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September 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



Where Do The Animals Go When It Rains?: 09/30/13

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Where Do The Animals Go When It Rains? by Janet S Crown is a short (24 pages) picture book about animals, their environment and rain.

As the description explains, this book was born out of a nightly routine of the author inventing animal stories with her children. The titular question is one I've heard plenty of times from my two. I'm sure I asked my own family the same question as a child.

The simple style to illustrations (think Saturday morning cartoon) and the one sentence rhyming explanation per animal makes this a book best suited for the youngest of readers — those just learning to snuggle up to a goodnight read before bed.

As there aren't a wide range of animals included, parents have the room to augment the book with whatever animals live nearby. Here we would include wild turkeys, quail, rattle snakes, and so forth.

Three stars

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Mr. Flux: 09/29/13

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Mr. Flux by Kyo Maclear is one of those books that makes me say, "huh?" On the one hand, it's the story of Martin who has a serious problem facing change of any sort and the man who swoops in like Mary Poppins to fix him. On the other hand, it's a weird introduction to the Fluxus avant-garde art movement of the 1960s.

With Odd Duck and now Mr. Flux, there seems to be an epidemic of children stuck in ruts. Children's books seem to have a theme du jour, and I guess it's now "change is good."

Looking at just the plot of Mr. Flux coming to the boring town rescue Martin, his family and his neighbors, the book is pretty standard fair. There's a kid with a problem. It's further enforced by his environment. It takes an outsider to solve the problem and leave the kid and his town in better shape for it.

But there's the whole Fluxus thing. The Fluxus movement was started by George Maciunas and had members such as Yoko Ono and George Brecht. And here's where I start scratching my head. This is a book for third graders. Granted, I knew who Yoko Ono was in third grade, but back then she was hard to avoid. The modern day kid isn't going to know who she is or get the subtle call outs to the art movement and its participants. Nor am I sure their parents will get the connection — maybe their grandparents.

If the point is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fluxus movement, then perhaps a different audience should have been targeted. I can see Mr. Flux fleshed out to a graphic novel length and aimed at young adults.

Three stars

See also

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Should I Share My Ice Cream?: 09/28/13

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Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems is the fifteenth Elephant and Piggie book. Gerald has an ice cream cone and is trying the best the way share the joy with Piggie.

So the question isn't: should he share the ice cream or keep it to himself. The question is: what's the best way of sharing the ice cream eating experience with Piggie? Should they share the same cone? Should he get another flavor? Is so, which one?

Now the problem if, of course, that ice cream melts. Therein lies the humor and charm of this volume of Elephant and Piggie.

Five stars

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Into the Gauntlet: 09/27/13

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Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix is the end of the initial hunt for the 39 Clues. There is an 11th book — a collection of four short stories — that spins off a new series: Cahills vs. Vespers.

The clues have taken Dan and Amy around the world and now they are back in Europe — England, this time. Their last clue hinges on Shakespeare and his play, Loves Labour Lost. If you know a thing or two about the Bard (or have seen "The Shakespeare Code" episode of Doctor Who) you've heard of the "lost" sequel, Loves Labour Won.

Me being a fan of Doctor Who, and perfectly willing to imagine him having adventures in all sorts of different stories, I have no problem believing he's an honorary Madrigal. Regardless, this volume is all about the Madrigals and their behind the scenes role in the Cahill successes.

As with all the other branches, the Madrigals have a hideout. That's where everything comes to a head an truth behind the 39 Clues is finally revealed. I found their compound a little hard to swallow but seeing how all the remaining teams reacted to reaching the end was fascinating.

Four stars

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Scholastic Dictionary of Spelling: 09/26/13

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Normally on this blog I don't review reference books. It probably seems incredibly silly to see a review of a dictionary. Heck, it even feels a little silly reviewing one. But here we are! This is a review of the Scholastic Dictionary of Spelling by Marvin Terban.

I have two children. Both read above grade level but my oldest takes after me and has always struggled with spelling. Over summer vacation, I wanted to help both my kids improve their spelling. Although they are different ages, for me, it's easier to tutor them together (or at least on the same subject).

