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Dandelion Fire: 04/30/12
Dandelion Fire by ND Wilson is the sequel to The 100 Cupboards. Although this book shares the same world and same characters and seems to start where there the previous one ended, it bears little else in common with the original.
At the start of the book Henry's told his parents have been released, are getting divorced and that he will be flying home to his mother in a very short time. Not wanting to go back to his humdrum life, knowing what he's learned about himself and his family in his recent adventures, he turns towards the now off limits cupboards as a means of escape.
Before he can even put his plan into action, he is given second site and a temporary blinding. The blinding, though, lasts long enough to make Henry basically a useless protagonist. He's put in bed where he's left to mope and stuff happens around him.
Those events include Henrietta being the one to go through the cupboards to one world and getting captured, the house being half put into a world of its own and finally Henry's aunt, uncle and the rest of the family also going through the cupboard for reasons not every satisfactorily explained.
In and amongst all this commotion, Henry also ends up in the cupboard, in one of the alternate worlds, where he sets about learning about his past and his new found powers. The only problem is Henry had spent so much of the time not acting that I'd lost all interest in him as the hero of the book.
If there's a hero of the book, it's Henrietta this time. Except, she's robbed of her chance to shine because she's competing with her family's nonsensical adventures and her cousin's flailing around with the after affects of the dandelion fire.
For all of these jumps between worlds and points of view, there's not enough plot to justify the confusion. Lord of the Rings, this book is not.
It could have been an excellent book had it just focused on Henrietta. Instead, it ends up being a mess.
What Are You Reading: April 30, 2012: 04/29/12
I'm about half way done with the remaining term paper. As my mind is crammed up with the paper, I've found myself being pickier about what I read. That's reflected in the three unfinished books.
My favorite read last week was The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios. It was the inspiration for The Flying Nun TV show. A close runner up for best read, is Pie by Sarah Weeks.
I haven't finished Watchlist: A Serial Thriller edited by Jeffery Deaver but I am getting close. I'm about 3/4 of the way through. I plan to finish it this week. I would also like to finish Deadly Décisions by Kathy Reichs.
What about you?
Did Not Finish:
Fly Free: 04/29/12
Fly Free by Roseanne Thong, I heard about from a classmate of mine. It's the story of a young girl who wants enough money to set the caged birds free at the local temple.
One day Mai meets Thu, who enjoys feeding the birds. She tells him of her dream and he sets into motion a series of good deeds that eventually come back to Mai. It teaches the lesson of paying things forward and good karma.
As the book is set in Vietnam, it also gives children an introduction to a part of the world they might be unfamiliar with. It's a much more peaceful look at the country than the books I had in my childhood.
The watercolor illustrations go well with this book's reflective tone. The colors are warm but muted.
The book would go well with Jon Muth's Zen books: Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, and Zen Ghosts.
San Leandro: 04/28/12
My local library branch has a great selection of local history books. One of the books I recently read was San Leandro by Cynthia Vrilakas Simons.
San Leandro is to the north west of where I live. It's a small city tucked up against the unicorporated neighborhoods of Castro Valley and San Lorenzo and the cities of Hayward and Oakland.
While I know that backyard farming, including raising chickens, still goes on in San Leandro, I hadn't appreciated it's rich agricultural past. The city at one point was the cherry capital of California and that's reflected still on the city's seal.
Along with the agriculture, San Leandro was also the home of Holt tractors which became Caterpillar. Holt's machines were instrumental in the construction of a number of local landmarks, like the Golden Gate Bridge.
"Venues" by Richard Bowes in the November / December issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is best read by science fiction fans who know the New York literary scene. I don't except from what I've gleaned from reading and talking with friends in the publishing industry.
The protagonist is an author. He's on the circuit reading his current work at any book shop, cafe or other dive that will take him. Much of the story are descriptions of where he's reading and who is there to hear him. These are clearly parodies of real places, current and historic.
But this being FS&F, there's a paranormal twist to the story. It's revealed near the end. It gave me a chuckle.
