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February 2012

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



We Are in a Book: 02/29/12

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We Are in a Book by Mo Willems is the third Elephant and Piggie book to win a Cybils. It was the first book in the series that Harriet and I read. I chose it for her when it became obvious that she was able to read.

While not all of the Elephant and Piggie books are metafiction, We Are in a Book! is from its title all the way through. It plays with the sort of humor Willems used in Sheep in the Big City but aimed at the beginning reader audience.

Gerald tells Piggie that they are in a book. As the two work out what that means, they come to the conclusion that if the reader is reading aloud (as many early readers do), then they, as characters in the book, can make the reader say things.

They try out their theory with the word "banana!" That choice set Harriet and me in stitches. We are in a Book was the book she read right after having read Ed Vere's Banana for a solid week.

The Elephant and Piggie books are good early reader books because they use an easy to read vocabulary and visual clues to help children know who is speaking and what emotions they feeling. All of Gerald's bubbles are gray and Piggie's are pink. The text gets larger for shouting and smaller for whispers. These clues have really helped Harriet learn how to read smoothly but with emotion.

Five stars.

Comments (2)


No Castles Here: 02/28/12

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No Castles Here by ACE Bauer is another one of those display shelf gems from the library. I was curious about the graffiti style castle on the cover, especially with the title. I didn't even bother to read the blurb before deciding to read it.

Augie Boretski lives with his mother in Camden, New Jersey, if you call hiding from bullies and avoiding drug dealers living. His idea of escaping is a ride across the river into Philadelphia.

On his most recent trip to Philly, he does something he never does. He shoplifts — and worse yet, it's a fantasy book. Embarrassment or maybe something else, convinces Augie to read the book. As he reads he begins to see things in common between the story and his life in Camden.

Meanwhile, Augie's mother has forced him to join Big Brothers and the school chorus. Although Augie reluctantly does both, he does learn from both.

Of the two plots, I was most interested in the Big Brother one as Augie's Big Brother is gay. It was refreshing to see a positive representation of a gay man working with a teenager.

Among all of this regular coming of age plot lines, there is this underlying urban fantasy twist that is tied to the book. This aspect of the book reminds me of The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, but with the heroics being done here instead of in a fantasy realm.

Five stars.

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Dark's Tale: 02/27/12

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Dark's Tale by Deborah Grabien is a middle grade story of a black cat trying to learn how to live on her own in Golden Gate Park. She had originally been a beloved pet but the new baby is allergic to cats and so the cat is dumped in the park.

Dark has to learn who the friends and the foes are including trustworthy and non-trustworthy humans. All the while there is a coyote problem, something unheard of in decades in San Francisco. Because it's so hard to believe that coyotes could be in such a crowded city there's no action to find them. Dark and all the other animals are their potential prey.

I remember the coyotes finally making the news a few years back. It happened in our second or third year of living in the Bay Area. I know the areas described in the book. I love cats. I've worked with strays. I should have loved the book.

But I didn't. The pacing was off. Everything is described from Dark's point of view and commonplace things are given other names — descriptive names made up of other commonplace words. It's cute at first but ultimately all these descriptive names get in the way of the story.

For a similar but more coherent story try The Cats of Roxville Station by Jean Craighead George.

Two stars.

Comments (0)


What Are You Reading: February 27, 2012: 02/26/12

What Are You Reading?

My daughter's Scholastic book order came in. That combined with a trip to the library with her, results in a long list of books read (and listened to). Eight of the books this week were ones she read to me. My favorite of the lot is Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

I'm still reading Mark Tidd in the Backwoods. Along with it, I have a bunch of other books from my TBR shelf going: Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan which is set locally and is hilarious, the third of the Fablehaven books by Brandon Mull, and, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

I finished two books on last week's trip to the mountains: Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath and Bellwether by Connie Willis. The delightful Horvath book was our audio book for the ride home. Bellwether I read when I couldn't sleep.

I still want to finish Robopocalypse. I also want to finish Goddess Interrupted by Aimée Carter and Outside In by Maria V. Snyder.

What about you?

