November 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


 

Once Upon a Starry Night: 11/30/11

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Once Upon a Starry Night by Jacqueline Mitton was one of the books I chose for an astronomy themed project last semester. The goal was to come up with twelve age appropriate books on a certain topic. In this case the age range was ages 5 to 8 which by itself ended up being extremely difficult. I don't plan on reviewing every single book from the project but Mitton's book was one of my favorites.

Once Upon a Starry Night is an introduction to the lesser known constellations. It's a companion book two others: Zodiac, which covers the twelve best known constellations, and Zoo in the Sky, which covers the animal constellations.

Mitton provides short, easy to read summaries of the stories behind each of the constellations included in the book. Where appropriate she includes hints on pronunciation.

What makes this book though are Christina Balit's illustrations. They remind me of Roman mosaics. The stars are done with a gold foil and really catch the eye.

Four stars.

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Twin Spica, Volume 03: 11/29/11

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Twin Spica Volume 03 by Kou Yaginuma goes further into the after affects of Asumi being so petite as to need a specially built space suit. The teacher who tried to get her to quit faces the consequences of his actions. The reason behind his behavior also comes to light and that opens the door to further discussion of the backstories of a number of characters.

What is very clearly coming into to focus is the tremendous affect the crash of the Lion had on everyone, even those who don't admit it or won't talk about it. Even those too young to remember the event have their lives tied up in the after effects of the crash.

There is also a wonderful spiritualism or magical realism woven through the series. As it progresses it's becoming clear the ghosts of the Lion disaster are among the living, guiding them and trying to come to terms with the accident just as the survivors are.

I wish I had more time with each volume but I'm having to read them via Link+ and I know how popular they are. I want to get them read and sent back to their library and eager patrons as quickly as possible.

Five stars.

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Polar Bear Night: 11/28/11

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Polar Bear Night by Lauren Thompson and illustrated by Stephen Savage is the story of a polar bear cub who can't sleep through the long winter night. While mother bear rests, the cub leaves the den and explores the area seeing seals, a snow storm and the aurora borealis.

Satisfied with his night time adventure, the little bear returns home to snuggle again with his mother. Children who are beginning to test their own boundaries and are discovering the fun of exploring around their own homes will relate to this curious cub.

Stephen Savage uses cool, dark shades of blues, violets and greens to create the feel of the long dark night. The stars, ice and snow and the little cub in their light colors sparkle against the surroundings. The illustrations are soothing.

Four stars

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What Are You Reading: November 28, 2011: 11/28/11

What Are You Reading?

Over Thanksgiving I finished two audio books (during the drive to and from Southern California), two full length books and gave up on a review book.

My favorite of the finished books was The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman. It was the audio we finished on the way down. My children, though, say Fablehaven by Brandon Mull was the best book. It was the audio we listened to on the grueling twelve hour drive (which is usually five hours).

For the moment I am still slowly reading Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. It's one of my mother's favorite books and since I own the copy I'm reading, I don't have any time pressures to finish it.

I do, however, need to finish Of All the Stupid Things by Alexandra Diaz by Wednesday as it is due at the library. After that I plan to start Firelight by Sophie Jordan and The Alchemist by Michael Scott as both are due next week.

What about you? What are you reading?

Did Not Finish:

  1. The Damned Highway by Nick Mamatas, Brian Keene (review copy)

Finished Last Week:

  1. The Blessing Way (audio) by Tony Hillerman (library book)
  2. A Cat Named Squeeky by Vic Reskovic (library book)
  3. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull (audio) (library book)
  4. Imagine a Day by Sarah L. Thomson (library book)
  5. Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender by Carrie Jones (library book)
  6. Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Angels by Marian Keyes (personal collection)
  2. Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani (personal collection)
  3. Blackout by Connie Willis (personal collection)
  4. Doctor Who: Volume 1 - Fugitive by Tony Lee (library book)
  5. Flirting with Forever by Gwyn Cready (review copy)
  6. This Perfect Day by Ira Levin (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler (personal collection)
  2. Athena by George O'Connor (review copy)
  3. Bird by Zetta Elliott (library book)
  4. Going Around the Sun by Marianne Berkes (library book)
  5. Rampant by Diana Peterfreund (library book)
  6. Steinbeck's Ghost by Lewis Buzbee (library book)
  7. Under the Night Sky by Amy Lundebrek (library book)



Comments (20)

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Under the Night Sky: 11/27/11

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Under the Night Sky by Amy Lundebrek is a beautifully illustrated story of a boy, his mother and the night they break with routine to watch a rare display of the northern lights.