Farm by Elisha Cooper follows a family through the seasons as the run their farm. The cover has an alluring watercolor of a rooster in foreground with the farm behind just on the horizon.
I had hoped that the rest of the book would have similarly bold illustrations. The book though is rather text heavy and the watercolors are mostly just miniature pictures against the black and white of the text on the page.
For older children who can read the book does teach how a farm works. For younger children, though, there's probably too much text for them to want to sit through. As the illustrations are small the book won't work well for a group story time.
Violet the Pilot: 04/25/12
While I was waiting for my son to pick out his books at the library, I sat in one of the comfy over stuffed chairs in the children's wing of the library. I was reading a Babymouse graphic novel at the time when I saw on display near me Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen.
I was immediately taken with the cover. It shows a girl flying something that looks like it started as a soapbox derby car. It's a crate, some wheels, wings made out of the sides of a barrel and a surfboard for a tail. She's wearing goggles and blowing bubble gum bubbles as if flying in a contraption is the most normal thing to do.
Violet, the book explains, doesn't play with dolls. Instead she likes to tinker. As a toddler she took things apart. As an older child she started modifying things (like putting the lawn mower engine on the back of her brother's tricycle. But it was flying that really caught her passion. Soon she was building all manners of flying machines out of the odds and ends she scrounged in the family-run city junkyard.
Her goal is enter one of her planes in show. She puts a ton of work into designing, building and flying the plane to the show. But things get in her way and those unexpected events are where she truly shines as a character. Besides being a fantastic engineer, she's also a hero.
The Naked Mole-Rat Letters: 04/24/12
I heard about The Naked Mole-Rat Letters by Mary Amato on the Green Bean Teen Queen blog. I tend to like the same sorts of books that she reviews so I added the book to my wishlist based on her positive review.
Frankie, the oldest child of three isn't happy with how her life is going. Her widowed father has started up a friendship with a zookeeper who specializes in naked mole-rats and she hasn't gotten the lead in the school play. This book through letters and diary entries describes how Frankie falls apart when she doesn't get her way.
I normally love these stories told in diary from but sometimes I just can't connect with a character. Frankie is one of those characters. Although she's self described as a straight A student and all around great kid, she never demonstrates these attributes. Instead, she sneaks behind her father's back, lies to her father and his new friend, ditches class and in a fit of pique destroys a library book.
After the library book incident I skipped to the end and she's still obsessing about the same things at the end. Having seen no clear sign of progress or character growth, I decided to pass on finishing the middle of the book.
Hard Hat Area: 04/23/12
Whenever I write a review post I start by looking for other blog reviews of the book. In the case of Hard Hat Area by Susan L Roth I'm surprised that I can't find any.
Hard Hat Area is a walk through of how a skyscraper is built and many of the different jobs that go into such an undertaking. The book follows an ironworks apprentice as she goes through the day running errands and doing odd jobs across the site. This is how all apprentices learn the ropes before the begin to specialize.
In the end notes, the author includes biographical information about the real Kristen who inspired the book. I love that this book is a straight up construction book. It will appeal to any child interested in learning how things are built. The fact that the main character is a real woman working in construction is just icing on an otherwise delightful book.
The illustrations are done in a style similar to Eric Carle's. It has visual appeal especially for children who have been raised on Carle's books. At the same time though, there is enough detail shown that with the provided labels, children (and adults) can learn the terminology.
What Are You Reading: April 23, 2012: 04/22/12
One research paper is done, save for editing it. The other one, I will begin writing this week now that I'm done taking notes. As I'm where I need to be to finish on time, I took the weekend off to read for fun and recharge my brain.
My favorite read last week was I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley. It's the fourth in the Flavia de Luce series. Now I'm switching gears and I'm listening to the third of the Goldy Bear mysteries, The Cereal Murders by Dianne Mott Davidson and reading Deadly Décisions by Kathy Reichs.