Did Not Finish:

  1. Getting Rid Of Matthew by Jane Fallon (library book)
  2. If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black (personal collection)

Finished:

  1. Bellwether by Connie Willis (library book)
  2. The Cat's Pyjamas by Catherine Foreman (personal collection)
  3. Doctor Who: The Forgotten by Tony Lee (library book)
  4. Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath (audio) (library book)
  5. Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby (personal collection)
  6. The Fantastic 5 & 10 Store by J. Patrick Lewis (library book)
  7. Kitten's Winter by Eugenie Fernandes (library book)
  8. Little Owl's Night by Divya Srinivasan (library book)
  9. The Pinkerrific Playdate by Victoria Kann (personal collection)
  10. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley (library book)
  11. Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (personal collection)
  12. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Vol. 18 by CLAMP (library book)
  13. What Am I? Halloween by Anne Margaret Lewis (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter (review copy)
  3. Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven 3) by Brandon Mull (personal collection)
  4. Mark Tidd in the Backwoods by Clarence Budington Kelland (personal collection)
  5. Old Man's War by John Scalzi (personal collection)
  6. Outside In by Maria V. Snyder (library book)
  7. Robopocalypse (audio) by Daniel H. Wilson (library book)
  8. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Blood Lure by Nevada Barr (personal collection)
  2. Bombardiers by Po Bronson (personal collection)
  3. Home by Marilynne Robinson (personal collection)
  4. Imagine a Place by Sarah L. Thomson and Rob Gonsalves (library book)
  5. June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner (library book)
  6. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (personal collection)
  7. Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade (personal collection)



Comments (36)

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Imagine a Place: 02/26/12

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Imagine a Place by Sarah L. Thomson with illustrations by Rob Gonsalves asks the reader to imagine ordinary places realized in extraordinary ways.

The cover for instance, takes a normal looking block of homes and slowly, à la an Escher tessellation, become house boats, except that they are still red brick homes with grassy yards. Another page hows a library room built entirely of books.

Rob Gonsalves's acrylic surreal panoramas bring Thomson's poetic text to life. This is one of those books that should be read once and then admired a second time just for the artwork.

There are two other books in the series: Imagine a Night and Imagine a Day.

Five stars.

Other posts and reviews:

Comments (0)


June 29, 1999: 02/25/12

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June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner was the winner of the 1993 Golden Duck Award in the picture book category. For Weisner it's an unusual book because it actually contains words.

Holly Evans is working on her science project. She has a theory that sending seedlings up into the stratosphere might affect how they grow. Shortly after she sends them floating away, giant vegetables end up raining down on different parts of the United States (like Artichokes in Alaska).

The illustrations are Wiesner's classic surreal watercolors. The giant vegetables remind me of the old postcards advertising cities for their agriculture.

My son and I both read June 29, 1999 and loved it. After we each read it, we discussed all the different vegetables and the cities.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


Queen of the Dead: 02/24/12

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Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade is the sequel to The Ghost and the Goth. It opens with Will and Alona meeting a ghost in a mansion set to be torn down soon. It's a pretty typical opening for a sequel where the characters and their roles are well established and it's time to move straight into their adventure du jour.

Except, to my utter delight, the meeting goes horribly wrong and there's what can only be described as a solo ghost buster there to "box" their ghost. Having a society of ghost catchers in the area who know well and good about Will's abilities and can sense Alona, his ghost guide, stirs things up. It also makes things dangerous for Alona.

Despite their working together to help the dead, Alona and Will don't communicate well. They are prone to make assumptions, get into huffs and of course squabble. They haven't reached the point where they can blindly trust each other. That wedge of a doubt leads both characters to make foolish decisions with extraordinary results.

The ending took me by surprise, even though it was hinted at in The Ghost and the Goth. The third book, released in May 2012, Body and Soul will play out the results of startling ending.

Five stars.

Comments (2)


Blood Lure: 02/23/12

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Blood Lure by Nevada Barr is the 9th Anna Pigeon mystery but all the books stand by themselves as each one is set in a different location.

In this installment Anna is stationed at Glacier National Park where she is helping with a grizzly bear DNA project. On their first night out their camp is attacked by a grizzly and their youngest member, Rory Van Slyke. The next morning Rory's stepmother is found dead on a trail. Was it a bear or was it murder?

Actually it was a little bit of both and it takes Anna many false starts to get to the heart of the matter. She wants to clear Rory whom she is sure wasn't involved even though it appears he had plenty of motive. Given how poorly Rory treats Anna, I'm surprised she was so driven to do the right thing.

For the astute reader, all the clues are there. They're early on in the book. If you pay attention you can solve the mystery well before Anna does. I got close, although I didn't have the why of Mrs. Van Slyke's death sorted out.

Four stars.

Comments (2)


The Postmistress: 02/22/12

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The Postmistress by Sarah Blake is a World War Two novel set in both Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and London, England. The book opens with Postmistress Iris James pocketing a letter. The rest of the book is the dramatization of what that letter contains and the aftermath of Iris not delivering it.

