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January 2013

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



Hot Rod Hamster! 01/31/13

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Hot Rod Hamster! by Cynthia Lord was mentioned on the 100 Scope Notes blog. It's about a hamster who goes to the junkyard to build his own hot rod for an upcoming race.

For each part of the car, the hamster is give some choices. Sometimes the book stops to ask the reader, "which would you chose?" and other times the selection is left the hamster.

That interactivity is a good start but it could have been taken further. Regardless of what choice the reader makes, the hamster makes his own choice too. It would have been nice if there was a mix and match aspect to the book to acknowledge the reader's choices.

This book will delight children who like cars and specifically like racing cars. When I was the target age of the this book I spent many an afternoon either at antique car museums, watching my father rebuild one of his antique cars, or going to antique car shows. That, though, is a very different culture from hot rodding.

Three stars

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I Want My Hat Back 01/30/13

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Although I'd heard of I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, it took the numerous parodies that were popping up across the internet to get me to read it. The one that finally did it was The Doctor Wants His Fez Back.

I Want My Hat Back is, in itself a parody of the children's book which takes a character to meet all the friends in the quest for something. In this case, the Bear is looking for his hat. He interviews each character in the book until he finds his hat.

How he gets his hat back, though, is up to interpretation. The youngest readers might not get how he does it. The most observant ones, though, will get the joke and see it coming. It's funny either way.

The Bear and his forest companions make a cameo appearance in Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett (review coming).

Five stars

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Pirate vs. Pirate 01/29/13

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When my husband needed a break from telling his own pirate bedtime story, I read Pirate vs. Pirate by Mary Quattlebaum to the kids.

Bad Bart is the worst of the Atlantic pirates and Mean Mo monopolizes the Pacific. Having run out of others to terrorize, both pirates set out to meet and beat the other. What they don't realize is that they are evenly matched in all their skills. Days and days (maybe even months) of competitions prove this beyond a doubt that they are equally bad and mean and filthy rich pirates.

Most of the book is taken up with their lengthy competitions. The competitions are as silly and overdone as Shark vs Train by Chris Barton. The humor also reminded of the old Monkey Island games (which my children have recently started playing).

It's good piratey fun. I'd recommend it for story time the next time Talk Like a Pirate day rolls around (September 19).

Four stars

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The Maze of Bones: 01/28/13

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The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan is the first of the original 39 Clues series. There are eleven books in total, as well as three spin off series: Cahills vs. Vespers, Rapid Fire, and the Cahill Files.

The book opens with Amy and Dan Cahill attending the reading of the will of the last Cahill matriarch, Grace. Although they'd been in her care, she had mostly left the caregiving to an au pair. The funeral gives them two options: take one million dollars each or forfeit the money and compete in a worldwide treasure hunt ("The 39 clues") to find the secret to the Cahill power. The siblings, as well as many other distance relatives, decide to vie for the treasure hunt.

Back when this series was brand spanking new, the book was part of a larger multi-media thing run by Scholastic which included a social media website treasure hunt (with prizes) and a trading card game. I don't know if any of that jazz is still going, nor do I particularly care. The book (or audio book, in this case) stands alone just fine.

There's an E/I (educational and informational) aspect to each of these 39 Clues books. In this one, the Cahill kids learn about Benjamin Franklin and his time in France. They also learn about the Paris catacombs (hence the title). In this regard, the book reads like a combination of the Magic Tree House series and a Dan Brown thriller.

Four stars

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Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site: 01/27/13

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Tom Lichtenheld's illustrations drew me to Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker. The book is a rhyming story about the process of going to bed, similar in spirit to The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton or Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (and its many parodies).

Here, though, the creatures going to bed are construction equipment. It would be a good book to read in conjunction with Job Site by Nathan Clement and Hard Hat Area by Susan L. Roth.

