The Rules: 06/30/13
The Rules by Stacey Kade is the first book in the Project Paper Doll series. Ariane Tucker has been living with five simple rules since she escaped from a top secret genetics lab. She has been living as the daughter of a security guard, but in reality she is a human-alien hybrid.
Kade uses the same parallel story telling structure as her Ghost and the Goth series. Here the points of view are Ariane (the alien) and Zane (the boy bullied into being her fake boyfriend).
Ariane's knowledge of the world is spotty at best. For all her attempts to understand popular culture, she's still very naive. She gets some things but doesn't always get the context. She is therefore an understandably unreliable narrator.
Zane, meanwhile, is part of the popular crowd. The girl who commands them, wants to make Ariane's life a living hell. So she decides the best way to do that is to get her publicly dumped at the upcoming high school shindig. Except — Zane's got a conscience.
Ariane and Zane's relationship isn't exactly friendship and it isn't exactly romantic. But it's interesting and believable in the context of high school bullying. Kade allows their relationship to evolve naturally and gives it room to continue to develop in future books.
The Rules like the previous series does end on a cliff hanger. It's nothing too surprising for anyone familiar with the genre but it's still a satisfying ending. I definitely plan to continue reading.
Her Permanent Record: 06/29/13
Her Permanent Record by Jimmy Gownley is the conclusion of the eight book series, Amelia Rules! In it, Amelia goes back over the lessons she's learned in the previous seven books and uses that to hold her family together after her aunt goes missing again.
Amelia Louis McBride lives with her divorced mother and her aunt. Her superhero club has taken on a life of its own and is now popular. Her aunt has gotten back in the music scene. Everything seems perfect until a tell-all book about the aunt sends her off the edge and she goes missing.
Although under age, Amelia decides she has to be the one to bring home her aunt. Her mother is sick and tired of cleaning up her sister's messes. Somehow she manages to buy a bus ticket and leaves town to bring her aunt home.
My son (and many of his friends) adore the series. In talking to him, most of the family drama, issue-oriented aspects of the Amelia Rules! books seem to go right over his head. Nonetheless, he adores it. He says this one is "awesome" and "the best of the series."
As an adult (and parent) I find Amelia's family tiresome, irresponsible and unbelievable. But, I'm not the target the audience.
It was nominated for 2012 CYBILS.
The Main Corpse: 06/28/13
The Main Corpse by Diane Mott Davidson is the sixth of the Goldy Bear mysteries. It's an especially wet spring in Aspen Meadow and Goldy has to schlep her aging van up into the mountains to cater at the site of an old gold mine. Unfortunately the investment company behind the mine is having some trouble — first the secretary has gone missing and then one of the principles is murdered.
After everyone at the Gold Mine party has heard the dead man and Marla (Goldy's very wealthy best friend) arguing over the assay reports, she's the prime suspect. Things get even worse after Marla and her boyfriend are attacked while camping and he goes missing. Marla is arrested on the assumption she beat her boyfriend unconscious and pushed him into the river.
Normally in these Goldy Bear books, the local sheriff office is above suspicion, especially since book four, when Goldy and Tom are married. This one though is different and while Tom doesn't say it outright, Goldy comes to realize that there's probably corruption afoot.
As she doesn't have her usual legal means of support in her investigations, Godly resorts to some unusual (and illegal) methods for helping Marla and to prove that her friend is innocent.
Bear in mind, I listen to this series as pure ear-candy. These audio books are my go-to for times when I want something mildly distracting and very entertaining. If you expect realism in your mysteries, look elsewhere.
Lion in the Valley: 06/27/13
Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters is the fourth book in the Amelia Peabody series. For services rendered in The Mummy Case, the Emersons are given permission to work on the black pyramid in Dashoor.
Their work is hindered by a pair of twins (Ronald and Donald), the return of the master criminal who is now smitten with Amelia, and a young lady. There's also an opium addict and the usual mayhem.
This mayhem stems (in part) from a spirit in white who is haunting the dig site. The local workers are growing convinced that the area is cursed, making it harder and harder to find reliable workers.
While I enjoyed Rosenblat's performance, in trying to sit down and write a coherent review of my re-read, I'm having a devil of a time remembering what happened. I keep remembering details from The Mummy Case, probably in light of it's near by location. Part of it too, is the Master Criminal's growing importance in this part of the series. He, after Ramses, is my least favorite character. He is too much like an Egypt based Moriarty — and I don't like Moriarty either!
