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November 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



 

Outside In: 11/30/12

 cover art (Snyderk goes to Powells)Outside In by Maria V Snyder is is the sequel to the excellent Inside Out. As it draws so heavily on the original, I recommend reading the books in order.

Trella, though still a scrub is also part of the newly formed leadership of Inside. She has plenty of ideas for improving her world but she is constantly pulled in multiple directions. The committee wants to do one thing, her friends another. Just as she's trying to find the perfect balance between her obligations, there are accidents, sabotage and the Controllers, all threatening to end Inside's journey through space.

Be warned, that the book starts off a little slow. The slow pacing is there to reacquaint readers with Trella, Riley and Inside. It also serves to show how much time Trella is spending trying to placate the committee while the clock is ticking on important repairs and maintenance.

Once the stage is set, though, Outside In picks up the pace and doesn't let up until the last page. It is a satisfying mystery/thriller in a science fiction setting.

While Outside In finishes Trella's story with satisfaction, I would love to revisit Inside at different times in its journey. I'd love to see how things started. I also want to see how things play out when the journey is ended. I don't expect Maria V. Snyder to write either of these books, but it speaks to the strength of her world building and character building that I have come away both sated and wanting more.

Five stars

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The Lost Cities: A Drift House Voyage: 11/29/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Lost Cities: A Drift House Voyage by Dale Peck opens at the start of summer, 2002. It's been almost a year since the Oakenfeld siblings were driven up to Canada to escape the chaos of the World Trade Center destruction. Just as Susan, Charles and Murray are preparing for their trip back, Murray comes down with chicken pox, meaning he is left behind in Manhattan.

Susan and Charles, though, have been given a book that provides further clues to how Drift House and the Seas of Time work. Unfortunately, disaster strikes in the form of a temporal tsunami, thus separating Charles from the house, while Susan and Uncle Farley are once again adrift.

Parents who might have read (or seen the episode) Doctor Who and the War Games will understand straight away the plight both siblings are in. Living along the shores of the Seas of Time are lost cultures, including entire lost cities — temporal echoes of times long forgotten. Much like the crew of cursed Flying Dutchman, these people continue to go about their business, unwilling or unable to grasp that their time has come and gone.

I found the continuing exploration of time travel in a temporal maelstrom, fascinating. Charles this time gets to experience first hand some of what little Murray has gone through or will go through depending on where in time he is.

Five stars

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Bloody Jack: 11/26/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Bloody Jack by LA Meyer is the first of the Mary "Jack" Faber books. Mary, having been orphaned when her parents and sister die during an epidemic, is forced out on the streets. There she learns boys are being hired as ships boys on the burgeoning British fleet. She decides to don men's clothes and join up if they'll have her.

Jack takes a while to settle into a convincing voice. The opening chapters, especially, while still in London, have dialog akin to the Mary Poppins movie version of cockney.

For the most part, the book settles into a blow by blow of Jack learning her place on the HMS Dolphin. There are fascinating details of how she has to disguise herself to look more boyish and the problems she faces especially when having to take care of her day to day needs. Later on she's further confused by her first period.

Bloody Jack is an okay start to a series (but it could have been better). It was good enough to warrant putting the second book, Curse of the Blue Tattoo, on my wishlist. But I wasn't blown away by it as some reviewers were.

Three stars

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101 Things You Thought You Knew About the Titanic ... but Didn't!: 11/27/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)April 15, 2012 marked the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. 101 Things You Thought You Knew About the Titanic ... but Didn't! by Tim Maltin takes a new look at the events before, during and after and pulls apart the legend that has grown up around the sinking.

While 101 Things... doesn't take sides on whether or not the sinking should have been avoided. Instead, it takes a more neutral stance. If not the Titanic, then some other ship of similar size would have been the one to sink. As Maltin shows, as the ships got larger, their physical properties changed in then unpredictable ways. Without the benefit of computer modeling it was difficult, if impossible, to predict how the ships would hold up under a variety of different collisions.

Divided into different topics: the ship, omens, maiden voyage, among others, the ship goes through the 101 oft-repeated facts. After stating the fact the author says yes or no and then outlines the evidence to support that stance. Think of it as Myth Busters without the explosives.

Two things set this book apart from the other Titanic books I've read. I should note that I haven't read that many, so I am by no means an expert or even an enthusiast. That said, 101 Things makes the effort to put the Titanic in perspective by comparing the ship to contemporaries, rather than treating it as an aberration. Secondly, the book includes transcripts from the inquest that happened after the event.