The boy spends nights alone while his mother works in a nearby factory. But this night she wakes him up and invites him onto the roof. The sky is bursting with colors. Mother and son join up with the rest of the neighborhood for the experience. It shows that astronomy can be for anyone and everyone. Nature is there and wonderful for anyone who takes the time away from the daily (or nightly) routine to look and enjoy.

I read Under the Night Sky for the astronomy materials list I had to put together for a college course. It was the only book in print book I could find for grades K to 3 that covers the aurora borealis. Most of the astronomy books focus on the moon, Pluto's change in status and the sun. It was refreshing to find a book on a different topic.

Five stars.

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Going Around the Sun: 11/26/11

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I recently completed an astronomy themed project for a college course I'm taking. I had to read and annotate fourteen books aimed at certain age levels and from certain sub topics (biography, poetry, folktale). I'm not planning to post reviews on every book I read (as I had to read more than twelve to pare down from).

The first book I read for the project was Going Around the Sun by Marianne Berkes. It takes the poem "Over in the Meadow" and reworks it to teach about the planets in our solar system.

Each major heavenly body in the solar system gets its own page spread with a colorful illustration and a piece of the poem. Pluto, although it's now not officially one of the planets, is included as a "dwarf planet" and is shown doing its own thing.

The short stanzas and bold illustrations would lend themselves to being used for group story time. The poetry also can provide a mnemonic for children trying to learn about the solar system.

Four stars.

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Rampant: 11/25/11

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When I first met Pam of Bookalicious, she was excited about Rampant by Diana Peterfreund. She hadn't started reading it yet but was eager to start. So I added it to my wishlist and it bubbled to the top, two years later.

Astrid ends up shipped off to Italy after she's attacked by the smallest species of killer unicorns. Think of a goat sized, blood thirsty beast with a poisonous horn. The only problem is, Astrid doesn't want to go to Italy. Her mother is the classic stage mother, except here she's fighting unicorns vicariously.

The set up to Rampant is an interesting one. What if the remembered virgin / unicorn connection is tied to Artemis's hunters. What if only virgins can see and kill unicorns? And what if they have to be of certain blood lines? It's an intriguing idea but it never quite plays out as I had hoped it would.

The character building, world building and plot all come together in a jumble. First there is Astrid's on again / off again romance with Giovanni. Then there is Astrid's cousin Phil who Astrid can't decide if she's best friends with or arch enemies with. Finally there are the unicorns themselves which come in so many different varieties and are constantly attacking the school that it's damn near impossible for the plot to progress at all.

In the end I found Astrid too dull of a character to keep me interested in this jumbled plot. It started out strong but it didn't keep my attention.

Three stars.

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Bird: 11/24/11

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Bird by Zetta Elliott is about a boy who loves to draw his urban landscape. His drawing is in part a way to escape the harsh realities of his life and he talks about them with a man he calls uncle.

The book is told in free verse with a mixture of illustration styles: those representing Bird and his world and those Bird has drawn. Bird's drawings are lovely and intricate and remind me of the architectural drawings in My Havana.

But there's a problem with the illustrations of Bird — a sloppiness for which I'm docking two stars. Bird is shown drawing with his right hand on the cover but inside the book he's sometimes drawing left handed and sometimes right handed. It's not a plot point, just lazy drawing.

Three stars

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The Arcanum 11/23/11

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The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler was recommended to me by a friend. I can't remember the exact context of the recommendation but it came with a physical copy of the book.

The book begins with Arthur Conan Doyle in New York to help solve a murder and exonerate his friend H.P. Lovecraft. He gets help from Harry Houdini. Together the three of them as well as a woman who should have been dead and buried are part of a secret society called The Arcanum.

The purpose of the Arcanum is built on the same mythology as the set up to Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series. That unexpected connection is part of the reason I had to stop reading The Arcanum. While both are fantasies that dabble in the silly, Clare is able to stretch my suspension of disbelief without actually breaking it.

There were just too many outrageous things for me to believe. First is the oddball almost college fraternity behavior of Doyle and Houdini, both who were well past that age. Then there were their heroics which at one point involved walking tightrope style across either phone or power lines! It was just too much.

One star.

Comments (0)


Athena: 11/22/11

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Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess by George O'Connor is the follow up to Zeus: King of the Gods. It was short listed for a Cybils award in the young adult graphic novel category.

The book tells of the life and times of Athena through a series of short episodes. It's a decent introduction to her myths in Greek mythology and might be fun for kids who have read the Rick Riordan books.

