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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

Undead: 07/31/14

cover artWhen I was younger, zombie apocalypses usually started in southern, swampy, or desert like environments. Part of that was the zombie story's ties to hoodoo (or voodoo as it's misconstrued in horror). Then in 2004, things changed with the goofy and memorable comedy, Shaun of the Dead. After that film, it seems that the new location for zombie attacks is the British isles.

Undead by Kirsty McKay follows in the tradition of Shaun of the Dead and Wayne Simmon's Flu. It's the end of the winter hols and Bobby (Roberta) wants nothing more than to get back home to her Mum and forget the whole horrible school trip. She's feeling like a complete fish out of water because she's British by birth but she's lived for most of her childhood in the United States, thus making her a mishmash of both cultures.

But no, Bobby ends up stuck with a small group of survivors after everyone else is suddenly zombified. Bobby's first person account of the events as they unfold are just the right blend of horrifying and humorous.

Here there's a chance that the zombies might win, not because they are super powerful, but because of other factors: the weather, the remote location, a lack of wifi or cellphone signal. Given all of the modern advances in communication and technology, this story has a plausible set up for why none of them would be working.

The book does end though on a bit of a gobsmacking cliffhanger. The sequel is Unfed which is on my to be read pile.

Five stars

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Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies: 07/30/14

cover artYoko Ono: Collector of Skies by Nell Beram is a biography of Yoko Ono and an overview of her career. It was nominated for a CYBILs in the nonfiction category and I read it as part of the selection process for the short list.

Yoko Ono has had (and continues to have) a long and varied career that covers many media and genres. For those who are curious about her this book provides a decent outline of her life and work, accompanied by numerous black and white, and color photographs both of her and her work.






Two stars

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane : 07/29/14

cover artFirst and foremost, if you see an audio book written and read by Neil Gaiman, put down whatever else you're reading or listening to, and immediately start listening to Gaiman's book. Heck, he should be invited to read other author's books too for audio.

Although I have a lovely hardbound edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and I was starting to read it — mostly by petting it first and flipping through to random passages — you know the way you introduce yourself to a new book before actually sitting down to start at page one and reading. And then my lovely local public library featured the very same book on their audio page. And there was a "read by the author" note. And well, I had to have it both way. I just did.

Imagine if you will Natalie Babitt's Tuck Everlasting set in the English countryside where the end of a lane could be on the border with Fairyland. So rather than finding a family cursed by immortality, you find a family that is immortal for much older reasons.

Then put in a boy upset with the turn his life is taking. He's forced to move out of his room because his parents have taken on a lodger. He too is unsatisfied with life and his actions open a door that lets in dangerous magic.

This is one of those sly books that has an ordinary sounding beginning. It opens with the narrator returning to his childhood home and on a whim, visiting the neighbors at the end of the lane. He doesn't expect them to be there since the place has changed so much. But they are. And as they share their memories, the story evolves from something that sounds like a schmaltzy memoir to the sort of twisted, unexpected fantasy that Gaiman excels at.

Now imagine this story read in Gaiman's own quiet voice. It's like he's there sharing a pot of tea with you. The book becomes a conversation between friends.

Five stars

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Wintersmith: 07/28/14

cover artWintersmith by Terry Pratchett is the 35th Discworld book and the third of the Tiffany Aching series. Tiffany is now working for Miss Treason, the scariest witch she's yet to apprentice with, a woman who sees through others' eyes and lives in a house painted completely black, inside and out.

While with Miss Treason to observe the Dark Morris, a dance to usher in winter, Tiffany is carried away by the thrill of it all and ends up catching the eye of the Wintersmith. Now her slice of the Disc is facing an ice age unless Tiffany can figure out how to set things to rights (with help from Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg).

Wintersmith in my mind is where Tiffany really comes into her own as a character. In the first book, Wee Free Men she had raw determination, her talent with cheese, and her frying pan. In the second book she showed that she had the raw powers to be witch of some reckoning. But it is here that she finally learns that witchcraft (or any other position of power) isn't all or nothing. She learns how to be in balance and when and where to make a show of things to encourage people to act, rather than either forcing them to or doing everything alone. Basically she learns the fine art of Boffo.

Wintersmith has become a bit of an addiction for me. OK... much of Terry Pratchett's work has recently but this book is on the special shelf along with Going Postal and Snuff and Raising Steam. I own three, yes three versions of the story: a lovely hardcover, the audio read by Stephen Briggs (who MUST go back and read ALL of Pratchett's books), and the folk album by Steeleye Span.

