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November 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



No Ordinary Owl: 11/30/13

cover artNo Ordinary Owl by Lauraine Snelling is and Kathleen Damp Wright is the 4th (and final) book in the SAVE squad tween series. It's also the only one I've read.

Esther (the E in SAVE) hopes to be a SAVE Squad member forever. But there are no new animals to rescue. And there's a MEAN girl who wants to break up the group.

In the middle of all this, there is a wounded owl. That gives the SAVE Squad something to rally behind. They have to befriend a mysterious man and his sister who rescue and rehabilitate owls. They also have to contend with the mean girl who slowly but inexplicably becomes their friend.

The animal rescue pieces of No Ordinary Owl are its strength. Living up the hill from an animal rescue center that takes in owls (and other animals), the owl rehabilitation details ring true.

The human relationships — especially the friendships between the SAVE girls — felt forced. Maybe coming so late in the series the characters have been established. But to me the girls didn't seem as well rounded or interesting as their adult or animal counterparts.

Four stars

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Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep!: 11/29/13

cover artTime to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep! by Mo Willems is the fourth Cat the Cat book by Mo Willems. This time Cat the Cat is helping her friends get ready for bed, all except one friend who is quite literarily, a night owl.

This series is aimed at beginning readers. The Cat the Cat books use limited vocabulary and repetitive words to help readers make that initial leap. It has Mo Willems' iconic style of illustrations, ones that are easy enough for young fans to draw themselves.

Although my daughter has moved on in her ability to read, she loves the Cat the Cat books. There's always a little humorous twist near the end.

Four stars

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Peek-a-Boo Monsters: 11/28/13

cover artPeek-a-Boo Monsters by Charles Reasoner is a short board book about hiding monsters. It is similar to books like Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden or That's Not My Dinosaur by Fiona Watt.

In its actual form the book features die cut pages with doors or whatnot to open to reveal the hiding but friendly monster. Reading the book as an egalley the big reveals were left to the imagination.

Nonetheless the monsters are adorable. I've certainly read enough of these types of books with my children to imagine how the book will look in real life. Were my children still in preschool, they would have loved this book.

Recommended for ages 2 to 4.

Read via NetGalley.

Five stars

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Another Brother: 11/27/13

cover artAnother Brother by Matthew Cordell is is a picture book about being a big sibling. Davy the sheep had four years being his parents' only child. And then his brothers started showing up.

Now it's some years later and Davy the sheep is the big brother to twelve siblings. Of course, they all want to do what Davy does.

Of course it's not realistic to have all of Davy's siblings be the same size but I can imagine that if I had more than one younger sibling, it might feel like they were all the same age.

What makes the book something special though are all the wooly cartoon sheep doing their thing. Sheep with balloons. Sheep eating breakfast. And at the front of the line is Davy, slightly taller and with a head band.

Four stars

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The Very Big Carrot: 11/26/13

cover artThe Very Big Carrot by Satoe Tone was originally published in France as La très grande carotte.

Six white rabbits, shovels and buckets in hand, find a huge carrot. It's bigger than they are. It's long enough that it takes all six to carry it. It will also take a unique plan to use it.

Some ideas are tossed around: boat, airplane, floating garden, a house?

It's the intricate, whimsical illustrations that make this book special. The layers of shapes, soft oranges and greens mostly, remind me of medieval tapestries.

Read via LibraryThing

Five stars

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Rin Tin Tin's Rinty: 11/25/13

cover artRin Tin Tin's Rinty by Julie Campbell was published as a companion piece to the Adventures of Rin Tin Tin television series which ran from 1954-1959. The original Rin Tin Tin adventures were silent films but people my parents' age grew up with this television series.

In fact, the book I have in my collection is actually my mothers. My grandmother bought it for her as a gift when they were moving to a new house. My grandmother was one to give a book for any occasion (or no occasion at all).

It's difficult to write about Rinty without the memories of previous reads. Since this book is 60 years old, there's no need to make this post a more serious, on-point review.

When I was about ten, my grandmother — during one of her decluttering binges, found a box of my mother's old books. Among the books was Rin Tin Tin's Rinty by Julie Campbell, an author I recognized from the Trixie Belden series I was tearing through. I also knew who Rin Tin Tin was because the Disney channel (oh joys of cable at Grandmother's house!) had been showing them.

