Cara Mia: 01/31/12
Cara Mia by Denise Verrico introduces readers Mia and Kurt, two vampires (or "Immortyls") with a long history. In seeking help the have voluntarily agreed to be studied by Dr. Joe who wants to learn what makes vampires tick.
As Mia and Kurt have a relationship spanning generations, much of the book is told in flashbacks. Joe will ask Mia a question and her answer is given as an extended flashback. Readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially paranormal romances, that span many different eras, will like Mia's long answers.
I am not much of a reader of historical fiction and I found myself longing for more of the present day tale. Joe has potential to be an interesting character, as is the world in which he, Mia and Kurt live. This is a world where science knows about vampires and is trying to study them. Usually it's an occult society or similar. I'm hoping book two and three expand more on the present day world.
Review copy received from the author.
Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler is the first of the Riders of the Apocalypse series. The others are Rage (2011), Loss (2012) and Breath (2013).
The book opens with Lisabeth accidentally accepting the position of Famine. She has a black steed who likes cookies. She likes the horse but she doesn't want the job.
Lisabeth is also suffering with her own special form of famine — anorexia. Most of the book is about the negative effects of anorexia, body image and the stress teens (especially girls) go through. As Lisabeth fights her own demons she also fights with her parents and friends, alienating herself when she needs them most.
Hunger for a YA is a short book, coming in at 175 pages. It's really more of a long novella then a full length fantasy. There's not much time to get to know Lisabeth beyond her fight with anorexia and her revulsion at being Famine.
Recommended by The Allure of Books. Read via NetGalley.
What Are You Reading: January 30, 2012: 01/30/12
School started on Wednesday. I did read some picture book reading with my daughter. Take those two out, and I finished two review books, an audio and four novels.
I still want to finish Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby but I did manage to finish This Perfect Day by Ira Levin. This week I will probably finish Dying for Chocolate by Diane Mott Davidson, my current audio book. I would also like to finish The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong which has taken me completely by surprise.
This week I might start one of those two Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle books I have out from my library. I will also be starting Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins. Time permitting, I'll also crack open Carmelo but I suspect that one will end up going back to the library unread.
What about you?
Did Not Finish:
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: 01/29/12
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley is the second of the Flavia de Luce mysteries. Like The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Flavia puts her precocious mind to work to solve the a recent death and an older but mysterious death.
It's 1950 and while television is catching on in London, it's only barely reached the villages. It certainly hasn't reached the de Luce family home, not with a father who insists that he and his daughter spend quality time listening to recordings of classic music. Flavia's description of Beethoven's Fifth is hilarious.
So when a famous chlidren's television puppeteer and his assistant break down near the village cemetery, Flavia doesn't recognize Rupert Porson. Nor does she gush when he explains who he is and what he does. When his assistant cheerfully exclaims that she's Mother Goose, Flavia's dumbstruck.
Flavia continues to be fascinated with death, chemistry and especially poisons. She still has dreams to poison her sisters. Meanwhile they continue to try to convince her that she's adopted. Those, though, who knew the departed Harriet de Luce, tell Flavia that she's the spitting image inside and out of her mother.
I found the book to be an excellent follow up. I plan to continue with the series.
Recrossing the Styx: 01/28/12
Recrossing the Styx" by Ian R. MacLeod marks his return to FSF after twelve years and it starts off the July / August 2010 issue.
The story reminds me of the first episode of Hawaii Five-0, the 1968 series, called "Full Fantom Five." In it a man is targeting rich women on cruises from San Francisco to Hawaii. He woos them on board and then kills them and dumps their bodies in the sea.
Frank, the main character in "Recrossing the Styx" strikes me as a similar character. He has his eyes set on Dottie, a woman who cares for her wealthy, very old and very frail husband. While the Hawaii Five-0 stalker was taken down by a policewoman with backup, Dottie doesn't need any help. In fact, Frank is probably just one of her many victims.
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes: 01/27/12
My daughter and I have read Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin in two forms: picture book and audio. Both versions are a cute story about a tuxedo cat with new white shoes rolling with the punches when he steps in different messy things.
The book also teaches some colors, specifically red, blue and brown. Pete the cat ends up stepping in strawberries, blueberries and mud. He's got to be the calmest cat ever because he doesn't get upset. He just keeps on singing his song.
And that song, since I'm not all that musically inclined, is why I prefer the audio book. Really, I guess, it's more of a read along CD but we've put the CD in the car and the book's on the shelf at home. The song is more than catchy; it's an ear worm. And it makes my daughter laugh. As Pete would say, "It's all good."