I still want to finish The Lost Cities: A Drift House Voyage by Dale Peck. And I still plan to start Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. I would also like to finish Watchlist: A Serial Thriller edited by Jeffery Deaver. I doubt I will, though, as it's a rather long audio book.
What about you?
Pirate King: 04/22/12
Pirate King by Laurie R King is the eleventh of the Mary Russell / Sherlock Holmes series. After a two part, rather dark thriller involving the collision of Holmes's past and present, Pirate King takes a much lighter tone, combining mystery with farce.
Mary is shanghaied into working as an assistant on the current Fflytte Films extravaganza, a metafilm that celebrates the Pirates of Penzance operetta. Mary, having no interest in either the operetta or flicks, is less than thrilled at the prospects. But there's a missing young woman and a string of shady events that seem to follow the production company around.
For me, this was the perfect mixture of details. I have a masters in film theory (with an emphasis on early film history) and have seen The Pirates of Penzance on the stage more times than I can count. So putting the two together with Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, and I was in my own personal cozy heaven. My husband can attest to my maniacal laughter produced while reading (and re-reading) favorites scenes in Pirate King.
Fans who enjoy the interaction between Russell and Holmes, might be disappointed. Holmes is really a minor character in this one. He's there but he appears late in the game and most of the adventure and heroism is Russell's.
Fans who want to read the book but aren't familiar with The Pirates of Penzance should probably at least listen to the song — or better — watch the operetta before reading the book. A basic knowledge of the play will help with the appreciation of the novel.
Job Site: 04/21/12
Since August of 2010 we've been watching and listening to the nearby elementary school being rebuilt from the ground up. First came the demolition crew. Then came the diggers and the cement trucks. Now they are framing the buildings and it's really starting to take a recognizable shape.
With all this on going construction, my children have gotten interested in reading books on the subject. A new one published last year is Job Site by Nathan Clement.
The book follows the process of a the foreman (or as he's known the book, "Boss") calling the shots as different machines and workers help to build a park. Clement's detailed and brightly colored (usually with a gradient applied) illustrations catch the eye and show the beauty of these huge machines.
Unfortunately there isn't much in the way of plot or explanation. The plot is just the Boss telling everyone what to do and the park being built page by page. There's little explanation of the hard work that goes into the steps or the many other people who make up a construction site team.
xxxHolic Volume 08: 04/20/12
I really wish I weren't so far behind in my review writing especially when it comes to such a tightly wound plot as the xxxHolic series by CLAMP. I know by the time I come to write the review I've forgotten details.
xxxHolic Volume 8 by CLAMP finishes the plot of Kimihiro Watanuki's missing eye. It was stolen by a spider with a grudge and now various spirits are hunting for it. Watanuki wants to get his eye back but he's sidelined when the Zashiki-Warashi from Volume 05 is captured.
Watanuki tries to do the right thing by being willing to sacrifice more of himself to save the mountain spirit. He learns though that his value is measured not only by his actions but by how he affects the people near and dear to him. He's not someone who can or should throw himself away.
This is the point too where the series in it's original form begins to wind down and the Rô series begins to take shape (although the name change comes later). Watanuki comes out of this experience a very changed person. He goes in a boy and comes out a man.
Watanuki isn't the only one to change. Dômeki softens towards Watanuki and makes his own sacrifices. Yûko too reveals more of herself, in the way of her weaknesses. Even within the shop, nothing can stay the same forever.
The Secret Shortcut: 04/19/12
The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague draws on the same idea of magical worlds being accessible from the most mundane places as is explored in The Lost and Found. Where The Lost and Found was located in a school, The Secret Shortcut is located somewhere en route to school.
Wendell and Floyd, the main characters from The Lost and Found are always late to work. They have magnificent excuses and given Teague's mixture of the urban and the fantastic, I take their explanations at face value. Their teacher, though, doesn't and makes them promise to be on time the next day — or else!
