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December 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


 

Top Ten Reads in 2011: 12/31/11

I read 70 books published in 2011 but only managed to get twelve reviewed! That means I have some great books to share with you in the coming months. It also means that I can't make a top ten list of only 2011 books.

Instead, my lists include a lot of older books. Many of them I got through my local library, so maybe you can too. Many are also still in print.

Favorite Series read in 2011

10. Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan
09. Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems
08. Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan
07. Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
06. Theodosia Throckmorton by R.L. LaFevers
05. Twin Spica by Kou Yaginuma
04. Enola Holmes by Nancy Springer
03. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes by Laurie R. King
02. Presley Parker by Penny Warner
01. xxxHolic by CLAMP

Favorite Nonfiction

10. FU Penguin by Matthew Gasteier (2009)
09. Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Elliot (2009)
08. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello (1990 / 2011)
07. At Ease: Navy Men of World War II by Evan Bachner (2004)
06. The Phone Book by Ammon Shea (2010)
05. And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis (2006)
04. Bastard Tongues by Derek Bickerton (2008)
03. Ambient Findabilibty by Peter Morville (2005)
02. Wesley the Owl by Stacey O'Brien (2008)
01. Looking for Lost Bird by Yvette Melanson (1999)

Favorite picture books

10. Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan (2010)
09.The Daddy Book by Todd Parr (2002)
08. Magpie Magic by April Wilson (1998)
07. Runaway Wok by Ying Chang Compestine and Sebastia Serra (2011)
06. Coco the Carrot by Steven Salerno (2005)
05. Sophie Peterman Tells the Truth by Sarah Weeks (2009)
04. Hattie the Bad by Jane Devlin (2010)
03. Banana by Ed Vere (2007)
02. Flotsam by David Wiesner (2006)
01. The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman (2011)

Favorite Fiction

10. Pride and Prejudice (audio) by Jane Austen (1813 / 2005)
09. Around the World with Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis (1958)
08. World At Night by Alan Furst (1996)
07. Alone on a Wide Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo (2006)
06. Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo (2010)
05. The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson (2007)
04. Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace (2010)
03. A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve (2009)
02. The Doorbells of Florence by Andrew Losowsky (2009)
01. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (1993)

Comments (0)


Just Breeze: 12/31/11

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Just Breeze by Beverly Stowe McClure is a tween fiction about a girl, Breeze, who just wants to survive the eight grade. She's tall for her age, has big feet, red unruly hair and a popular older sister who is on the cheerleading squad. Then there's the new boy Cam that she's crushing on. Oh so much drama for eighth grade!

The reviews and blurbs I've read says this is a book that all teen girls will relate to and that will appeal to boys and girls alike. Maybe it was the method of reading (ebook instead of printed) or maybe it's that I don't have any sisters and my friends and I never talked about boys when were teens, but the book was just ok.

I dare authors to write a book about an eighth grade book that doesn't have: her being boy crazy, jealous about her sister, or being taller than everyone else. It's been done and done to death. It's time to move on.

Just Breeze reads like a book where Junie B. Jones is now in eighth grade but otherwise hasn't matured much.

Received for review.

Two stars.

Comments (0)


Naked Heat: 12/30/11

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Naked Heat by Richard Castle is the second in the Nikki Heat series inspired by the television mystery Castle. This time a gossip columnist has been murdered in her home and the search for her killer leads to more deaths and false leads.

When I read it at the end of last year I liked it. The Castle books are pretty easy to read. If I were one to call any sort of reading a guilty pleasure, I'd put the Castle books in that category.

Now though that I'm looking back on the book, it hasn't stuck with me as well as the first one has. What has remained is my appreciation of the tougher mystery but the desire for a longer book with better fleshed out characters. Also the sex scenes either need to go or be better written.

Three stars.

Comments (0)


Eye of the Crow: His First Case: 12/29/11

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I'm not entirely sure when my obsession with Sherlock Holmes began. The Basil Rathbone movies probably came first. The books I started reading in eighth grade. I was on a school field trip and I read through a collection of the short stories on the bus ride there and back. By the end of college my mother introduced me to a new take on Sherlock by Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper's Apprentice which has grown to a twelve book series.

This summer while waiting for book twelve, The Pirate King (review coming), I have been reading through some middle grade Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Mostly I read the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer but I also read Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock. Peacock's book falls into the "Young Sherlock" category of stories. Like the film Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) with the awesome CGI stained glass knight, Sherlock is once again thirteen and facing a mystery that puts a woman he loves in dire peril. This first mystery is designed to show his raw talent and the diamond in the rough that will become the refined consulting-detective of Baker Street, London.

While Doyle didn't include much about Sherlock's childhood (or personal life outside of his detective work), Sherlock does mention being from a long line of country squires. So usually when Sherlock's home life is shown, it's on a small estate somewhere, usually with somewhat progressive parents, or absent parents who don't mind their son's usual hobbies.

Peacock, though, in Eye of the Crow, decides to put Sherlock and his family in near poverty, due his mother (of the country squire line) marrying a recent Jewish immigrant, a former scientist who now can't find work.

Sherlock's mixed ethnicity puts the police on his tail as they think he's an accomplice in a grisly murder outside a Muslim run butcher's. While it's an interesting conceit, it just doesn't hold up as the mystery unfolds. Sherlock's parents, father especially, go from being completely absent or at least not caring about him skipping school to helping him sneak around to solve the mystery (at great personal risk).