Now seriously, how can any kid not open up a book with the photograph of an adorable German shepherd on the cover? Not me, that's for sure! Rin Tin Tin's Rinty became one of my few but beloved re-reads when I needed a quick fix as a kid.

Rinty, it turns out, is the runt of a litter of dogs descended from Rin Tin Tin. His siblings will fetch big money but he's too small and sickly to be worth keeping. The brother and sister who help out at the kennels make a deal with the owner that they can buy Rinty at a reduced rate if they can keep him alive to weaning age. In the meanwhile, the eldest and largest dog of the litter dies, making the owner regret his promise as Rinty thrives under their care, leaving him out two potential sales.

The kennel owner is an honest man and gives Rinty to the children. They are allowed to keep their hard earned money for Rinty's upkeep. But — his assistant who also wanted the dog, decides to take matters into his own hands and steal the puppy!

Most of Rinty centers on the dog's journey to New Jersey, from California, and back again. Rinty, being of extraordinary dog stock, is loyal to his owners (no matter how briefly he lived at their home) and can find his way home no matter the distance or the obstacles.

Rinty has numerous adventures along the way and meets many potential new owners and new homes. It's a straightforward lost dog adventure and still a fun and easy read all these years later.

Four stars

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Watch Me Throw the Ball: 11/24/13

cover artWatch Me Throw the Ball by Mo Willems is another of his delightful Elephant and Piggie series. In this one Piggie has fun throwing a ball while Gerald watches in amazement at how bad Piggie is and how much fun she's having.

As with all the other books in this series, Willems uses color coded word bubbles and the text size to give children an extra clue to who is speaking and how they are speaking. Harriet loves these clues and will actually turn her aloud readings into miniature dramatic performances.

Watch Me Throw the Ball for its ball themed silliness reminds me a little bit of the old Abbot and Costello sketch "Who's on First" from their film The Naughty Nineties (1945). There was a time when I was much younger that I had the whole thing memorized.

Four stars

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Know the Parts of a Book: 11/23/13

cover artKnow the Parts of a Book by Janet Piehl is an information literacy picture book. It walks elementary school students through the typical parts of a nonfiction book.

Using bright photographs, the young protagonist, Will, walks through the process of finding information in a book. His process of learning about frogs serves as a method to teach children some of the most common and useful parts of a book from a reader's perspective.

He has a specific topic in mind. He uses the spine and the title to locate a potential book. From there he goes through the table of contents, index, and glossary to hone in on e the subjects that interest him. He uses the glossary to define words he has trouble with.

It's a very basic, introductory type book. For kids doing their first report ever, it's a good start.

Read via NetGalley

Four stars

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The Pirate's Eye: 11/22/13

cover artThe Pirate's Eye by Guy Bass is the sequel to Stitch Head. Now the Master remembers Stitch Head and the other creatures have the freedom to explore the castle. All that's threatened when the Master decides to move away without them.

The Creature, though, has a plan — they should become pirates and go after the Master. They do after all have a ship (it was an off hand comment from the first book). That plan ends up being a VERY GOOD idea as the Master might just need them after all.

Having all the characters and the world established, The Pirate's Eye can jump right into the adventure. I found this one a lot more fun and am hoping there is a third one planned.

Read via NetGalley

Five stars

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In the Night Garden: 11/21/13

cover artI come to Catherynne M. Valente's adult fiction by way of her YA Fairyland series. In the Night Garden is the first half of pair of short story collections, also known as The Orphan Tales.

However I describe these stories, I won't be able to do them justice. Structurally they are like The Arabian Nights, blended with Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. There are stories within stories, most of which are told to multiple layers of audiences.

In all of this poetic text, there is the same complex but whimsical world building I fell in love with in her Fairyland books.

Four stars

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Bad Houses: 11/20/13

cover artBad Houses by Sara Ryan is a graphic novel that examines the way people structure their lives around stuff. At one end of the spectrum there is the carefully decorated home. At the other, there's hoarding.

Lewis works with his mother, a runner of estate sales in Failin, Oregon. Anne, meanwhile is trying to make sense of her one little corner of the world, while her mother stuffs the rest of the house with her hoarding.