Although Iris is the titular character, her position in the novel is mostly that of bookends. The main protagonist is actually reporter Frankie Bard, a woman sent throughout Europe to report on the war. She is working for Edward R. Murrow. But there so many stories of brave men and women doing things on the front line and so few stories of the people left stateside that I was hoping to hear more of Iris.

It takes half of the book for the narrative to sort itself and find its rhythm. Besides Iris and Frankie, there is also a doctor. For the longest time I couldn't place where he fit into the story. While Frankie is traveling by train throughout Europe, the crux of the story isn't her journey, it's the fate of that doctor. The Postmistress should made that fact clearer through tighter editing in the first half.

Once the letter has been played out as an extended flashback with multiple points of view, the novel settles into the final act — the aftermath of the letter not being delivered.

Frankie, as an eyewitness, feels compelled to deliver a handwritten note, thus undoing the subterfuge of Iris. Her journey to Cape Cod both as a bearer of news as well as a radio celebrity and war hero creates a palpable tension. This section of the novel is how the whole thing should have been like.

Three stars.

Comments (4)


Home: 02/21/12

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Home by Marilynne Robinson won the Orange Prize in 2009. It's a follow up, or parallel telling of Gilead (2004). Glory and Jack Boughton have returned home to Gilead to live in their father's home. Glory is there to take care of their father and avoid the pain of a broken wedding engagement. Jack is there for reasons unclear to either Glory or their father. Jack's reasons are the crux of the novel.

As with Housekeeping (1981), Robinson builds her characters and her story by the ebb and flow of mundane routine. It's a quiet style that might not be for everyone, but I found it the perfect read over a few breakfasts.

Through the quiet scenes of family meals, the family history is revealed. We learn about Jack's past, his rebellious youth and a tragic loss. Whether or not Jack has grown from his mistakes ends up being the big question of the book.

I now plan to go back and read Gilead to see the other half of the story.

Four stars.

Comments (0)


Bombardiers: 02/20/12

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Bombardiers is Po Bronson's debut novel. The thematic chapters that read more like interconnected short stories follow a group of salespeople who sell more and more outrageous financial products.

This book should have set off alarm bells in the 1990s and early 2000s. Every scheme these salespeople try was being done by actual financial salespeople on Wall Street and in the big banks.

Reading this on the backside of the most recent financial collapse deflated the humor for me. Instead of being wacky, silly or outrageous parody, it was just depressing. Maybe ten years ago I would have naively enjoyed it.

Two stars

Comments (0)


What Are You Reading: February 20, 2012: 02/19/12

What Are You Reading?

My daughter and I enjoyed two Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie books, including the newest one, Listen to My Trumpet. We also re-read a bunch of books which is why I'm not adding them to this week's list.

Last week at the library book store I found a 98 year old Clarence Budington Kelland novel, Mark Tidd in the Backwoods. It was a bit of a splurge at $8 but I so adore his novels and haven't read this one, that I had to get it. I've also started reading it. I'm about 1/3 of the way through already.

This weekend we went to Redding and Lassen Volcanic National Park for a mini-vacation. That means I've been out in nature and not reading. As I do most of my reading on the weekends, you'll see a much shorter list.

I did finish The Technologist by Matthew Pearl but not Robopocalypse. I'm about halfway through the audio. Maybe this week I'll finish. I also want to finish Bellwether by Connie Willis and try again to start Outside In by Maria V. Snyder.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan (personal collection)
  2. I Love My New Toy! by Mo Willems (personal collection)
  3. Listen to My Trumpet! by Mo Willems (personal collection)
  4. The Technologists by Matthew Pearl (review copy)
  5. Way Station by Clifford D. Simak (library book)
  6. Withering Tights by Louise Rennison (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. Bellwether by Connie Willis (library book)
  2. If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black
  3. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  4. Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby (personal collection)
  5. Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter (review copy)
  6. Mark Tidd in the Backwoods by Clarence Budington Kelland (personal collection)
  7. Old Man's War by John Scalzi (personal collection)
  8. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley (library book)
  9. Robopocalypse (audio) by Daniel H. Wilson (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Attention All Shipping by Brian Selznick (personal collection)
  2. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (personal collection)
  3. The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong (library book)
  4. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (library book)
  5. The Otherworldlies by Jennifer Anne Kogler (library book)
  6. A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks (personal collection)
  7. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (personal collection)



Comments (26)

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Wonderstruck: 02/19/12

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Wonderstruck is Brian Selznick's second graphic novel hybrid. It uses gorgeous full spread illustrations to tell the 1927 story of Rose, a girl who wants to get to New York City, and chapters to tell the 1977 story of Ben who is also on a journey to New York. Like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck is a thick but quick read.

