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July 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



 

Wow! Ocean! 07/31/12

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Wow! Ocean! by Robert Neubecker caught my attention both for it's enthusiastic title as well as its ocean setting.

The book opens with Izzy and her family traveling from the mountains to the beach for a day of fun. Then the book settles into page after page of the basic different things of the ocean, each introduced with "Wow!" For example: "Wow! Fish!" and "Wow! Whales!"

For children in preschool through about first grade, the Wow! text is perfect. It gets across basic concepts: fish, coral reef, sunken ship, whales, and so forth while drawing the eye in with colorful and complex illustrations.

For older children in the second through fourth grade level, there are labels for most of the things in the illustrations. For example, all the fish are labeled on the "Wow! Fish!" page.

The book was a huge hit with both of my children and we had to read each and every label. Both children then took a turn re-reading the book.

Four stars

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The Owl and the Pussycat 07/30/12

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The Owl and the Pussycat illustrated by Anne Mortimer is among Edward Lear's best known nonsense poems. It's also a family favorite, one we recite on a semi-regular basis. It's perfect for a family of owl and cat lovers. The owl and pussycat go on a long sea journey in their pea green boat. After sailing the world for a year and a day they decide to get married.

It includes elements listed as children's preferences in The Essentials of Children's Literature (Lynch-Brown, Tomlinson & Short, 2011, p. 64). Anne Mortimer specializes in cat paintings and her attention to detail brings new life and whimsy to this classic poem. Children can discuss friendships, travel, how cats and owls are in real life and if they'd make a good couple as well as how the poem is structured. They could even be asked to do their own illustrations for the poem.

I read this delightful version the first time for the materials for children ages 5 to 8 course I took.

Five stars

Comments (4)


What Are You Reading: July 30, 2012: 07/29/12

What Are You Reading?

I doubt I'll get much reading done this week. I have a trip coming up, longer days at work and staying up late / getting up early to watch the Olympics live.

My favorite read last week was Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch which I read via NetGalley. It's very much like Stardust but with the Hereville cast. It comes out in the Fall.

The runner up was Bake Sale by Sara Varon. It's about a cupcake and an eggplant who like to bake together and play together in a band. There's a chance they can go to Turkey to bake with the famous Turkish Delight. I know it sounds hokey but it's really a great little middle grade graphic novel. It includes recipes and some baking tips. The best tip is to save the butter wrappers as they'll have just enough butter left for greasing a pan.

I'm still slowly chugging through Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett and I'd like to finish it soon. I also plan to finish I Thought You Were Dead: A Love Story by Pete Nelson. During our trip I'll be re-listening to the Wayside School Collection by Louis Sachar.

What about you?

Did Not Finish:

  1. Drood by Dan Simmons (library book)
  2. Skywalkers: Mohawk Ironworkers Build the City by David Weitzman (library book)

Finished:

  1. All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin (library book)
  2. Bake Sale by Sara Varon (library book)
  3. Born on a Blue Day (audio) by Daniel Tammet (pesonal collection)
  4. Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 3 by Kanata Konami (library book)
  5. Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things by Ted Naifeh (review copy)
  6. The Floating Girl by Sujata Massey (library book)
  7. Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch (review copy)
  8. Iguanas in the Snow/Iguanas en la nieve by Francisco X. Alarcón (library book)
  9. Yotsuba&! Vol. 6 by Kiyohiko Azuma (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Between Shades of Gray (audio) by Ruta Sepetys (library book)
  3. I Thought You Were Dead: A Love Story by Pete Nelson (library book)
  4. I Was Told There'd Be Cake (audio) by Sloane Crosley (library book)
  5. Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  6. The Shocking Pink Hat by Frances Crane (personal collection)
  7. Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (personal collection)
  8. The Wedding Officer Anthony Capella (personal collection)
  9. Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Arthur's Nose by Marc Brown (library book)
  2. Calvin Coconut: The Zippy Fix by Graham Salisbury (library book)
  3. The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss (library book)
  4. Disappearing Desmond by Anna Alter (library book)
  5. Everything on a Waffle (audio) by Polly Horvath (library book)
  6. Fairest (audio) by Gail Carson Levine (personal collection)
  7. Maggie's Monkeys by Linda Sanders-Wells (library book)



Comments (30)


The Dazzle of Day 07/29/12

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The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss is is a generation ship saga written in the style of A Canticle for Leibowitz. It has three distinct parts: planning to leave, a death enroute, and life on the new planet.

Although there isn't a single character to carry the book through from start to finish, Gloss manages to still make it a very character driven book. Each section reads like a self contained novella, thematically tied together.

My favorite part was the first story. In it, an older woman is thinking about her life in the South American Quaker community that will now be leaving Earth. She tries to compare the life she knows with the sacrifices that will be expected on the ship. It's an interesting way to begin a Generation Ship story.

If you've read Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder and want to read something just as enjoyable but more literary, give The Dazzle of Day a try.

