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August 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



 

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: 08/31/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black is a debut collection of ten short stories. The central theme is transition and coping.

The titular story is a prime example of how these stories unfold. Each scene begins with the phrase, "If I loved you, I would tell you this—" as she silently rants about her neighbor. He, unaware of her health problems or her son's problems, builds a tall fence around his property. The fence limits the space in her drive way, making it more difficult to get to her home. That apparently small inconvenience spirals out to many more problems and more bottled up anger.

The simplest solution — one not tried by the main character — would be to talk politely with the neighbor. She, though, is the silent martyr type. She keeps quiet to keep the drama and emotional tension high.

The other stories pull similar tricks. After a couple of them, you'll start to see the patterns involved in writing the stories. At that point, you will either like the collection, or you won't. I found the emotional string pulling tedious at the halfway point.

Two stars

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The Homecoming: 08/30/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Homecoming by Ray Bradbury was originally included in The October Country (1955). The version I read was illustrated by Dave McKean and is part of the WISP (Wonderfully Illustrated Short Pieces) series. I read it mostly to see what McKean would do with a Bradbury short story.

The story is about a young boy who is considered sickly and fragile because he is the only mortal in his entire extended family. He is made painfully aware of his difference as his family hosts a reunion.

I have to admit that I had trouble making heads or tails of Bradbury's text. That's pretty typical for me with his short stories. McKean's illustrations help bridge the gap between Bradbury's words and my understanding of them.

On a lighter note, the reunion reminded me of Ruby Gloom, "Misery Loves Company" where Misery hosts a family reunion. While Ruby is as unusual as her relatives, the imagery of her many different female banshee type cousins and aunts, is similar in spirit McKean's illustrations.

Three stars

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Watchlist: 08/29/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Watchlist by Jeffery Deaveris and twenty-one other mystery authors brings together two serial thriller audio novellas: The Chopin Manuscript and The Copper Bracelet. Combined the two mysteries make a 13 disc (roughly 15 hours) set.

The Chopin Manuscript introduces a small core of characters amongst a huge ensemble of villains, heroes and victims. The heroes are Harry Middleton, his daughter Charley, Nora Tesla and a young Polish violin player. They are fighting for their lives as a Chopin manuscript appears to have a coded recipe for a weapon of mass destruction. The Copper Bracelet brings these four back together with a new ensemble. This time there's something afoot in Kashmir that could start the next world war and throw the United States into chaos.

The first novella, being the one that tried out the concept of an exquisite corpse audio serial is much rougher than its sequel. To put it bluntly, it's a hokey thriller. It was a fun diversion while driving around town, but I'm not sure I'd have the patience for it if I were giving it my full attention!

Four stars

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: 08/28/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith was recently released as a film. I haven't seen it but I might. I think the concept of vampires being behind the Civil War is an interesting one. The film might do a better job of showing the story as the book gets bogged down in endless, dry telling.

The framing story behind Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is of an author finding a secret Lincoln journal which covers his secret life as a vampire hunter. To keep the pretense of this book being the newly published journal going, long passages of the so called journal are presented in block text. It is a visually boring presentation and a fairly mind numbing read for something involving vampire hunting.

I got about half way through the book before I decided I'd had enough. These mash-ups aren't for me. It's not the juxtaposition of Lincoln and vampire hunting that I object to. It's the attempt to write in the style of another author or another era. It's an illusion that just can't be held for the entirety of the book (or even a chapter).

I prefer instead authors who write in their own voices even when dealing with historical figures.

Two stars

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How to Party with a Killer Vampire: 08/27/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)How to Party with a Killer Vampire by Penny Warner is the fourth of the Party Planner mysteries. Presley Parker is hosting the wrap up party for Cee Gee studios in a Colma cemetery. Things go wrong when a tabloid journalist is murdered.

Mixed in with the vampire horror film wrap up, is the art of parkour. Three local experts had been brought on as stunt doubles and now they are wrapped up in the aftermath of the journalist's murder.

Strange characters with San Francisco stylings are the usual fair for the Party Planner. The location often plays a big role as a character in its own right. This time, though, Colma didn't come off as convincing as previous locations had. It felt more like a generic cemetery location, than the actual one — being conveniently far from anything, dark, and of course populated by crazy groundkeepers.

Although Colma isn't in San Francisco, and at one time was in the middle of no where, it no longer is. Colma sits nestled between Daly City, San Bruno mountain and South San Francisco. While cemeteries are its primary business, it also houses car dealerships, a couple strip malls, restaurants and a pub. It's not the dead place as described in the book. Some of the streets even go right through cemeteries, so it was hard to believe that Presley has as alone as she often says she is.