As a stand-alone story about bedtime, it's lacking something. The rhymes are soothing and the illustrations are adorable but seeing construction equipment put themselves to bed is also odd. My daughter even commented on how strange it was that the trucks were the ones going to bed, rather than the people driving them. The book, perhaps, would work better as a bedtime story for younger children (ages 2-3), and less as a read alone book for older children.

Three stars

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The Last Train: 01/26/13

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The Last Train by Gordon M Titcomb is a folk song that recounts the last years of passenger trains as a major source of transportation in the United States. Wendell Minor's paintings turn the song into a children's picture book.

The narrator tells about his father who used to sell tickets at the now boarded up and dilapidated train station. It goes through the memories of hearing and seeing the the trains roll through town and imaging the places they were headed to and from.

As a child I listened to trains rumble through Rose Canyon below my grandparents' home. In the day time I would rush out to watch them — so many times that my grandmother kept a foot stool out there so I could see over her fence. So I get the nostalgia — but I'm not sure how well that plays with children with the context of a parent or grandparent explaining the book.

Now as a parent, I'm happy to say my kids are growing up in an area where trains are still an every day thing. They don't go as many places as they used to but we can still go down to our little station (un-manned) and catch a train or just go train watching. We can hear them blow their horns at night.

Rose Canyon Pano ©2012 Sarah Sammis

Four stars

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A Bit Lost (Little Owl Lost): 01/25/13

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A Bit Lost, published as Little Owl Lost in the United States, by Chris Haughton is about a little owl who falls out of his nest and needs help finding his way back. He finds help in the form of a squirrel, who in turn recruits other forest floor animals. Together they get the little owl sorted.

Plot wise, A Bit Lost, brings to mind Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. There's a similar, humorous repetitiveness as the owl goes from animal to animal looking for a way home.

Artistically, Haughton's custom type face (based on his own hand lettering) and the bold use of shape and color, is like the hyperactive version cousin of I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (review coming).

Five stars

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Crow Boy: 01/24/13

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Crow Boy by Taro Yashima is about a boy struggling his way through school. It was a 1956 Caldecott Honor book.

Chibi (small boy) has a hard time in school. He's overly shy. He keeps to himself. He never seems to adjust. When the graduation talent show rolls around, all the students are surprised to see Chibi participating.

The talent show is his chance to shine. And it's the explanation of the book's title. The unnamed narrator, a fellow student, changes his opinion of Chibi as he sees him highlight his talent — talking to crows.

Four stars

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 20: 01/23/12

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 20 by Hiromu Arakawa builds on the alliances begun in the previous one. Ed with help from the chimeras focuses on his recovery. Meanwhile Al, Mei and Scar come up with plans to fight back based on what they now know.

The lone wolf, though, is Greed in Lin's body. There's an internal fight between two very strong personalities in one body. Normally I dislike the shared body plot but Greed and Lin are both interesting enough to make the plot work. Most interestingly, Lin is able to warn Ed about the "Day of Reckoning".

Al's group heads to Leor. He hooks up with Rose as well as another familiar face. Here's another point in the story where the manga (and thus Brotherhood) is a significant departure from the tangent taken by the first anime series. Rose in that version ended up a very broken character. Here, though, she's a strong, confident and happy leader. She has risen to the occasion and has helped keep Leor together after all the riots and military run mayhem.

Four stars

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Flu: 01/22/13

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Flu by Wayne Simmons opens with a quarantine team going to a council flat. Their goal is to seal in the newest of the flu victims before they can spread the infection further. This outbreak makes the outbreak after WWI and the recent swine/avian flu thing look like picnics.

They find what they expect — a recently deceased person — but then things go horribly wrong. The body re-animates. The flu has taken on a new form, one that kills and then creates a zombie from the corpse. Zombie bites can bring on flu symptoms.

The remainder of the book is divided among different sets of survivors as they try to avoid the zombies, stay well and find food. It's a fairly typical post-BIG EVENT survivalist novel at this point. The only difference is its setting, Belfast.