There's no doubt that Greek mythology is hot stuff right now in tween and YA books. It's probably the Percy Jackson effect. There's an influx of graphic novels inspired by Greek mythology, including graphic novel retellings of the Percy Jackson books (post link to Lightning Thief gn review).

While I'm normally a raving fan of pretty much anything published by First Second, Athena wasn't my cup of tea. Athena didn't stand out among the crowd of these Greek myth graphic novels. It's a perfectly adequate retelling but it wasn't an outstanding example.

Three stars.

Comments (2)


Steinbeck's Ghost 11/21/11

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Steinbeck's Ghost by Lewis Buzbee is a tween urban fantasy about a boy, Travis, who isn't happy in the new subdivision. He's a Steinbeck fan and wants to help save the Salinas public library from being closed due to budget cuts. As he works on a plan he begins to be visited by ghosts of Steinbeck's stories and quite possibly the author himself. They seem to be telling him that the answers to his problems are tucked away in the landscapes that inspired Steinbeck.

There were so many reasons I should have liked this book. I live in the Bay Area and visit Salinas a couple times a year. I'm also a fan of Steinbeck. I'm a library science student and a lover of ghost stories. Finally, I absolutely adored Buzbee's memoir The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop.

Unfortunately the pieces didn't come together for me. Travis doesn't come of as a very likable protagonist. The move to the new tract home is a plot device to give Travis something to whine about. And whine he does.

The focus of the book should have been the ghosts of Salinas fiction and fact coming together to save the Salina's library. I'm sure that's what happened eventually but the plot gets bogged down first with Travis's unhappiness and then with lengthy discussions of the books he's reading. The name dropping though isn't done as part of plot. Instead these passages feel like book reports inserted for filler.

I ended up not finishing the book. What should have been a fun read ended up being a chore and a bore.

One star.

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What Are You Reading: November 21, 2011: 11/21/11

What Are You Reading?

I still have the same bunch of books going from last week, although I did finally finish The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan and A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks. Of those two, the Brooks book was by far my favorite. It takes place in a library and I'm currently finishing up my MLIS and am interning at a library. So, the book was a perfect fit for me.

Of all the books I finished last week, the best, hands down was The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente. If you can, get a copy of the audio read by the author. It is excellent.

This week I plan to finish The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman. It's my current audio book. I don't know for sure what my next audio book will be. I'll pick something at the library on Tuesday.

I'm not sure I will continue with Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. It's just not going anywhere quick enough for me. For this week I need to finish A Cat Named Squeeky by Vic Reskovic.

I plan to start Of All the Stupid Things by Alexandra Diaz, Firelight by Sophie Jordan and The Alchemist by Michael Scott. All of these are library books coming due.

What about you? What are you reading?

Finished Last Week:

  1. Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer (library book)
  2. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (audio) (library book)
  3. The Phantom Limb by William Sleator (review copy)
  4. A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks (personal collection)
  5. Small Steps by Louis Sachar (library book)
  6. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  7. Wow! Ocean! by Robert Neubecker (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Angels by Marian Keyes (personal collection)
  2. The Blessing Way (audio) by Tony Hillerman (library book)
  3. Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani (personal collection)
  4. Blackout by Connie Willis (personal collection)
  5. A Cat Named Squeeky by Vic Reskovic (library book)
  6. The Damned Highway by Nick Mamatas, Brian Keene (review copy)
  7. Doctor Who: Volume 1 - Fugitive by Tony Lee (library book)
  8. Flirting with Forever by Gwyn Cready (review copy)
  9. This Perfect Day by Ira Levin (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Bagelmania by Connie Berman and Suzanne Munshower (personal collection)
  2. The Clock Without a Face by Gus Twintig (library book)
  3. The Dancing Pancake by Eileen Spinelli (library book)
  4. The Pepins and Their Problems by Polly Horvath (library book)
  5. Pining to Be Human by Richard Bowes (personal collection)
  6. Slog's Dad by David Almond and Dave McKean (library book)
  7. "Stand Back," Said the Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!" by Patricia Thomas (library book)



Comments (26)


Stand Back, Said the Elephant, I'm Going to Sneeze: 11/20/11

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"Stand Back," Said the Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!" by Patricia Thomas is a doozy of a title. But it gets to the heart of this silly rhyming story. An elephant is having a bad case of sneezes and they are causing no end of trouble for the other animals.

The winning element for me on this story is the artwork. The illustrations are just the right combination of realistic and ridiculous. Take for instance the very surprised zebra watching his black stripes fly in all directions or the birds having their feathers blown off.