The Scholastic Dictionary of Spelling is just that, a book aimed at teaching elementary and middle school students how to spell the 16,000 (and change) words they will use most. Before the actual dictionary section (which is understandably the bulk of the book), there are shorter sections on phonetics (including the dastardly but ever present schwa [ə], homophones and homographs, compound words and pluralization. For those most often misspelled words, there's a mnemonic section. For example: "Advice: my advice is don't slip on the ice" (p. 27).

Most of the dictionary, is in fact a dictionary. But even here, emphasis is on helping students (and parents, who might be using it to design spelling tests) learn spelling by seeing syllabic patterns and where the stress falls in words. The stressed syllables are put in bold.

This dictionary is visually appealing and easy to read. It's not one that will teach children archaic words, complex phonetics or obscure definitions. But for getting children back on track with their day-to-day spelling, I think this dictionary is the most useful one I've seen.

Five stars

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Daffodil: 09/25/13

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Daffodil by Noël Kingsbury is a gardening reference to the history and breeds of daffodil. Along with the practical information are numerous, luscious photographs by nature photographer, Jo Whitworth.

One of the most interesting discussions early on in Daffodil is on division between narcissus and daffodil. Here in the States, it seems that anything that isn't the classic daffodil shape and color ends up being sold as a narcissus. According to Kinsbury, there really isn't a difference between the two and she calls all of the followers, regardless of shape, size or color, daffodils. I like this approach (for a hobbyist gardener, I'm terrible at remembering flower names).

Later sections of the book are divided into the different types of daffodil by their shape — number of pedals, trumpet length and shape, and colors. Having only grown a couple varieties myself, I had no idea there was as much variety as there is.

As this book is gorgeous to look at, it would also make a great coffee table book. It's a useful reference and one to put out when guests come by.

Five stars

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Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action: 09/24/13

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Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action by James Sturm is the third of the comic books that teach children how to make comic books through example. The king is missing and the castle's been invaded by Otto Airs, who is making a movie.

Using the casting call as the excuse to introduce character types, Characters in Action goes through the basics of designing characters and building bodies from basic shapes.

There's also a story involving the princess-knight, her dragon, and the elf. None of the follow up books match the fun and positive message of the original but this one is a close second.

I think readers who are ready to expand their skills after working through the original will enjoy trying their hands at more complex character design.

Read via NetGalley

Four stars

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How They Croaked: 09/23/13

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How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg looks at the illnesses and ultimate causes of death of nineteen famous people, from Tutankhamen through Albert Einstein. It manages to be an upbeat, and sometimes funny book while discussing a number of disgusting ways to die.

The book spends more time and effort on the earlier examples than the more recent deaths. Albert Einstein, for instance, isn't so much a gruesome death as he is an oddity postmortem. Einstein's brain (as Driving Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti explains in greater detail) was removed and kept by the medical examiner.

The one takeaway message from the book besides everybody dies is that medicine has improved a great deal in the last few decades.

Four stars

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The Awakening: 09/22/13

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The Awakening is by Kelley Armstrong is the second of the Darkest Powers trilogy. In the last few weeks Chloe gone from being a fairly average high schooler to being a powerful necromancer. She's on the run from Lyle House and the Edison Group

As with so many trilogies — especially one that involves a final fight-or-flight show down in book three — the second book ends up being the transition from the initial state (unsuspecting hero at home) to the final battle grounds. In Chloe and friends' case, that means hiding out in various abandoned places and a lengthy bus ride. If this were The Hobbit (which wasn't originally a trilogy — but hey! — this wold be Biblo et al in the forest, the spiders, the getting captured and escaping in barrels, with Smaug and his horde being the tantalizing bit of adventure before the all out war).

So Chloe Baggins still not sure how to use her ring (necromancy) accidentally summons bats, dead homeless folks, various roadkills and whatnot. Meanwhile Derek seems to be suffering from dramatic werewolfism. Rather than follow a lunar schedule, he seems to fall into the throws of transformation whenever it's dramatically inconvenient. Bad guys coming? Quick — try to transform. Zombies on the prowl — quick transform!