The book ends with a brief hint of what caused this outbreak. More information about its origins would have sealed the deal for me. There is also hint of things to come — which presumably are addressed in further detail in the sequel, Fever (2012).

Three stars

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The House in the Night: 01/21/13

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The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson has a stunning and inviting cover, a black house outlined in white and lit by a few yellow lights. The book retells and expands upon the nursery rhyme "There is a Key to the Kingdom."

The book uses the pattern of the rhyme to carry the reader through the story as a child is put to bed. There is a light in the room, a bed in the light, a book on the bed and so forth. Each piece of light is highlighted in yellow with the remainder of the illustration being a black and white line drawing.

Emergent readers should be able to predict what comes next especially as the story begins repeat in the objects in reverse order. The richly detailed illustrations can also be used with children to name and count objects.

Four stars

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Black Juice: 01/20/13

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Black Juice by Margo Lanagan is a collection of ten short stories with a science fiction or fantasy bent. The book is oddly, as the SF Site Review notes, classified as juvenile fiction. While many of the main characters are young, it doesn't read as being specifically written for teens. As the stories are open for interpretation, I can, though, see them being used in a junior or senior high school English course.

The first story — "Singing My Sister Down" — was the stand out for me. A family goes to watch their daughter sink into the hot tar as punishment for a crime that is only vaguely described. It reminds me in terms of language and tone to Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery."

The other stories to me seemed unnecessarily vague. In afterword, Lanagan explains the inspiration for each story. Frankly, I wish I had read that first. It would have made understanding and appreciating the stories easier.

Take for example, "Pippit." It's a story of slow talking giants who miss their small human friend, whom they see as a Messiah. They want to escape to go find him. To me, the story read like the creatures were whales, perhaps. Turns out they're elephants.

To be honest, I got tired of trying to wrap my head around these stories. I didn't make it through the entire collection. Other reviewers, though, have had much better success and enjoyment from reading Black Juice.

Three stars

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Little Owl's Night: 01/19/13

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Little Owl's Night by Divya Srinivasan is is about a young owl who loves to watch the other nocturnal creatures. When it's nearly dawn, and therefore bedtime, he wonders about the day time creatures.

As Little Owl is tucked in for bedtime, his mother explains what day time is like. She describes it in poetic terms. Along with her gentle words are adorable illustrations formed from basic geometric shapes and soothing colors.

It's a good book for children looking for a new bedtime story or those who are fans of owls.

Four stars

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Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent: 01/18/13

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Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent is by Lauren Child, an author best known for her two series: Charlie and Lola, and Clarice Bean. Hubert is the son of wealthy, bored parents who decide what they need to enrich their lives is a child. It sounds shallow but Hubert's parents do genuinely want to be parents.

There's just one problem — their enormous mansion. For instance, it takes too long to go from the kitchen to bed. SO each and every night, Hubert drinks cold hot chocolate even though it's made hot for him.

Then there's the expense of keeping such a house. Obviously Hubert and his parents have to make some changes. What they decide is the true charm of this book — showing that family is more important than all the money in the world.

Of course it also has Lauren Child's recognizably charming illustrations.

Five stars

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Tuesdays at the Castle: 01/17/13

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Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George is the start of her tween fantasy series, Castle Glower. Princess Celie spends her time mapping the castle. It's a sentient building that changes itself to fit both its mood and the needs of its residents every Tuesday.

That is until the King, Queen and eldest son go missing. Though no bodies are found, they are declared dead, and Celie's middle brother is put on the throne by a council of visiting dignitaries. This by itself is highly unusual as Celie and her siblings protest. As they are under age their protests go unheeded. Likewise, as children, they lack the self confidence to stand up for themselves (at first).

Jessica Day George has created a fascinating fantasy world where the monarchy is not a divine right. Rather, it is at the whim of the castle. To be a good monarch, one must be in tune with the castle.