The book was first published in 1971 and reissued in 1990.

Four stars.

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Pining to Be Human: 11/19/11

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>"Pining to Be Human by Richard Bowes" in the July / August issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction is the third of his semi-autobiographical science fiction stories. While I enjoyed the first one and sort of liked the second by this one I am done. I don't want to read any more of his rambling stories.

In this one a boy who has been molested is told by others that he might be something other than human. He spends his time waffling back and forth between believing and denying the evidence before him.

How it comes out in the end, I'm not really sure. I was too bored by all back and forth to pay full attention.

Two stars.

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The Pepins and Their Problems: 11/18/11

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The Pepins and Their Problems by Polly Horvath was recommended as a good example of "realistic fiction" for children in first through third grades in Essentials of Children's Literature (p. 159). I chose the book on that recommendation for my "notable books for ages 5 to 8" project.

The Pepin family: Mr. and Mrs. Pepin, children Irving and Petunia, cat Miranda and dog Roy and their "very fine neighbor" Mr. Bradshaw face a series of problems. Whenever they reach a problem they can't solve, they get in contact with the author to ask for advice from her readers. The problems include being stuck on the roof without a ladder, a cow who gives lemonade instead of milk, the arrival of a long lost relative and a neighbor contest between Mr. Bradshaw and retired post office worker, Miss Poopenstat.

The interaction between author and reader is similar to that in The Tale of Despereaux. These back and forth bits between the characters and the reader via the author do a few things. First they teach about narrative conventions by drawing attention to them. Secondly they teach about geography. While the place names seem fictional, they are real and students can be asked to either find them in an Atlas or find them via an online map.

Hafner's line drawings peppered through out the book add to the humor of situation, usually illustrating the most outlandish moment in a chapter.

Three stars.

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The Dancing Pancake: 11/17/11

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The Dancing Pancake by Eileen Spinelli is a novel told in verse about eleven year old Bindi trying to cope with her life being turned upside down. Her parents are separated and she and her mother are moving into an apartment over a restaurant which her mother is running the restaurant with a family friend.

While I enjoyed the free verse style of story telling, the plot seemed rather derivative. There seems to be a glut of stories about single parents (usually mothers) running catering companies (or restaurants) while the fathers off having midlife crises. I'm thinking most specifically of the Regular Guy series by Sarah Weeks and Food, Girls and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (review coming).

Besides the family drama plot, The Dancing Pancake has a bittersweet side story about a homeless woman named Grace. She usually has enough to order something from the fledgling Dancing Pancake restaurant but they usually give her something extra. Bindi, trying to find her own place in this new life she's living, befriends Grace and tries to do favors for her. Some of them Grace likes and others she doesn't. This part of the book is a far more interesting but understated discussion on homelessness and mental illness that the After School Special main plot.

Fans of Sharon Creech's novels in verse (Love That Dog and Hate That Cat) will probably like The Dancing Pancake.

Three stars.

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Slog's Dad: 11/16/11

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David McKean has a distinct, easily recognizable artistic style. It's a mixture of collage and illustration that evokes visceral, emotional responses. He has collaborated with Neil Gaiman but the first time I saw his art was in The Savage by David Almond. The two collaborated again in Slog's Dad.

This is a short book and like The Savage is a hybrid graphic novel. Davie isn't convinced in life after death but his friend Slog is. His dad made a death bed promise to visit him again. Slog believes the man sitting outside the chop shop is his father.

Most of the book is the story of how Slog's dad became sick and how the illness took its toll. The meeting on the bench is taken as matter of fact. Whether or not the visitor was really Slog's dad is left to reader to decided based on McKean's surreal illustrations.

It's a book that can be read in thirty minutes. It's also one to ponder over.

Four stars.

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The Clock Without a Face 11/15/11

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The Clock without a Face by Gus Twintig (Scott Teplin, Mac Barnett, and illustrator Eli Horowitz) showed up on the new shelf in the children's library a few months ago. Attracted by the odd shape and the detailed cover illustration, I checked out the book. Rather, I attempted to check out the book but the odd shape made it impossible for the self-service scanner. So after standing in line to talk to the circulation desk I was finally able to take the book home.

Although this is a thirty page board book, I wouldn't classify it as a children's book. It's really more of a graphic novel or adult novelty book.

A detective and his assistant are called to a strange apartment building where on the top floor Bevel Ternky's emerald studded clock has been stolen. Not only that but everyone else in the building is missing something.