Garment of Shadows: 06/26/13
Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King is the twelfth of the Mary Russell / Sherlock Holmes mystery series. It continues the plot left off at the close of The Pirate King.
It marks a return to the themes and characters of some of her earliest books — A Letter of Mary, The Moor, and O Jerusalem — namely British colonialism, Islam, and political uprising. The problem is that so much effort is always spent on how different Muslims are that there's very little time left for a plot or character development.
Here, the setting is Morocco so there's political unrest between Spain and France. The place is about to split apart at the seems and yet the emphasis is once again on the odd customs and language. Yes—it's a different place. Yes—there's aspects of the culture that might seem bizarre. Gotcha. Can we move on now?
That said, Garment of Shadows is less serious than its predecessors. It opens with a rather ridiculous situation — namely Mary with full on amnesia. If we take that some of the off the cuff silliness of the The Pirate King, has rubbed off on this book, then it's perfectly acceptable for Mary to have forgotten who she is, right?
Thankfully the amnesia is just the introduction. It's an excuse to separate Mary and Sherlock and give him a reason to be concerned about her. It also gives both of them (and us, the reader) a chance to re-examine their relationship and marriage.
Although the book is flawed and it did bring back characters / themes I had been glad to leave behind, I did enjoy the book once it got started.
The Black Circle: 06/25/13
The Black Circle by Patrick Carman is the fifth of the original 39 Clues series. Dan and Amy Cahill leave their au pair behind and fly solo to Russia. They are following the clues left by the mysterious NRR.
As with previous volumes, The Black Circle includes a hefty bit of E/I (though this one seems more caught up in rumor, than fact). Amy and Dan along with learning about the Lucians, also learn about Anastasia Romanov. And of course — because EVERY famous person is — she was a Cahill.
There's a tour of the winter palace as well as some graphic descriptions of the murder of the Tsar and his family. Their deaths are compared to the deaths of Dan and Amy's parents, something that up now has been glossed over. I think this book is the turning point where things start to get more "real" for Dan and Amy, and the descriptions of things become more graphic.
For those reviews that complain about things being too easy for Dan and Amy, it is becoming clear that someone (or some organization) is pulling strings for them. As long as they show up, doors will be opened for them. The why and how, though, remains a mystery for later volumes.
The First Eagle: 06/24/13
The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman is the thirteenth of the Navajo Mystery series. Jim Chee is facing a mountain of overdue paperwork. At least he has an open and shut case with the beating death of a fellow Navajo police officer, having corned a Hopi poacher over the battered body. Except, Joe Leaphorn's work to find a missing plague biologist has led him to believe the beating death is anything but simple.
When trying to learn anything about an area, the most effective way is to ask the people who live there. Of course the information might get mixed up in local gossip and legend. And others might not want to share — especially if religious ceremonies are involved. This case involves both — the sighting of a skinwalker and Hopi kiva ceremonies.
For accused man, protecting the secrets of his kiva comes before his own freedom. Chee can't take his usual, careful time with the case as the Federal Government has gotten involved, deciding to make an example of this case. This brings in Chee's ex-girl friend to add to the mix.
The exploration of the differences and similarities between Hopi and Diné culture introduced here are re-explored in the penultimate book, Skeleton Man (review coming).
I listened to the audio performed by George Guidall.
Midnight in Austenland: 06/23/13
Before we begin: I am not a Jane Austen fan. I have not read all her books. Of the ones I have read, my favorite is Mansfield Park. I do tend to like the various Jane Austen spin-offs and adaptations.
I am a fan of Shannon Hale. I have not read all her books. My favorite of her books is Calamity Jack. I really wish she'd write another graphic novel. But that's neither here nor there.
Midnight in Austenland is a follow up to Austenland. It's not exactly a sequel in that it's the location (Austenland) that's the same, not the main characters. While Austenland is an homage to Pride and Prejudice, this one is in the style of Northanger Abbey (review coming).
A successful business woman recently divorced turns to Jane Austen's novels as a means of coping. When that isn't enough, it's suggested that she take some time off from her business (affordable landscaping). She goes to Austenland, playing an older widow. She's not looking for romance, even though that's technically part of the package.