These transcripts make sinking more real. Witness accounts, company accounts and discussions of standard seafaring practices and regulations all come together here.

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The Pirate's Daughter by Robert Girardi: 11/26/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Pirate's Daughter by Robert Girardi is a modern day pirate story — but not with Somali pirates, but pirates fashioning their lives on the piracy of the early days of the Caribbean. It's also about a bean counter at a crossroads in his life. In comes the mysterious Cricket Page who sweeps him off his feet.

Cricket Page offers Wilson Lander the chance to change his life. She convinces him to join her as a crewman on the Compound Interest, a high tech yacht. Of course the ship is a bounty all its own. And so, Wilson finds himself among pirates.

The book has its ups and downs — starting out slow to highlight the monotony of Wilsons, life I suppose. But it also makes for monotonous reading. The meeting with Cricket and their sailing trip is quirky and reminded me a bit of the relationship between Griffin and Sabine. Then, though, there's the pirate lair. On its introduction, its fantastical, hard to believe and something worth exploring. Unfortunately the book hits another lull.

So my one complaint with The Pirate's Daughter is it's pacing. There's not enough of an ebb and flow to the narrative. It's more of a couple traffic jams with completely empty freeways in between.

Three stars

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Twin Spica, Volume 07: 11/25/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Twin Spica Volume 07 by Kou Yaginuma gives Asumi and her friends a chance to bond, reveals the truth behind Marika's illness, and further tests bounds of the students' ingenuity and endurance.

Asumi and her friends vacation in her home town. It brings Marika face to face with memories she knows aren't hers but still have been compelling her throughout her life. When she goes in search of the long forgotten rocket fort at the end of the train tracks, Asumi and the others have to rescue her. That rescue forces her to open up about a huge secret she's been forced to keep to herself.

Each volume, though, has one major piece of training. This time the students are taken to an abandoned prison. There they are broken into three groups and each group is given a deadline by which they must break at least one member of their team out and reach a flag posted outside the prison.

The prison break reminds me most of the first test (the one with the dominoes). The school tests are either one of skill, endurance, or of observation. This one is an observation test, the type of test that Asumi and her team excel at.

Five stars

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The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen: 11/24/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen by Geraldine McCaughrean is the sequel to Stop That Train but it can read as a stand alone. Cissy and some of her Olive, Oklahoma classmates are sent to the care of their former school teacher during a diphtheria outbreak.

The cover art depicts a fairly early scene in the book, the arrival of the children to the paddle wheel. It washed ashore in a disused pasture where it has lain unclaimed. The acting troop is hiding out there while they try to figure out how to get one of their actors out of jail on an obscenity charge (for quoting Shakespeare).

Most of the book, though, have adventures along the Missouri river. The humor relies on an ensemble cast of unusual characters, outlandish but still somewhat plausible situations and a wild and oft-times dangerous setting.

The timing of the story is never completely pinned down but there are enough hints to place it with in the last decade of the 19th century. The two biggest clues are the off handed comment that the last time a judge had shown up was 1891 and the fact that Queen Victoria is still the reigning monarch of United Kingdom.

Although The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen starts slow and has a large enough cast to require its own dramatis personae broken up by section, it ends up being a very entertaining turn of the century romp. I am now planning to go back and read Stop That Train.

Recommended by The Manga Mania Cafe

Five stars

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Girl with a Pearl Earring: 11/23/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier is a historical novel that imagines the story behind the titular Vermeer painting. Griet is sent to the Vermeer household to work as a servant after her father is blinded in a kiln accident.

Griet is far better educated than a typical servant, she catches the attention of Vermeer, to the annoyance of the lady of the house. She quickly goes from basic servant to trusted assistant, and finally model.

Chevalier's writing style is understated and similar to Marilynne Robinson's Home. There's no major events, little drama, mostly just quiet observations on art and people.

Girl with a Pearl Earring is best suited for readers interested in 17th Century art or specifically Vermeer. Much of the emphasis is on the art of portraiture and oil painting. There is an abundance of technical details thrown into the story.

Four stars

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Penny Dreadful: 11/22/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder is about Penelope Grey and her parents who go through some major life changing events. As the book opens, Penelope is living in a huge house in the center of The City where she is home schooled and looked after more by the servants than her ever busy parents. While she knows she has a good life, it's not a fulfilling one.

