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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

Spider Woman's Daughter: 05/31/14

cover artSpider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman is a continuation of the Navajo Mysteries which ended with The Shape Shifter and Tony Hillerman's death. Whether or nor Anne Hillerman has more mysteries planned, I don't know, but I hope so.

Bernie Manuelito, back on the job after her honeymoon, runs into Joe Leaphorn while having breakfast. She watches him head back to his car, where he is shot by someone in a passing truck. To say Leaphorn and Chee are back, as the book description does, is a bit misleading. Leaphorn is there in that he's the victim of a brutal crime and is now fighting for his life.

I as I predicted in my review of Shape Shifter, Anne Hillerman has made Bernie her authorial insert. Sure, Chee is still there to provide a different point of view, but this is the first time we really get into her head. We also see her family: a sister who is an alcoholic; a mother who is slowly slipping into dementia.

Do the characters still feel like themselves? Yes. Was the mystery challenging and satisfying in its resolution? Yes. Would I read the next one if one were published. YES!

Five stars

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Junie B., First Grader, Shipwrecked: 05/30/14

cover artJunie B., First Grader, Shipwrecked by Barbara Park is the 23rd Junie B. Jones book. When my oldest was in kindergarten, he and I would read this series together. Since he's moved onto longer books, I haven't really given the series much thought. Then the recent death of Barbara Park, and my youngest receiving Shipwrecked as a hand-me-down, changed that.

Junie B. and her classmates are learning about Christopher Columbus in class. Mr. Scary decides to use the upcoming Columbus Day as an excuse to put on a class play. The children have to write the play, decide on their parts, and design the set and costumes.

As is the shtick, Junie's enthusiasm gets in the way. She wants to be the fastest ship and she wants to be the star of the show. As it seems Mr. Scary is incapable of maintaining order in his classroom, there's a lot of trouble with setting up the play, and the play itself is a bit of a flop because Junie can't behave or control her urges.

But Junie here is only half of the reason behind my lukewarm reception. The other is Columbus. When I was Junie's age, my school most certainly did make a big deal out of Columbus and the many other white, European or early American explorers who "discovered" bits and pieces of the "new" world.

Of course, that's all Eurocentric hogwash. Yes, Columbus's journey set into motion a whole series of events that forever changed the Western Hemisphere. But as much as I love my country and my home in California, it would be idiotic to say Columbus was universally a hero.

I'm not sure the Junie B. books with their situational comedy have the wiggle room to cover complex topics. But there seems to be a book for every holiday on the school calendar. These books are best when they cover simple things.

Two stars

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The Sea Serpent and Me: 05/29/14

cover artThe Sea Serpent and Me by Dashka Slater is about a little girl and a baby sea serpent. Sometimes you're suddenly needed, as she learns when the serpent drips out of the tap and into her bath. She decides to keep it, first because it's a baby and later because it's a cute pet. But wild animals &emdash; even serpents, need to be in the wild.

Slater's book reminds me of two other books about children and unusual animals &emdash; Bog Baby by Jean Willis and Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell. The Sea Serpent and Me and Bog Baby both pose the problem of the magical baby animal who can't survive in captivity.

Clifford and the Sea Serpent share their large size and rapid growth, except that Clifford, as a dog, is a pet from the very get go. Thus the lesson with Clifford is the importance of adjusting to the needs of the pet (moving to the countryside to a house with a giant sized dog house). Here, though, the serpent is wild and needs to be released before it's too late.

My daughter and I read the book together. Rather, she read, and I listened. We were both reminded of the early weeks of caring for Tortuga, the stray kitten I brought home because she was too young for the local animal shelter. Originally we had planned to foster Tortuga until she was old enough to be adopted. We had seen her more as a a bog baby or sea serpent but she quickly became part of our family and became a Clifford.

Five stars

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Dear Enemy: 05/28/14

cover artDear Enemy by Jean Webster is a companion piece to Daddy-Long-Legs. Just like the first one, this is an epistolary novel, but the correspondence is between the new head of the orphanage and the now married Judy.

Except that it takes place in the orphanage and the letters are being written to the last book's protagonist, this book is not more of the same. It's not a romance. If any thing, it's a comedic look at the troubles faced by anyone trying to run an institution on a budget fixed by board members who probably have never set foot on the grounds.