Four stars

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Calvin Coconut: The Zippy Fix: 07/28/12

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As is so typical for me, I ended up reading the second book in the series, Calvin Coconut: The Zippy Fix by Graham Salisbury first.

In this one, Calvin still isn't happy with having to give up his bedroom to the girl from Texas. She picks on him constantly and makes home life for him hell since his mom is too busy to notice how much of a bully she is. He decides to convince her to go home by making her life as miserable as possible.

Calvin knows she's allergic to cats. So he sneaks the neighbor's cat into his old room and lets it lounge on her pillow. What he doesn't realize is just how allergic she is. The prank gets out of hand and Calvin is faced with the consequences of his desire for revenge.

With her birthday coming up, Calvin decides it's time to be the better person and make amends with a nice birthday gift. Most of the book centers on his efforts to cobble together the money to buy her what she wants most.

Along the way he has to deal with school bullies, his own bad luck and many other typical kid problems. All of this is set against a Hawaiian setting that feels genuine with out being exotic.

Four stars

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Maggie's Monkeys 07/27/12

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I'm a little sad as I post my review of Maggie's Monkeys by Linda Sanders-Wells. While looking up reviews to link to I can across the obituary for the author. She passed away last fall after a fight with breast cancer. You can read a tribute to her written by Heather Henson.

Maggie's Monkeys celebrates imagination and family. One day Maggie proclaims that there are pink monkeys living in the family refrigerator. Her brother doesn't believe it and is baffled when their parents play along.

As a parent I've had to welcome monsters into the house and chase other monsters out. There was a particularly mean one who used to live in my son's clock. Later he had an entire city of monsters!

After weeks of Maggie protecting the monkeys in the fridge, big brother is put on the spot when his friends are over for a play date. Imagine for him how embarrassing it must be to have his sister going on about monkeys in the fridge! The charm of this book hangs on his reaction. Give it a read to see what he does!

Four stars

Comments (0)


Disappearing Desmond: 07/26/12

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Disappearing Desmond by Anna Alter is about a painfully shy cat who does everything he can to make himself invisible at school. Desmond accomplishes his disappearances through camouflage clothing and carefully placed props. He blends into the wallpaper during reading time and with the plants during recess.

All that changes, though, when Gloria shows up. Gloria is an outgoing, talkative child who knows who she likes. She doesn't seem to notice Desmond's hiding as a sign of shyness. Can her enthusiasm win him over and bring him out of the background?

My daughter who is about the most out-going person I know, didn't pick up on the theme of shyness. She did however like playing "find Desmond" on each page. She also liked Gloria and probably related to her best of all.

Disappearing Desmond reminds me of the picture book version of Secret Letters from 0 to 10 by Susie Morgenstern. The author's information at the back of the book explains how she too was shy as a child. She is appropriately dressed in true Desmond fashion!

Four stars

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Everything on a Waffle 07/25/12

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Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath is the story of Primrose Squarp and her unusual life in Coal Harbour, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She begins her tale with her parents being lost at sea. Throughout her tale she maintains her belief that her parents are marooned on an island even if the adults in her life try to tell her otherwise.

Young Primrose, then, goes from home to home as her parents' disappearance lengthens. Her first caretaker is her babysitter — an elderly women obsessed with mothballs. Then, there's her wayward uncle, Jack. And finally, she's put into foster care with a delightful couple who dote on their dog as much as they do their charge.

The one piece of stability in Primrose's life is The Girl on a Red Swing — the local restaurant where everything is served on a waffle. Primrose spends her free time there, learning how to cook and getting sage advice from the only adult who seems willing to believe her. As food is such a part of Primrose's life, each chapter ends with a recipe.

I listened to the book on audio on a family trip. It was entertaining enough to keep the entire family occupied on an otherwise long drive.

Five stars

Comments (2)


Arthur's Nose 07/24/12

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Arthur the aardvark is two years older than Garfield the cat and he's changed just as much since his debut in 1976. Arthur first appeared in Arthur's Nose by Marc Brown, an appropriate and funny title for a cover sporting a typically shaped aardvark, but a little disturbing in thinking of what Arthur looks like now.

Brushing aside 20-20 hindsight for the moment, I want to look at the first edition book because that's the version I read. It's part of the K12 collection at Holy Names University that I cataloged for my MLIS internship. The book has probably sat there unread since the Education Department brought Sr. June's collection over from wherever they used to keep them to be housed in the main library.

The cover art is typical mid 1970s. It's done in browns, oranges and pink. Artistically it's firmly planted in the year it was published.

And there in the middle of the cover, framed in gold (or puke yellow) is a nerdy aardvark in an orange and yellow striped shirt and pocket protector. For fans of the more recent incarnation of Arthur, the only familiar details are the eyes and the rounded ears.

So Arthur's in school with some vaguely familiar looking friends. It's easier to tell through squinted eyes who the are. The entire cast seems to have transformed over the years. He's being teased for his nose and decides to do something about it.