Although this is a short novel aimed at tweens, there's enough magic, characterization, world building and political intrigue to keep an adult reader enchanted.

Five stars

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1Q84: 01/16/13

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Big books need savoring. I usually have one door stop book going, along with the shorter books I tear through in a couple of days. Normally a chunkster will take me three or four months. Sometimes — like Ulyssses, it will take me six months. In the case of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, I needed fifty weeks.

1Q84 was originally published as three books over the course of 2010 - 2011. The first imported translation has all three books in one volume — and that's the one I read. The books, though, are still labeled. Books one and two contain the bulk of the novel's pages, with the final book working like an extended coda.

The first two books are told as parallel stories: that of Aomame, a fitness instructor and part-time hit woman, and Tengo, an editor and part-time mathematics cram tutor. Both have their lives fundamentally changed after making unusual, split-decisions. Aomame having an appointment to keep, leaves her taxi on the crowded overhead freeway to take the emergency stairs in hopes of catching a subway train. After leaving the stairway she beings to notice changes in the world. Tengo, meanwhile, agrees to ghostwrite (re-write) the novella of a teenage girl for entry into a literary competition. The novella ends up winning the prize, thus lifting the book into best seller status and the girl into unexpected fame.

Now while there is a parallel earth — coined 1Q84 by Aomame — most of the novel is more personal and character oriented. Tengo has issues to work out with his father. He also has the novel he's working on. Aomame wants to right the wrongs brought again women by men. She's found her calling, by taking work from the Dowager.

But that parallel world is there, lurking under the surface. It's most obvious sign comes in the form of a sky with two moons. As Tengo and Aomame struggle through their issues, they are drawn farther and farther into 1Q84, until there is nothing left but to either fight back or find a way to escape.

While a dedicated reader could read the book in a month, I preferred reading it slowly. I read two chapters a week (give or take) — one of Aomame's and one of Tengo's. Later in the third, I would read three chapters as a go.

Five stars

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Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art: 01/15/13

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Start with Albert Brook's 1999 film The Muse, change the setting to Paris when Impressionism was the hot new art style and throw in some color reproductions of famous paintings with completely cheeky captions and you have the foundation for Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art by Christopher Moore.

The book opens with the death of Vincent van Gogh. While it's not quite the Doctor Who version, I did happen to start the book right after re-watching "Vincent and the Doctor" (series five, episode ten). The coincidence certainly put me in the right mood for Moore's book.

Sacré bleu (ultramarine) — the blue once reserved for the Virgin's clothing — was one of the most sought after but hard to come by pigments. As this color is so crucial to the flow of the story — the cover is done in shades of blue. Likewise, the text is printed in a very dark but distinctly blue shade.

Moore uses the color as the set up to introduce a muse — Blue — and the parasite who feeds off the creativity she inspires. This parasite provides access to his especially potent blue pigment to specially chosen artists. The blue has certain properties that allow the artist time to finish more complex pieces. The downside, though, is the madness and ill-health that comes from such an outpouring of creativity and productivity.

Most of the book follows a fictional baker who has the desire to paint. He falls into an unlikely friendship with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Welcome to the world of sex, drugs and burlesque.

Sacré Bleu has risen to the top of my all time favorite Christopher Moore books. While his bawdy humor is still there, it's matured from the previous sophomoric affairs to something more refined.

Five stars

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The London Eye Mystery: 01/14/13

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The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan R Dowd is told from the point of view of Ted, a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome. Ted sees things differently, relating most things through the ebb and flow of weather patterns. It is his creative take on things along with his sister's patient help, that they are able to solve the mystery of Salim's disappearance from the London Eye.

Salim and his mother, Gloria, are visiting briefly before they make the big move to New York City. All Salim talks about is seeing and riding the London Eye. He goes up but he doesn't come back down. The police are called and Gloria and he end up missing their flight, some two days later.