Four stars

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What Are You Reading: August 27, 2012: 08/26/12

What Are You Reading?I wish I could say this week's reading was as excellent as the last, but sadly, I read a bunch of books that just didn't do "it" for me. Picking a favorite is easy — Ottoline at Sea by Chris Riddell. I don't think he has any more Ottoline books planned in the immediate future so I'm a little sad to have reached the end of the series.

My goal this week is to finish my re-read of The Technologists by Matthew Pearl. I originally read it as an egalley but the ebook format just didn't work well. I found it very frustrating to read, even though I normally enjoy his books. So far, I'm finding it a much better book in hardback.

I also plan to read The House Next Door by Richie Tankersley Cusick. Then I want to make more progress in Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded by John Scalzi and possibly finish The Wedding Officer by Anthony Cappella.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 4 by Kanata Konami (library book)
  2. Evernight by Claudia Gray (library book)
  3. The Last Suppers (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson (personal collection)
  4. Neighborhood Watch by Cammie McGovern (library book)
  5. On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers (library book)
  6. Ottoline At Sea by Chris Riddell (personal collection)
  7. The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey (library book)
  8. The Vampire's Visit (audio) by David A. Poulsen (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Crescent Dawn (audio) by Clive Cussler (library book)
  3. Legend of the Ghost Dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel (review copy)
  4. Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  5. Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (personal collection)
  6. The Wedding Officer Anthony Capella (personal collection)
  7. Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded by John Scalzi (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Enter, Night by Michael Rowe (review copy)
  2. Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin (library book)
  3. Heat Rises by Richard Castle (personal collection)
  4. The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff (personol collection)
  5. Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull (library book)
  6. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (personal collection)
  7. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (personal collection)



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Enter, Night: 08/26/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Enter, Night by Michael Rowe weaves a tale of a Canadian town in decline and besieged by the curse of the wendigo. All of this plays out as Christina Parr, recently widowed is forced to move back to Parr's Landing with her daughter and brother in law.

Mrs. Parr, matriarch of Parr's Landing is by far the most evil creature, far more so than the ever hungry wendigo. She can't abide the fact that her favorite son left her to marry a woman she doesn't approve of. Nor can she accept that her other son is gay.

Enter, Night tells the tale of the wendigo (sort of new world vampire) in a similar fashion to Angelology by Danielle Trussoni (review coming). Both cover a lot of history and numerous points of view. Enter, Night comes close to a dozen points of view.

It is these multiple points of view and multiple eras that is the weakest part of the novel. The present day tale of the Parr family coming apart at the seams while the wendigo returns after a decade's long absence is the most compelling and hair-raising part of the book, but it gets lost in the flashbacks.

Read via NetGalley

Three stars

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Heat Rises: 08/25/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Heat Rises by Richard Castle is the third of the Nikki Heat mysteries. A murdered priest, a stalker and a suicide are enough to keep Nikki busy and maybe cost her her badge.

The shtick remains the same as the previous two: it's a mystery in the style of the Castle TV series, supposedly written by the author who is always following around Kate Becket. The problem though, as this Nikki Heat series continues is that the ghost writers seem to be loosing their grip on how Castle is supposed to write, while Castle the fictional character shows more and more sophistication in his craft on the television show.

Take for instance the opening crime in Heat Rises — a priest is found murdered in a bondage club. Now on television, the writers have to resort to a lot of "nudge nudge, wink wink" to dance around the racier of the clues. The book not being regulated by the FCC could and should have been a bit more blunt with what goes on at the club. Shoot — they could have had fun with it and thrown in a little erotica. But they don't. It's not much racier or explicit than a no-name cable channel.

I think the Castle books have reached a point where the original writers need to let go and hand over the job of writing these Nikki Heat books to other established authors. They could even give credit by making them books a "Richard Castle and."
Despite it's flaws, I did still enjoy the very basic mystery. Part of that is my own fandom, of course. I don't think, though, that fandom alone will keep me interested in the series if it doesn't improve.

Four stars

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The Throne of Fire: 08/24/12

Link goes to PowellsThe Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan is the second of the Kane Chronicles. Carter and Sadie working apart and later together have do everything in their power to stop Apophis and awaken the sun god Ra.

It opens strong with Carter trying to liberate a magical item from a museum, only to have things go horribly wrong. It's a dramatic and funny opening but that initial energy and humor slowly peters out.

Although I normally adore Egyptian mythology, the pacing felt off here. The chapter alternate between brother and sister, just as the first book and just as the latest bunch of Amelia Peabody mysteries (by Elizabeth Peters) have done with Amelia's memoir and manuscript H (standing in for Ramses's adventures apart from his mother). Just as the manuscript H sections take a few pages to fall into Ramses's voice, so do these alternating chapters. It's usually the second of the paired chapters that truly feels like it's written by one sibling over the other.