For anyone who has had to make a budget or deal with bureaucratic red tape, Dear Enemy is for you. In a hundred years it hasn't gotten any easier to run a school. I think this book should be given to anyone taking on his or her first directorship.

Five stars

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Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars: 05/27/14

cover artAlan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars is one of Daniel Pinkwater's earliest books. I read it because it was mentioned by Yggdrasil Birnbum in The Yggyssey.

Leonard Neeble, the main character, befriends a the new kid in school. He's bored to death, having also recently moved to this new town. Nothing ever seems to happen her and his boredom is bringing out the worst in him.

Alan Mendelsohn claims to be from Mars. Now in later Pinkwater books, out of the blue statements should be taken at face value. But this book doesn't carry itself with the same bravado so it's hard to tell if Alan and Leonard are telling things as they are.

Although this book has its diehard fans, it didn't pull me into its story as much as I was hoping or expecting. Alan for all his bizarre stories is actually rather boring. He doesn't tell his stories with the same panache as Yggdrasil does.

Two stars

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Dear Teen Me: 05/26/14

cover artDear Teen Me edited by E. Kristen Anderson is a collection of letters written by young adult authors to their teenage selves.

I suppose the point of such an exercise is to show struggling teenagers that things will get better. But it makes me wonder if there might be a disjoint between the audience and the messenger, especially when the people writing are now successful or famous.

On its most basic level these are little pep talks. They talk of an embarrassing event, or unfounded but universal fears of adolescence. The message over and over is "I went through that too and look at me now!"

What I'd like to see an an anthology like this written by adults who aren't famous. It would be nice to see the views from other adult walks of life, career paths, and what not.

Three stars

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Looks Like Daylight: 05/25/14

cover artLooks Like Daylight by Deborah Ellis is a collection of interviews with native children from the United States and Canada. My reaction to this book is deeply personal. I'm not an indigenous person; my genes are basically European mutt, but recently my best friend asked what native life was like in the States. She's Maori but living in California, raising her American born children.

The sheer size difference between New Zealand and the United States and Canada makes drawing comparisons difficult. When she asked me the question, I spent the next hour or so talking bout different tribal groups just in California!

The big picture answer to her question is wrapped up in the history of the two nations being colonized and roughly the closer the indigenous groups were to the original colonization, the uglier and more unfortunate the story is.

But, as I told her, I'm not an expert. I'm woefully ignorant of the current situation. While Ellis's interviews don't cover the entire story (that would need a multivolume encyclopedia, or a wiki site) it does give voice to the good, the bad, the ugly and the hopeful pieces of what it means to grow up native in the United States or Canada.

Four stars

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Adrift on St. John: 05/24/14

cover artAdrift on St. John by Rebecca M. Hale is the first in the Mystery in the Islands series. Pen Hoffstra is the manager of a tropical resort on St. John island. She knows first hand that nothing is ever what it seems, even when a water taxi sinks and a young woman goes missing.

I know it sounds like the start of a typical cozy mystery but it isn't. Sure, there's a female protagonist who isn't a detective but will soon find herself in the middle of a mystery. Sure, there's a memorable setting — St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Sure there's a mystery — a missing (presumed drowned) young woman. But when put together the pieces add up to something different and more satisfying.

The current day mystery is tied up in three pieces of the island's past. First, there is the death of the Amina slave princess and the legend that has grown up around her. Then there is Pen's own sketchy history. And finally there is a hotel land development project in the works that has divided the island residents.

Now I know about a hill of beans about the U.S. Virgin islands so I can't tell you how well the asides about the island's history jives with reality but the asides were nonetheless interesting. As with How to Wash a Cat, there's a lot of emphasis on the basic history of the island and a set up of characters. But at the edges of the story, there's a hint of the magical realism that plays a greater role in later books in the Cats and Curios series. There are some scenes with the Amina princess that are more than just a person in disguise playing a role. It wouldn't surprise me to see more magical realism creep into later books.

I didn't figure out how all the pieces fit together but I often don't when I'm reading Hale's books. I don't care. They're fun and interesting and delightfully different.

Five stars

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Bullying Under Attack: 05/23/14

cover artBullying Under Attack edited by John Meyer is an anthology of essays about bullying. The book was compiled in response to the suicide of Meyer's son because of bullying.