A wish for something exciting to happen coincides with a huge change in her life. It begins with her father, heir to the family business, and source of the family's income, announcing that he's quit his job at the family business. Without his large paycheck and the mother's love of shopping, they quickly run out of money and the house ends up looking like something from Horders.

Another wish changes things again, sending them to the country, to an inherited house being shared by numerous eccentric families. The move to the house is where the book picks up. Penelope makes friends and blossoms.

Penny Dreadful highlights the problems families can have and the importance of open dialogs between parents and children. Penny's parents want to protect her as they try to cope with their problems. Unfortunately this just makes things more stressful for Penny and everyone else. Penny, too, with her new friends, might even have the solution to her parents' problems.

The life at the new house isn't all about the financial woes. There are new friends and new adventures, including a treasure hunt in a cave. I liked getting to explore with Penny as she adjusts to her new home.

I found the book a quick and compelling read.

Five stars

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Croak: 11/21/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Croak by Gina Damico follows a pretty standard plot — teenager in trouble is sent to a distant relative as punishment. There he or she has a life-altering experience with his or her amazing, not-at-all as described relative. In this case, the troubled teen is an angry girl named Lex who likes to sucker punch her classmates (among other things) and her relative is Uncle Mort, who as his name implies, is a grim reaper.

The book is roughly divided into thirds: Lex being bad ass and grumpy, the wacky town and the equally wacky job of being a grim reaper, and finally a murder mystery with THE BIG BAD. It's a by the numbers coming of age / paranormal. As a starter book for someone not familiar with this type of story, it's fine but it could and should have been better.

The problem is, bad ass young ladies as grim reapers has been done before and so much better. The bar is set high and Croak tries to limbo under the bar, rather than to jump to meet expectations. Reaper girls who come before Lex of note: Susan from The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett and Georgia (aka George) of the tv series Dead Like Me. Even the moral heavy Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler has a more interesting and believable reaper-like character in Lisabeth.

Read via NetGalley

Two stars

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Ida B.: 11/20/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan is about a girl who has to come to terms with some huge changes in her life. First and foremost, her mother has been diagnosed with cancer. Second, she can no longer be home schooled. Third, and perhaps, worst, for her, her parents have sold off a portion of their apple orchard.

Ida B. spends most of her free time in the orchard. She has names and personalities for each of the trees. Ida B. has her way of doing things. Being a precocious, only child, she has until now, gotten her way. Now, though, to her dismay, she has to adjust. It takes her nearly the full year at school to finally warm to her teacher.

I listened to the audio, a short three discs, performed by Lili Taylor. She just brought Ida B. to life. The things Ida B. goes through are just heart breaking and Taylor brings all that emotion to her performance.

Five stars

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Legend of the Ghost Dog: 11/19/12

 cover art (Lechermeierk goes to Powells)Set in Nome, Alaska both in the present and in the 1920s, Legend of the Ghost Dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel is inspired by the serum run to stop a diphtheria outbreak. The two real life heros were Balto and Gunner Kaasen. Here, though, the ghost dog isn't Balto (who is stuffed and on display in Chicago), but a littermate.

Most of the story is set in the present day, with Anita (Tee), her younger brother, Jack, their father and dog, Henry. While Tee is making friends with the only nearby kid, Quin, something in the forest is spooking Henry. Quin through his knowledge of local legends and history helps Tee solve a decades old mystery and save her life.

Too much effort, though, is spent on the flashbacks, leaving holes in character development for Tee and her family. We're mostly told what they are like without the benefit of seeing them in action.

Read via NetGalley

Three stars

Balto and Kaasen
Balto and Kaasen

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The Art of Choosing: 11/18/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar is about how people make choices and what influences them — culture, psychology, number of choices available, and so forth.

The book opens with Iygenar asking for advice on nail polish. She's blind and has to rely on the color sense of others and their ability to describe why one shade is better than another. Frankly, I figure, why bother with nail polish, but I'm not the author. It is in the abstract an interesting exploration of how one can make an informed decision based on very little or potentially biased information.

Iygenar's best known study on choice involves jam. The gist of the study comes down to this observation — fewer choices result in happier decision makers. This is a study I can relate too — although not with jam. I know my family's favorite flavors, and mine, and that's what I pick. But moving venues to a new restaurant — especially those where all the choices are written in itty-bitty script on a chalkboard and I have to stand in line and make a quick choice. I HATE that. My mind goes completely blank unless I'm very familiar with the place. I usually just end up not ordering!