Floor by floor the detective gathers clues and interviews residents. By the time he arrives at the bottom floor he knows what happened and he asks the readers to see if they know too.

The book ends up being two puzzles in one. There are the crimes of the other floors and then the emerald numbers. The numbers are an actual marketing gimmick and there were twelve sites across the United States where actual treasure was buried based on clues in the book.

I personally have no interest in trying to solve the remaining unsolved riddles. Once all of them have been found (and they may have by now) the book becomes just that, a book. I doubt it will have lasting appeal without the treasure hunt.

Three stars.

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Bagelmania: 11/14/11

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I associate books with places — either where I first heard of a book, or where I was when I read it. In the case of Bagelmania by Mountain Lion Books, I remember I was running errands through Hayward when NPR had an article about the book. As soon as I got home I added the book to my GoodReads wishlist.

It took me four years to locate a copy. I found it finally via Better World Books. It was worth the time and effort.

Bagelmania is a compendium of all things bagel. It starts with a brief history, including possible word origins. In the history section it mostly focuses on the early days in New York and then on how Lender started freezing bagels to make it easier to sell them long distance.

The book also has lots of nutritional information. The calorie counts take into account the different sizes and flavors of bagels, as well as popular toppings. Then at the back of the book, there is a whole section of recipes for different bagel sandwiches.

In the middle there's some cultural thoughts on bagels, as well as the adoption rates of bagels outside the Jewish community. As of the book's publishing in 1987, it was estimated that most people in the United States still hadn't tried a bagel. I did my own informal poll on Google+ and Twitter. From my circles and followers, about 1% answered. Of that group, 95% had actually eaten a bagel.

If I had one complaint, it's that too much of the book is focused on Lenders Bagels. I realize they're the heavy hitter in the bagel industry (now owned by Kraft, which the book also outlines) but I wanted something a little less focused. Although I've eaten dozens of bagels in my life time, only rarely have I eaten a Lenders bagel.

Four stars.

Comments (0)


What Are You Reading: November 14, 2011: 11/14/11

What Are You Reading? I have a bunch of books going but it was a week of re-reading picture books with my kids and working through longer books on my own time. Nanowrimo and my term paper are taking a bite out of my reading time too.

I did manage to finish Flood and Fire by Emily Diamand.I am still slowly working through The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan. I plan to finish listening to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.

I still want to get to Blackout by Connie Willis, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson and Of All the Stupid Things by Alexandra Diaz. But I haven't yet.

What about you? What are you reading?

Did Not Finish:

  1. Tankborn by Karen Sandler (review copy)

Finished Last Week:

  1. Flood and Fire by Emily Diamand (library book)
  2. The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (personal collection)
  3. Imagine a Night by Sarah L. Thomson (library book)
  4. Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India by Gerald McDermott (library book)
  5. A Pig Named Perrier by Elizabeth Spurr (personal collection)
  6. Yam by Corey Barba (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Angels by Marian Keyes (personal collection)
  2. Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani (personal collection)
  3. Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer (library book)
  4. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (audio) (library book)
  5. The Phantom Limb by William Sleator (review copy)
  6. A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks (personal collection)
  7. Small Steps by Louis Sachar (library book)
  8. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? by Louise Rennison (personal collection)
  2. Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass (library book)
  3. How to Survive a Killer Seance by Penny Warner (personal collection)
  4. Pieces for the Left Hand by J. Robert Demas (library book)
  5. Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh by R.L. LaFevers (review copy)
  6. The Train by Georges Simenon (review copy)
  7. The Writing Circle by Corinne Demas (library book)



Comments (16)

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The Train 11/13/11

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Georges Simenon was a Belgian born writer who had a prolific career. He's best known for his Commissaire Maigret series which spans 75 novels and 28 short stories. He also wrote many other stand alone pulp novels under a variety of pseudonyms.

As his Maigret series pretty much drowns out the other books, it's been difficult to find much information about The Train. I can tell you that it was first published in 1961 as Le Train and it was first translated into English in 1964. It has since been retranslated and reissued by Melville books; it was their review galley that I read.

Marcel Féron has a normal, unexceptional life as a radio repairman in the Ardennes region of France. He has a 4 year old daughter and a wife who is seven months pregnant. As Paris falls and Belgium is invaded, he realizes he and his family have to make their escape. They head for the trains. So does (nearly) everyone else.

When traveling to escape there's no time to think and little time to react. Féron takes the new facts of his life with the same calmness that he takes all other aspects of his life.

