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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



The Hole in the Wall: 01/31/14

cover artThe Hole in the Wall by Lisa Rowe Fraustino is about a town suffering in the wake of uncontrolled strip mining. Those who can leave, have, creating a devastated ghost town.

Sebby (Sebastian), his twin sister and family are among the few families sticking it out. Soon, though, things start getting even weirder — eggs have turned to stone, Sebby's stomach is rock solid, his seems to be magnetized and he is seeing unusual colors. He's convinced that the strip mining is the source of all these odd events and he decides to do something about it.

Somewhere in the middle of these oddities is the titular hole in the wall and the eden like garden that's untouched by the mining or by the town. This little and magical oasis should be the main focus of the book, or at least more grounded in the over all flow of the plot (such as the hole in the wall that makes Stardust by Neil Gaiman possible). It could have also gone the direction of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Unfortunately, the hole in the wall garden gets buried in all the other strange stuff that happens to Sebby. There are too many unexplained events all screaming for attention.

Three stars

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The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate: 01/30/14

cover artThe High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash is a pirate adventure in the style of the Redwall books but with an avian cast. Captain Blue Jay loves collecting eggs as treasure but this time, his plunder hatches.

Imagine, Jim Hawkins as a gosling on a ship designed for much smaller birds. Captain Blue Jay has a problem now as he's trying to do right by his foundling, while keeping his ship afloat.

In the background there's a food shortage as winter approaches. The Thrushian army demands a tithe for protecting the villages, except their demands are crippling the local economies. There is starvation and civil unrest.

The best part of the book is the artwork. The illustrations include portraits of all the shipmates, a map of the area, a cross section of the ship, as well as scenes of adventure from the book.

Frankly, this book would have done better as a graphic novel on the strength of the artwork. The prose lags in parts, especially as things segue from the discovery of Rafael the gosling to the trouble with the Thrushian army.

Three stars

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 23: 01/29/14

cover artFullmetal Alchemist Volume 23 by Hiromu Arakawa continues the epic show down over the fate of Central City and the country of Amestris. It's mostly pages and pages of woosh bang and something I would normally skip if I hadn't already read the previous twenty-two volumes.

In and amongst the numerous pages of swirling dust clouds, smashing things, swinging swords and gunfire, there is the continued fight between Al and Pride and a family squabble between Olivier and her brother.

The other interesting side note is the way in which Mustang and his crew use the local radio station to control the flow of information. They try to stage a coop by putting Mrs. Bradley on air.

But these moments of character and plot development are buried under pages and pages of battle scenes.

Four stars

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Seeds of Change: 01/28/14

cover artSeeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson, adapted from the transcript of Wangari Maathai's 2004 Nobel lecture outlines the life and career of the Green Belt Movement's founder. It earned the John Steptoe new talent award in 2011.

The book begins with Maathai's childhood and goes through her education, a rare thing for girls living in rural Kenya. Having found a love of science and specifically botany, she earns a scholarship to attend college in Kansas. When she hears of the changes at home that are stropping the Kenyan forests bare, she returns to begin a grassroots movement to re-green Kenya.

Sonia Lynn Sadler's colorful illustrations while similar to the Dillons' work on Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears, her style draws inspiration from quilting and that is reiterated in the way she renders textiles throughout the book.

I read this book for the materials for children ages 5 to 8 class I took in spring 2011.

Four stars

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City Dog, Country Frog: 01/27/14

cover artCity Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems is a lovely picture book collaboration between Mo Willems and Jon J. Muth. A city dog (inspired by Willems's own pet) moves to the country and makes friends with a frog. They spend the year playing together until wintertime when the frog has lived out the last of his days.

Jon J. Muth I mostly know for his Zen books which feature quiet lessons by a panda bear, followed with beautifully rendered water colors. Here he manages to bring the right balance of humor and thoughtful reflection on the fleeting nature of life and the value of friendship in that time.