Another study looked at culture on performance. Kids were told to make anagrams and they could either pick the pen color of their choice or they were told their mother had picked blue for them. On average, Asian children did better when told their mother had picked the pen for them, while Caucasian kids did better without the "added embarrassment" of parental involvement.

Looking at my own two kids, I'm fairly certain both would do better if told I had picked a pen. We're a pretty close knit family and they are in a Chinese language immersion program at school. I don't know if the Chinese culture is rubbing off on how they look at parental involvement, but I know my daughter (for certain) would be like the kid who told the teacher she wanted her mother to know she used the blue pen. My son, who is a little older, might go the other way but I suspect he'd see the pen choice as normal since so many of his friends parents would have done the same thing.

Three stars

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The Moffats: 11/17/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Moffats by Eleanor Estes is the first in the Moffat series. Recently widowed Mrs. Moffat and her children have moved across the street to a smaller house to save money. Unfortunately for them the owner has put the house up for sale because times are tough for everyone.

The book chronicles the year that Moffats live in the house before it is ultimately sold. Although time passes, the individual chapters are episodic.

the Moffats even in 1941 was historical fiction. The time described in the book is the turn of the last century. Horses out number automobiles. Electricity is relatively new. Scarlet fever requires isolation at home. Thus while the plot entertains, it also gives children a glimpse of what life was like a hundred or so years ago.

Five stars

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In the Memory of the Map: 11/16/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)In the Memory of the Map by Christopher Norment is two thirds memoir and one third essay on how the mind processes and remembers space.

The first chapter opens with Norment describing his home, it's large yard and the surrounding neighborhood. He lived in a farming area roughly halfway between the present day Applied Materials Santa Clara campus and the San Jose airport. He includes two maps: one he drew and one his sister drew. This chapter was riveting, and I hoped a preview of what the rest of the book would be like.

Sadly, I was mistaken. Once Norment was old enough to be free to explore beyond the confines of his childhood home, he took to hiking. Following trails requires a compass and of course a good map. So rather than being about how access to maps and learning to use maps affects a person's perceptions of the world, it's a long, love letter to all those hiking trips. In a word: YAWN.

Read via NetGalley

Two stars

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Born on a Blue Day: 11/15/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet is the autobiography of the man featured in the Brainman documentary. As he recounts his childhood and early adulthood he outlines how Asperger's syndrome and synesthesia affect his day to day life and perceptions of things.

Most of the book focuses on his childhood, growing up in council homes with an ever growing family. Although one of his brothers also has Asperger's, that fact isn't mentioned until the end of the book. He talks instead about the loneliness at school, the teachers who didn't understand him and the bullying he faced.

Adulthood, though, offered opportunities. A trip to Lithuania to teach English helped him realize his talent for languages. Later in life he was challenged to learn Icelandic in a week — which he managed.

The latter third of the book focuses on the Brainman documentary as well as his work towards memorizing and reciting π to 22,500 digits (give or take). As he recounts his feats, he includes tangents about how he sees numbers as colored landscapes.

While I don't have synesthesia, the trick of imagining numbers (or words) as shapes and colors is a useful mnemonic — something I use while cataloging as copy cataloging involves the transcription of lots of different numbers.

I happened to listen to the audio, performed by Simon Vance — an English actor reading an English man's memoir. Unfortunately, I suspect that the edition I was listening to had been put through the American filter. It sounds wrong to hear an English man say van Gogh as "Van-Go" instead of "Van-Goff." It is just as disconcerting to hear the same man say "elevator" instead of "lift."

Four stars

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Swish: 11/14/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Swish by Joel Derfner is a memoir of growing up, being gay and trying to figure out what all that means at a deeply personal level.

Although the subtitle, My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever, implies fluff — it's not. Sure, there are moments of humor and Derfner's voice comes through as genuine throughout, but it's certainly not fluff. In terms of tone, it reminds me most of Drew Carey's memoir, Dirty Jokes and Beer.

The second chapter, On Casual Sex, isn't for the Puritan minded reader. It's frank description of numerous sexual encounters. It's a fascinating, depressing, and sometimes mind-boggling chapter. All the chapters take their stated subject with a similar, in depth, obsessed focus.

Mostly though, Swish, asks the reader to reconsider every last gender and sexual orientation stereotype. Reading through the different chapters is like watching Derfner trying each stereotypically gay thing and seeing if it will make him happy.

So did Derfner convince me that he's the gayest person ever? No. Did I enjoy reading the book? Mostly. Will I remember the book? Yes. Do I recommend the book? Yes.