Nothing is ever that simple for Wendell and Floyd. They try the next day to save time by cutting through a neighbor's backyard. Unfortunately the backyard leads them to places unimaginable for the average American suburb (unless perhaps you're a fan of The Backyardigans).
The Daily Comet: Boy Saves Earth from Giant Octopus!: 04/18/12
My son and I were both drawn to The Daily Comet: Boy Saves Earth from Giant Octopus! by Frank and Devin Asch. It's somewhere between a comic book and tabloid magazine cover.
Hayward Palmer, skeptic and self proclaimed know-it-all goes with his dad to work. To his immense embarrassment, Dad is a tabloid reporter. The book chronicles Hayward's day and how he ends up learning that the Daily Comet is publishing the truth and how he manages to save the world from an alien invasion.
Sean and I are fans of monster, alien, ghost stories. We also really enjoyed the Asch's Mr. Maxwell's Mouse (link to review) but The Daily Comet didn't pull us in the same way.
Part of the problem is Hayward's attitude. He's such an annoying know-it-all that he doesn't make a very sympathetic protagonist. Another problem we had was with the helter-skelter approach to each page. The illustrations are meant to look like pages from the Daily Comet tabloid but they end up getting in the way of the story.
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull is is the first of a five part middle grade fantasy series. I listened to the audio version performed by E.B. Stevens.
The book shares a pair of protagonists, Kendra and her younger brother, Seth, as is the current trend in tween fantasy. They have been sent to their eccentric grandparents' estate after their parents are invited to a mandatory cruise cum wake. That ridiculous set up combined with the sibling's non-stop squabbling for the first couple chapters didn't give me hope for the remainder of the book (or series).
Fortunately though, things do settle down and it's quickly settled that Kendra's the smart one and Seth is the blindly brave one. Much of the discoveries about Fablehaven's true nature though are revealed through Seth's stubborn stupidity. Thankfully he gets most of this out of his system in this first book.
The book has three main parts: the solving on a puzzle left in the playroom, the added freedom that comes with solving said puzzle and then all hell breaking loose — mostly from the Grandfather's reluctance to share the truth with his unruly grandchildren.
The puzzle solving section is pretty tame and predictable. Don't give up though. By the time the puzzle is solved the plot picks up and Fablehaven comes alive, first for the good, and then for the bad and dangerous.
As I mentioned before, I listened to the audio version. I take along audio books for long drives to keep my kids entertained. The children thoroughly enjoyed the book, including the way in which it was read. To my ears, though, the narrator's voice, diction, pacing and mispronunciation of words grates on my nerves. Fortunately the plot of Fablehaven is strong enough to survive a less than stellar reading.
Ouran High School Host Club, Volume 01: 04/16/12
Last year Ian and I watched the anime series Ouran High School Host Club. Having enjoyed the series I decided to go back to the source and read the manga by Bisco Hatori.
Volume One introduces most of the major characters and sets up the comedy. It begins with Haruhi looking for a place to study and stumbling onto the Host Club held in Music Room Three. There's just one slight problem: they all think she's a he and after she accidentally breaks an expensive vase she has to spend the rest of her school career repaying the debt by acting as one of their hosts.
One thing that differs with the manga from the anime is that Haruhi's choice of outfit is more quickly established, as well as her unusual home life. I think it works better in the anime to have the full reason revealed well after Haruhi as a member of the Host Club is established. It turns "cross-dressing is funny" into "it's good to be yourself."
The anime condenses things down so that the jokes hit quickly. Volume one is so busy setting up the situation that it doesn't let any of the jokes linger either. Unfortunately volume two had some pacing issues which I will address in that review.
What Are You Reading: April 16, 2012: 04/15/12
I am trudging along with my research papers. I had grand plans on finishing a bunch of books this weekend but only managed two. That leaves me with a huge pile of library books coming due in a week. Hopefully I'll finish them, but realistically, I won't. That means I'll have to put them back on my wishlist and put them back on hold as they bubble up to the top of the list again.
