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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

Comments for The Disappearing Spoon

The Disappearing Spoon: 03/31/14

cover artMy children are growing up around a family and extended community of scientists, mathematicians, and computer programers. Before they were born, when we were newlyweds, we here living in married student housing at Caltech. We were the second generation to do this (my husband's parents having also done this).

At a welcome new graduate students (and their families) dinner, we sat across from a man who would become my husband's best friend. He had done his undergraduate work at Harvard and said off handedly that his ex-roommate was now at Stanford working on a little project called Google.

Last year Google celebrated it's fifteenth anniversary. Since then they three of us (for different reasons and at different times) have moved to the Bay Area. Both men are now working for Google.

It is in this atmosphere that our children have been raised. Mathematics is discussed regularly as my husband has also worked as a math professor, and went through grad school for his PhD in math during their life time.

So it should strike no one as weird that my daughter (whose both grandmothers majored in mathematics at one point or another; we tend to go for multiple degrees) chose Can You Count to a Googol by Robert E. Wells for some fun reading. She chose it already knowing how big a googol is and its inspiration for the search engine's name.

For those that aren't aren't as into math at such a young age, Can You Count to a Googol? is an introduction to numbers and uses real word things in humorous drawings to show the small (one to ten) and how BIG or HOW MANY the larger ones represent.

To answer the title's question, the answer is no. It would physically take too long for a single person to count to a googol one digit at a time.

Four stars
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The Disappearing Spoon: 03/30/14

cover artThe Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean is a history of the periodic table and a collection of some memorable stories of the elements. It's written in a light, easy to approach manner — good for the casual reader curious about chemistry.

Though Kean doesn't go through the elements in order, he does manage through his anecdotal stories to explain how the table came to be and why it is the shape it is. Further more his stories illustrate why the shape has to be the way it is.

His stories outline the fits and starts we've had with the elements. Things we now see as dangerous or poisonous we once used for parlor tricks, health remedies and all manner of other bizarre things. It gives one pause to wonder what substances we might be happily ingesting now that later generations will shudder at!

Five stars
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The Legend of Korra: The Art of the Animated Series: 03/29/14

cover artThe Legend of Korra: The Art of the Animated Series by Michael Dante DiMartino is a folio dedicated to the art design of the first season of Kora (Book of Air).

While Korra certainly has excellent characters, including a convincing, interesting, and flawed lead, the series also is one of the best looking currently being produced for American television. (There is certainly some anime out there that rivals or surpasses Korra's.)

The book goes through all the steps of planning and designing Korra. Character design, costume design, city design, vehicle design, storyboarding, and so forth.

I read the book as an egalley from NetGalley. The PDF unfortunately didn't have enough resolution to read most of the tiny captions that accompany the dozens of full color stills and other illustrations. In print, though, this would be an impressive book and should be part of any animation library.

Five stars
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On the Beach: 03/28/14

cover artOn the Beach by Nevil Shute is a cold war — near future speculative fiction about the final days of life on Earth after nuclear war. Written in 1957, the near future is 1963. The setting is primarily Melbourne and rural parts nearby, though there is a brief tour via submarine to the waters in and around Seattle, Washington.

The bombs wiped out life in the Northern Hemisphere and now the the Southern Hemisphere is trying to live as normally as possible as the toxic radiation wends its way southward.

Told through an ensemble cast — as many disaster books are — On the Beach follows an American submarine captain and the Australian family he is rooming with. There is also the debutante neighbor who has taken to living her last days as drunk as possible.

It's a beautifully told story about trying to "keep calm and carry on" to borrow the British phrase. As it becomes all the more apparent that Melbourne won't be any more spared than any other part of the world, each of the main characters must make his or her own peace with the world. Some will choose to end it and some will choose to see things out to the bitter end.

It's not a story for the depressed, I'll tell you. There are some excruciatingly painful pieces to read (or in my case, listen to).

Four stars

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A. Hall & Co.: 03/27/14

cover artA. Hall & Co. by Joseph C. Lincoln was one of the author's last books, from a career that spanned 42 years. While all of his books are loosely connected, A. Hall & Co. serves as a follow up to Mary-'Gusta.

The once powerful A. Hall & Company, fish wholesaler is struggling to stay afloat. The land that store sits on, as well as the family home is worth more than the buildings or the store's inventory combined. There's a real estate boom going on and the Hall family is facing losing everything due to gentrification.

