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October 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



Into the Unknown: 10/31/13

cover artInto the Unknown by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty was short listed for a nonfiction Cybils in 2012. I read it as one of the judges. The book recounts key points in exploration history. It includes detailed explanations of the places traveled and the technology used.

The book is set up like a picture book for older readers. It's short on text and heavy on pictorial information. Any time I had an inkling of a question about where something, or how something worked, there was a gorgeous, easy to read and very detailed illustration. Some were maps. Some were cutaways. Even the jacket flap opens up to a map.

Into the Unknown would make a great addition to any upper elementary school classroom.

Five stars

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Miss Rumphius: 10/30/13

cover artMiss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney is the story of Alice Rumphius, who wants two things in life: to travel and to make the world a more beautiful place.

When travel isn't an option, Alice Rumphius settles on a comfortable life in a house by the sea. She takes lupine seeds where ever she goes, scattering them along the way. She leaves behind a legacy of beautiful lupine hillsides.

The edition I read featured beautiful prints restored from the original artwork. Those illustrations are on permanent display at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Five stars

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Tourmaline: 10/29/13

cover artThe back of the book description of Tourmaline by Joanna Scott says it's about an American family traveling to an island off the coast of Italy hoping to make a fortune in gemstones. I suppose that story is in there somewhere but I never found it.

The problem is, the book is written as a breezy conversation or perhaps a monolog. The protagonist rambles on about Elba, the trip, bits and pieces of history and various people met at different times. I kept hoping things would settle down but it never seemed to. The book from start to finish just rambled on with calls to remember this or remember that.

One star

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Phantom Eyes: 10/28/13

cover artRead via NetGalley

Phantom Eyes by Scott Tracey is the conclusion of the Witch Eyes series.

Braden has lost his powers. He finally (rolls eyes) comes to the conclusion that he's been a pawn in the decades old battle. And so he spends the rest of the book waffling between wanting to escape and wanting to fight back on his own terms.

If this series were Fringe (bear with me; I've been watching it on NetFlix), Braden would be Peter Bishop — the kid taken from one world to another and then taken back to be the catalyst of an EPIC event. Grace, the EVIL lady of Belledam would be Nina Sharp — the powerful head of M.D. that everyone needs but none is sure whose side she's on. Braden's father would be Walter / Walternet depending on whether he's being a good buy or not. And Trey — Braden's would be boyfriend would be Olivia.

But Fringe unfolded this elaborate, complicated and oft-times very silly plot over five seasons. The Witch Eyes series dumps it all on the reader in three books, all through Braden's constant whinging point of view. I really hoped to see some growth in him as a character. If anything, he became more annoying as the series progressed.

Three stars

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A Timely Vision: 10/27/13

cover artA Timely Vision by Joyce Lavene and Jim Lavene is the first book in the Missing Pieces mystery series. Dae O'Donnell is an antique dealer and the mayor of Duck, North Carolina — a thin strip of sand just off the coast of the mainland. Along with her two jobs, she also has the ability to find things — a talent she saves only for special occasions.

Miss Mildred, one of a pair of Duck matriarchs, comes to Dae to find the watch she has loaned her sister. Dae finds both the watch and the sister — dead in the sand. Mildred is accused of the crime and Dae feels its her duty to prove the police wrong.

The murder of Miss Elizabeth brings to light a long ago mystery of a missing con man from the prohibition era. Clues abound on Duck, including in an abandoned hotel, recently purchased by someone who has his sights on Mayor Dae.

For me it was the right combination of interesting characters, cozy mystery and long lost secrets. The exploration of the old hotel was icing on the cake. There are four more books in the series, the most recent one being A Finder's Fee (2013). I plan to continue with the series.

Five stars

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Their Eyes Were Watching God: 10/26/13

cover artTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is a powerful piece of literature about a woman trying to find her place in the world. The book covers the life of Janie Crawford, from her childhood, raised by her former-slave grandmother, through two unhappy marriages, and a final tragic marriage.