In the middle there's also some teenage angst over girls and boys (depending on whom is narrating). The crushes are cute in small doses but they too get in the way of ever ticking clock. If Riordan wants to continue growing the romance of the Kane twins, I hope he gives a longer time line for their next crisis. It seems that every single one of his books come down to a two week timeline before the world goes to hell again. It's getting both tiresome and unbelievable.

Three stars

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The Replacement: 08/23/12

Link goes to PowellsThe cover art, the sharp objects dangling over a black pram, is what convinced me to add The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff to my wishlist. I first saw it when I was helping someone remember the title of the book an all she had was the cover art. Its design reminded me of Bunny Modern by David Bowman. The books are very different but I'm glad that tenuous thread made me pick up The Replacement.

Mackie Doyle lives in Gentry with his family and attends high school. He just wants to be a normal teen but even the mundane, like a blood drive at the school, serves as a reminder that he's not normal. He's probably a changling. At first I thought Mackie was being a typical angsty teenager. I took being a changling as his personal metaphor for feeling out of place due to the usual adolescent hormones.

I was wrong. Gentry, it turns out, has a long history with changlings. There was a time when they had to pay a blood tithe but now they have settled into a grim acceptance of the occasional child going missing.

Mackie, though, is unusual, even for a changling. As he discovers why he's unique he unravels the terrible history of Gentry. Here, I am reminded of the closing chapters of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

Five stars

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Extraordinary: 08/22/12

Link goes to PowellsExtraordinary by Nancy Werlin proposes that the Rothschild dynasty was granted its success through a faerie pact. Years down the line, the Queen of the Faeries has decided it's time to end the alliance and take back the gift. To do that, Phoebe Rothschild (of a fictional branch of the Rothschilds) must be sacrificed.

Although the book is told mostly from Pheobe's point of view, there are chapters interspersed from the point of view of Mallory and her ersatz brother Ryland. While Werlin is up front about the Queen's plans, how and when they will be executed, though she leaves a mystery. Unraveling that timeline and the reasons behind the sudden urgency are what make Extraordinary such a compelling read.

There's one more unusual aspect to this human / faerie book, namely Pheobe's Jewishness. How that comes into play, though, is rather central to the book's climax and denouement, so I can't say much without flooding this post with spoilers. The added tough questions raised by Pheobe's faith and culture, though, bumped the book up from a well deserving four stars, to a full fledged five star read.

Recommended by Tiger Holland

Five stars

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Rise of the Evening Star: 08/21/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull is the second book in the Fablehaven series. Like the first book, I listened to it on audio while traveling.

As with Fablehaven, the book has three main parts: an introductory adventure, a training section and the final confrontation and quest. This time, thankfully, Seth and Kendra aren't put in opposition as much to drive the plot. Seth, though, does still suffer a bit from his blind enthusiasm, but even that does get curbed pretty quickly. It is refreshing to see the siblings working together.

The book opens nearly a year after the start of the first book. Kendra and Seth are finishing up their last week of school. Kendra's had a mostly normal year, despite her fairy-struck state. She and Seth have been better friends since their adventures at Fablehaven and her newfound confidence has helped her become one of the popular girls.

But all of that normalcy is thrown out the window with the arrival of a new student. To everyone except Kendra, he appears to be a hot boy. To her, he's a disgusting, ill-mannered, fowl smelling kobold. Kendra's attempt to rid the school of the kobold sets in motion a series of events that take the remainder of the book to fully play out.

Most of the book, though, is set in Fablehaven over the last few weeks of June. The Society of the Evening Star has been maneuvering again and there's credible information showing that Fablehaven is next on their list.

To prevent their attack, the artifact housed on the estate must be found and relocated to another location. To do this, three experts have been brought in. Besides locating the artifact, they are to train Kendra and Seth.

That's just the gist of the plot. There's a lot more going on. The different plot threats are neatly woven together, far more tightly than I first expected.

The audio still suffers from the same problems as the previous book. I wish there was an alternate performance available. Book three I have in print and I will be finishing out the series in print form.

Four stars

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The Son of Neptune: 08/20/12

Link goes to PowellsI live twenty miles away from Camp Jupiter, the Roman half-blood camp that Percy Jackson finds himself at in The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. While it's not the first time Riordan has set one of his adventures in the Bay Area, it's the closet to home the adventures have ever come. A previous book, The Titan's Curse, is centered on Mount Tamalpais, a prominent feature of the North Bay.

I don't know how accurate or humorous Camp Half Blood's placement somewhere on Long Island is. I've only been there once. The area above and around the Caldecott Tunnel (highway 24 as it runs between Berkeley/Oakland and Orinda/Moraga) strikes me as a hilarious place to hide both Camp Jupiter and the newest rendition of Rome. Currently the tunnel is getting a fourth bore to free up traffic but now I've taken to thinking of it as the secret entrance to the camp. Why not?