A bad house is the estate sale parlance is a home that won't turn a profit. These are the ones that are filled with the detritus of life. They are the sorts of places that Annie is embarrassed to live in.

The book begins as a pair of plots. They eventually entwine as Lewis and Anne become friends. It's a bittersweet story.

Four stars

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Fairy Tale Detectives: 11/19/13

cover artThe Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley is the first of the Sisters Grimm series. Daphne and Sabrina after years of being shuttled from one bad foster home to the next are now being shipped up north to Ferryport Landing along the Hudson River to live with a woman who claims to be their grandmother. Except, they've always been told that she was dead.

Of course, she isn't dead. Nope. She's trying to protect them from a generational curse, one where the descendants of the brothers Grimm must keep the fairy tale creatures in line, living forever among them. And of course — there's a reason for why European (and primarily Germanic) fantasy characters are now living in North America.

So if you don't want to bother with a LONG introduction, skip the first few chapters to get to the mystery. Someone has been summoning a giant (as in Jack in the Beanstalk) to smash houses. Things are likely to get dangerous as giants are notoriously difficult to reason with.

While the sisters try to stay out of all this mayhem, that changes when their Grandmother, her friend Mr. Canis and Mayor Charming (formerly known as Prince) are kidnapped.

Once things settled down, it was a fun mystery.

Four stars

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Mr. Puzzle Super Collection!: 11/18/13

cover artThe Mr. Puzzle Super Collection! by Chris Eliopoulos is an omnibus of short comics involving a super hero who has the ability to take any shape (like a puzzle piece).

The stories contained within include Perfect Fit, Piece by Piece, Does a Great Job and No Instructions Needed. Perhaps because this is an omnibus aimed at beginning readers, there's a lot of repetition in the set up of each new adventure, and the types of plans the villains have, as well as the ways in which Mr. Puzzle solves things.

While reading Mr. Puzzle's adventures, I was most reminded of the Powerpuff Girls. There's a similar wackiness to both. I could hear the P.G. narrator's voice providing the lines for Mr. Puzzle.

Three stars

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The Boneshaker: 11/17/13

cover artI can't recall where I first heard of The Boneshaker by Kate Milford. I do remember that it came with a warning to not be confused by Cherie Priest's Boneshaker which came out the year before (and is still on my TBR). I would like to thank the person who recommended it to me as it's a great book in either audio or print.

Natalie Minks is thirteen. She loves all things mechanical and knows all the cars that have been sweeping the nation in the last decade. Her father is a mechanic and has built for her, from bits and pieces, a custom bike. The frame, a Chesterlane, is also known as a boneshaker because it will knock you about until you get it up to speed. Getting up to speed, though, is no easy task as Natalie has been painfully learning.

But, this isn't just about a girl in 1913 learning how to conquer her custom bike. No. That's just the back drop. Instead, what unfolds can best be described as a mixture of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Supernatural's take on the crossroads folklore.

All of these stories come together in the town of Arcane, a mile or so away from a crossroads. Around the time of the civil war, the old village (located at the crossroads) became a ghost town. Natalie's mother has stories about the event and other stories about some of the more colorful characters in Arcane.

When Dr. Jake Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show is stranded in Arcane, Natalie must face the possibility that her mother's stories might be true. She also comes to realize that she might be the only one to save Arcane.

Originally I listened to the audio (just as I did with Night Circus). It makes an excellent audio. But there are so many scenes just crying out for illustration that I decided to see how the book looked in print. It is a gorgeous piece of work, with typeface treatments in the style of the era, and pencil drawings by Andrea Offermann.

I highly recommend reading the book both ways.

Five stars

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Dark Tort: 11/16/13

cover artDark Tort by Diane Mott Davidson is the thirteenth of the Goldy Bear Catering series. It marks the point where I loop on my reading, since I started with Sweet Revenge and Fatally Flaky two years ago.

Usually these books open with Goldy having a new catering gig. Then she becomes aware of trouble her employer is going through. Then at the most inconvenient time possible, someone gets killed and Goldy discovers the body. Dart Tort mixes things up by putting the discovery of the body within the first chapter.

Goldy's current gig is a law office where she has been catering their breakfast meetings. She's also been teaching their secretary, a young woman who she knows originally from Aspen Meadow Prep., how to bake. Except, this early morning, she finds her student dead!