Five stars

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Flash Forward: 07/27/14

cover artFlash Forward by Robert J. Sawyer was the inspiration for ABC's series, Flashforward which ran for a season (2009-2010). While Drs. Simcoe and Procopides are trying to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson particle through their experiments at CERN, they and the rest of the world experience a blackout. During the blackout most people on earth report having glimpses into the future — all the way to a specific day and time in the not to distant future (or in the case of the TV series — six months into the future).

Most of the book then is the aftermath of that worldwide vision. First there's the what the fuck just happened? Followed by, how widespread was the event? Followed by who or what caused it? Here, there is the aftermath of the event — minor and major accidents, even deaths. Here the focus is on the media and its influence (for good or bad) on science. Science should be something rational but funding is often driven by public opinion.

Then comes the so now what? stage. When an experiment gives you something unexpected, the data needs to be analyzed. Maybe the method was wrong? Maybe the hypothesis was wrong. In this case, the data is the visions experienced by the vast majority of mankind.

The final piece wraps up all the various strings into a mystery set in the days and minutes before the recorded vision way back when in 2009. In that regard, the book feels more like three interconnected novellas with the same cast of characters.

For people coming to the book by way of the television show, be prepared for CERN oriented plot (rather than hot young agents in the United States). Be prepared for lengthy discussions on science and many glimpses into the day in the life of a scientists. Also, as the author is Canadian, the big DAMN HERO, (if there is one in this ensemble) is Canadian.

That said, the book is was an excellent and entertaining read as an audio book. My son and I listened to it over the course of a week. I originally had started listening to it on my own but he overheard snatches of it and decided to listen in with me.

Five stars

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A Hat Full of Sky: 07/26/14

cover artA Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett is the 32nd Discworld book and the second of the Tiffany Aching books. Tiffany is now old enough to leave on her first apprenticeship as a with in training. She will be living in the hills, far from her beloved Chalk, and will be under the tutorage of the most unusual Miss Level.

Tiffany, left to her ways in the three years since she saved her brother from the Queen of the Fairies, has figured out some magic that under supervision she would have better control over. As is, though, she has caught the attention of an ancient and dangerous creature — something made up only of raw emotion and hunger. Now it will do anything to drink up Tiffany's power.

How witchcraft works and how it differs from wizardry has been a recurring theme in the Discworld books since Equal Rites (book 3). But it's in the Tiffany Aching books that witchcraft is shown through the context of the student and teacher and the glamor of the big spells and big adventures is de-emphasized for the more day-to-day, mundane, oft-times distasteful, work that comes with the calling.

That's not to say witches can't do magic(k). They most certainly can. What makes them witches, though, is knowing when not to do it. Most of the time, what they do is manual labor and psychology. Witchcraft is about withstraint. Tiffany will learn some harsh lessons about uncontrolled magic and tempers and do something things that can never be undone.

To a teenage girl who desperately wants to learn her craft, the midwifery and eldercare that Miss Level practices more than anything else seem at first like absolute drudge work. Tiffany wants some of the glamor and ritual of Mrs. Earwig's girls (even if she thinks Annagramma is full of it). So if anything, A Hat Full of Sky is about the impatience of youth, of making mistakes, of learning from them, and owning up to one's errors, and ultimately about forgiveness.

While the first book, Wee Free Men avoided most of the obvious references to other Discworld books and characters, this one brings Tiffany into fold. Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and DEATH all make appearances. Of course no Tiffany Aching book would be right without the Nac Mac Feegles. This time, Rob Anybody is reluctantly learning to read.

Five stars

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Dragon's Breath: 07/25/14

cover artDragon's Breath by E.D. Baker is the second of the Frog Princess books. Emma and Eadric are back to human form, and having a celebratory breakfast with Aunt Grassina, the Green Witch. But she is too distracted by the return of her long lost love who is now a talking otter.

To get Grassina's mind back in the game, Emma and Eadric decide to find the cure to Haywood's curse. Why not? they figure. They've already solved their own curse! More or less. Turns out that if Emma sneezes, she and Eadric become frogs again temporarily.

Curses are a fairly common thing in Emma's world, especially since she's royalty and destined to be the next Green Witch. Curses come in different degrees depending on how annoyed the person who made the curse was when making it. The worst of the curses involve either a nearly impossible task or a nearly impossible to find ingredient. In the case of Haywood's curse, it's a rare ingredient — the breath of a green dragon.

Dragon's Breath is a chance to explore beyond the bounds of the swamp and to learn more about the role of the Green Witch and the burden of her curse.