The essays are divided into three sections: the bullied, the bullies, and the bystander. Each section offers essays and poetry on the pain, anger and fear that surrounds bullying.

This book is good for anyone affected by bullying.

Four stars

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Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, & Other Female Villains: 05/22/14

cover artBad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, & Other Female Villains by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple is a hybrid nonfiction / graphic novel survey of women who have for one reason or another been deemed bad by history or culture.

The book opens with short summaries of Bible stories, presenting each one as a drawn portrait, a one or two page mini-biography, and a one page, multi-panel comic where the mother (Yolen) and daughter (Stemple) discuss the woman, questioning her portrayal. They also bring up any modern day lessons that might be drawn from her "crime."

The book then moves on to historical figures like Cleopatra, "Typhoid" Mary, and Mae West, for example. Between each of these essays the two authors travel the globe in search of some feminist truth, even if they rarely agree on whatever they've learned most recently.

As both a Jane Yolen aficionado, and a graphic novel reader, I loved this unusual hybrid. I think it will be a good place to start my own dialog on gender roles and feminism with my children.

Five stars






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Snuff: 05/21/14

cover artI have come to the conclusion that my favorite way to enjoy a Terry Pratchett book is through a combination of listening to an audio (preferably read by Stephen Briggs) and re-reading notable passages and chapters in print. What this means is I'm starting to amass duplicate copies of the Discworld novels.

Snuff by Terry Pratchett is the 39th Discworld novel. Commander Vimes is out of his element, taken on holiday to his wife's family estate. He's away from his bacon sandwiches, his Watch, and the streets of Ankh-Morpork. As an unwelcome outsider, and one who doesn't want to play by the rules ascribed to that of a lord, Vimes brings out the worst in people. He's also nearly framed for a murder.

Crime though is Vimes's thing. He has the law in his blood. The brutal killing of a goblin brings to the surface years of subjugation of, and violence against, goblins by humans (and other species of the disc). Vimes through his belief in the law swallows his prejudices long enough to get to know the goblins who live under the hills of this country township.

What surfaces through the investigation and growing friendship is a better understanding of goblin culture and the price they've paid for the expansion of human progress across the disc. While Jingo began the criticism of the spread of the British empire (through a political and military clash between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch), Snuff looks at the civilian cost of conquest — indigenous people wiped out through war and disease, other peoples transplanted through slavery, institutionalized poverty, loss of native culture and the imposing of a new culture and morality.

Snuff is one of most heartbreaking volume of the Discworld stories (I Shall Wear Midnight in close second). What started off as a series of humorous episodes full of puns and ridiculous situations has evolved into a mature (albeit entertaining) discussion of politics, racism, sexism, war, injustice, poverty, class and caste systems, religion, and on and on.

Five stars

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How to Tail a Cat: 05/20/14

cover artHow to Tail a Cat by Rebecca M. Hale is the fourth book in the Cats and Curious series. At the close of How to Moon a Cat, the protagonist has learned her uncle has faked his death (for reasons unknown). While coming to terms with the revelation, Oscar's niece finds herself in the middle of an alligator-napping.

So in the timeline of the move into the Green Vase, this should be the book where the fictional Ed Lee equivalent is appointed mayor as the Current Mayor (aka fictional Gavin Newsom) leaves to be Lieutenant Governor of California. It looks like Monte, the wacky and politics obsessed neighbor is in the running instead.

But the focus isn't on the regime change in San Francisco. Instead, it's on the disappearance of an city celebrity — Clive the Alligator (who is clearly modeled on real life San Francisco gator, Claude. In previous books, all the mentions of actual San Franciscan personalities have been deceased people, with Moscone being the most recent in terms of San Francisco history.

In reviews of the previous three books I mentioned how these mysteries are capers where there are no deaths, no murders. How to Tail a Cat breaks that trend by ending with a very surprising murder. How that plot twist plays out is addressed in How to Paint a Cat.

Five stars

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The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock: 05/19/14

cover artThe Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock by Bill Peet is a blast from my past, re-introduced to me by my daughter by way of her second grade teacher. That's the funny thing about reading; book recommendations can come from anywhere and old forgotten favorites can resurface.