The best of these mysteries have a tight motif, usually around a physical clue (or clues) that Goldy will come across in her day to day work. Dark Tort has a series of food paintings that are both the clue and the treasure. These paintings represent recipes with the ingredients depicted as lively characters.

I know I've rated most of these Goldy Shulz books a five stars, but Dark Tort so far is my favorite of the series. It's the one where Goldy is finally in her element. The clues are right there for anyone who knows food — something she and her assistant, Julian do.

Five stars

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Fire: 11/15/13

cover artFire by Kristin Cashore is a prequel (sort of) to Graceling for the inclusion of Leck. If you remove him, it pretty much stands alone. Frankly, I would have liked it better had it been written as a stand alone because the rules of the world seem to be completely different.

In the Dells there are apparently monster versions of all living creatures. These things are strikingly beautiful, albeit unusual looking, and often dangerous. If it had been made clear how monsters relate to gracelings (maybe a Dell word for the phenomena, or a proto-graceling state) within the first few chapters of the book, I wouldn't be annoyed. But the "just 'cuz" coming on the heals of a book with damn fine world building, just doesn't cut it.

Fire, the titular character is the last of the human monsters. She is, like Katsa is of noble birth. She's also endowed with special abilities and has hair the color of fire. And oh yeah, when she's menstruating, the entire world goes nuts and she needs an umpty bazillion body guards to keep her safe. And that's mentioned OVER AND OVER AND OVER.

Somewhere in all this mess is also a political intrigue story of young King Nash trying to hold the throne after his father and Fire's father basically gutted the kingdom on a years' long bender of sex and drugs. Except I didn't get that far. I grew bored with Fire moaning about how hard it is to be beautiful and how hard it is to manage her sex life.

Two stars

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Desert Gold: 11/14/13

cover artDesert Gold by Zane Grey was his twelfth book and the first one I've attempted to read. I tried it on audio, and that might have been part of the problem, but not the entirety.

The book opens with a man coming across an old prospector. Together they piece together a tale reminiscent of the second half of Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet. Except that the woman in question is tied up in the political unrest in Mexico.

And that's where the problems started. Here's a story of the Mexican revolution. There's danger and intrigue. Except there's also racism and sexism. The Mexicans, except for the noble woman who needs rescuing, are always greasers.

The woman transcends hers curse of being a greaser by her frail beauty. She is something to be fought over because she is an exotic beauty.

I lasted maybe half an hour into this audio book.

One star

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Lily Renee, Escape Artist: 11/13/13

cover artLily Renee, Escape Artist by Trina Robbins is the biography of Lily Renee Wilhelm, covering her escape from Germany, time in England and her eventual move to the United States, where she was the author/illustrator of the Señorita Rio comic strip.

Essentially the book has three parts — all of which are rather interesting but might work best in the context of other, more in depth coverage. The first part touches on the holocaust. The second part, life in England for those lucky enough to be evacuated from Germany (children, mostly). Finally, there is her career as a comic strip artist.

Although she was an artist / author in the "Golden Age" of comics, I'm not sure today's graphic novel reader — especially middle grade readers — will have heard of her. Sure, images from Señorita Rio can be brought up through a web search, but as far as I can tell, none of her books are currently in print. So while I as an adult appreciate the connection between doing her biography in a style very much in keeping with how she drew, I'm not convinced that connection will hit the mark with the intended audience.

Three stars

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Unraveling Freedom: 11/12/13

cover artUnraveling Freedom by Ann Bausum takes a critical look at the United States's treatment of immigrants during times of war. It begins by comparing the treatment of Germans immediately following the sinking of the Lusitania and the treatment of muslims following the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks in 2001.

It's an unconventional approach for a U.S. history book aimed at ten year olds and older. It seems so often these books are either just basic facts or worse, facts and patriotism to the point of being propaganda. Bausum's book avoids propaganda and patriotism to uncover the racism that so often surfaces when the nation is either attacked or is at war.

The book's text, though is relatively short. It is essentially an essay padded with numerous historical photographs. I wish the essay part of the book were expanded to go into the various eras in greater detail. As it stands, it's more of an introduction to a difficult topic, than an exploration of the topic written at a middle grade level.