My favorite read last week was Sapphique by Catherine Fisher. Most reviews seem to like Incarceron best but I disagree. I was more sucked into the sequel than I was to the original. Quickest 400+ pages I've read in a long time!
Last week I said I wanted to finish I Am Half Sick Of Shadows by Alan Bradley and The Lost Cities: A Drift House Voyage by Dale Peck.That's still true. I made large dents in both but didn't finish them. I still plan to start Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith.
What about you?
I find it hard to believe that my son only got interested in graphic novels in December 2010. It seems like we've been sharing books for ages. The book that first piqued his interest was Copper by Kazu Kibuishi.
Copper is really more of a comic book anthology than a graphic novel but there is some on going character development. Copper and Fred, a boy and a dog who share adventures that span the mundane to the fantastic.
Copper has dreams of things as well that sometimes bleed into reality and sometimes it's difficult to tell if he's awake or a sleep. Some stories are self contained and others span six or so pages.
For me, I wanted more cohesion and more plot. My son, though, who was new to the format loved having everything so short and straight forward.
Mr. Maxwell's Mouse: 04/14/12
My son does a lot of reading at school. His favorite books he either brings home or tells me about so I can find a copy at the public library. One of his recent recommendations was Mr. Maxwell's Mouse by Frank and Devin Asch.
Mr. Maxwell is a fat cat (literally and figuratively). He wears a nice pinstripe suit and reminds me of a feline Al Capone. He usually gets his mouse baked but today he decides to order it raw. His soon to be meal has other plans though and through a clever turn of words manages to make his escape.
Devin Asch's 1930s inspired illustrations bring an interesting dimension to this book. The restaurant could be a speakeasy. Maxwell could be a mobster; he certainly is from the point of view of the mice in the story. The pictures are detailed enough to make the book worth a re-read or two.
Cats' Night Out: 04/13/12
Cats' Night Out by Caroline Stutson was one of my daughter's favorite books when she going through her cat story phase. Over the course of a night, ten pairs of well dressed cats come out to dance to night-time jazz melodies along Easy Street.
It is a counting book, a dancing book and an eye-spy style book. Each page spread has an even number cats to count and a hidden number to find. The rhymes are in keeping with the jazzy music the cats are said to be listening to. Children can learn to count by twos and will be introduced to different names of dances. Klassen's illustrations uses black and white and earth tones to give a sense of night while relying heavily on patterns and repetition. It's eye catching but good for hiding the number.
As the cats are drawn wearing 1920s/1930s style clothing the dances included in the book are in keeping with the era. There is no mention of modern dance or music styles. Teachers or parents could expand on the book by asking children what dances, costumes and music could go together for a modern day dance night. Finally children can be asked to describe the different costumes the cats are wearing. They can compare and contrast the cats and put them into groups
Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100: 04/12/12
Five years ago I wrote a rather snarky review of Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon by H.A. Rey. Most of my snark was directed towards the use of the dead author's name. At the time I had no plans on going back to school, nor dreams of being a librarian.
That has since changed and with it my feelings on ghost written books such as the latest Curious George books. There are two kinds of authors: single authors, people who can be pinpointed to a birth, a death and a specific number of books. Then there are corporate entities. These authors could be pseudonyms, ghost written books (such as the new Curious George books) or books by groups or actual corporations.
The other thing I've come to appreciate as a library student is the importance of helping readers find books. A person needs to know how many books by an author a library has. For children or parents who want to find Curious George books are going to look for H. A. Rey books. Why complicate things by having a new author especially since the original author is dead?
So that brings me to my review of Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100. Harriet picked out the book when she was learning her numbers from 1 to 100 in preschool. She was also reading through the original Curious George at the time so this book had a natural appeal to her.
For a beginning counting book, it's long, complicated and intricate — in good ways. More than anything it reminds me of Richard Scarry's Busy Town books in its scope and its execution. Just as I would spend hours pouring over a Richard Scarry volume as a child, so did Harriet with Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100.