Instead of finding romance, Charlotte finds murder. Although there is a secret of the family estate type mystery built into the fortnight retreat, she believes there has been an actual murder. With the help of other guests and the man hired to play her brother, Charlotte does her best to solve the fictional mystery and prove that there was an actual murder.
It was a fun read with greater depth in both plot and character creation than the first Austenland. In terms of themes and in Charlotte's back story, I was favorably reminded of Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella.
The Canary Trainer: 06/22/13
My first experience with Nicholas Meyer's take on Sherlock Holmes when I saw The Seven-per-Cent Solution on cable at my grandmother's. Later I came into possession of the book and its sequel, The West End Horror. But I didn't have the final one, The Canary Trainer so I put it on my wishlist.
When it was time to pick up The Canary Trainer at the library, I had some time while I waited for my kids to finish what they were doing. So I sat on one of the comfy couches in the children's wing and I started to read. By the second page I was struck with how similar the book was to the opening of The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King.
Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain now. After re-reading The Beekeeper's Apprentice I realized that they had to be pulling from an Arthur Conan Doyle book I hadn't read. So I did some poking around and realized I'd missed two: The Return of Sherlock Holmes and His Last Bow. They are often published together and I have them now on my to be read pile.
So that takes me back to The Canary Trainer. It begins with Sherlock keeping bees. But he is pulled back into his profession, this time not by a fourteen year bookworm but by his old friend Watson.
The game a foot relates to Holmes's time when was away (namely between the time that Doyle killed him off and was forced by angry fans to resurrect him). The tale he tells shares points of similarity again with King's vision of things as related in The Language of Bees. This time, though, Meyer takes the story and weaves it into another contemporaneous story, The Phantom of the Opera.
Being a fan of The Phantom of the Opera (the book and the original film, not the stage play nor more recent film), I had fun imagining Holmes in the middle of it all. He was trying to get away from being a detective, being there instead to play violin. Mysteries though always have a way of finding a detective, especially those who don't want to be found!
Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: 06/21/13
I've had my website longer than John Scalzi but he's been blogging for longer. Your Hate Mail Will be Graded was originally published in 2008 to celebrate ten years of entertaining, thought provoking blog posts with a political bent. The content was revised somewhat for the trade paperback that was released by Tor two years later.
The book is divided into themes, meaning that these (sometimes) fleshed out posts are often times out of order. While it's good for seeing all the essays on a given topic, I would have preferred to see the progression of Scalzi's thought process as well as skills as a blogger.
As a current (but not long time) reader of Whatever I enjoyed the chance to catch up with the earlier posts. I find it easier to read in print than scrolling and clicking through pages and pages of archives as one would have to do with a blog as old as Scalzi's. I recommend the book, therefore to anyone new to his site or to fans of similar political blogs (such as Balloon Juice).
Changeless by Gail Carriger is the second of the Parasol Protectorate books. Alexia, the new Lady Maccon, is settling into married life and her new responsibilities when the supernaturals of London suddenly find themselves not so supernatural. Werewolves and vampires are stuck in their mortal form and the ghosts have vanished.
And just as quickly as it happened, the problem vanishes. But clues point to the problem moving north towards Scotland. Not to be left in the dark, Alexia follows her husband to his ancestral home.
Changeless offers a chance to explore more of the world, and more of the rules of this alternate 19th century. Travel is by dirigible. Communication is through the aether.
Scotland meanwhile reveals more about how Alexia's soullessness works — though not thoroughly enough for her or her husband's satisfaction.
I enjoyed traveling along with Alexia. I liked learning more about Lord Maccon's pack and how werewolfism supposedly works. I adore the haberdasher / inventor who keeps Alexia both stylish and well armed.
But the ending seemed to come out of nowhere. Not exactly, of course, but the reactions by characters at the end seemed out of character, especially for Lord Maccon. I didn't notice this during the initial rush of reading, but it's been nagging me now as I think about the book.
The Big Wander: 06/19/13
The Big Wander by Will Hobbs is a tween fiction about a fourteen year old boy doing his best to find his missing uncle. When the book opens, Clay and his older brother, Mike, leave Seattle for Arizona and New Mexico, in search for Uncle Clay.