Structurally it's one I would have struggled to read and probably not finished had I read it in print. It's an extended flashback, told in conversation between Janie, who has returned home in presumed disgrace, and her neighbor friend, Pheoby. The dialogue is written in a strong dialect — something that usually makes me go cross-eyed. As an audio, though, read by Ruby Dee, the layers of conversation and the strong dialect become theatrical.

Janie Crawford's first two marriages serve as the backdrop for her reason to leave a rather comfortable life as a widow and landowner in Eatonville, Florida. After two abusive marriages (one physical, one emotional) she meets a man with nothing except his charm and his willingness to treat Janie on her own terms. Although she is potentially putting everything at risk, she leaves town to work a farm near the Everglades.

And it's there among the farmers that she finds true happiness. Except, mother nature has other plans. The last chapters of the book read like a first hand account of the flooding of the Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina (except, of course for the setting). It's in this section that the book gets its title and what ultimately makes the book a tragedy.

Five stars

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The Calling: 10/25/13

cover artThe Calling by Kelley Armstrong is the sequel to The Gathering. It opens with Maya and others in a helicopter trying to escape a forest fire. Rather than head to the mainland, the helicopter is heading north into the wilderness. Except they don't make it because the helicopter crashes!

The misadventures of Maya and friends makes Chloe's trip to Upstate New York seem like a cakewalk. Derring-do abounds. Thankfully, too, Maya has a much better handle over her transformative abilities than Derek who was constantly disrupting the plot with his melodramatic urges.

This book requires reading The Gathering first. The timeline is tight, though not as ludicrously tight as The Darkest Powers series. Also, like The Rules, the number one thing that Maya must remember is Trust No One (especially on a sparsely populated island).

My one quibble with the series is that all the books have gerund titles (as do all the Darkest Powers books). It makes it really difficult to remember the order of the books. For this series, I settled on calling them by their jacket art color.

Five stars

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So Thick the Fog: 10/24/13

cover artIn the earliest days of my membership in BookCrossing, there was no BetterWorld Books. Libraries that couldn't see their culled books were left with only other option: throwing them away. Social media savvy librarians quickly figured out how they could use BookCrossing to find homes for their culls without having to send them to the landfill.

I had a librarian friend — well before I even considered becoming one myself — who worked in the midwest. Anytime one of the libraries in her area were culling she would jump onto BookCrossing and offer up grab bags (boxes really) of books for the price of shipping. The more you were able to spend (in postage) to her, the more books she would mail back via media mail.

One of her last shipments before I could no longer afford to participate (both in terms of money and time), was So Thick the Fog by Catherine Pomeroy Stewart. She often sent me foggy books because of my location in the Bay Area.

So Thick the Fog, though has nothing to do with the Bay Area. Instead it's contemporary fiction about the invasion and occupation of France by Germany in WWII. The book is told from the point of view of a wealthy woman who goes with her family to their home in the countryside in hopes to ride out the war in relative peace.

Except, of course, war comes to the countryside just as well as it does to the cities. Piece by piece her family is ripped apart. Her husband is sent to war. Her daughter is "hired" by the Nazi's and shipped to Paris. And by the close of the book, there is very little left of her life before the start of the war.

It's a very depressing read but not a very satisfying read. Although the main character is experiencing horrendous things, Stewart distances herself from the inner most workings of her mind and heart. Instead everything is related in a dry, reporter-like fashion. These first person chapters read more like matter of fact letters, than experienced accounts of atrocities.

Two stars

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Rifka Takes a Bow: 10/23/13

cover artRifka Takes a Bow by Rebecca Rosenberg Perlov is a memoir in picture book format. Young Rifka helps out back stage while her parents perform on stage. One day she gets distracted with her explorations back stage and poof! she's on stage. What's a budding young actress to do?

Through a combination of Rifka's musings about life in the theater and Cosei Kawa's folksy illustrations, readers are introduced to the theater, and more specifically, Yiddish Theater. It's a very inviting introduction to a type of theater that has all but vanished.

