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March 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



The Long Goodbye: 03/31/12

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The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler is the last of seven mysteries featuring Philip Marlowe. I decided to give Raymond Chandler a try since I had one of his books on hand.

Marlowe tries to do the right thing by helping Terry Lennox whom he found falling down drunk. Lennox though after a brief friendship flees the country leaving Marlowe fingered as an accomplice in the murder of his wife.

The book is set in 1950s Los Angeles. It's a grittier, lonelier and more pessimistic view of the city than that of his contemporary, Perry Mason. Chandler shows how easy it is to be alone in a city full of people if one wants to be.

Three stars

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Red Glove: 03/30/12

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The day I finished listening to White Cat I picked up the sequel, Red Glove by Holly Black. I would love to go back and re-read it as an audio, performed again by Jesse Eisenberg. That says two things about the series: Holly Black writes awesome paranormal organized crime thrillers and Jesse Eisenberg is perfect casting for Cassel Sharp.

The second book opens in Atlantic City with Cassel being tugged along by his grifter mother to work some cons. They've spent the summer going from hotel to hotel conning as many wealthy men as they can before wearing out their welcome. Just as things are getting dicey, school starts for Cassel.

Along with school, though, Cassel has some new problems to contend with. First, one of his brothers has been murdered. Second the FBI have taken a fancy to him as a person of interest in a number of missing person cases. Cassel doesn't remember taking part but he also knows his memory has been worked. As with the last book, Cassel needs to find the right balance between school, family, the Zacharov family, his own cons and, now, the FBI.

Black goes into greater detail with the political upheaval over the proposed testing of curse workers. With Cassel having lived both as a curse worker and as a non-worker, he's able to walk an ambivalent line, playing a devils advocate to the debate. He well knows that every bare hand can be a potential weapon.

There are some graphic descriptions of the effects of curse working and blow back. There was some of that in White Cat but in Red Glove I found them more visceral. I don't know if that's an affect of listening versus reading or not.

As I don't want to spoil anything for either book, let me close by saying I'm eagerly awaiting the third book, Black Heart (2012).

Five stars.

Comments (0)


Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors: 03/29/12

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Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski is a celebration of the seasons in five senses and poetry.

The book begins and ends with the color red. It is a sign of spring that brings to mind cheers and cherries. Some colors are more evocative of smells and emotions rather than sites and smells.

Pamela Zagarneski's multimedia, whimsical illustrations are what drew me into the book. They remind me of Stern Nijland's artwork for the King & King books. The naive / surreal approach matches the poetry of the book.

Four stars.

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13 Little Blue Envelopes: 03/28/12

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13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson follows Ginny as she goes on a European adventure outlined for her by her eccentric aunt. The rules also include: no ATM card, no electronic devices and no reading the letters out of order.

The journey takes Ginny first to New York, then to London and finally around Europe. Each piece of the adventure is tucked away in one of the thirteen envelopes.

The set up for the book requires some suspension of disbelief. But once the book gets going it's a fun but heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking journey for Ginny. She grows through struggles and discoveries.

The book was such a delightful read, that I have The Last Little Blue Envelope on hand and hope to read it soon.

Five stars.

Comments (4)


A Red Herring Without Mustard: 03/27/12

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A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley is the third Flavia de Luce mystery. It opens with young Flavia having her fortune told by a Gypsy. Although Flavia fashions herself as a skeptic, the Gypsy's tale of her late mother, Harriet, hits too close to home. She freaks and accidentally burns down the Gypsy's tent.

Guilt and a sense of obligation, therefore unite Flavia and the Gypsy. She helps find a safe place for her to park her caravan, saves her life and takes in her granddaughter, who has Flavia's gumption.

It seems with every subsequent Flavia de Luce mystery, the introductory chapters take more and more of book. It's not that the books are getting longer, just that Flavia, her family and her life are taking up a greater proportion of the pages.

The mystery itself felt a bit like a rehash of The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag in that the modern day attack is related to the long buried death of a child. How many children, I wonder, have met unfortunate ends in Bishop's Lacey?

Despite the recurring motif, I enjoyed tagging along with Flavia. She seems to be taking more risks. I keep expecting her plans to come crashing down about her ears.

Five stars

Comments (0)


My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer: 03/26/12

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My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari, June Farrell just wants to bake pies and hang out with her best friend. Instead she has to contend with her mother wanting to get married to her longtime girl friend and the neighbors taking sides against civil unions for same sex couples.

June spends a good chunk of this novel bouncing between anger and fear. Her anger is directed not only at the friends and neighbors she feels has betrayed her and her mother, but also at Eva, her soon to be stepmother. She's also sometimes angry at her mother and wishes a few times that her mother were straight and that she had a father.