To learn more about this departure for Mo Willems, please read the Booklist Online post.

Five stars

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Once in a Lifetime: 01/26/14

cover artOnce in a Lifetime by Cathy Kelly is about a wife grieving for her husband and learning some uncomfortable secrets he had kept from. It's also about that sisterly bond that all women apparently feel and how Celtic spirituality helps bring Ingrid and her kith and kin together.

The novel is set in Ardagh, Ireland. David has been running Kenny's, the local department store and crown jewel of the High street. His plans to turn the store into a chic boutique are cut short by his sudden death and the revelation that he might not have been as perfect a husband as his TV presenter wife thinks.

Oh if only the book had focused more on the troubles of running the store and less on the grieving and womanly spirituality! The promise of a diverse cast of women was cut short by how obsessively focused they were on David. Men, no matter how well loved and respected they are, are not the be all and end all of women. The idea too, that women turn to other women when the patriarch is not available, also strikes me more as alien and less as affirming or heartwarming.

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Two stars

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Funny How Things Change: 01/25/14

cover artFunny How Things Change by Melissa Wyatt takes place in what's left of a West Virginia mining town. Jobs are scarce. Money is scarce.

Remy has a college bound girlfriend and he's got a job at a local mechanics. He's been planning to follow Lisa when she leaves for college. He figures he can get a job at any garage. Then, things change with the arrival of a student artist, working with grant money to spruce up the town and capture the coal mining history through her art.

Her fish out of water take on this little ex-mining town makes Remy re-examine his own relationship with both the town and the mountain. His internal struggle acts as the stage for building character studies for the town and the mountain.

As it happened, I read this book on the heels of finishing Jeannette Wall's memoir The Glass Castle — part of which covers her time with her father's family in West Virginia. While the conditions depicted in Funny How Things Change are no where near as bleak as Walls's memoir, her descriptions continually crept in and colored my interpretation of Wyatt's novel. I think, though, that Wyatt's book is to be open ended.

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Three stars

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The Conductor: 01/24/14

cover artThe Conductor by Laëtitia Devernay is a wordless picture book that reminds me very favorably of the sunset chapter in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. There Milo learns how to conduct the colors of the sky into a sunset (and makes a few mistakes along the way) and here, a well practiced conductor turns leaves into birds and back again.

Published originally in France, it was released in 2011 by Chronicle books. As the only word in the entire book is the title, it would be silly to say it was "translated."

The artwork is done with delicate and precise lines and shades of green. The style is similar to Escher — though more organic. The illustrations are suitable for framing. If I were ever to find a beat up copy where the spine was beyond repair, I would rescue the leaves and frame them. They would make a perfect series of framed pieces for a hallway, stair well or similar space.

Five stars

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Page by Paige: 01/23/14

cover artPage by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge is included in 2012's YALSA top ten. Paige Turner, daughter of a pair of writers, is coming to terms with their move to New York City. She's lived her entire life in a small town and now she's floundering in a ginormous metropolis: new school and no friends.

To overcome the feelings of being a fish out of water, Paige gets herself a sketch book. Each month she follows her one of her grandmother's rules for being an artist. These rules are of the pep-talk variety, and not specifically artistic techniques. As Paige goes through the list, she makes a core set of friends, gains some self confidence and finds her place in NYC.

Artistically the graphic novel is solid. We see Paige through her artwork and through her experimentation. It's a bit like traveling through her id (see the "Journey to the Center of Candace" episode of Phineas and Ferb).

But that's not a unique thing in this type of graphic novel (kid with an artistic bent moves towns). A more credible example is Doodlebug by Karen Romano Young. Paige irks me in two ways: her complete self absorption and her amazing art skills for someone so new at drawing.

Recommended by Burnt Weiners

Four stars

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Babymouse: Monster Mash: 01/22/14

cover artBabymouse: Monster Mash by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm is the ninth book in the series. It's also the first of two books to break with the bubble gum pink color scheme. As it's a Halloween book, it goes with pumpkin orange. The other one, a Christmas book, goes with green and red.