Despite the goofy plot, I did enjoy the plot. (I also like The Hobbit for similar goofy reasons). I think it's more flawed than the Darkness Rising trilogy but it's still fun. For fans of this trilogy, I also recommend the anime/manga Is this a Zombie?

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Gulp: 09/21/13

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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal is Mary Roach's fifth book covering some odd ball piece of science. It covers nearly everything from the nose, mouth and all the way through to the other end. The small intestine though gets pretty much passed over.

Roach's books are never just about how one part functions vs another part. No, instead, it's a collection of odd facts — or perhaps the most bizarre story she can find about that part or topic.

For the nose, we learn about fine art of wine and olive oil tasting (as its mostly done with the nose). I found her descriptions of trying to be a taster hilarious and reassuring. It's often assumed that anyone living so close Napa and Sonoma — major sources of California's wine and olive oil will be connoisseurs of one or both. That's not true and Mary proves that with her usual enthusiasm.

As the book progresses down the alimentary canal, the chapters go for more and more of the gross out factor. For the most part, Roach avoids sophomoric humor while talking frankly about what she's learned. Yet the writing remains entertaining.

Four stars

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50 Underwear Questions: 09/20/13

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50 Underwear Questions by Tanya Lloyd is the third in the 50 Questions series. This one tackles the unmentionables and traces the history of underwear from the Romans to present day.

Along with the discussion of underwear styles, is a humorous but frank talk of hygiene. Underwear in the middle ages was worn in lieu of bathing. If you're living around open sewers and contaminated water, a bath in the stuff probably isn't high on your list of fun things!

More recently, there's the history of the Y front. Just as the demin book (link to review) mentions the major jeans brands, this one drops brand names too, such as Jockey. Here though, there are centuries of history of underwear to discuss, rather than a hundred and fifty years or so for denim. That means, the brand names don't dominate the book.

Read via NetGalley

Five stars

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Song for Papa Crow: 09/19/13

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Song for Papa Crow by Marit Menzin is a picture book about a young crow who is trying to find his place in the world. Little Crow is unhappy with his caw. Papa Crow does what he can to soothe him and make him see the importance of it.

Little Crow is unhappy because the other birds are laughing at him. He wants to fit in. But he does eventually learn the power and importance of his caw.

Along with Little Crow's caw, the book includes the calls of a variety of other birds. It's a good start for children who might be interested in bird watching.

The colorful illustrations are a mixed media collage. They are the big draw of the book. Her primary medium is cut paper.

Read via NetGalley

Three stars

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Waterless Mountain: 09/18/13

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Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer won the 1931 Newbery Award for its depiction of life on the Navajo (written Navaho in the book) reservation. The introduction says the author made a name for herself for being one of the first Caucasians to successfully live among the Navajo.

Despite the enthusiastic introduction, it took me a while to get into the story of Younger Brother. It starts as the boy decides to begin his training to be a Singer (haatali). Although later on Armer demonstrates her knowledge of Diné bizaad, these early chapters rely almost exclusively on translation. While "Younger Brother" is a completely normal affectation within the family structure, it sounds odd in English — especially capitalized as a proper noun.

Later on, as Younger Brother grows and explores beyond the family hogan and land, he earns a nickname and his warrior name. Along with that, he also meets people from outside Dinétah and to emphasize the cultural shock of hearing a language other than his own, Armer tosses in more Navajo vocabulary.

Just as Mandarin transliteration has changed since its been taken over by native speakers, so has Diné bizaad (which only recently has become a written language). There are still differences between Arizona and New Mexico dialects, but not as extreme as the differences between 1930s transcription and the modern day written language. Just as Beijing was once Peking, belagaana (white / non-Navajo) is rendered here as "pelicano."