I suppose June's conflicted feelings are there to let her play Devil's advocate in the debate over same sex marriage. Her intense feelings, though, weren't grounded in a firm enough foundation. We're told that her mother opted to have a baby on her own using a sperm bank. We're told that her best friend's father has been a help to her mother and a bit of a father figure for June.

But this is all done with very little show and a whole lot of tell. The result is that I never felt like I truly knew or understood June or any of the other characters in the book. Characterization seemed to be sacrificed for making sure all the different arguments in the issue of same sex marriage were touched on.

Read via NetGalley.

Four stars

Comments (2)


What Are You Reading: March 26, 2012: 03/25/12

What Are You Reading?

My favorite read this week was the audio of Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. I've already seen the movie twice but the book still sucked me right in. One day I spent half an hour outside my favorite coffee shop waiting for a chapter break — it's that good!

I had three "did not finish books" but mostly due to time, rather than any particular fault of the books. The quilting book has some great ideas for projects that I want to spend more time with. For that book, I need my own copy, instead of a library copy.

The Scorch Trials is more of the same with The Maze Runner. It's not different enough for me to want to rush to finish it. There are six others on the hold list after me, and I'd rather revisit the book when it is less popular, than read it at a breakneck pace now.

Ruby's Spoon has a very thick dialect written for most of the dialog. That sort of dialect always is a struggle for me to read. Again, I had a library copy and I really want / need more time to read the book. The Friends of the Library has a copy on sale. If it's still there, I will probably purchase it to re-visit the book at my own pace.

I have just finally cracked open the sequel to Drift House. I plant to continue with it this week. I also want to finish Witch Eyes and start Sink Trap by Christy Evans and The Locket by Stacey Jay.

What about you?

Did Not Finish:

  1. 130 Mini Quilt Blocks by Susan Briscoe (library book)
  2. Ruby's Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni (library book)
  3. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (library book)

Finished:

  1. The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture by Terry O'Reilly (library book)
  2. Chocolate and Vicodin by Jennette Fulda (library book)
  3. Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy (library book)
  4. Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (library book)
  5. Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (library book)
  6. Shutter Island (audio) by Dennis Lehane (library book)
  7. A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Mark Tidd in the Backwoods by Clarence Budington Kelland (personal collection)
  3. Old Man's War by John Scalzi (personal collection)
  4. Railsea by China Miéville (review copy)
  5. A River in the Sky (audio) by Elizabeth Peters (library book)
  6. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  7. Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Blind Spot by Rick Wilbur and Nick DiChario (personal collection)
  2. Home of the Brave by Allen Say (library book)
  3. Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes (library book)
  4. Moon Ball by Jane Yolen (library book)
  5. The Not-So-Star Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins (library book)
  6. Opur's Blade by James Ross (review copy)
  7. Spectra by Joanne Elder (review copy)



Comments (28)

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Little White Rabbit: 03/25/12

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Little White Rabbit is Kevin Henkes's latest picture book. A little rabbit hops through the forest and stops to wonder about different things. He wonders what it would be like to be big or what it would be like to be green and so forth.

The illustrations are inviting, done in warm pastels and simple shapes. With such large pictures, the book will work well for a group story time.

The book is easy enough to read for beginning readers but interesting enough for slightly older readers. My daughter and son both enjoyed it separately and then re-read it together.

Five stars.

Comments (0)


Spectra: 03/24/12

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Spectra by Joanne Elder opens with a mining expedition unearthing a strange collection of light based life forms. The crew present will be forever affected by what they discovered.

Most of the book, though, takes place a few years later. The crew have gone their separate ways. The death of one of those crew members, sparks an investigation that puts everyone else in danger.

Spectra reads like a conspiracy thriller wrapped up in a science fiction / speculative fiction setting. The first two thirds of the book are fast paced. Life on Mars is imagined in a well-rounded, believable fashion, enhancing the nail biting action scenes.

The pacing, though, falters in the last third. As the book is wrapping up for a conclusion it seems to get bogged down in minutiae.

Read via NetGalley

Three stars

Comments (0)


Moon Ball: 03/23/12

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Moon Ball by Jane Yolen is a picture book I wanted to use for my astronomy project. Unfortunately it's no longer in print so it didn't qualify for it.

In Moon Ball Danny plays little league. He desperately wants to learn how to hit the ball but hasn't had any luck. After striking out again at a big game, he's ready to give up. That night he's visited by the All Stars and challenged to a game that takes place in outer space against actual constellations and other heavenly bodies.

The book is a sweet wish fulfillment story that blends a lesson on astronomy with one on base ball.

Three stars

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Opur's Blade: 03/22/12

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Opur's Blade by James Ross is the fourth Prairie Winds novel. In this one, a golfing prodigy is raised by a single mother after divorcing her abusive husband. To get her son Owen Jr. out of the house during summer she sends her son to Prairie Winds for free lessons. On his first day there, using a discarded driver, he shows raw talent.