Three stars

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My Basmati Bat Mitzvah: 11/11/13

cover artMy Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman is about an Indian-American girl trying to find the right balance between her Hindu and Jewish upbringing as the day of her bat mitzvah is rapidly approaching.

Amid all the chaos that is her multicultural life, an heirloom sari is damaged by an over turned candle. The damaged sari becomes the catalyst for Tara to find herself and bring her diverse and squabbling family together.

I enjoyed the multicultural aspects of Tara's family and that of her friends. The book highlights the similarities the friend share while still letting them shine as well rounded, believable individuals.

Tara's experience is paired with her bat mitzvah sermon, namely that of Joseph an d his many colored coat. The sari / coat motif / moral is tastefully done, avoiding the usual moralistic heavy handedness, opting instead for humor. It's a tightly crafted and well told story.

Five stars

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Sacred Clowns: 11/10/13

cover artSacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman is the eleventh book in the Navajo mystery series. While tracking down a missing boy to a Tano (Tewa) Pueblo ceremony, Chee discovers one of the koshare (clown) dancers is dead — killed in the same method as a teacher in a murder under investigation by Joe Leaphorn. Although both men aren't keen to work together, they have to because of overlapping evidence.

As the murder takes place in a Pueblo village during a public but religious ceremony, a good portion of this book is focused on Chee and Leaphorn learning what they can about the history and customs of their neighbors. There is time spent too on dancing around taboos, trying not to offend while still trying to get the leads they need to understand and solve the case.

There is also a fascinating clue involving the Lincoln canes, something I'm sad to say was a new-to-me piece of history. Lincoln had special mahogany canes with silver caps made and sent to recognize the sovereignty of the Pueblo nations.

While it's not my favorite of the Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn mysteries, it was certainly an interesting and informative read.

Four stars

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Doon: 11/09/13

cover artDoon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon is the first in a new YA fantasy series. It expands upon the story of Brigadoon.

The story is told from alternating points of view: Veronica and Mackenna. They are spending the summer in Scotland. Veronica is lured to the famed bridge by visions of a gorgeous kilted man. Mackenna ends up along for the ride.

The two end up the "guests" of the laird of Doon. Now here's where things start to pear shaped for me. By the musical's plot (Briga)Doon shows up only once in a generation and time flows differently there -- giving the village an old fashioned feel.

If the time of the movie is taken as Doon's last appearance, then there needs to be some serious explaining for Don's appearance in 2013. The Doon princes try to explain the wibbly wobbly timey wimey bits but don't manage for any level of satisfaction.

To further muddle things while appealing to modern day teens (I suppose), Doon now offers sushi, coffee, plumbing and all sorts of other modern conveniences while maintaining its old world charm.

Sushi in Scotland? Yup, there's sushi in Scotland. But in a small, cursed, timezone challenged village? How is that even possible?

Tucked into these lengthy descriptions of how the modern day conveniences got there and manage to stay current with a village that spends more time out of phase with reality than with it, there is also a witches curse, some romance, and a regime change. But all of these interesting bits are buried in the boring minutiae.

Read via NetGalley

Three stars

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Heartless: 11/08/13

cover artHeartless by Gail Carriger is the fourth of the Parasol Protectorate series. Alexia is back home and due to deliver soon. But there's still BUR matters at hand, including a threat to the Queen that Alexia must investigate.

When Alexia isn't investigating, she and Lord Macon are moving into the home next door Lord Akeldama. Except it's all for show to throw the Hive off Alexia's scent. The supernatural community of London is still convinced that the Macon baby will be a dangerous freak of nature — one worth disposing of.

There's a nice twist near the end, one that I didn't catch because I was too caught up in the antics of very pregnant Alexia trying to keep up with her pre-pregnancy derring-do. Behind all of the old evidence and complex theories, is a simpler explanation.

Five stars

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The Shadow King: 11/07/13

cover artThe Shadow King by Jo Marchant takes an in depth look at the history of King Tutankhamen's mummy, especially after its discovery in 1923 by Howard Carter. It's also the story of that discovery and the huge cultural impact it (and other things of Egyptian antiquity) had on the 20th century.