Mike and Clya are on their own during summer break while their mother is in South America, doing charity work. They have about $200 and an old truck to last them through the summer. Their only clue is a call from a place that sounds like "Restaurant Hay."
The book has three distinct parts (with a small coda at the end): the brothers traveling together, Clay by himself, and Clay with a Navajo family. It's not until Clay is on his own that the book becomes something special.
Clay, relying on a burro, a stray dog, and a later a pinto horse, gets into some of the most remote areas of the borderlands between Arizona, New Mexico and Utah (much but not all, within the Navajo Nation). His travels take him roughly from Monument Valley to present day Lake Powell — in the weeks before the valleys were flooded to create the lake.
Accidental Time Traveller: 06/18/13
Accidental Time Traveller by Janis Mackay is about the friendship between a boy in 2013 and a girl from 1813. Saul is on his way to the corner shop on an errand for his mother when Agatha suddenly appears in the middle of traffic. He helps her find a place to hide, helps her adjust to 2013, and ultimately helps her find her way home.
The book is probably best suited for children living in and around Edinburgh, Scotland as it's very detail oriented, especially for Agatha's half of the story. There's an afterword by the author explaining the inspiration for Agatha.
That said, Saul is a relatable protagonist. Although he's frustrated by having to now share his parents (and their limited funds for toys) with his infant twin brothers, he's not consumed by his emotions (as is often the case with this sort of set up). He is genuinely concerned about Agatha and is willing to help.
Agatha, too, isn't a complete fish out of water. Two hundred years is a long time, sure, but these a children growing up in the same neighborhood of the same city — a city with a much longer history. That shared geography with shared traditions gives Agatha a point of reference for learning about the modern day.
My one quibble, though, is the title. Yes, Agatha is a time traveller. But there's nothing accidental about her arrival in 2013. Perhaps the word unexpected would be a better one. Agatha is a time traveler, though this is the longest she's gone into her future. The how and why of her ability to travel is more grounded in metaphysics and magic than in wibbly wobbly science young Doctor Who fans might be expecting.
All in all, I liked it. It took me a while to settle on a premise I had misunderstood (as had other reviewers). Somehow I had expected Saul to go back in time, rather than Agatha to come forward in time.
Who's Seen the Scissors: 06/17/13
Who's Seen the Scissors by Fernando Krahn is a wordless picture book from the 1970s. It's done in pencil sketches except for red ink (or perhaps paint) reserved for the titular character, a magical pair of scissors that escape from a tailor and go on a flight through town.
Each picture builds on the last one with a red dotted line showing the path the scissors take. By comparing the before and after one can see the damage that the scissors have done. Flowers get decapitated, a lion gets a haircut, and so forth. It's really cute and doesn't require any sort of explanation in the form of words.
The only thing that could have made it better is if the scissors were shown traveling left to right. By reversing the path the book could be come one long panorama that follows the scissors through town and out the country where the circus is.
The Snowy Day: 06/16/13
In January of 2012, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats marked it's 50th anniversary. It was the first picture book to feature an African American child, a boy named Peter who went on to star in many more books. It won the 1963 Caldecott.
In this one Peter awakes to a snowy day and spends his day in a red snow suit exploring the wintery wonderland. He makes tracks. He slides down a hill. He makes snow angels. He tries to save a snow ball in his pocket.
Peter's a delightfully believable boy. He goes about his day exploring in a quiet sort of way. He's not extraordinary. He's not a caricature. He's just a boy enjoying a snowy day.
Keats's illustrations are sparse but colorful, especially the red suit against the white snow. They are done with blended gouache and collage. My daughter likes to study each page to guess where paper and where paint was used.
Someday by Charlotte Zolotow was published in 1965 but it's as relevant as ever. It's a very simple book but one any parent with imaginative children will relate to.
A little girl about four of five years old thinks about all the things that she will do some day. Someday her dance teacher will have the class watch her perfect performance. Someday a box of books will arrive when she has nothing else to do.
I came across this book during my cataloging internship. I was immediately struck by the cover showing a joyous girl dancing. On reading the book (which only takes a couple of minutes) I was reminded of my own daughter who must say "someday I will..." or "someday I want..." about fifty times a day.
The illustrations are by Arnold Lobel. He captures the girl's personality and dreams perfectly in his understated way.