Babymouse apparently loves Halloween for all the scary elements. Although I've now read five Babymouse books, I still don't understand the main character. Her personality seems to fit whatever the theme of the current issue is. In this case, it means she's nuts about Halloween, including making her own scary costume from scratch (even though we've seen her go through bouts of extreme laziness, such as in Babymouse Burns Rubber).

Now since Halloween is all about scary costumes and getting the most candy ever, that's, of course, what Babymouse is into. So of course, her nemesis tells her that girls have dress in pretty costumes because it's a rule. I guess this is the kid's version of the "sexy ____" costumes hocked at twenty something women in those obnoxious fly by night Halloween stores. So of course, because the plot calls for it, Babymouse decides to do everything the popular girl tells her.

While I liked the stylistic change from the Pepto pink, I wanted more from Babymouse. Mostly I want a consistent personality. She's too much a pawn of narrative conventions. I guess all the creative umph for this issue was spent on breaking free of pink.

Three stars

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The Arctic Marauder: 01/21/14

cover artThe Arctic Marauder by Jacques Tardi was originally published in French in 1974. Fantagraphics Books has been translating and republishing his graphic novels in English. The artistic style is reminiscent of Belgin comic author, Hergé.

Jérôme Plumier is searching for his uncle who has gone missing after the L'Anjou mysteriously crashed near the arctic circle. His search takes him to a frozen hideaway that brings to mind Captain Nemo's Nautilus. Plumier has to quickly decide which side to take.

The artwork is done in strong, well defined black and white ink strokes. While the caricatures of faces is the most like Hergé's Tintin, the backgrounds and overall affect is more like a hand-drawn broadsheet paper.

Four stars

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Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest: 01/20/14

cover artAlthough I was a regular reader of the There's a Book blog, I can't point to it as the inspiration for reading Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest by John Lechner. That honor goes to my recently graphic novel obsessed son.

Sticky Burr and the other Burrs live a busy life in Burrwood Forest. Sticky, though, sticks out because he wants to do his own thing — drawing. Artistic pursuits doesn't fit the work ethic of the tiny village. Sticky Burr, though, stays true to himself and proves himself a worthy and contributing member of society. It's a great story for anyone who hasn't naturally fit in.

Included with Sticky's adventures are facts about the forest. They're woven into the story. There are also asides by Sticky Burr where he elaborates on things, "Dangers of the Forest" for example. These asides could be starting points for further nonfiction reading.

Five stars

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xxxHolic Volume 12: 01/19/14

cover artxxxHolic Volume 12 by CLAMP builds on the themes introduced in Volume 11. Dreams and the fear of being an imperfect copy come to fruition for Watanuki and Watanuki seems to be losing a grasp on reality, no longer being able to tell if he's awake or asleep.

Watanuki is visited in his sleep by Sakura, the princess who has had her memories stolen. The quest to regain as many of them as possible to restore her to health is the central plot of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle.

Her presence and Watanuki's Dreamtime experience are connected. There's a long and complicated sequence explaining just how they are. It took me a second read to fully take in what had happened. It was well worth the second read.

Meanwhile the young psychic continues to have trouble. She can see things that other psychics can't see and those other psychics are ganging up on her. She is being bullied out of the business and abused by her mother who doesn't want to see the end of her lucrative career.

Watanuki goes to help the psychic and takes along Domeki. Why he does shocked me at first but then made perfect sense. It's tied into the ongoing butterfly motif, a symbol Yuko and Watanuki share.

Five stars

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Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE Volume 6: 01/18/14

cover artTsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE Volume 6 by CLAMP is thematically linked with volumes 9 through 11 of xxxHolic. The crew is still in the land of Oto, running the bakery and killing Oni as they look for Sakura's feather.