Meanwhile, there's a romance between the son of the developer and a young woman who is related to the Halls. Because of the underhanded approach the developer has taken to force the Halls out, their romance has to stay secret, even though neither is directly involved and neither wants the Hall store to fail.

Having so far mostly read Lincoln's earlier books that take place in the heyday of shipping and sailing, when the lighthouse keepers were heroes, it was fascinating to read one of last books. His bit of Cape Cod has changed with the times and the heroine arrives via airplane. The old sailor dialect of the Cap'ns is nearly extinct and is even mocked among some of the oldest characters in the book (who themselves are too young to have genuinely spoken that way).

And that's what I love most about Lincoln's body of work. His fictional towns grown and change with the time. Characters live their lives. Things come and go. Fashions change. The language adapts. Basically it feels like a real place.

Four stars

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I Am John I Am Paul: 03/26/14

cover artI Am John I Am Paul by Mark Tedesco is a short historical fiction that recreates in modern, accessible language, the life and times of Ionnes Fulvis Marcus Romanus and Paulus. They were Roman soldiers from the 4th century who forged a life long friendship.

Told from John's point of view, we follow his life as a Roman soldier as he is shipped across the empire, desiring only to stay close to his family and his friend Paul. As a lifer he is shipped to all the different corners, including a lengthy and frustrating stay in Egypt.

Although the book was pitched as a gay novel that didn't strike me as the overt point. It's really more about life in the military and the problems of poor leadership, hazing among the ranks, and the same sorts of themes you'd see in any contemporary war novel. That's not to say there's nothing between the two men, it's just understated. Really the relationship can be read between the lines but it's not out there, screaming for the reader's attention.

Three stars

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Mary-'Gusta: 03/25/14

cover artMary-'Gusta by Joseph C. Lincoln is the eighteenth book written about Lincoln's fictional corner of Cape Cod. A young girl, Mary Augusta is orphaned at the tender age of five. A pair of distantly related uncles take her in to avoid the need to send her to an orphanage.

These two bachelor uncles run a small general store. One of their suppliers is the larger A. Hall and Company (specializing in seafood and being the focus in 1938 book). Mary 'Gusta as she grows up learns how to run the store, deal with reluctant suppliers, and ultimately saves it from bankruptcy when her uncles can't keep up with the changing times.

There's also a touch of romance between the competitors as Mary and the son of one of their suppliers become friends. And to spice things up, there's also the mystery of a missing business partner.

Two of Lincoln's books have been recently adapted for film. Cap'n Eri was turned into The Golden Boys (2007). Twin-Lights became The Lightkeepers (2009). I would like to see more of his books done as films.

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Little Bo in Italy: 03/24/14

cover artLittle Bo in Italy by Julie Andrews Edwards is the third Little Bo book. There's a fourth book, Little Bo in London.

In Little Bo in Italy Bo and Billie and the rest of the crew are on a tour of the European waterways. They eventually land in Rome where Bo is separated from Billie and is taken in by the Coliseum cats.

The plot is very similar to Madeline and the Cats of Rome by John Bemelmans Marciano. Part of that is of course due to the location and the well known feral cat population. Another part is the desire for a happy ending in a children's book. Of course, this time, the feral cat story is written from a cat's point of view.

The journey to Rome also gives Bo a chance to reunite with another of her long lost siblings. She also meets up with a sibling in Little Bo in France.

I like where the series is going. I think Edwards has found her voice and the characters have settled into the world she has created for them.

Four stars

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Ghost Knight: 03/23/14

cover artWhen we travel, we bring along an audio book stash. Basically I try to have one disc for every hour of travel by car. As we have children, these audios are typically children's books.

Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke was our audio book for the drive from Portland to Astoria, Oregon and north into Washington.

Jon is sent away to school as his mother is dating a man he calls "the Beard." On his very first night he is taunted by a trio of ghosts. It only gets worse from there. Jon quickly realizes that he needs help.

In the help department, Jon has Ella and her toad obsessed aunt. They are the local ghost hunting experts. It's their understanding of local legends and history that leads to Jon summoning the ghost of Sir Longspee, a knight with a tragic tale entwined in local lore.

For a car trip, Ghost Knight was the right balance of simplicity, fantasy, and adventure. Jon and Ella aren't especially well developed but for a ghost story, they don't really need to be.

