The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum: 04/30/13
The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum by Kate Bernheimer is one of those surreal metafiction picture books that either works for you or not. As my daughter and I both tend to like these types of books, I purchased the copy on display at our local bookstore.
The title pretty much sums up what the book is about. There is a girl who, for unexplained reasons, lives inside of a castle, which in turn is on display in a museum. She is a living doll or something.
But like Watanuki in the later half of xxxHolic, holding down the shop for the missing Yuko, the girl can travel through dreaming. And here's the make it or break it point — the narration moves from third person to second person. Not only does she dream of places within the fictional world of her book, she also dreams of you, the reader.
The book ends with an interactive piece, asking the reader to draw a picture for the doll to dream of. Now, if you're little one likes that sort of interaction, it's a plus. If you're little one will be put off by that, skip this book.
Zed: A Cosmic Tale: 04/29/13
Zed: A Cosmic Tale by Michel Gagné is is the omnibus of the Zed comics, originally published in ten volumes, starting in 2001. Zed, a young adult alien, is presenting his alternative energy invention, the Energizer, at a large conference. When he turns it on, the machine overloads and ends up wiping out everyone there except Zed.
The rest of the series (or book in its present form) is about the aftermath of Zed's disastrous presentation. The cutesy artwork is in jarring contrast to the death, destruction and violence that follows Zed around.
I think the book will appeal most to readers who grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia and actually like The Last Battle. If you find the last book a tedious, preachy disappointment, I suggest skipping Zed: A Cosmic Tale.
I did manage to read the omnibus all the way to the end but it wasn't either a pleasant or enjoyable experience. Your mileage my vary. Good luck!
Read via NetGalley
A Lee Martinez has written just about a million books. OK — that's an exaggeration but it feels like that many. His profile on GoodReads says "more than a dozen." Suffice it to say, it's enough to feel like I've certainly read some. As it turns out (to my immense surprise), Monster is the first one I've read.
The book opens with a Yeti going for all the ice cream in a convenience store. It's like something right out of Supernatural — one of the silly episodes (instead of the dreary arc plot ones). Judy, the unlucky cashier on duty during this rampage, isn't sure who to call. So she opts for animal control (it is a big, fuzzy, perhaps woolly, monster, after all). What she gets instead is Monster who specializes in "cryptobiological control."
Monster starts off pretty fluffy. The first couple of chapters read like monster of the week type episodes — really more like short stories with recurring characters than an actually on-going plot. As the book progresses, though, some heavy hitting themes start to leak in. What looks like a Japanese lyric episode of Teen Titans ends up being a black shirt episode of Farscape.
Given its goofy yellow cover and the light tone of the first seven five pages or so, I was taken aback by the gradual but persistent shift in tone. It was my book to read while my kids did their swim lessons, meaning I was pretty much stuck with it. Difficult, dark and somewhat existential details are hard to focus on in a noisy and busy public setting like the bleachers at a high school swimming pool! For that situation, Monster didn't hold up for me.
But I do plan to try other Martinez books. I just won't take them to the pool with me!
Body & Soul: 04/27/13
Alona Dare has been doing her best living in the body of Lily Turner. Although she's nothing like the original Lily, she still wants to do what's best for Lily's family, and make the most of her second chance at life.
Will, meanwhile, is trying to do what he can to restore Alona. He needs her as his ghost guide. His investigation, though, puts Alona in danger and leaves Lily with a new driver.
Without going into spoiler territory, I'll just say Body & Soul is a strong and satisfying end to the series. It explores some tough questions about life and love while still having the sassy back and forth between Alona and Will. Both, though, have grown as characters over this trilogy.
Stacey Kade now has a new series, Project Paper Doll, which starts with The Rules (2013).
The Last Little Blue Envelope: 04/26/13
The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson is the sequel to 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Ginny thinks her adventure in London and Europe is over until she receives a note saying her backpack has been found, and along with it, the final envelope.
Curious, Ginny returns to London to meet the boy with her backpack. Although it includes instructions that will lead Ginny to one more piece of her aunt's artwork, those instructions are held hostage by the boy who found the envelope. In order to complete her aunt's final wishes, Ginny has to trust the boy and take him along on the adventure.