There's a detachment to Féron. He reports on the dangers on the train with the same quietude as he describes his morning routine at home. Féron is a hard character to read. He is very much akin to the protagonist in Banana Yoshimoto's The Lake but I just couldn't relate to him as well.

Three stars.

Comments (2)


Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes: 11/12/11

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My library maintains a shelf of recommended books in the front lobby. After coming through the security system, it's the first thing one sees. One of the temping titles I saw displayed there was Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes by J. Robert Lennon.

The book is 100 extremely short stories. Each one is no more than two pages long. They are very often a description of a scene or a thought about a topic. They are all loosely tied together.

This is a book that needs to be lingered over with a morning cup of coffee. While it can be read over a single cup of coffee, I recommend only a few stories a morning. Savor the book and ponder the stories.

Three stars.

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Every Soul A Star: 11/11/11

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Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass is told from the points of view of three characters: Ally, Bree and Jack. The setting is a wilderness camp that specializes in star gazing lessons. This year it's in the path of a total eclipse and the camp will be packed with eclipse chasers.

Ally is the daughter of the current owners of the camp. She is home schooled and has spent her entire life at the camp. Her grandparents helped build it and she's fiercely proud of that fact.

Bree is the daughter of the new owners. She's from the big city and is used to having everything she wants. She's spoiled and shallow.

Jack is a visitor to the camp. He's on his own to see the eclipse. He makes friends on the bus trip to the camp and eventually with Ally and Bree.

Ally starts of the novel and has such a strong voice and well defined character that Bree and Jack just can't compete with her. Bree coming unwillingly to take over the camp that Ally so loves is enough of a shock. She's more interesting as a character from Ally's point of view than from her own. Thus to make it through the book I mostly read Ally's chapters, skimmed Jack's and skipped the majority of Bree's.

Three stars.

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Are these my Basoomas I See Before Me? 11/10/11

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One of the very first books I read as a new member of BookCrossing was Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, the first in what became a ten book YA chicklit series by Louise Rennison. Although the cover was bright green and bizarre — the sort of cover that gets noticed when the book is read in public — I fell madly in love with the protagonist, Georgia Nicolson and all her wacky friends.

I read through all the books as quickly as I could and even had family bring me copies from Britain. I eventually caught up with the series and was able to purchase the newest books. Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? is the last of the series. While I'm sad to see it end, I can see that it was time. Georgia had grown as a character and keeping these silly journals wouldn't read as genuine if she had gotten much older.

Georgia has settled in as Masimo's girlfriend only to have Dave the Laugh vie for her attention. She also has the mini-Georgias following her for advice and it's mostly through them that she comes to realize how much she's grown since she started keeping a journal.

What finishing the series has made me realize is that I want to start all over again. I want to re-read them all and do proper reviews on the books I missed reviewing on my blog.

Five stars.

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The Writing Circle: 11/09/11

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The Writing Circle by Corinne Demas sat on my wishlist exactly a year. I don't remember who recommended it to me or why I added it. It's outside my usual reading.

The book starts as the story of Nancy, a twice published author being invited to join a writing circle. Nancy's had some trouble getting published after her initial success. She's been invited by Bernard, a biographer. The first meeting though doesn't feel like a success. No one seems to want her there, except for Bernard.

With that set up I expected the book to follow how Nancy earns the trust of her group, gets the advice she needs on her book and regains her confidence to finish the book and get it published. But, this book is a little more literary. And while all those things are there in Nancy's stories, the book as a whole is a character study of the people in the circle and those immediately associated with them.

As things progress, a series of events, little mistakes or off handed choices, lead to an unexpected and tragic ending. When I first finished, I thought of Nancy's description of her first chapter, where she just says that stuff happens; the tragedy isn't anyone's fault.

But as I thought more about how one decision leads to another, clearing a path towards the unfortunate ending, I thought of a better term, hitsuzen. Instead of it being coincidences, it's meant to be, even if it seems like the result of a series of random events. That's when the rambling nature of the story clicked into place and I was able to see the bigger picture.

Three stars.

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How to Survive a Killer Seance 11/08/11

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I've lived in the Bay Area now for 12 years. The one place I want to go and haven't yet is The Winchester Mystery House. It is the setting for the third of the Party Planner books, How to Survive a Killer Seance by Penny Warner.

Presley Parker's latest client is the CEO of a tech company with a new 4D technology, something like a fully realized hologram. To launch the new product, he wants Presley to put on a seance where Sarah Winchester will materialize (and thus show off the new technology). Of course someone ends up dead and Presley's the center of attention again.