Four stars

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Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat: 11/13/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)My very first library memory involves Dr. Seuss. It's not the typical childhood memory of checking out Dr. Seuss picture books. This was in the days before our branch library opened the San Diego library ran a the book room with a small selection of books near a local grociery store. It was also a place where we could pick up books placed on hold. So we were there to check out The Lorax (I had a thing about the way the trees were drawn) — but that's not the point of the story.

Behind me was standing a man a little older than my grandfather. He had reddish blond hair and a little bit of a beard. And he seemed to be shyly looking at my Dr. Seuss book.

At this point my mother whispers a question. Did I know who that man was. I thought she was asking me if he was somehow a friend of mine (or more likely, one of my grandmother's horde of friends. She always seemed to know at least one person where ever she went). I shook my head. She whispered the answer, "That's Dr. Seuss. But his real name is Mr. Geisel."

If I had known my swear words back then, the very next thought would have been: "the f—?" Instead, being about two at the time, I earnestly disagreed in my best inside voice. He couldn't possibly be Dr. Seuss because EVERY ONE KNEW the books were written by the Cat in the Hat. (Those I Can Read books often have the Cat in the Hat in a circle on them). And what did Mr. Geisel say? He agreed with me. See!? Of course the books were written by the Cat in the Hat!

And that, Dear Reader, brings me to today's review: Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat by Caroline W. Smith. Smith's biography looks at Geisel's life through his artwork — especially those of his midnight paintings.

Geisel was one of those artists who was driven to create. From reading this book, I don't think he could have turned off the desire to draw, paint, write or sculpt if he had wanted to. His artwork can be divided into distinct types (which Smith gives very Seussian names to): youth, commercial art for adults, commercial art for children, and art for himself.

Despite the different venues, the Seussian style is there. Until the start of the PBS cartoon and the various Seuss websites / games, no one by Ted Geisel created created art in that style. While the post-Geisel Seuss-style artwork has similar curves and overall whimsy, it lacks Geisel's keen eye for color and that spark. Put a real Seuss against an homage and you'll see the difference immediately.

If you want to see vast wonderful, beautifully reproduced examples of Geisel's artwork and learn how his midnight paintings influenced his professional artwork and sometimes even inspired children's books, The Cat Behind the Hat is a must read. If you're a diehard fan of Dr. Seuss, it's a must purchase.

Five stars

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Stitches: 11/12/12

 cover art (Lechermeierk goes to Powells)David Small is a children's book illustrator. His memoir, Stitches, is presented as a graphic novel. It covers his traumatic childhood, surgery and recovery.

David introduces his family at the dinner table, explaining their silent way of communicating with each other. For his mother, it was slamming the cabinets and drawers in the kitchen. For his brother, it was beating the drums. For David, it was getting sick.

With showing, rather than telling, Small goes back in time to his infancy, a time when he had respiratory problems. His radiologist father gave young David numerous treatments, as I guess was one of the acceptable treatments of the time.

Later, of course, he had to have an operation for a growth in his neck. That by itself would be traumatic enough, except that he lived in a family who always bickered about money and would rather spent the money they had on new cars, furniture and jewelry. Much of that spending by the father was to placate the increasingly unhappy mother.

David draws his mother perpetually angry. She is always scowling down her hawklike nose. If his mother is difficult, his grandmother is worse. But all of this comes out first through the artwork and the mostly silent, passive aggressiveness of the family dynamics. Small winds up the tension from the very first page and does't let any of it go until nearly the end, making for a compelling, sometimes horrifying, read.

The book ends with an explanation of the events of the author's life and a summary of what happened after what's depicted in the book.

Five stars

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Swahili for the Broken-Hearted: 11/11/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Swahili for the Broken-Hearted by Peter Moore was born out of his break-up with his girl friend and traveling companion. After spending months with friends in South Africa, basically living on his friends' couch, watching soap operas, he decides it's time to head home. Rather than head home by hopping on a plane bound for Australia, he decides to travel overland along the eastern coast of Africa for Cairo.

Although Moore's book is about traveling through Africa, don't confuse it for a travel guide. It's not; it's a memoir about a white Australian bloke traveling through areas of Africa that tourists wouldn't normally go to — while en route to the very places that tourists do flock to: Victoria Falls, the monastery in Ethiopia, the pyramids of Giza.

