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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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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.

1 star

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Bride of the Rat God: 01/03/13

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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

 cover art (Link goes to Powells)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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A Century of Books: 01/01/13

A century of books

For the moment I'm linking to the 2012 challenge but I like the idea of reading 100 books, one for each year of the 20th century. I might mix it up and try to read from 1900-2013. Or maybe 1914-2013 if I want to stick with an even 100. I will be using my GoodReads to read shelf sorted by publication date to help in the selection process.

List of Completed Books:

  1. Ruth Fielding in the Saddle by Alice B. Emerson
  2. A Dog's Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov
  3. Freddy Goes to Florida by Walter R. Brooks
  4. Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer
  5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  6. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater
  7. The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A.E. van Vogt
  8. So Thick the Fog by Catherine Pomeroy Stewart
  9. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
  10. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
  11. Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein
  12. Crow Boy by Taro Yashima
  13. Flowers for Mrs. Harris by Paul Gallico
  14. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
  15. Emile by Tomi Ungerer
  16. Go, Dog. Go! by P. D. Eastman
  17. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  18. Way Station by Clifford D. Simak
  19. Dandelion by Don Freeman
  20. The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios
  21. This Happy Place: Living the Good Life in America by Bentz Plagemann
  22. Fletcher and Zenobia by Edward Gorey
  23. This Perfect Day by Ira Levin
  24. Apt. 3 by Ezra Jack Keats
  25. Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola
  26. Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
  27. Don't Forget the Bacon! by Pat Hutchins
  28. Devil May Care by Elizabeth Peters
  29. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
  30. Six Chinese Brothers by Hou-Tien Cheng
  31. People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman
  32. The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters
  33. The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman
  34. Wet Cats by Rita Golden Gelman
  35. Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters
  36. The Deeds of the Disturber by Elizabeth Peters
  37. Yoga For Cats by Traudl Reiner
  38. Whad'ya Know? by Michael Feldman
  39. The Big Wander by Will Hobbs
  40. The Canary Trainer by Nicholas Meyer
  41. Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly
  42. Killer Pancake by Diane Mott Davidson
  43. Bellwether by Connie Willis
  44. The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat
  45. The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman
  46. The Cat Who Robbed a Bank by Lilian Jackson Braun
  47. The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff
  48. The Three Pigs by David Wiesner
  49. The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker
  50. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
  51. The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
  52. Black Juice by Margo Lanagan
  53. Polly and the Pirates 01 by Ted Naifeh
  54. Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon
  55. Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
  56. Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
  57. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  58. Vanished by Sheela Chari
  59. Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore
  60. Son of Slappy by R.L. Stine

 


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Mount TBR 2013: 01/01/13

A century of books

I squeeked through with 101 books by the end of 2012. This year the challenge includes a Mt. Olympus (Mars) level of 150 books or more read off one's shelves. They have to have been purchased in the previous year or earlier. I am going to go for the Olympus level.

List of Completed Books:

  1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  2. Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
  3. Amelia Peabody's Egypt by Elizabeth Peters
  4. Angelology by Danielle Trussoni
  5. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
  6. Apt. 3 by Ezra Jack Keats
  7. Arthur and the Invisibles by Luc Besson
  8. As Simple as It Seems by Sarah Weeks
  9. Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Search Part 1 by Gene Luen Yang
  10. The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong
  11. Beekeeping for Beginners by Laurie R. King
  12. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  13. The Big Wander by Will Hobbs
  14. Birds of a Feather by Francisco Pittau and Bernadette Gervais
  15. The Black Circle by Patrick Carman
  16. Black Wind by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler
  17. Blameless by Gail Carriger
  18. Body & Soul by Stacey Kade
  19. The Boggart by Susan Cooper
  20. The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
  21. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
  22. The Burning Wire by Jeffery Deaver
  23. The Calling by Kelley Armstrong
  24. Cardboard by Doug TenNapel
  25. Cat Tale by Michael Hall
  26. The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers by Lilian Jackson Braun
  27. Changeless by Gail Carriger
  28. Chi's Sweet Home 02 by Kanata Konam
  29. City of Thieves by David Benioff
  30. Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
  31. Crunch Time by Diane Mott Davidson
  32. The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters
  33. Dark Tort by Diane Mott Davidson
  34. The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman
  35. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
  36. The Deeds of the Disturber by Elizabeth Peters
  37. Desert Gold by Zane Grey
  38. Devil May Care by Elizabeth Peters
  39. A Dog's Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov
  40. Doll Bones by Holly Black
  41. Double Shot by Diane Mott Davidson
  42. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
  43. Emeraldalicious by Victoria Kann
  44. The Emperor's Code by Gordon Korman
  45. Escape from Bridezilla by Jacqueline deMontravel
  46. Exploding the Phone by Philip Lapsley
  47. f2m by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy
  48. Fire by Kristin Cashore
  49. Firestorm by Nevada Barr
  50. The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman
  51. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
  52. Flowers for Mrs. Harris by Paul Gallico
  53. Flu by Wayne Simmons
  54. Freddy Goes to Florida by Walter R. Brooks
  55. The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker
  56. Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King
  57. Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure by Michael Chabon
  58. The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum by Kate Bernheimer
  59. The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - For a Little While by Catherynne M. Valente
  60. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  61. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  62. The Great Desert Race by Betty Baker
  63. Great House by Nicole Krauss
  64. The Grilling Season by Diane Mott Davidson
  65. Gringa in a Strange Land by Linda Dahl
  66. Go, Dog. Go! by P. D. Eastman
  67. Gulp by Mary Roach
  68. Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol. 2: Research by Thomas Siddell
  69. Heartless by Gail Carriger
  70. A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
  71. How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley
  72. How to Dine on Killer Wine by Penny Warner
  73. I Love My New Toy! by Mo Willems
  74. Ill Wind by Nevada Barr
  75. In Too Deep by Jude Watson
  76. Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  77. Island Sting by Bonnie J. Doerr
  78. Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill
  79. Killer Pancake by Diane Mott Davidson
  80. The Last Camel Died at Noon by Elizabeth Peters
  81. The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson
  82. The Last Suppers (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson
  83. Let's Go for a Drive by Mo Willems
  84. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  85. Lily Renee, Escape Artist by Trina Robbins
  86. Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters
  87. Listening Woman by Tony Hillerman
  88. The Main Corpse by Diane Mott Davidson
  89. Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
  90. Monster by A. Lee Martinez
  91. The Monstore by Tara Lazar
  92. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater
  93. The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters
  94. My Friend Is Sad by Mo Willems
  95. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
  96. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  97. Ottoline At Sea by Chris Riddell
  98. Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
  99. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
  100. The Perils of Peppermints by Barbara Brooks Wallace
  101. Piece of Mind by Rob Reger
  102. The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones
  103. Pippi in the South Seas by Astrid Lindgren
  104. Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  105. The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong
  106. Red Cat, Blue Cat by Jenni Desmond
  107. Rin Tin Tin's Rinty by Julie Campbell
  108. A River in the Sky (audio) by Elizabeth Peters
  109. The Rules by Stacey Kade
  110. Ruth Fielding in the Saddle by Alice B. Emerson
  111. Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore
  112. Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman
  113. Scholastic Dictionary of Spelling by Marvin Terban
  114. School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins
  115. The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra
  116. The Shadows by Jacqueline West
  117. The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman
  118. Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman
  119. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
  120. So Thick the Fog by Catherine Pomeroy Stewart
  121. Sorcerers & Secretaries, Volume 1 by Amy Kim Ganter
  122. Soulless by Gail Carriger
  123. Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 1 by Gail Carriger
  124. Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 2 by Gail Carriger
  125. Sticks & Scones by Diane Mott Davidson
  126. Stitch Head by Guy Bass
  127. Stitches in Time by Barbara Michaels
  128. Storm Front by Jim Butcher
  129. Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park
  130. The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
  131. The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
  132. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  133. This Happy Place: Living the Good Life in America by Bentz Plagemann
  134. This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
  135. This Perfect Day by Ira Levin
  136. The Three Weissmanns of Westport (audio) by Cathleen Schine
  137. Tough Cookie by Diane Mott Davidson
  138. Tourmaline by Joanna Scott
  139. Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
  140. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella
  141. The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
  142. Vacationers From Outer Space by Edward Valfre
  143. Vespers Rising by Rick Riordan
  144. The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis
  145. The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A.E. van Vogt
  146. The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella
  147. Wet Cats by Rita Golden Gelman
  148. Whad'ya Know? by Michael Feldman
  149. Wind Song by Carl Sandburg
  150. Winter Study by Nevada Barr
  151. Yoga For Cats by Traudl Reiner
  152. Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded by John Scalzi

 


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