Like Jason in The Lost Hero, Percy Jackson remembers his name but not much else. He's driven by unseen forces to the opening of Camp Jupiter, where he meets an old woman and passes the test necessary to gain entrance. There he is befriended by two odd balls — Hazel and Frank. Hazel has a huge secret she's hiding and an equally large chip on her shoulder. Frank is a klutz and so far hasn't been claimed by his father.

As is always the case in Riordan's fantasies, there is a ticking countdown to world disaster if the brave heros can't finish their quest. The quest this time takes Percy, Hazel and Frank northwards. As ever, the adventure is a romp, full of crazy gods and monsters.
It's a fun and quick read. I'm looking forward to reading The Mark of Athena.

Five stars

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What Are You Reading: August 20, 2012: 08/19/12

What Are You Reading?I had a fantastic week of reading so it's really difficult to pick a favorite book. I'm going to have go with a fan girl response and say the best (out of an extremely good set of books) was The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente. It is a delightful homage to L. Frank Baum's fourth book, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz which is mostly an underground journey to Oz. The ending, though, took me completely by surprise in a very satisfying way.

Although The Night Circus in any other week would have been my favorite, I have to put it third place, after the lovely tween book, Keeper by Kathi Appelt. Keeper is set along the Gulf Coast of Texas on a street that has three houses and a bus. It's a limited cast of characters and all of them are intertwined. The main character believes she is the daughter of a mermaid and she wants to go out the sandbar to find her mother. I've been describing this book to friends and family as the narrative inverse to The Mermaid's Mirror (which I also liked).

In third place, then is The Night Circus which made for a wonderful audio book. I was sorry to hear it end. I do plan to get a nice hardcover for my personal collection. And damn if that book isn't crying for some cosplay.

My goal this week is to finish Evernight by Claudia Black and start a small pile of library books that are due in less than a week. Among them are: The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey, On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers, Neighborhood Watch by Cammie McGovern, and The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. To accomplish these reading goals, I'll have to give up one episode of Supernatural a night. I've been watching way too much Netflix.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente (review copy)
  2. Keeper by Kathi Appelt (library book)
  3. Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto (library book)
  4. The Maze of Bones (audio) by Rick Riordan (library book)
  5. My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett (library book)
  6. The Night Circus (audio) by Erin Morgenstern (library book)
  7. Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Crescent Dawn (audio) by Clive Cussler (library book)
  3. Evernight by Claudia Gray (library book)
  4. The Last Suppers (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson (personal collection)
  5. Legend of the Ghost Dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel (review copy)
  6. Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  7. Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (personal collection)
  8. The Vampire's Visit (audio) by David A. Poulsen (library book)
  9. The Wedding Officer Anthony Capella (personal collection)
  10. Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded by John Scalzi (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby (personal collection)
  2. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart (personal collection)
  3. Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (personal collection)
  4. Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle 05 by CLAMP (library book)
  5. Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey (personal collection)
  6. xxxHolic Volume 11 by CLAMP (library book)



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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 08/19/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum was published in 1900 with Baum and the illustrator, William Wallace Denslow, sharing the costs. In 2000 to celebrate the book's centennial, the book was reissued to be a faithful reproduction of the 1900 edition (for better of worse).

Denslow, though, is not the illustrator most people think of when Oz is mentioned. John R. Neill took over the illustrations with the sequel, The Marvelous Land of Oz (aka The Land of Oz) in 1904.

Yet, through the 1939 MGM musical more recently Wicked people know the story within this volume best. Dorothy escapes from her gray existence in equally gray Kansas via a tornado to the magical land of Oz. Her house lands on the Wicked Witch of East and Dorothy thus embarks on her quest to get home.

In the past I've always read the story in a copy I got as a child. It has the Denslow illustrations but not in the full cover extravaganza of the first edition and the 2000 reissue. Denslow may have been a good artist and Baum may have been a great storyteller but they were not good book designers. The black text against the emerald green swashes here and there render the story illegible.

For the book design problems, I am pulling my usual five star rating for the text down to three.

Three stars

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Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE Volume 05: 08/18/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Volume 5 of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle by CLAMP is where the plot takes a left turn. The ghost princess of Spirit Town warns Sakura that someone is watching. Turns out many someones are watching and they all have a stake in the outcome of their search for Sakura's memories.

Meanwhile Sakura et al go to the Oto Country. Here's a point where the anime is actually sillier than the manga. The anime plays up the pseudonyms Fai picks for everyone: Big Dog, Little Dog, Big Cat, Little Cat and gets a lot of gags out of them.

