'm actually nagging my husband to read it too, because I know he'll love it.

I'll be traveling this weekend and into early next week. That means I might not get a chance to participate next week on the meme. If I do participate, it will be late on Monday night. But I will have more photographs to post on Google+.

My reading goal is to finish The Roller Skates and maybe The Postmistress. If I do, then I'd like to start the third of the Enola Holmes books and Tall Blondes.

Gave Up On:

  1. Libyrinth by Pearl North (library book)

Finished Last Week:

  1. Emily the Strange: The Lost Days by Rob Reger (library book)
  2. Eye of the Crow: His First Case by Shane Peacock (library book)
  3. The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter (review copy)
  4. That Day In September by Artie Van Why (review copy)
  5. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 8 by CLAMP (library book)
  6. The Wide-awake Princess by E.D. Baker (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Bombardiers by Po Bronson (personal collection)
  2. Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder (library book)
  3. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (personal collection)
  4. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier (review copy)
  5. A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks (personal collection)
  6. Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (library book)
  7. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Around the World with Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis (library book)
  2. Brain Thief by Alexander Jablokov (library book)
  3. The Country Child by Alison Uttley (library book)
  4. The Night Owls by Peter Timony (review copy)
  5. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (library book)
  6. Wesley the Owl by Stacey O'Brien (library book)
  7. xxxHolic Volume 02 by CLAMP (library book)

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xxxHolic Volume 02: 08/07/11

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XxxHolic Volume 2 by CLAMP is a time to set up the rules for how things work. Watanuki has been living with spirits for as long as he remembers but he doesn't know how the spirit world works or the specifics of Yuko's shop.

The book opens with an expanded scene of Syaoran, Sakura, Kurogane and Fai arriving. This early on they're a distraction from what appears to be the main point (retelling of popular ghost stories and folklore) but they will become an interesting parallel to Watanuki's story. When I first started reading the series I poopooed the back and forth, seeing the the Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle inclusions as a gimmic more than anything else. Now, being nine volumes into the series, I can see that there is more afoot.

Besides the crossover, there are three smaller stories that teach Watanuki how things work: a woman who has a bad habit which ultimately destroys her because she doesn't want to make the effort to change, visits to two fortune tellers: one fake and one genuine and finally the power behind ghost stories.

The butterfly is also introduced as a motif, one that connects Watanuki and Yuko. The butterfly will be expanded upon in later issues and used as a signature by Yuko in notes to the Tsubasa folks.

Five stars.

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The Night Owls: 08/06/11

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The Night Owls by Peter Timony began as a web comic run through the now more or less defunct Zuda wing of D.C. It was short listed for the 2010 Cybils and I read it as a judge back in January.

The Night Owls follows Baxter, Mindy and Roscoe (a gargoyle). Baxter runs the Night Owls detective agency and Mindy suspects that her boss might be a vampire since he never goes out in the daylight.

The cases are episodic, some only taking a page and other times, a dozen or so. The cases do eventually build to tell a semi-coherent story but it read too much like an omnibus of comic strips than a fully realized graphic novel.

The artwork fits its 1920s setting, and brings to mind Dick Tracy. It's mostly done in black and white. Again the artwork is more comic strip than graphic novel.

Three stars.

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Around the World with Auntie Mame: 08/05/11

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The Auntie Mame movie always seemed to be on when I was at my grandmother's house. She was the only one in our family to have cable and she always seemed to have a hundred or more channels. She was also very liberal with what she let me watch. So there was always at least one playing Auntie Mame and another one showing Monty Python's Flying Circus and one more showing Pink Floyd's The Wall. And if it was late at night, usually one channel somewhere was showing 2001. I've seen all of them more times than I can count thanks to Grandma's cable.

As an adult I decided to Patrick Dennis's books. The first _big.jpg" alt="cover art">

Auntie Mame covers his time with her in New York but it hints at some of their world wind tours together. Around the World with Auntie Mame fills in the blanks by showing what happened to Patrick and Mame on their world tour.

Each chapter is one stop on the itinerary. They get into the usual trouble and Patrick has his eyes open to all sorts of things for better and worse. It was a fun way to armchair travel. It had the same spunk and humor that I remember from the film but didn't see somehow in the first novel.

Four stars.

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Brain Thief: 08/04/11

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Brain Thief by Alexander Jablokov in an issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I tend to add books mentioned in author introductions to my wishlist.

The book begins with the disappearance of a funder of odd ball scientific projects. This happens after she knocks out her executive assistant and steals a car. So Bernal decides he should find her himself as no one else understands her as well as he does.

As Bernal does all the narration, the book's scope is limited to what he is able to discover. It gives this book a solid mystery feel in a speculative fiction setting.

Jablokov writes with a densely packed turn of phrase, similar to China Miéville. Fans of Miéville's longer works will enjoy Brain Thief.

Three stars.