In training and living in Oto, it becomes apparent that things might not be what they seem. Discussions though with Yuko don't reveal anything except that she expects them to call her more often and send gifts! The local Oto authorities aren't much help either.

The land of Oto plot was the first story arc in the series where I really started to get into the manga for its own merits, instead of reading it as an extension of xxxHolic.

Fans of other CLAMP series will recognize some familiar faces.

Four stars

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 22: 01/17/14

cover artIn Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 22 by Hiromu Arakawa through the end at Volume 27 will be nothing but woosh bang battles. It's the final show down in Central over the fate of Amestris.

Al has Pride more or less under control but he has to contend with the brat now having absorbed Gluttony's power. That cannibalism has been a running theme throughout the series, but in these final volumes it seems to dominate.

Back in Central, below the compound, Chekhov's gun, in the form of those hanging doll creatures, has been fired. They are somewhere between zombies and golems. They are also quick, hungry, and out for blood. They aren't the easily controlled army their creators had hoped for.

Although I knew this big showdown had to happen, I miss the quieter, more episodic volumes from earlier in the series. These multiple page fighting sequences, while certainly part of the genre, bore me to tears. They are filler to stretch out a series when it's coming to its natural close.

Four stars

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All These Things I've Done: 01/16/14

cover artAll These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin is the first of a YA trilogy involving organized crime, a prohibition on chocolate and coffee, and a Romeo and Juliet style relationship between the daughter and son of competing crime families.

The book is set in New York in 2083 and it's trying to evoke a combination of the Jazz Era (speakeasies, jazz and the like) and the big hair and cynicism of Generation X. For the dystopian / Dickensian city setting, there is also the ailing grandmother, recently dead father and special needs brother.

The problem is, all these competing tropes get in the way of a rather decent premise — what would happen if caffeine were illegal. And a rather decent murder mystery — who poisoned the chocolate and why?

Three stars

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Born to Rule: 01/15/14

cover artBorn to Rule by Kathryn Lasky is the first of the Camp Princess books. Camp Princess is a "summer" camp where princesses go for holidays. Princesses are grouped into different turrets and there is campwide competition.

I put summer in quotes because the enchanted forest has its own ideas of what seasons should come when and for how long, making the scheduling of certain events problematic (but not impossible).

Alicia, the focus of the book (though I would argue there isn't a clear protagonist in this ensemble) believes her turret is haunted. She's also having trouble with the song bird competition. Actually, most every princess in her group, are having one problem or another with certain activities, and that's what makes the book so much fun.

Rather than this being a book filled with homogenous princesses, except for the lead, who is either a diamond in the rough, or some sort of oddball, the camp is populated with wide ranging cultures and personalities. Although the camp director and her staff try to mould these princesses into one pre-conceived ideal, none of the major characters fall into this trap beyond what is needed for the on-going competition.

While the plot is a pretty typical summer camp tween book, the fantasy and world building make it something special. I found it humorous and charming.

Five Stars

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NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society: 01/14/14

cover artNERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society by Michael Buckley is the first book in a series of elementary school aged superheroes, who are nerds in their secret identities. It's told from the point of view of a bully, Jackson, who is accidentally recruited.

Before any of that happens, Jackson is turned appearance-wise into a nerd. He suddenly needs braces and suffers some other normal teenage changes. Gone is the jock and Jackson is out of sorts.

I don't know if this long introduction is supposed to make Jackson a sympathetic character or a humorous one. For me, it does neither. It bloats the book and drags the pacing.

Eventually Jackson catches onto the nerds of the class disappearing all together. He decides to follow them out of curiosity. When they seem to disappear into thin air, he literally falls into their secret lair. And then there's more time on Jackson's new persona and how the National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society works. By this time, I was singing the Rescue Aid Society song from The Rescuers as my attention and interest further drifted.

There is so much introductory material in the first of the NERDS series that there's little room left for adventure. I hear from my son that the later books are more plot focused.

