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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

Raising Steam: 06/30/14

cover artRaising Steam by Terry Pratchett is the 40th Discworld book and the third one to feature Moist von Lipwig and Adora Belle "Spike" Dearheart. Whether the Disc is ready or not for steam, steam is here. Lord Vetinari will be the one to see steam come to maturity and he's pegged Lipwig to be the man to do it.

Dick Simnel, of Uberwald, who understands the math behind steam, has created the first working engine, a locomotive he's named Iron Girder. With his mother's seed money and the further backing of Harry King, Simnel is set to take Ankh-Morpork by storm.

Meanwhile there is unrest among the dwarfs that threatens to boil over into human, troll, and goblin society. Iron Girder and the other trains are going to cut right through all this tension.

In the previous Moist von Lipwig books, there are chapter breaks that set very definite points of progress in Lipwig's current venture. Here though, Moist and Spike are part of a much larger ensemble. Therefore the chapter breaks are gone and the story is told in the meandering back and forth style of the majority of the Discworld books. Moist shares the spotlight with Simnel, Iron Girder, Twilight of the Darkness, the Low King, Sam Vimes and so forth.

And then there's the Low King, whose story which takes the last half of the book, brings back all sorts of previous themes of duty, station, gender roles, personal and private lives, into one marvelous story. Though all the clues are there, this part of the book took me by surprise because I was so focused on the married life of Moist and Spike, and on the growing sentiency of Iron Girder.

Now this is one of those books where I own two copies: a lovely hardback for re-reading specific scenes, and the audiobook read by Stephen Briggs. Briggs's performance helps me delve deeper into Pratchett's words, something I often miss when I read them in print because I do get into the habit of skimming.

Five stars

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1607: A New Look at Jamestown: 06/29/14

cover art1607: A New Look at Jamestown by Karen E. Lange is a children's history book at the rethinking of the history of the Jamestown settlement based on more recent archeological work.

The book goes through what life was like inside and outside the compound — for the English colonists, and the Native Americans (referred to as Indians) already settled nearby. It offers suggestions as to why the English picked a swampy area thought uninhabitable (nearness to shipping lanes, ability to fortify the area)

There's also discussion on how the day to day and seasonal life was like inside the town. Here the conclusions are drawn from what sorts of things were found in known garbage tips.

1607 is a good introduction to both archeology and early colonial history. But it's just a start. If anything, this short book left me wanting more. I wish an adult version (meaning longer and more robust) had also been relased.

Four stars

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Northanger Abbey: 06/28/14

cover artFor me, the best way to understand (or at least be introduced) to the themes to Jane Austen's novels is through the vast landscape of inspired novels and adaptations and re-imaginings. Most recent ones seem obsessively focused on Pride and Prejudice. But there are a few here and there for the other novels, if one looks hard enough.

Shannon Hale's Midnight in Austenland for instance is a great send up of Northanger Abbey. Like Hale's protagonist, young Catherine Morland is seeing mystery where there might not be any. She is also having trouble mustering the confidence to think for herself, especially around loud, opinionated, know-it-all men.

Catherine on a trip to Bath ends up the plaything for the other families present. She goes along good-naturedly as she is expected to but she'd rather have time to explore or to read.

I enjoyed seeing (or rather hearing, as I read this as an audio) that inspired Midnight in Austenland. I also laughed at the pokes at popular culture and snobbery.

Four stars

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Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 24: 06/27/14

cover artFullmetal Alchemist Volume 24 by Hiromu Arakawa mostly takes place in the huge military complex in Central. It is essentially one long drawn out battle as part of the final battle on the day of the eclipse.

King Bradley has gone beyond awesome to unbelievable with his "triumphant" return. His death on the train was so cool so having him stubbornly show up to pull a Bender and "kill all humans" just cheapens things.

Meanwhile the Armstrong siblings have to get over their differences to destroy Sloth. Sloth has been mostly skulking under ground for the series so his battle scenes lack dramatic punch. Sure he's big and fast (when he wants to be) but he's not as interesting or as well established as the other homunculi.

I've seen the end of Brotherhood so I plan to finish the manga to see how it plays out in print. The anime's ending is well worth these couple volumes of filler.