Five stars

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Squid and Octopus Friends for Always: 03/22/14

cover artSquid and Octopus Friends for Always by Tao Nyeu is an early reader about a pair of cephalopod friends. Like the Frog and Toad books, this one has four short stories: The Quarrel, The Dream, The Hat, and The Fortune Cookie.

My favorite of the set is the Hat. Octopus finds a fisherman's boot and declares it's a hat. All the other sea friends come up with ideas for what it really is. Squid, though, finds the other book and also declares it's a hat. From then on, the boots are hats.

The illustrations are adorable. They're done in primarily pastel shades of green and blue with some grays. Stylistically they remind me of a blend between Arnold Lobel's books and Meomi's Octonauts series.

Five stars

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Suite Scarlett : 03/21/14

cover artSuite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson is set in a Manhattan hotel similar to one I stayed in 1999. Now that Scarlett has turned fifteen she has been assigned her own themed room to care for.

Scarlett Martin is assigned the Empire Suite. With it comes a new permanent resident who promptly renames Scarlett, O'Hara.

Along with the nickname, Scarlett is introduced to the wild and crazy world of theater. She has a brother who wants to be an actor. It seems her new guest has ins on Broadway. Can Scarlett and the struggling hotel the new guest's craziest of schemes?

I loved this book. It reads like a 1930s screwball comedy.

Five stars

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The Salaryman's Wife: 03/20/14

cover artThe Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey is the first book in the Rei Shimuara series, featuring a San Francisco born Japanese American living in Tokyo. Oddly though the series opens with (in anime terms) an onsen episode.

Rei is on a business trip with her boyfriend and other coworkers. Their conference is at a hot springs resort. Unfortunately one of the other guests there, the wife of one of another of the businessmen (or salaryman) is found dead outside the baths.

The facts and timing of the woman's death hinges on the signage on the door to the baths. There are three possible options: men only, women only, and families. The problem though is that the local police don't want to think about the oddities of the scene. They want a simple, cut and dry solution. It's up to Rei, therefore, to figure out what really happened.

The main problem with this debut mystery is that the solution is rather obvious. I figured out the murderer and the motivation behind the murder pages and pages before Rei did.

Three stars

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Going Postal: 03/19/14

cover artGoing Postal by Terry Pratchett is the 33rd Discworld book and the first of the Moist van Lipwig books. The other two are Making Money (review coming) and Raising Steam (currently reading). Moist is a confidence man, a master of headology, a man who is hanged within an inch of his life and then given a second chance by Lord Vetinari.

The Post Office has been closed for decades and the Clacks, a disc-wide semaphore messaging system that can take any message to the farthest reaches in a matter of hours, has a monopoly on communication. It's not that Vetinari is against monopolies, he just wants it to be reliable. Since it no longer is, the patrician wants an alternative.

So Lipwig is resurrected, given a parole officer (a Golem), and a golden, winged hat. There's just a few snags: he only has two staff members (both nuts), the post office is stuffed to the rafters with undelivered mail, the building is haunted, and someone has been murdering all of Vetinari's appointed post masters.

Going Postal early on is a fascinating look at the psychology of hoarding. There's also thoughts on the effects of time and the way once busy buildings are shut of an forgotten. It's from this broken, stuffed with molding mail, understaffs, impossible situation that Lipwig must make into a functioning entity or risk a second hanging.

But that's just the nuts and bolts. There's also the problems with the clacks, the sort of safety and reliability issues that arise when companies get too big to fail but feel the need to cut corners to keep profits up. For fans of the days of the phone phreaks (see Exploding the Phone), and the early days of hacking, the descriptions of how the clacks work and how they can be broken through certain codes sent down the line is for you.

Finally there is Spike, aka Adora Belle Dearheart. While she was a strong character in the 2010 two part series based on the book, she is a better, more interesting and memorable character in the book. She's more aware of Lipwig's past crimes and more aware of what he's capable of. She's also completely willing to use his skills to her own purposes. Because she is as unscrupulous as Moist, they are a better couple in the books than in the miniseries.

Five stars

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The View from the Top : 03/18/14

cover artThe View from the Top by Hillary Frank is about the last summer before college. It's when everything is about to change.

The protagonist, Annabelle, is a girl who is too popular for her (or our) own good. She has a boyfriend whom she's been planning to marry for just about forever (really?!). But maybe college will offer something or someone better?

But NOTHING happens except for everyone fawning over Annabelle. What makes her so damn special? I want to know! (Not really)

Two stars

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Silent Visions: 03/17/14

cover artSilent Visions by John Bengtson is the third book to trace the history of early Hollywood through the locations where the films were shot. The previous two cover the films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Silent Visions does the same with Harold Lloyd's films.