While the police follow what few leads they have, Ted and Kat do their part. Ted works and reworks the events in his head, coming up with a list of possibilities. His commentary takes us through his thought process in an approachable, likable and believable fashion.

Although the first piece of the mystery is pretty obvious — the how Salim got off the eye, there is still the mystery of where did he go. More importantly, is he still alive? For the attentive reader, the clues are there. It is possible to solve the mystery before Ted and Kat do, but I didn't. I got too wrapped up in the fun of reading the book and I missed a couple key points.

Five stars

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Vanished: 01/13/13

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Vanished by Sheela R Chari is a wonderful debut novel aimed at tweens. It's part mystery and part coming of age tale. Eleven year old Neela is learning to play the veena — a four foot tall stringed instrument from India. When her instrument goes missing she is determined to get it back, even if it means going head-to-head against a curse!

Neela's missing instrument is her grandmother's, a veena decorated with the carved head of a wyvern. After its disappearance, she finds herself surrounded by reminders of the missing veena. What Neela must do is decide if these reminders are clues or just further evidence of the curse.

Vanished is set in Boston. Neela and her family are a believable blend of American and Indian cultures. As the focus is on the stolen veena, the novel doesn't fall into the usual trap of creating tension through Neela's westernization and her family's traditional ways. Instead, she is part of a vibrant, believable family that is finding the balance between old and new traditions.

For a tween mystery, Vanished is delightfully complex. The clues are all there for attentive readers. I have to admit I was to taken in with the curse angle to pay attention, so as things unfolded, I was surprised.

While knowledge and appreciation for Indian culture (especially music) certainly enhances the reading experience, it's not necessary. The author does an excellent job of weaving descriptions of key details into the novel.

Finally, there is the lovely cover art designed by Jon Klassen, of I Want My Hat Back. By itself, the cover is inviting. It covers the basics of the plot in a quick glance — a girl and her veena. But as readers reach the end, they will discover the true significance of the cover art. It gets to the heart and soul of the piece.

Five stars

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Mostly Monsterly: 01/12/13

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Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer is about Bernadette trying to find the right balance between being herself and being a monster. She has to face her fears, though, as she starts a new school — Monster Academy.

Bernadette likes to sing friendship songs and her classmates prefer to uproot trees. She likes cupcakes with sprinkles and they eat fried snail slime. Should she try to be as monstery as possible at school while being herself at home? Or can she be herself in both places and still make friends?

Combined with the message of be proud to be yourself are the adorable illustrations by Scott Magoon. Even at her most monsterly, Bernadette is still a likeable character — as are her more rowdy, monsterly compatriots.

Recommended by 100 Scope Notes

Four stars

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Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons: 01/11/13

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Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons by Il Sung Na follows a snow rabbit as it explores what other animals do during winter. Each pair of pages show a different type of animal as it prepares for winter: birds migrating, turtles swimming, hibernation and so forth.

Na's soft and somewhat whimsical illustrations are a charming addition to the text. The little rabbit acts as a tour guide of the winter season, going from animal to animal.

Then at the end, it's finally revealed what the rabbit does to adapt to the winter season. As spring approaches, poof, the rabbit turns brown.

Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit introduces children to animal adaptations and the seasons. Children could be asked to talk about what animals around where they live do in winter, or what they do differently in winter.

Four stars

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Cat Tale: 01/10/13

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Cat Tale by Michael Hall is about three cats who go on an adventure, have a run in with homophones and find themselves scrambled and confused. Lillian, Tilly and William J begin their day with a picnic but along the way:

They use a box.
They box some fleas.
And flee a steer.

You can see where this is going. The further they go, the more and whackier the homophones they encounter become. Hall's brightly colored pictures illustrate the homophones, helping early readers master some of the oddities of the English language.

Cat Tale has a good balance of easy to read and challenging words for children who are making the transition from learning to read to more difficult books. My daughter, struggled with understanding the plot the first time, being caught off guard by the homophones. The second time she read the book aloud and that helped to her to hear what Hall was doing.