Not only did Harriet love it, her brother did too. He had fun reading the book both to himself and with his sister.
Hot X: 04/11/12
Hot X is Danica McKellar's third math book. This one introduces algebra and has the same amusing sidebars and as her previous books, Kiss my Math and Math Doesn't Suck.
Along with the algebra, the book has some life lessons and advice about dealing with bad relationships, bullying and other unpleasantries that a teenage girl might be facing in her life. There are also some included messages from readers of her previous books or from women who use algebra in their profession.
As I mentioned in my review of Kiss My Math by Danica McKellar, I never felt intimated by math in junior or senior high, nor did I feel it was a boy's only subject. I have known too many women in my lifetime who are mathematicians or were math majors (even if they ended up in a different field). That said, Danica McKellar's math books are fun, engaging, well written and full of memorable lessons to help important math topics stick.
While specifically written for teenage girls who are struggling with math, Hot X has lessons that can be used by anyone learning algebra. The book's math examples work just fine with my 4th grade son. They are silly enough for him to pay attention and remember them when he's doing his homework.
100 Cupboards: 04/10/12
100 Cupboards by ND Wilson was recommended to me by the Greaet Books for Kids and Teens blog. It was a short mention of the book after they had just started it but it was enough to get my interest.
The book begins with a lovely homage to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum with a description of Henry Kansas. While it's not described as being gray, it is called small and slow. The excitement for the town is the rare arrival of a bus and on that bus is the main character, Henry York.
Henry's not sure what to think of his Aunty Dotty or Uncle Frank who are so different than his own parents. Throughout the book he comments on all the things they are letting him do that they his parents never did (like ride in the back of a truck, drink soda, play baseball).
What he's not expecting though, is to have a mystery surface in the wall of his attic room. Ninety-nine cupboards are behind the plaster wall and he and cousin Henrietta sort out the basics of how the cabinets work. They also uncover the truth behind them and unleash a long forgotten danger.
For Doctor Who fans, this book is a lot like "The Girl in the Fireplace" episode. The world building is lovely but there are times when the book uses an awkward turn of phrase. Sometimes the plot jumps scenes without much of a segue. I had to go back and re-read a dozen or so passages.
The Book Thief: 04/09/12
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a book I've been told by numerous people that would profoundly affect me. I would love it and it would make me cry. Neither happened but I can see why it has had that effect on so many.
Liesel is being sent to a foster family as things are hotting up in Germany. Her mother can no longer care for her and her brother. The book opens with the brother dying on the train.
Her brother's death is the first of many in the The Book Thief. It's a book set in Germany during WWII. Death is to expected. He's also the narrator of the book.
Now here's the problem. Although Death describes himself as the reflection you see in the mirror, I couldn't help but think of a very different Death. ONE THAT TALKS IN ALL CAPS and rides a horse named Binky.
Maybe that's where the problem started. Zusak's Death is as sentimental and burned out by his job as Pratchett's Death sometimes is. This Death also tends to tell his tale in short, pity bursts, each new one starting with a short list of fun facts. This starting and stopping interrupted the flow of the story so that I was only able to read the book in chunks of maybe 10 pages at a time.
That snip by snip reading worked for the first 300 pages but I grew tired of it. As Germany gets into the war and everyone is in danger including Liesel and her foster family, Death's approach to telling things wore thin on my patience. I really wanted him to shut up and let the story unfold. But he never does.
What Are You Reading: April 09, 2012: 04/08/12
I am mostly working on my research papers — the last two for library school. But I managed to finish a bunch of books I've been reading for weeks (if not months). So when you look at my list, don't think I actually read hundreds of pages. Plus two of the books were picture books: The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems and When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest.
My favorite read last week was The Son of Neptune. It started local and then moved up the coast. It also has flash backs to New Orleans. These are all places I've been and it made being an armchair hero all the more fun.
This week I would like to finish I Am Half Sick Of Shadows by Alan Bradley and The Lost Cities: A Drift House Voyage by Dale Peck. I then plan to start Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith and Sapphique by Catherine Fisher.