Meanwhile back at Treasure Island, her offices are being condemned and she has to find a new place to work. She's also being haunted by spirits of her own. Maybe the murderer is trying to scare her off?!

I was having so much fun with the setting and Presley's trouble on Treasure Island that I was too preoccupied to guess the identity of the murderer. That was a big improvement over How to Crash a Killer Bash. This series of books is a perfect mix of Bay Area locations and party planning mayhem.

I read this books for fun. They are my curl up with a hot cup of cocoa books.

The fourth book is How to Party with a Killer Vampire (review coming).

Five stars

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Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh: 11/07/11

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Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh by R. L. LaFevers takes Theodosia to Egypt. She's convinced her mother to let her see a dig but her real goal is to turn a dangerous artifact.

The journey though quickly reveals dangers entrenched in the very places Theodosia has gone for help. To make matters worse she's been befriended by a donkey boy who has as fantastic a tale as her own. His destiny and hers seem tied up together.

It was fun to see Thedosia finally back in Egypt. She learns along the way about her special ties to the country and why she's so sensitive to curses and other magic.

Book four is by far my favorite of the series. It had the same mixture of fun, mystery and peril as the early Amelia Peabody series does.

Fans of the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan will find some similar themes and plot twists being played out. Both are aimed at a middle grade audience.

Five stars.

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

What Are You Reading?

This week's reading reflects a number of things. First of all, I had a lot of books going that I was able to finish after weeks of reading them. There are a couple picture books I read while waiting for the slow network to respond to my cataloging requests.

I have a new selection of books going. The one I need to finish this week is Flood and Fire by Emily Diamand. It's due next Saturday. From my personal collection, I'd like to finish The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan. The audio I'm listening to, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente is excellent.

I want to get to Blackout by Connie Willis, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson and Of All the Stupid Things by Alexandra Diaz.

What about you? What are you reading?

Finished Last Week:

  1. 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up by Julia Eccleshare (library book)
  2. The Bountiful Cow by Helen Manley Czaja (library book)
  3. Fletcher and Zenobia by Edward Gorey (library book)
  4. The Hole in the Wall by Lisa Rowe Fraustino (library book)
  5. How to Party with a Killer Vampire by Penny Warner (personal collection)
  6. How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack by Chuck Sambuchino (personal collection)
  7. Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (library book)
  8. The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K. Madigan (library book)
  9. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (library book)
  10. The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger (library book)
  11. Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break if You Want to Survive the School Bus by John Grandits (library book)
  12. White Cat by Holly Black (audio) (personal collection)

Currently Reading:

  1. Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer (library book)
  2. Flood and Fire by Emily Diamand (library book)
  3. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (audio) (library book)
  4. The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (personal collection)
  5. A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks (personal collection)
  6. Tankborn by Karen Sandler (review copy)
  7. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Busy Woman Seeks Wife by Annie Sanders (library book)
  2. Chasing Demons by R.L. Geerdes (review copy)
  3. Fullmetal Alchemist 11 by Hiromu Arakawa
  4. Doctor Who: The Ripper by Tony Lee (review copy)
  5. Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford (personal collection)
  6. Pride and Prejudice (audio) by Jane Austen (library book)
  7. xxxHolic 05 by CLAMP (library book)



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Pride and Prejudice (audio): 11/06/11

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Jane Austen wasn't taught at my high school and I didn't take any English lit classes in college. I was in my mid twenties and the Jane Austen phenomena was gaining momentum. Since then I've been trying and failing to read any Austen book start to finish. That is until this year when I discovered the perfect way to read her books: audio in the car.

Pride and Prejudice is now the best known and most popular of Austen's books. When I was a teen, it was Sense and Sensibility (thanks to Clueless). P&P's current popularity is due in large part to the film adaptation Collin Firth was in.

The Bennett family is in a bit of a pickle. Mr. Bennett's financial affairs (and the house) are in the red. If he dies, the house goes to his creditor and Mrs. Bennett and their five daughters are out on the street. The only thing to do — marry off the daughters.

Jane is the oldest and most beautiful. Tradition states she should be married first to pave the way for her sisters. But there's a snag in the form of Mr. Darcy who makes an ass of himself at the first dance and thoroughly pisses of the second daughter, Elizabeth. She pegs him for being prideful but is blind to her own prejudice.

Like a modern day soap opera, the novel contrives to put Darcy and Elizabeth together in as many frustrating and embarrassing ways as possible. Eventually though the reasons behind Darcy's behavior comes out and Elizabeth softens.