In the year that Tutankhamen's tomb discovery was announced to the world, the boy king became a cultural icon. If social media had existed back then, he would have had fake Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook accounts. Instead, he got a song, "Old King Tut" (see video below).

King Tut as he's been dubbed is a study in paradoxes. A big part of why his tomb was discovered intact, is that his name was stricken from the record. He was the last of a line of controversial pharaohs at the the close of the 18th dynasty and a big part of immortality is having your name out there (it's the same reason why wealthy people buy buildings). If your name isn't out there, and you don't have any major statuary, you're forgotten. If you're forgotten, you're not immortal.

But, his tomb and his body and his belongings were not destroyed. They were buried in an obscure little tomb and left to the ages. As Egyptology grew as a serious academic study in the late 19th century, the blanks in the time line were filled in with greater and greater detail. It became clear to the archeologists of Howard Carter's generation that there had to be someone to fill in the time that Tutankhamen reigned.

Since Tutankhamen made it to the 20th century with little fanfare, his tomb was (for the most part) left untouched. Remarkably, the people who buried him, didn't remove his name from his stash. So here, crammed into a small space were untold historical riches. You can see why a young man whose reign ran from roughly age nine to age eighteen was suddenly a worldwide superstar (and continues to be).

But, here's where things get really interesting, and where Jo Marchant's book takes off from the other dozen or so books about the boy king. For someone suddenly so famous, his body has been horribly mistreated. He is literally in pieces (and for a humorous look at that, I highly recommend Elizabeth Peter's The Laughter of Dead Kings).

Much of the book then focuses on what happened after Howard Carter. There have been numerous theories about Tutankhamen's health, life and death. Marchant goes through all the different studies and their findings. It's a fascinating read and I think Tutankhamen will remain a person of interest for future generations.

4 stars

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The Medusa Plot: 11/06/13

cover artThe Medusa Plot by Gordon Korman is the first of the Cahills vs Vespers series which follows on the heals of the original 39 Clues series. Dan and Amy Cahill have settled into living in their grandmother's estate and are doing their best to repair the damage from the fire started at the beginning of the hunt for the 39 Clues.

They've returned to school and Amy has a boyfriend, Evan. The only thing that's changed is that they have a vast fortune to work with, and the aid of the other Cahill branches, should they need it.

All of that goes pear-shaped when key members of each branch of the Cahills are kidnapped by a group calling themselves the Vespers. The only way to get them back alive is for Dan and Amy to follow instructions via cellphone.

The first task on hand, steal Caravaggio's Medus from a museum that has a formidable security system. If anything, the first series demonstrated time and time again that Amy and Dan — and the other Cahill branches are excellent at getting their hands on the unattainable. Imagine, now, all of them (those not kidnapped) working together!

As a caper, it's a fun read. However, I'm finding the kidnapping plot hard to swallow. It's a ploy to get at the readers' heart strings, and one that just doesn't feel believable giving how skilled all of these kidnapped characters are. If the Vespers are really this powerful, they would have taken out all the Cahills and gotten their secret formula years ago.

Four stars

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The New Ghostbusters Volume 1: 11/05/13

cover artIn the two Ghostbusters (although the 1984 film was originally two words, Ghost Busters) films, Janine Melnitz played by Annie Potts is the unflappable secretary who is there to take calls even when they're on the brink of bankruptcy. With the exception of the second film where she's inexplicably dating she's attracted to the menchy Louis Tully (their CPA), she has the hots for Egon Spengler (of the ridiculous pompadour hairdo in the cartoons and graphic novels).

But in the cartoons, The Real Ghostbusters (due to a title conflict with a 1975 live action show which was later adapted into a really crappy cartoon by Filmation), Janine rises up from gag secretary to become a well rounded hero (with an obsessive thing for Egon).

The New Ghostbusters Volume 1 by Erik Burnham marks a return of Janine — the Real Ghostbusters one. Them have gone missing, whisked off to another dimension. It's up to Janine and a younger generation of Ghostbusters (most of whom are women) to save the men.

As always, the powers that be (the five boroughs of New York) get in the way. To make a publicity campaign out of their efforts, Janine, et al, are faced with the sexism usually present in comic books but left unspoken. Janine, genre savvy, self-aware, and self assured woman that she is, doesn't take kindly to having to dress like a "sexy" ghostbuster while the one man on the team gets to keep the more practical overalls. So after a few pages (and some scraped knees), the jumpsuits are back for everyone.