Three stars

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Demonglass: 06/26/14

cover artDemonglass by Rachel Hawkins is the sequel to Hex Hall. Sophie has gone to England to have the Council remove her powers. Doing so, means, being with her estranged father.

Cal and Archer are there too, to be the trilogy's love triangle. While Archer is the sexy, bad boy, Cal is the quietly, loyal type. Frankly, they're both wrong for her and potentially dangerous to Sophie and the Council.

While Sophie is adjusting to life in the English countryside, she learns more about the battle brewing. She also learns that she's not alone and that fact opens up a can of worms.

Although I'm not the target audience, I did thoroughly enjoy the second book. Although there's a love triangle, the book mostly avoids the usual pitfalls of these paranormal YA novels.

Five stars

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$20 Per Gallon: 06/25/14

cover art$20 Per Gallon by Christopher Steiner looks at what the rising price of oil will do the average American lifestyle. The chapters are divided up by price ranges, starting with relatively small price increases and then much larger ones.

The idea of the book is to show just how dependent the modern American lifestyle is on petroleum, from transportation, to plastics, to lighting and heating, and so forth.

Transportation will need to be reinvented, or retooled. Air travel will be de-emphasized for other forms: like trains and perhaps ships. Of course the American rail system both long distance and intercity was largely gutted starting the 1940s and ending in the 1970s with the creation of Amtrak. Much of this change was forced by the automobile industry, pushing busses and personal automobiles.

But the book assumes a very homogenous American lifestyle. Gasoline even at its cheapest in the 1990s was never as slow in California as it was the midwest. Yes, there were still a bunch of SUVs (parents, duped into believing they needed them to safely cart their kids around.

Looking locally, since gasoline prices have wobbled between $3 and $5.50 a gallon for about the last ten years, there have been a number of changes. Plastic consumption is down where I live (though mostly to avoid litter, rather than to save on petrol). Cars have gotten smaller and hatchbacks are in vogue again (having last been popular in the early 1990s). Parking lots are starting to install solar panels on their roof tops. The local gas and electric utility offers us online monitoring of our usage and incentives to conserve. BART is getting extensions to its service (though still not anywhere close to it was original envisioned in the 1970s) and there's a bullet train in the works.

But my experience in the Bay Area is no more representative to the entire country than the author's is. The energy problem is huge and diverse.

Three stars

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Trash: 06/24/14

cover artTrash by Andy Mulligan is set in a Philippines inspired but unnamed nation. Rafael and his friends work in the dump, sifting through the trash heap for things the can either use or sell.

One day they find something top secret and dangerous. It's immediately clear that they have to keep it away from the corrupt police.

The book starts off from Rafael's point of view. He has such a strong, clear and compelling voice that he should have carried the entire story. Then other points of view are added and none of them can fill Rafael's shoes.

Two stars

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The Dead and the Gone: 06/23/14

cover artThe Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer is a companion book to Life as We Know It. The book revisits the original event but from the vantage point of New York City.

Alex Morales has to keep his family together after his parents go missing in the huge tidal waves immediately following the change in the moon's orbit.

On the one hand it was nice to see that the cities did actually stand. In Life as We Knew It the fate of the cities is left in the air. But I didn't really want to go through the same events again. I didn't want to get emotionally tied up with another family and watch key loved ones get injured, sick, and die.

The third book returns to the original plot and I do plan to read it. The Dead and the Gone though can be skipped.

Two stars

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Inferno: 06/22/14

cover artInferno by Dan Brown is the fourth Robert Langdon book. I've read and enjoyed each of them because they are silly and capery, much like the Cats and Curious series I love. This one takes place in Italy and Turkey.

Robert awakes in hospital to a splitting headache and a nightmarish vision of war and death. Worse yet, he's in Italy and he doesn't know how or when he got there! Before he can get his bearings, the chase is on. He and his surgeon are running for their lives.

Normally I cringe at amnesia plots but the Robert Langdon books are inherently silly. Here the clues are derived from Dante's Divine Comedy (and mostly the Inferno part). Dante apparently put a lot of himself and his life into his works and now a master criminal (mad man) is taking advantage of that fact.