The book opens with Ben's recurring nightmare of wolves chasing him over the frozen lake. It has been plaguing him since his mother's recent death. While most of Ben's story is told in text, this opening nightmare is done in Selznick's dramatic black and white drawings.

Most of his almost cinematic illustrations tell Roses's story. Quickly we learn that she is fascinated by the Manhattan skyline and has created a miniature version of it out of paper. Second we learn that she is a fan of a certain silent movie star at the time that silent movies are being phased out in favor of sound.

Mixed into all of this is a brief history of Deaf culture, the New York World Fair, silent movies, and museums. It's jumbled but logical. It's also heart breaking and charming.

There are nods to a number of books in Wonderstruck. The one that jumped out most for me was Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg. The full list of books that inspired or aided in the creation of Wonderstruck are included in the afterword.

Recommended by @DeandraBookLove

Five stars

Comments (2)


Attention All Shipping: 02/18/12

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Attention All Shipping by Charlie Connelly came out, I got a job working as a web producer for a client based in Texas, while I was in California. The office I worked in was very small and very quiet. To bridge the gap between my scheduled assignments, I started listening to the internet stream of Radio Four.

With my location in California and the hours I worked, meant that my day began and ended with a broadcast of the Shipping Forecast. I think it was also on Radio Four that I heard a very positive book review of Connelly's memoir of a his journey around the shipping forecast map.

Connelly gave himself a year to visit one spot in every piece of the shipping forecast map that has an actual town. His book chronicles the ups and downs of that journey. Some places are tiny and remote. He struggled with bad weather, boredom and transportation issues.

It includes some points of history of the shipping forecast and how it has changed over the years. For me it was the perfect combination of history, travelogue, and social commentary.

Recommended by Radio 4?

Five stars

Comments (2)


City of Bones: 02/17/12

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City of Bones by Cassandra Clare is the first of the Mortal Instruments series. It opens with Clary Fray seeing something unbelievable at the Pandemonium Club. Her eyes open to a parallel society that involves vampires, werewolves and other magical creatures opens her to danger. To make matters worse, her mother goes missing.

For the first 2/3 of the book I enjoyed figuring out the mystery along side Clary as Jace tried to show her the ropes. Much of the world building is done through Clary's education.

And then it goes pear shaped, becoming a Frankenstein's monster mashup of Scooby Doo, the Wonder Twins and Star Wars. Except for the first two seasons of Scooby Doo, I'm not a fan. This mash up was not a good thing for me. Seriously, the YA twin trope has to die a horrible death. The sooner the better.

I have the remaining books in the series because my husband read them first. I do plan to finish the series, but I'm not as enthusiastic about that prospect as I once was.

Three stars.

Comments (4)


The Gathering: 02/16/12

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The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong is the first of the Darkness Rising series. It brings together so many of my interests that it's hard for me to write a review that doesn't just dissolve into a pure fandom ranting. If rural Canada, secret labs, Native American creation myths and shape changing aren't your thing, then The Gathering won't be your cup of tea. If they are, then you will probably love the book.

Maya Delaney lives with her adoptive parents on Vancouver island (not to be confused with Vancouver city) in British Columbia, Canada. Her father is a ranger and he like everyone else works for the lab that owns the town. Think Eureka but set in Canada.

Maya is still reeling from the death of her best friend, Serena, a girl who was on the high school swim team and new the lake better than anyone. Despite that, she somehow drowned over the summer. Serena and she had planned to head into town for Maya's birthday to get her paw print shaped birthmark made more permanent through tattooing. When Maya and her mother make the trip, Maya's life is turned upside down and that's where the book for me when from pretty damn good to fricking amazing.

Before I explain why, let me step back and discuss the cover. It's a photograph of a girl in 3/4 profile. She has dark hair, dark eyes, red lips and blue to turquoise skin. Even before opening the book the cover made me think of Turquoise Woman who is an aspect of Changing Woman in the Navajo creation myths. Carrie Schechter, the photographer of the cover, acknowledges the desire to convey Maya's Native American heritage, but doesn't specifically mention the Diné connection.

The tattoo parlor, though, does. While there, Maya who suspects she's Native American, but doesn't know specifically from which people, is recognized as Diné. But there must be something wrong with her as the Diné don't give up their children. The birthmark, though, seals everything for the old woman and she exclaims Yee n'aldooshi. And that's when I feel head over heels in squee for The Gathering.

I'm including a long list of other reviews that go more into the YA aspects of the book. As there are so many reviews on that piece of the book, I decided to stick with the pieces that made me jump up and down with excitement instead.

I am eagerly awaiting the second book, The Calling which comes out April 2012.