Each page of Silent Visions has a still or stills from a Harold Lloyd film (and sometimes multiple films), and when the location still exists, a photograph showing how it looks now. For traveling shots, there's often also a map with locations highlighted and linked to relevant frames from the movie.

For silent film enthusiasts and/or readers interested in Los Angeles history in the early decades of the 20th century, Silent Visions (and I'll hazard a guess that the other two) is a fascinating book. There is also a blog called Silent Locations.

Five stars

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Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year: 03/16/14

 cover artLittle Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year by Ramsey Beyer is a hybrid memoir, zine, and graphic novel format account of her first year at art school in Baltimore. Originally from Paw Paw, Michigan, Ramsey felt like a little fish in a big sea.

Ramsey Beyer's memoir reminds me of two of my other favorite graphic novel format memoirs: Doodlebug by Karen Romano Young and Smile by Raina Tegemeier.

The memoir covers all the bases of the big move to college: the excitement mixed with apprehension moving into a dorm (one very similar to what I stayed in during my first year), and to those roommates and first friends. For anyone who has made a huge move in life or is contemplating one, I recommend this book with enthusiasm.

Five stars

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Varjak Paw: 03/15/14

cover artWhile Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke was our Oregon audiobook, Varjak Paw by S.F. Said was our Washington (and specifically, Mt Rainier) book. It is about a young Abyssinian Blue house cat who must leave the safety of the house to find help after the old lady dies.

In terms of basic animal adventure, Varjak Paw reminds me most of Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams. The history of the Abyssinian Blues is told through a rich oral history — similar to many a creation story but from a feline point of view.

On a more basic level, it is the tale of a cat experiencing the outside. He is in search of a great and fierce creature — a dog — but he doesn't know what a dog is. So he mistakes automobiles for dogs. This is one of many errors he makes on his adventure.

Along the way Varjak becomes aware of a mystery affecting all the alley cats. The cats are going missing. In their place is a horrific replacement. These monstrosities are some of the most disturbing things in a children's audio I've ever heard. But they are an important part of the story.

To make the experience of this audio all the more special, it's performed by George Guidall. Normally I listen to his readings of adult series: The Navajo Mysteries by Tony Hillerman and the Cat Who books by Lilian Jackson Braun. Varjak Paw because of the emphasis on creation myths and spiritual enlightenment and because it is cast with cats, is the prefect blending of Guidall's other work.

Four stars

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Constable and Toop: 03/14/14

cover artConstable and Toop by Gareth P. Jones is set in Victorian London, both in the human and the spirit world.

Something is eating the ghosts, something the Ghost Bureau has called the Black Rot. A ghost clerk, Mr. Lapsewood is sent to investigate. In the land of the living, a coroner's son and a girl newly moved into a haunted house can both see ghosts and know that something is up.

Both sides have to overcome prejudices to work together to stop the Black Rot. It sounds like such a promising plot but it did not work for me.

An ensemble cast requires timing and a unique voice for each point of view. Each piece of the story has to be compelling on its own to keep the reader turning pages. I unfortunately didn't feel that compulsion with any if them.

Take for instance Mr. Lapsewood. He's a long time clerk but he's going a bit daft, as apparently all ghosts eventually do. He's chosen for this dangerous job because he's not performing his current duties well. The new job is dangerous and potentially fatal (or whatever the equivalent is for ghosts) and frankly he's expendable. But he's incompetent and ill prepared and that makes his promotion or reassignment make no sense.

Lapsewood is set up in a position similar to Lipwig of Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (review coming). The difference that years of being a forger and a con man has given Lipwig the skills necessary to restart the Ankh-Morpork post office and take down the Grand Trunk. Lapsewood has no transferable skills as far as I can see.

One star

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Ichiro: 03/13/14

 cover artIchiro by Ryan Inzana was short listed for a CYBILS. Ichiro has been living with his mother in New York City but now they are going to Japan. He idolizes his father, a soldier killed in battle.

He has learned the prejudices of his paternal (American) grandfather and will have all of that turned on end when he meets his maternal (Japanese) grandfather. Along the way he learns about the horrors of World War Two, shinto culture and has some magical experiences.

The artwork is neither American comic, nor Japanese manga. It's something all its own. The artwork was my favorite part of the book, followed by the side tale of the tanuki.