This mad man has taken Dante's work to heart and has hidden clues to the whereabouts of a new plague within the landmarks and artworks that date back to Dante's time.

The introduction of a plague (or a formula) combined with European history and a male and female team on the run makes for an adult caper very much in tone with the original 39 Clues series. The ending, though, set in Turkey, felt like a jarring crossover with Clive Cussler's Crescent Dawn.

Four stars

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1985: 06/21/14

cover art1985 by Anthony Burgess is a two part response to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The first part is a lengthy essay and dialog looking at the origins of Orwell's novel and its relevance then and now. The second part is Burgess's own dystopia written in a world expanded from that of Orwell's.

While I enjoyed the near future glimpse of things in Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, the second half of 1985 felt labored and overworked. It read like he was fighting against his urge to write like Orwell.

But the first half, the essay section, was fascinating. Burgess dives into the history of the book and its creation. His thesis is that the title was no simple pulling a date out of a hat. Rather it's a play on the time when it was written: 1948. The UK was devastated by the Second World War and the changes being made to the government and social services reflect an attempt for the nation to reinvent itself. Not everyone was convinced such huge changes were warranted at that time (or ever). Orwell's novel is an exploration of what life would be like if government bureaucracy and oversight was taken to the extreme.

Had I not been borrowing the book from the library, I would have read Burgess's essay in conjunction with Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Three stars

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Jane Vows Vengeance: 06/20/14

cover artJane Austen is my favorite vampire. Her opinions on literature and her own writing as put down to paper by Michael Thomas Ford are a part of why after so many years I have finally come to like and understand her books. Certainly not as well as an Austen scholar, but on my own level, which is a huge step forward from where I was a few years ago.

Jane Vows Vengeance by Michael Thomas Ford is the conclusion to the Jane Austen vampire series. While I would love love love love love to revisit Jane, Walter, and the other characters, this book does make a logical and satisfying ending.

After stalling for ages to avoid the reckoning with Walter's mother, Jane is whisked away to Europe on a tour with her fiancé. He suggests that they get married over seas rather than stall for even longer.

Jane, who has a history with England, obviously!, is less than excited to take Walter up on this offer. But she loves him and this trip means quite a bit to him. So she agrees, hoping to get married as soon as possible before anything else can go wrong.

But in the way there's a pair of ghosts, the possibility of a cure for vampirism, and the usual lot who wants to end Jane's eternal life.

Although the plot sounds chaotic and a bit far afield from the earlier book seller and book tour type books, it somehow all comes together. It's a bit of a caper but it's a fun caper and it brings closure between Jane's old life and her life as a vampire.

Five stars

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Ghouls Gone Wild: 06/19/14

cover artGhouls Gone Wild by Victoria Laurie is the fourth of the Ghost Hunter Mystery series. MJ, Heath and Gillie are sent to Scotland by their new TV show. They are to get the goods on a haunted street that dates back to the plague.

To add drama, the hauntings are tied up in a curse that affects Gillie's family tree. Gillie, the bet friend and over-done comic relief character doesn't have enough depth to support this type of plot.

Thus the first half of book consists of Gillie whining, running away, panicking and basically being a hundred times more annoying than in all the previous books combined.

The final straw, though for me, wasn't Gillie, it was a change in the premise. What had been a centuries old curse and haunting, suddenly becomes a more recent event, involving witches. This reversal felt like a Scooby Doo plot, and not in a good way.

Two stars

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The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline: 06/18/14

cover artThe Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer is the penultimate of the Enola Holmes series. In this one, Enola meets Florence Nightingale to help solve a decades old mystery.

The clues are in code, sewn into an old horsehair petticoat (the pre-hoop skirt meaning of crinoline). The reason Enola's gotten herself involved is because her landlady has drawn the attention of international thugs. This then is the book where Enola's landlady gets an interesting backstory, just as "His Last Vow" (series 3, episode 2 of Sherlock) does for Mrs. Hudson (because Doyle never really did give her much of a character or story, so she's free game).

I realize it's a rather common and inevitable for a historical fiction series to eventually include some actual historical figures. But these meetings of fictional and factual are often forced.