Recommended by A Page Turner 4 U

Five stars

Comments (2)


Hex Hall: 02/15/12

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Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins came out right around the time that I was first actively using my GoodRead's wishlist to track books I wanted to read. It was a hugely popular book when it came out so I can't point to a single book blog that inspired me to read it.

Sophie Mercer has been sentenced to complete her studies at a small private boarding school for magical beings. At thirteen she came into her powers and after three years of making a nuisance of herself, she's being sent to Hecate Hall.

Like so many series, Sophie goes into her new life, one which includes a vampire for a roommate, unprepared. She knows of magic and she's figured out a few simple spells but she doesn't know the history of witches, warlocks and other magical creatures. She doesn't understand how much danger she's in for being magical. Nor does she understand her own family history.

Whenever a clueless main character is getting initiated into a new life and a new school, there is of course something dangerous afoot. Here, there are attacks on the dark witches. Can Sophie hone her skills, prove that her roommate is innocent?

What I'm trying to say is that while the book builds on recognizable tropes, it's an entertaining read.

Five stars.

Comments (4)


The Otherworldlies: 02/14/12

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The Otherworldlies by Jennifer Anne Kogler is about Fern trying to figure out why she's so much different from her fraternal twin, Sam. She's paler than pale, to the point of needing massive amounts of sunscreen to go anywhere. She can accurately predict the weather — always and talk to her dog. All those things she has learned to live with, but accidentally teleporting from school to the beach in the middle of a class, is a whole other thing!

The first two thirds of Otherworldlies is set in San Juan Capistrano. Besides Fern's teleportation problem, and the ire it creates with her mother, there are the swallows falling dead from the sky. The dead birds add a feeling of dread to a story that would otherwise seem like a lighthearted YA paranormal novel.

As with many YA books, Sam and Fern are children of a single mother. Their mother runs the home with military precision, another usual plot device to complicate the hero's plans. Except, this time, the mother's reasons, once revealed make sense and make her a believable and sympathetic character.

I especially loved the setting, San Juan Capistrano and later Coronado Island in San Diego. As a native Californian, I always perk up when the setting is somewhere I'm familiar with. Both locations, while molded for artistic license, are still recognizable and still resplendent with their local personalities. How Coronado island is described, especially, made me giggle for the juxtaposition of the paranormal use and the mundane use.

I plan to read book two, The Siren's Cry which came out in 2011.

Five stars.

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A Princess of Landover: 02/13/12

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Jordan Darymple introduced me to the Landover series in eighth grade when he reviewed Magic Kingdom, For Sale, Sold! by Terry Brooks. All these years later I have just finished book six of the series, A Princess of Landover.

Princess Mistaya has been sent to King Ben's world to attend a boarding school. There's just a few problems with that, she has an adult mind thanks to her mother's faery heritage and a teenage body, thanks to Ben's genes. She gets herself expelled as quick as she can and goes home.

But that's just the start of Mistaya's problems. To teach her some self restraint, Ben comes up with a new plan. He sends her to a library internship at the royal library — a magical building that has been long forgotten.
Here's where for me the book became the perfect fall read for me. When I began the book I was only a few weeks into my own cataloging internship. Mind you, the library I was working in wasn't semi-sentient, nor was it being invaded by creatures unknown.

It was a fun read and oddly appropriate for me at this time in my life.

Four stars.

Comments (0)


What Are You Reading: February 13, 2012: 02/13/12

What Are You Reading?My daughter's home work now includes a section where she has to read to me. So my picture book numbers are back up to where they were last year. She and I read four picture books in the last couple of days.

Wednesday I came down with a fever. I guess it's the flu even though I've had a flu shot for this season. That an a large homework assignment put the damper on my reading for a few days. Saturday and Sunday I put away the homework and decided to read instead. I have a bunch of library books due on Tuesday and I managed to feed them.

Three of the books I finished were graphic novels or manga. Four were picture books I read with my daughter. The rest are tween or YA books. Oh, and there's a novella by Jane Austen.