Three stars

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Oh. My. Gods.: 01/13/14

cover artOh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs is a paranormal YA that draws on Greek mythology. Phoebe Castro is a star distance runner on her high school track team. If she can keep her grades and ranking up, she's a shoo in for a USC track scholarship. But her dreams are put on hold when her mother comes back from a trip to Greece with a new husband and, for Phoebe, a new step sister. Worse, yet, the whole new blended family is moving to Greece and Phoebe will have to finish out high school on a small Greek island, at an exclusive academy.

Here's the point where I couldn't help but compare Childs's version of things to Rick Riordan's in the Percy Jackson, and later, the Heroes of Olympus series. Riordan's conceit for any modern, western influences creeping into his retelling of Greek mythology was to say that the Greek Gods follow the influence of western culture and that center is now Manhattan island. Childs, instead, keeps the action in Greece. While I appreciated the sense of isolation that (and the need to keep the truth about the school secret) being moved to Greece from Los Angeles creates for Phoebe, I have trouble believing that Plato's Academy would be run like an American high school and that all the teens would speak fluent English.

Rather than making the adjustment period a cultural and linguistic one, Childs falls back on the school clique trope. Phoebe doesn't fit in because she's new, her step-father is the headmaster, and she's not a demigod. To draw attention away from the oddity of an American style high school in the middle of the Mediterrean, Childs focuses on Phoebe trying to make the track team. For mysterious reasons (that become clear at the end), she is forced to train every single day, twice as long as anyone else on the team. She also has to at least place in the next meet or be dropped from the team.

If you ignore the questions raised by the school's location, it's a fairly enjoyable high school drama with paranormal elements. Phoebe isn't exactly the most likable of characters but some of her anger is understandable given how much she is being bullied at school and how much she misses her two best buddies from Los Angeles.

Four stars

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Broken For You: 01/12/14

cover artBroken For You by Stephanie Kallos is about Margaret Hughes trying to piece together a family for herself on learning that she has a terminal illness. The first of her new family is a young woman, Wanda Schultz, who has come west in search of her wayward boyfriend.

Along with these broken families and broken people coming together, there is the theme of broken things. Or rather, taking the risk of breaking things as part of living life to the fullest. Here, the things are the many mementos (most of them fragile) that Margaret has filled her house with.

While I normally love books about oddballs coming together, this one was set up with too much earnestness. It reads like an after school special for the mature set. There's no drama, no conflict — just an overwhelming conceit that the reader should care about the coming together of these characters either because it's literature or because it's heartwarming.

For a better version of an unusual cast of characters coming together under one roof to form an unconvention family, I recommend Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder.

Two stars

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Geektastic: 01/11/14

cover artGeektastic edited by Holly Black is a collection of short stories by some of the best known contemporary YA authors. It was on my wishlist as soon as everyone started raving about it. I loved the cover. I love short stories. I'm somewhat of a geek. It should have been an all around win.

Sadly though, it turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments from my wishlist so far. The geek culture that most of the authors emphasized in their stories was cos-play and attending conventions. Neither of those sound like fun to me. Instead I felt like I was reading a Rashomon version of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb. I was hoping instead for a broader range of geekdom.

The one enjoyable piece of the book were the inter-story comics by Hope Larson. Her little panels captured what I think as being geeky. I did read all of her comics in the book but gave up on finishing the short stories.

One star

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The Pencil: 01/10/14

cover artThe Pencil by Allan Ahlberg is a follow-up or companion piece to The Runaway Dinner. The book opens with a lonely pencil who decides to draw himself some companions.

Soon the world is filled with friends — all of whom seem to have demands to make of the pencil. In trying to accommodate all their needs, things get out of hand. And then, things get even worse when an eraser is loosed on the world.

It's an illustration heavy picture book with just enough words for a group read along. It had both of my children in stitches and required multiple re-reads and debates.