Prewitt Peacock is the least popular peacock among this ostentation. He has a scraggly tail that when unfolded makes a most unpleasant looking face. It's ugly and scary and not at all in keeping with the peacock way. So he gets teased and harassed and chased about.

That is until the nearby tiger finds a way to get to those tasty looking peafowl. And sure enough, Prewitt's tail is suddenly useful. It's a cute story that builds on the idea of making the best out of an unfortunate situation.

The story was included in my daughter's English text book. It's nice to see the older stories getting new life through inclusion in the text books. Better yet, I'm grateful our local public library has these books on hand so we can check out the full versions to read together.

Five stars

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Tommysaurus Rex: 05/18/14

cover artTommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel reads like a graphic novel homage to Maggie and the Pirate by Ezra Jack Keats. Except now instead of a cricket and a girl, it's a t-rex and a boy.

But the bully's still there wanting above all to get in the way of the special friendship between a child and his or her pet. And as always, it's the pet that gets hurt.

I have very mixed feelings about this book (as I do about Maggie and the Pirate. I'm not a fan of the death of a pet plot especially in the mixture of learning how to stand up to bullies. Sure this pet is a rather magical one, being a long extinct creature brought to life from a cave (a veritable dinosaur resurrection) but his death is still troubling. I suppose it would have been wrong for Tommysaurus to have eaten his persecutor, but it would have been extremely satisfying.

To make matters worse, Tommysaurus isn't the only pet to die. That eye for an eye or pet for a pet message is also troubling. There's just a lot of anger mixed into this story.

Three stars

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Wandering Son: Volume 1: 05/17/14

cover artWandering Son: Volume 1 by Shimura Takako is the start of a middle school manga about family, friendship, and gender identity. There is also an anime series by the same name.

Shuichi Mitori and Yoshino Takatshiki are starting at a new school. Shuichi, a boy by birth, prefers to wear dresses but would never dare wear the girl's uniform to school. Yoshino, a girl by birth, is more comfortable with her fluid sense of gender. When she wants to dress like a boy, she does. It is her bravery that is the spark of a new friendship and encourages Shuichi to re-explore his own gender identity.

It's a beautiful start to the series and I hope to keep reading it. The anime, while in the spirit of the manga, rushes the early parts of Suichi's gender exploration.

Five stars

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The Dead of Night: 05/16/14

cover artThe Dead of Night by Peter Lerangis is the third of the Cahills vs. Vespers series. Dan and Amy's friend Atticus is captured by the Vespers. They have to rush to Samarkand to figure out the next clue before the worst happens.

Atticus is turning out to be very capable addition to the group. But frankly the whole super-secret, super-powerful Vespers are getting tiresome. The Cahill branches were developed over time and their original breakup explained in the first story of Vespers Rising.

The reaming parts were supposed to set up the Vespers as the big bads but they really feel like the were created to keep the franchise going. If they've been plotting for all these years — why didn't they strike when the Cahills were at their weakest (and distracted by the clue hunt)?

That said, I still enjoyed the hunt through Samarkand. The clues are no more difficult than what's found in a Dan Brown book. This location reminded most of the Lost Library in Avatar: The Last Air Bender. Presumably the observatory of Ulugh Beg was inspiration in part for the library.

Fours stars

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Brother, I'm Dying: 05/15/14

cover artBrother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat is a memoir written as novel about life in Haiti and the incidents that drove different members of her family to leave for the United States. It's told in a series of flashbacks interwoven with the present day, a time when the author is unexpectedly but happily pregnant for the first time.

Though on the surface a memoir, Brother, I'm Dying is the story of two brothers, Danticat's father and uncle. Her father was first to leave for the United States having grown tired of not being able to make ends meet as a tailor, only to become a taxi driver. Her uncle, a minister, stayed behind to run his church and provide for his neighborhood, staying until the bitter end, when he was forced to leave under the cover of darkness and in disguise during the political unrest and the United Nations occupation.

I listened to the Record Books audio, read beautifully by Robin Miles. It was a fascinating, though provoking, anger inducing and heartbreaking book. Anyone wanting to learn more about Haiti and the Haitian experience in the United States, must read (or listen) to this book.