As it happens, Rebecca Rosenberg Perlov did perform in Yiddith Theater with her parents. There's an explanation at the back of the back of the book. I think the story and the short biography would be a good starting point for teachers / parents to talk about the theater and Jewish culture with children.

Read via NetGalley

Five stars

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Demons are a Ghoul's Best Friend: 10/22/13

cover artDemons are a Ghoul's Best Friend by Victoria Laurie is the second in the Ghost Hunter Mystery series. M.J., Gilley and Dr. Sable are hired to check out the hauntings of the Northelm boarding school. There's a demon bully by the name of Hatchet Jack who is terrorizing a wing under renovation.

This sort of institutional haunting story is my kind of mystery. I've read quite a few of the and was able to draw from previous books to figure out the plot before M.J. or her boys did.

By the second book in I'm still not convinced of the friendship between M.J. and Gilley, nor of her chemistry with Dr. Sable. Gilley's flamoyancy and Sable's goofy English mistakes despite his education both distract and detract from an otherwise decently constructed ghost story.

Four stars

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Nicking Time: 10/21/13

cover artSet in Glasgow in the summer of 1976, Nicking Time by T. Traynor won the 2012 Kelpies Award. The book follows a group of school aged friends as they try to accomplish all their summer holiday goals.

As a contemporary (in terms of age, not geography) with Midge, Bru, Skooshie, Hector, and Lemur, I should have felt a nostalgic connection. But instead it read too much like those unavoidable, good-for-you books (or after school specials on TV that were unavoidable back then). I suppose that's good for building realistic characters set in a specific time period, but as someone who lived through that decade, their adventures didn't offer much in the way of something new (except a different location, as I was growing up in California at the time).

Worst yet, the true surprise of the book is jammed right at the end with no build up, no hint (beyond the title) that it's coming. One of the characters is literally living on borrowed time. And at the end the character ends up revealing this truth to the others with dire consequences.

Oh — if only this plot had been brought to the front burner. It would have been a delightful, creepy mixture of nostalgia and horror! But no, it's sitting in the back, simmering away until it finally boils over.

Better examples are both anime series from Japan: Another and The Melacholy of Haruhi Suzamiya (specifically, the eternal eight sequence). Watch those and skip this book (unless you're feeling nostalgic for 1970s Glasgow).

Two stars

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I Love My New Toy!: 10/17/13

cover artI Love My New Toy! by Mo Willems is the sixth Elephant and Piggie book. One of the best things about this series is that they can be read out of order. Given how popular they are at the library, chances are you will be reading them out of order!

Piggie has gotten a new toy. She loves it. She's eager to share it with Gerald. But she has no idea what it does. So when it looks like Gerald has broken it, things get a little awkward.

I don't think there's a single sad Elephant and Piggie book. Even when it looks like something bad has happened, Willems pulls a surprise ending out of his pocket. I Love My New Toy! does just that and it's both hilarious and charming.

Five stars

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This Happy Place: Living the Good Life in America: 10/19/13

cover artThis Happy Place: Living the Good Life in America by Bentz Plagemann is a short book about life in a small town. (William) Bentz Plagemann's writing career spanned from 1941 to 1990. He died in 1991.

My copy of This Happy Place has sat on my shelves for about six years since it was sent to me from a library cull. Work and young children kept me from reading any of the books that arrived in that box until now.

Although I'm now a librarian, I still approach most of my reading with the same nonchalance I developed in my teens. It's just me and the book. Sure, I have access to reviews and biographies and other news now via the internet, but I usually chose to leave those questions for after I've read the book.

Each of these chapters are more like short fictional (or, I suspect semi-fictional) essays about small town life. They are somewhere in the same literary neighborhood as Big Fish by Daniel Wallace or any of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon books — or the sequel to Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Mind you, I haven't yet read Blandings' Way (it's on my TBR pile, though) but it feels like a potential kindred spirit.