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Wesley the Owl: 08/03/11

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Wesley the Owl by Stacey O'Brien is one of those wonderful books where the planets are in alignment to create a perfect read. Reading is a very personal thing. For me its elements of my life, my interests, and those random synchronicities that makes a perfect read.

In 1985, biologist and assistant at Caltech's owl laboratory, Stacey O'Brien was asked to foster a four day old barn owl. He had nerve damage to his wings and couldn't be released into the wild. His best option was being hand raised as a wild animal in a controlled environment.

Now if this book were just about Stacey and Wesley it would have been a fascinating, informative and memorable read. However, the Caltech connection and of course the owl connection made the book extra special.

For the first two years of my marriage I lived in Caltech married student housing. The way she describes Caltech and the research being done, both in terms of the science and the scientists, brought back memories of living there.

Finally there is Wesley himself. I learned so much about barn owls from reading O'Brien's observations of life with Wesley. Where we now live there are approximately 50 mated pairs of owls. In the late winter to early spring the night time is noisy with all the screeching of owlets calling for food. While I've always liked having them around I've come away with a greater appreciation for these wonderful owls.

Five stars.

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Red Harvest: 08/02/11

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Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett is one of two novels featuring the Continental Op, a character based on Hammett's own experience as a private investigator for the Continental Detective Agency.

In this book the C.O. goes on assignment to Personville, aka Poisonville, an old mining town. His client is murdered before he has a chance to begin the assignment. In the course of investigating his client's murder he realizes that corruption runs deep and wide in Poisonville and decides to clean things up.

The book was published in 1929 but it reads like a modern thriller. The language is raw and the C.O. works by his own rules and moral code. He can seem cruel, crude and indifferent but he's consistent and predictable.

While reading the novel I was reminded of a Rockford Files episode from the second season, The Great Blue Lake Land and Development Company. Both are towns with total corruption where it's nearly impossible to find a trustworthy person.

Although I liked Red Harvest it didn't pull me in as strongly as The Maltese Falcon. I think part of that was the unfamiliar location and main character. It was my first time reading a Continental Op. story.

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The Country Child: 08/01/11

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The Country Child by Alison Uttley is a roman à clef. It follows the life of a girl named Susan Garland who lives on a remote farm. She has four books which she delights in re-reading and she comes of age over the course of the novel

The book has a similar episodic approach to its chapters as Anne of Green Gables. It's pacing and tone though is slower and more meditative.

While I appreciated the glimpse into a rural life that has pretty much vanished from the developed world, I wanted more. Uttley's A Traveller in Time has a tight plot and fascinating characters. Here the emphasis is on the landscape and on the fleeting aspect of memories. It was nice but not what I was expecting.

Three stars.

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What Are You Reading: August 01, 2011: 08/01/11

Most of what I finished last week was short. The books were picture books or manga. The only book of any significant length was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak — a book I took the entire month of July to read.

My current favorite reads are Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock and the first of the Emily the Strange books by Rob Reger. I'm enjoying Reger's book so much, I'm using one of my favorite quotes from the book on my August archive.

Although it seems like I'm reading tons this summer, I'm still slowing down from my all time high during spring semester. In July I finished 43 books, many of which were picture books, tween books or manga. I'm reading fewer picture books now that I'm not in the materials for children ages 5 to 8 class. Also my youngest can now read and is doing most of her reading on her own, which leaves me free to read something other than picture books.

My goal this week is to finish The Goddess Test, Eye of the Crow and Emily the Strange.

Finished Last Week:

  1. Bagelmania by Mountain Lion Books (personal collection)
  2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (personal collection)
  3. Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets by Dav Pilkey (library book)
  4. Cat Secrets by Jef Czekaj (library book)
  5. Dog Eared: Starring Otis by Amanda Harvey (library book)
  6. Fullmetal Alchemist, Volume 22 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  7. Hockey Opposites by PerHenrik Gurth (library book)
  8. Lift by Kelly Corrigan (personal collection)
  9. Rampant by Diana Peterfreund (library book)
  10. Revolutionary Girl Utena, Vol. 1: To Till by Chiho Saitou (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Bombardiers by Po Bronson (personal collection)
  2. Emily the Strange: The Lost Days by Rob Reger (library book)
  3. Eye of the Crow: His First Case by Shane Peacock (library book)
  4. The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter (review copy)
  5. Libyrinth by Pearl North (library book)
  6. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (personal collection)
  7. A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks (personal collection)
  8. Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (library book)
  9. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis (library book)
  2. A Toast to Tomorrow by Manning Coles (library book)
  3. Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan (library book)
  4. City of Spies by Susan Kim (library book)
  5. The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson (personal collection)
  6. Stella, Princess of the Sky by Marie Louise Gay (library book)
  7. Vampire Theory by Lily Caracci (review copy)

Every week I'm asked how much I read or how I'm capable of reading as much as I do. Beyond reading short stuff with lots of pictures, I don't know what to tell you. So here's a graph:

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