While the story lacks the treasure hunt adventure of the first book, Ginny and her companions make up for anything lacking in the way of plot. The boy who found the envelope, Oliver, to my mind was the most interesting and enigmatic of the ensemble. As he reveals pieces of the final letter, he also gives hints to his own personality and life story.
Although the journey set forth by Ginny's aunt is complete at the end of The Last Little Blue Envelope, there's more here that I'd like to explore. I think Oliver could stand alone as a character. He has more stories to tell.
Island Sting: 04/25/13
Island Sting by Bonnie J Doerr is a tween novel set in the Florida Keys. Kenzie has moved down there with her mother, after her parents have divorced. She's a New York City girl and the wilds of a small Florida island leave her feeling out of sorts and out of place.
While exploring her new home, Kenzie sees what she thinks is a dog in the canal. In trying to save it, she falls in and discovers, it's not a dog, but a deer. When she and the deer are rescued down stream, Kenzie is introduced to an on-going poaching problem.
Kenzie in her desire to help the deer she rescued, comes out of her shell. She makes friends and tracks down the truth behind rumors. As she doesn't know anyone on the island, she can see the facts and the rumors with fresh eyes. That helps her piece together the clues and put a stop to the poaching.
For fans of Carl Hiaasen's tween books: Flush, Hoot, Scat, and Chomp (review coming) will find familiar territory in Island Sting. Along with Kenzie, readers will learn about the plight of the endangered Key deer. The endnotes include more information about the deer including links to pertinent websites.
The Sword Thief: 04/24/13
The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis is the third of the original 39 Clues series. Armed with the clues found in Italy, the Cahill siblings are en route to Japan.
Although in the post 9/11 word of air travel, stealing seats on an airplane might not be possible, finding Amy and Dan separated from the stuff and their au pair was a dramatic opening. It seems in book three the stakes are higher all the way through. As the siblings dig themselves ever deeper into the challenge, they are forced to take more dangerous risks.
One of things Dan and Amy started to do (reluctantly) in One False Note is allying themselves with other teams. These temporary alliances are a means to an end (either to keep going, avoid the authorities, or in the most dangerous situations — survive).
Alistair Oh returns and they are forced to do some soul searching. His back story is perhaps the most complex so far of any of the Cahills — beyond the siblings' background. His intentions beyond getting to the next clue seem genuine but given previous apparent betrayals, they have to treat his help with caution.
Gracie, The Lighthouse Cat: 04/23/13
Gracie, The Lighthouse Cat by Ruth Brown is a picture book about two rescues during a fierce storm near a lighthouse. Grace, the lighthouse keeper's daughter spots a ship aground and helps in the rescue. Meanwhile, Gracie, the lighthouse cat, wakes from a nap to notice one of her kittens is missing.
For a book about a storm, a shipwreck and people and cats being rescued, there's not much drama. The humans are rescued all rather matter-of-factly. The rescue of the kitten doesn't involve much either.
For a better lighthouse rescue story that's a little more involved in the adventure and the character building, I recommend The Lighthouse, the Cat and the Sea by Leigh W. Rutledge.
Mr. Popper's Penguins: 04/22/13
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater and Florence Atwater was a 1939 Newbery Honor book. Mr. Popper spends the warm months as a decorator — painting and papering rooms. He spends the cold, wet months listening to the radio and following his hobbies — like learning about the exploration of Antarctica.
On of these winters, Mr. Popper receives an unusual gift — a penguin. Mr. Popper, his wife and two kids live in a small urban home. What is he going to do with a penguin? Now the logical answer would be call the zoo. Except — he really, really, really wants a penguin. So he and his family decide to make the best of things.
The first half of the book, then, is how the Poppers adjust to their new penguin. They make a nest in the refrigerator. They teach the penguin how to walk on a lead. They order all sorts of fish.
And that's when things get complicated. The book, is after Mr. Popper's Penguins. More than one penguin. First comes a second penguin — and then the rest is up to mother nature. With so many penguins on hand — Mr Popper decides to see just how much he can train them — with Mrs. Popper's help, of course.