That brings me to Sherlock's mother. She's never described in the stories but she appears (briefly) in the Enola Holmes series and of course in The Eye of the Crow. In Peacock's book, she ends up being a victim and a catalyst for Sherlock's desire to use his street smarts to solve mysteries.

Given my options, I prefer Nancy Springer's take on Sherlock's mother. She's just as crafty as he is, and more likely to rebel, being burned out by years of playing a proper country squire's widow. She wants her freedom and she takes it (along with most of Mycroft's money). Her Bohemian attitude makes me smile and just fits better with the gestalt of Sherlock Holmes.

Three stars.

Wikipedia articles on Sherlock:

Comments (2)


The Case of the Missing Marquess: 12/28/11

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Recommended to me by Book Nut

The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer is the first in the Enola Holmes mystery series. Written for middle graders, it introduces a much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, someone who is as smart and capable as they are but because of her youth and her gender has to struggle to live her life the way she wishes.

In this first volume Enola is in a quandary. Her father is long since dead and now her mother has run off with the family funds, leaving her with the staff and an empty house. Being a young single woman not of age, Enola will be forced do as her brothers wish.

In the middle of trying to find her mother through clues left behind meant only for her, Enola stumbles across another mystery. A young marquess has gone missing and Enola feels she understands the clues better than her brothers.

While Enola's methods are Sherlockian, her insights and observations give Springer a chance to discuss gender issues in the Victorian as well as making allusions to present day gender issues. In many of the Victorian era novels I've read, London and more broadly, Great Britain is painted with rosy nostalgia or is presented with more grime and misfortune than the average Dickens novel. The Enola books avoid either extreme while still making London a potentially dangerous but rewarding place for Enola to live.

Four stars.

Comments (0)


Generation Loss: 12/27/11

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Elizabeth Hand writes the Books section of Fantasy & Science Fiction. When I started reading books from my wishlist, hers were my priority. Generation Loss was my second Elizabeth Hand book after Waking the Moon.

Cass Neary was a hot shit photographer in the 1970s, specializing in the New York City punk scene. Sex, drugs and punk music burned her out and by the 1990s her career has basically flatlined. Then a friend of a friend offers her a job to interview Aphrodite, another famous photographer from the 1970s, now turned recluse up in Maine.

Cass goes to Maine and the book morphs into a mystery with horror overtones. Aphrodite's recluse life on a sparsely populated island brings to light a sinister history involving the photographer and her neighbors.

Generation Loss reads like a mixture of H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, E. Annie Proulx with a smattering of Daniel Pinkwater (if he wrote horror instead of middle grade urban fantasy).

Five stars.

Comments (0)


Treasure Hunt: 12/26/11

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Treasure Hunt by John Lescroart is the second book in the Hunt Club series. It's set in San Francisco at a flailing detective agency.

Wyatt Hunt has been sleeping in his car and cutting as many corners as he can to keep the Hunt Club afloat. Things might turn around if he can stay in business long enough to figure out who killed Dominic Como, a high powered activist.

The reason the Hunt Club is on the case at all is because the one remaining employee besides Hunt himself, Mickey Dade found the body. Not having any active cases and needing something to do, Mickey convinces Hunt that they should pursue leads.

The book reads like an early season of Simon & Simon with some Rockford Files thrown in, except that it's set in San Francisco. I mostly read it for the setting and the City and its neighbors are well described.

The mystery itself is a pretty standard detective agency style mystery. If you like that type of mystery, you will probably like this book. I think I would have enjoyed Treasure Hunt if I had read Hunt Club first.

Two stars.

Comments (0)


What Are You Reading: December 26, 2011: 12/26/11

What Are You Reading?

Happy Boxing Day. While on vacation I caught a cold. The cold has made my brain turn to absolute mush. So I haven't been reading much.

Red Glove is on hold. I had to return it to the library before I could finish. Had I not gotten the cold, I would have stayed up late and gotten it read. It's a good book but couldn't concentrate on it after getting sick. I will pick it up in January.

Up next: I still want to start Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby. I didn't get to start Outside In again by Maria K. Snyder. Nope. Ran out of time again before it was due at the library. I will try again in January. In the meantime I want to finish Twin Spica Volume 7, the only thing I've been able to read these last few days.

On the trip down I plan to finish Rise of the Evening Star and re-read (re-listen to) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Did Not Finish:

  1. Keeping Up Appearances by Rose Macaulay (library book)

Finished Last Week:

  1. Blood Lure by Nevada Barr (personal collection)
  2. Dot by Patricia Intriago (library book)
  3. F in Exams: The Funniest Test Paper Blunders by Richard Benson (library book)
  4. Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder (library book)
  5. Posy by Linda Newbery (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Blackout by Connie Willis (personal collection)
  2. Drift House by Dale Peck (audio) (library book)
  3. Flirting with Forever by Gwyn Cready (review copy)
  4. Immortal by Gene Doucette (review copy)
  5. Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull (library book)
  6. This Perfect Day by Ira Levin (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King (library book)
  2. The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez (library book)
  3. The Bootlegger's Secret by Michael Springer (review copy)
  4. Just In Case by Yuyi Morales (library book)
  5. Lin Yi's Lantern by Brenda Wililams (library book)
  6. True Things (Adults Don't Want Kids to Know) by Jimmy Gownley (library book)
  7. xxxHolic Volume 06 by CLAMP (library book)

Comments (28)


The Book of Murder: 12/25/11

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The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez is another of those long time wishlist books, on the list since the book was first published. Since it's an Argentinean mystery, I either learned about it via NPR or BBC radio. Regardless, I'm glad I added it to my list.