Since it's not a travel guide, Moore relates his adventures as they happen, for better and worse. He tells about the bribes he paid, the bribes he refused to pay, getting into fights over bus windows, numerous beers drunk, and visas approved and visas denied. It's not a complete lark, though. Moore describes hiding in a coffin shop (and inside a coffin) to escape a riot and gunfire.

With all the ups and downs, though, Moore manages to paint a picture of life in eastern Africa taken one individual at a time. He does it with self deprecation and humor.

Four stars

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Dreaming in Hindi: 11/10/12

 cover art (Lechermeierk goes to Powells)Both of my children are in a dual immersion Mandarin program at their school. I'm not sure if that is what inspired me to read Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russell Rich but I will forever link the two as I read most of the book while waiting to pick up my youngest from school.

The author decided to take a year to learn Hindi as an adult exchange student. She had lost her job and had been diagnosed with cancer. So she thought a complete change is what she needed.

The book covers her time in India, her progress with learning the language, what was happening in the world at the time and some broader thoughts on language, culture and the like. My favorite parts were her insights into learning the language as well as the more academic discussions of language learning.

The weakest part for me was her lengthy passages about being abroad during and after the September 11th, 2001 attacks. Although this was part of her experience, thematically it didn't fit with anything else in the book.

Three stars

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Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend: 11/09/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)I can't imagine a more perfect author for Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend than Susan Orlean. I knew from the tenacity and eye for detail she showed with The Orchid Thief that this one would be as much of a page turner.

Rin Tin Tin was one of a litter of puppies rescued in France during World War I. He was brought back to the United States and was quickly elevated into a star of the silver screen. Orlean shows how the atmosphere was right for a real life dog to transcend into something of myth.

Of course dogs only live so long, and Rin Tin Tin's stardom and legend surpassed the original dog's lifespan. Orlean goes through the subsequent heirs to the role as well as the most recent attempts to revive the franchise.

Mixed in with the history of the various Rin Tin Tins, is the added information you'll need to fully appreciate the story — including a fascination timeline of dog training in the United States.

My own familiarity is best with the Rin Tin Tin television series that my mother grew up watching. I have one of the books spawned by the series, Rin Tin Tin's Rinty by Julie Campbell. For the original silent era, my first introduction to Rin Tin Tin was through the parody, Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976). As Orlean points out, most of the silent Rin Tin Tin films have been lost (as were so many of the films from that era).

Four stars

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Alameda County Breeding Bird Atlas: 11/08/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Ohlone Audubon Society has put together census books of San Francisco Bay Area birds by county.As I live in Alameda County, the Alameda County Breeding Bird Atlas by Bob Richmond caught my eye at the library.

The avian census was run in the 1990s. That was a time when the Bay Area was first trying to reclaim environments in earnest (like the salt flats and marshes near the bay). DDT had only recently been banned and raptor populations were still suffering from egg shell weakening.

Due to funding issues and the manpower needed to process the census data, the book wasn't produced until the late 2000s for publishing in 2011.

While this is a relatively new book in terms of date of release, the data contained within doesn't always match current conditions. Take for instance the Wild Turkey — as of the census, sightings of that bird were unconfirmed. Now, they are a common, well established species up and down the mountain ranges that separate western Alameda county from the inland areas and Contra Costa County.

For specific numbers and locations of birds, the book isn't exactly accurate. When combined, though, with modern sighting data, it does help the local birder better understand the birds that might be visiting one's backyard.

Three stars

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The Googlization of Everything: 11/07/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Googlization of Everything by Siva Vaidhyanathan looks at Google history and it's growing reach of services across the internet. The thesis is that Google is striving to control the world's access to the internet to harvest as much marketable data as possible.

Right off the bat, though, Vaidhyanathan approaches the different pieces of Google's services with a clear anti-Google agenda. With such negativity regardless of the evidence presented, it's hard to take any of his observations seriously.

The book first outlines the different services Google offers and how it uses the data it collects both through its robots and through user interaction. These observations, though, are done as an outsider — as a user of Google — without an effort to get Google to respond to perceived abuses. I suppose I am spoiled by the Google articles written by Barbara Quint.

The most interesting section is the examination of search usage by languages spoken. Google's saturation as a search index is highest in multi-lingual countries and amongst multi-language speakers. Google's flexibility of search in multiple and simultaneous languages makes it an invaluable tool.

The take away messages of The Googlization of Everything is that Google isn't as all present as the title implies. It does have its adopters — namely in multi-lingual countries like India, but it's not the world dominant behemoth you might think.