For the younger set, I think the homophones combined with the silly illustrations will make for a fun storytime or bedtime story.

Five stars.

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Freddy Goes to Florida: 01/09/13

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Freddy Goes to Florida by Walter R Brooks (born January 9, 1886, died August 17, 1958) is the first of the Freddy the Pig books. It was originally published as To and Again (like a precursor to The Hobbit, aka There and Back Again, but with barn animals). After the success of the third book, Freddy the Detective, the first two books were re-named to have Freddy in the title.

Freddy is a pig who lives with a variety of other barn animals on Mr. Bean's farm (no, not that Mr. Bean). The dynamics between Freddy and the other animals reminds me of Babe (the movie, not the book by Dick King-Smith). Frankly it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the makers of Babe took some inspiration from the Freddy books to fill out the ensemble cast.

Freddy while talking to a barn swallow decides he's had enough of winter on the farm. Migrating to Florida sounds like a grand idea. When he decides to walk to the Sunshine state, the other animals on the farm (including a pair of spiders) decide to follow along. The book chronicles their trip down and back, including some episodic adventures on the way.

Freddy and his friends are completely ignorant on what it will take to get to Florida or what to expect along the way. The fun, though, is in the journey itself. They see new things, meet new people and animals, don disguises, duel with alligators, thwart robbers and save the day.

To go with the silly text, are equally delightful pen and ink illustrations by Kurt Wiese.

Five stars

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Teeth, Tails & Tentacles: 01/08/13

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Teeth, Tails & Tentacles by Christopher Wormell has a striking title and cover. The title alone was enough for me to seek it out when looking for titles for the second of two projects in the materials for children ages 5 to 8 class I took in 2011.

Christopher Wormell makes his own woodcuts to create bold illustrations with eye catching details ready for counting. The book goes through twenty different animals and invites children to count one to twenty by looking at specific details on an animal (the spots of a ladybug or the diamonds on a rattlesnake, and so forth).

The book includes an appendix that gives facts about each of the animals as well as the author's artistic process.

Five stars.

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Go, Dog. Go! 01/07/13

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A book both my children loved when first learning to read on their own is Go, Dog. Go! by PD Eastman. It's an opposites in the style of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss.

Here and there are dogs in cars and they must go, go, go! As they go there are many different opposites and colors and other basic things to learn and read about.

The dogs being in race cars of different colors made both my children laugh. With all the off the wall illustrations and word combinations, the book does pull together into a coherent plot with a beginning, middle and end.

Five stars

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Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Going to Sleep? 01/06/13

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Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Going to Sleep? by Bill Martin Jr. is the sequel to Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Waking Up?. Now it's bed time and the little kitty isn't sure he's ready yet.

Using the easy and addictive rhymes Martin is known for, this book is both easy to read and soothing to listen to. Slowly but surely Mama cat eases her little one into bed, giving him one last chance to do all those things.

Five stars


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The Storm in the Barn: 01/05/13

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The graphic novel The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan is an American fantasy set during the worst of the Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression. It's 1937 and Jack Clark believes the answer to the drought is hiding in Talbot's abandoned barn.

The story brings together American history, a coming of age story and the fantasy of L. Frank Baum. Jack desperately wants to save his family and his town. His sister has dust pneumonia and is stuck in bed. She passes the time reading Ozma of Oz when she has the strength. As Jack tries to avoid the bullies, help his sister and save the town, he sees points of similarity in their situation in Baum's book.

The text is minimal, with the expansive artwork — either browns and grays or blues and grays telling the bulk of the story. Phelan creates a grand sense of scale, placing tiny Jack against the enormity of the dust storms.

Reviewers of the book either like the blending of Oz and the Dust Bowl, or they don't. As The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a chance for Dorothy to escape the humdrum gray life on a Kansas farm, Oz as a solution to the drought worked for me.