Cat Secrets: 01/26/12
Books are a wonderful way to guide and mold children. It's also a way to help them expand their imaginations, play and pretend. Cat Secrets by Jef Czekaj is all about pretending to be a cat.
The cats inside the book are protecting their own book, a book of secrets. Their book is a handbook for being a cat — the stuff you'll need to know beyond purring, napping, and meowing. But before you can learn to extra special things a cat needs to know, you, dear reader, have to prove that you are a cat.
Now if this were a book about tricking a group of people to get their secrets, then it would be a book about lying. That wouldn't be cool. But this is about cats. Cats are silly creatures. I don't know about you, but my cats, are already convinced I'm a cat, or that they're people. So asking young children if they can pretend to be a cat, especially if they already live with cats, is both good and fun.
The interrogation by the cats in the book lends itself to group reading. I can easily see a room full of giggling children trying to be cats during story time.
Kitten's Autumn: 01/25/12
Kitten's Autumn by Eugenie Fernandes is the follow up to Kitten's Spring and Kitten's Summer. Done in a "multimedia collage" (see the Paper Tiger interview), the artwork has the clarity and depth of a diorama.
In the story, an adorable calico kitten takes a walk through the forest, observing the wildlife. The cat's explorations are recorded in rhyming quartets.
The language is sparse but poetic, easy enough for a beginning reader to handle but interesting enough to use in a group story time.
Mog the Forgetful Cat: 01/24/12
Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr is about a moggy cat who lives a typical life of a pet cat. She wants to go out but when she does, she wants to go in. When it's raining in one window she checks another to see if it still is. Her owners love her but don't think she's the brightest cat ever.
Mog though proves her worth when she foils a break-in attempt by a burglar. How she does it, is pure charming Mog at her best. It's a delightful ending to the book and she gets the reward she deserves.
Here's a picture book that I feel like I've read a million times but it's only my first. My husband grew up with the book and it remains one of his favorites. So although I haven't read it before, he and his family have recounted the story so many times that I feel like it's an old friend.
It's the first book in a seventeen long series. It spans Mog's entire life, the last one being Goodbye Mog. I haven't read any of the others, but I think I will seek them out.
Yoko's Show and Tell: 01/23/12
Yoko's Show and Tell by Rosemary Wells is about a show and tell gone wrong. It also introduces children to Girl's Day, Japanese culture and doll hospitals.
A few weeks before Girl's Day, Yoko received a package from her grandparents. It is her great-grandmother's Girl's Day doll, Miki. It's been in the family for generations and now it's Yuko's.
The young cat desperately wants to share it at show and tell but her mother says No. Yuko doesn't listen and the doll ends up broken on the bus floor because of two bullies. Yuko tells her mother the truth and together they take the doll to a doll hospital to have it repaired before the grandparents arrive on their Spring visit.
My children have heard about Girl's Day and know about the importance of dolls on that day. My daughter is currently in kindergarten, although, show-and-tell hasn't been brought up yet. Those two pieces of the story, therefore, rang true for both children.
The doll hospital struck them as completely made up. I think doll hospitals were more popular a few decades ago. I have never seen one, nor been to one. I did know a doll restorer through my father who is an antique dealer. She had the shop around the corner from him. But an actual doll hospital like the one shown in Yuko's Show-And-Tell is something I've only ever seen in books.
So while I think book is geared towards introducing children to more pieces of Japanese culture, especially something relevant to children, the doll hospital aspect of the story ended up being the piece that needed the most explanation. I did a quick online search and found addresses for a pair of doll hospitals but neither has a web site. I'm not sure if they are as elaborate on the "hospital" facade as the one in this book.
Have you ever visited a doll hospital?
The Yoko Series:
What Are You Reading: January 23, 2012: 01/22/12
School begins for me on Wednesday. Much of my reading time will go to school work and exercise. I don't know how many books I'll have finished by next Monday but I expect it will be half of what I've finished this week.
My goal this week is to finish Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. It's an interesting book but I think I've already figured out some of the twists and turns. I also want to finish Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby. This Perfect Day by Ira Levin continues to go slowly. It's a very dense book, even though it's short. It would be nice to finish it this week but I suspect I will end up needing a week or two longer.
Afterwards, I'll start one of my many library books sitting on my shelf. I have two Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle volumes, as well as a couple other graphic novels. I'll also pick something from my TBR as I finish the current personal collection books I'm reading.