Two stars

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The Lowdown on Denim: 11/06/12

 cover art (Lechermeierk goes to Powells)The Lowdown on Denim by Tanya Lloyd Ky is by the same author as the 50 Questions series of comic book style nonfiction books for upper elementary students. This book covers the history of denim and the rise in popularity of blue jeans in the United States and then around the world. Ironically, I don't own a single pair of jeans!

Blue jeans were invented by Levi Strauss to give the gold miners in California something sturdy to wear. It's one of those inescapable facts when living in the Bay Area. So coming to this book as a Californian familiar with the history of denim and blue jeans, I was curious to see what was included in the book.

After the initial story of Levi Strauss and the ways in which denim styles changed in response to the needs of different industries, the book settles into a comparison of different brands. The brand centric latter half was less interesting than the early history.

On the author's blog, she has a post about the cover art being changed in the United States. Apparently the original cover showed the jeans down around the feet of a pair of hairy legs. The U.S. version, though, shows the jeans pulled up and torn and tattered as was the fashion when I was in high school.

Read via NetGalley

Three stars

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Al Capone Shines My Shoes: 11/05/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko is the sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts. In the first book, Moose got a favor from Al Capone and now he's received a message: "Your turn."

While Natalie is living in her special school in San Francisco, Moose and his family continue to live and work on Alcatraz Island. Now that Moose is no longer the new guy, he has to find his place among the other children.

In the first book the plot was focused Moose and his relationship with his older sister, Natalie. Alcatraz, except for Al Capone intervening at the end, was secondary to the plot. With her (for the most part) out of the picture, strife amongst the children and personal dramas in each of the families is introduced instead. Instead of being able to build one, credible and compelling story about another of the Alcatraz families, the book is flooded with numerous competing dramas. It's too much to take in.

To further complicate things, Choldenko tosses in an escape attempt that both puts the children in danger and gives them a chance to save the day while the parents are too distracted to notice. While there were some thrilling scenes in this climax, the Scooby Doo wrap up had me shaking my head in disbelief.

Three stars

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What Are You Reading: November 05, 2012: 11/04/12

What Are You Reading?Ten of the fourteen books I read this week were for the CYBILS. I've completed 34 books out of the 80 or so I have to read.

My favorite non-CYBILS read was Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson. A former Broadway actress moves into a family run hotel and takes fifteen year old Scarlett, whom she nicknames O'Hara, under her wing. Together they help older brother Spencer with a small production of Hamlet.

As I mentioned for many weeks in a row, I still want to finish How to Dine on Killer Wine. I'm also feeling ready to push towards the end of 1Q84, a novel I've been reading since January! Once I'm finished with 1Q84, I will start on Vanity Fair as my chunskter of choice.

In more pedestrian reading, I plan to finish Me, Myself and Why? by MaryJanice Davidson. When I do, I will get started on Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell.

What about you?

Finished:

  1. Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise Part 1 by Gene Luen Yang (CYBILS)
  2. Baby's in Black by Arne Bellstorf (CYBILS)
  3. Even Monsters Need Haircuts by Matthew McElligott (library book)
  4. Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount White (library book)
  5. Frostbite by Richelle Mead (CYBILS)
  6. Ghouls Gone Wild by Victoria Laurie (library book)
  7. Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre (CYBILS)
  8. The Golden Twine by Jo Rioux (CYBILS)
  9. Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson (CYBILS)
  10. Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (CYBILS)
  11. Lily Renee, Escape Artist by Trina Robbins (CYBILS)
  12. Rooftop Cat by Frank Le Gall (CYBILS)
  13. Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson (library book)
  14. Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (library book)

Currently Reading:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (personal collection)
  2. Airborn (audio) by Kenneth Oppel (library book)
  3. Freddy Goes to Florida by Walter R. Brooks (personal collection)
  4. How to Dine on Killer Wine by Penny Warner (personal collection)
  5. The Main Corpse (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson (personal collection)
  6. Me, Myself and Why? by MaryJanice Davidson
  7. The Mummy Case (audio) by Elizabeth Peters (library book)
  8. The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones (personal collection)
  9. Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley (review copy)

Reviews Posted:

  1. The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
  2. Chi's Sweet Home 01 by Kanata Konami
  3. I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal
  4. The Mermaid's Mirror by LK Madigan
  5. The School for Cats by Esther Averill
  6. Square Cat by Elizabeth Schoonmaker
  7. Where Is Tippy Toes? by Betsy Lewin



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The Mermaid's Mirror: 11/04/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Mermaid's Mirror by LK Madigan blends surfing with the legend of the selkie. Lena has the sea in her blood and for her sixteenth birthday she desperately wants to learn how to surf. Her father, refuses, having nearly drowned while surfing many years ago. Meanwhile, a mermaid watches from off shore.