Fans of other CLAMP series will notice a few familiar faces. These are other residents or visitors to Oto. Some are Oni (demon) fighters who fight alongside Syaoran and Kurogane.

For those who are also following xxxHolic, points of similarity between Syaoran and Watanuki are revealed.

Four stars

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The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma: 08/17/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart concludes the story arc of Reynie and the other children recruited by Mr. Benedict. It is also, the weakest of the three, relying too heavily on regurgitated plots and huge changes in character.

The book opens with the children living with their families in Mr. Benedict's mansion. Unfortunately Mr. Benedict has become incapacitated by fear and now requires they live locked up, unable to leave the home, go to school, invite friends over. How can he be so afraid after his young protégés have proven themselves so capable?

Benedict's strict but illogical rules pause the plot for nearly 200 pages. In the first book, he wouldn't have cowered from the threat of the government or Mr. Curtain. He would have put the children to work on solving the problem. That's what they are there for! They don't need his protection but he does need their help.

Added to this mix of this sluggish plot is a new talent for the youngest member of the team. She's always been extraordinary but still within plausible means. But now Constance has developed telephatic abilities well beyond what the Whisperer can do.

This ridiculous addition to her powers combined with a plot that relies on Benedict acting completely out of character was enough for me to stop reading. I really expected to enjoy the third book as much as I had the first two but it was a mere shadow of them.

Two stars

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Tales from Outer Suburbia: 08/16/12

Link goes to PowellsTales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan is a collection of short stories about surreal happenings in a suburban neighborhood. The table of contents is done as a series of stamps with their values being the page number that the story starts on.

It's only 96 pages and there are fifteen stories. That comes down to about four pages per story and mostly those pages are Shaun Tan's excellent illustrations. These pictures are done in a variety of styles and media.

There's a story about making your own pet from boxes. Another involving backyard rockets. There's a yak who helps everyone find what they are missing. And so forth.

The overall feel of the book is something along the lines of Thirteen by Remy Charlip and Jerry Joyner. The stories are all somewhat surreal, somewhat silly and, thought provoking.

Three stars

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Witch Eyes: 08/15/12

Link goes to PowellsWitch Eyes is Scott Tracey's debut paranormal fantasy. After having a shocking vision that foretells of his uncle's death, Braden leaves Montana for Belle Dam, Washington. There he is trust into a decades long feud between two magical factions and a mystery that goes back to the founding of the town.

Braden's magic is tied up in his eyes. He has "witch eyes" as he calls them. When he removes his dark glasses, he can see the world for what it really is, including memories of the past, ghosts, lingering magic and active spells. Like Cassel, in Holly Black's Curse Worker Series, the blow back is a bitch. For Braden, it means debilitating migraines.

Braden has to quickly make decisions and pick his allies. As he doesn't know who is on which side of the quarrel, he draws up a very unusual set of friends. In there, too, he begins a potentially volatile relationship with a man who may very well betray him.

Although Braden is gay, his sexual orientation isn't the big ISSUE of the book. Nor does he like to be called "boy." Nor is he effeminate in any way. He is, instead, a well rounded, interesting lead character.

My only minor complaints with the book are the slow beginning and the strange segues. To show Braden's magic in action, the book opens on a training scene. It would have been better to jump right to him being on the bus and fill in the details of the vision later. Next, there are the weird jumps between scenes that don't always have enough of a segue to explain how Braden got from scene A to scene B. These, though, are minor problems in an otherwise great read.

Recommended by Brantasia Books

Five stars

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Fairy Bad Day: 08/14/12

Link goes to PowellsFairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby follows Emma Jones, a second generation student of Burtonwood Academy, as she tries to come to terms with not being assigned the same type of magical creature as her recently deceased mother. Instead of dragons, as she has been training for all her life, she's been assigned fairies: small, annoying, but hardly dangerous, creatures.

Fairies like to hang out at the mall, wear the current fashion and eat Skittles. They also like to insult their attackers and make a nuisance of themselves. To Emma's eternal frustration, they are also damn near impossible to kill! How can she prove herself worth of dragon slaying if she can't even handle one pesky fairy?

There is something bigger at stake. It's tied to the history of the academy and the fighting of magical creatures. The book suffers a bit from a pacing problem, in that it takes longer than it should to introduce the main plot. The first third of the book is given to Emma's life in school and the mall rat habits of the fairies.

Four stars

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xxxHolic Volume 11: 08/13/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Volume 11 of xxxHolic by CLAMP was the point where I realized I could no longer ignore Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, the crossover manga series. So much of Watanuki's life depends on decisions made by Syaoran, Sakura and the others. Their actions are even starting to affect Yuko and her shop.