I laughed at the first couple chapters but as the book progressed, I began to grow tired of the protagonist. He's an adult middle aged man who because of his years, feels both obligated and privileged to comment on all aspects of life in his town. It doesn't matter whom he's describing, he is by dint of his years and his sex, an EXPERT. Other people's goofs are ripe for his "amusing" tales which he shares with us, his presumably eager audience.

So what started out as an amusing glimpse of small town life and the unique problems that small towns face, ended up reading more like one of those annoying Tumblr blogs. You know the ones.

Two stars

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Naomi and the Horse-Flavored T-Shirt: 10/18/13

cover artIn Kosher Nation by Sue Fishkoff I read that in the 1960s an estimated 90% of food consumed by American was processed. Naomi and the Horse-Flavored T-Shirt by Dan Boehl takes that thought to the extreme, imagining a near future where (at least in what remain of Texas), all food is created by the factory. Imagine a culture and economy based on paste production and consumption.

Naomi, the titular character, can see that a world built around paste doesn't make any sense. She decides to follow her heart and discover the truth behind the factory. Of course anyone familiar with the expression "ready for the glue factory" won't exactly be surprised by what she finds — but there are a few other eye opening details left for discovery.

Although the writing is a little rough around the edges, it reads like a blend of George Orwell (for the dystopian allegory) and Roald Dahl.

Three stars

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Adventures of Rusty & Ginger Fox: 10/17/13

cover artAdventures of Rusty & Ginger Fox by Tim Ostermeyer is a photographic picture book about a pair of foxes exploring their surroundings. Along the way they meet a variety of other animals.

Ultimately the pair of foxes find safety on Treasure Island, with the help of two curious girls. Along with the photographs, there are sidebars with information about the different animals met along the way.

There's a companion website that includes coloring sheets, safety tips and photographic tips. The current tip is how to stay safe around cougars (mountain lions).

I received a copy for review from the author.

Four stars

See also:

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My Side of the Mountain: 10/16/13

cover artAlthough Jean Craighead George wrote more than eighty novels for young adults, I only discovered her as adult through one of her last books, The Cats of Roxville Station.

My Side of the Mountain was one of her earliest books. According to the introduction, she had some trouble selling it because the publisher didn't want to encourage children from running away from home. Because that's what Sam Gribley does — he runs away from his crowded, small apartment.

But he also runs away to home. See, Sam has a plan. He's not running for the sake of running. He's running to a plot of land owned by his family — a failed farm in Appalachia. The farm is gone but the land remains and with the research he's done, he figures he can live off what naturally grows there.

The book covers Sam's first year on his own, including the time it took to get there. Sam makes mistakes along the way and he shares them readily. He also meets people who either happen upon his hollowed out tree, or people he sees in the town in the few times he has to return to civilization for one reason or another.

I listened to an audio version of the book, produced by Recorded Books and read by Jeff Woodman. The book's diary format lends itself to being read aloud.

Five stars

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Graceling: 10/15/13

cover artGraceling by Kristin Cashore is the first of a trilogy. Katsa is a graceling — her extraordinary powers marked by the mismatched colors of her eyes. Her grace is survival — but her uncle, the king, has been using her as his personal assassin.

Katsa, though, we learn has had enough of being as assassin at the whims of an irresponsible king. She has started a secret society to protect against this type of abuse. It is through one of these missions that she meets Po — another Graceling with the ability to know who is where and what they are thinking.

They end up together working. Each mission puts them in more an more danger. If they are to survive, they have to learn how to trust each other.

Early on the book is slow going. There's plenty of adventure but Katsa waffles between blindly accepting her role and hating her grace. It's really not until she finds Po and he pushes her in the direction of the BIG PLOT that things are able to get going.

There are also frustrating inconsistencies. Katsa, for the most part, acts like an adult and she certainly seems to have enough of a back story to be in her mid to late twenties. But then it's hinted here and there that she's a teenager and woefully naive about certain aspects of being a woman.

Then there is Katsa's grace. For the first 2/3 of the book she says her grace is killing. But later when she is forced to survive, and keep those with her alive too, her grace expands beyond the initial abilities. It's then that she says her grace isn't killing, but survival. Coming so late in the book, it was a jarring reset of the accepted rules. It also lessened the drama of crossing the mountains because of course she'll succeed and of course her charge will too.