Four stars

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Fortunately, the Milk: 07/24/14

cover artFortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman is a short science fiction story about a father heading out to get milk for breakfast and his adventures on the way home. As it's so very short, really not much more than a very silly shaggy dog story. It relies on the integration of illustrations to be a fully realized story.

And there are two very different versions of this book. As I live in the United States, I have easiest access to the version illustrated by Skottie Young. The illustrations take a part on every page, often with the words flowing around the drawings.

The UK version has illustrations by Chris Riddell. I am a HUGE Chris Riddell fan and I do plan to someday import his version of the book.

Now the story itself is very Douglas Adams. In the process of walking one block down the road, he's kidnapped by aliens, rescued by a time traveler and hurdled through time and space. For young Doctor Who fans, there are some wibbly wobbly timey wimey bits.

Five stars

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Code Name Pauline: 07/23/14

cover artCode Name Pauline by Pearl Witherington Cornioley and Kathryn J. Atwood is the account of her year (and the events leading up to it) in occupied France as a British Secret Agent. It is written for a young adult audience but will appeal to anyone interested in WWII or women's history.

Cécile Pearl Witherington was born in Paris to English parents. After her father's death, she had to help support her mother and sisters. While still living in France during the German invasion, she was employed by the British Embassy. She and her family, though, had to escape, hoping to make it England.

A difficult childhood, the journey out of France, and her fluency in French made her a perfect candidate for the SEO. Except, of course, she had to prove herself because she was a woman.

It's a short but fascinating account of heroism during WWII. It reads like an Alan Furst novel without all the tangents on local customs.

Four stars

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Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 3: 07/22/14

cover artSoulless: The Manga, Vol. 3 by Gail Carriger is the conclusion of the manga series and covers the events of Blameless. Before Alexia and Conall can get back together, she must face the Knights Templar in Italy, and he must take care of the vampire problem now that Akeldama is missing.

At the launch party for Crudrat, Carriger mentioned that volume 3 is the conclusion of the manga conversion for two reasons. First and foremost the artist, Rem, has other projects on her plate. Secondly, the publisher and the illustrator are both unsure how to present some rather adult (meaning messy) stuff in the fourth book relating to Alexia's advanced state of pregnancy and the rather unusual location of Prudence's birth.

Now as you'll recall from my review of Blameless, this was my least favorite of the series. Conall is a complete drunken twit and most plots involving the Knights Templar make me want to gouge my eyes out (the exception being Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

But I like Rem's work and I love graphic novels and manga. So it was a no brainer to re-read the book as a manga. Thankfully as a graphic novel Conall's formaldehyde binge and Alexia's excessive shouting are both condensed as are later scenes of the Knights Templar being holier than thou twats.

Basically, Rem's artwork turns the silliest of the of scenes into something fun.

My husband with Gail Carriger.
My husband with Gail Carriger.

Five stars

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The Field of Wacky Inventions: 07/21/14

cover artThe Field of Wacky Inventions by Patrick Carman is the conclusion of the Merganzer D. Whippet trilogy. Leo and Remi have flown with the top floor of their hotel to a far away field where they are met by the top floors of a number of other Whippet hotels. Mr. Whippet has one last challenge for all his hotel managers and whomever comes out the winner will inherit his entire hotel business.

Leo and Remi are the only children Merganzer has brought on as hotel managers. Leo, in fact, is unique because he actually owns his hotel. As you can imagine, some of the others aren't happy competing against children who already appear to be Merganzer's favorites.

As with all things Whippet, the challenge is a mechanical one. The different floors can fit together into a new hotel. Although, it might be more of a death trap than a proper hotel!

The Field of Wacky Inventions is a departure from the other two in that the Whippet hotel is no longer the focus. I guess this one is more of a Glass Elevator than a Chocolate Factory.

Four stars

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Let's Call it Canada: Amazing Stories of Canadian Place Names: 07/20/14

cover artLet's Call it Canada: Amazing Stories of Canadian Place Names by Susan Hughes, Clive Dobson, and Julie Dobson introduces children to the history, culture, and to a lesser degree, geography of Canada. It does this, though, through place names.

The book opens with the nation's name. Like La Jolla, California, it's a bit of a misnomer. La Jolla, which means something like "hole in the cliff" for all the caves carved by the ocean into the sandstone cliffs, was misunderstood to be La Joya (the jewel). Canada isn't the name of the land as first thought. Nope, Canada (or canata) is the word for a village or a collection of houses.

From there the book goes through the provinces and territories. After that the book goes for the place names in different categories: named for people, animals, weather, and so forth.