Five stars

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Voltron Force Volume 1: Shelter from the Storm: 05/14/14

cover artI try to post reviews of books in a series in the order of publication. It doesn't always happen that way. Maybe I start the series out of order, as I did with Diane Mott Davidson's mysteries. Or sometimes things just get away from me and I think I've posted a review, when I haven't even written it yet. That's the case with Voltron Force Volume 1: Shelter from the Storm by Brian Smith.

In this case, part of the delay is due to how I got the book. It was a publisher nominated title for the 2012 CYBILs. Although there's no rule against publishing reviews during the first round reading, I prefer to wait until the winners are announced in February. It lets me stay focused on the task at hand &emdash; rendering down a very long list into a short list of the very best that year has to offer.

Partly too, I must admit to some inner turmoil with posting a review. See back in the day when Go Lion was first imported, dubbed, and mutated into Voltron: Defender of the Universe I was a huge, raving, lunatic fan. We're talking a fan fic writing, fan art drawing, cosplay playing fanatic. So after reading Shelter from the Storm for the CYBILs, I spent a few months readdressing my fandom by watching both Go Lion via Crunchyroll and Voltron via Netflix. And I've decided both versions are fine, but the wacky import (and its spinoffs) is more fun.

So that takes us back to volume 1 which introduces a new generation of characters. There was also a new cartoon which I haven't watched (yet). Presumably most of the introductions are done via the cartoon, leaving very little work for the book. Basically, it's here they are, here's which lion they fly.

The only character I have a problem with is Princess Larmina. Niece my ass. That is not a niece and aunt relationship going on there. And where did singleton Allura get a sibling so she could have a niece? Are the creators just too grossed out by single motherhood? One of those handsome men she's been battling alongside with should just own up to being a little closer than close, if you know what I mean.

Other than that oddity it's the typical younger generation wanting to jump right in and the older generation being reluctant to let go. And the bad guys not caring whom they're fighting.

And despite my misgivings I enjoyed every last page.

Five stars

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A Question of Magic: 05/13/14

cover artA Question of Magic by E.D. Baker is a retelling of the Baba Yaga folktale. Serafina, soon to be engaged, inherits her distant is aunt's home, only to discover it comes with a curse. Now she is to be the next Baba Yaga, whether or not she wants to.

The rules for being Baba Yaga are simple. Serafina can't leave the house until she proves she has embraced her new role in life. She can only answer one question from each person as Baba Yaga. All other questions will be just as herself. She can only go where the house takes her, though she can request certain stops. For each question she answers, she becomes noticeably older.

The book has three acts: the application of the curse, learning to live with it, breaking the curse. It's a quick and satisfying read. Knowing about the Russian folktale isn't necessary to fully enjoy the book; Baker does a good job of weaving in what you need to know.

Five stars

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Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures: 05/12/14

cover artFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo won the 2014 E.B. White Read-Aloud Award for Middle Grades. It is a graphic novel hybrid that uses comic book conventions for humorous results.

Flora Belle Buckman, daughter of a romance author, is a born cynic. Having read the entire run of Terrible Things Can Happen to You! she has come to expect bad things. So she's there to rescue a squirrel who is vacuumed up. She's even prepared for his new and unexpected superpowers!

It sounds like a goofy premise for a book, but it's really no goofier than any of the Marvel or DC backstories. And it's the start of a humorous but heartwarming story of friendship and family.

Each chapter ends with a short comic book summary of events as illustrated by K.G Campbell.

Five stars

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Brave Harriet: The First Woman to Fly the English Channel: 05/11/14

cover artBrave Harriet: The First Woman to Fly the English Channel by Marissa Moss is a picture book biography of Harriet Quimby, the first women to fly from England to France.

Harriet from the earliest days of the airplane, realized she wanted to be a part of the action. She was the first American woman to receive pilot's license, despite being forced to go through more hurdles than her male counterparts.

This book though, is primarily about her flight across the English channel. The flight was dangerous for anyone making it, in the days of open air planes and low air speeds and no instrumentation for flying in bad weather. But the men helping her set up this flight wanted her to cheat, and send a man in disguise her place! She didn't agree to such a ridiculous plan and history was made.

I read this book at the insistence of my daughter, also named Harriet. She sees all other Harriets as some sort of extension of herself. Being named Harriet is a call to be brave, to be a hero, to be adventurous.