Listening to the audio gave me a better appreciation for the novel. I can see why it's popular. I had a few problems with the production of the audio. The woman reading the book gave Mrs. Bennett a harpy voice. It literally set my teeth on edge.

Four stars.

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Busy Woman Seeks Wife: 11/05/11

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I spotted Busy Woman Seeks Wife by Annie Sanders (Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders) on display at the library. A woman working her way up the fashion design ladder puts out a want ad for a "wife" to help her keep her elderly mother company and keep her domestic life under control.

I was hoping that the "wife" who responded would actually be a woman. It would have made for an interesting twist on things. Instead, it's a man — a struggling actor. What kept me reading at first was his immediate friendship with the main character's mother, known in London theater scene as "The Bean." She reminded me of Castle's mother.

Ultimately it was the design show plot that got me to the end. It read like something out of Ugly Betty. Throughout the book the main character struggles with a series of bad luck or small goofs. By themselves they are just glitches. Together, though, they add up to sabotage. Solving the mystery and seeing revenge served made the book a fun read.

Four stars.

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Jane Bites Back: 11/04/11

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A current trend in literature is the classic mashup. Jane Austen seems to be the most popular classic author to repurpose. Usually these books fall into either contemporary novels about a young person (usually a woman) reliving an Austen plot or somehow being affected by one of her books — Jane Austen Ruined My Life, for example. The other category is the paranormal mashup where a classic is retold with a paranormal twist — Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for example. There are also a number of sequels to famous books, like Mr. Darcy, Vampyr.

Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford is the first book I've read where Jane Austen herself is in the book and is the paranormal twist. As you can probably guess from the title and cover, she's a vampire. She's "living" in a small Upstate New York town and running a small bookstore. What she really wants, though, is to see her last manuscript published but she isn't desperate enough to resort to self publishing.

Jane gets her chance at publication, as Jane Fairfax, and is thrust back into a very changed publishing world with it. Along with her confusion over how things work now, Jane also has to contend with a lover returned, and a blogger who is out to ruin her new career before it even gets started.

I read the book while up in the mountains, sans internet. It was just the refreshing, silly read I needed. I found it fast paced and humorous. I plan to read the sequel soon, Jane Goes Batty.

Four stars.

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Doctor Who: The Ripper: 11/03/11

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er art (Link goes to Powells)" width="132" height="200" border="1" align="right">With Matt Smith taking over as the Eleventh Doctor, there is a new series of comics. The first of which is Doctor Who: The Ripper by Tony Lee.

Although The Ripper will mostly be about the Doctor, Amy Pond and Rory going against Jack the Ripper, the first issue (and the only one included in the NetGalley preview) is an introductory adventure involving a planet inhabited by holograms. Put that together with the TARDIS and email spam and imagine the consequences.

The artwork is good. The characters look like the actors in the series. It took a page for me to recognize Rory but I was more taken aback by all the other weirdness going on inside the TARDIS.

Four stars.

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xxxHolic Volume 05: 11/02/11

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XxxHolic Volume 05 by CLAMP has three mini stories and one point of crossover with Tsubasa: Resreservoir Chronicle that hints at the arc plot. The ministories involve Watanuki helping a little girl who is lost, a quiet girl sprouting wings and the rescue of a mountain spirit, the Zashiki-Warashi.

Watanuki gets a little more character development through a flashback of his friendship with a boy who is also tied to the April Fool's Day. The boy helps Watanuki manage his spirit problem by showing him a few tricks. As the friendship develops it's clear that something is not quite right with either boy. In light of the arc plot, though, this flashback is both intriguing and somewhat troublesome.

For the arc plot, Syaoran and friends send something in exchange for the food sent to them by Mokona. Their tardiness in making the delivery has Yûko worried, though she pretends she's just fretting over White Day.

By this point in the series I was well and truly hooked, as was my son. We went from requesting one volume via interlibrary loan to two volumes.

Five stars.

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 11: 11/01/11

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Volume 11 of Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa nearly coincides with the end of Brotherhood Part 2. Now that the Elric brothers and their friends in the military are beginning to know the truth behind the current mess in Central, they want to take action. To that, though, they need to better understand the enemy.

Ed learns the truth behind human transmutation and while it's a painful lesson, it does bring some comfort. Death is final even if you try to pay the ultimate price.

Havoc pays a price too in a fire fight. Seeing him injured shocked me more than Hughs's death. Like Hughs, he was played for comedy and ends up being a hero above an beyond expectations.

Of most interest, though, is the tidbit that might explain Ed's short stature. Like everything else, a comedic detail is woven right back into the story arc.

Five stars.

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