What about you?
Zero by Kathryn Otoshi is her follow up to One. Like other lessons on the number zero, this book gets stuck on the numeral's "nothingness", rather than its other unique features.
Zero feels like she doesn't fit in. She tries to reshape herself but no matter of stretching, pulling, or flattening can make her anything but a zero.
The blurb that goes with the book says the book is about self acceptance and building social skills. That's all well and good but it but it's missing out on teaching children just how unusual and special a number zero really is, mathematically speaking.
1 2 3 A Child's First Counting Book: 04/07/12
1 2 3 A Child's First Counting Book by Alison Jay is an imaginative book that teaches children their numbers one to nine, counting up and down. It does this against a backdrop of a girls walk through a wonderland populated by sixteen different but familiar fairy tales.
When my daughter and I read the book we took three passes through the book. The first time we read the story and counted the numbers. Along the way Harriet began to notice some of the fairy tales.
On the second time through we tried to see how many of them we could get. I think we got ten or eleven of them. They are all very cleverly worked into the illustrations and take some work to figure out.
When we finished the book the second time we noticed that the copyright page has all sixteen of the fairy tales labeled. So we decided to have a third and final go at the book to find every last one.
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The Wailing Wind: 04/06/12
The Wailing Wind by Tony Hillerman is the fifteenth mystery featuring Joe Leaphorn. Joe is now retired but it doesn't stop him from consulting in his own way when trouble arises.
A call comes in about an abandoned truck inside the bounds of the Navajo Nation. Officer Bernadette Manuelito is the one sent to the scene. She finds a man dead inside the car and has to confront her traditional beliefs that go counter to her duties as a police officer.
The present day murder brings up questions about an older murder, one that happened long enough ago for the convicted to have done his time and be out. He, though, hires Joe Leaphorn to find is wife who went missing before the murder. Everyone assumes he had killed her too but he insists she left him.
It's a pretty standard who-done-it mystery on plot alone. What draws me in is the setting, the Navajo Nation, and the way Hillerman wraps together the different, and oft-times competing, cultural values of the area, to build characters who are interesting and conflicted.
Normally the mysteries are set in the New Mexico piece of Navajo Nation (Dinéhtah), an entity that spreads into Arizona, and slightly into Utah and Colorado. Something covering that much land is bound to have some regional differences but this is the first time I can recall one of Hillerman's books introducing differences in language and traditions between the Western (Arizona) and Eastern (New Mexico) Dinéh.
Goddess Interrupted: 04/05/12
Goddess Interrupted by Aimée Carter is the sequel to The Goddess Test. It suffers from the usual growing pains of being the middle book in a trilogy. The characters are all established but there's this silly desire to pretend that none of that character building happened in the first book.
Kate returns from her six months off, being chaperoned around Greece with James. Henry meanwhile has been dividing his time between spying on her, preparing for her coronation and convincing himself that Kate will leave him just like Persephone did.
Before Kate can even finish the ceremony all hell breaks loose (quite literally) with Calliope (Hera) trying to release Chronos from Tartarus. Paging Percy Jackson!
In the original book, I liked getting the perspective of Greek mythology from a strong female lead. So often these stories are told from a male hero's point of view. This time, though, Kate isn't herself. When she is trying to stop Calliope and is forced to face her fears head on by allying herself with Persephone, she is a fascinating and resourceful hero.
But (and this is a big one), this book is also a romance. I get that. It's published by Harlequin Teen, for goodness sake. But come on — SEX DOES NOT SOLVE EVERYTHING. In fact, sex doesn't really solve anything. Sex is so much more complex than how its presented between Kate and Henry.
I hope that the third book will give Kate more time to blossom as the hero she is and push aside these simplistic notions of sex and romance.
Read via NetGalley
Book of a Thousand Days: 04/04/12
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale follows the life and times of Dashti, ex mucker turned lady in waiting to Lady Saren. It begins with their imprisonment in a sealed tower, through their escape and settlement in Khan Tegus's estate.