As a non-Canadian, I think I would have gotten more out of the book if it included some maps. I know where the major places are but when the book started focusing on smaller areas (towns and villages or minor rivers and lakes), I felt like I should have been reading with Google maps open (or an atlas of Canada).

Despite the lack of maps, it's an interesting and entertaining book. There's a sense of humor to the history that I haven't seen in similar books on United States history or geography. We take ourselves much too seriously down here.

Four stars

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Trust No One: 07/19/14

cover artTrust No One by Linda Sue Park is the penultimate in the 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers series. At long last the Cahills have wised up and realize they can and more importantly should fight back.

Unfortunately, this is also the book where the second series goes completely off the deep end. In the previous books, Vesper One has been sending our intrepid heroes all over Europe to steal ancient artifacts. Now they come to realize through the power of the all seeing internet what all these pieces can be bodged together to make in the Vesper version of Junkyard Wars.

I'll save my LONG rant on what the big prize is for the final book because it's a doozy. Suffice it to say, when the secret was revealed, I groaned. It's so out of character for the original series that it's frankly embarrassing.

Two stars

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Mr. Wuffles!: 07/18/14

cover artMr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner is the prefect combination of elements — a picture book about a tuxedo cat who could be our Tortuga's twin, written and illustrated by David Wiesner. His nearly wordless picture books never fail to entertain.

Mr. Wuffles is a cat who is bored with his toys. Crash landing, bug-sized extraterrestrials grab his attention. As they flee for their lives into a small crack, we are taken into a secret world that fears and respects the mighty Mr. Wuffles.

The aliens are taken in by a colony of ants who help them repair their ship. The aliens' language is written in a group of symbols. I'm curious if they can be deciphered but I haven't tried yet.

Since purchasing the book, Mr. Wuffles has been in our regular rotation for after school reading.

Tortuga does her best Mr. Wuffles impersonation.
Tortuga does her best Mr. Wuffles impersonation

Five stars

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Thief of Time: 07/17/14

cover artThief of Time by Terry Pratchett is the 26th Discworld book. It's also the thematic prequel, if you will, to The Long Earth.

Lu Tze, a Monk of History, has taken on a new pupil, Lobsang. Together they must prevent the End of Time. Helping out is Susan, now working as a teacher, and still as ever, frustrated by the fact she's Death's granddaughter.

The man everyone is after is Jeremy. He can do to time what Joshua can do with the stepwise Earths. I point this out because Lobsang the automaton claims to be a reincarnated Tibetan. Mind you, he says he was a motorcycle repairman in Tibet, but if he's really as human as he claims, he can lie.

But I'm getting ahead of myself and Pratchett as Thief of Time was published eleven years before. And of course we can't ignore Stephen Baxter's role in the creation of The Long Earth.

Nonetheless, Thief of Time isn't about a multiverse of multiple Earths. It is instead about a multiverse of multiple Discs, all being mucked about by a devious clock, it's maker, and lots of wibbly wobbly timy wimy bits (minus the Doctor, his TARDIS, or any of his companions).

As with the majority of the Discworld books, this one lacks chapter breaks. Like Thud, the breaks are all marked with something relevant to the plot. Here it is a TOCK, the counting down of the clock to doomsday.

Four stars

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Grizzwold: 07/16/14

cover artGrizzwold by Syd Hoff is one of mother's early reader books. I don't know if she had a thing for stories about bears or they were just incredibly popular when she was a child. Anyway, she had a bunch of them.

Grizzwold is a bear — perhaps a grizzly bear — who is feeling the crunch of the shrinking environment. He, like so many bears (think of the hot tubbing bears near the Angeles National Forest), decides to find a new home, in and amongst the human beings who have displaced him.

Grizzwold ends up in all the places displaced bears go — inside the home (as a living bearskin rug!), the circus, the zoo, but none of these places provide the safety and happiness he so desires. Fortunately there is a home, one very much like the one he was forced out of, but this one is protected — a National Park.

It's a fairly typical pro-environmental story but Hoff brings just the right amount of humor and sensitivity to it. Usually the bear isn't made the protagonist, even when he's the one being displaced.

Four stars

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Even Monsters Need Haircuts: 07/15/14

cover artEven Monsters Need Haircuts by Matthew McElligott is about a barber's son taking the family trade to heart. Everyone needs a haircut eventually and this boy sees that anyone who wants it, gets it.

On the night of the full moon the boy stays up past his bed time to provide haircuts for all the local monsters.

It's a cute book for kids who like monsters or might be facing their first haircut at a barbers.