The last third, then, is the Popper Penguins on the road — and their short but lively stage career. Of course, life on the road is difficult and it might end up being more than Mr. Popper can handle.
Although some of the language is outdated, I think with the illustrations and the sheer silliness of having penguins in a home, still has appeal for elementary school aged readers.
If Books Could Kill: 04/21/13
If Books Could Kill by Kate Carlisle is is the second of the Bibliophile mystery series. This one is set in Edinburgh Book Fair in Scotland. I have to admit that the move away from San Francisco worried me but Carlisle managed to pull off the new location with panache.
Kate is there to demonstrate her expertise in book binding. Her ex-boyfriend and colleague (rival?), Kyle, tells her about a yet unseen Robert Burns poem. Next thing she knows, he's dead, killed with one of her book binding tools!
Usually in these situations, the amateur sleuth would be the number one suspect, and forced to solve the mystery while fleeing from the authorities. Thankfully, though, If Books Could Kill allows the police to be professionals while still providing entertainment.
Carlisle seems to understand Scotland as well as she does San Francisco. She provides a humorous but believable cast of characters, with comedic timing similar to what I've seen in British TV or read in British books.
I am eagerly looking forward to reading the third book in the series once time permits!
Crescent Dawn: 04/20/13
Crescent Dawn by Clive and Dirk Cussler is the twenty-first Dirk Pitt novel. Dirk, his son and daughter, and of course the NUMA crew are brought on board to both thwart an international terrorist plot by Turkish anarchists and to recover an extraordinary cargo from a Roman ship.
I've read half of series, roughly every other one, so I've seen how Dirk and friends have evolved and aged as characters. I've also gotten used to formula of these plots. The typical Dirk Pitt adventure goes like this:
When I read these books, I've found it's best to skip the prolog because I like to be surprised both by what and where the treasure is. I also tend to skip the villains' scenes because they tend to be too long and don't really contribute to the adventure / treasure hunting aspects of the novel. In the case of Crescent Dawn, skipping these scenes cut out about one and a half discs of the nine disc set.
Crescent Dawn is set in Istanbul, Jerusalem, and in parts of England, as well as different sites in the Mediterranean sea. This was also the first book I've read where Dirk Jr. and his twin sister, Summer, have such major roles. Basically it gives the plot the opportunity to have Dirk and his helpers in three places at once. I'm not sure, yet, how brother and sister are different except for their names and genders. Frankly, though, I didn't care because I was more focused on the mystery / adventure parts.
Long story, short, Crescent Dawn is what it is. It's very much a typical late in the series Dirk Pitt mystery. If you're a fan of the series, you'll probably like it. If you're not but like adventure-mysteries, you'll find it a decent beach read. Although Dirk Pitt does age over time, the individual books can be read out of order as the mysteries themselves are self-contained.
Recommended by The Turn of the Page
The Bermudez Triangle: 04/19/13
The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson is about the on going challenges of an evolving friendship. While Nina, the ersatz leader of a trio of friends, is away at Stanford for leadership camp, friends Mel and Avery become more than just BFFs. Nina returns to find her friends acting different towards her, each other and their classmates. When she finds out why she had to deal with her own conflicted feelings.
Nina, Avery and Mel all take turns (more or less). The story is told through first person point of view and emails. The jumps from character to character seem forced at times. As Avery and Mel work at the same awful Irish themed restaurant / bar, early on I got confused over which was which. They melded into one character — except that one's a lesbian and one isn't sure, except that she knows she's attracted to her long time friend in a compelling way that she can't explain.
Johnson does a good job of avoiding the usual stereotypes and cliched high-drama parental confrontation scenes. But I still had trouble connecting with Nina — the loudest voice in the group, and Mel, the one who is confident in her sexual orientation. Avery — the confused / conflicted member of the group was by far the most interesting and I wish she had been better developed both as a character and in her character arc. Her sense of conflict seemed mostly there just to isolate Mel and Nina.
>Bellwether by Connie Willis is a short satyrical novel that looks at fads, creativity, upper management, and the scientific method. It sounds like an unlikely combination but for anyone with any experience with research and development, or academia, will find it a fitting and hilarious match.