What about you?
White Cat: 01/22/12
I wasn't planning on reading White Cat by Holly Black but my audio book friend lent me his copy. He and I have such similar tastes, I said yes. I'm glad I did.
Imagine waking up in your underwear on the roof as a white cat looks on. That's what happens to Cassel Sharpe in the opening chapter. He's been sleep walking recently but his latest stunt is enough to get him sent home from boarding school until a doctor can prove he's fit to return home.
Home, though, ends up being his grandfather's because his mother is jail for being a curse worker. Cassel is at his family's mercy being the only non-worker in the lot.
Cassel can't just leave as they hold a terrible secret over him; he has killed Lila Zacharov, the daughter of the local crime syndicate mob boss. To keep himself sane he decides to figure out how he ended up on the roof and what happened to the cat. The white cat ends up being the clue he needs to unravel family secrets.
Black has created a fascinating but believable alternate history where magic exists and has been outlawed in the United States. With "curse working" as magic is called illegal since the era of Prohibition, organized crime has taken control. Set in present day, Black adds the threat of a proposition that would make testing for magic mandatory.
I listened to the audio book performed by Jesse Eisenberg. He had the perfect menschy voice for Cassel. I had the book in my car. There were times when I would just sit in my car until the end of a chapter.
Chester's Masterpiece: 01/21/12
Chester's Masterpiece is the third of Mélanie Watt's Chester books. In this one Chester gets his revenge and takes charge with a red marker pen.
Chester's begins his attempt at writing his own masterpiece by hiding all of Mélanie's art supplies and notes. Some of her work is in his litter box!
In all this silliness though, children learn about the creative process. They have access to Mélanie's Post-It notes and her sketches. They can see the tools she uses for making her drawings too.
Chester for Harriet is like Garfield was for me as a child. He's a cat and an anarchist. It's just part of being a cat. Harriet will read and re-read Watt's books a dozen or so times when they are checked out from the library.
Lost Kingdom: 01/20/12
Lost Kingdom by Julia Flynn is a look at the Hawaiian monarchy through the life of Lydia K. Dominis, also known as Queen Lili'uokalani.
Siler outlines how Western influences both in terms of the British navy, Christian missionaries, the sugar barons and later the United States shaped Hawaiian culture. The loosely knit chiefdoms were consolidated into a monarchy but it never really got a chance to take hold. By the time Lydia was Queen Lili'uokalani, the monarchy was mostly a figurehead of the sugar industry but she did try to bring it back into power with the backing of a constitution.
For anyone who has visited Hawaii the book is a good outline of the recent history. It helps to explain how Hawaii's culture has evolved. The egalley though was lacking the map, illustrations and portraits that would have really helped to bring the book alive.
Although the book is primarily a biography of Queen Lili'uokalani, it tries to include information on all the outside influences in Hawaii's cultural evolution. While interesting, they weaken the coherency of biography by taking focus away from her life, experiences and outlook on life. The book never really gets into her head.
There also is the perhaps inevitable haole bias to the book. Whenever there is a recorded interaction between a Hawaiian and a haole, the book takes the haole's point of view. I realize most of the record was made by haoles but some discussion of what the Hawaiian experience, especially early on, was, should have been included.
Read via NetGalley.
The Kingdom of Ohio: 01/19/12
The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming is one part alternate history, one part romance, one part time travel and one part historical fiction. It has American setting at the turn of the 20th century and a style similar to Ada, or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov.
While mostly set in New York City at the time that it was being hooked up for electricity and that the subway tunnels were being built, there are two other times and places: the sovereign kingdom of Ohio at the time of its fall and a bookstore in modern day Los Angeles.
Narrated by the owner of the bookshop, the story follows the meeting of Peter Force, a subway digger from out west and Cheri-Anne Toledo, who claims to be the last surviving member of the Ohio royal family.
Peppered through out the book are footnotes and asides that fill out Cheri-Anne's recollection of her home in Ohio as well as the Federal Government's seizing of the land. Although no ones seems to remember Ohio ever being anything other than what it is now, the "scholarly" annotations serve to convince the reader just as Cheri-Anne's persistence does the same for Peter Force.
Ignoring both Cheri-Anne's past and the framing story of the photograph found in a box of old books, The Kingdom of Ohio is an excellent novel about the modernization of New York City.
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 14: 01/18/12
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 14 by Hiromu Arakawa, "I want to give this a six." That would a six out of five stars. It's an intense volume full of humor, suspense and surprise.