Here Enola is taken under Nightingale's wing even though she's in self imposed exile. A young woman with Sherlock's abilities who has successfully survived on her own and solved crimes now eagerly learning spying from an ex-nurse who was also apparently a spy stretched my suspension of disbelief a little too thin.

Three stars

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The Mark of Athena: 06/17/14

cover artThe Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan is the third of the Heroes of Olympus series. Annabeth is finally reunited with Percy at Camp Jupiter but their reunion is enough to bring the camp to the brink of war.

I guess straight up quests, even ones based on previous Greek or Roman classics, are getting a little dull. This quest has trouble getting going because the characters keep being possessed and made to act way out of character. Instead of the other members wising up to this problem, they always seem completely surprised by it.

Doing away with the spin the bottle approach to possession, the quest is the standard stuff we've come to expect from Percy and company. There's a ticking deadline before Gaea will awake. The Scooby Gang has to get to the actual Mount Olympus, not the Manhattan stand-in and save the world from well, the world.

As part of this journey, Annabeth must deal with her personal demons as she tries to solve the riddle of the Mark of Athena. It's a big, honking, long hidden clue that they now desperately need. So she ends up going on a side quest that stretches her character to the breaking point and made me wish she could tag team with Hermione Granger. Along the way, though, I did learn a thing or two about some ancient Roman customs that ended up being very useful for when I was reading I am John, I am Paul by Mark Tedesco.

I understand the need to break from formula. It gets boring for writer and reader. But the breaks didn't work for me in The Mark of Athena.

Three stars

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The Magician's Bird: 06/16/14

cover artThe Magician's Bird by Emily Fairlie is the sequel to The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck. Bud and Laurie have been put in charge of the next treasure hunt having solved the decades old original hunt. But they might not get the chance.

While the school has gained popularity with the press and local fans from the last treasure hunt, it's still facing a shut down. Now the school's reputation is on the line as rumors have surfaced that the founder might have been the murderer of a great illusionist. Somewhere in this school is hidden his magical bird statue. Whoever has it will learn the truth behind the magician's disappearance.

Good old Tuckernuck school still has secrets and as Bud and Laurie find them, they learn more about the school's history and the career of the magician. While the humor from the first book is here, there's an edge to it too.

The magician's bird brings in a hint of Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon. Everyone wants the bird and some are willing to do anything to have it, or convince others that they have it.

I'm hoping there's a third book planned but if there isn't, these two make a satisfying read.

Five stars

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Hogfather: 06/15/14

cover artHogfather by Terry Pratchett is the 20th Discworld book, and the 4th of the DEATH series. It's nearly Hogswatchnight, the Discworld equivalent to Christmas, Winter Solstice, and New Year's all wrapped into one long celebration. The head of all of this is the Hogfather, a pig headed (literally, not figuratively) man in a Santa suit. And now he's gone missing on the eve of the big event.

DEATH who like the Hogfather is an anthropomorphic projection of an idea, knows that a missing Hogfather will have consequences. BIG ONES. BAD ONES. He also knows that the only way to keep him alive long enough to be found is to keep the idea of him alive. The only way to do that is to take on the role himself. HO HO HO.

So while DEATH is off learning about the Hogswatchnight spirit, his grand-daughter, Susan, is wrangled away from her duties as a governess to fix things. She just wants things to be normal but being around DEATH has given her certain inherited skills that unfortunately make her life anything but normal.

Hogfather explores themes that the Tiffany Aching books will flesh out later, namely the power of words and stories on the human experience. Everything is made up of stories and knowing the rules of storytelling can give one power over the world.

I read this book after having seen the made for TV movie about a dozen times. As with most of the Discworld books, it is lacking in proper chapter breaks and it tends to meander from scene to scene. Those jumps from character and scene with no warning can be confusing and distracting.

Four stars

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Hunting Badger: 06/14/14

cover artHunting Badger by Tony Hillerman is the 14th of the original Navajo Mystery series. It opens with a long introduction about the inspiration behind the book and acknowledgments to the agencies and people who helped take those events and turn them into a mystery for Jim Chee, Bernie Manuelito, and to a lesser degree Ret. Lt. Joe Leaphorn to solve.