But somehow things didn't completely gel for me.

Three stars

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The Chairs Are Where the People Go: 03/12/14

cover artThe Chairs Are Where the People Go by Misha Glouberman is a collection of performance art ramblings as transcribed by Sheila Heti.

This is one of those books that I read completely out of context. I chose it because I liked (and still do) the title and the cover art. The problem I had was in not knowing how to approach these short essays.

Some of the essays seemed to be rather scholarly looks at different aspects of culture and psychology with a semiotics bent. Others though came off as self absorbed ramblings.

In the end I decided to move onto other books in my to be read pile. While there were certainly essays I enjoyed (the titular one, the on on bar fights, and the one on how to stop smoking), there wasn't enough to keep me reading.

One star

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Specials: 03/11/14

cover artSpecials by Scott Westerfeld is the third in the Uglies series. Talia has been invited to be a Special. She originally had hoped to infiltrate them. But now she's been reprogrammed. Can she fight it?

Specials are the elite forces of this society. As it's a society that worships beauty and uses physical perfection to control society. Given these societal constructs, it makes no damn sense to me why the BEST OF THE BEST would sharpen their teeth and mutilate their bodies.

All the progress made in books one and two is tossed away in lieu of an orgy of excesses and cutting. Talia's world is reduced to following the pack and fitting in by using the dumbest sounding slang.

Although there is a fourth book, I am done following this series.

One star

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The Unusual Suspects: 03/10/14

cover artThe Unusual Suspects by Michael Buckley is the second in the Sisters Grimm series. Sabrina's teacher, Mr. Grumpner is found dead in a spider's web. She and her sister and grandmother have to figure out who is behind his death.

The only clues the Grimms have are some red hand prints left at various crime scenes. Mayor Charming is desperate to have the case solved.

Mixed into the regular mystery is the on-going one regarding the Grimm parents. It looks like the villagers know more than they're pretending. Further confusing things are Puck's annoying antics — he's the Q of this series.

Where the book falters is its pacing. Like the second of the NERDS series, there is too much crammed in here. The story starts off slow, is bogged down by Sabrina's complaining, and later by disagreements between sisters. When it's time to wrap things up, we're given a cliffhanger instead.

Three stars

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Dishwasher: 03/09/14

cover artDishwasher by Pete Jordan is a memoir of itinerant years spent washing dishes in various parts of the United States. Although the goal was to wash in all 50 states, he didn't come close to reaching that off the cuff goal.

My favorite part of the book was his time spent in Alaska. It was probably the place where he fit best and learned the most about his chosen profession. But Jordan at that stage in his life wasn't happy to stay put for any amount of time. Eventually Alaska as the perfect job lost its luster and he was off again.

While not a travelogue, it's still an interesting look at the world of dishwashing. For anyone who has been a dishwasher (I was briefly in 1992, in case you're curious) it's an oddly captivating read.

Three stars

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Binky Takes Charge: 03/08/14

 cover artBinky Takes Charge by Ashley Spires is the fourth of the Binky graphic novels. It was nominated for a 2012 CYBILS.

Binky has been promoted by F.U.R.S.T (Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel). He's ready to take on a subordinate. He's expecting a kitten but surprise! — it's a DOG! Worse yet, it's a slobbering, un-housebroken puppy. ICK.

Binky does his best to train this puppy but it takes every last piece of his concentration and dignity. Of course nothing is ever what it seems. That little puppy might be up to something.

It's a cute continuation to the series. Fans of the previous books will enjoy seeing the continuing adventures of Binky the space cat and his fight against alien invaders (insects).

Four stars

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Home Front Girl: 03/07/14

cover artHome Front Girl by Joan Wehlen Morrison is the diaries of the author from her childhood through early adulthood. She was a teenager through WWII and the diaries reflect this.They cover the usual things: homework, school events, and teenage angsty things. There are also her thoughts on the war, popular culture of the time, and various names in the news.

It's an interesting read for anyone who wants a glimpse of what home front life was like.




Three stars

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Linoleum, Better Babies, and the Modern Farm Woman, 1890-1930: 03/06/14

cover artLittle Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell raised some questions about life in rural America at the turn of the 20th century. My online research lead to a couple interesting preview quotes via Google Books. I decided Linoleum, Better Babies and the Modern Farm Woman, 1890-1930 by Marilyn Irvin Holt was worth reading.