In re-reading the earlier issues while I wait for the library to acquire volume 26, I can see that Arakawa dropped hints regarding the identity of Father. At the time of my first read, I was still thinking in terms of the pre-Brotherhood anime where all fingers could be pointed squarely at Hohenheim. Here, though, Hohenheim's involvement is very different and not as hands on.
Meanwhile, the relationship of Hawkeye and Mustang is outlined. Hawkeye's fierce loyalty to Mustang is established and explained. She has secrets of her own that by volume 25, haven't been fully explored or outlined.
If you normally skip the back of the book extras, I suggest break with that habit and read the ones included in Volume 14. The best one has Hohenheim giving life lessons to his sons from an unlikely location. It's silly and touching and does help cement the relationship of Ed and Al.
King & King & Family: 01/17/12
King & King & Family by Linda de Haan is the sequel to King & King. Whilst on their honeymoon, the two kings wonder if they should have a family.
The artwork is the same over the top style as the first book. As it takes place in a jungle, for the most part, the colors are more saturated, making the whole effect more extreme. While I found the second book's artwork an improvement, I'm still not completely sold on it.
As oft-happens with couples, families sometimes just happen. The solution here, while presented in a cute and simplistic fashion is problematic. Upon opening their unusually heavy luggage at home, they find that a young girl from the jungle has followed them home and that's how the book ends.
I realize it's a children's book. I realize the basic moral of the story is that even same sex couples might want children. But there's not adequate follow through.
Lincoln, Inc.: 01/16/12
Lincoln, Inc. by Jackie Hogan is a biography of the Lincoln brand, rather than yet another Abraham Lincoln biography. Lincoln's image as advertising device is most often seen in February around President's day, in April for when tax returns are due or anytime "truth" or "trustworthiness" is being hyped as part of an advertising campaign.
The book opens with a lengthy discussion of the modern day Lincoln brand. Some of campaigns were run nationally, while others may be regional interpretations of Lincoln. Either way, it was both an entertaining and enlightening look at how we view our 16th president.
Another chapter look at contemporary, political representations of Lincoln, both for and against him. These are mostly in the form of political cartoons from his time in office.
My favorite chapters though, were the ones that analyze the contents of themes in nonfiction and fiction. Of course Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer by Seth Grahame-Smith. On the nonfiction front there's a tally of popular themes from his life: the log cabin, growing up in poverty, his love of books, his sexual orientation (highly debated), his views on race, the Civil War, and his assassination.
Read via NetGalley.
What Are You Reading: January 16, 2012: 01/16/12
I'm feeling better. The kids are back in school but I'm not yet. So I'm spending some of my spare time reading. Although my goal is to read a greater portion of longer books I'm still reading at last year's pace. I'm sure this will slow down when school starts for me. It certainly will once I find a job — another goal for this year.
I finally finished Red Glove and am eagerly awaiting the third book. I am completely sucked into the Curse Workers series by Holly Black.
At long last I'm reading Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby. It's hilarious. Why didn't I start it sooner?
I found This Perfect Day by Ira Levin in my car of all places. So I'm back to reading it. I would like to finish it this week.
Except for one book which I'm still waiting for, I've finished my CYBILS reading. I will review the books after the winners are announced on February 12th.
Did Not Finish:
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE Volume 01: 01/15/12
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE by CLAMP is a companion series to xxxHolic. As I'm reading xxxHolic I feel obligated to try Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE.
Volume 1 sets up the story. Syaoran and Sakura (who are alternates from the ones in Card Captor Sakura) have grown up together. Syaoran is an archeologist's son and Sakura is a princess, the younger sister of the king. A freak accident at the archeological dig results in Sakura losing her memories and having them scattered across the dimensions. The manga recounts how Syaoran helps her recover them at the price of her never being able to remember their friendship.
To be able to chase after her memories, they need the help of the Dimensional Witch and are sent there with the aid of the king's magician (and best friend). When they arrive in Yuko's yard they do so with two other men whom they've never met but will now be forced to travel with them.
Now as this is a story about alternate worlds and doppelgängers, I see alternates even where they aren't explicitly pointed out. For example Sakura's brother looks like Domeki and the magician looks like a blond Watanuki. But I might be seeing things that aren't there.
Anyway, reading this first volume was a bit of a chore. The problem is that a few years ago my husband got into the anime series. And we rented the first disc a bunch of times. Then recently as we were getting into xxxHolic he decided to re-watch the series especially since he now knew who Yuko and everyone else were from the companion series. By the time I got to reading volume 1 I felt like I had already read it and I was to the point of being sick of the set up.