I would like to finish The Technologist by Matthew Pearl and Robopocalypse. I will certainly finish Withering Tights. This week I will start Bellwether by Connie Willis and try again to start Outside In by Maria V. Snyder.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. Beverly Billingsly Can't Catch by Alexander Stadler (library book)
  2. Captain Whiz-Bang by Diane Stanley (library book)
  3. Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins (library book)
  4. Frankie Pickle and the Mathematical Menace by Eric Wight (library book)
  5. Higher! Higher! by Leslie Patricelli (library book)
  6. Lady Susan by Jane Austen (library book)
  7. The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds (library book)
  8. Pet Show! by Ezra Jack Keats (library book)
  9. Polly and the Pirates, Volume 1 by Ted Naifeh (library book)
  10. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Vol. 17 by CLAMP (library book)
  11. The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black
  2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  3. Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby (personal collection)
  4. The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan (personal collection)
  5. Old Man's War by John Scalzi (personal collection)
  6. Robopocalypse (audio) by Daniel H. Wilson (library book)
  7. The Technologists by Matthew Pearl (review copy)
  8. Withering Tights by Louise Rennison (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker (review copy)
  2. Finders Keepers by Russ Colchamiro (review copy)
  3. Life After Joe by Haper Fox (review copy)
  4. Magyk by Angie Sage (personal collection)
  5. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxler (review copy)
  6. The Runaway Mummy by Michael Rex (personal collection)
  7. A Tinfoil Sky by Cyndi Sand-Eveland (review copy)



Comments (28)


Magyk: 02/12/12

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Magyk by Angie Sage is the first of the Septimus Heap books. Oddly enough, the book begins with Septimus's death and his parents' adoption of a newborn girl found in swaddling in the snow. Ten years later the Extra-Ordinary Wizard visits with the news that Jenna is the princess and heir to the throne. If they want to survive to see her become Queen, they have to go into hiding.

Readers might be wondering what happened to Septimus or why the series is named after a dead character. Consider the Septimus question as the B plot. It's there and the truth is hinted at throughout once the set up and character introductions are done.

Mostly, though, this first book is Jenna Heap's story. She's brave, resourceful, well rounded and likable. She's a believable ten year old. She's remarkable too in that she has a large, loving family to care for her. Don't let her adoptive status get in the way — adopted or not, she is a welcome member of the Heap family. And she loves her family as much as they love her.

The fact that she's had a normal (maybe not normal for a crown princess) and nurturing childhood is the first big clue that this book is not a Harry Potter clone. Next, wizards (anyone who uses magyk, male or female), live side by side with the regular folk. There's a wizard tower but it's not hidden behind spells or other magical subterfuge. Finally, the adults don't keep things from the children, nor is the big bad so big and so bad that his name can't be spoken.

The book was recommended to me (and my kids) by Pam of Bookalicious.

Five stars

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The Runaway Mummy: 02/11/12

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The Runaway Mummy is another Margaret Wise Brown parody by Michael Rex. This time he's taking a jab at The Runaway Bunny which you might recall is the story of a small bunny being suffocated by his over protective, obsessive mother. The bunny does everything in its power to escape. Can you tell, I'm not a fan the original?

Now I like mummies and I like parodies. So this book was a win for me at the get-go. The runaway mummy turns himself into all sorts of gruesome things to scare off his mother but she just keeps one-upping him.

For children who are fans of monsters, this book is sure to be a hit. It's not too scary but has plenty to fuel their active imaginations.

Five stars.

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Life After Joe: 02/10/12

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Life After Joe by Harper Fox is a debut romance about Matt trying to put his life together after Joe leaves him for a woman. Matt, apparently too blinded by his love for Joe didn't know about the girlfriend on the side even though everyone else did. In the midst of his emotional break down, he meets Aaron but he might not be ready to try loving someone new.

In writing the summery, I still want to like the book but I could never get into Matt's head to understand him or care for him as a lead character. I don't mind broken or self destructive characters but Matt doesn't take things far enough even with all his late night pub crawls.

What's supposed to be heart break and vulnerability comes off as shallowness, with a smattering of teen angst. The teen angst isn't appropriate or endearing for an adult character.

I received a review copy from NetGalley.

Two stars.

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Finders Keepers: 02/09/12

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In 1978 a little radio play debuted on BBC Radio 4 that went onto be a series of books, a television series and a movie. I'm talking about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It paved the way for the modern day science fiction comedy. It's also the story I thought of most while reading Finders Keepers by Russ Colchamiro.

Jason Medley just wants to get to Rome and decide where to backpack to next except he has about has much common sense as my cat. Theo Barnes is a bloke in New Zealand who likes sex, drugs and rock and roll but he's starting to experience things that he can't blame on any of them. Newlyweds Donald and Danielle are using Earth as their personal competition creating new and usual life forms (like dinosaurs) to one up each other.

Things come to a head for everyone involved when Danielle and Donald lose their cargo, a jar of universal DNA. It's now frozen in a glacier and they have to figure out what to do before its missed in the next inventory.

The chapters are short and the jumps between characters and locations frequent. While I enjoyed the set up, I would have preferred to spent more time with each character before rocketing across the globe to another one. It takes quite a few of these small chapters for the individual plots to gel.