Even with these oddities in the language, Younger Brother's story transcends normal expectation for a coming of age story about a young Native American boy. Instead of it being a typical spirit quest that highlights the cliché of the noble savage, it's an honest to goodness story of a young man trying to put all the pieces of his life into a coherent internal narrative. He does complete his haatali training; He also falls in love with airplanes. Those two things bring him to the conclusion that he must head west to Turquoise Woman's island (see my review of The Gathering for more on her).

Now this quest I expected to end at the western sacred mountain (near Flagstaff). But it doesn't. Instead the quest takes on a similar direction as Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel (review coming) — thus bringing Younger Brother an the rest of his family out of the comfort of the Waterless Mountain area to Santa Barbara.

That unexpected trip both floored me and delighted me. Although my initial drive to learn more about the Diné began near Flagstaff, it was at U.C. Santa Barbara that I had the first opportunity to do so.

Four stars

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Flowers for Mrs. Harris: 09/17/13

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Flowers for Mrs. Harris by Paul Gallico is better known now a days as Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris. My grandmother had a pen pal in England (from my grandfather's time serving as a military police guard during WWII) who would send her books. She sent all of Paul Gallico's Mrs. Harris books but my grandmother loaned them out to friends and over the years, she only had her favorite of the lot, Flowers.

In 1992 she and I watched the made for TV movie adaptation staring Angela Lansbury and Diana Rigg. I'm including the scene I most remember from the TV movie. My grandmother enjoyed the movie but being a rabid fan of Gallico's slim volume, she too exception with certain changes. At the time, I hadn't read the book, so I found the TV movie quaint and charming (OK, I'm a sucker for pretty much anything featuring either Lansbury or Rigg).

When the film ended, my grandmother dashed off to her bedroom where she kept her stash of FAVORITE books. She returned with Flowers for Mrs. Harris and put it in my hands. She wanted me to have it, read it and keep it. Sadly college, multiple moves and children got in the way of reading it while she was still alive. Now twenty-two years (yikes!) after she gave me the book, I've finally read it.

Flowers for Mrs. Harris is just as charming as the TV movie, although I would say that Mrs. Harris isn't as frumpy as Angela Lansbury was playing her. If she had done more of a Jessica Fletcher (from first season before her fame had taken off) she would have been closer to how Mrs. Harris is described in the book. Work, class, and age have made Mrs. Harris a plucky and determined woman who for the last three years has had her mind set on something far afield of normal expectations (a Dior dress).

The change though that annoys me the most is the dress, "Temptation." It is described in the book as a black sequenced affair — something I would think of as an Audrey Hepburn dress. It's something that apparently every woman will at sometime in her lifetime desire to own (not there yet, myself, but hey). It's a dress that ultimately Mrs. Harris doesn't get to wear (beyond the fittings) but a young friend of hers desperately desires to wear. The white thing that they use as "Temptation" is neither tempting nor youthful. Yes — it looks good on Angela but it's not in keeping with her character, Mrs. Harris.

And finally there's the title. Yes, Mrs. Harris drops her Hs and yes, she does go to Paris and spend more time there than expected. But neither the trip to Paris nor her accent are the point of the book. The point of the book is that Mrs. Harris is of the same class level as the people she meets in the Dior showroom. Yes, she has cash to purchase (just barely) a dress and that does open the door for her, but ultimately it is her recognizability as a member of the serving class that makes buying the dress possible. Gallico goes into the minds of the other Dior employees, all of whom are scrimping and saving for a better life. They decide to give one of their own that last little push so she can purchase a Dior dress and for that brief week pretend to be upperclass.

The flowers that she receives at the end — well after the misadventure with the dress — represent each and every person in Paris that she met and befriended. The flowers are their personal gifts to her. That's why Flowers for Mrs. Harris is a better and more poignant title than the kitchier Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris.

I think I need to track down the other Mrs. Harris books, preferable British editions, so I can recreate my grandmother's collection.

Five stars

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The Crows of Pearblossom: 09/16/13

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Aldous Huxley wrote The Crows of Pearblossom for his niece. It has been reissued a couple of times with different illustrators. The version I read had artwork by Barbara Cooney. The review on We Too Were Children includes information on the history of the story and its posthumous publication in 1967. Books 4 Your Kids has a nice comparison of the Clooney and Sophie Blackall illustrations.