Four stars

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On the Road to Mr. Mineo's: 05/10/14

cover artOn the Road to Mr. Mineo's by Barbara O'Connor is about a one-legged homing pigeon who for reasons all his own, decides to not go home for a while. I received an audio copy for review via LibraryThing's Early Reader Program.

A group of kids in Meadville, South Carolina all want the pigeon. Meanwhile, Mr. Mineo just wants the pigeon back. But Sherman has his own plans and only a little white dog seems to know what they are.

The book is short, poetic, and thoroughly delightful. The reader of the audio does a perfect job of bringing the characters to life.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for an uplifting children's book where the dog doesn't die. I think it will also appeal to fans of the Everything on a Waffle books.

Five stars

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The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two: 05/09/14

cover artThe Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente is the third of September's adventures in Fairyland. In the first one she was a hero, the second one, a bishop, and now she's a criminal on the run. Not exactly — but nothing in these books is ever cut and dry and that's a big part of what makes this series so magical.

September has waited and waited and grown impatient in the quiet normalcy that has settled with her father's return from the war. In that time she learns how to drive a Model A, which is frankly one of the best and funniest description of driving a vintage car of that ilk. Now, like the Gump in The Marvelous Land of Oz, the car becomes a mishmash of things and comes alive as it and September find their way into Fairyland.

In the first book, September crosses Fairyland by foot and Velocipede, and circumnavigates it by sea. In the second she travels beneath it, in a world made up of the shadows of Fairyland. Now she drives above it, to the moon, where she must face a fierce-some Yeti.

It will be nigh impossible to go into too much detail of September's adventures with out spoilers. To those who are fans of A Through L and Saturday, then you will be happy to know that they are really and truly back. They are a big part of September's latest adventure. There is also an ending that puts September in line with Dorothy Gale, but with greater consequences.

Five stars

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To Kill a Mockingbird : 05/08/14

cover artTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee has become one of those books taught in high school English classes. It wasn't taught at my school, so I didn't get around to reading it until a friend gave me a used (and high-lighted) copy.

Jean-Louise Finch, aka Scout, and her older brother, Jem, live with their unconventional lawyer father, Atticus. They play with their neighborhood friend Dill and they taunt their special needs next door neighbor, Arthur "Boo" Radley.

Though there is a "ripped from the headlines" trial involving a black man accused and convicted of rape even though everyone knows he didn't (and couldn't have) done it, most of the book is episodic. Really this novel is more a series of carefully contrived episodes where Scout learns important, after school special type, life lessons.

I can see why so many schools teach this book. As it stands on its own, outside of the classroom, the text is heavy handed.

Three stars

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Bluffton: 05/07/14

cover artBluffton by Matt Phelan is a graphic novel inspired by the summers Buster Keaton and his family spent at Bluffton, a former lakeside resort.

Before Buster Keaton moved to Los Angeles to become a silent movie comedian, he was part of a family vaudeville troupe. His youth and the apparent level of danger in the physical gags he performed brought the authorities down on the Keatons more than once.

Buster Keaton's shtick was to take all sorts of prat falls and do all sorts of harrowing stunts with a straight face. Phelan counters Keaton's on stage and on screen persona with the always smiling, baseball loving, prank playing, child that comes to play with the local kids each summer.

Readers don't have to know who Keaton was or have seen any of his films to appreciate the book. After reading it, though, I recommend watching Sherlock Jr, Steamboat Bill Jr, and the General.

Five stars

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Good Night California: 05/06/14

cover artI remember books and places together. I remember the place I was when I read a book. Sometimes it's the place I remember first. Good Night California by Adam Gamble will forever be linked to Christmas morning, 2013.

The book belongs to my nephew. We were at his house to open presents and while we were waiting for things to start, I borrowed his board book and read it.

Good Night California, as the title implies, is an homage to Goodnight Moon. It's part of a series of state themed books, giving children a chance to say goodnight to their home state.

The book covers a bunch of landmarks and different times of day. As we live about 500 miles away (but in the same state) as our nephew, a book like this is a nice way for us to connect.

Four stars

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How to Moon a Cat: 05/05/14

cover artHow to Moon a Cat by Rebecca M. Hale is the third of the Cats and Curios series. The frog escapade has led to a new caper involving toy bears and California statehood. It's the first book to spread beyond the bounds of San Francisco.