Three stars.

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A Tinfoil Sky: 02/08/12

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Cyndi Sand-Eveland says she was inspired to write A Tinfoil Sky when she met a homeless girl and her father in Eugene Oregon. It was a brief exchange of spare change but it was enough to spark her novel about Mel and her mother facing homelessness while escaping an abusive boyfriend and not being allowed to come home.

Mel and her mother end up sleeping in their car, parked under a bridge until it's eventually towed. By then Mel has started to get to know a few people in her mother's home town. That gives her a small thread of support when her mother is arrested. Mel is ordered by the court to live with her grandmother, the very one who refused to open the door when they had first arrived.

Mel's life with her grandmother brings into question whether or not family is always the best decision. Her grandmother's bitterness is deep rooted in painful memories. As Mel counts down the days until she's reunited with her mother, she unravels some of the mysteries of her own life and her grandmother's bad mood.

Although the book deals with some tough issues: abuse, broken families, homelessness and drug use, Mel remains a positive character and the book has a hopeful ending.

Read via NetGalley

Five stars

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Clementine and the Family Meeting: 02/07/12

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Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker is the fifth of the Clementine series. Clementine's life is about to change and it all begins with the dreaded family meeting.

At school Clementine has to contend with her missing lab rat (number 18) and her lab partners' unrealistic expectations of what can be accomplished with such short notice. Clementine, like Horrible Harry, has a soft spot for living creatures. She's more distraught over the well being of missing eighteen than on what the rat's absence will do for her grade.

At home, Clementine has a family meeting looming. She's been extra good and can't figure what she could have possibly done to warrant a meeting. I felt bad for her as she fretted over the unknown.

The problems at school and the problems at home are thematically tied. While Clementine isn't happy with the family news, she does come to accept it. She also sees it as an opportunity to find the missing eighteen by rethinking the rat's disappearance.

I recommend the book to fans of the series, kids who are ready to move on from the Junie B. Jones books, and children who are faced with being big brothers or sisters in the near future.

Read via NetGalley

Four stars

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Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes: 02/06/12

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Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier is a debut middle grade fantasy about a blind thief who goes on an extraordinary journey and frees a kingdom. Along the way Peter picks up some magical items and an unusual traveling companion.

Peter's life began in a basket on the ocean where he was blinded by crows. He though is an adaptable survivor. By the time of his quest he has spent a decade living on the streets, stealing to survive.

As Peter is blind and the adventure is shared through his point of view, there is very little in the way of visual description. Most everything in the world is built through descriptions smell, touch and sound.

There are three basic parts to Peter's adventure: his life before the quest, setting out on the quest and the rescue. The initial set up and the journey itself are quick paced and excellent. The rescue, though, loses the pacing and feels padded. There just seemed to be about twice the detail compared to the sparser, more tightly written sections.

Read via NetGalley

Four stars.

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What Are You Reading: February 06, 2012: 02/06/12

What Are You Reading?

My daughter's home work now includes a section where she has to read to me. So my picture book numbers are back up to where they were last year. She and I read four picture books in the last couple of days.

I read a graphic novel — memoir, really, but in the form of a graphic novel — Huntington, West Virginia "On the Fly" by Harvey Pekar. I also read volume 16 of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle.

That brings my total of short books up to six. The remaining six were full length novels, one of which was an audio book. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

As predicted I did finish Dying for Chocolate by Diane Mott Davidson. I am totally, completely, utterly sucked into that series. I adore the audio books. I'm taking a break, though from it, and am listening instead to.

This week I will finish Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins. It is as fun a read as Hex Hall. I even got my husband into reading the series.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. Clarice Bean, Guess Who's Babysitting? by Lauren Child (library book)
  2. Dying for Chocolate (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson (library book)
  3. The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong (library book)
  4. Huntington, West Virginia "On the Fly" by Harvey Pekar (library book)
  5. A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats (library book)
  6. Monoculture by F.S. Michaels (review copy)
  7. My Creature Teacher by Laura Leuck (library book)
  8. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems (library book)
  9. Rez Life by David Treuer (review copy)
  10. Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean (library book)
  11. Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Vol. 16 by CLAMP (library book)
  12. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (personal collection)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins (library book)
  3. Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby (personal collection)
  4. The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan (personal collection)
  5. Robopocalypse (audio) by Daniel H. Wilson (library book)
  6. The Technologists by Matthew Pearl (review copy)
  7. Withering Tights by Louise Rennison (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Cara Mia by Denise Verrico (review copy)
  2. Fullmetal Alchemist 15 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  3. The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade (library book)
  4. Havana Real by Yoani Sanchez (review copy)
  5. Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler (review copy)
  6. Immortal by Gene Doucette (review copy)
  7. The Stainless Steel Rat Returns by Harry Harrison (library book)



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The Stainless Steel Rat Returns: 02/05/12

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While some teenage girls swoon over Mr. Darcy, Edward, Jacob or any of the other YA literary hunks, I swooned over James Bolivar diGriz, aka the Stainless Steel Rat. OK, I'll admit it, I still swoon over him, even with his jealous ex-assassin wife, Angela. Shhh... don't tell her.