Four stars

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Daylight Moonlight: 10/14/13

cover artDaylight Moonlight by Matt Patterson is at first glance, a children's picture book about opposites. It is also, though, an introduction into some of North American habitats and the animals who live there (both at day and night).

What drew me to the book was the cover illustration. It's a very good representation of the animals who live in our California Bay Area hills — including the wild turkeys (something that a recently published survey of birds neglected).

I do, however, have two small quibbles with the book — I want more pages and I want the animals labeled on the pages. At thirty-two pages, there's about a dozen environments represented, plus the index which has the labeled silhouettes. If the index were nixed, there could be more room for other environments, like the tundra, the Hawaiian islands, the Bayou, etc.

Read via NetGalley.

Four stars

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Bird & Squirrel on the Run: 10/13/13

cover artBird & Squirrel on the Run by James Burks is about an unlikely friendship between a hyperactive bird and a very nervous squirrel. The bird wants to migrate south for the winter and the squirrel wants to get his winter stores ready.

Except Squirrel ends up on a mad dash adventure with Bird. Toss in one angry and hungry cat who appears to be as big as great outdoors, these two unlikely friends are in for the adventure of their lives.

Bird & Squirrel is one of the most fun tween graphic novels I've read recently. Burks's experience as an animator comes through loud and clear in these eye catching character designs and his intense pallet of colors. Think of it as Regular Show for the somewhat younger set.

Five stars

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The Drowned World: 10/12/13

cover artThe Drowned World by J.G. Ballard is a speculative fiction piece about global warming. Here, the warming has come from fluxuations in solar flare activity, but given modern understanding of greenhouse gasses, one could easily imagine a different cause.

The main character is one of a group of scientists exploring the remains of large cities for survivors and to survey the changing ecosystems. The main character is old enough to have lived through the rising waters and he can recognizing the places he visits even through the high waters and numerous tropical vines.

I read The Drowned World on the heals of On the Beach by Nevil Shute (review coming). While that one is about the death of humanity from nuclear fallout, there is still a thematic kinship. Both show people in the remains of well-known cities as life winds down. Here, though, these urban centers are ghost towns from the rising waters and people fleeing to high ground, and cooler climes. Those who stay behind are the stubborn outliers, the opportunists who see something in the ruins and jungles that the average person doesn't.

On it's 50th anniversary, the book has been optioned for filming by the same company who did the Harry Potter films. Though the characterization is rather lacking, there are some very strong visuals — the encroaching gardens, the large insects, the drowned streets with leaning peeks of skyscrapers rising above the murky water. I suspect the film will keep the visuals and turn the rather quiet plot into something with lots of running and lots of giant insect monsters jumping out of the ruins.

Three stars

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Gringa in a Strange Land: 10/11/13

cover artGringa in a Strange Land by Linda Dahl is a historical novel set in and around Merida, Mexico. The novel covers approximately one year in Erica's life as an expat artist.

Now this book's blurb offers an exploration of the 1970s counterculture. Within the context of the Vietnam War, one would expect a protester, maybe with a boyfriend (or two) who are draft dodgers. Maybe some meditation to go with the mind altering drugs.

Instead, we get a washed out, well off, white chick going to the jungles of the Yucatan peninsula to drop acid, get laid and basically drop out of society. Sure, she sometimes slaps some paint on a canvas and sure she has learned the language well enough to get by, but she's basically there to make trouble.

She was a completely un-relatable character. The book is one long extended spring break. After struggling through the first fifty or so pages, I went into full skim mode. Although the location changed near the end of the book, Erica's behavior did not.

One star

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The Day the Crayons Quit: 10/10/13

cover artThe Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt is about the dangers of falling into an artistic rut. Duncan is an elementary school child and enthusiastic artist (and perhaps as prolific as B.B. Gunn from the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar) whose crayons have gone on strike.