Of the four novels I've now read, Opur's Blade is my favorite. The set up: a shot gun wedding turned to unhappy marriage and alcoholism and ultimately an absentee father and single mother felt real. The characters grow and change in understandable ways.

It was also the most focused of the plots. It didn't give into as many random jumps in time or an over abundance of characters.

Received for review from the author.

Four stars

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Home of the Brave: 03/21/12

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Home of the Brave by Allen Say follows a man as he discovers his past. He learns through a strange metaphysical encounter in the desert of his family's internment during WWII.

More than a hundred thousand Japanese Americans were interned during WWII following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Most of those were children and women. Home of the Brave drives that fact home with the encounter involving in part, a baseball game with children living in one of the camps.

I think the book has an appeal for its dream sequence, ghost story. The history of the internment camps, though, probably won't be known yet. That part of the book will need to be explained. For older children who are learning about this unfortunate piece of history, the book could be used in conjunction with the lesson plan.

Four stars

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The Not-So-Star Spangled Life of Sunita Sen: 03/20/12

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Originally published in 1993 as The Sunita Experiment and reissued in 2005 as The Not-So-Star Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins is is about a typical Bay Area teen who doesn't feel all that typical. Her family is from India but she was born here in California. Her two cultures are coming to a head now that her grandparents have moved into her home.

In 1993, Sunita wouldn't have been as typical a Bay Area teen as she would be now. In the 1990s, Asians accounted for about 15% of the total population (1990 US Census data). By the most recent Census data, Asians account for a third of the total population, and that third is divided up evenly between Chinese and Indian Asians.

Anyway, keeping in mind that the story's taking place in the early 1990s, Sunita feels out of place, especially when her mother starts acting and dressing the part of a traditional Indian wife, when in the past she hasn't. At school, Sunita's in a class that is trying to celebrate everyone's roots but she feels alone with her single pin on the map when most of her classmates have multiple pins all over Europe.

So Sunita rebells under the pressure from traditionalism at home and her Euro-centric classmates at school. She can't decide where she belongs and she doesn't want to be part of either. Keeping in mind that she's a young teen, her rebellion and mopping makes sense.

Five stars.

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Blind Spot: 03/19/12

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"Blind Spot" by Rick Wilber and Nick DiChario is a baseball story with a twist. Wilber and DiChario are self proclaimed baseball fans and that comes through in their story of an old baseball and the memories associated with it.

The story draws on some personal history too as Rick Wilber is the son of Del Wilber. Although I didn't know that going into the story as baseball history isn't one of my fortes, I still got a sense that this story might be semi-autobiographical.

Although the book is about baseball fandom, it's not saccharine nostalgia. It's a dark story, dealing with abuse and broken families.

Four stars.

Comments (0)


What Are You Reading: March 19, 2012: 03/19/12

What Are You Reading?

The most surprising and rewarding book I read this week was The Wednesdays by Julie Bourbeau via NetGalley. It's middle grade urban fantasy that's coming out in August. If it comes out in audio, I will get a copy for future car trips. If not, then I will get a copy of the book for my family to read.

I read two picture books with my daughter, Lettice the Flying Rabbit by Mandy Stanley and The Sea Serpent and Me by Dashka Slater. The first is about a curious rabbit who accidentally takes a flight in a remote controlled toy airplane. The second is a sweet book about a girl who is adopted by a baby sea serpent when he lands in her bath tub.

I have stalled again with Mark Tidd in the Backwoods because I've gotten distracted by the fantastic audio version of Shutter Island. I did, however, manage to finish Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull. I've also made nice progress on Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is coming along at it's 2 chapters a week.

I finished Angelology on Saturday. It never improved but it was never so awful that I wanted to stop either. There's a sequel coming out next year, Angelopolis. I will give the second book a pass. I just don't want to revisit any of the characters again after spending three weeks slogging along with them.

This week I want to finish A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine. Then I plan to start the sequel to Drift House (which I mentioned last week but haven't started yet). I also will start Ruby's Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni.

What about you?

Did Not Finish:

  1. The Assault by Brian Falkner (review copy)

Finished:

  1. The Adventures Of Vin Fiz by Clive Cussler (library book)
  2. Angelology (audio) by Danielle Trussoni (library book)
  3. The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen by Geraldine McCaughrean (library book)
  4. Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven 3) by Brandon Mull (personal collection)
  5. Lettice the Flying Rabbit by Mandy Stanley (library book)
  6. The Sea Serpent and Me by Dashka Slater (library book)
  7. The Wednesdays by Julie Bourbeau (review copy)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy (library book)
  3. Mark Tidd in the Backwoods by Clarence Budington Kelland (personal collection)
  4. Old Man's War by John Scalzi (personal collection)
  5. Railsea by China Miéville (review copy)
  6. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (library book)
  7. Shutter Island (audio) by Dennis Lehane (library book)
  8. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  9. A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Brisket Book by Stephanie Pierson (review copy)
  2. Dog Days by Dave Ihlenfeld (library book)
  3. Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller (review copy)
  4. Finish Line by James Ross (review copy)
  5. Huntington, West Viginia "On the Fly" by Harvey Pekar (library book)
  6. The Wrong House by Stephen Jacobs (library book)



Comments (26)

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Roller Skates: 03/18/12

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Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer won the 1937 Newbery Award. I can't recall if the award is why I added it to my wishlist or if someone specifically recommended it to me.