Things are also fundamentally changed with Dômeki and Himawari. Watanuki has always suspected they are opposing forces in his life but he had their effects on him reversed.

Volume 11 has two dominant themes: generation loss, in the sense of details being lost every time a copy is made, and dreams versus reality. Both of these themes are playing in Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle as well.

Although there are some huge plot twists, Volume 11 keeps with the short story format. Amongst all of this heart stopping drama, there is a typical early series ghost story. A young client comes in worried about strange voices in her home. She's given some bells to wear. She insists that they don't work. Back and forth she goes until a great Twilight Zone style reveal.

Five stars

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What Are You Reading: August 13, 2012: 08/12/12

What Are You Reading?My favorite book last week was Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett. It's the sixth Discworld book. I'm not reading the series in any particular order. I've sort of missed most of the witch books in previous passes through the series, so I'm picking those up as I find them.

I'm nearly done with The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I will probably finish it this week. It's a very visual novel with all the black and white (and the shocking red of the twins' hair) vs. the colors of the rest of the world. It would make a great film.

I've also started The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente. I won a copy of the ARC. I expect I'll have it finished later this week. It's so good! It reminds me of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (the fourth Oz book, and the one in which Dorothy first returns to Oz).

My goals for this week are to start Paige by Page by Laura Lee Gulledge and My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannet.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. Homicide In Hardcover by Kate Carlisle (library book)
  2. Freak Show by James St. James (library book)
  3. In the Memory of the Map: A Cartographic Memoir by Christopher Norment (review copy)
  4. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak (library book)
  5. The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time by David L. Ulin (library book)
  6. Maggie and the Pirate by Ezra Jack Keats (library book)
  7. The View from the Top by Hillary Frank (library book)
  8. Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (personal collection)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente (review copy)
  3. The Last Suppers (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson (personal collection)
  4. Legend of the Ghost Dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel (review copy)
  5. Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto
  6. Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  7. Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (personal collection)
  8. The Wedding Officer Anthony Capella (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. If You Give a Dog a Donut by Laura Joffe Numeroff (personal collection)
  2. Listen to my Trumpet! by Mo Willems (personal collection)
  3. Sheep in a Shop by Nancy E Shaw (personal collection)
  4. The Southernmost Cat by John Cech (personal collection)
  5. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (personal collection)
  6. Tell Me the Day Backwards by Albert Lamb (library book)
  7. Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle 04 by CLAMP (library book)



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Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE Volume 04: 08/12/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Volume 4 of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle by CLAMP is where the consequences of Sakura's missing memories and Syaouran's bargain with Yûko begin to take shape.

Sakura has her first memory restored where Syaouran was present. She remembers her conversation but not him. It's like the Garfield Minus Garfield strip. Call it Syaouran minus Syaouran. Sakura notices the glitch in her memory and that causes even more discomfort.

This volume also introduces the idea that the feathers are powerful and valuable things. They are also things that have gone across all time and space.

They arrive in a world with a legend of a princess who kidnapped children after the death of her parents. Now the children are being kidnapped again and the villagers suspect her ghost. At the heart of the legend is one of Sakura's feathers which as been waiting for her for decades.

Pay attention to Sakura's ability to see the ghost princess. This ability will become more important as the series progresses. It will also help draw connections between Sakura and a similar character in xxxHolic.

Fours stars

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The Tale of Despereaux: 08/11/12

Link goes to PowellsThe Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo won the 2004 Newbery Award. It's the story of an outcast mouse who ends up becoming a hero by extraordinary means.

Despereaux Tilling is the only surviving mouse from his parents' last litter. His ears are too big and he had his eyes open at birth, something that just isn't done. He continues doing things that shouldn't be done including talking to the princess and letting the king touch him. For his crimes against mousedom he's sentenced to the dark to be killed by the rats in the dungeon.

Despereaux, though, is only one of three characters who doesn't fit in where life has put him. His story is woven together with the other two: Migs and Rosuro. Migs is a girl sold into hard labor by her father, and beaten until she is deaf. Rosuro is a rat who wishes to see the sunlight.

While teaching about being true to ones self, author Dicamillo takes the time to make the narrative conventions (such as flashbacks) she's using obvious. Through her "dear reader" asides she teaches children how more complex stories are told, guiding them through the process.

Three stars

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If You Give a Dog a Donut: 08/10/12

 cover art (Numeroffk goes to Powells)If You Give a Dog a Donut by Laura Joffe Numeroff is seventh book in the series. Of all the sequels, this one feels the most like a reprise of the original, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

This time, though, it's a little bull dog and a donut. He's just as distractible and energetic as the little mouse. Except he's cuter. Felicia Bond's illustration style has matured and these drawings seem effortless. For me it, it's the artwork that makes it one of my favorites in the series.