In their place on his school desk, Duncan finds a small pile of letters. Each one is from one of his former crayons. Red is Duncan's favorite (and most abused) color. Purple's a bit of a neat freak and wants Duncan to stay in those lines! Gray is worn out (and down) from all those elephants, hippos and rhinos. White is tired of being invisible (since he only ever uses white paper). Pink wants more use and not just for princesses. And so on and so forth.

What the book most reminds me of is Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine epistolary series. Bantock created postcards and stamps to show the correspondence between a man and a woman separated by an ocean. Here the correspondence is between Duncan (through the samples of his artwork) and the crayons, through their letters (written, of course in the color of the letter's author).

Five stars

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School Spirits: 10/09/13

cover artSchool Spirits by Rachel Hawkins is a companion piece to her Hex Hall series. Izzy Brannick and her mother, both trained monster fighters, have moved to a small town in Mississippi on their latest assignment. They're also looking for clues to the whereabouts of Izzy's older sister, who went missing while on assignment.

Izzy can sense when someone is a Prodigium (witch, werewolf, demon, etc). And she has the vibe big time from her new group of friends (who happen to be part of paranormal explorers club). Someone, or something is causing the ghost of teenage girl to wreck havoc on the school and town.

Compared to the BIG STUFF and love triangles going on in the Hex Hall series, School Spirits is rather light on plot. That, in my mind, is a huge bonus. Not all YAs have to be about BIG DAMN HEROES. Not all crises have to put the entire world in danger to be important to the folks affected.

The characters and plot remind me of two anime series — Is this a Zombie? and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. For the more domestically minded, it's also a bit like Mystery Incorporated from Hotdog Water's point of view.

Currently it appears to be a stand alone book, but it ends with enough wiggle room for a second or even third book, in that the sister isn't found and there are clues revealed about the nature of her disappearance. If more books are written and published, I plan to purchase and read them.

Five stars

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Ill Wind: 10/08/13

cover artIll Wind by Nevada Barr is is the third Anna Pigeon mystery. This time Anna's been assigned to Mesa Verde in Colorado. Every Tuesday, it seems, someone needs rescuing for respiratory reasons from the Anasazi dwellings. And then, a boy dies and things go down hill from there.

Rumor gets around that a chindi (the evil that's left over by an unexpected death) want the National Park to close. When one of their own is killed, Anna decides to focus on solving his murder to keep herself from spiraling into depression fueled alcoholism.

The basic mystery — minus Anna's personal problems — is most like People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman. Having that one freshly in mind, I figured out the mystery long before Anna did. But I still enjoyed it for its location and the other characters.

My one complaint though, is the severe lack of a Navajo point of view even though some of the part time rangers are using their language and culture to explain away the trouble at the park. Granted, Mesa Verde doesn't sit within the bounds of Navajo Nation but it does border it. Except for a brief mention of Navajo tacos and a few jewelry vendors, they are oddly absent.

Hmph.

Four stars

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Vespers Rising: 10/07/13

cover artVespers Rising by Rick Riordan, Peter Lerangis, Gordon Korman, and Jude Watson is the bridge between the original 39 Clues series and the Vespers vs. Cahills.

Rather than being just an adventure with Amy and Dan, it's four short stories. It takes Cahill family through important eras: the loss of the family home, the rise of the Madrigals, Grace Cahill's first adventure, and finally a present day adventure with Dan and Amy.

My favorite two adventures were the ones with Grace Cahill and her grandchildren. While Grace's adventure might seem far fetched for a young teen during WWII, it was still more of a romp than the either of earliest stories. Grace's adventure also highlights more so than the previous two the ways in which the Vespers have operatives almost everywhere.

For anyone interested in jumping right back into Dan and Amy's adventures, Vespers Rising can be skipped.

Four stars

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Crunch Time: 10/06/13

cover artIt's hard to believe but after a year and a half of consistent reading (mostly through audio books narrated by Barbara Rosenblat), I'm now current with Diane Mott Davidson's mystery series. As of posting this review, I have read her most recent, The Whole Enchilada and will be posting a review in the near future.