The inept office management by Flip brings together a statistician interested in the progression of fads (specifically the 1920s bob) and a chaos theorist interested in animal movements. They are but two researchers at a privately run think tank that is vying for a prestigious grant. The management style of the organization, though, is so poisonous, there's no hope of success.
As I have said before, I adore Willis's take on bureaucracy in research settings — whether academic (such as in her time travel books) or private. She has a biting humor that hits right to the core of how complex organizations can stifle the normal flow of things — and yet inspire creativity (as a survival mechanism).
I have been recommending Bellwether to all of my friends and family who do research.
Withering Tights: 04/17/13
When I finished Are These My Bassoomas I See Before Me? by Louise Rennison, I was feeling a pang of sadness at the ending of a fun series. It was time, though, for the series to end. Georgia had matured and her story had made its natural course.
Louise Rennison has a new series, the first of which isWithering Tights. Tallulah Casey is traveling somewhere "up north" to Dother Hall for theater school. She's excited and scared but she's going with sage advice from her cousin (Georgia).
Tallulah is a couple years younger than Georgia but not as young as she was in Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging. She's somewhere in the middle, meaning she's full on boy crazy and a full on spazz. Now if these two girls were unrelated, I'd probably be wishing for a completely different voice for Tallulah. As they're cousins, their similarities is understandable and funny.
I found it a quick and funny read. Tallulah trying to fit in with the theater crowd and make her mark was endearing and believable.
The sequel is A Midsummer's Tights Dream — and I will be posting a review of it soon.
The Empire Strikes Out: 04/16/13
The Empire Strikes Out by Robert Elias takes two things that to me seem completely separate: foreign policy and baseball and shows that aren't all that separate after all. Elias is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco. The Baseball Book Review notes that he also teaches a baseball and politics class.
The book walks through the history of baseball and shows how the ebb and flow of U.S. politics and foreign policy interact with how the game. Sometimes the game is used as propaganda — through world tours. Sometimes it affects recruitment. The book covers all the major wars and occupations and how and where baseball was played — either abroad or at home.
The Empire Strikes Out is one of the most interesting and odd political history books I've read. I recommend it to baseball fans and history buffs who want a new way of looking at events.
Recommended by Forum on KQED.
Gay Men Don't Get Fat: 04/15/13
Gay Men Don't Get Fat is Simon Doonan's latest book. After reading all the reviews and news about his bizarre (to me) book publicity tour, I'm not sure how to review this book.
First there's Doonan's celebrity — if you're from New York and shop (or window shop at Barney's). I don't. I live in California — in a semi rural area. Outside of Doonan talking about his work at Barney's I have no clue what the store is like (nor do I care to learn more).
What I have gleaned from the book is that Doonan is petite. He's short even compared to the short men on my husband's side of the family. My ten-year-old son is as tall as he is. Being so short and being rather active, he's rather thin. So of course he doesn't get fat. But among his friends and acquaintances, he's decided (semi-jokingly) that everyone should be as fabulous and stylish as he is. And of course what works for him will work for everyone.
I will admit that at the time I read the book, I did actually laugh at parts. But in siting and mulling the book and after reading about his campaign against man-boobs, I'm just starting to scratch my head. His view of the world — even when making light of it — doesn't come close to matching the diversity and richness of the LGBT community here. I think more and more he's a throwback to a different era.
And before I get his publicist complaining about how I didn't mention how he celebrates all the different subcultures of the gay community — yeah, he mentions them. He says a few nice things in chapters, but those chapters have to be taken in the greater context.
Read via NetGalley
The Adventures of Vin Fiz: 04/14/13
The Adventures of Vin Fiz by Clive Cussler is the first of two adventure books starring fraternal twins Casey and Lacey. I read and reviewed the second book, The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy last year and was curious to see how the series started.
The book opens with a lengthy introduction to the Nicefolk family, their farm and Castroville, California. Yes, Castroville is known for its artichokes.
Cussler has a habit of using authorial insert to help his heros along. Here, as Sucoh Sucop, gets the entire series going. Sucoh appears at the farm offering to volunteer his time and labor during the harvest. As a parting gift, he leaves the twins a magical box that will make any toy become life size and real (with some caveats).