A series of events that start with sleep walking, help Lena unravel some secrets of her past. She already knows her current mother is actually her step mother but they are so close, she has been content to call her Mom. Now though, something is out of whack in Lena's life. Part of it is the natural teenage rebellion. But there is something more pulling Lena away from her family.

Ultimately Lena learns the truth and has to make a decision. She can leave the family she's known all her life behind and take on a completely new life, or she stay with them with full knowledge of who and what she is.

Lena lives in Crescent Cove, near Magics. For anyone familiar with the Bay Area, it's a fictionalization of Half Moon Bay and Mavericks. For me, the fictionalization a distraction and detraction from an otherwise delightful retelling of the selkie tales. It seemed that the town's location and geography changed repeatedly through the book to fit the plot. There was nothing about The Mermaid's Mirror that couldn't have worked if set in Half Moon Bay and points nearby.

Four stars

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The Alchemyst: 11/03/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)The Alchemyst by Michael Scott has the usual mixture of contemporary tween and YA fantasy: a pair of siblings, historical figures, mythology, monsters and magic. Unfortunately this recipe fell flat for me.

The book opens with Josh and Sophie on summer vacation at work in cool jobs in San Francisco. Josh works at a book store and Sophie works at an exotic tea shop. All that comes crashing down with a golem attacks the book store! Soon Josh learns that his kindly bosh is actually the immortal alchemist Nicholas Flamel. Knowing this has put the teens in danger, and they are now being sought out by the EVIL Dr. John Dee.

Their adventures take them to Mt. Tamalpais, where I kept hoping they'd run into some characters from Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series because they would have livened things up.

Nick is dishwater dull for a magical figure from history — so dull in fact that I started to call him Nick Flannel and imagining a Dudley Doright voice for him.

Dr. John Dee is no better. Every time he's introduced we are reminded that he is DOCTOR JOHN DEE. Lest we forget between page turns. He, the Snidely Wiplash baddie of the book, gets lots of mustache twirling evilness. He is as evil as Nick is good. Yawn.

Boy, girl, sibling duos are all the rage right now. I suppose it's a way to get boys and girls to read the same book (because heaven forbid that a girl read a book with a boy protagonist or vice versa). Josh and Sophie though bicker more than the usual pairs and by chapter two were already on my nerves.

The setting had me hopeful at first: San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. Alchemy afoot in the City? Cool! Except not. It didn't feel like San Francisco. Nor did Mt. Tam or any of the places in between.

But the final blow for me was the vampires and werewolves. By then there was just too much going on and none of it was gelling well. Had the book stuck with just alchemy and maybe some related magic or the myths it would have been a tolerable book.

One star.

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Square Cat: 11/02/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Square Cat by Elizabeth Schoonmaker is about Eula, a square cat, who has lost her purr. She has two dear friends, Patsy and Maude, who will do anything they can to cheer her up.

First Schoonmaker outlines all the difficulties Eula has at being a square cat. The biggest one is that she can't get up when she falls over. Patsy and Maude try a number of fashion changes. While Eula might not like them, Harriet and I thought she looked smashing.

But true friends keep trying and ultimately they hit on the perfect (or maybe that's purrfect) solution. Thinking of my own pair of cats, I can't think of a better one. Let's just say it involves boxes.

With the ample white space, simple vocabulary and bright illustrations, Square Cat would be a great book for a group story time. It certainly is an oft-requested book from my daughter.

Recommended by Brimful Curiosities.

Five stars

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Where Is Tippy Toes?: 11/01/12

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)Where Is Tippy Toes? by Betsy Lewin is a lift the flap type book about a ginger cat who likes to hide. Tippy's child owner knows all the cat's hiding places, even if no one else does.

Children are asked to guess where Tippy is hiding as they turn the pages. There's usually a small clue peeking out from the flap (an ear, a tail, maybe the cat's eyes). A quick flip and Tippy's hiding spot is revealed.

There's a sentimental ending for any child growing up with a beloved cat in the family. My daughter especially loves the end and has been campaigning to allow either of our cats to share her bed like Tippy Toes does.

Four stars

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