Every year California hosts a bicycle race that runs from the gold rush country, through the wine country and down the coast to Los Angeles. Oscar's old group of friends get wind of a mystery that could lead to the original California Republic flag.

Oscar's niece, having found a toy bear at the Green Vase with the location of the first leg of the race decides to tag along with the Mayor's assistant. Rather than leave the cats at home, they devise a way to bring them along

Fortunately for this series, the cats though characters, don't do anything extraordinary or un-cat-like in the service of solving the mystery. The cats are cats and they are there to make the cozy, cozier. But they aren't as ridiculous as Koko and Yum-Yum.

On the other hand, anything and everyone can be a character in these books. Cats, frogs, the moon, a brick. Normally this sort of thing pulls me right out of the story but Hale does it with humor and aplomb.

Five stars

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Goggles: 05/04/14

cover artGoggles by Ezra Jack Keats is the fifth of the Peter books. Here the boy has found a neat pair of goggles and doesn't want to lose them to the local bullies!

I don't know about you, but when I was Peter's age (and maybe you are Peter's age), when I found something and I knew it was a legit case of finder's keepers, that thing was treasure and more importantly, it was my treasure. If the bully up the street (and there was one in my neighborhood) wanted it too, I'd have to fight to keep my treasure. Peter is a craftier and less violent kid than I was at his age. Peter is the kind of kid I should have striven to be.

Googles! also now makes me think of the "Double Vision" episode of Generator Rex where Rex's special (sentimental) pair of goggles are stolen by a girl in goggles. Except that Rex doesn't manage to outsmart her like Pete does his bully.

A still of the Goggles Delivery Girl from the DOUBLE VISION episode of GENERATOR REX

Five stars

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Dust Girl: 05/03/14

cover artDust Girl by Sarah Zettel is the first of the American Fairy series. Callie LeRoux and her mother are living in Slow Run, Kansas, a place that is sinking into the dust bowl of Great Depression. Sand is a constant problem. The crops have long since dried up. The tourists have stopped coming and Callie and her mother keep the hotel open just because there's nothing else to do.

In the middle of all of this, Callie's mother disappears, just as she learns she might be part fae. Callie has only two options, rescue her mother (if she can) or find her father (if she can). Along the way she needs to learn how to hone her long buried magical skills and figure out who she can trust and who she can't.

Zettel blends early 20th century Americana, the cross roads demon legend, and Celtic fairy lore into a satisfying, humorous and compelling read. Dust Girl has a similar feel to Neil Gaiman's American Gods but written for a tween audience.

The second book is called Golden Girl and I will be reviewing it soon.

Five stars

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Zombies Calling: 05/02/14

cover artZombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks is a humorous look at what an attack by zombies would be like in a Canadian university. Everything starts when Joss wants to take a break from studying for finals and would prefer to be anywhere else, including in the middle of a zombie movie. Quickly though she regrets that wish!

Joss, the zombie movie obsessed main character, has to rethink her assessment of zombies in light of a zombie attack. They don't seem to be following the script she's expecting. She also comes to realize that a zombie attack in a country with strict gun laws might not be such a good idea.

I laughed repeatedly while reading Zombies Calling, though I did end up with "London Calling" by the Clash stuck in my head for the rest of the night after I finished the book. I posted some of my favorite panels to Tumblr too.

My favorite panels

Five stars

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Dead City: 05/01/14

cover artDead City by James Ponti is the start of a new tween zombie series set in New York. Molly Bigelow leads a double life. By day she's a student at MIST (Metropolitan Institute of Science and Technology) and at night (and pretty much any time she's not in school), she's dealing with zombies as an Omega.

Now this isn't a zombie apocalypse story. No, whatever did that happened before Molly was born. This is a zombie coexisting with the living story, like the coda of Shaun of the Dead, but for a tween audience. Molly's mother was an Omega too, a member of a team charged with keeping the zombies in line and destroying those who have gone mad.

In this first book, Molly learns that she has what it takes to be an Omega and begins her training. She learns how to disguise herself as a zombie and uncovers some shocking secrets both about the zombie society and her own mother's involvement with the Omegas.

The sequel is Blue Moon which I also loved and will review soon.

Five stars

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