How Seosiris Lost the Favor of the King: 01/14/12
"How Seosiris Lost the Favor of the King" by James L. Cambias is set in ancient Egypt. It's told as a piece of gossip as a man once in the favor of the pharaoh packs up his belongings.
The story he tells is one of a foreign magician arriving and threatening to topple the pharaoh. The pharaoh's magician is given specific orders to thwart the magician but the battle ultimately comes down to the Book of Thoth, an item that can't be handled by just anyone.
I'm a fan of fantasy set in ancient Egypt so it was a nice surprise tucked away in the September / October issue. I think it might be a bit more ponderous of a read for folks who aren't into Egyptian historical fantasy.
The Secret of Ka: 01/13/12
The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike is a YA fantasy that has stirred up controversy in the book blogosphere. Most of that stems from the book being set in Istanbul and the apparent lack of fact checking in how the city and its residents are portrayed. After reading, enjoying and mulling the negative reviews, I am still giving the book a positive review but not a perfect one.
Sara is in Istanbul visiting her father who is working on a large construction project. Her father demands she stay in the hotel unless she's with him or an approved chaperone. While the father says this is because Turkey is a muslim country. Later, though, the actual reason is revealed much later in the book. The father playing on stereotypes is an unfortunate part of his character.
Sara does get to tour her father's worksite, described as being in the desert mountains. Again, this doesn't really fit the location. There are mountains but Istanbul is surrounded by water on two sides and it's a rather green place. As the exact location of the construction site isn't mentioned except for it being a good distance out of the city, I'm going to let this one slide too as it's no worse than common mistake of putting Sausalito in San Francisco.
Sara's confinement to the hotel is also the means by which she meets the other protagonist, Amesh. He is a one handed delivery boy who has ties to the construction site. His actions with the djin and his reaction to Sara are tied up to how poorly the company have treated him.
Once the setting is established and Sara and Amesh are introduced, the book's plot finally takes off, leaving behind the factual errors of life in Istanbul. Most of the book centers on a flying carpet found by Sara and run on ley-lines and connected to an island of the Djin. Now interestingly, there is a ley-line that runs from Istanbul and out to the Mediterranean, so perhaps that detail demanded the location.
Sara and Amesh's adventures with the djin drive most of the book. Though the two are friends and might in the future become more than friends, there is not much in the way of romance between the two — a departure from so many contemporary YA novels. Instead of being instant girl friend / boy friend, they are more realistic teenagers, being at times competitive, selfish, and temperamental, but ultimately loyal to their new friendship.
While the set up of The Secret of Ka felt forced at times, I got so wrapped up in the mystery of the island and the danger posed by trying to work with djin and later the unexpected betrayal by the adults in Sara's life, that I forgot my initial misgivings about the opening of the book.
Review copy via NetGalley.
Why that Crazy Old Lady Goes up the Mountain: 01/12/12
In "Why that Crazy Old Lady Goes up the Mountain" by Michael Libling, God is dead. A family on the hill is stuck with the job of keeping this truth secret and trying to help people pass on but they aren't very good at it. There's also a failed romance doomed to repeat through numerous variations. And all of this story is chopped up in a blender and told at what appears to be random snippets.
I know story was well received on a number of blogs but it just didn't click for me. I liked the "surprise" ending but the work up to that point seemed like too much effort for an ending that's been done before.
Frankly, I'm currently reading a much better story with similar characters and themes: Fullmetal Alchemist. The problem with a short story is there just is so much room for things.
xxxHolic Volume 07: 01/11/12
xxxHolic Volume 7 by CLAMP is the start of the second season of the anime. It's also the point where Dômeki and Watanuki's differences begin to blur.
It begins with a broken web and a spider with a grudge. Watanuki gets stuck in one of those gigantic garden webs at Dômeki's home. Dômeki does what anyone would do, helps untangle the web by pulling it down. That though does not sit well with the spider and soon Dômeki is paying the price.
Now one thing that shows up over and over again are in Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and now in xxxHolic are characters who are missing their right eye. It begins here with the grudge spider and is the point where the two adventures really begin to collide.
Volume 7 also has one of my favorite scenes, the revelation of the bookworm inside a borrowed book. Bookworms are usually paper eating larva, but this one is magical and it eats words, vacuuming them right off the page.
The best quote from this section is: "Oh this? It's a 'bookworm' They live in books, and they love to eat important or valuable words."