Amelia and Abraham Crow try and try to start a family but every day they come home to an empty nest. While they are away, a snake comes to eat their egg. They go to owl for advice and he helps them devise a trick to stop the snake for good.

It's a strange little tale putting two different trickster characters at odds. I think this book would have appeal for children who enjoy fables like Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears (link to review).

Three stars

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The Voyage of the Space Beagle: 09/15/13

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The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A.E. van Vogt is a novel comprised of four related short stories, woven together by some connecting text. As the title implies, the novel is about a futuristic ship of explorer-scientists who hope revolutionize mankind's scientific understanding in the same way that Darwin's observations on the Beagle did.

Van Vogt includes multiple points of view to sell his idea of Nexialism (a unifying theory for all fields of scientific study). He gets into the heads of the various scientists and crew as well as the super intelligent, incredibly alien, and of course, predatory and dangerous creatures the Beagle picks up for study.

And that's where things fell apart for me. The monster of the story isn't a sympathetic glimpse into understanding the Other. Instead it's the prototype for any number of B movies — the one who will invariably hunt down the crew and either kill them, mutate them, or impregnate them one at a time.

Two stars

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Way Station: 09/14/13

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Way Station by Clifford D. Simak won the 1964 Hugo for best novel. I chose to read it based on the award. I should mention that I'm not a Simak fan. I read some of his novels as in college and wasn't impressed. I even threw one of them across the room, The Goblin Reservation. Knowing this one was so well received, I decided I should give it a chance. I should note that I've also repeatedly tossed Huck Finn across the room even though I love most of Mark Twain's books.

Way Station has a contemporary setting — the mid 1960s. The U.S. government has been monitoring a hermit — Enoch Wallace — for decades. As anyone can guess, he's been there since the Civil War.

The government investigation has a Twin Peaks feel to it and had it stayed focused on it, I would have loved it. But the focus changes to Enoch's point of view. Rather than discovering his secret we're told out right that, yes, he's really more than a hundred years old and here's the reason why.

Through Enoch we're in turn introduced to a character named Ulysses who loves to reminisce. Those memories end up being the bulk of the book as well as lengthy discussions on humankind's fate and it's inability to adapt to alien technology. Thus, the drama and mystery of the first few pages is replaced with a rather humdrum dialog between an altered human and his alien guest.

Recommended by Dan Tannenbaum

Three stars

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Ideas and Opinions: 09/13/13

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Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein is a collection of his letters and published opinions on a variety of topics over the course of his life. The book is divided up by topic and the articles therein are published in chronological order — some with explanations but most without.

These articles read like blog posts — and in a way they were — but for the printed word. As they were for newspapers (primarily), there's a formality to them that even the most carefully crafted blog post seems to lack.

For casual reading, Ideas and Opinions was a little dry for me. But as a reference it's still fascinating. Were the copy not a library book, I would have spent more time reading and musing over the topics that interested me most — especially his science lectures for the general public.

Three stars

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Super Boys: 09/12/13

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Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are the co-creators of the mild mannered reporter who works for the Daily Planet and when there's a need, dresses in patriotic tights and capes to save his beloved Metropolis or the rest of the world. Depending on the situation, he's known as Clark Kent, Kal-El, or, Superman — or, if he's being teased — Smallville. Super Boys, by Brad Ricca, is an extensive biography of the men behind the Man of Steel.

Superman has in his creation become part of the American mythos (as many of the comic book heroes have). With each retelling, his story evolves, but, as Ricca shows through his research, there are still numerous breadcrumbs leading back to events from his creators' lives and the times in which they lived.

That said, the book does start out slowly. It follows in the old biography tradition of including lengthy bits about both men's parents and other relatives. Sure, some of that is needed to give a contextual starting point, but after a few pages in, I felt the need to skim. Researchers though, might find these passages more useful than I did.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of the Superman comics (or the other adaptations and wants to learn more about the comics). It would also be a nice complement to a library with a graphic novel collection.