To say I LOVED this book would be an understatement. I'm not sure I can put to words just how perfect I found this book as an extension of both the films and of the animated series.

Five stars

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The Reckoning: 11/04/13

cover artThe Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong is the final book in the Darkest Powers trilogy. As this series has such a short timeline, it's best to read both The Summoning and The Awakening first. This is not a series whose books stand alone.

Chloe, Tori, Derek and Simon have made it to the safe house. The have survived Lyle House, the Pack, and all manners of chase. Now they can lay low and learn how to master their powers.

Or so they think. In reality, the first item on Ariana Tucker's rules, "Trust no one" should be their mantra. I suppose that's the moral of this trilogy. Or maybe, trust no one over the age of 20.

While their characters do grow and Chloe does get a handle on her powers — too scary and awesome results — there is frankly no tidy end for them. Were this an episode of Supernatural, this book would begin with "Carry on my Wayward Son" by Kansas. Although the foursome do survive to the end, a lot is left open, much like a season finale cliffhanger.

My one complaint at seeing the series at its conclusion is its timeline. Chloe makes a big deal in The Reckoning at it having been only two weeks after she came into her powers. I just can't buy that. It makes the slowish discovery of the truth in The Summoning implausible and the time hiding and traveling fold up onto the events of the last book. I realize that adventure books need a breakneck pace but travel and hiding take time.

Four stars

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Tankborn: 11/03/13

cover artTankborn by Karen Sandler uses the Indian caste system and some modified sanskrit terms as world building tools. In this planet-wide India, named Loka, Kayla and Mishalla, long time best friends, and GENs (Genetically Engineered Non-Humans) are separated for their assignments.

I read the book on the promise of a thought-provoking plot and an ethnically diverse cast of characters. While the diversity is there, the forty of so pages I got through didn't show the nuances of life in a remote land (or this case, planet), nor a credible sense of how the Loka caste system worked — beyond being a simplified version of the Indian system.

Kayla suffers from a similar attention spam problem as Braden in Demon Eyes, expect she seems to have a more extreme case of it. In the pages I read, she bounced around from feeling a terrible loss at her separation, to anger at the caste system, to hormones over the great grandson of her new master to mundanely complaining about her cramps. When the cramps were given as much page space as more serious items, I closed the book.

In those few pages, I really got no sense of Kayla as a person or the world in which she lives beyond it being "India on a far away planet." Planets are HUGE and India, while large and diverse, is still small compared to the Earth.

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Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White: 11/02/13

cover artDarkroom: A Memoir in Black and White by Lila Quintero Weaver is is an autobiography in a graphic novel format. It recounts the author's childhood in Alabama after having emigrated from Argentina. She grew up in the middle of the the Civil Rights movement.

Now while the memoir isn't exactly about Jim Crow laws or protests or racism, those things are there. They are constantly bubbling at the surface of her description of growing up and trying to assimilate — into a America as portrayed by popular media.

The artwork is worth noting. The title, Darkroom, refers to Lila's father and his photography hobby. The pencil drawings replicate the soft shades of black and white photography — which of course is really more shades of gray than sharply delineated areas of black and white. Therein is the crux of the memoir — in an area that makes all its decisions based on notions of Black and White, where do those who are neither fit in?

This book was shortlisted for the 2012 CYBILs.

Five stars

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The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan: 11/01/13

cover artThe Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan by Maxwell Eaton is the start of a new graphic novel series aimed at upper elementary school readers. Ace and Bub are beaver brothers. Ace loves surfing and Bub loves napping but when there's a crises they are an inseparable team.

In this first installment, the annual surfing contest is being threatened by "evil penguins." More precisely, they are eco-terrorists, bent on remaking the beavers' coastline home into an icy wasteland of Antarctic proportions.

Puns — verbal and visual abound. The penguins' ship, for instance is a giant refrigerator. Later the beavers follow the blue prints (both kinds) to find their way through the ship.

So while there is an underlying message of the evils of global warming, this graphic novel avoids the usual temptation to impose a moral. It is basically a fast paced, silly and entertaining caper.

Five stars

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