Four stars

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When Jessie Came Across the Sea: 01/09/14

cover artWhen Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest is a historical fiction picture book about a Jewish immigrant who is sent to America by her village's rabbi. She is picked due to her Grandmother's determination to get her a good education — learning both how to read and write, and sewing — a skill that gives her a job when she arrives in New York.

The book covers Jessie's childhood in the village, her trip across the sea and her years of living and working in New York. Her time in New York is chronicled through letters home to her grandmother.

Though a picture book, it's a coming of age story that will appeal to older readers as well. It could be used as part of an Ellis Island lesson in school.

The story is accompanied by illustrations done by P.J. Lynch. He won Kate Greenway Medal for his work on When Jessie Came Across the Sea.

Five stars

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The Wolves of Willoughby Chase: 01/08/14

cover artThe Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken is the first book (excepting the prequel) in an eleven book series. In my usual scatterbrained way of reading series, I read book three, Nightbirds of Nantucket as a teen. Somehow I completely missed it was part of a series.

The book opens with Sir Willoughby and Lady Green leaving for a restorative cruise to warmer climes. They leave their daughter, Bonnie in the care of Miss Slighcarp. Meanwhile, Bonnie's cousin Sylvia comes to the home via a frightening train ride. Together the children discover that Miss Slighcarp is up to no good. Before they can do anything about it, though, they are shipped off to an orphanage / workhouse.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase has many twists and abrupt changes in direction and tone. With the strange names and dark social commentary, it's clearly inspired by Dickens. Consider it Dickens-light. The book felt more like a series of connected short stories or Saturday serials than a coherent novel. Children though might get caught up in the numerous perils the characters go through.

Four stars

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The Library: 01/07/14

cover artThe Library by Sarah Stewart with illustrations by David Small follows a life long love of books. Elizabeth Brown, from her earliest days loved books and reading.

As Elizabeth grows up, her book collection grows. She loves to share her passion with friends and does so by making her own library.

Ultimately her book collection out grows her home and she donates it to the city. So the city gets a library and Elizabeth gets to de-clutter.

Now as a book lover (and to some degree, book hoarder), I appreciate how Elizabeth's love or reading takes over her life and her living space. I admit to making frequent and large donations to my local friends of the library.

BUT — the librarian in me wonders about the types, breadth, and relevance of the books Elizabeth red. Is her reading broad enough to satisfy the information and entertainment needs of her follow citizens? Or did they sell her books and use the funds to build a better collection? On what terms was the donation made?

Regardless — my daughter thinks this book is spot on. She has grown up with rooms full of bookshelves and books. She watched me go back to school for my MLIS. So while the ending may not be practical, the journey to it is recognizable and relatable.

Five stars

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The Lost Art of Reading: 01/06/14

cover artThe Lost Art of Reading by David L. Ulin was originally published as an essay in The Los Angeles Times. It is offered up as an examination of the importance of reading in a day and age of electronic distractions.

The book starts off simply enough — Ulin is a concerned father, worried that his son isn't enjoying The Great Gatsby. Then it completely falls apart. It becomes more of a diatribe and a pat on the back than an essay on managing reading.

Here's the thing — not every reader likes The Great Gatsby. Yes, it's the most compact example of Fitzgerald's writing — containing the distilled themes and motifs that he had been developing throughout his writing career. But without knowing the body of his work, Gatsby can be a strange, off-putting book.

BUT even knowing Fitzgerald doesn't automatically make The Great Gatsby a beloved book. Nor does NOT liking Gatsby make the reader a failure at reading! For anyone to feel disappointment, frustration or concern over another person's lack of interest in personal favorites is shameful. Reading is a very personal experience. Not all books work for all people.

1 star

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 21: 01/05/14

cover artIn Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 21 by Hiromu Arakawa, Ed and Al are reunited but something is wrong with Al. He's not in control of himself! Al has hidden people before inside his armor but never a homunculus! This time, though, Pride (pesky Selim Bradley) has taken control. He may be the smallest but he's certainly one of the most powerful of the homunculi.