An author on a deadline has to hire a typist when he breaks his wrist. He's sent Luciana, a young, beautiful and efficient typist. The author meets his deadline and that's the last he thinks of her for a decade, until she reappears with an outlandish story involving her long time employer.

Luciana has been working for a well respected author — Kloster — who has a bit of a reputation. Her story, though, goes well beyond the stories and into depravity. If she is to be believed, he has been systematically killing everyone near and dear to her. She asks the un-named narrator to help prove Kloster is behind all these deaths.

Slowly but surely, Martinez builds the tension, leaving clues that point to Kloster, and just as many that point to Luciana making everything up. The narrator gets further and further involved, until he is also in danger, but he's not sure where the danger is coming from.

Martinez's book reads like a blend between a Daphne du Maurier thriller and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It's everything I had hoped Stieg Larsson's first book would be but for me wasn't. It was just the right balance of mystery, suspense, old secrets and new dangers.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


The Beekeeper's Apprentice: 12/24/11

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The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King when it was the only book in the series. I read it during a train ride between Los Angeles and San Diego and back. After that book I was hooked and I have continued to keep up to date with the series (something I rarely do).

In January I was reading The Canary Trainer by Nicholas Meyer and about five pages into the first chapter I was struck by how much it reminded me of The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Knowing full well that Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain I came to the conclusion that both books must be derived from the same source material. I quick search online (something not as easy to do the last time I read this book) I realized I haven't read the last two Holmes stories: Sherlock Holmes Returns and The Last Bow. I also got the hankering to re-read the first book in King's series.

In 1915, fifteen year old Mary Russell literally stumbles over Sherlock Holmes as he's studying his bees and she has her nose in a book. It takes her less than minute to figure out who he is and to put him in his place. Thus begins their friendship and her apprenticeship.

When I read the book the first time, it seemed to fly by. This second time I realize the book has three distinct parts that are almost like connected novellas than a single novel. The first piece is Russell's meeting with Holmes and their early friendship. Next comes their first case together and a scene that feels like foreshadowing of the a similar rescue in The Language of Bees. The final part is the real case where Russell's life is in danger. It's also the piece that introduces the next pair of books in the series.

On the second round through the book lost a little bit of its magic for me but I still enjoyed it. I hadn't appreciated the first time how much of the series must have been planned at the writing of this book. But I was impatient with young Russell having seen her grow and learn her skills as a detective.

Four stars.

Comments (2)


True Things (Adults Don't Want Kids to Know): 12/23/11

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True Things (Adults Don't Want Kids to Know) is the sixth Amelia Rules graphic novel by Jimmy Gownley. It's the only one I've read. I liked the title and though I would give it a try.

Amelia is turning eleven and is having a birthday party. Aunt Tanner sings a special song, an event that is apparently a rare thing indeed. Amelia also gets her first crush and has to deal with the roller coaster of emotions she's feeling and how those feelings are affecting her friends and family.

The graphic novel was okay but not something where I want to start at the beginning of the series. I never really felt a connection to any of the characters. Fans of the series though will probably like to see Amelia's first crush and what she learns from it.

Three stars.

Comments (0)


Lin Yi's Lantern: 12/22/11

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Lin Yi's Lantern by Brenda Williams as part of that astronomy themed book project I did. It teaches children about the Chinese Moon Festival through a story, an art project and through the myth of the moon goddess.

Lin Yi is sent to town with money to purchase supplies for the night's Moon Festival by his mother. If he has any money left over he can purchase a red lantern shaped like a bunny. He goes through the entire market buying what his mother needs but just doesn't have enough for his lantern. His friendly demeanor though inspires someone else to get it for him as a gift.

The next section is a step by step art project that teaches children how to make a simple paper lantern. This is a great bonus for teachers, librarians or homeschooling parents looking for moon festival projects.

The final piece is a short retelling of the moon goddess legend. It teaches the background to the moon festival. I would recommend anyone teaching this book read the myth first and then the main story unless students are already familiar with the mythology.

Four stars.

Comments (0)


xxxHolic Volume 06: 12/21/11

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As my son and I rapidly approach the end of xxxHolic we are starting to recognize developing themes and motifs that we missed in the earlier ones. Volume 6, for example, feels very much like a dress rehearsal for Volume 16 where the series is renamed xxxHolic Rô.

Yûko and Mokona are away on a business trip, reachable only through a piss-poor phone connection. Watanuki with help from Maru and Moro and a reluctant Dômeki is left to watch the shop. Watanuki learns the price of unbalanced favors as he befriends a grieving mother who misses her son.

One of my favorite vignettes is in the volume, "Kimihiro and the Spirit Parade." Watanuki and Dômeki are given a chance to walk with the spirits as long as they carry the ground cherry lamp. Fans of Spirited Away will recognize many of the spirits in this procession.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


The Bootlegger's Secret: 12/20/11

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I have a fondness for novels set in the 1920s and 1930s, especially ones that deal directly with prohibition. So I was curious to read The Bootlegger's Secret by Michael Springer when it was pitched to me.