That's how Casey, Lacey and Floopy the dog end up on a strange cross-country adventure in a toy replica of Vin Fiz. Here is where things go from odd but plausible to head-scratching. The plane takes the twins to places that are more like moments in time from the original Vin Fiz, in those decades where 20th century innovations are starting to arrive but remnants of the 19th century still exist (the calvary and steam trains).
No explanation of the oddities of these towns are mentioned. They just are. Nor are the overly simplistic villains who keep appear explained. They just are and they come off like escapees from a Duddley Do-Right episode.
While these problems still exist in the second book, they are reined in. The adventures the Nicefolk twins have the second time are grounded in reality, even if their craft is once again enchanted.
Wet Cats: 04/13/13
Wet Cats by Rita Golden Gelman is one of a series of picture books involving rival sets of cats and mice. In this one, the cats enjoy pranking the mice — getting the wet in as many ways as possible. The mice ultimately get their revenge.
It's a cute book done in a comic book style of illustrations. The cat and mouse pranks remind me most of the short silent films by the Lumiere brothers.
The copy my daughter owns is a battered, well-read, ex-library book. The cover is crinkled. The inner pages are wrinkled. The glue spine was stapled as an emergency measure at some point. It's as popular now with my daughter as it was with all the readers who came before her. She has read it numerous times since she bought it.
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You: 04/12/13
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter is the first of the Gallagher Girls series. Cammie Morgan attends an all girls boarding school that specializes in teaching young women how to be spies. During a covert operations exercise off campus, she meets a regular boy — Josh.
In the YA section of books, there seems to be an umpty-billion books set in boarding schools. Throw in Shojo Manga and the number comes close to infinity. OK — maybe it's not that high but it's certainly a popular (cliche) set up for YA aimed primarily at young women.
In many of the boarding school YAs I've read, the main character is usually a newcomer. She (and sometimes he) is usually an outsider (or at least feels like one). And more times than I care to count, said protagonist is there only because Mom (or sometimes both, but hardly ever just Dad) is taking a new teaching job for inexplicable reasons.
So where does Carter's book fall within this trope?
The newbie / outsider role goes to a different girl. She is more of a red herring than an actual plot device. It was frankly refreshing to have the narrator be a knowledgeable, regular part of the school.
Now there's the part of Josh — I'm not going to go so far as to call it a romance. It's not. He's a cute boy. He's not part of the school (obviously). He is her first crush. He is to Cammie, what the Love God is to Georgia Nicholson.
The lack of a love-triangle or an impending apocalypse is a big part of why I LOVE this book. Cammie despite her many spy talents (speaking 14 languages, for example) acts like a teenager. She gets a crush. She over reacts. She obsesses. And she learns from the experience.
Homicide In Hardcover: 04/11/13
Homicide In Hardcover by Kate Carlisle is the first of the Bibliophile mysteries. Brooklyn Wainright is an expert in book restoration and binding. A potentially cursed copy of Faust leads to the death of her mentor where her mother is a suspect!
Two factors drew me to this series: the book binding aspect and the setting — San Francisco. Carlisle's description of San Francisco and surrounding areas (mostly in Marin county) were believable, capturing both the landscape and the quirks of the local culture. Meanwhile the book binding and repair details were just enough to be interesting without getting in the way of the plot.
I think fans of Penny Warner's Party Planning series will enjoy the Bibliophile series. Brooklyn has a similar dysfunctional but loving relationship with her mother, though her's is in good health, and her father is still alive.
As a first mystery, the clues and suspects are pretty easy to put together for an observant reader. The characters and setting, though, more than make up for the simplicity in plot.
I Am Half-Sick Of Shadows: 04/10/13
I Am Half-Sick Of Shadows by Alan Bradley is the fourth of the Flavia de Luce mysteries. This one is set during Christmas time, and because of a blizzard, ends up being a locked room (err, snowed in mansion) mystery.
Flavia's home is invaded by a movie crew who are shooting in the area. The well-meaning vicar invites them over to Buckshaw to put on a charity show for the villagers. That's when the blizzard strikes and someone ends up dead.