Four stars

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The Dark Wind: 09/11/13

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The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman is is the fifth of the Navajo Mysteries. While Joe Leaphorn is tracking down missing jewelry from a local trading post, Jim Chee is on the stakeout for someone who is sabotaging a windmill.

Chee's primary case is put on back burner when he witnesses a plan crash. While he believes it's a drug run gone awry but the drugs are missing from the plane. Meanwhile, the sabotaging continues.

As with every Hillerman mystery I've read, Chee's case and Leaphorn's case intersect. While Chee's investigation takes him into a juridictional mess of Federal, Navajo and Hopi lands — Leaphorn listens patiently to the stories around the Trading Post (which invariably seem to come down to witch craft being blamed).

An observant reader will be able to piece together the bits and pieces into a coherent story and the solution to the mysteries.

Five stars

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Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast: 09/10/13

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Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson is a slim Canadian book about a book lovers' bed and breakfast. Told in a combination of first person short stories, and letters from guests, the book chronicles the lives of twin brothers, Virgil and Hector, and their business.

Every other review I've found was written with enthusiasm and love for the book and its main characters. I wanted to count myself among these enthusiasts but I never managed to connect with either brother.

The set up should be perfect — a bed and breakfast filled with books and visited by eccentric guests. There should be dozens of stories waiting to be told. Except the language is formal and the experiences written too carefully — more like a book report than a conversation or a spur of the moment experience, that all the life and humor (for me, at least) is sucked dry.

Two stars

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Blameless: 09/09/13

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Blameless by Gail Carriger is the third of the Parasol Protectorate series. Alexia has fled her husband and is no longer in B.U.R's employ. All of this trouble because she's pregnant and that's not supposed to be possible because her husband is a werewolf.

So rather having another delicious romp through the British Isles, tracking down supernatural mysteries, I was stuck tagging along as Alexia and company flee first to France and then to Italy — only to end up in the hands of the Knights Templar (YAWN). Although the Templars were more interesting than they are usually portrayed, they are still on my list of incredibly boring plot points.

Meanwhile back home, Lord Maccon, spends his time in a drunk rage. Rant, rant, drink, drink, howl, howl. It's a werewolf pity party all around. I just couldn't get behind Maccon's temper tantrum. Sure he's a temperamental cuss, but he has until now seemed more liberally minded — and trusting.

Pushed aside in all of this forced Victorian ANGST fest is a genuinely interesting plot thread — the vampire hives putting a price on Alexia's head. Furthermore, her best buddy among the vampires has gone rogue and his favorite pet has been kidnapped. Basically — all hell is about to break loose back in England — and we're stuck in Italy with a bunch of Templars.

If I didn't already own books four and five, and if my husband hadn't already finished the series, and squeed all the way through the last two, I would have stopped reading here. That said, I will be starting up book four soon.

Three stars

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The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers: 09/08/13

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The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers by Lilian Jackson Braun is the last of the Cat Who series which spans twenty-eight mysteries, and one collection of short stories. This one reads like the coda on a series — a house cleaning and a tying of up loose ends.

In the other mysteries, Qwill's articles link up one way or another with a local mystery. The cats, too — especially Koko, tune into the mystery and through their antics help Qwill piece things together. Here, though, the mystery is rather subdued — really more of an after thought.

The mystery here, is the death of a young woman by a bee sting. Yes, it was well known that she was highly allergic to bee venom. Yes, she carried the medicine with her. Yes, she was known to be forgetful. And yes, her employer had worked out a way to help her remember. So how did she die? It's not the usual caliber of mystery but it's not really the point.

Instead, I see The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers more as a chance for Braun's authorial stand-in, Polly, to live her life and take chances — even if it means leaving loved ones (and beloved pets) behind. Personally, I think Polly made the right decision.

So the book isn't yet another by the formula Cat Who mystery, even though it bears the same formulaic title. It's more of a coda, or a love letter, to the characters. I think that the disconnect that I felt (and other reviewers have mentioned) is in how the book is promoted. It's sold as being another in the series (including having another mystery to solve).