Two boys on summer vacation Mark Penn and Swede Larson find a 1931 Pierce-Arrow. Inside is the body of a once notorious bootlegger as well as his cigarette case. Curious, the boys take the cigarette case and it leads them through a series of misadventures that help to unveil the truth behind the bootlegger's death.

The book isn't just about the bootlegger though. It's part of the atmosphere of a historical novel. There's also mention of the circus coming to town and 4th of July celebrations and other typically American summertime activities. This mixture of nostalgia with adventure gives The Bootlegger's Secret a Ray Bradbury sort of feel to it.

I received this book for review from the author.

Four stars.

Comments (2)


Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book: 12/19/11

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Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book by Yuyi Morales at the library, it was on display for El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). My son likes spirit, monster and trickster stories. It seemed like a perfect fit. So that was my first read through it.

My second read was for the Materials for Children Ages 5 to 8 class I took Spring Semester. I needed a multicultural, award winner. Just in Case won the Governor General’s Literary Awards, Children’s Literature - Illustration as well as the Belpre Author Honor and Pura Belpre Illustrator Award.

Sr. Calavera is so excited about Grandma Beetle's birthday party he forgets to get her a gift until Zelmiro the Ghost reminds him. Sr. Calavera puts together a nearly complete list of gifts from the Spanish alphabet. Disaster strikes, though, when he crashes his bike and all the gifts are scattered and broken. What will he do now?

The story teaches most of the Spanish alphabet (including CH, LL, and Ñ but not RR) and elements of Mexican-American culture both through the colorful illustrations and through the choices of gifts. The story wraps together the themes of life, death, birthdays and families into this magical realism picture book.

Three stars.

Comments (0)


What Are You Reading: December 19, 2011: 12/19/11

What Are You Reading?

I am officially on vacation. Spring semester doesn't start until the end of January. In between culling my bookshelves and doing a massive decluttering of my house, I am also reading. I got through many of the library books that have been sitting patiently for me to get done with school.

I finally finished Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. I liked the ending but I'm not inspired to read any more books in that series right now.

Last week I was worrying that I wouldn't finish my GoodReads Challenge. I was wrong. I finished early! Please read my post about how I accomplished such a high goal.

Up next: I still want to start Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby. I plan to start Outside In by Maria V. Snyder. I also have a huge pile of picture books to read with my daughter. She actually read me two of them in the car but I'll add them to next week's list.

Did Not Finish:

  1. A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files (review copy)
  2. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa (library book)

Finished Last Week:

  1. The Arctic Marauder by Jacques Tardi (libary book)
  2. Ballet School by Sierra Harimann (personal collection)
  3. Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani (personal collection)
  4. Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster (personal collection)
  5. Empire State: A Love Story (or Not) by Jason Shiga (library book)
  6. Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller (review book)
  7. Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson (audio) (personal collection)
  8. Flight by Sherman Alexie (library book)
  9. Hannah's Bookmobile Christmas by Sally Derby (library book)
  10. Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (library book)
  11. Hot Rod Hamster! by Cynthia Lord (library book)
  12. I Spy With My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs (library book)
  13. Listening Woman by Tony Hillerman (audio) (library book)
  14. The Lowdown on Denim by Tanya Lloyd Kyi (review copy)
  15. Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer (library book)
  16. Mr. Ouchy's First Day by B.G. Hennessy (library book)
  17. One Of Those Days by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (library book)
  18. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott (personal collection)
  19. Perfect Shot by Debbie Rigaud (library book)
  20. Pssst! by Adam Rex (library book)
  21. Stitches by David Small (library book)
  22. The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Blackout by Connie Willis (personal collection)
  2. Blood Lure by Nevada Barr (personal collection)
  3. Drift House by Dale Peck (audio) (library book)
  4. Flirting with Forever by Gwyn Cready (review copy)
  5. Immortal by Gene Doucette (review copy)
  6. Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull (library book)
  7. This Perfect Day by Ira Levin (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe by Robert Onopa
  2. Crictor by Tomi Ungerer
  3. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 12 by Hiromu Arakawa
  4. Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent
  5. The Night Train by Kate Wilhelm
  6. Sophie Peterman Tells the Truth by Sarah Weeks
  7. The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie

Comments (24)


The Night Train: 12/18/11

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"The Night Train" by Kate Wilhelm is one of the last stories in the Jan/Feb issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Like her other stories it deals metaphorically with death, loss and broken families.

The last remaining child, the youngest but adult, is visiting his parents. He wants to offer his mother a way to escape from her abusive husband. He wants to do it without running away like his brother and sister have both done.

That chance seems to be in the form of the night train. Here I am reminded of Robert Bloch's "That Hell-Bound Train" reprinted in the March 2009 issue. There the train is a moving extension of Hell itself.

I take, therefore, the mother's note at the end of taking her husband to the late night train as a metaphorical murder / suicide. Whatever the actual ending, I doubt the son will be seeing his parents again.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


On Reading: 12/18/11

GoodReads

On December 16 I completed the 2011 GoodReads Reading Challenge. The book that did the honor was a picture book called One of Those Days by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Rebecca Doughty. It's fitting that the final book would be a children's book containing only 32 pages as it is typical of my reading this year.