The book description makes the book sound like a magical adventure. Lucinda gets a year to live with forward thinking Miss Peters where she can roller skate to school, talk with the local beat cop and cabbie and even play in the street with the local boys. The execution, though, is not so magical. Maybe the book is just feeling dated.

The reason Lucinda is living with Miss Peters is that her parents have decided to go on a year long tour of Europe. It's nearly the same excuse that's given to get Kendra and Seth to the fairy reserve in Fablehaven but there, it was only for two weeks, not a full year. As a parent I can't imagine leaving my children for an entire year. As a child I would have been pissed off to miss a chance to travel the world. Roller skating in New York wouldn't have been an adequate substitute.

Once that odd start is brushed aside the book settles into an L. M. Montgomery-esque series of episodes. Time does pass but there seemed to be less emphasis on Lucinda's so called adventures than I had expected from the description. Instead, it seems that Lucinda quickly settles into chapters about her domestic life in the city.

Two stars

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Finish Line: 03/17/12

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Finish Line by James Ross is the sequel to Lifetime Loser. Justin and Keith are caught in the act of paint balling a neighbor's house. As punishment they are sent to Prairie Winds for a summer job.

The story of Justin and Keith is a by the numbers coming of age story. The men take them under their wings. The boys are worked hard but also given time to play hard. Along the way they become friends with the regulars and maybe grow a little as individuals.

Along with this coming of age tale, there's a secondary plot involving one of the regulars having cancer. While this piece is just as well written as the A plot, it disrupts the flow of the book. The cancer story would have been better if it had been taken out of Finish Line and expanded into its own novel.

Three stars

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Dog Days: 03/16/12

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Dog Days by Dave Ihlenfeld caught my eye at the library. The cover sports a Wienermobile parking in front of a suburban home. While I'm no fan of Oscar Mayer products and have never seen the Wienermobile in person, I was curious. I read the book on the "there's a memoir about everything" front.

Dave Ihlenfeld spent a summer after college driving a Wienermobile. Actually is it was a couple different vehicles — depending on where in the world he was (including a strange trip to Germany). Ihlenfeld outlines how piss poor the maintenance of the cars were and how expendable the driving staff was seen as from upper management. Nonetheless, he seems to have had fun and has capture the good, the bad and the ugly in an entertaining memoir.

Interspersed with his adventures are chapters on the history of the Oscar Mayer company and its fleet of Wienermobiles. These are the sections, I suppose, where readers are supposed to get all nostalgic and weepy for the whistle they had as a kid. Having never seen the cars nor the whistles, I read these sections more as a curious observer. The take away is that advertising is demented no mater what the product.

Five stars.

Other posts and reviews:

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The Brisket Book: A Love Story with Recipes: 03/15/12

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The Brisket Book: A Love Story with Recipes by Stephanie Pierson celebrates the brisket and offers up a mixture of recipes, nostalgia and history. As a kid, brisket always meant corn beef and cabbage, usually bought on sale in March because of St. Patrick's day. As an adult, it almost always means my husband is cooking his version of his mother's recipe, a modified Jewish recipe that includes bell peppers. In either case, brisket means a big pot of decliousness.

And it's with those similar memories and emotions that Stephanie Pierson opens The Brisket Book. She explains her own emotional ties to the dish and shares some memories of others interviewed for the book. From there she goes through the basics of the cut, the history of the dishes and thoughts on different methods of cooking brisket.

At home I've only ever had the dish cooked in a pot with vegetables and some sort of gravy but the book includes recipes for smoking and barbecuing. It's a good addition to the family cook book collection for anyone who has a family brisket recipe who wants to learn more about the dish and maybe learn a few new ways of preparing it.

Read via NetGalley

Four stars

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Huntington, West Virginia On the Fly: 03/14/12

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Huntington, West Virginia On the Fly by Harvey Pekar is a collection of four short memoirs presented in a graphic novel format. Pekar is best known for his American Splendor series, but I haven't read it.

These stories are conversations and interviews Pekar did with people he met on his tours after American Splendor was adapted for film. All of these vignettes are illustrated by Summer McClinton.

The first story begins in his home town with Hollywood Bob, his favorite limo driver. The vignette outlines how Bob went from small time hood to successful livery owner. He explains the ups and downs of driving people around town and how no one ever wants a blue limo.