After a robbery and shooting at a Ute Casino, Joe Leaphorn is given a list of names by a man who wants to stay out of things but is being threatened by the men he claims did the crime. His poking around, mostly through listening to local gossip, leads Leaphorn to an apparent suicide with a note typed out on a computer. And that's what brings in the Navajo Tribal Police.

As with the first crime in 1997, the suspected casino robbers are believed to have escaped into the numerous canyons and washes near an old mining site. Chee suspects there's an easier way in and out of the area. Leaphorn suspects the answer to the riddle is locked up in decades old gossip and elder stories.

Hunting Badger draws a lot of its tension from the differences between Utes and the Diné, including long standing distrust and racism. The worst of the feelings may have thawed somewhat in the younger generations but not among Leaphorn's.

Five stars

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Brewster's Millions: 06/13/14

cover artBrewster's Millions by George Barr McCutcheon has been adapted to stage (at least once) and to the big screen six times and is apparently in development again. The version I know best is the 1945 film staring Dennis O'Keefe and Helen Walker. So when I found a nice 1902 edition (with photos from the stage play) at the tippy top of a bookshelf at the Book Shop, I snatched it up.

Montgomery Brewster has a girl friend and a happy life that includes living in a boarding house. An uncle dies and leaves him with a million. And he's basically set for life. He and his girl friend can get married and continue living in the boarding house her mother runs. End of story.

No. To further complicate things, an even more distant uncle who made his money in Montana dies and leaves him millions with a HUGE catch. He must prove himself worthy of the money by divesting himself of his newfound fortune through small but steady expenditures. He can't transfer his money to someone else. He can't tell anyone about these stipulations. He can't get married until after this trial is over. And it all has to be done by his next birthday.

Now here's a time when I think the movie (at least the 1945 version) is better than its source material. In the film, Brewster only inherits once. The untold fortune he is to inherit is tied to being able to divest himself of the first million of it. He can't just tell the lawyer for the second uncle to stuff it since he already by 1902 standards has a HUGE fortune and is living frugally to make it last. Nope, by the film's rules, it's all or nothing and the birthday deadline is shrunk to two months! The new rules and shorter deadline make for a madcap, screwball comedy.

The book thus takes its own sweet time going through situation after situation of funny money spending. So rather than getting a tightly written, humorous take on the old adage that "to make money, you need to spend money" (even when you don't want to!), there's instead a loosely woven series of gags, many of which fall flat.

The most groan worthy part of the book though is the section that inspired the very funny pleasure cruise that Brewster takes his fiancé on. In the movie, the cruise is a way to blow the last remaining funds as the deadline rapidly ticks down. It's also hinted in the film that they are using the trip to resume their relationship away from the watchful eyes of dead uncle's lawyer.

But but but... the book's cruise ends up taking months and months, this being a turn of the last century when vacations were by ship and often took weeks or months. So Brewster takes his girlfriend, who so far has decided he's not worth the effort since he's blown her off since getting his second inheritance, along for the cruise. Convincing her to come involves a lot of handwaving and HUGE plot holes and we're just expected to accept that she's part of this episode.

In the movie, they go somewhere like the Caribbean. It's close by and more typical of a modern day romantic cruise. And it's saves the movie from making the awful harem jokes that the book does. Yes — Brewster's fiancé to spite him nearly gets herself stolen away by an Arab sheik to be part of his harem.

For the sloppy pacing and wretched extended harem plot, I'm knocking two stars off my rating. The film, though, gets a full five stars.

Three stars

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Hyperbole and a Half: 06/12/14

cover artHyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh is a hybrid comic memoir of growing up with depression and living with dogs. Her comic illustrations started on her blog back in 2009 but it took a while for her style to evolve. They originally started out as quick illustrations to longer posts of mostly text, usually in the form of a dialog.

But in 2010 the drawings became the point and her style rapidly evolved into what fans think of when they hear Hyperbole and a Half mentioned or what meme fans think of when they hear "       all the things." That meme started as a panel in the post titled "Why I will never be an adult" (June 2010).

Clean at the things!

I came to read Brosh's blog via the "       all the things" meme. Her jaunty self portrait showing herself in a manic state of trying to be super adult and super efficient is extremely popular in the librarian / Tumblarian social networking circles. Curiosity over this drawing led me eventually to her blog.