Rather than treat the situation like a no bullying lesson from the get-go, Arthur decides on rhinoplasty to fix his problem. Being an animal in a world of anamorphic animals, Arthur's choices are beaks, trunks, and so forth. As those would all look even more ridiculous on his face than his current nose, he decides against the operation. As it stands by itself in the absence of all other Arthur books, it's a cute story with a solid message.

But wait! Look at modern day Arthur. Where the heck is his nose? By the 1980s, Arthur has morphed into his modern day form. If the moral of the story was be happy with what nature / genetics has given you, then where's his nose?

The disappearance of Arthur's nose in later books and in the PBS series calls into question the ending of Arthur's Nose in the same way that The Magic School Bus: Going Batty makes it clear that Ms. Frizzle is actually a vampire.

Five stars

Comments (2)


Fairest 07/23/12

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width="134" height="200" border="1" align="right">Bear with me if this ends up being a somewhat rambling review. I both read and listened to Fairest by Gail Carson Levine over the course of a weekend car trip.

Fairest is a tween fantasy inspired by Snow White but that connection only becomes obvious in the final third of the story. Aza is a foundling, raised by innkeepers of the Feather Bed. In the kingdom of Ayortha, beauty in voice and body are prized above all else. While Aza can sing better than anyone she knows, she is too tall, too wide, too plain of face and too clumsy. As she hones her singing skills, she learns how to throw her voice, or as she calls it, illuse.

Aza's self-esteem therefore isn't great. It gets put the ultimate test, though, when circumstances beyond her control take her to castle for a royal wedding. When the king is injured, leaving his new queen in charge, Aza finds her stay extended for the foreseeable future.

Queen Ivi, the young commoner with unusual beauty but a terrible singing voice, stands in for the wicked stepmother queen. Aza with her hair too black, her skin to pale and her lips too red, stands in for Snow White. Ivi's, though, isn't driven by an insane desire to be the "fairest one of all" even if that's what's expected of her. Her actions are driven more by her immaturity and homesickness, making her both a more interesting and more dangerous character.

As Ayortha prizes singing, there's frequent mention of singing, including characters randomly breaking out in song mid sentence when the mood strikes. In the print form, these moments of song are rendered as short lines of poetry — the longest one taking maybe three quarters of a page. In the Full Cast Audio version, these songs can add upwards of five minutes to a page that would otherwise take a minute or two to read. As I was reading it on my own at night and listening to it in the car, these inflated areas were more noticeable than they would otherwise be.

Four stars

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What Are You Reading: July 23, 2012: 07/22/12

What Are You Reading?

Work is going great. Because of my commute, I'm nearly done with Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet. After that I'll start I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloanne Crosley.

My favorite read last week was Amulet, Vol. 5: Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibuishi which I read via NetGalley. I own the entire series and will definitely be buying a copy of Volume 5 when it comes out in September. The artwork is fabulous and the story finally explains the Elf Prince's motivation. He reminds me very favorably of Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The runner up was Flash Forward (audio) by Robert J. Sawyer. I listened to it because I was curious how it was compared to the television series. Although it's different, being taken from the point of view of the people who inadvertently caused the event, it was still very good. My son ended up listening to the entire audio with me. So if you have some tweens who are speculative fiction fans, they might also like Flash Forward.

My goal this week is to finish The Floating Girl by Sujata Massey and Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett. After that I'll start reading All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin and The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. Amulet, Vol. 5: Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibuishi (review copy)
  2. Babymouse: Monster Mash by Jennifer L. Holm (library book)
  3. Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 2 by Kanata Konami (library book)
  4. Flash Forward (audio) by Robert J. Sawyer (library book)
  5. Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure by Michael Chabon (personal collection)
  6. The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (library book)
  7. Owl in Love by Patrice Kindl (personal collection)
  8. Yotsuba&! Vol. 9 by Kiyohiko Azuma (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Born on a Blue Day (audio) by Daniel Tammet (pesonal collection)
  3. Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things by Ted Naifeh (review copy)
  4. Drood by Dan Simmons (library book)
  5. The Floating Girl by Sujata Massey (library book)
  6. Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  7. The Shocking Pink Hat by Frances Crane (personal collection)
  8. Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst (library book)
  2. Angels by Marian Keyes (personal collection)
  3. Bad Kitty Meets the Baby by Nick Buel (personal collection)
  4. Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (library book)
  5. Emily the Strange: The Lost Days by Rob Reger (personal collection)
  6. I'm Going to Grandma's by Mary Ann Hoberman (library book)
  7. Mooshka, A Quilt Story by Julie Paschkis (review copy)



Comments (34)

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Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday: 07/22/12

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I read the first of Judith Viorst's Alexander books to my son when he was an infant. He went on to discover other books in the series. His most recent discovery is Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday.

The book opens with Alexander lamenting the fact that he has no money. As the story unwinds, he explains why he has no money. Since last Sunday he has spent his money on all sorts of frivolous things.