Crunch Time by Diane Mott Davidson is the sixteenth book of the Goldy Schulz catering series. Goldy in Fatally Flaky was feeling like she had finally made it. Her business had taken off and she had a regular flow of business. Now business is constricting again as the economy takes a hit. Although things are a little tight for Goldy, she has hired Yolanda who had been the chef at the now defunct Gold Gulch Spa.

Before she knows it, she's also offering a home to Yolanda and her irascible aunt Ferdinanda. Bad luck and fires seem to follow these two women. Goldy even finds herself in one of these fires and has to rescue a litter of puppies. Pretty soon Goldy's up to her elbows in a puppy mill investigation, marijuana growing, and stalking.

All the way through the series, there have been inconsistencies in things like the local geography and in Goldy's personal timeline. There are sixteen books in the series up to Crunch Time and approximately six months pass between books. Looking at Arch's age, ten years have passed; he was in 5th grade in Catering to Nobody and in this one, he's sixteen. Goldy, though, doesn't seem to be aging along with Arch. Originally she's early thirties (in 1990) but her memories of life with her first husband (The JERK) describe situations that were more common in the 1970s — especially the outspoken misogyny and the expectations that the "med wives" be house wives.

I think this comes from a baby boomer writing someone a decade younger than herself at the start of the series. Goldy throughout the books talks and acts like a women who was closer to 40 and should now be closer to 50 than someone just now pushing 40 (speaking as someone who turned 40 this year).

That brings us to the next inconsistency due to the time slippage between writing/publishing time and narrative time — the economy. If the start date of the series is circa 1990, using the publishing year of Catering to Nobody as the origin. And if, by Arch's aging, ten years have passed, then the present time of Crunch Time should be circa 2000. That was the middle of the dot-com bubble. There was still plenty of venture capital funding and newly made millionaires were starting to drive up housing prices across the country. But Aspen Meadow is specifically suffering from job loss and a collapsing real estate market. One of the sub plots involves squatters going from home.
Putting the timeline problems aside — as I've forgiven the series these oddities before — the thing that really took me out of the moment was the extreme makeover of Yolanda's character. In Fatally Flaky she was the sassy, self confident and successful chef (albeit at a terribly run location, no fault of her own) that Goldy wants to be.

Now, with the JERK out of the picture, and Goldy relatively safe in her domestic space with a son nearly grown up, a loving and protective second husband, and the financial stability afforded by her now established business, Davidson dumps all of Goldy's old issues onto Yolanda's head. Now it's Yolanda who is in an abusive relationship. She goes from being strong (and fluent in Spanish) to being a complete emotionally mesh (and barely functioning in Spanish). All of Yolanda's original character traits are instead mapped onto her aunt, who if her stories of fighting in the Cuban revolution, must be about ninety now (but is written like she's seventy).

Three stars

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Anton and Cecil: Cats at Sea: 10/05/13

cover artAnton and Cecil: Cats at Sea by Lisa Martin is the story of two cats who live in a busy sea port town. Cecil, the tuxedo cat, loves the sea and wants nothing more than to be a ship's cat. Anton, the gray cat, is happy to stay at home to watch the ships come and go as they please. Except both cats end up at sea and it will take a miracle to reunite the two brothers.

Told in alternating points of view, the stories of Anton and Cecil slowly unfold, from their kittenhood, through their times at sea. Except for their different coats (something that will probably be easier to see with the completed illustrations), the cats' personalities also take time to shine through.

It's not until the last third of the book — well into the swashbuckling part of the adventure — that the two cats began to shine. There are pirates, and shipwreck, helpful whales, and magic tucked into these final pages. I just wish that these elements had surfaced sooner.

Read via NetGalley

Three stars

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What Color Is My World?: 10/04/13

cover artI grew up in a household full of late 19th century, and early 20th century American antiques. Although my father wasn't yet an antique dealer, he did later change careers and become one. His specialty is music and the machines to play them on — phonographs. He also has a thing for vintage American cars. So our home was (and their home still is) full of vintage technology.