Three stars

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Double Shot: 09/07/13

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Double Shot by Diane Mott Davidson is the 12th book in the Goldy Bear catering series. It's the last one to feature the JERK and the one in which he is the primary murder victim. It's also the first one to really feel like the series as I started reading it back in 2011 (as I started with Fatally Flaky.

Goldy has purchased an old restaurant near the lake. She has turned it into an events center and venue for her catering business. While preparing for a funeral lunch, she finds her food spoiled. Later she learns that John Richard Korman (her abusive ex husband) has been released from prison.

Before she can even accuse the JERK of sabotage, she finds his body. Now Goldy faces a new problem: being accused of killing her ex-husband.

As I've read ahead in the series and Sweet Revenge hinges on events that happen in Double Shot, I knew who was behind the murders. It didn't matter though. The book is still entertaining and character driven.
Looking at the series as a whole (or a near whole as I still have Crunch Time (2011) and The Whole Enchilada (2013) to read), I find a few recurring quirks troublesome. The first is Goldy's hard head. It seems in nearly book she sustains head trauma strong enough to black out (she's hit, in car crashes, falls, etc). The second is the ever changeable geography of Aspen Meadow.

It seems that everyone lives across the street from Goldy — and for the last couple of books she's been living in the same home! I know these mountain communities can have some crazy and meandering streets with small private roads snaking off the main one, but still — there must be other places for relevant characters to live.

Five stars

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Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: 09/06/13

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Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison is the first book in the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series. I started the series back when I was a first time parent and needed something easy and entertaining to read during those long nights with a fussy, hungry baby. That first child is now nearly a teenager and I've decided to go back an re-read the series and blog about the books that I haven't already reviewed.

In this first book, Georgia is nearly fourteen and she's eager to embrace being a teenager but she feels hindered by her completely daft parents, her bizarre and much younger sister (still in nappies!), her big nose and her lack of knowledge on the fine art of snogging (kissing).

Written in diary form — or now a-days, these would more likely be posts to Tumblr or similar, Angus, Thongs an Full-Frontal Snogging covers a year of Georgia's life. During that time goes to a kissing teacher, wears her school beret in a variety of funny ways, and discovers a Sex God.

For me, the book holds up. Now, I was an adult when I first read it and obviously, I still am! It remains for me a fun parody of the chicklit books that were so popular in the 1990s and early 2000s (Bridget Jones's Diary and the like). Interestingly, though, the series is now being repackaged for adult readers as straight up chicklit.

Five stars

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Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga: 09/05/13

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Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga by Teddy Steinkellner is a debut novel told from four points of view: Jake, Danny, Hannah and Dorothy. Through a variety of media including Facebook and email, the children recount their days in middle school.

Yes, middle school can be a hellish set of years. Different groups of children who have grown up together in elementary school are thrown together. Certainly as a child, I faced some of the worst bullying and fights of my entire life so far. And certainly every child brings his or her own challenges to school.

But I'm not convinced that Trash Can Days is focused enough to give a true sense of the challenges middle (or junior high school) students face. Instead, things are diluted by a strange sub plot involving Danny and Jake. Danny is hispanic and lives in an area where there are gangs and he's Jake's best friend because his father works as a gardener for Jake's family. I absolutely cringed at this white privilege, best-friend hero thing.

On the girl side of things, there's Hannah who is inconsistently written. She never seems to make up her mind. She flits around with which boy she's interested in, who she wants to be friends with and never seems to think about anything else. Dorothy, then is set as the oddball — because every coming of age story must have one. And of course, she's a writer. And of course, we have to read samples of her writing (which never seems to work well in fiction).

My final thoughts is that the book needs more polishing. The characters need to be either fleshed out more to make them more realistic — or made more extreme to make the book funnier. Frankly, one voice, rather than multiple, might have worked better.

Two stars

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Chopping Spree: 09/04/13

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Chopping Spree by Diane Mott Davidson is the 11th book in the Goldy Bear catering series. It is also the only one not performed by Barbara Rosenblat. As I didn't want to revisit familiar characters with a different voice, I read the book in print.