Selim, we learn, draws his power from the shadows. Like the vashta nerada of Doctor Who, Selim's shadow is deadly. Fighting him, though, takes an opposite approach — turning off all lights to there can be no shadow, rather than turning on all lights. I found that piece of strategy the most interesting part of the fight.

This volume is the start of the final battle. Although I've enjoyed, loved, obsessed over this series, multi volume fight scenes can get tedious. In this case, the battle with Selim was interesting and different. But if he returns, the future battles won't hold the same sway over me.

Five stars

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Punished: 01/04/14

cover artPunished by David Lubar teaches second and third graders about certain kinds of words like puns, anagrams, and oxymorons. It would be best used in a classroom as a story time book in conjunction with some other vocabulary building exercises.

The book opens with Logan getting in trouble with a reference librarian named Prof. Wordsworth. Grumpy Wordsworth puts a curse on Logan and the only way to undo it is to find seven examples of specific words, for a total of twenty-one, but Logan only has a limited amount of time to accomplish the task.

Why did the person setting the curse have to be a reference librarian? Reference librarians don't go around cursing wayward patrons. Yes, they're about educating patrons but doing so in such a scary and horrendous way is anti-librarian. That disconnect really took away from my enjoyment of the book.

Two stars

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Just Like Bossy Bear: 01/03/14

cover artJust Like Bossy Bear by David Horvath is the sequel to Bossy Bear. Bossy Bear likes to have his way. He's loud, rude, demanding and focused only on his own needs.

He's somehow got a best friend, Turtle. Turtle soon begins acting like Bossy Bear. It's only then that Bossy Bear begins to realize that his way of doing things might not be the best way.

Can Bossy Bear figure out a way to fix things before Turtle gets out of control? Of course, he can.

It's okay as far as moralistic books go. Artistically, it's not one of my favorite styles but it might have appeal with children familiar with the Nickelodeon cartoons from the last decade or so.

Two stars

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Images of Nature: The Photographs of Thomas D. Mangelsen: 01/02/14

cover artImages of Nature: The Photographs of Thomas D. Mangelsen by Charles Craighead is a folio about the stories behind some of Thomas D. Mangelsen's best known photographs.

Each chapter beings with a description of the natural setting. Craighead includes summaries of the animals, the time of day, and the challenges involved in taking photographs of nature in action. Besides expensive lenses, the process involves a lot of time and patience.

Mangelsen takes his equipment to remote, often wet, places at early hours. He researches the most active places for the type of animal he wishes to photograph and then he's there to capture them on film. But animals work on their own schedule. Weather interferes. But weather can also add drama.

Images of Nature ends with Mangelsen describing his equipment. As the book dates from the 1990s, his equipment includes a variety of film stock and there is no discussion of digital photography. That said, the over all advice of known your subject, know your equipment, and be patient is still very useful.

Five stars

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Helen of Pasadena: 01/01/14

cover artHelen of Pasadena by Lian Dolan is the perfect book to start off the new year. Helen Fairfield needs to reinvent herself after her husband is killed by a Rose Parade float. Sure, these things are huge but they run at a top speed of about three miles per hour. It's an opening scene similar in tone and absurdity as the steam roller scene in A Fish Called Wanda (1988).

Most of the book then is the aftermath of Helen's widowhood. She learns that the home's mortgage is underwater and that her husband while screwing nearly every woman he know, he also screwed over the family finances. Helen needs a job and a smaller home she and her son can afford.

As Helen is thrust out of the Pasadena elite (really, I'd think of them as San Marino elite, but hey!) she is forced now to work for them. Rather than this being a story where a once trophy while ends up having to take a low paying domestic job, Helen ends up working at the Huntington Library.

So while the initial set up was absurd, the rest of the book tones things down. There's enough of actual Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley for Helen's story to ring true.

Five stars

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