As the book was written in the late 1970s, the amount of money has on Sunday is quite small. Children today might be surprised by how little Alexander has. The specific prices mentioned make the book feel more dated than Alexander and the Terrible No Good, Very Bad Day.

It's still though a good starting point for discussing money and the different sorts of coins and bills there are. Since Alexander was given a dollar on Sunday, children can also be asked to keep track of how Alexander spends his money to practice subtraction.

Three stars

Comments (4)


Emily the Strange: The Lost Days: 07/21/12

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Imagine coming to on a park bench in a strange town with a note book (with pages missing) and no memory of who you are. That's how Emily the Strange: The Lost Days by Rob Reger starts. It's a hybrid graphic novel / YA mystery.

The entire book is told in diary form, with each day numbered. The unnamed (until the end) main character finds her way around Blackrock, hangs out at El Dungeon, makes friends with four almost identical black cats and begins to realize there is something afoot in Blackrock.

Throughout the book there are black and red illustrations either meant to be drawings by the diary writer, or to be photographs taken by her. The drawings were my favorite part.

Some of the prose-only sections drag a little, especially near the middle. There's a point in the book where it looks like things are wrapping but but they aren't at all. In fact at one point, there's a near re-set of the story which I think I found more frustrating than the main character did.

Despite the slow bit, I did enjoy the book and I have the sequel on hand to read soon.

Four stars

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Angels 07/20/12

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Angels by Marian Keyes is the third of the Walsh Sister books. Maggie, the normal, boring sister, finds her husband, Garv, having an affair. Stressed out by that fact she loses her job and decides she needs to get as far away as possible. She settles on Los Angeles.

Emily, her best friend and a screenwriter, takes Maggie in as she tries to take stock of her life. Mixed in with her and Emily's misadventures in Los Angeles, are flashbacks that slowly reveal the reasons behind the affair as well as other things worrying Maggie.

There's nothing too surprising in the plot. There are certainly some hilarious moments as well as some heartbreaking ones. Maggie, for instance, had gone through two miscarriages — something I share with her.

It was a decent read, good for reading on my commute. I could read it in snatches of five or ten pages and still follow the story.

Three stars

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Mooshka, A Quilt Story 07/19/12

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Mooshka, A Quilt Story by Julie Paschkis is about Karla and her quilt. The quilt has been made from scraps of clothing over the years.

Each patch carries a special memory, giving the Mooshka the quilt the ability to relate the family stories to Karla. But Mooshka goes silent when Karla's baby sister is born.

The story, though, isn't really about magical Mooshka. It's about Karla coming to terms with being an older sister and having to share her space and things with a baby.

Mooshka, A Quilt Story brings to mind a mixture of I'm Going to Grandma's by Mary Ann Hoberman and Nobody Asked ME If I Wanted a Baby Sister by Martha Alexander.

Three stars

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Bad Kitty Meets the Baby: 07/18/12

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Bad Kitty Meets the Baby by Nick Bruel is the sixth Bad Kitty book (and the fourth hybrid graphic novel). The book opens with a recap of the previous "injustices" to Kitty's otherwise good life: the puppy and Uncle Murray's visit. Now the reason for Murray's visit is explained: Bad Kitty's humans were traveling to adopt a baby.

The adoption isn't played up in the book but it does blend well with the overall theme of home and family being what you make of it. Before, Bad Kitty, though, can make that realization, she has to come to terms with this loud, smelly, strange looking interloper.

The neighborhood cats come to rescue to help Bad Kitty figure out what exactly a baby is. They do this by hosting the Kitty Olympics and inviting the baby to participate.

Like the other graphic novels in the series, Bad Kitty Meets the Baby has explanatory sections on cat and baby behavior. The book would be appropriate for any family expecting a new child or trying to introduce cats to young children.

Five stars

Comments (2)


I'm Going to Grandma's 07/17/12

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I'm Going to Grandma's by Mary Ann Hoberman, a girl is getting ready for her first solo sleepover at her grandma's house. When she gets homesick, Grandma shares a story and a family heirloom.

My daughter chose the book because we had just come home from our own trip down to my mother's mountain home. It was Harriet's first time at this home and it was both an exciting and but somewhat scary experience, especially the first night.

Like the girl in the book, Harriet listened to a number of family stories while we were there. The home is decorated in part with things from family members no longer living, most of whom she's never met. She does, though, like to the hear their stories.

In the case of I'm Going to Grandma's, the heirloom is a quilt made from the her great-great-grandmother's old and outgrown clothing. It's implied that later generations have also added to the quilt, although I'm not sure if the current girl will also be adding to it with her grandmother.

That repurposing of old clothing struck another chord with Harriet. She has an old shirt from her first year at preschool. It has her picture on it, so it's not something we can, or want, to donate. Instead we've decided to turn it into a pillow.

Four stars

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Bedtime for Mommy 07/16/12

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Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse Rosenthal takes a humorous look at the most exhausting part of parenting, putting the children to bed.