Although there is a murder mystery tucked away in I Am Half Sick of Shadows, it comes late in the book. The mystery portion of these books has been drifting further and further into the recesses of the plot. More and more the emphasis is on the family and financial troubles. But Flavia and her family are well enough rendered characters to make these distraction from the mysteries interesting reading.
The Cat Who Robbed a Bank: 04/09/13
The Cat Who Robbed a Bank by Lilian Jackson Braun is the 22nd book in the Cat Who series. Qwill now comfortably retired is caught up in a local interest case involving the oft targeted hotel (recently reopened and renamed).
Koko and Yum-Yum, whose real ages must just be ignored in the interest of the "nowness" of the plot (see The Laughter of Dead Kings), take an interest in Oedipus Rex.
In the middle of all of this, jewels go missing and Qwill — ala Joe Leaphorn — is reminded of an old case. The cats must be too because they help Qwill explore his roots and learn about a foundling who as an adult is now expected of murder and robbery.
All of these books are short and fairly formulaic. I was in the mood for a cozy. This was the first of the books that I listened to on audio — read by George Guidall. As he also reads the Tony Hillerman books, it was all to easy to superimpose different characters onto the events in the book.
All in all I enjoyed the book but I found the ending a bit abrupt. It ends very much like a shaggy dog story with a punch line and little else. I suppose they all do that, but on audio it was more obvious.
Friends with Boys: 04/08/13
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks is a YA novel about the adjustment period of attending public school after years of homeschooling. Maggie McKay is going to high school, following in the foot steps of her brothers.
For the most part, Friends with Boys is a roman à clef in graphic novel format. As Hicks explains in her blog, she was home-schooled and has three brothers. While the author is from British Columbia, the book is set in Nova Scotia.
The going to high school part of the book is pretty standard. There are the usual problems of making friends, as well as the competition and sibling strife. While it's nicely done, it's not as remarkable as the events in Brain Camp by Susan Kim and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks.
There is a side story, though, about a ghost in the graveyard which serves as a short cut to the high school. She appears at the beginning of the book and at the end but there is no "meloncholy mystery" as the blurb would have one believe. Instead, it's just filler. I really had hoped to see more emphasis on the ghost plot and less on the brothers / sister relationship.
Sink Trap: 04/07/13
Sink Trap by Christy Evans is the first of the Georgina Neverall mystery series. Set in Oregon, it follows an apprentice plumber (and washout of the dot-com madness) as she tries to solve mysteries in her spare time.
There's a real estate boom going on in her town. She and her boss have been hired to fix up an old commercial building and the home of a the town's former librarian who everyone believes has moved out of state. That is until Georgiana finds the librarian's favorite brooch clogging a sink.
Now from here on it's a pretty standard cosy mystery. The character and her shtick have been introduced. Her supporting characters, her town, and the potential murderers have been paraded by.
From this point on two things have to mesh to make the mystery work: the mystery has to balance clues vs. surprise to keep the reader guessing and the characters and their reactions to situations have be plausible. Those that aren't, need to be explained to some degree of satisfaction.
It's the latter that feel apart for me. First and foremost, the missing librarian is well off financially. Library jobs can pay handsomely but not in the sort of amounts this librarian must have been making. Without a proper explanation (even a tossed in line or two), I'm left wondering why she is the way she is. Her status as a librarian was to mark her as harmless and perhaps an easy victim. But to make the crime worth committing, she also had be wealthy. Thus the mystery hinges on a mix and match set of character attributes without the necessary fleshing out.
A River in the Sky: 04/06/13
A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters is the 19th book in the Amelia Peabody series, but it comes 12th in line chronologically. It's different from the others, as it's set in Palestine and it's set back in time — just before Children of the Storm.
Peabody and Emerson decide to forego their usual season in Egypt to dig in Palestine. Ramses is to meet up with them but is kidnapped. Mixed in with all of this is a German plot to gain grounds with the Muslims and, of course, the Emersons find themselves right in the middle of things.