Which brings me to the question I get asked more than anything on this blog: How do you read so much? I hope in this blog post to answer that question. I know it won't keep people from asking me, and I don't mind being asked. The trick to reading a lot is: a matter of location, a matter of habit, and a matter of choice.

Location, Location, Location:

Like an alcoholic who hides her bottles all over the house in case her main stash is found, I have books I'm reading in every major room of my house as well as my purse and my car. Don't worry, I don't read and drive, but I do have an audio book (actually two) in my CD player in my car. I also have an ebook on my computer. So at any given time, I have around six books going: one in my bedroom, one in each bathroom, one in my purse, one on my computer, one in my car and one by my comfy chair.

That way, if I have a spare moment, I usually have a book on hand. A couple pages here and a couple pages there, and soon I am finishing up multiple books in a week. All of these stashed books, though, are either YA or adult — meaning they are full length, being 250 pages or more.

Habit:

They way to read a lot is, well, to read a lot. By that I mean, in order to finish many books, read frequently. Instead of spending my time playing video games or watching television, I tend instead to read, write, or work on my artistic endeavors: photography and illustration.

My husband is also a reader and he and I realized we prefer to read than watch television. So we gave up cable ten years ago. It's an expense we don't miss. For the little TV and movie watching we do, we watch DVDs or streaming video.

Choice of Book:

Finally, there's my choice of reading material. I have children and I read with them. I count the first time I read a book with them in my reading list, and so does GoodReads. Knowing that roughly half of my time reading is spent reading with them, I doubled my goal from 300 to 600. So now that the challenge is over, let's look at the numbers and how they break down.

Books by Age

The E books are the picture books. Easy books are the level 1, 2, and 3 books like the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. Looking at picture books all the way up to books for jr. high, 60% of the books I read this year were children's books. That leaves the remaining 40% to YA (which does share overlap with the tween books) and adult.

To put it another way, if I had only read YA and adult books, I would have read approximately 240 books.

Comments (6)


The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe: 12/17/11

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When I was a child one thing I wanted but never had the money or room for was a model railroad. "The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe" by Robert Onopa in the May / June issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction has me rethinking that dream.

A boy is given a model railroad with AI with a retro feel. He's also given a more modern AI model mag lev or monorail train set. After customizing it to his voice he starts to notice some strange behavior from the train sets.

The story is good, short and creepy. It's a great little horror story.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


The Widow's Season: 12/16/11

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The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie opens with Sarah seeing her husband at the grocery store. There's just one slight hitch, he's missing and presumed drowned. Sarah does her best to assume it's just her grief playing tricks on her until he shows up at her doorstep as if nothing had happened.

Until David shows up at their home, I was considering putting the book aside. Sarah's grief after seventeen years of marriage is understandable but the first chapter or is completely focused on her grief. I began to worry that the book would just become a long pity party for Sarah.

David's appearance though, shakes things up. He and Sarah act as is it's completely normal for him to appear after so long. He gives a lengthy explanation about his absence, his lack of money, why he hasn't tried to contact her or why he doesn't have his ID. Under all these apparently simple answers there are little clues, things not quite right, that add a new layer of understanding.

Had the book reintroduced David sooner, I would have rated the book five stars. I'm taking one off for the slow, melodramatic opening.

Four stars

Comments (4)


Sophie Peterman Tells the Truth!: 12/15/11

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Sophie Peterman Tells the Truth! by Sarah Weeks is all about the difficulties of being an older sibling. Sophie is here to set the record straight about the lies parents tell their children about the new baby. It reads like an update to Martha Alexander's Nobody Asked Me if I Wanted a Baby Sister.

Sophie goes through step by step all the ways babies are impossible, alien, annoying additions to the family. They aren't cute, they can't do anything, they're noisy, they're stinky and so forth.

What Sophie doesn't realize at first is that babies don't stay babies for very long. In fact they change and learn pretty quickly. As they learn they become more interesting. The book takes a charming turn as Sophie's opinion of her brother softens.

When I read this book to my two, I expected my son to relate to the book most as he's the oldest. I was wrong. It was my daughter who found the book hilarious. For every one of Sophie's examples, she wanted to know how she and Sean were like as babies.

Five stars.

Comments (2)


Kimchi & Calamari: 12/14/11

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Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent was on display at the library. The usual title is what caught my attention. It sounded like a strange food combination that my husband would like (Italian fried squid and Korean pickled cabbage). Turns out the book is about an adopted boy (of Korean heritage) growing up in an Italian-American family. Like Sunita Sen in Mitali Perkins's book(review coming), The Not-so-Star Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, Joseph Calderaro begins to question his place in the world when asked to do a report on his ancestors.

Instead of talking to his teacher to ask for clarification, Joseph over-reacts and decides he can't possibly write about his adopted families' history. He chooses to make up a fictional story for himself if he can't track down answers about his biological family.

While the details of adoptions of Korean children by Americans were interesting, as were the Italian superstitions, the different pieces didn't mesh for me. Throughout the book I thought about the many different adopted friends I have, many who are in situations like Joseph. Across the board, my friends, while interested in their biological roots, were just as proud of their adopted roots. They would have done reports on their adopted families. I can see the conflict, therefore, coming from a teacher not understanding their situation and making unreasonable demands.