Five stars

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Getting Rid of Matthew: 01/04/13

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Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon is her debut novel. It was recommended to me by my mother who thought it was like the book I was reading at the time (Busy Woman Seeks Wife by Annie Sanders). Turns out they aren't anything alike.

Helen who is now in her late thirties has been carrying on an affair with Matthew for four years. He used to be her boss and their relationship cost her a promotion. Now she's stuck in a one room flat in a dead end job and dull life. She finally (after years and years of whining to him to leave Sophie, his wife) decides to dump him and move on with her life.

But no, that would be too short of a book. Instead, Matthew decides to leave his wife and move in with her. All the way through Helen could have done the sensible thing and told him to bugger off, or changed the locks or gone to the police for help if the previous options didn't work. She doesn't.

And the fact that Helen doesn't take any control of her life is why I ended up skimming and then skipping to the end. Helen whines. She moans. She acts like an overwrought teenager. She isn't likable. Matthew is even more loathsome. And then there is Sophie, the wife, who isn't that far removed from Helen in emotional maturity.

One star

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Bride of the Rat God: 01/03/13

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Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly was originally released in paperback in 1994. It's now been rereleased in ebook form. Intrigued by the setting — 1923 Hollywood, and the mystery — an ancient Chinese curse, I decided to give the book a try.

Nora, a British WWI widow, comes to Hollywood where her sister is a silent movie sensation. After her arrival, members of the crew are brutally murdered. If Shang Ko, a self described Chinese wizard, is to be believed, the movie star sister is in danger — cursed by the very necklace she's been wearing in her current movie.

It sounds so good. It has a promising setting. The reviews, for the most part, have been ecstatic — praising the world building and the author's genre savvy. I expected to love the book with my film history background and my current interest in Chinese culture. Sadly, though, I failed, twice, to finish the book.

Bride of the Rat God failed to gel for me. After the initial discovery of a body, the book falls into a routine of describing Chrysanda Flamande's day to day schedule at the studio as well as her Pekinese dogs. Every so often Shang Ko will pop up, say something vaguely ominous.

The dogs end up being the true heros of the book, but not being a fan of the breed and usually finding pets in mysteries to be tedious at best, they didn't add much to the reading experience for me. But the actual mystery doesn't get back on track until well past the half way point of the book. By then, I was bored and ready to move on.

Read via NetGalley

Two stars

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Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta: 01/02/13

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Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the third of the Lunch Lady series. Dee, Terrence and Hector are excited to have a favorite author at their school. When the author isn't what they expected and the school coach goes missing, the kids and the Lunch Lady (with trusty Betty at her side) must investigate.

As far as set ups go for this series, this one seems the least plausible. The whole set up is based around an incredibly famous and wealthy children's author who hates children and hates making public appearances. The author's evil scheme, though, is amusing.

My reaction to book three is hit or miss. It will either work for you or it won't. So far my favorites are books two (Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians) and four (Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown).

Three stars

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The Three Weissmanns of Westport: 01/01/13

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The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine was inspired by Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Familiarity with the original seems to be a good predictor of how well liked (or not) this retelling will be.

Betty Weissmann, Joseph's second wife of 48 years, is handed divorce papers. Joseph has fallen for a much younger woman at work. Betty, deciding to play the widow instead of the divorcee, leaves her Manhattan home for Westport, Connecticut. Shortly there after for reasons explained at length, she is joined by her adult daughters, Miranda and Annie.

Much of the remainder of the book is focused on Miranda, a once successful literary agent, specializing in memoirs, finding herself and finding romance. Her romantic life is the largest divergence from Austen's version.

But for me, the problems weren't with the points of departure, but with the places where the Weissmanns' misadventures are forced into a narrative construct that only makes sense with younger characters living in a different time and place. For instance, the Weissmanns' are invited to Palm Springs for the winter but it doesn't ring true as a substitute for families going to London for "the Season."

Three stars

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