What the single frame / meme doesn't show is the breakdown from manic efficiency to soul crushing depression. I happened to find the blog around the same time that I was going through a dark emotional period. Money was tight. I was in school to change careers but not sure if it was a wise decision based on how each month we seemed to need more and more help from relatives just to make ends meet.

So when I heard there was a book, I had to have a copy. The book includes the long panels starting from mid 2010 and has the very funny story of her two dogs and just trying to be an adult, trying to live with depression, just constantly trying. Some of the posts include memories of her childhood, like the time her mother took her and her brother on a walk after a recent move and got horribly lost.

I recommend the book to anyone who has felt baffled by adulthood, defeated by their pets, or has had those moments that in retrospect don't make much sense but seemed like a good idea at the time.

Five stars

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The Radleys: 06/11/14

cover artThe Radleys by Matt Haig was the 2011 ALA Alex winner. It features at first glance, a seemingly normal, middle class British family. The passion has pretty much fizzled from Peter and Helen's marriage. Their teenage children: Clara and Rowan are sullen, anemic, and targets of bullies.

All of that changes, though, when Clara has to defend herself from being raped by a neighbor. She discovers the hard way that she is, in fact, a vampire. Her revelation also uncovers some family secrets her parents would have preferred to keep hidden.

It took me a little while to settle into this rather short book. I found the writing dryer than The Dead Father's Club (2006). But the consequences of Clara's discovery were fascinating.

Four stars

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The Lies That Bind: 06/10/14

cover artThe Lies That Bind by Kate Carlisle is the third of the Bibliophile Mystery series. Brooklyn Wainwright has returned to San Francisco to teach a book binding course. She's also rebound a nice old (but not first) edition of Oliver Twist only to have the director of BABA lie and call it a first edition.

It seems that every time Brooklyn tries to run her class, someone either ends up seriously hurt or dead at BABA (Bay Area Book Arts). Ultimately it's Layla, the director who is murdered and Brooklyn, figures she has to solve the case before her reputation is forever damaged.

As with any cozy mystery, there's a chance that the series' niche and its refined selection of tropes will make solving the mystery faster than the protagonist too easy. That happened here. The reasons behind the crimes, though, come in the back third of the book which seem to be there for soap-operatic drama than for the construction of the mystery.

I did though enjoy Brooklyn's further lessons on book binding, book history, and her hippy commune roots. I have the fourth book, Murder Under Cover, on hand to read soon.

Three stars

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Grave Peril: 06/09/14

cover artGrave Peril by Jim Butcher is the third of the Dresden Files books and the last one I plan to read as an audio. My decision to switch to print has nothing to do with James Marster's performance; I love how he reads the books. Rather, it's more an adjustment in how I'm reading and the fact that I already own the books in paperback and hardback as my husband collected them while he was reading through the series.

Dresden is at a hospital, trying to stop a ghost from taking babies to the Never Never. During what should be a routine, simple even, case, things to horribly wrong. Something is driving the spirits mad.

In trying to understand what's driving the spirit world mad and raising the number of hauntings in Chicago to dangerous levels, Dresden decides to get help from some unlikely sources. He also has to make some trips to the Never Never.

Grave Peril is a series of cliffhangers for Dresden. If things can go bad for him, they do. And whatever happens is worse than even he expects. On the audio, I'm sure I missed some pivotal scenes. If I had been reading in print, I'm sure I would have gone back to re-read scenes.

Four stars

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Eleanor & Park: 06/08/14

cover artEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell at first glance is a parellel point of view, young adult romance. That's the format and the set up. But Rowell uses the genre and its tropes to dig deeper into bullying, domestic abuse, inter-ethnic marriages, and poverty. Reading it will take you through all the emotions.

Eleanor is the new kid at school. He's immediately dubbed "Big Red" because of her size and her untamed red hair. She is living through the sort of hell being highlighted by the #yesallwomen discussion on Twitter.

Park who has also been bullied for being half Korean, is the only kid on the bus to not verbally abuse her. He also offers her a seat. And on the bus from hell, Park makes a safe place for Eleanor to be. From that their friendship slowly grows.