Goldy's catering service is taking off. It's the first time ever that she's earned enough money to think about splurging on things. Her now teenage son, Arch, has taken notice and has been bitten by the consumer bug. He wants an expensive guitar for his birthday. Goldy, feeling guilty for all their tight years as a single mother, agrees begrudgingly to get it for him after her catering gig at the new mall is complete.

Goldy also needing to pick up her gratuity after the investors' dinner at the mall, stumbles upon her employer among a heap of shoes. Before she do anything about it (like call 911), she's clonked on the head.

In fact, Goldy gets clonked on the head a lot in this book. When she's not being clonked on the head, she's drinking espresso — by the gallon it seems.

The mystery here revolves around problems with the mall construction. I think the inclusion of a mega mall in the otherwise rural / ski and hiking oriented Aspen Meadow area made believing the events of this book less plausible. Maybe too, it was the change in medium from audio to paper.

Then there was Arch's personality. He's usually a good, quiet kid who gets obsessed on his current hobby. Here, he's interested in music but he's so demanding. It's not like him and his personality change seemed mostly there for the sake of motivating the earliest chapters of the mystery.

Four stars

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This Perfect Day: 09/03/13

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This Perfect Day by Ira Levin is a near future dystopian in the same vein as Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World. It follows Li (aka Chip) from childhood through middle age as he questions, accepts, rejects and tries to escape from Uni — the all encompassing society built on the ashes of our current nations.

The how and why of Uni's creation is never fully described but hints are dropped, much in the same way that B&L's domination and destruction of Earth in Wall-E is. Chip's situation unique in that he is related to someone who both knows how things came to be and was apparently an active participant (for better or worse).

Much of This Perfect Day, though, is a quiet observation of the ways in which Chip and the others are so blindly complacent. Levin's rather bland narrative tone serves to underscore the oppression imposed by Uni by not commenting on it. Instead everything is presented as routine and even somewhat mundane.

It's not until about two-thirds through the novel that Chip comes to realize something is not right with how things work. It is also in these last few pages that Levin begins to weave in most of Uni's back story.

It is easy, though, to just take the events as described at face value. Therein, is the second layer of warning about just how easy it is to deceive and to be deceived. Though this is a quiet book, pay attention and question everything you read.

Four stars

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Rooftop Cat: 09/02/13

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Rooftop Cat by Frank Le Gall is the second Miss Annie graphic novel. Miss Annie is a young black and white cat who has adventures.

In this book Miss Annie's owners give her a cat door, allowing this, until now, house cat, access to the outside. She quickly makes friends with a pack of feral cats — who are of course — in heat.

An inordinate amount of the book is spent on cat procreation and frankly it's amazing that Annie makes it to the end of the book unscathed.

The last half of the book then deals with the death of a friend — an important character, I guess, from the first book, Freedom. This scene is the the more violent equivalent of the Black Cat moving away from Chi in Chi's Sweet Home.

Miss Annie has her adamant fans who adore her books; I personally do not see her appeal. I prefer the cuter and oft times more comedic manga series, Chi's Sweet Life, to this cruder and more frank portrayals of cats. Both series cover the same themes — I just prefer Chi's story.

Two stars

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Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 1: 09/01/13

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Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 1 by Gail Carriger is the first of a five volume adaptation of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. Volume 1 covers the same plot as Soulless the novel.

The original series is full of wacky, memorable characters, supernatural happenings, mystery and adventure. It's a naturally visually oriented book. It's perfectly suited for a manga adaptation. Heck, it's perfectly suited for an anime adaptation — and if there were one, I'd watch it!

The manga version is paired down to the most basic elements and the silliest moments. There's plenty of time to see Conall lose his patience and fall in love with Alexia. Lord Akeldama is resplendent in his best attire. The wax men are creepy, nightmare fuel.

I've read the second Soulless manga and have the third book on order at my local indie. I plan to read the entire series both in both prose and manga forms.

Five stars

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