The last story works as a matching bookend for Hollywood Bob. Pekar has reached his destination, Huntington, West Virginia and a small book convention. While he can't get his promised per diem, he does get a chance to cameo in a small indie film.

Although others have said this book will only appeal to those who have read American Splendor, I disagree. Certainly, that familiarity would be a lure, but the book stands alone just fine. It's a quick, compelling and entertaining read.

Five stars

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The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock: 03/13/12

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The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock by Stephen Jacobs looks at the set design and architectural representations of space in Hitchcock's films.

The book is divided up by film. Each chapter has a discussion of the film's production, Hitchcock's part in the production, and how the spaces work thematically. There are also numerous photographs and floor plans.

I read the book on a whim after participating in a number of #hitchfest viewings via Tweetchat. Once a week we would watch a film and tweet about it. We've since moved onto #fauxhitchfest, meaning we're watching similar films but ones not directed by Hitchcock.

Four stars

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Extra Virginity: 03/12/12

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Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller starts with the fact that not all "extra virgin" labeled olive oils actually are. From there it goes on to explore the business, history, culture and mystique of olive oil. According to the UC Davis report from July 2010, "69 percent of imported olive oil samples and 10 percent of California olive oil samples labeled as extra virgin oil failed to meet the IOC/USDA sensory (organoleptic) standards for extra virgin olive oil." Living in California, where 90% of our domestic produced olive oil does pass the test, my reaction to the book is, understandably somewhat jaded.

Mueller's book when speaking of the historical aspects of olive oil is a fascinating page turner. The olive groves and olive oil has been a part of Italy all the way back to the Roman empire. He includes discussions of literary texts, like the Odyssey, where he asks why is it that the olive tree on the hill is what signals home to Homer? To that he answers with his own experience of living in Italy and learning the landscape by the olive trees.

The modern day olive oil industry, especially the family run farms, are suffering. Mueller points to two culprits who are destroying it: distributers watering down quality oil with inferior oil and California's wine industry influenced techniques to increase the harvest and yield of quality oil.

Curious about that claim, I looked at the numbers of California olive oil production. As of 2004, it accounted for less than one percent of total U.S. consumption. Most of the olive oil consumed in the United States is imported. Spain and Italy make up 75 percent of the world production. So while California is making the most of its acreage to produce oil, most of it is consumed domestically and most of that consumption stays within the state.

Extra Virginity is still worth a read for any foodies or anyone interested in a very focused piece of Italian history and culture. There are tips in the endnotes for selecting quality oils and for recognizing a quality oil.

Read via NetGalley

Three stars

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What Are You Reading: March 12, 2012: 03/12/12

What Are You Reading?

With my daughter reading on her own, my picture book reads have dropped off significantly. I read three this week because they were on my wishlist. My favorite read this week was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (audio) by E.L. Konigsburg, which we listened to on our day-trip to Shasta Lake.

I have started up again on Mark Tidd in the Backwoods. I've gotten about fifty or so pages further in it. The other TBR shelf books, though are coming along nicely: Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan, Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull, and, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

I would really like to finish listening to Angelology. I'm having a lot of trouble with the book. The performance is bland and the book is nonsensical in places. There's a flashback with Sr. Celestine before she was a nun where she is going through her mentor's "secret files" that is a straight up rip off of a much better scene in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I will listen to the halfway point and then decide if the last half is worth the time and effort.

I also want to finish Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull and The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen by Geraldine McCaughrean. Then I want to start A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine and the sequel to Drift House.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. 50 Underwear Questions by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and Ross Kinnaird (review copy)
  2. Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst (library book)
  3. The Child Thief by Brom (library book)
  4. Deadly Storm: A Derrick Storm Mystery by Richard Castle (personal collection)
  5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (audio) by E.L. Konigsburg (library book)
  6. The School for Cats by Esther Averill (library book)
  7. Tacky Goes to Camp by Helen Lester (library book)
  8. Vocabulary of Science by Lancelot Hogben (library book)
  9. The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Angelology (audio) by Danielle Trussoni (library book)
  3. The Assault by Brian Falkner (review copy)
  4. Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven 3) by Brandon Mull (personal collection)
  5. Mark Tidd in the Backwoods by Clarence Budington Kelland (personal collection)
  6. Old Man's War by John Scalzi (personal collection)
  7. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. From Cover to Cover by Kathleen T. Horning (personal collection)
  2. The Exterminator's Want Ad by Bruce Sterling (personal collection)
  3. Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand (library book)
  4. Restoring Harmony by Joëlle Anthony (library book)
  5. Robopocalypse (audio) by Daniel H. Wilson (library book)
  6. Tall Blondes by Lynn Sherr (library book)
  7. The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher (library book)



Comments (24)


From Cover to Cover: 03/11/12

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From Cover to Cover by Kathleen T. Horning offers guidelines for selecting and reviewing books for children. I read it as a textbook for the materials for children ages 5 to 8 course I took. The book, though covers books from infancy through young adult.