The world Dashti lives in is a mixture of western China, Mongolia, Tibet, European, and Native American cultures. The landscape itself seems to be a blend of the steppes and deserts of western China and the mountains and valleys of Utah. It's a fictional realm with its own history and geographic demarcations but it draws the landscape features of those places.
There's a fantasy element to Book of a Thousand Days beyond it's imaginary landscape and mythology. The villain, Lord Khasar, is able to over run cities and armies with some magical help. The how and what he does is a big part of the book. There is also the power of healing power of song, something that Dashti excels at through her mucker upbringing.
As everything is narrated through Dashti's point of view, the strength of the book rests on her voice. In print, her voice is perhaps a bit too earnest in places but is otherwise credible. In the audio done by Full Cast Audio, Dashti's performance is over the top to the point that it cuts into the enjoyment of the book.
The book is a retelling of the Grimms' "Maid Maleen" which I have not read.
Recommended by Manga Mania Cafe
The Case of the Left-Handed Lady: 04/03/12
The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer, Enola has established herself as a perditorian (finder of lost things). She is compelled to take on a missing persons case, that of young Lady Cecily.
Enola knows she will have the advantage, being a young woman. Although her mother reared her in a bit of a Bohemian fashion, she was taught some of the standards of her time, like the language of flowers. Her knowledge of the hidden clues a girl might leave, gives her the confidence to take the case.
Getting in her way though, is Dr. Watson. Their meeting is heart stopping. Watson comes hoping to hire "Ivy" to find Enola. She manages to escape discovery, but, I have to wonder if Watson hasn't figured it out but can also read between the lines.
While reading Nancy Springer's series, it's difficult, if not impossible, to not compare it to other Sherlock Holmes series. The one I'm most reminded of is Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series in that both look at women's rights and gender roles. This book, does share sub plot involving hypnotism, much like The Language of Bees.
As a second book in a series, The Case of the Left-Handed Lady is the first attempt to build Enola as a stand alone character. She though is still desperate to find her mother and that leaves her vulnerable. I suspect she will always be dividing her time between her cases and trying to avoid her brothers.
With Hearts Courageous: 04/02/12
With Hearts Courageous by Jon Steven Nappa is a historical fiction about the founding of National Society for the Preservation of Life after Shipwreck. Sir William Hillary lived as a philanthropic baronet on a small island in the English channel. Sailing and fishing were the staples of the island economy and nearly every family had lost someone in a wreck.
Living close to the water for most of my life it's hard to imagine a time when the coast guard or equivalents weren't available to aid in protecting the shipping lanes and rescue troubled ships or stranded people. With Hearts Courageous shows clearly and dramatically what life was like without their service. It also shows how much of a struggle it was to get such a service set up.
The book is written in a style that reminded me of the Brontës or Austen if they were to have written about the dangers of shipwrecks. I found the story engaging and well paced.
I received a copy for review from the author.
What Are You Reading: April 02, 2012: 04/01/12
My numbers are inflated again by reading with my daughter, and listening to her read. My favorite read last week was Stuck on Earth by David Klass.
I probably won't get too much reading done as I have academic journal articles to read. I'm coming down to the final weeks of school, so it is time to really start cranking on my papers. Research and writing cuts into my time for reading for fun.
My goal this week is to finish Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan as well as read three library books that are due next week.
What about you?
The Precedent: 04/01/12
"The Precedent" by Sean McMullan in the July / August issue of FSF takes a look at the near future where the environment is recovering but the price for a healthier ecosystem is a total dissolution of modern life.
The main character is a man on trial. His crime: being born before 2000. Anyone pre-millennium is assumed to have committed crimes against the environment. They must prove themselves innocent. The lucky ones are freed and assigned new jobs in society. Most though are put to death in a violent but carbon neutral way.
What struck me most about this story was the realization that were this truly happening, my children and their friends would be the ones running the trials.