Speaking from Among the Bones: 06/14/13
Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley is the fifth of the Flavia de Luce books. It's nearly Easter and Flavia is beset by unsettling news: the family home is up for sale and one of her sisters is engaged to be married! To divert her from such problems, is the discovery of a body in the vicarage.
The man's death is tied up in the history of Bishop's Lacey, the legend of local saint, and the pipe organ which has gone wonky in recent weeks. Along the way, Flavia learns more about her own family's ties to Bishop's Lacey as well as some more of her mother's life.
Stylistically, book five has returned to the format and pacing of the first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The current day mystery is tied up neatly with Flavia's family history as well as the history of the local surrounds.
As most of the previous reviews have mentioned, there is a doozy of a cliff hanger, but it's really to be expected. Flavia is who she is because of her mother's disappearance. While not much is answered on that account in book five, it's apparent that her mystery will be a big part of book six, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.
Read via NetGalley
Canadian Cinema Since the 1980s: At the Heart of the World: 06/13/13
Before I was librarian or a book blogger, I was a film student (on the theory / history side). In my six years of study, Canada (except for Canadian actors) never really came up. Canadian Cinema Since the 1980s: At the Heart of the World by David L. Pike addresses the invisibility of Canadian cinema.
Let's back up. If you think of Canada, depending on your cultural background, you probably come up with one of two possibilities — overly polite, wacky folks living above the United States, or a richly vibrant Francophone culture.
Pike's argument (and it holds up well under all the cited examples) is that Canada, like its two languages, has two cinematic traditions — one that is thriving (Quebec) and one that is basically the handmaiden to Hollywood's television industry.
If you watch American television, you're probably watching Canada (most usually Vancouver, British Columbia and surrounds) dressed up (more or less) like some place in in the United States.
But Canada does produce English language films. Wikipedia has entries on 1442 of them. Google search highlights a dozen of them. I think as part of my Canada reads participation, I may need to add a Canadian films component.
Packing for Mars: 06/12/13
Packing for Mars by Mary Roach is a world tour of the history and current state (as of the mid 2000s) of space travel. Each chapter focuses on one element of life in space or the history of space exploration.
The book opens with a scene that will be familiar with fans of the manga series Twin Spica. There's a team of would-be astronauts in a confined space, working on folding paper cranes. The cranes are part of a psychological experiment — and from there Roach explains the different things that Japan looks for in its program.
After the Japanese space program chapter, Roach jumps around the world and through history — apparently picking whatever topic came to mind next. Topics covered include the "vomit comet", animals in orbit, disasters, eating, pooping, vomiting, and so many more.
While I enjoyed Stiff, Packing for Mars seemed to a logical progression from topic to topic. With each chapter also having a rather lengthy introduction as to why this particular topic is either bizarre, disgusting or both — I ended up skimming large portions.
Great House: 06/11/13
Great House by Nicole Krauss explores the human condition through the four lives touched by an ornate writing desk. While it's sold as a novel, it's really more like four interconnected literary short stories.
I think here my rather less than enthusiastic reception to Krauss's book is due more to the medium than the message. I chose to listen to the audio — performed by four very well established narrators. While each reader did a fine job on his or her section — having four very different voices for each piece of the novel put too much emphasis on the short story aspect of the novel, and less on the connecting themes.
Great House probably does better in print as a book that can be flipped through, with passages re-read as the writing desk's journey unfolds.
Skywalkers: Mohawk Ironworkers Build the City: 06/10/13
Skywalkers: Mohawk Ironworkers Build the City by David Weitzman is a history of the building of the skyscrapers in eastern Canada and Manhattan. Weitzman shows how the skills used for building long houses translated into walking the beams needed for building skyscrapers and bridges.
I have mixed feelings about this book.
It is full of excellent archival photographs and quotes from presumably primary sources. It outlines a piece of history that, at least in my west coast education, is over looked in the brief discussions of the building of our modern cities, which began about 120 years ago. The book also has a lengthy bibliography that I'd like to peruse for further reading.
The text, as I mentioned, relies heavily on long quotations from other source material. These quotations are not cited on the same page, so linking up the source to the material is difficult. This lack of citation smacks of laziness and as an example to the upper elementary students reading the book, who will be at the age where they are learning how to write reports the book is also a bad example of proper citation.