Along with having this technology was keeping it running. That meant learning everything possible about it including the companies and people who designed and built them. And that in turn meant a much broader appreciation of the work behind innovation. Edison and Bell, for instance, were business owners — not the great inventing heros as taught in school. Yes, of course they did also invent things but their lasting success (brand recognition, if you will) was through hiring many talented scientists and engineers, as well as sales and marketing people.

The second thing during my childhood was that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a NBA basketball player who was also sometimes an actor. Since then he's worn many hats including U.S. Cultural Ambassador and author. His latest book is What Color is My World? which celebrates the contributions of African American innovators.

This nonfiction picture book is framed around the story of two kids bored during a move. They're far away from their friends and they don't know what to do. A mysterious handyman takes them through each room of the house and tells them about the African American inventors who have helped make modern life possible.

Included with the framing story are longer biographical blurbs about some of the inventors. If anything, I wanted more from this book. I realize the length is to make it accessible to young readers but I would love to see an expanded version for older children who might want to learn more.

Four stars

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I Thought You Were Dead: A Love Story: 10/03/13

cover artI Thought You Were Dead: A Love Story by Pete Nelson is about the special bond between man and dog. In this case it's a hack writer, Paul, and an aging, talking dog, Stella.

Paul is dissatisfied with his career — he writes for the "For Morons" series. His father has had a debilitating stroke. He's not sure he wants to continue in the open relationship he has with his girlfriend. He might be an alcoholic. And his best friend, Stella, is getting old.

But it's Stella who does the worrying for both of them. And it is she who says, "I thought you were dead," her standard greeting when he's out too late.

And here's where I had trouble with the book — to no fault of Pete Nelson's skill as a writer. In the states, dogs are often treated as furry children. And by extension, when we have conversations with dogs, we do it with a similar tone and limited vocabulary as we do with young children. It's no wonder that were they to answer, we'd expect them to answer somewhat like a young elementary school aged child.

And — that shtick has been done in book (and PBS cartoon), Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh. Having watched many episodes of Martha Speaks with my children, it was damn near impossible to not hear Stella speak in Martha's voice. I also often heard the theme song of the PBS show whenever Paul and Stella were talking.

Three stars

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Storm Warning: 10/02/13

cover artStorm Warning by Linda Sue Park is is 9th book in the original 39 Clues series. Dan and Amy are in the Caribbean. Though they still have Nellie in tow, they no longer trust her. Worse yet, there's a man in black following their every move.

In previous books the plot has been evenly divided between the Cahill drama of squabbling families fighting to find the clues, and the history of the region. Here though, the history of piracy in Jamaica and the Bahamas is pushed aside for the troubling aspects of Nellie's secret and the Man in Black.

After all the previous well crafted and interesting blending of history, mystery and adventure — Storm Warning felt rather slapdash. I realize that the series was in the process of wrapping up and Park probably had some key points she had to hit. But the blending could have been smoother.

Three stars

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The Time Fetch: 10/01/13

cover artThe Time Fetch by Amy Herrick is a tween science fiction adventure about time gone amok. Specifically, Edward, a rather depressed boy, hung up on existentialism has picked up a magic rock (a "time fetch"). By removing it from its hideaway, it is awakened and without the necessary keepers in place, it begins to gobble up time willy nilly.

The time fetch rock thing apparently has "touch me" all over it, because three other kids also take turns taking it. Which means when things go haywire, they are the only ones who are aware of the problem, and the only ones who can put things to rights.

This book has three problems: pacing, character development, and world building. From the description it seems like the book will jump right into the action within the first chapter. It doesn't. No — it gets slogged with multiple character points of view (the other three "friends").

In all of that, I couldn't tell that the book was taking place in Brooklyn. From the names of the children: Edward, Feenix, Danton, and Brigit, I imagined this being London or nearby village. How does an ancient magical rock that seems to work by faery magic come to the new world? If an explanation was given, I missed it as I slogged through this book

Read via NetGalley.

Two stars

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