This time, it's not the child who needs to go to bed — it's the mother. The gentle but persistent daughter goes through all the usual steps to get her mother ready for bed. The mother, meanwhile, does everything she can to stall bedtime: asks for extra bedtime stories, an extra glass of water, not being able to pick out her clothes for the next day. And so forth.

LeUyem Pham's energetic drawings bring this story to life. There's a playfulness to the bedtime ritual. It's funny to see childish expressions on the mother and grown-up ones on the child.

As a mother of children who are sometimes impossible to get into bed, I found the book hilarious. Parents with similar children will enjoy sharing this book with them.

Five stars

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What Are You Reading: July 16, 2012: 07/15/12

What Are You Reading?

I started work last week. I'm a copy cataloger at a local university now. Although it's part time, it does cut into some of my time for reading. On the other hand, it does give me more time to listen to audio books in my car as I drive to and from work!

My favorite read last week was Sweet Revenge (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson. It's the 14th book in the series. Although I'm trying to read them in order, it was the only book I had on hand for my car. So in it went. They do stand alone well enough to read out of order. As with the other books in the series, I love how Barbara Rosenblat performs the book.

The runner up was The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman. It's the fifth in the Navajo mystery series. Jimmy Chee has to figure out who killed a Navajo on Hopi land. The murder is mixed up with two other crimes: the recurring vandalism of a windmill and the murders of some drug runners.

My goal this week is to finish The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd and Owl in Love by Patricia Kindl. Dowd's book has been recalled at the library and I don't want to return it partially read. After that I'll get started on the ARC of Amulet 5 by Kazu Kibuishi.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. City of Thieves (audio) by David Benioff (library book)
  2. The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman (library book)
  3. Demons are a Ghoul's Best Friend by Victoria Laurie (library book)
  4. Dinorella: A Prehistoric Fairy Tale by Pamela Duncan Edwards (library book)
  5. Sweet Revenge (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson (personal collection)
  6. Will Supervillains Be on the Final? by Naomi Novik (library book)
  7. Yesterday by C.K. Kelly Martin (review copy)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Born on a Blue Day (audio) by Daniel Tammet (pesonal collection)
  3. Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 2 by Kanata Konami (library book)
  4. Drood by Dan Simmons (library book)
  5. Flash Forward (audio) by Robert J. Sawyer (library book)
  6. The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (library book)
  7. Owl in Love by Patrice Kindl (personal collection)
  8. Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  9. Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Adventures in Cartooning: Christmas Special by James Sturm (review copy)
  2. Amulet 4: The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi (personal collection)
  3. The Bog Baby by Jeanne Willis (library book)
  4. Fullmetal Alchemist 17 by Hiromu Arakawa (library book)
  5. My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete (library book)
  6. Soul Eater 01 by Atsushi Ohkubo (personal collection)
  7. Twin Spica 06 by Kou Yaginuma (personal collection)



Comments (32)

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My Brother Charlie 07/15/12

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My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete is a picture book about a family of fraternal twins, one of whom has autism. The book was inspired by the Peete family's experience with having an autistic child, Ryan's fraternal brother.

Told from Callie's point of view, the book introduces Charlie positively. It's clear from the very first page that Callie and her parents love Charlie. Through the introduction Callie explains how alike she and he are and only then does she begin to explain how they are different.

Charlie's autism is only one part of what makes him different. Callie though is clear that even though Charlie needs a little more time and sometimes needs things to be quiet, he's still an important and loved member of the family.

I read this book originally because it was recommended in my Materials for Children ages 5 to 8 class. I chose it because so many of the books about autism, especially autistic children. My Brother Charlie is the most positive and realistic I've read.

Five stars

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The Bog Baby 07/14/12

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The Bog Baby by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Gwen Millward was one of those serendipitous library finds. It had been put on display on the top of the shelves, cover out for the world to see. I had to grab it.

A pair of sisters find a bog baby on their explorations into the nearby woods. It's a little blue blobby creature with fairy wings. They decide to keep it as a pet. Being away from home doesn't agree with the bog baby and he falls ill. Eventually they have to ask for help and fortunately their mother has had her own experience with a bog baby.

The story is perfect for children who have wanted to bring some wild creature home for a pet. It gently teaches the importance of leaving wild creatures to be wild and how difficult it is to provide for them. The book also encourages exploration of children to find (but not capture) their own bog babies.

Gwen Millward's illustrations are the right balance of playful and magical. The bog baby while being obviously made up is still a sympathetic character.

Four stars

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Adventures in Cartooning: Christmas Special: 07/13/12

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Adventures in Cartooning: Christmas Special by James Sturm is the follow up to Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles into Comics. This time, the knight (princess) is called into duty to help Santa save Christmas in a time when children are more interested in apps, videos and other electronic forms of entertainment.

The book opens with Santa up in arms over the closure of his workshop. The elves have given up woodworking for app development. They're making flash games at the North Pole. The knight has a solution — self publishing! Cough cough. No really — a self published comic book.