Five stars

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What Does the Fox Say?: 07/14/14

cover artI'm not a regular YouTube video watcher. I'm not even an infrequent one. I can count the number of times I watch a YouTube video in a given year on one hand. Videos just aren't my method of choice for information or entertainment via the internet. So when something new and exciting goes viral and it's a video, I'm probably clueless until the phenomena is stale.

Unless it's something a relative is into. In the case of What Does the Fox Say? by Ylvis, I knew the words by heart probably within hours of the video being published because it was on the personal radar of my daughter and her friends.

So by Christmas when the video had become the mantra of many a child in the K-3 range, Simon & Schuster published a children's book with the lyrics and some jaunty illustrations to go with them. The illustrations are rather rustic and folksy and a departure stylistically from the video. The fox definitely has an attitude to go with his Cab Calloway scatting but he's also a bit off putting.

None the less, for the target market (kids my daughter's age) the book seems to be a hit. She's read her copy dozens of times, shared it with her friends, and whenever I'm at the local bookshop, there's always two or three special orders of it ready for pick up.

Four stars

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Roadside Picnic: 07/13/14

cover artIn the book blogosphere the oft-mentioned "proper" order of things is to read the book first and then see the movie. I tend to do things the other way around, seeing a film and wanting to experience the source material.

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky is the source material for one of my favorite soviet films — Stalker (1979). My introduction to it came in an advanced film theory class where we were learning about narrative transformation.

In Stalker, there is the Zone, an abandoned, restricted area where strange things happen. Stalkers are hired by those who wish to see it (illegally of course). In Roadside Picnic, there are many of these Zones. They are areas where alien technology has appeared.

Red Schuhart, like his cinematic counterpart is one of these stalkers. His daughter was born in the Zone and is affected by it. Because of her dependence on it, he can't leave, even though he wants to.

I am grateful for Roadside Picnic providing inspiration to the film, but I was not as blown away by it as I am by the film. The Zone just needs to be shown.

Cinematically it is distinguished from the rest of the world by its color, just like the Wizard of Oz film (1939). But it also uses actual (and dangerous) abandoned buildings as its backdrop, bringing and eeriness that no set designer could accomplish. The book while more complex in its world and character building, can't compete with the visceral impact of the films visuals.

Three stars

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Carpe Jugulum: 07/12/14

cover artCarpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett is is the 23rd Discworld book and the sixth (if I'm counting right) of the Witch books. It's also, I think, the introduction of the Nac Mac Feegles, and coincidently, the clan who end up proving the new Kelder for Rob Anybody's clan.

OK, I admit to reading it mostly for the Feegles, but the actual "stars" of the book are a family of vampires that have decided to invade Lancre through their use of glamor. What they weren't expecting, though, was a coven of witches with close ties to the king and queen — the queen being Magrat, a former member of said coven.

It's a very short, silly book on the surface. But when the sophomoric jokes are set aside, there are some deep observations about feminism and the human condition in there. This book especially (and probably because of the Feegles) has some grains of thought that are allowed to ripen in the Tiffany Aching books.

Five stars

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Mr. Pratt's Patients: 07/11/14

cover artMr. Pratt's Patients by Joseph C. Lincoln is a fish out of water story. Pratt is a man down on his luck and needing work. His life has been at sea and now he's forced to modernize with the rest of the town and takes a job at a local health spa.

There are basically three acts to this book: Pratt learning his new job, Pratt goofing off, and Pratt uncovering the truth behind the spa. At first glance, the spa while alien to a man used to working on a ship, appears to be doing good. The short term guests swear by the doctor's good works. Everyone is in white and it all looks very hygienic.

It also looks boring as all get out and Mr. Pratt has reached a point in his life where he doesn't just take someone's word on something. He decides years and years of living at sea have taught him that there are other ways of doing things too. He also comes across long time friends also washed ashore here, so to speak. It is here that Lincoln through Pratt explores the ways Massachusetts was being forced to find new industries as the traditional shipping and fishing industries changed due to steam and over fishing. These themes are revisited more effectively in A. Hall & Co.

Finally there's the tying up of lose ends. Pratt uncovers secrets, reunites long lost lovers, plays match maker for new pairs of lovers, and basically leaves his stamp on all parts of the town. These Lincoln books always end on a sentimental note and usually with a romance or two.

This one, though, with it's bizarre set up (ex-sailor becomes health spa orderly) and the vast number of reversals, romances, and scandals, made me imagine Adam Sandler as Mr. Pratt. That's not too far afield, since he did do a re-make of Mr. Deeds from Clarence B. Kelland's book. Frankly I'd love to see Sandler tackle one of Lincoln's books.