Three stars.

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Crictor: 12/13/11

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Crictor by Tomi Ungerer is about an old woman who is given a boa constrictor by her son. Initially shocked by the gift she does the right thing, studies up on boas and sets out to provide a good home for snake, whom she names Crictor.

There are a few oddities to the book, like the woman feeding a milk bottle to Crictor. Snakes aren't mammals and don't drink milk. But it's a minor point in an otherwise delightful book.

The illustrations are primarily done in green, white and black. The lady gets a few red highlights, like her hat. The line drawings are humorous and more comic than realistic. They remind me a bit of the style used for The Plant Sitter by Gene Zion but it's not the same author or artist.

The book was first released in 1958 and re-released as a Reading Rainbow book in 1983. It's on ALA's Notable Children's book list 1940-1959 and is on Horn Book fanfare honor list.

Four stars.

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 12: 12/12/11

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Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa begins to reveal some of what makes the homunculi tick. We've seen in previous issues that they can change appearance and that Gluttony has an insatiable appetite as his name implies. Now, though, the true depths of their abilities comes to light.

Along with showing their abilities, Arakawa shows how driven they are. Something is coming to a head and it's making them bolder than they have been. Bradley no longer tries to hide his secret, implying that it's the least well kept secret in the government, a troubling revelation to Ed and friends who are trying to fix things!

As secrets are revealed, Winry learns the painful truth behind her parents' deaths. She gets the chance to take her revenge. It's a painful and tense, well done scene. While the equivalent scene in Brotherhood is just as dramatic, I prefer the pacing of Arakawa's artwork.

By this point in the series there is so much going on, I don't want to babble to much and reveal spoilers either to those reading the series or watching Brotherhood.

Suffice it to say, it's been the best manga series I've ever read and I will be emotionally wiped out when I reach the end.

Five stars.

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What Are You Reading: December 12, 2011: 12/12/11

What Are You Reading?

I am officially on vacation. Spring semester doesn't start until the end of January. My first order of business after turning in my last final was to finish Hex Hall. It was well worth the wait! I now have Demonglass on hold at my library.

I am still chugging along with Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. It's still not the fastest book ever but reading it before bed is working a lot better.

Next up is Flight by Sherman Alexie and Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby.

With the year running out, I'm starting to get concerned that I won't complete my GoodReads challenge. I set the bar at 600 books. I'm currently at 584 books, leaving me with 16 books to finish in 19 days. Since I'm not reading as many picture books with my kids, I'm worried that I won't finish.

What about you? What are you reading?

Finished Last Week:

  1. Adventures of Rusty & Ginger Fox by Tim Ostermeyer (review copy)
  2. All by Myself by Mercer Mayer (personal collection)
  3. Bad Kitty Meets the Baby by Nick Bruel (personal collection)
  4. Corduroy by Don Freeman (personal collection)
  5. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (library book)
  6. The Homecoming by Ray Bradbury (personal collection)
  7. Hot Rod Hamster! by Cynthia Lord (library book)
  8. I Don't Want to Take a Bath! by Julie Sykes (personal collection)
  9. The Last Train by Gordon M. Titcomb (library book)
  10. Lost Kingdom by Julia Flynn Siler (review copy)
  11. Mooshka, A Quilt Story by Julie Paschkis (review copy)
  12. Sheep in a Shop by Nancy E. Shaw (personal collection)
  13. Twin Spica, Volume 06 by Kou Yaginuma (library book)
  14. Vacationers From Outer Space by Edward Valfre (personal collection)
  15. Witches Abroad (Discworld, #12) by Terry Pratchett (personal collection)

Currently Reading:

  1. Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani (personal collection)
  2. Blackout by Connie Willis (personal collection)
  3. Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster (personal collection)
  4. Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller (review book)
  5. Flirting with Forever by Gwyn Cready (review copy)
  6. Immortal by Gene Doucette (review copy)
  7. Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull (library book)
  8. This Perfect Day by Ira Levin (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
  2. Hollywood Stories by Stephen Schochet
  3. Maneki Neko by Susan Lendroth
  4. My Havana by Rosemary Wells
  5. Secret Letters from 0 to 10 by Susie Morgenstern
  6. The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings
  7. Starry Night by Peter Sis

Comments (24)


Clementine: 12/11/11

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Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker, Clementine, her brother and parents live in apartment building where her father is the apartment manager. Clementine likes to ride the service elevator when she needs to think but in this horrible week, she won't get much of a chance because she's constantly in trouble with someone or another.

The book covers one hectic week in Clementine's life. On Monday Clementine gets in trouble for helping Margaret cut her hair. The problems spiral out of control to the point that Margaret's mother is also mad at her. No matter what she does, Clementine just seems to make things worse even though her heart's in the right place.

Thematically, Clementine is like the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. In terms of vocabulary it's closer to the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park.

That said, Clementine is a delightful book full of believable but memorable characters. For example, Clementine never calls her brother by his given name, instead opting to call him by some sort of vegetable. Her logic is: she's named for a fruit, so he should have been named for a vegetable to make things even. I wonder if the author knows what is real name is?

Four stars.