The setting for Eleanor & Park is Omaha, Nebraska in 1986. This means the plot can't rely on modern conventions of cellphones and computers and texting. Heck, things are bad enough that Eleanor doesn't even have access to a phone (or a toothbrush, or even batteries) except at her father's home because her stepfather is a drunk and what little money the family has, goes to his habit.

Omaha in the 1980s is a white bread, homogenous, unhappy and unsafe place for anyone who doesn't fit in. Eleanor because of the abuse at home and her poverty, doesn't fit in. She is assaulted from all sides because her home life and school life is unhealthy and hostile. Park fares better because he has a loving home and a white father who is respected in the community.

Though there is romance and sexual tension in Eleanor & Park, don't expect the happily ever after of a romance. There is a bittersweet happy ending but it's not a clichéd one. But it's an ending that will make you think and feel and reexamine your preconceptions.

Five stars

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Ostrich and Lark: 06/07/14

cover artOstrich and Lark by Marilyn Nelson is a picture book about an unlikely pair of friends: an ostrich and a lark. Though both birds, they are as different as night and day. One is big and strong. The other is lithe and musical. And yet, they manage to find their common ground and become good friends.

What makes this book extra special is the artwork. It's done by a group of artists, all members of the Kuru Art Project in Botswana. While the style varies between illustrations, readers are introduced to a selection of modern day San artists who draw their inspiration from the rock paintings left by their ancestors.

Four stars

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The Magic Paintbrush: 06/06/14

cover artThe Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep is set in San Francisco's Chinatown. Steve who lives with his grandfather and uncle in a slum lord apartment desperately wants an escape from the bullying at school and awful living conditions at home.

Steve has lost everything, including his parents, in a house fire before moving in with his grandfather and uncle. His favorite subject in school is art but he fails an assignment because his brush is too frayed to paint properly. Grandfather finds for him an old and beloved paintbrush, one that happens to be magic.

The paintbrush can create portals to other places and times. The uncle paints his home on a peach farm. The grandfather wants to visit the princess on the moon. The slum lord, though, wants even more. Steve and his family find a way to use the landlord's greed to their advantage and to improve the lives of everyone else in the building.

It's a short but effective book that blends together Chinese legends with the experience of life in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Three stars

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Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Rift, Part 1: 06/05/14

cover artAvatar: The Last Airbender: The Rift, Part 1 by Gene Luen Yang opens with Aang hoping to share with his friends and the new air nomad devotees the festival of Yangchen. At the sacred valley, though, a factory town has arisen it's getting in the way of Aang's spirit abilities.

There are three big things going on here all of which will hopefully be addressed in books two and three. First there is the defilement of sacred land. Then there is the refinery which has automated things to the point that bending powers are no longer needed and the environmental disaster from all the pollution the factory is generating. Finally there is Aang's disconnect from the spirit world even though Yangchen appears to be trying ton contact him.

The Air Nomads (except for Aang who was trapped in the spirit world for 100 years) were systematically wiped out (genocide) but most of their land that Aang has visited has been left to return to nature. Yes, there was the village of the air gliders but they were living in harmony with what the Air Nomads had built centuries before.

The factory and the disconnect (or disharmony if you will) that Aang feels with the spirit world on these once sacred and now defiled grounds rings painfully true. This story has been experienced countless times across the Americas. Native populations have been wiped out through disease, war, forced relocations and their lands taken as a cheep source of natural resources or a place to put the factories or other necessary but undesirable parts of modern living. Those people who do manage to stay on their ancestral lands often face health issues from pollution, poverty, and a disruption of spiritual traditions, language, culture, and so forth.

Five stars

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Shatterproof: 06/04/14

cover artShatterproof by Roland Smith is the fourth in the Cahills vs. Vespers series. It's the last one though that reads like a 39 Clues book. The last two, Trust No One and Day of Doom bear little resemblance to the rest of the series.

Dan and Amy are still under the thumb of the Vespers. Now they are ordered to grab the largest diamond. Meanwhile the captured Cahills start trying to fight back — with some good and some awful results.

On the home front, it becomes apparent there is a mole in the Cahills operation. Now here is where I briefly got hopeful. It would have been fun — especially with the title of the fifth book, if Amy's home town boyfriend, Even, were Vesper One.