Three stars

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The Case of the Missing Books: 07/10/14

cover artThe Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom is the first in a mystery series involving a bookmobile driving librarian in the outer wilderness of Northern Ireland.

Israel Armstrong is a newly graduated librarian. He's been struggling to find work and because he's young, and not burdened with a family, has the flexibility to move. In his case it's from London to a small village in Northern Ireland, far enough away that it takes two days to get there if one is traveling on the cheap.

His job is sold on one set of expectations: head of the library inside the village proper. The reality is completely different. The building has been shuttered and instead, the library is a bookmobile that is sitting in storage in the yard of the only taxi operation. The other hitch: there aren't any books!

Not exactly. There are books but they aren't in the library. Nor are they in the bookmobile. They are somewhere else. If Israel is to prove himself worthy of the job to his employer and the village, he has to find the books.

Now here's the thing: Israel who is set up as a comedic but sympathetic character isn't very likable. Sure he's tired. Sure he's had a long trip. And sure, the reality of the job is very different than what was promised. But if he's this upset about the situation, he should just shut up and go home, rather than making an ass of himself.

But, and here's where I knock off a star from the rating, he doesn't. He spends the first half or so of the book snarking about the job, his living situation, the people of the village, and so forth. The actual mystery has to wait for Israel to get his head out of his ass and come to terms with the reality of his job before he actually decides to find the books.

During the worst of Israel's tantrum, I found myself wishing I could trade places with him. I would love to be a bookmobile librarian (and have even applied to such a job). No luck so far, though, on my quest to drive one.

Four stars

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The Last Sewer Ball: 07/09/14

cover artThe Last Sewer Ball by Steven Schindler is about an author, Vinny, returning to the Bronx and reconnecting with his neighborhood, classmates, and parish.

Vinny's return brings to the surface memories of his childhood, from the stickball days to high school. As he hooks up with his friends he decides to track down the truth behind a friend's death.

As the book progresses, the narrative alternates between "Then" and "Now." I found the present story the more compelling of the two. I think that's my problem, stemming from my suburban 1980s childhood, more than any fault in the storytelling.

Three stars

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The Whole Enchilada: 07/08/14

cover artThe Whole Enchilada by Diane Mott Davidson is the eighteenth in the Goldy Bear Catering mystery series. A long time friend and former member of med-wives 101 dies after a joint birthday party held at Marla's house and catered by Goldy for their two sons.

As her friend's ex-husband and new wife might be suspects, the son is sent to relatives in Alaska. In helping him pack, Goldy is also attacked and severely injured.

The closeness in terms of friendship, of the attack and the severity of Goldy's injuries (meaning she stays injured for most of the book) gives a legitimate reason for a game change. Goldy has to rely on her friends; the ensemble cast is at its strongest since Fatally Flaky. Julian, Boyd and Marla make a great support team for Goldy.

These Goldy Bear Catering mysteries always center on a specific industry that she's catering for, or a venue that she's catering in. The victim this time was a collage artist, so the clues fall into a similar neighborhood as those in Dark Tort.

The book was a fun addition to the series. There's a lengthy epilog that will answer questions posed at the end of Crunch Time.

Five stars

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The Return of the Player: 07/07/14

cover artWhen I was a film studies major, I did my senior thesis on self referential films and self aware characters. One of the films I discussed at length was The Player, inspired by the novel of the same name by Michael Tolkin.

The Return of the Player by Michael Tolkin is set about a decade after the original book. At the close of the original book. At the close of the original, Griffin Mill was at he top of the world. He'd gotten away with murder, had a hit film and a beautiful new wife.

To shake things up, The Return of the Player resets things. Griffin is facing divorce and expensive alimony to his first wife. The studio has shown him the door and he's having to beg for work.

He does commit another murder but it lacks the edge, shock or effect as the murder in the first book. Griffin has gone soft. He's not the sociopath he once was.

In fact, rather than being a cynical look at how Hollywood works, The Return of the Player ends up being about Griffin's sex life. YAWN. He's not edgy or even original. It's just sophomoric.

One star

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Andre the Giant: Life and Legend: 07/06/14

cover artAndre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown is a graphic novel biography of Andre Roussimoff. It starts with his childhood in France when people first started to notice is unusual stature. It goes through his wrestling career in Canada, the United States, Japan and his role as Fezzik in The Princess Bride (1987).

Andre the Giant, and Hulk Hulgan, who introduces the book through an illustrated interview, are a pair of wrestlers celebrities who were a ubiquitous part of my childhood. Even if one didn't watch wrestling (myself included), one knew their names. So reading his biography, especially as a graphic novel, was a no brainer for me — I even had it on pre-order.