The Great Desert Race: 06/09/13
The Great Desert Race by Betty Baker is was a gift for my seventh birthday. I wasn't much of a reader back then and after trying the first chapter, I set the book aside. It's taken me nearly thirty-three years to finally finish it!
A pair of teenage girls, one who works as an automobile mechanic, decide to enter a race that runs from their town near Los Angeles, California, to a small town in northern Arizona. The adults in their families don't want them go because it would be unladylike, possibly dangerous, and most certainly scandalous.
To make things more "interesting" the young women will be driving an alternative fuel car — one that runs on steam. The car in question, the author explains in her afterword, is fictional, but was based on careful research of actual steam powered cars.
There are two big hurdles to this slim volume and they come down to pacing. Baker tries to set up a strong feminist message, explain about how early car races worked, and outline how steam automobile engines worked, that her pre-race chapters are dense, preachy and sometimes unbearable to read. So much effort is put into setting up the story that there's no time to build the plucky, believable characters that will be needed to drive the plot!
Thankfully, once the girls are finally in the car and the race has started, it's a quick and fun read. I just wish the opening chapters reflected the rest of the book better.
The Twelve Bots of Christmas: 06/08/13
I know Nathan Hale mostly through his work as an illustrator for Shannon Hale's pair of graphic novels, Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack. After Yellowbelly and Plum Go to School, The Twelve Bots of Christmas is the second Nathan Hale picture book I've read.
The title pretty much sums up the plot. It's a robotic parody of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." My musically inclined daughter insisted that we sing the book. As lyrics the book ended up being a tongue twister for me.
Our favorite part of the book though is the artwork. The different types of robots are what make this book. They're somewhat retro and somewhat Futurama. It's hard not to compare all these Christmas themed bots to Robot Santa.
Odd Duck: 06/07/13
Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci is a children's graphic novel about friendship and being yourself. Theodora Duck has her routine and she follows it strictly and proudly. She lives by herself at the pond and is completely put out when an eccentric neighbor moves into the abandoned house next door.
Chad is everything Theodora isn't. He's disorganized. He's creative and spontaneous. He dyes his feathers different colors and he doesn't keep them combed. He likes loud music and making art out of found bits and pieces. He is a mess and he drives Theodora nuts.
Except — there might be something there that she recognizes of herself in him. She's not exactly Ms. Normal Duck either — even if her life seems normal from her point of view.
It's a really sweet book about being true to yourself while still being open to those unusual friendships. Rather than fitting in and trying to be like everyone else, it's good to find your own way and have a few friends who do the same, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Read via NetGalley.
My Invisible Boyfriend: 06/06/13
My Invisible Boyfriend by Susie Day is about the difficulties of being the last one in a group of friends to find a date. Heidi, who goes to a boarding school — only because her father works there — is such a person. All her close circle of friends are dating and she's the last singleton.
While she's not all that interested in dating, she's not immune to the pressure. She decides to relieve some of that pressure by inventing a boyfriend based on her favorite TV character — Mycroft Christie.
To make her boyfriend seem more real, she creates an online identity, including giving an email address and chat ID. She then emails back and forth to create the appearance of a long distance relationship. A goof up, though, gives her friends access to "his" account and soon she is chatting and emailing with her friends in her boyfriend's voice.
As you can imagine, there's only so far this sort of deception can go. I enjoyed both parts of the book — the set up and the aftermath when her deception falls apart. Yes — Heidi and company are shallow. They're young and at that age when bad ideas seem like good ideas. If the internet had been around when I was a teen, I probably would have invented a whole cast of fictional characters.
Stylistically — especially with Heidi's odd ball grammar, unbridled enthusiasm and sometimes weird word choice — reminds me of the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series by Louise Rennison. OK, I say that a lot — but I love the series and it's the bar I hold similar series to. This book comes close.
Ottoline At Sea: 06/05/13
Ottoline At Sea by Chris Riddell is the third of the Ottoline books. As of writing this review, it's also the last of the books. To fully appreciate the story, one needs a pair of bog goggles to follow Mr. Munroe as he heads back to the Norway bogs.