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 13: 01/10/12
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa opens with Ed, Lin and Envy accidentally being eaten by Gluttony. They end up on the other side of an imperfect portal. Gluttony it turns out is larger on the inside than the outside but he can't be used for traveling through time or space.
Al and Gluttony, both at a loss with the disappearance of Lin, Ed and Envy, form an uneasy alliance. It will be the first of many between old enemies as the series progresses. Together they head back to Central to visit Father.
Fans of the original anime will have their expectations toyed with as Father's identity is revealed. It's not as straightforward as that series made it. There's a similar but tangental back story here.
Meanwhile, King Bradley pushes back over a cup of tea with mustang's second in command. It's going to be a cat and mouse game and it's clear that Bradley sees Mustang as the mouse.
Advances in Modern Chemotherapy: 01/09/12
>"Advances in Modern Chemotherapy" by Michael Alexander is the story of a man in the hospital for the final stages of cancer. He has come to die. He is with others in similar final stages and he makes friends with them. The attend group sessions.
What he doesn't expect is to be preparing to ascend to a higher plane. But he and the others are developing telepathy. It extends beyond the ability to talk to terminal patients to something beyond.
It's a weird story but a page turner. I found it fairly easy to get into and to predict where it was going. And yet I enjoyed it.
What Are You Reading: January 09, 2012: 01/09/12
This post represents two weeks of reading instead of one.
I had a nice trip with my family but we all came home with some sort of stomach bug. Being ill has put me in a bid of a blue mood, so I'm trying to read more light-hearted things right now.
Red Glove I mentioned last time as being on hold. That's no longer the case. I'm back to reading it. I have found another copy at the library and am now about half way through the book.
I still want to start Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby. I know, I've been saying that for weeks. I decided to start Wonderstruck first. Also on my to read soon pile is Queen of the the Dead, plus a bunch of library books I put on hold before the holidays.
I would also like to finish This Perfect Day by Ira Levin. Unfortunately I misplaced it over the holidays!
Along with my usual mixture of reading, I have the CYBILS nonfiction middle grade / YA finalists to read. I can't tell you about the books until the winner is announced on Valentine's day. So stay tuned.
Ghosts for Breakfast: 01/08/12
Ghosts for Breakfast by Stanley Todd Terasaki is an unusual ghost story picture book. The Troublesome Triplets are always complaining and causing trouble. Papa decides to investigate and the young protagonist reluctantly agrees to go along.
The walk through the night shows how ordinary things can take on extraordinary properties at night when an over active imagination takes charge. This book would be good for any child who is perhaps afraid of the dark. It could be used in conjunction with an actual walk at night to explore the back yard or local neighborhood block.
Shelly Shinjo's painted illustrations in dark blues, greens and luminous whites create the perfect atmosphere for this night time adventure. She uses a mixture of media including acrylic, joint compound and pastel.
Frost Moon: 01/07/12
Frost Moon by Anthony Francis is a paranormal mystery set in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta Georgia. Dakota Frost is a tattoo artist capable of making magical tattoos that move on the body, can actually leave the body and serve as protection. She's been called into consult on a case involving a serial killer targeting people (werewolves and so forth) with magical tattoos.
I loved the first third of the book. The setting and Dakota's asides pulled me in. I liked the descriptions of the inks used in magical tattoos and how the tattoos themselves were created and meant to be used.
But two things yanked me right out of the book. The first was the introduction of a character who was obviously behind the crime spree. The second was a lengthy passage about bondage. Having figured out who was doing the crimes and being bored to tears by the bondage, I skipped to the end to verify my hypothesis.
I won the book from GoodReads.
Fatally Flaky: 01/06/12
I have a book club friend who always brings in a small stack of audio books to swap. As I've just gotten into listening to audios and I tend to like what he reads, I grabbed Fatally Flaky, book 15 of the Goldy Schulz catering series, by Diane Mott Davidson. Fortunately the Goldy books seem to stand alone just fine and I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything by starting so late in the series.
Fatally Flaky opens with Goldy trying to juggle weddings in one weekend. She has the wedding of a single mother who doesn't want her estranged father crashing the ceremony and then she has Bridezilla, a mid thirties brat who has changed everything more times than Goldy cares to count, including the date (and now the venue!) of her wedding.