Just as the previous book was about a knight on a mission with a trusty horse and an instructional manual on how to draw a comic book with the basic doodling skills any kid has, this one has some further advice about drawing comics, along with (perhaps unintentional) advice on self publishing.

The two big messages here, I think, are homemade presents still rock and printed books still have their place. But the message seems to get garbled — especially as an eGalley. Santa laments all these electronic doodads getting in the way but the review copy is in electronic form, DRMed and with an expiration date. Ironic, no?

And then there's the whole Christmas thing. With Santa in the mix, we learn that the dragon in the previous book is Jewish (from the menorah). Reluctantly though, the dragon plays along. Now I'm all for homemade gifts, comic books and self publishing, but presented as a Christmas story — then all the focus goes from the best features of the book (creativity in so many forms) to being yet another story about saving Christmas.

Three stars

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Soul Eater 01: 07/12/12

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Soul Eater 01 by Atsushi Ohkubo is another manga series I got into via the anime. Volume 1 introduces the major characters: Maka and Soul Eater (often just called Soul), Black Star, Tsubaki, Death the Kid and Patty and Liz. Along with the introduction of the student teams (one meister and one scythe), the book introduces the Academy and the teachers.

The goal of every student pair is to eat 99 bad souls and one witch's soul. If they mess up and take the wrong kind of soul, they have to start over from scratch. Maka and Soul are down to their last soul, the witch's soul. And they screw the pooch big time.

Soul Eater is a pun heavy series. The manga translation does its best to explain the puns. Not all of them come through, though. The puns don't get in the way of the story except to add some extra reading.

Four stars

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Amulet 4: The Last Council: 07/11/12

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Amulet 4: The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi, Emily, friends and family arrive at Cielis, hopeful that the Sky Council will be able to help. Before that can happen, though, Emily must prove her worth to them.

Cielis is very much like the Emerald City, albeit one that has fallen on hard times. It's not just an ineffective one — the Wizard — stepping in for a missing leader — Ozma. Like Chip in This Perfect Day (link to review), Emily and friends have been deceived. Most of The Last Council, then, is the chronicle of Emily and the others discovering the truth in their own way.

As with previous volumes, Kibuishi's luscious artwork is a delight. He's able to convey so much of the story through the pictures, that I will often skim ahead just looking at the pictures. Then I go back and read the speech bubbles. The Amulet series remains at the top of my list of favorite middle grade graphic novels.

Five stars

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 17: 07/10/12

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 17 by Hiromu Arakawa is a chance to explore Fort Briggs better. It's the domain of General Olivier Armstrong and she's not to be trifled with.

Despite her exemplary leadership, even Fort Briggs isn't free from the homunculi. Ed, Kimblee and an officer from Central all have their sites on Briggs. Conflicting goals try Armstrong's patience.

While the scenery is one of cold wastelands and howling winds, the story arc is heating up. Things are becoming dangerous and time is clearly running out. It is time to act even if the intel isn't complete.

Four stars

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Twin Spica, Volume 06: 07/09/12

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Twin Spica Volume 06 by Kou Yaginuma resolves the cliff hanger of Asumi and her friends racing to the goal from their escape pods dumped into the nearby forest. It also introduces more glimpses into the history of the Lion and the mystery of Mr. Lion's on going friendship with Asumi.

Asumi risks her own success in the program by mounting a search party for one of their missing classmates. It's an unexpected turn of events and something that takes even the test designers by surprise.

The survival course complete, the lessons return to school. Students learn how to fix things from spare and ill fitting parts, and take their midterms. Asumi, though, isn't quite the perfect student she hopes to be.

There's also some family drama with the boy everyone believes is rich. His father isn't pleased with his choice of career and has cut all ties with him. Can he keep going in the program? Where is he going to stay? How is he going to pay for his education?

Those questions though will be answered in Volume 07.

Five stars

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What Are You Reading: July 09, 2012: 07/08/12

What Are You Reading?

Normally I try to limit my library holds to three books a week. Sometimes though there's a delay and my three requests back up. That happened last week and I had to pick up six books. To catch up with my reading, I declared it a no TV week. I went to bed when the kids did so I could have a couple hours a night to read. I was able to get through my backlog of books, and then some.

My favorite read last week was Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson. Amy's moving to Connecticut from California. Her mother had given her and a neighbor boy the job of driving the family car cross-country. Mom has the trip organized to take four days and has even pre-paid for their motel rooms. There's just one problem: Amy and Roger decide to take their own route. It's a great young adult road-trip book.

The runner up was How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain. A teenage boy nicknamed "Frog" helps his father's patient, Zelda, track down Johnny Depp. She believes she's from a distant planet run entirely by women. The book's written in first person with a credible and funny teenage voice.