Holt's book starts with the year that the frontier is closed. That, as you'll recall, is also the year the camp in Little Blog on the Prairie is trying to recreate. Thus, for fact checking against the novel, it's a rather limited resource. That said, it is still a fascinating look at the role women played in rural communities.

The fundamental takeaway from Linoleum... is that communities were built on cooperation and on the education of women in methods of home and farm management. These two bits of history are completely opposite of the conceit of the camp (competition and the women expected to know how to run a farm before arriving at camp). Holt further outlines how government programs as well as rural colleges catered especially to the needs of these growing regional communities.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in life in rural America at the turn of the 20th century.

Four stars

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A State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California: 03/05/14

cover artA State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California by Laura Cunningham is a gem of a book that defies easy classification. It is a folio that is part art book (modern day California school), part memoir (of growing up in the Bay Area), and part ecology book (about what California probably looked like centuries earlier).

The book — both painting and text — represents years of careful study and work. While the book doesn't cover all of California, what it does, is done lovingly and in depth. For nature lovers living in the Bay Area, A State of Change should be a must have title.

Four stars

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Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci: 03/04/14

cover artBlockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D'Agnese is a picture book biography of the twelfth century mathematician, Fibonacci. His father's work in customs gave Leonardo of Pisa access to the mathematics of east, including the number 0 and the Hindu/Arabic numbers we now use.

Although much isn't known of the mathematician's life, D'Agnese uses his work to flush out a possible (but not known for sure) life. John O'Brien's illustrations also bring to life the Fibonacci's study of numbers.

For children interested in mathematics, it's a good introduction to its history and to one of its well known names. It also has a positive message about sticking to one's passion even if teased.

Recommended by BCNU @ WPL

Four stars

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 cover artAvatar: The Last Airbender: The Search, Part 3 by Gene Luen Yang concludes the three part story arc (part 1; part 2) involving the search for Zuko's mother and questions raised about her during the run of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series.

At the close of Part 2, the secret of the Forgetful Valley was revealed. And with it comes the reason why Ursa and her first boyfriend have never been found. But this knowledge comes with a price too... one that puts Aang at odds with the Spirit World and threatens to cause even more chaos in the lives of Zuko and Azula.

The story in The Forgetful Valley reminds me of Baba Yaga, in that the spirit who lives there will do one favor at a time, and never more than one, just as Baba Yaga will only answer one question.

But those favors have consequences which seem insignificant to the spirit but can be devastating for those helped. Aang, being a good egg, and of course the link between the two worlds, realizes he needs to know the Spirit's story.

But what really broke my heart was Zuko doing his best to come to terms with what he has learned at the end of his long search. Except among the truths he's learned, there's also one BIG lie. And that's something he and his mother will sort out later.

It was a wonderful trilogy and well worth the time to re-read before writing these reviews. I have already pre-ordered parts 1 through 3 of The Rift.

Five stars

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The Notorious Benedict Arnold: 03/02/14

cover artThe Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin was shortlisted for a middle grade / young adult nonfiction CYBILs. It is part biography and part chronicle of the events that may have contributed to him eventually spying for the British.

The first chapter was a rip snorter — beginning with Arnold's execution. What the book, though, assumes of the reader, is full knowledge of what his treasonous acts were. Now if there were written for adults — I would have no problem with that conceit. But this book is written for readers who are still completing their education and depending on their age — might not have reached the Revolutionary War in great detail.

Later on the book includes lengthy descriptions of Benedict's command during the invasion of Canada as part of the Revolutionary War. Even being familiar with the dates and the areas of the battles, I found myself wanting maps and a timeline so I could see how one event related to another event. I suppose maps were kept out of the book since the narrative flows more like a novel than a history text. But without them I just can't recommend the book as a stand alone volume.

The book is best suited for older readers who are versed in the basics of the Revolutionary War and Benedict Arnold's participation in it. It works as a supplementary text but only as one.

Two stars

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The Brontë Sisters: 03/01/14

cover artThe Brontë Sisters by Catherine Reef is a young adult biography of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. To a lesser degree it's also about their father and brother, Bramwell.

The book would work well in an English literature course where Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, or Agnes Grey are being taught. The book fills in the blanks but expects an understanding of the context of when the women lived. It includes illustrations of the sisters (many done by Bramwell), and photographs of the area where they lived.

For someone new to the Brontës, The Brontë Sisters is a rather dry read. I don't see it being the biography that sparks a new love of their work.

Three stars

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