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Secret Letters From 0 To 10: 12/10/11

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Secret Letters From 0 to 10 (Lettres d'amour de 0 à 10) by Susie Morgenstern is one of those special gems that was waiting for me in my wishlist. It had been there so long, I couldn't remember the how or why behind it, but I'm delighted it was there.

Ernest Morlaisse lives a humdrum life with his very elderly grandmother. His mother is dead and his father has run off. He can tell the time of day just by what he's doing.

That is until Victoria is the new student in class. She is his polar opposite, the only sister with thirteen brothers. Her life is noisy, chaotic and crowded. She is both off putting and fascinating. She's also Ernest's only true friend at school.

Ernest and Victoria are good for each other. And both are good for Ernest's elderly grandmother. There's a slow but magical transformation to her that is the crux of the story.

I loved the book so much that I insisted my husband read it before I returned it to the library. He loved it too.

Five stars.

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Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei: 12/03/11

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Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei by Peter Sís for my astronomy materials for children ages 5 to 8 project. One of our requirements was to include a biography relevant to the topic. Starry Messenger was the most interesting of the books on hand that fit the project.

The title comes from the notebook Galileo Galilei kept for most of his life. He worked with then cutting edge technology, the telescope, to make observations supporting Copernicus's theory that the earth and planets revolve around the sun.

Peter Sís's text focus mostly on Galileo's life and less on his work in astronomy, mathematics or physics. It does though mention his trial for heresy and eventual house arrest. Sís's pen and ink drawings mimic Renaissance sketches, fitting perfectly with the time period of Galileo's life.

The sidebar includes further information about the astronomer's life and research but is written in the style of Galileo's own handwriting, making it difficult to read at the same time the story is being read aloud to students. Those sidebars should be read ahead of time and notes taken that can be referred to as the book is being presented. By including information on Galileo's trial, children learn that scientific study can involve risks but is still worth the effort, even if the pardon comes after one's death.

Four stars.

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Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat: 12/08/11

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Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat by Susan Lendroth is a retelling of a Japanese folk tale and a porquoi story that explains the reason behind the good luck cat charms seen in many Japanese stores and restaurants.

The book tells of how a cat and temple priest become friends. The priest takes good care of the cat and in turn the cat saves a nobleman from being struck by lightning. For the cat's bravery, the priest and temple are rewarded.

The book introduces children to Japanese history and culture as well as a few Japanese words. While the words are easy to understand in context, a glossary is included at the back of the book. The book highlights honesty, kindness to animals and others and the importance that luck plays in life.

I read this book for my materials for children ages 5 to 8.

Four stars.

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My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood: 12/07/11

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I'm not sure when my interest in Havana started. Maybe it was the film Our Man in Havana or the Graham Greene book that inspired it. Or maybe it was the book simply called Havana which had a bunch of excerpts about the city.

Regardless of what started my interest in the city and more broadly, Cuba, I had to read My Havana by Rosemary Wells when I saw it on display in the children's library. The book is a biography of Cuban American architect, Secundino "Dino" Fernandez

Fernandez was born in Havana and loved to draw its buildings from a very early age. The book chronicles how he went to live in Spain and later to New York City after Castro. In both of those moves he relied on his memory of Havana and his ability to draw pieces of the city. In New York, facing excruciating homesickness he created a cardboard replica of his favorite Havana neighborhoods.

Throughout the book are lovely pastel illustrations by Peter Ferguson. They capture the warmth Havana even when it was only a memory being recreated in Dino's drawings.

Four stars.

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Hollywood Stories: 12/06/11

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Stephen Schochet has worked as a Hollywood tour guide for a number of years. _big.jpg" alt="cover art">

Hollywood Stories collects what he's learned and presents them in short vignettes organized by topic. As an introduction to some of the popular lore of the movie industry, it's fine.

There was a time, when I was younger and I was just getting interested in Hollywood history that I would have loved this book. I've grown, gone to college and along the way come to expect citations in nonfiction. Schochet coming to his knowledge through his work as a tour guide is a potentially fascinating secondary source.

Perhaps it would be difficult to track down citations for each and every entry but a chapter on his work as a tour guide would help put the stories into perspective. A few citations or maybe a bibliography of suggested reads would also go along way to make this book something special.

Book received for review.

Two stars

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The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: 12/05/11

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The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings was one of my earliest wishlist books. I became curious about his life and career after reading Ashenden or the British Agent.

I was mostly interested in his role in politics and espionage. The book has some of that as well as his writing career. But most of the book seemed to be devoted to his sexuality. That's fine but that's not what makes me interested in him.

As Maugham's books were mostly semi-autobiographical I think I will go back to the source and read more of them. I feel I will learn more about what made him tick form his own words than from his biography.

Three stars.

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What Are You Reading: December 05, 2011: 12/05/11

What Are You Reading?

My semester is wrapping up. This is my last full week and I'm down to two classes from four. I have a paper to write and an essay test to take. Being so busy in these finally weeks has cut into my reading time.

For those of you keeping track, I have finally started Hex Hall after six weeks of planning to start it! It's very good so far. I should have started it sooner.

I am still slowly reading Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. Something has finally happened, 80 pages into the book. Had not my mother and so many of my on and offline friends told me to stick with it, I would have stopped about thirty pages ago.

Next up is Flight by Sherman Alexie and Red Glove by Holly Black. Plus I have a bunch of exwishlist books I bought at the start of the semester to read like Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson.