The book has three main parts: how to gauge a child's readiness for certain levels of books, recommendations by different topics and finally the nuts and bolts of writing reviews.

Horning shows how to judge a child's reading level, even for the youngest, based on a few language assessments you can do. I tried the technique on my daughter and realized she was ready for Level 1 easy readers.

The book review section is most useful for people planning to write for print publications, like Library Journal or similar. There are some techniques that apply to blog writing but blog reviews tend to run longer than the suggested length in From Cover to Cover.

Four stars.

Comments (2)


Tall Blondes: 03/10/12

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Giraffes always make me think of my maternal grandmother. She was nuts about them. So is TV journalist Lynn Sherr and she shares her love affair with them in Tall Blondes, the book that later inspired the first episode of season 21 of Nature on PBS.

The giraffe like the platypus is so unusual in its size, shape and features that first hand accounts of it weren't always believed. They are social, docile, but can kill a lion with a few well placed kicks.

Sherr's book begins with her own history of meeting giraffes and moves then to the early history of mankind's accounts of the giraffe. From there the book goes through other themes, like giraffes as gifts and giraffes in the circus and at zoos.

I loved the many included illustrations that show either historic drawings of giraffes or photographs of famous giraffes. I also enjoyed the thematic groupings of the chapters.

Where the book fell flat, though, for me was in the many long quotations of famous people having something to say about giraffes. There are pages and pages like this and they completely gum up the flow of the book. After a few of these quotation only sections, I ended up skipping the rest.

Three stars.

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Robopocalypse: 03/09/12

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Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson opens like destruction of Cselkcess from Fullmetal Alchemist. A scientist researching artificial intelligence / artificial life unleashes something he can't control.

That something who goes on to call himself Archos, goes on to control all the computerized technology that is wirelessly connected. The first part of the book outlines how Archos tests the computer technology, slowly but surely building his network and his army.

Humans across the world start to take notice and the book follows a few of the major heroes of the human / robot wars. The action jumps from place to place but in chronological order. The different transcripts are set up by Cormac Wallace. As these were chapters were set up to be audio transcripts, listening to the book on audio (even performed by a solo actor) made sense.

For me Robopocalypse was long needed slap to the three laws of robotics. While early on there is some naive trust of the machinery and robots, the most observant of the humans begin to put two and two together. Robots, like any other software driven thing, can be hacked.

Like Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist, unusual alliances develop as the war progresses. In place of the homunculi, there are the man made robots and other computer driven technology. Then there come the chimera, or in this case, the transhumans. Finally, like Grin and Selim, there are those robots who supersede their original programming and begin to act on their own. With their free will comes a chance to co-exist with the transhumans and humans.

Five stars

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The Water Wars: 03/08/12

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The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher is an environmental devastation dystopia. Like Restoring Harmony by Joëlle Antony, it's set in the United States (well, what's left of it). Both are set in the near future in a time when certain natural resources — in this case, water, have become scarce.

Vera and her big brother Will live in Arch, Illinowa with their father and ailing mother. Without freshwater the old government has collapsed. Fresh food is a thing of the past, replaced by synth this and synth that. Will is convinced that the rationed water created by an off shore desalination plant is poisoning everyone.

In the middle of all that a new boy appears, Kai. What catches Vera's attention is that he pours the remains of a cup of water into the soil. It's a crazy, dangerous and illegal act. When she calls him on it, he replies that there's plenty more where that water came from and he knows how to find it. Thus their friendship begins.

It's a friendship fraught with peril. Someone who knows how to find fresh water in a world of water pirates and, corrupt warring governments is bound to be a dangerous and desirable person. When Kai and his father go missing, Vera and Will try to follow Kai's instructions to find the hidden source of water. That, though, only leads to their own trouble — trouble that takes them across multiple boarders and into ever more dangerous situations.

The Water Wars is a short, fast-paced book. I got so caught up in the adventure that I didn't worry about potential plot holes or secondary characters who lack depth.

Recommended by Book Purring

Five stars.

Comments (4)


The Exterminator's Want Ad: 03/07/12

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>"The Exterminator's Want Ad" by Bruce Sterling was first published (and still is) online at Shareable. It was the republished in the November / December 2010 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

The main character is an exterminator in the near future. The economy has crashed and the environment has gotten so muggy that Florida sized bugs thrive pretty much everywhere.

As the man works, he explains how he got to where he is. His story includes his life before the climate change, the revolution and his thoughts on the whole mess. Let's just say he's not a sympathetic character but he's an interesting one.