For parents, the If You Give A series is variation on theme. You read one and it seems like you've read them all. Kids, though, find comfort in the same but slightly different.

Four stars

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Tell Me the Day Backwards: 08/09/12

Link goes to PowellsTell Me the Day Backwards by Albert Lamb is is about a young bear cub getting ready for bed. He and his mother decide to play a game, the telling the day backwards game.

Page by page the bear with help from mama goes through what he did from taking his bath, back through dinner, to a mishap with a fish and some bees and so forth.

As we had recently enjoyed a backwards chapter in the Wayside School Collection audio book, this picture book had a certain appeal. It lived up to expectations and included some nice surprises, like a lesson on hibernation.

Four stars

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Sheep in a Shop: 08/08/12

cover artSheep in a Shop by Nancy E Shaw was one of three Shaw sheep books I used to read to my son when he was a toddler. I later read them to my daughter but both have grown up a bit and moved on in their reading tastes. We gave the Shaw books to a friend who has younger children.

While going through the culls, I realized I'd never reviewed it, even though I did the other two. So in a fit of nostalgia, I am writing a little review. That's the nice thing about running a personal blog, being able to give into one's whims.

The silly group of sheep want to buy a present. First they have to decide what to buy. They try all sorts of silly rhyming things. Eventually they find the right gift but after going through all their pockets, they don't have enough! What can the sheep do? Barter of course! Wool for a present!

Shaw's rhymes are a similar level of difficulty and silliness to Dr. Seuss's Fox in Socks or Green Eggs and Ham. The words are all things a young child will understand but presented as enough of a tongue twister to make the adult reading the book mess up. A tongue tied adult is funny.

I'm going to miss reading these books. I hope they bring giggles to their newest owners.

Five stars

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Listen to my Trumpet!: 08/07/12

 cover art (Willemsk goes to Powells)Listen to my Trumpet! by Mo Willems is the seventeenth Elephant and Piggie book. Once again Piggie proves herself to be a wacky, wonderful and irreplaceable best friend.

Piggie has gotten a trumpet. She wants to show it to Gerald. She makes all sorts of horrendous, non-musical sounds come out of it. Gerald, friend that he is, listens politely. But his facial expressions show he's as puzzled by all this as the rest of us.

But Piggie has her reasons. All is soon explained. Meanwhile, though, readers and listeners can have fun mimicking Piggie's trumpet playing.

Five stars

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The Southernmost Cat: 08/06/12

Link goes to PowellsWhen I was interning, Tuesdays and Thursdays were my lunch out with Harriet and Ian right after my day ended. The day that Pirate King by Laurie R. King came out, happened to be one of those days. As I'd been waiting a year for the book's release, I took Harriet with me to the Bookshop on B Street. As I was getting a book, so could she, her choice.

Harriet has this wonderful, karma-driven knack for finding unusual and delightful books. Her choice, by the cover art, the title and by reading the first paragraph as The Southernmost Cat by John Cech.

The book opens with a cat fishing off the coast of the southernmost point of the southernmost state and having no luck at it. Now the poetically veiled reference to the Florida Keys should have been a good clue. The cat being proud of his six toes on every paw should have been another.

But it took me a while to finally realize what was going on.

And that's when I burst out laughing maniacally, confusing both children during story time. See, it's a feline retelling of Old Man and the Sea. To make things even sillier there are some overt references to Moby Dick.

The book closes with a portrait of the cat with his friends. There's lots of name dropping here as well as a chart showing which cat is drawn and named for which famous artist or author. Because of all these classic literature and art references, the book took a good half an hour to read for all the stopping and explaining I was doing.

Now I think it's time to re-read Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick.

Four stars

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What Are You Reading: August 06, 2012: 08/05/12

What Are You Reading?

I'm still on my trip. Most of my weekend reading has been re-listening to the Wayside School Collection by Louis Sachar

My favorite read last week was I Was Told There'd Be Cake (audio) by Sloane Crosley which I listened to in my car on my way to and from work. There's no runner up this week.

I'm still slowly chugging through Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett but I left it at home. I have about thirty pages left. I'll finish it when I get home. I will be listening to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern on the trip home.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. Between Shades of Gray (audio) by Ruta Sepetys (library book)
  2. I Thought You Were Dead: A Love Story by Pete Nelson (library book)
  3. I Was Told There'd Be Cake (audio) by Sloane Crosley (library book)
  4. The Shocking Pink Hat by Frances Crane (personal collection)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Homicide In Hardcover by Kate Carlisle (library book)
  3. In the Memory of the Map: A Cartographic Memoir by Christopher Norment (review copy)
  4. The Last Suppers (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson (personal collection)
  5. Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (personal collection)
  6. Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (personal collection)
  7. The Wedding Officer Anthony Capella (personal collection)
  8. Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (personal collection)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Hotel Under the Sand by Kage Baker (library book
  2. Last Night by Hyewon Yum (library book)
  3. Little Bo in France by Julie Andrews Edwards (library book)
  4. One Moon, Two Cats by Laura Godwin (library book)
  5. The Owl and the Pussycat illustrated by Anne Mortimer (library book)
  6. Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett (personal collection)
  7. Wow! Ocean! by Robert Neubecker (library book)



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One Moon, Two Cats: 08/05/12

Link goes to PowellsOne Moon, Two Cats by Laura Godwin is about two cats living very different lives but having similar adventures under the light of a full moon.