What about you? What are you reading?

Did Not Finish:

  1. The Alchemyst by Michael Scott (library book)
  2. Firelight by Sophie Jordan (library book)

Finished Last Week:

  1. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (library book)
  2. Doctor Who: Volume 1 - Fugitive by Tony Lee (library book)
  3. I Spy With My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs (library book)
  4. Lincoln, Inc.: Selling the Sixteenth President in Contemporary America by Jackie Hogan (review copy)

Currently Reading:

  1. Of All the Stupid Things by Alexandra Diaz (library book)
  2. Press Here by Hervé Tullet (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. In Dog Years, I'd Be Dead: Garfield at 25 by Jim Davis (library book)
  2. Once Upon a Starry Night by Jacqueline Mitton (library book)
  3. Polar Bear Night by Lauren Thompson (library book)
  4. See You Soon Moon by Donna Conrad (library book)
  5. Thanking the Moon by Grace Lin (library book)
  6. Twin Spica Volume 03 by Kou Yaginuma (library book)
  7. William Golding by John Carey (library book)

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In Dog Years, I'd Be Dead: Garfield at 25: 12/04/11

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In Dog Years, I'd Be Dead: Garfield at 25 by Jim Davis is a history of the Garfield comic strip as well as a biography of the man who created it, Jim Davis.

The Garfield comic strip debuted two months and a bit before my fifth birthday. At the time I was busy moving from my toddlerhood home to the house that would become my childhood home. My mother was also remarrying and I had fittings for the flower girl dress I would be wearing.

So by the time we were settled as a new family in our new house, Garfield was a part of our new evening routine. See back in those days there were two news papers, a morning and an evening edition. We always got the evening edition. I would sit on the floor after dinner and read the comics. My favorites were: Garfield, Spider-man, Beetle Bailey, Peanuts and For Better or Worse (which debuted a year later).

By the time I was ten, Garfield had transformed into his current shape (more or less). He was thinner, could stand up right, and had those ridiculously big feet. By that time as well, I was a complete and utter fanatic. I was otaku for Garfield. I had Garfield sheets, pillow cases, comforter, and towels. I made my own Garfield throw pillow. Later I even had a coffee mug (not that I drank coffee back then) and a telephone (which went with me to college).

So a couple months ago when I was in mid project chaos I spotted a copy of In Dog Years, I'd Be Dead: Garfield at 25 by Jim Davis. Now if you're counting, Garfield turned 25 in 2003. But it was a new to me book and I've since become a fan of Garfield Minus Garfield, a strip now maintained by Dan Walsh, but a concept not created by him (as he notes in all his interviews). So Garfield, though out of sight, wasn't out of mind.

The book starts with the time line of Garfield's creation and how the cat has changed over the years. It talks about characters who have come and gone and what their original plans in the strip were and how those changed as the strip evolved. Later sections are devoted to the business behind the strip, the merchandizing and of course all those other fans out there.

The book being eight years old is an interesting time capsule of the Garfield comic strip. It's incomplete, of course, and the last chapter with its predictions for the future isn't spot on but it's eye opening. If anything the book suffers a bit too much from Garfield marketing. It really feels like a puff piece about the strip, which I suppose it is. It would be interesting to see the same history written by a neutral third party.

Three stars.

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William Golding: 12/03/11

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William Golding by John Carey is a biography of the man who is best known for writing Lord of the Flies. It was one of the first assigned books in school that I actually really liked (the other was A Separate Peace, assigned by the same teacher). Twenty five or so years later I'm still mulling over the book and seriously contemplating a re-read of it.

I can't recall where I heard about this biography, but I do know I wanted some idea of what made Golding tick. I also wanted the story behind his most famous novel.

Before Golding found his niche as a writer he was a teacher. His time in the trenches gave him the insight he needed to create believable archetypes.

The remaining half of the book covers the rest of his life and the other books he wrote. I'm curious enough about his other books to want to read them. I picked one at random from the library but it was so far removed in style from Lord of the Flies that I didn't make it through the first chapter. My next plan of attack is to go through his books in order when I have the time.

Three stars.

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See You Soon Moon: 12/02/11

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See You Soon Moon by Donna Conrad is on the surface the story of a boy going to see his grandmother. It's also a great introduction to parallax.

Before the trip begins, the boy says good bye to moon. Soon after he notices that the moon appears to be following the car. As they drive the boy wonders about the moon and how it can appear to be along for the trip.

The illustrations have a three dimensional quality to them, having been made from foam, cardboard and thickly applied acrylics. The effect is pleasing, eye catching and unique.

Five stars.

Other posts and reviews:

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Thanking the Moon: 12/01/11

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According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the county I live in is roughly one third Asian. In that third, roughly of that is Chinese. Among our friends, there are many blended Chinese-American families like the one in Thanking the Moon by Grace Lin.

This book is about the preparations leading up to Mid-Autumn Moon festival, and then the festival itself. Each family member has a job to do to get ready. There are things to collect and prepare: pomelos, tea, mooncakes and paper lanterns.

Grace Lin uses patterns in her colorful artwork that mimic the beautiful patterns you'd find in Chinese textiles. But the families that go to celebrate the festival at the park show the wide diversity of the Chinese-American families.

Four stars.

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