The story is especially interesting to me in light of the recent Occupy Wall Street protests that are springing up everywhere. Something similar (but more effective) is described in this short story.

Read it online

Four stars.

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Restoring Harmony: 03/06/12

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Restoring Harmony by Joëlle Anthony is a Canadian near future speculative fiction for young adults. While mostly set in the United States, Molly McClure is Canadian through-and-through and she has only one goal in mind, getting her grandparents safely from Gresham, Oregon to her small island near Vancouver, British Columbia.

Right now the trip between any of the small islands near Vancouver to the Portland suburb takes roughly six and a half hours by car (and ferry) and less by plane. In 2041 when the remaining oil is under control of the worlds' governments, the trip takes roughly 31 hours and that's on a good day.

Where travel is so difficult and the border is even more closed than it is today, one needs a compelling reason to go all that way. For Molly it comes with an incomplete phone call about her grandmother. Her parents assume the worst and believe the hospital was trying say that her grandmother had died. Not wanting to leave the grandfather on his own and with the hope of mending fences, Molly is sent to bring him home.

Molly discovers a country controlled by organized crime, working mostly on the barter system. There is still issued money but it's hard to come by and easy to lose. Along with rampant unemployment, most folks are living without power or easy access to food (beyond what they can grow on their own).

In spite of all this hardship, Restoring Harmony isn't exactly a dystopian novel. The present day countries, states and cities are still there and still functioning (more or less). The trains still run, some planes still fly, and for those not running from the law or the Organization, the highways are still there. Things are in poor repair but still recognizable and there's an unbroken history of how things fell apart.

Restoring Harmony, thus, feels more like speculative fiction with an homage to Grapes of Wrath. There is a similar cast of characters and the road trip, though it's a round trip journey. There aren't work camps but there are squatter camps.

Five stars.

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Mortal Love: 03/05/12

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Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand was the third of her novels I've read. It's a three in one story of three different men having obsessive relationships with a muse. The premise is like The Muse (1999) with an execution more like The Angel of Forgetfulness by Steve Stern.

One of the threads is set in a dilapidated house in Maine with an attic full of paintings. The other two take place in a flat in London in the present day. While the three different victims don't see the connections in their lives, to the reader the danger is apparent and frightening.

It's a complex novel, one that unfortunately didn't work for me. Between the different woven threads and the luscious prose, I found the book hard to follow. There weren't any characters for me to grab onto. I suppose I could have wised for the muse to just do the men in as quickly as possible but from the size of the book I could tell that wouldn't happen.

Mortal Love, then, was the point where I realized I like Hand's books but I won't automatically love every single one. Many of the reviews I'm linking to are very positive. Please read them before deciding yea or nay on the book.

Two stars.

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What Are You Reading: March 05, 2012: 03/05/12

What Are You Reading?

Last week my daughter convinced me quite successfully that she needed her own library card. She did this by looking at how many books I already had checked out, how many holds I had to pick up and how many books in total the library allows one to check out. She pointed out that she would only be able to check out eight books, while her brother could check out 65 books because he already had a card. What can I say, I immediately helped her get a library card!

With both children now proud owners of library cards, I suspect there will be fewer library books read together. My daughter still has to read at least one book a week to me. Most of her post-library card reading, though, has been to herself.

Mark Tidd in the Backwoods has been put on the back burner as I get through some library books. My current "purse read" is actually The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg. The other TBR shelf books, though are coming along nicely: Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan, the third of the Fablehaven books by Brandon Mull, and, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

I finished two review books over the weekend: Goddess Interrupted by Aimée Carter and The Glass Collector by Anna Perera. Both had such potential but neither managed to live up to my expectations.

My two favorite reads are the audio of Robopocalypse and Outside In by Maria V. Snyder. They are both excellent science fiction. I think fans of Fullmetal Alchemist will enjoy Robopocalypse.

This week I want to finish The Child Thief by Brom and Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull. I also plan to start The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen by Geraldine McCaughrean and A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. Doctor Who: The Forgotten by Tony Lee (library book)
  2. The Glass Collector by Anna Perera (review copy)
  3. Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter (review copy)
  4. The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway (library book)
  5. The Monster Princess by D.J. MacHale (library book)
  6. Outside In by Maria V. Snyder (library book)
  7. Robopocalypse (audio) by Daniel H. Wilson (library book)
  8. Serenity: Those Left Behind by Joss Whedon (library book)
  9. Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Children and Young Adults by Carrie Hintz (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. 50 Underwear Questions by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and Ross Kinnaird (review copy)
  3. Angelology (audio) by Danielle Trussoni (library book)
  4. The Child Thief by Brom (library book)
  5. Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven 3) by Brandon Mull (personal collection)
  6. Mark Tidd in the Backwoods by Clarence Budington Kelland (personal collection)
  7. Old Man's War by John Scalzi (personal collection)
  8. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  9. The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg (library book)

Reviews Posted:

  1. 0.4 by Mike Lancaster (library book)
  2. Dark's Tale by Deborah Grabien (library book)
  3. Libyrinth by Pearl North (library book)
  4. No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer (library book)
  5. Shadow by Suzy Lee (library book)
  6. The Wayside School Collection (audio) by Louis Sachar (library book)
  7. We Are in a Book by Mo Willems (personal collection)



Comments (44)


0.4: 03/04/12

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0.4 (or Human.4 in the United States) by Mike Lancaster, is a middle grade science fiction horror in the tradition of John Wyndam and John Christopher. This is a debut novel that I hope is taught in schools in the near future.