My goal this week is to finish two audio books: City of Thieves by David Benioff, and Sweet Revenge by Diane Mott Davidson. Then I will start two new audios: Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer, and Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet. I also need to finish Will Supervillains Be on the Final? by Naomi Novik.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (library book)
  2. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine (library book)
  3. f2m by Hazel Edwards (personal collection)
  4. Boy and Bot by Ame Dyckman (library book)
  5. The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean (library book)
  6. The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard (library book)
  7. How Did You Get This Number (audio) by Sloane Crosley (library book)
  8. How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain (library book)
  9. Nothing But the Truth by Avi (library book)
  10. One Moon, Two Cats by Laura Godwin (library book)
  11. Monster by A. Lee Martinez (personal collection)
  12. The Twins' Blanket by Hyewon Yum (library book)
  13. Yotsuba&!, Vol. 9 by Kiyohiko Azuma (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. City of Thieves (audio) by David Benioff (library book)
  3. Drood by Dan Simmons (library book)
  4. Owl in Love by Patrice Kindl (personal collection)
  5. Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  6. Sweet Revenge (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson (personal collection)
  7. Will Supervillains Be on the Final? by Naomi Novik (library book)
  8. Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (personal collection)
  9. Yesterday by C.K. Kelly Martin (review copy)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Catering to Nobody (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson (library book)
  2. The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson (library book)
  3. Food, Girls and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (review copy)
  4. Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (personal collection)
  5. Spork by Kyo Maclear (library book)
  6. Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle: Volume 03 by CLAMP (library book)
  7. xxxHolic Volume 10 by CLAMP (library book)



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xxxHolic Volume 10: 07/08/12

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Over the last summer I tore through as many of the xxxHolic volumes as I could get my hand on. I tried leaving non-spoilery notes for myself in GoodReads but now that I'm writing the reviews I don't always understand my own mini-reviews.

Volume 10 by CLAMP is the warning shot over the bow. Watanuki's powers are growing — he's changed from his experience over losing his eye. He's becoming more aware of the reality of his situation and the danger.

My favorite piece of the book was the woman in the window. With all the spirits, magic, oni and whatnot running around, this story is a quiet but still creepy return to the classic ghost story.

But the shit hitting the fan comes from an unexpected plot twist. All along Watanuki has been convinced Dômeki is no good for him but it is really his other good friend, Himorari who turns out to be dangerous.

Five stars

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Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE Volume 03: 07/07/12

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Volume 3 of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle by CLAMP was almost my breaking point. The Scooby gang having succeeded in the land of the Pokemon go to Koryo. As always, the feather is causing someone or something to have too much power and they have to defeat that someone before they can recover the feather.

It's a land of power derived from mirrors and will play a pivotal role later (something I didn't know when I was reading this volume). It's a world that on the surface looks somewhat feudal Japan. Sword play is a big theme of the book and like Bleach, lots of pages are devoted to swooshing swords, called out attacks and all that other stuff.

To make things worse, the copy I read was missing four pages. I guess a previous reader or two decided to keep the best for themselves. So if there were any important plot developments, I missed them.

Two stars

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Food, Girls and Other Things I Can't Have: 07/06/12

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High school student Andy Zansky weighs over 300 pounds and hasn't ever tried out for sports because of his asthma. This year though he plans join the football team to impress a cheerleader he likes. That's the premise of Food, Girls and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff.

As is so typical with this type of YA novel, Andy's parents are separated. So beyond his weight issues and girl trouble, Andy's story is also about the stress of recently divorced parents.

Andy holds his own as an interesting and likable protagonist with a strong enough voice to carry the story. Andy's constantly being pulled in three directions: family, girl and health as he tries to join the football team and be a contributing member. In the process he loses friends, strains other friendships and gains some new ones.

I liked the book up until the ending. After all the talk about football and the big game, things just sort of stop. It's as if someone flipped a switch in the back of Andy's head and he's suddenly back his pre-Chapter One self. It felt as if nothing was accomplished in the book and that Andy didn't learn anything from all his hard work.

Four stars

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Catering to Nobody: 07/05/12

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After listening to my friend's audio copy of Fatally Flaky I decided to give the rest of the series a listen. Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson started the Goldy Bear Culinary series in 1990.

The book opens with Goldy catering the wake for Arch's teacher. While Goldy just wants to get through the wake and help Arch grieve, she can't because someone puts rat poison in her ex-father-in-law's drink!

As this is the first book, a lot of the character dynamics from later books aren't there. Instead of Julian, for instance, there's a ditzy roommate who while funny in her own right, doesn't play off Goldy and Arch in quite the same way. Finally, Tom Schulz who plays a much larger and more sympathetic role later on is more of a foil here.

Although I figured out most of the who-done-it well before Goldy does, I still enjoyed listening to the book. It was interesting to see the characters so far removed from where they were in the first book I'd read.

Five stars

Other posts and reviews:

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Spoon 07/04/12

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Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal predates Spork by Kyo Maclear and there are obvious similarities. Both explore ethnicity, family, and self esteem through the world of the silverware drawer.

Spoon is just that, a spoon. He's a soup spoon that also likes cereal and ice cream. He though has noticed that knives, forks and chopsticks all get to do things he can't. He becomes so focused on their special talents that he begins to doubt his own.