The weddings, though, are the least of her problems. Two men, near and dear to Goldy die within days of each other. I gather from reading other reviews, Goldy's depression in this volume is a departure from a more typical lighter tone expected from a cozy mystery. Being new to the series, though, I didn't notice the change and I completely felt for Goldy and could appreciate her stupid maneuvers, decisions made in the throws of grief.
Barbara Rosenblat does a wonderful job of bringing Goldy and the other characters to life. I think listening to her performance of the book is what bumped the book up from four to five stars for me. I have decided to go back and listen to as many of the earlier books as I can.
Clementine's Letter: 01/05/12
Clementine's Letter by Sara Pennypacker is the third book in the series. It won the Christopher Award in 2008. It was also the first book in the series I read, as part of my notable books and materials for children 5 to 8 project.
Clementine is having a rough week. Her beloved third grade teacher, Mr D'Matz has been nominated for a year long trip to an archeological dig in Egypt. To make things worse Clementine just can't seem to do anything right for the substitute. At home she wants to get her mother a special box to keep her art supplies but her money making scheme has upset nearly ever single person in the apartment her father manages.
Frazee's line drawings capture Clementine's every emotions as things go from bad to worse, helping to make her a sympathetic and likable character.
The book highlights the importance of routine, ground rules, good communication and the adjustment period needed for anyone starting a new job or for students to get used to a new teacher.
The Wide-Awake Princess: 01/04/12
I've now had two less than stellar reads of retold Sleeping Beauty books. The first, an adult fantasy, was The Sevenfold Spell by Tia Nevitt and the second, a middle grade fantasy, is The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D. Baker. Both are receiving very good reviews but neither did it for me for similar reasons.
The Wide-Awake Princess looks at how the sleeping curse can be undone once the Princess and the rest of the kingdom have been put to sleep. If the entire castle goes under and is covered up in vines, how does word get out about the tragedy? E.D. Baker proposes a younger sister who is unaffected by magic and is therefore wide awake even as everyone else falls into a deep sleep around her.
It's a great premise but it gets lost along the way as the book is distracted by numerous side quests. Annie in her quest to find the perfect prince to awaken her big sister, stumbles through nearly every other western fairy tale. The problem, though, is that each one of these mini-adventures are too different from each other and from the original problem. They don't fit coherently into a well established world like Gail Levine's Biddle stories do.
That's not to say I hated the book. There are things I liked. Annie is a strong, likable character. I wish there were more middle grade female protagonists in quest books. Annie's anti-magic affliction was an interesting tool which she learned to use over the course of the book. I also liked the idea of wrangling unattached princes to have them all try kissing her big sister. I just wish more time and effort had been put on the quest and less time on railroading Annie through a bunch of well known fairy tales.
Yotsuba&! Volume 2: 01/03/12
Yotsuba&! Volume 2 is by Kiyohiko Azuma continues the episodic adventures of Yotsuba, her father and neighbors.
Yotsuba and her friends go to the lake to draw the wildlife. She has grand plans for drawing but she's little. So her drawing of a duck is pretty much a big scribble scrabble. She has to learn that art takes practice and her older friends are better artists than she is.
There's also a chapter called Revenge that spoofs the fear that violent TV makes children violent. Yotsuba instantly on seeing a cop show goes on a rampage, pretend killing everyone she sees. It's simultaneously cute and disturbing.
I have volume three and have been meaning to read it. Unfortunately it got pushed to the back of my bookshelf and it's taken me months to find it. I now have it and will be continuing with the series!
The Hunger Games: 01/02/12
I know it seems like I never review current popular fiction on this blog and you might think that I never read it. I do but I do it at my own pace. Sometimes though I end up being slower than first intended. In the case of the The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, I bought it right around the time that Catching Fire came out but my husband saw it and read it first. He then went on to purchase the second and third (Mockingjay) so I have those to get two soon.
Katniss lives with her mother and sister in District Twelve of Panem, a nation of twelve districts and a centralized capitol. In District Twelve the only available job is mining except for the few places that sell the essentials (like the bakery). Katniss lost her father to a mining accident and now makes up the difference by poaching. In other words, life is hard; the government is totalitarian and you have to break the law just to survive.
But the bulk of the story is the Hunger Games themselves, a yearly event where each district picks a teenage boy and a girl by lottery to represent the district in the games. Katniss ends up being the female representative for her district.
Most of the book then is about the games, the journey to the capitol, the preparation and finally the brutal game itself. It's an adult, government mandated and televised re-enactment of The Lord of the Flies and a la Highlander, there can only be one survivor.