Ottoline and Mr. Munroe are once again home alone. Munroe, though, for reasons not made immediately apparent (to Ottoline, at least), gets the urge to go home. It all starts when he puts on a pair of newly delivered bog googles. Ottoline, worried for her friend, is hot on the trail with the help of the laundry stealing bear.
The Bog Goggles are special glasses that come in the back of the book. Putting them on reveals hidden artwork — clues that Mr. Munroe is following on his way home. For adult readers, I must recommend, not trying them out while drunk — they don't work. Although if you're drunk enough you'll see the hidden images without them (but won't be able read the text).
Thematically the book reminds me of the wonderful memoir, Attention All Shipping by Charlie Connelly. Maybe it's all the rain and boggy goodness.
The Secret of the Stone Frog: 06/04/13
The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra is a beautiful and lush graphic novel in the style of Windsor McCay's Little Nemo comic strip (1905-1914; 1924-7). Although most children probably won't have heard of McCay or that particular Nemo, they will recognize the continuing influence McCay's artwork has on animation and illustration.
The book opens with siblings Leah and Alan waking in an cavern, though still in their beds and night clothes. Rather than panicking, they quickly decide the sensible thing is to find their way home. They are told to stay on the path and follow the stone frogs.
Of course no visitor to fairyland ever stays on the path. Even well meaning and obedient children stray for one reason or another. They come to a home with a garden of giant bees, and a woman who bears a resemblance to both Yubaba (Spirited Away, 2001) and the Duchess (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1865).
But their journey isn't just through the garden path. There's a city and a subway too — thus bringing to mind both L. Frank Baum's Oz books, and China Mieville's Un Lun Dun.
The Secret of the Stone Frog is a gem of graphic novel. It could be the introduction the classics of fantasy.
Boy Meets Boy: 06/03/13
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan was a debut novel written to be the sort of book Levithan wanted to receive as an editor. It was also designed as a Valentine's day read. It's a high school romance between narrator Paul and new boy, Noah.
The setting is a small town where LGBT youth feel safe enough to be themselves. The high school too seems to be an LGBT utopia where straight kids are the minority. The explanation given for both these things is — it just is.
Paul falls in love with Noah after they meet in a book store. His ex boyfriend Kyle isn't necessarily ready to let him go. Meanwhile, there's a dance to plan. And paintings to paint. And swan boats to rent.
And... it's so saccharine. To make matters worse, I listened to the Full Cast Audio performance. Paul narrates everything — every mundane detail — with the same over flowing sense of awe and amazement that there's no drama or pacing. Everything is just marvelously perfect and beautiful — even when there's an argument or a hint of conflict.
I suspect in book form, this love story would be a nice escape during a weekend of reading. In audio, though, it's unbearable.
Escape from Bridezilla: 06/02/13
Escape from Bridezilla by Jacqueline deMontravel is the sequel to The Fabulous Emily Briggs. Emily, it seems, has gotten herself engaged and she doesn't want to be one of those brides — the ones who do nothing but obsess over the ceremony, dress and reception at the cost of all other things.
That's the premise anyway. Except that books set among the upper crust, privileged New York set invariably seem to end up being about perfection through the consumption of high end, expensive, brands. Toss in Emily's own dissatisfaction with her fiance and all that is left is the naming of names, the topping one brand or designer with another.
A third of the way in, Emily meets an off brand man. He doesn't fit in with her tidy view of things. Oh! Look it's a modern day Philadelphia Story without the good actors or witty writing.
I read this book mostly for the promised wedding planning humor. My grandmother was a wedding planner for about a decade and came out of retirement to plan my own wedding. I suppose I was looking for nostalgia for those hours spent with her in her office sharpening candles, tying bows and cleaning wax off candelabra. This book had none of that — just shallow consumerism.
Fletcher and Zenobia: 06/01/13
Fletcher and Zenobia by Edward Gorey is a rarity in that he wrote the book but didn't illustrate it. Instead, Victoria Chess did the artwork — but still in a style that looks Gorey-ish to me.
Fletcher's a cat who has decided to live up in the branches of a large tree. Zenobia is a doll who has become stuck up there under extraordinary circumstances. Together they have parties and adventures, including eating too much ice cream with a giant caterpillar.
Although the book is out of print, a number of libraries still have a copy. If you're interested in reading it, I suggest starting there. There is also a sequel, Fletcher and Zenobia Save the Circus.