Through transcripts of audio tapes with commentary from some future perspective, Kyle Straker outlines how his life and the lives of three other villagers were forever changed. They were volunteers for a talent show hypnotism trick. When they came out of their trance, everyone else had changed.

The how and the why of the change is the rest of the book. It's frightening and eye opening. Though a short book, Lancaster uses his words efficiently and effectively.

Often it seems that books like this where people are taken over or there's an invasion or a mass disappearance, the reason behind the change is never revealed. 0.4 breaks with that tradition. Kyle and the others do learn the reason behind the change.

The book is a short, it's a compelling read. Though 0.4 lacks anything in the way of violence or crude language, it does share some thematic ties with the much longer and adult oriented Robopacalypse (review coming). If you enjoyed Wilson's novel and are looking for a light but similar read, give 0.4 a go.

Five stars

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Libyrinth: 03/03/12

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Libyrinth by Pearl North is the first book in a YA science fiction trilogy. In it, clerk Haly is kidnapped by Eradicants and the Libyrian, Clauda, must do what she can to rescue her.

The book features parallel plots, trading off a chapter for Haly and a chapter for the Libyrian. Clauda's plot was the more interesting of the two in that she had an actual history, and ties outside her job. Haly, on the other hand, has grown up in the Libyrinth, basically as an indentured servant who works with the books as payment for her room and board. By yanking her out of the world she knows in the first few pages of the book, she has nothing else to contribute as a character except to be a damsel in distress. Without any time for character building, Haly isn't even an interesting character!

I knew from the very first chapter that this book and I wouldn't get along. It begins with a book burning where Haly is bemoaning the burning of another set of sacrificial books for the Eradicants. Mixed in with her feelings are long quotes from award-winning books (Charlotte's Web, for example). That screaming of "books good — burning books, bad!" is supposed to stand in for actual world building in that crucial first chapter. It doesn't work.

I got about a third of the way through the book and I realized I was forcing myself to keep reading. All the while, I was day dreaming of a hungry swarm of Vashta Nerada wiping out all the annoying characters.

One star.

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Shadow: 03/02/12

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Shadow by Suzy Lee is a wordless picture book about a girl on a jungle adventure in her junk filled garage. She makes the jungle come alive with plants and animals through her shadow play.

Lurking in the shadows, though, is a mischievous wolf. What starts as a dance with him and the girl (as he is created from her shadow) becomes something more sinister.

Although there are no words, there is so much tucked away in the black, white and yellow illustrations to warrant a second or third read. I've read recommendations in other reviews to flip the book over and read it shadow side up the second time.

When I read the book with my children we discussed the book afterwards. My oldest child felt the book was about a girl's imagination getting the better of her. My youngest believed she really had gone to a shadow jungle and could only be rescued when her family called to her. If you have your own interpretation, please share it in the comments.

Four stars.

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The Wayside School Collection: 03/01/12

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The Wayside School Collection by Louis Sachar is seven CDs (9 hours) of the author performing the three books in the series: Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Wayside School is Falling Down and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger. Sachar's dry sense of humor and perfect sense of timing makes each joke hit its mark, making for a very silly series of shaggy dog stories.

Wayside School is Falling Down introduces the unusual school (a 30 story, one room per story building with a missing 19th story). Then it introduces the characters, starting with the awful Mrs. Gorf and the much nicer Mrs. Jewls (who sometimes thinks her students are monkeys). As the books follow the students of the top floor, the first book has a chapter devoted to each student, except for the three Erics who share a chapter.

The question of the missing 19th floor is addressed a few times in the collection. The first time is in the chapter called "Calvin" in which Calvin has to deliver a non-existent note to a non-existent teacher about the cancelation of a lunch date. As crazy as that sounds, it makes sense if you follow along with the word play and leaps in logic that Sachar makes as he sets up his jokes for a big pay-off.

In fact my favorite stories in the collection are those dealing directly with Miss Zarves who doesn't teach on the 19th floor. Allison has a first hand encounter with her when she's accidentally marked absent in Wayside School is Falling Down. This is the story that my children and I have talked about most since finishing.

We listened to the collection twice on trips to Southern California.

Five stars.

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