It's been twelve years since the last installment, and given given the fact that Harry Harrison started writing them in 1961, I was content with having read what I had. But them, woohoo!, a tenth book, The Stainless Steel Rat Returns.

The last couple of books involve the diGriz twins and like Ramses in the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters, they get in the way of the humor and hijinks. This time though, Jim and Angie are on their own, on a ship hurdling through space and trying to find their way home.

The book is really more like a series of connected short stories, each one being an adventure on a different planet and the broke ship ("working" somewhat like Zaphod's ship in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams) being the connecting device.

So there's lots of sarcasm, lots of shenanigans, lots of scamming, some heroics, lots of drinking, some esperanto, some fowl language, lots of costume changes and all the other stuff that makes me weak in the knees. Yeah... I loved the book.

Five stars.

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Havana Real: 02/04/12

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Havana Real by Yoani Sanchez is a collection of her posts from Generation Y, a blog she maintains through the help of friends in Spain. Cuba is none to keen on allowing internet access, especially blog access, so maintaining a blog under these conditions takes a certain amount of creativity and a hell of a lot of gumption.

The Melville House book presents Sanchez's blog posts in chronological order and they are left to stand for themselves. Sanchez outlines how things work, or more often than not, don't work in her neighborhood, and in Cuba as a whole. There are a number of entries devoted to keeping the apartment building working, including the cranky elevator which hasn't seen proper maintenance in years. There are some universal posts about being a parent.

What's missing, though, is editorial comment. The blog is well written but it is still a blog. Printing a blog in book format doesn't automatically make it a book. Some extra commentary to bring in the big picture, either as side bars or footnotes, would have make this an extraordinary book. As it stands, it's a collection of blog posts made under usual circumstances, that taken out of that context, read not all that different from any other blog.

Read via NetGalley

Three stars

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The Ghost and the Goth: 02/03/12

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The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade brings together Will, a troubled teen who is pestered by the dead and Alona, the high school homecoming queen and recently deceased after she was struck down by a school bus.

Told in alternating points of view, Alona and Will both get their chances to weigh in on the situation. Kade's creates convincing voices for each character which makes both more sympathetic than they otherwise would be if seen only through a third person point of view.

Although they don't initially like each other, they need each other. Will can't get a moment of peace because of the ghosts always swarming him. Alona, can't figure out why she's stuck haunting the school. She also wants to clear her name and convince everyone that she didn't commit suicide.

The relationship that grows between Will and Alona reminds me fondly of Holly and Vince in You Had Me at Halo by Amanda Ashby except that they don't share a body.

Four stars.

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Immortal: 02/02/12

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Immortal by Gene Doucette is about a dude named Adam (who may or may not be that Adam). He's seen nations rise and fall and endless numbers of friends grow old and die. He wants to lay low, stay out of trouble and maybe have a few drinks and do some drugs. There's just one problem, a price has been put on his head and now he's a wanted man.

Adam first realizes he's wanted when his current roommates are murdered. He's fingered for their deaths and has to scramble. As he's trying to sort out what happened he becomes aware of a new-to-him group who are interested in his immortality.

In a book where immortality is possible but not probable, there are also other supernatural creatures like pixies and vampires. Fortunately Adam's story doesn't get lost in a menagerie of creatures as happens to so many of these books.

With an immortal character, there are quite a few flashbacks. They come and go as Adam is reminded of something. I found some of these asides problematic for the overall pacing of the modern day mystery. I really just wanted to focus on the here and now of Adam's problems.

Review copy received by the author.

Three stars.

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 15: 02/01/12

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 15 by Hiromu Arakawa draws on lengthy interviews with world war two vets to tell an issue long flashback about the Ishbalan war.

The story is told through a conversation between Hawkeye and Ed as she cleans her weapon. She tells of how she came to be in the military, how she and the rest of Mustang's squad were brought together and the brutality expected of the State Alchemists against the Ishbalans.

If I were teaching a history of modern warfare class, I would include Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 15 along with more traditional texts. It captures the emotional toll so well.

Five stars.

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