I was reluctant to read yet another mystery set in pre-WWI Palestine, and doubly so about revisiting young Ramses. Thankfully Barbara Rosenbladt's performance kept me entertained, though the audio book did become my laundry folding book, meaning I wasn't drawn in enough to want to give it my full attention.
Frankly this book can be skipped. It's filler for the die-hard fans but it's not something especially outstanding.
One False Note: 04/05/13
One False Note by Gordon Korman is the second of the 39 Clues series. Amy, Dan and Nellie are en route to Vienna and Venice, following a clue buried in KV617 — a piece composed by Mozart for Benjamin Franklin.
Anytime there's a musical clue in a mystery aimed at children, I'm brought back to Scooby Doo where Velma figures out a clue left in a music score. As this clue, though, involves some danger, there's also a hint of Goonies and the TNT booby trapped piano that shows up in a couple different Looney Tunes shorts.
Mixed in the caper, there are a few geography and history lessons. For a short books, the lessons aren't that deep but they're more detailed than the Magic Tree House books. They are interesting enough to inspire curious readers to head to the nonfiction section of the library.
But as entertainment — they're fun. They have a similar pace and mixture of clues and danger as a Clive Cussler book. Except, they are about half the length of the average Dirk Pitt mystery.
Planting Dandelions: 04/04/13
Planting Dandelions by Kyran Pittman is a memoir in the form of a collection of essays. The book began its life as a blog — as so many memoirs these days seem to. The author is a regular contributor to Good Housekeeping.
I put those details forward because neither fact had any influence in me choosing this book — and perhaps might have some bearing on my overall reaction to it. I haven't read the author's blog (originally "Notes to Self" and later "Planting Dandelions") and the last time I read Good Housekeeping I was a teen and still living at home (in other words, it's been a long time).
What brought me to this book then was the title and the cover — a bouquet of dandelions. See my kids were going through a phase of actually planting dandelions in our balcony garden when I saw this book at the library.
The memoir / essays tell about Pittman's first marriage and the husband she left in Canada, and her move to Arkansas. There she met a new man, remarried and had three sons. Each new child ads a new level of complexity to her life.
So the gist of the book is: marriage is hard, being an adult is hard, Arkansas is really different from Canada, and being a parent is hard (but rewarding). Why yes — adulthood and parenthood is hard but that doesn't automatically make a book "relatable."
The Talented Clementine: 04/03/13
The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker is the second in the series. The third and fourth graders will be performing a talent show and Clementine is at a complete loss. I can completely relate — while I have talents, none of them are geared towards live performance!
Clementine goes through all sorts of different ideas for the show. None of them really are appropriate for a talent show. Ultimately she settles on working back stage, but it's a job she falls into.
It was another cute book. I really felt horrible for Clementine as her teacher just couldn't believe she didn't know how to perform on stage. Been there myself in school.
I Am Not Joey Pigza: 04/02/13
I Am Not Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos is the fourth, and so far, final of the Joey Pigza books. The others are Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Joey Pigza Loses Control and What Would Joey Do?
In this one, Joey wakes up in the hospital after a dare devil stunt involving the roof, a refrigerator box and himself, goes horribly wrong. Coming too he realizes to his horror that his good-for-nothing dad is back with a new name for himself, for Joey and Joey's mother.
Along with the new name comes a new home at a diner. While the diner could become something great, Joey quickly realizes that his parents are too distracted with their own lives to actually make the diner work. Without the diner, it's clear that their new reconciled lives can't last.
I happened to listen to the book as read by the author. Although Joey Pigza and his dysfunctional family took some getting used to, I was soon caught up into the story. I really felt for Joey as he struggled with the self identity issues that came with his new life.
Whad'ya Know?: 04/01/13
Michael Feldman hosts an NPR talk show called Whad'ya Know? It was also the title of his 1991 memoir. I don't remember when exactly I acquired a copy of the book but I decided I should finally read it to clear it off my shelves.
Feldman broke his memoir into themes, writing pithy essays on pieces of his life — being a parent, being married, etc. He mixed in contemporary political and social commentary.
Unfortunately, reading the memoir twenty years after publication, much of the witty observation has become rather dated. I found the book rather tedious to read. The book is probably best suited to fans of the show.