Instead, though, the possibility of a love triangle is explored. I realize Amy Cahill is older now and the age of the typical love triangle heroine, but she doesn't have the time for such nonsense. She's also too smart for it.

Four stars

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Imprisoned: 06/03/14

cover artImprisoned by Martin W. Sandler is a young adult history of the Japanese internment camps. While most of these were in the continental United States, there were also ones in Canada, and South America. I was asked to write the blurb for the CYBILS short list so this post will try to avoid revisiting what I've already said.

California's history is woven together with Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican, indigenous, and American stories. As a child, only the Spanish/Mexican, American and to a much lesser degree, indigenous pieces were taught. Yet it was hard not to notice the China Towns and Little Tokyos that were part of so many large California cities. Nor was I oblivious to the obvious racism, especially among my grandparents' generation.

But it wasn't until college that I was finally taught the Chinese and Japanese piece of California's history, including the creation of internment camps for Japanese nisei (second generation Japanese, born in the United States) and their parents.

I think some of that was a matter of timing. The call for reparations by the sansei (third generation) for the imprisonment of their parents and grandparents was in full force while I was in college.

As a result of their efforts, greater attention was focused on the internment camps. My much younger brother actually had to write a report one of the camps in jr. high school.

As a second generation Californian, raising a third generation, I feel books like Imprisoned are VITALLY important. Children need to see the big picture — to learn how different culture have made this state what it is. Many of the advancements in California agriculture were made by the and nisei farmers and their parents. And yet their farms were stolen by racists who decided to use WWII as an excuse. Children also need to see the bad we have done and most importantly that there are consequences for government sanctioned crimes.

Five stars

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The Long War: 06/02/14

cover artThe Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is the sequel to The Long Earth. The book opens fifteen years after the bombing of Madison, Wisconsin. Joshua and Lobsang have parted ways, Joshua to get married and start a family. Lobsang to do continue his quest to map all of the Long Earth and to somewhere along the way prove his humanity.

At the gap in the Long Earths, space exploration has begun again in earnest. But it's taking a steep price on the Trolls. Lobsang and Joshua reunite not to work together, but to recruit his wife, who can step better than he can and knows the Trolls better than anyone. They need calm things down before the Trolls, or something worse, decides to wage war on humanity across the Long Earth.

The Long War is more than just a story about learning to live with Trolls. It is also an exploration of what it is to explore and to conquer. The United Kingdom, burned out from its Empire days on Datum Earth refuses to do much of anything with its alternate footprints.

China, not to be out explored by the United States, begins exploring the Eastern direction, laying claim to all interesting or potentially useful alternate Chinas. The United States, meanwhile, is trying to assert its authority on all the United States settlements across the Western direction (as the cultural psyche still urges one to go West).

The Long War is a speculative fiction exploration of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis, taken with the modern day political scene (for good and bad). I recommend the series for anyone interested in history, social studies, or politics.

Five stars

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Golden Girl: 06/01/14

cover artGolden Girl by Sarah Zettel is the second of the American Fairy books, which started with Dust Girl. Callie LeRoux has arrived in Los Angeles in the hopes of rescuing her parents from the Unseelie Court. Callie needs to find the connection between Hollywood and their prison.

Callie's never been to anywhere as busy as Los Angeles but she's growing used to the sorts of illusions that Hollywood is so famous for. She's got a better handle on her powers and she can sense fairy magic in others now.

Her ability to charm has also allowed her a chance to meet all sorts of new people. One of these is the adorable starlet, Ivy Bright. She's written like a fictional Shirley Temple, though I ended up imagining her more like Jeremy's pesky younger sister, Suzy, from Phineas and Ferb.

Zettel's descriptions of 1930s Hollywood as well as other California landmarks are spot on. She also has a wonderful turn of phrase; there were numerous times where I had to stop reading to share a favorite passage with my husband.

Suzy Johnson
Suzy Johnson of Phineas and Ferb.

The battle that Callie is readying herself for is very similar to the one Dresden goes into in Summer Knight (review coming in August). Though aimed at a young adult audience, I found Callie's adventure more compelling and more fun to read.

Five stars

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