What Spoon doesn't realize, but his mother does, is that the forks, knives and chopsticks recognize his talents just as he recognizes theirs. She eventually gets to explain that to him and it ends happily with some family snuggling.

While my daughter picked up on the self acceptance message, she had more fun pointing out all the different utensils. She's used to our own strange jumble of old and new utensils (including chopsticks). The utensils in Krouse's book are a similar jumble.

Five stars

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Spork 07/03/12

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Spork by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault is about a young runcible spoon who doesn't feel like he fits in. His mother is spoon and dad is a fork. He's the only kid in the silverware drawer with one of each for parents. It takes a while for Spork to find his place in the drawer, but he does and it's a cute ending.

As spoons and forks look so different, Spork looks at blended families. Spork has his dad's tines and his mom's bowl shaped head. He reminds me of so many of my children's friends. For children of blended families not fortunate enough to be living in as multicultural area as ours, Spork can help.

Isabelle Aresenault's illustrations have a nice retro feel to them. The silverware is a mishmash of different styles making the cast of characters visually interesting. For our own silverware drawer being a made up of hand-me-downs, second hand stores, and who knows what, the silverware in Spork reminds us of home. The only thing we don't have is our very own spork!

Five stars

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The Cow Loves Cookies 07/02/12

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I first heard of The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson when it was short listed for a Cybils. When I saw it at the library, I had to check it out. I'm glad I did.

The book starts out with an adorable cover. There's the farmer holding a cookie behind his back. He has a sly look on his face. The cow is wagging her tail like a dog.

The book is for the most part a standard rhyming book about life on the farm. There are all the usual animals and where they live and what they eat and so forth. But there's this promise about a cow liking cookies that gives the whole book a sense of mystery.

At long last the truth behind the cookies is revealed and it's delightful. It's like a happy version of Click Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin. The farmer and the cow have a deal. They are partners in a little ruse that involves cookies.

For children just learning puns and jokes, the book ends with a groan worthy joke just for them.

Five stars

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What Are You Reading: July 02, 2012: 07/01/12

What Are You Reading?

Bear with me if this week's post seems nonsensical. I'm writing it after a night of insomnia. I didn't really get to sleep until about five in the morning. It's now early evening and I have about as much mental capacity as a piece of toast.

My favorite read last week was The Bride's Kimono by Sujata Massey. It's the fifth in the Rei Shimura series but it stands alone just fine. Shimura goes to Washington DC with a selection of priceless kimono on loan to a museum. One of them goes missing and is tied up with the murder of a young Japanese tourist. I managed to sort of figure out the plot but there were still enough surprises to keep me entertained all the way to the end.

The runner up was Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett. It's cute picture book fantasy about a girl and her magic bag of yarn and all the things she knits with it. It's illustrated by Jon Klassen, the author and illustrator of the hilarious I Want My Hat Back. In fact, the bear, rabbit and other characters make a quick cameo in Extra Yarn. I seriously want to own a copy just because I adore Klassen's artwork.

My goal this week is to finish Monster by A. Lee Martinez. I didn't get to finish f2m by Hazel Edwards last week, so maybe I'll do it this week. I plan to start How Did You Get This Number (audio) by Sloane Crosley and The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. Black Juice by Margo Lanagan (library book)
  2. The Bride's Kimono by Sujata Massey (library book)
  3. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett (library book)
  4. Once In A Lifetime by Cathy Kelly (library book)
  5. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown (personal collection)
  6. The Three Weissmanns of Westport (audio) by Cathleen Schine (library book)
  7. A Timely Vision by Joyce Lavene (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean (library book)
  3. f2m by Hazel Edwards (personal collection)
  4. Monster by A. Lee Martinez (personal collection)
  5. Sweet Revenge (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson (personal collection)
  6. Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (personal collection)
  7. Yesterday by C.K. Kelly Martin (review copy)

Reviews Posted:

  1. ABC Book by CB Falls (library book)
  2. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault (personal collection)
  3. The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling (personal collection)
  4. If Rocks Could Sing by Leslie McGuirk (library book)
  5. Introduction to Joyous Cooking 200th Anniversary Edition by Heather Lindsey (personal collection)
  6. Navajo ABC by Lucy Tapahonso (library book)
  7. The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg (library book)



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The Chocolate Touch 07/01/12

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>My son introduced me to The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling. He had read it in school and was so enthusiastic about this modern day retelling of the Midus Touch that I had to add the book to my wishlist.

John Midus is an average boy with a loving father and loving mother. He's nuts about candy, especially chocolate. After a yearly check up at the doctors with a warning to cut back on the sweets, Midus is given a lesson he'll soon not forget. It comes in the form of a very special piece of chocolate, one that gives his tongue and mouth the chocolate touch.

While the book is at its heart a cautionary tale about greed and selfishness, it's also a great introduction to the horror genre. John's chocolate touch evolves into a chocolate curse over the course of the day. It puts him, his things and ultimately his friends and family in danger.

Five stars

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