Most of the book is divided between Roussimoff's health issues that arose from his uncontrolled growth, and his drinking. Brown suggests that his drinking became a way to self medicate especially as the pain worsened and his sense of isolation grew. His breakneck schedule of numerous appearances, long distance flights and bus trips, didn't give him much time do unwind. The alcohol, drunk in copious amounts was the solution.

Box Brown's style is one of heavy lines, squared edges and an emphasis on black. It reminds me of Hope Larson's use of black space in Mercury.

Five stars

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The Wee Free Men: 07/05/14

cover artThe Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett is the 30th Discworld book and the first of the Tiffany Aching young adult series. Tiffany, the youngest daughter of a sheepherding family wants to do something else with her life. She wants to be a witch. But life on the Chalk doesn't seem like a likely place to become a witch, that is until the Queen of the Faeries steels away her baby brother, Wentworth.

Tiffany's headstrong approach to life combined with her first sight and second thoughts draws the attention of some unlikely allies: Perspicacia Tick, a witch finder, and the Nac Mac Feegle, a six inch tall, fighting clan of Pictsies who can get into and out of anything (except pubs).

Mostly though the book is about how Tiffany uses the lessons learned from her recently passed grandmother, Granny Aching, to face the unknown and get her brother back. Yes, her friends are magical but she gets by through being observant, stubborn, angry, and proud. She's not a heroine to wring her hands at the first sign of trouble. No; she's the type to grab a frying pan.

Later books in the series make a bigger deal about the stories taking place on Discworld but this one safe for a few mentions here and there, could easily take place anywhere else. Discworld here isn't the point; it's just the setting and that is refreshing compared to some of the earliest books in the series.

I've read Wee Free Men in three different formats: as an audio performed by Stephen Briggs, a hardback with just the text, and then a gorgeous illustrated version with watercolors by Stephen Player. Below are some of my favorite pictures from that version

Five stars

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Kat, Incorrigible: 07/04/14

cover artKat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis is a the start of a tween Regency series that mixes deportment, magic and mystery. Katherine Ann Stephenson has cut her hair in hopes of running away to the high seas so she can send home enough money to save her sister from being forced into a less than pleasant marriage.

Unfortunately for Kat, she's been caught and now must go with her sisters to London for the opening of the season. She has a few distractions, though, namely a secret magic club her mother was once a member of. Now that she's found her mother's stash of magical items, she can begin her training as a witch. But she'll have to do it secretly because her step mother would rather she be a proper lady.

I'm not normally a fan of Regency period books, though in recent years I've finally warmed to the likes of Jane Austen. I have Beth Pattillo and Shannon Hale to thank. Burgis's writing has a similar wit and light-heartedness as Austen but written in a language that is accessible to younger readers.

That's not to say this is a simplistic book. Far from it. There is a great mystery full of real danger for Kat and her family. The experience gives a chance to experience how magic works in Kat's world and to see real character growth for her and her family.

Five stars

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The Arncliffe Puzzle: 07/03/14

cover artOne of my reading goals that I've had for the last decade is to read through the majority of my old books. Old books are remarkably easy to come by. There are the weeded library books, the used book store finds that sit on the top shelf because they haven't been popular fiction for as long as the book store has been open, and finally there are lists like Craigslist and Freecycle.

Before going to library school, I had romantic notions about old books. I would buy them or collect them if they were listed as free to a good home, with the idea of reading them and then finding them new readers. Now, though, I've wised up some and my home book shelves have to accommodate not only my books, but my husband's, and our children's. The only sensible thing to do is to weed my haphazardly built collection. While I am mostly weeding without reading, there are few that still catch my eye.

The Arncliffe Puzzle by Gordon Holmes is one of those books I got because of the cover. On the cloth cover it has this huge orange question mark, sort of like what you'd see The Riddler Use (although he prefers green to orange). It was obviously the big name mystery release of its day as the cover sports a huge "by the author of" note where the author's name should go. So Gordon Holmes once upon a time must have been a Dan Brown or a James Patterson. But he hasn't had the staying power of Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle.

The setting is one of those typical English manor (where all the locked room mysteries seem to take place). A stranger arrives just as Lord Arncliffe is discovered in his office. There is, of course, a long lost relative (when none had been previously known).

The Arncliffe Puzzle thematically is there with the Sherlock Holmes short stories (though less deftly done), Hercule Poirot, and Laurie R. King's Touchstone (Harris Stuyvesant).