Thematically the book is akin to the Country Mouse, City Mouse parable. Here too there's a country cat and a city cat. But they don't meet and they don't comment on each other's lifestyle. Instead, the country and the city provide landscapes for their nocturnal explorations.

The one moon provides a point of similarity from which Godwin, paired with Yoko Tanaka's illustrations, begin to find other ways in which these two cats are similar.

The text has a nice, limited vocabulary, good for beginning readers. The eye catching, full page illustrations are good for group story time.

Four stars

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Last Night: 08/04/12

Read it onlineLast Night by Hyewon Yum is a wordless picture book about a girl sent to bed early after she refuses to eat her dinner. That night she and her toy bear have an adventure.

The child, lead by her now full-sized bear dance in the forest and then go exploring. All of this adventure is left to interpretation as it's told strictly through Yum's colorful linocut illustrations.

Though the child doesn't come home from her adventures, she wakes in her bed. Either it was a dream or her magical bear brought her home. Refreshed and rejuvenated, the girl makes up with her mother.
It's a nice celebration of a child's imagination and a gentle reminder to parents that sometimes that grouchy child just needs extra rest or time alone.

Four stars

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Little Bo in France: 08/03/12

Little Bo cover art (Link goes to Powells)Little Bo in France by Julie Andrews Edwards is the sequel to Little Bo. There is also Little Bo in Italy.

Bonnie Boadicea and her sailor friend, Billy Bates go to France to look for work. Billy wants to find a ship that hiring crew. He's down to his last few pounds and he's heard there might be work here.

While Billy is having adventures in Paris and later in the South of France, Bo is having her own parallel experiences. She has a run in with a dog, meets a long lost sibling, and is befriended by a sea faring ginger tom.

Billy and Bo's adventures through France give children a chance to learn about the geography of the country, it's language as well as life on board.

I've read all three books, but Little Bo in France is definitely my favorite.

Five stars

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The Hotel Under the Sand: 08/02/12

Read it onlineThe Hotel Under the Sand by Kage Baker opens with Emma surviving a terrible storm in which she loses everything and everyone in her life. She washes up on the Dunes and spends the first night surviving a sand storm. On her second day she meets a ghost and discovers a long buried hotel.

The narrative style brings to mind Roald Dahl. It begins with extraordinary but relatively unexplained circumstances and proceeds through a series of adventures. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie, though destitute, finds the last remaining Golden Ticket, and for the remainder of the book, takes the our of Willy Wonka's factory where each new room is more usual and dangerous than the last. Emma's adventures are contained within the walls of her hotel and are primarily focused on a treasure hunt left behind by the hotel's owner.

Along the way Emma brings together an unlikely set of friends, comprised of a ghost, a runaway, a pirate and a cook. These sorts of ensemble casts with a single child and her collected friends, was de rigueur when I was a child but have fallen out of practice in lieu of a pair (or sometimes trio) of adventuring siblings. Emma's solo status was a refreshing change.

The book would work well for a class read along. The relatively straightforward treasure hunting plot combined with a manageable vocabulary would make it fun book for teachers looking for something newer to read with students.

The Hotel Under the Sand was nominated for a 2009 CYBILS.

Four stars

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Witches Abroad: 08/01/12

Read it onlineWitches Abroad by Terry Pratchett opens with the fairy godmother Desiderata being visited by DEATH. Before she crosses over, she makes a wish, one DEATH can't refuse. Thus Magrat Garlick, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are summoned to Genua to prevent a young maid from marrying a prince.

To do that, they have to contend with the forces of narrative causality. People, Pratchett argues, don't shape the stories; they are shaped by them. The three witches have to go up against the power of the Cinderella story to prevent Princess Embrella from marrying a very unsavory prince.

Besides being a collection of fracture fairytales, Witches Abroad is also a travelogue across the disc. The witches travel through Uberwald (Transylvania), see the disc version of the running of the bulls, take a cruise and ride a riverboat.

The book stands alone and doesn't have to be read in order. For those reading the books in order, Witches Abroad is book twelve.

Four stars

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