I liked who Katniss is realized as a character. She's written with a strong and believable voice. Her observations of the way things are done in the capitol. She also provides fascinating insights into the different districts, based on what she knows of them.
The brutality of the Game itself is well written. It's shocking and stomach turning and thought provoking. The Games despite their depravity seem believable and at times frightening.
There are two details that I have problems with the book. The first is in the world building (or I guess nation building). The set up of Panem is described as being twelve districts with a thirteenth that rebelled and was totally destroyed for its dissension. Thirteen districts immediately brings to mind the original thirteen colonies / thirteen states of the United States. I'm sure that's no mistake given its location. The problem though is that Panem takes up not only the foot print of the continental United States but also from how Katniss describes it, parts (or the entirety) of Canada. That's a massively huge amount of land.
I realize that the Soviet Union took up a large piece of land too and maybe that's part of the inspiration behind Panem. And clearly the revolution part of the story is coming in books two and three so maybe my problems with the set up will be more directly addressed.
My second problem isn't so much with the book but with the fandom and marketing that goes with the book. I'm speaking of the different "Team" buttons that were so popular when Mockingjay was first out. Asking fans to pick sides seems completely contrary to the theme of the first book!
Rebecca's World: 01/01/12
At the start of 2010, my friend Linda made a quick post about a favorite children's novel she was re-reading, Rebecca's World by Terry Nation. On that alone I added it to my wishlist and eighteen months after doing that, it bubbled to the top of my list and I was able to cross it off. I'm glad I paid attention to her post.
Rebecca's World was Terry Nation's first children's novel. It's in the style of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum or any number of other fantasies where a young girl travels to a far off land and becomes a hero as she tries to find her way home.
In this case, Rebecca is beamed to a far off planet which I think is the only time I've read that set up in an otherwise traditional fantasy. If there are others, please recommend them in the comments! Rebecca after being called horrible and all sorts of other things by the perturbed scientist sets out to find her own way home.
She is quickly attacked by GHOSTS (always in all caps) and when she's rescued she learns about the environmental disaster that has given the GHOSTS free reign over the land. She and her new companions set out to fix the problem, based on the clues of an old riddle and represented graphically on the endpapers as an intricate and gorgeous series of connected mazes.
Rebecca's World ended up being part traditional quest to get home mixed together with social commentary and an environmental message. All these elements are held together by Larry Learmonth's pen and ink drawings — most of which are in black and white and some of which are colored.
2011 Statistics: 01/01/12
At the start of 2011 I challenged myself to read 600 books. I knew at the time that more than half of the books I would be reading would come from picture books, short chapter books and graphic novels. I met my challenge and went over by a dozen or so books.
So here I am looking at a new year of reading. My goals this year are to read 300 books but most of these have to be longer books, primarily YA and adult (either fiction or nonfiction).
The problem, though, with reading more than 600 books, and posting 365 reviews (this year there will be 366), is that the end of the year statistics are a pain to work on. It's taken me about three hours (on and off with a break for a dip in the hot tub and another for dinner) to gather the data, make the graphs, remake the graphs and now write this article. While I love seeing the results, the process is a time consuming pain.
Many year end posts highlight the reviews of great books published in the just ended year. My problem is that I read twice as many books as I reviewed. Many of my posted reviews were of books I finished in 2010. I also read most of my books (approximately 2/3 of my total books) from the library and I have to wait for the library to first acquire the books, adding upwards of 3 to 6 months delay in reading newly published books. What that means for my reviews is this: there is a spike around 2010 for the books I both read and reviewed and this year the spike will be around 2011 published books.
As I don't limit myself to a specific era of book, there is naturally a long tail to the publication dates of the books I read and review. The above graph shows that most of the books I reviewed in 2011 were published between the years 1990 and 2011. The publication year with the most reviewed books is 2010.
That said, I did review some classics, including Pride and Prejudice, which has the honor of being my earliest published book.
This graph shows the relationship between the books read and reviewed in 2011. Although the reviewed books is a subset of the books read in both 2010 and 2011, the breakdown by publication decade is nearly the same as the books reviewed in 2011.
Note that there are two spikes because I've expanded out the publication years for 2000 through 2011.
Finally, the ratings graph. I use the GoodReads one to five star scale. As I personally select the vast majority of the books I read (and thus review) my ratings tend to be pretty high. For the books read, the mean is 4 stars, where as the mean for the posted reviews is 4.5 because I tend to favor the higher rated books when making my posts. Most of the books I didn't like, I don't review on my blog.
Also of interest: favorite books of 2011.