Three stars

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Voltron Force Volume 3: Twin Trouble: 07/02/14

cover artIf I worried about guilty pleasure reading, which I thankfully don't, these Voltron Force comics would be on the list. Though I was introduced to the series via a previous year's CYBILs, I have continued reading them out of sheer nostalgic glee. The series wraps up with volume 6, but I would eagerly read further ones if they were ever published.

Voltron Force Volume 3: Twin Trouble by Brian Smith introduces Lotor's twin nieces. They request entry into the academy, claiming to be there with peaceful intentions. Their appearance opens up a can worms with characters taking sides: those for and against letting them in.

Ultimately Allura says yes, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Now given her own awkward personal history with Lotor, the cross species stalker, it was surprising to see her set aside years of experience with the hope that they were in fact telling the truth.

Now this being Voltron, there's always a moment of betrayal. It was predictable and inevitable. BUT in Volume 6 that apparent betrayal is called into question. As the series stops there, there's no real chance to revisit the twins and see where their loyalties really lie.

Five stars

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The Marvelous Land of Oz: 07/01/14

cover artThe Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum was first published in 1904 and is the second of the Oz books. Somewhere along the line the reprints have lost the Marvelous from the title. As the title implies, this one is basically world building and expansion — fleshing out Oz for Dorothy's triumphant (and eventual return in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.

Tip has lived with the witch Mombie for as long as he can remember. In his time there acting more like her slave than her son, he has learned a thing or two about magic. He decides to put what he's learned to use through the creation of some companions — a pumpkin head named Jack, and a sawhorse. Together they set off to escape the witch and seek asylum with the Scarecrow, the current king of Oz.

Meanwhile, the women of the Emerald City have grown tired of the way the Scarecrow and his all male set of advisors have been running things. Under the leadership of Jinjur, they revolt and take over the city, forcing the men in power to flee the city.

I don't personally know what Baum's views were on either politics or gender but this book does a lot turn of the last century exploration of gender roles. It was written and published during the push for women's suffrage.

The Marvelous Land of Oz is one of my favorite of the Oz books. I love it for it's exploration of gender. I love it for Tip's adventure and the relationship he has with his creations. I love it for the Gump's discussion of the meaning of life. Most of all I love how it sets the stage for the remainder of the Oz books that Baum wrote himself before handing over the series to new writers.

I'm taking one star off, though, for the less than stellar performance of the audio book reader. Listening to the book just wasn't as enjoyable as reading it (and seeing the wonderful illustrations).

Four stars

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The Canadian Book Challenge #7: 07/01/14

Marching Mounties

July 1st is Canada Day and it means the start of the Canadian Book Challenge. It's my favorite of all the book blog challenges. I've been participating since 2009, the year my Canadian niece was born. She now has a brother and her parents are naturalized citizens. SO I have four reasons to participate this year.

The goal is to read and review 13 books in that year. For last year's challenge, I read 28 books. For the 2013-4 challenge, I'd like to match or best that effort.

As always, I'm including last year's completed books in case you want an idea of what to read.

Here are the 2013-14 2012-13, 2011-12, 2010-11, 2009-10 lists.

2014-15 List of Completed Books:

  1. Let's Call it Canada: Amazing Stories of Canadian Place Names by Susan Hughes, Clive Dobson and Julie Dobson
  2. Flash Forward by Robert J. Sawyer
  3. The Vampire's Visit by David A. Poulsen
  4. Afterparty by Daryl Gregory
  5. Jalna by Mazo de la Roche
  6. Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear
  7. Ink by Amanda Sun
  8. Sea of Shadows: Age of Legends by Kelley Armstrong
  9. Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle
  10. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
  11. Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale by Charles de Lint
  12. In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
  13. Purple Springs by Nellie L. McClung
  14. Outside In by Sarah Ellis
  15. The Rising by Kelley Armstrong
  16. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
  17. Whiteoaks of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche
  18. Culture is Our Business by Marshall McLuhan
  19. The People Inside by Ray Fawkes
  20. Which Way Back?: Featuring Luna, Chip & Inkie by Michael Mayes
  21. Billy Bishop Goes to War by John MacLachlan Gray
  22. How To by Julie Morstad
  23. Finch's Fortune by Mazo de la Roche
  24. To This Day: For the Bullied and Beautiful by Shane Koyczan
  25. Mr. and Mrs. Bunny — Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath
  26. Here She Is, Ms Teeny-Wonderful by Martyn Godfrey
  27. The Power to Go by Merrill Denison
  28. The Endangered Species Road Trip by Cameron MacDonald

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