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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



Operation Redwood: 08/31/14

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I'm writing this review in a state of frustration, not at the book but at myself. I finished reading Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French at a time when my laptop (my main access point to the internet) was dead and I didn't have the funds to replace it. That meant I was writing reviews by hand and typing them with a Bluetooth keyboard connected to my ipod. It wasn't an ideal blogging situation and things I was sure I had written weren't or if they were written, they were lost somewhere in the pipeline.

So here I am months after the fact writing (or re-writing) a review for Operation Redwood, a tween book about illegal old growth harvesting. It's set in both San Francisco and near Willits, California, presumably in the Jackson State Forest.

Julian Carter-Li is living with his aunt and uncle and he desperately wants to be with his mother. She, though, is oversees on an important assignment and feels it would be better for him to stay in California. And it's while he's waiting for his uncle to take him home that he stumbles across an email addressed to him from an angry girl living in Willits accusing him of plotting to destroy an old growth redwood grove near her home.

Julian, already believing his uncle is no good, and desperate to escape for the summer until his mother can return, decides to meet the girl in person. Thus unfolds a plot that's very similar in execution and passion to Nate's Broadway adventure in Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. Here though the destination is a summer camp in Willits and the goal is to stop Julian's uncle from cutting down the trees.

It's a quick paced and entertaining book that will leave readers knowing a thing or two more about the redwood forests and the logging industry. It's less heavy handed than There's an Owl in my Shower by Jean Craighead George, though it does share some of the nature lessons of my older book, My Side of the Mountain.

To learn more about the author and the book, there's a website. And for a historical perspective on redwood logging and conservation, I recommend Valley of the Giants by Peter B. Kyne.

Five stars

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The Housekeeper and the Professor: 08/30/14

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The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa is a slim novel about an unusual friendship between a housekeeper, her son, and her employer — a retired mathematics professor who suffers from memory loss. Mixed in with the events of their unfolding friendship, are little mathematical lessons.

The Professor survives his day to day life through a long list of notes and annotations because he can only hold recent memories for about 80 minutes. To pass the time the professor works on proof contests hosted by math journals. The point isn't to win (even though there's a cash prize) — it's to keep his mind active. Math is in his blood.

The housekeeper who serves as the narrator of the story has a school aged son. He's a quiet boy and often preyed upon by bullies at school. So he comes to the Professor's house after school. The Professor becomes somewhat of a father, or maybe grandfather, figure for the boy whom he nicknames "Root."

Anyway, it's a quiet, thoughtful book. I'd recommend it to anyone with at least a passing interesting in the history of mathematics. The math problems while not crucial are fun to solve along with Root and his mother.

Five stars

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Summer Knight: 08/29/14

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Summer Knight by Jim Butcher is the 4th of the Dresden Files. Although I listened to the first three books as read by James Marsters, the death my laptop made listening to MP3 audios too much work. For the moment I am continuing on, therefore, with the paperbacks my husband bought years ago.

Harry Dresden, wizard of Chicago, has his toughest case yet. He must find the killer of the Summer Queen's knight. Crivens! Sorry. Fair folk put me in a very different state of mind.

The problem here is that Harry for all his prowess as a wizard is a complete dolt. Fairies are very good at charming people; it's their thing. Fairies aren't exactly subtle with their trickery. But they do follow their own rules and if you want to survive, you need to know them.

Harry, sure, he's been going through a bought of depression after his last case (Grave Peril). But he really seems to be trying to commit suicide by fae in this book. Or he's O.D.ed on idiot juice.

Or maybe I've just been spoiled by better told versions of the same story. First and foremost, there's Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett and Sarah Zettel's American Fairy series (Dust Girl, Golden Girl, and Bad Luck Girl) which are all better versions of the on-going strife between the Seelies and the Unseelies.

Three stars

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Lords and Ladies: 08/28/14

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Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett is the fourteenth Discworld novel. It is one of many elf books I've been reading in recent months. It hasn't been a planned thing, just a recurring theme.

Magrat has a wedding to plan and lots of queenly duties to learn. She has decided to give up being a witch (though in Discworld that's easier said, than done). Meanwhile, somethings afoot at the Dancers — Lancre's Stonehenge.

Granny Weatherwax knows who is coming through and she tries to warn the others. Unfortunately everyone has forgotten the truth behind the stories and the meaning of the stones. And so into the chaos of a royal wedding, the lords and ladies make their escape.

In reading the witch stories after reading the Tiffany Aching books, I can see how they were the blue prints. Lords and Ladies felt like a mixture of Wee Free Men and I Shall Wear Midnight, especially when comparing nervous, pre-Queen Magrat to confident, Queen Magrat. There is also Granny Weatherwax's first attempt to communicate with a hive of bees.

Five stars

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The Return of Zita the Spacegirl: 08/27/14

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The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke concludes the Zita trilogy of graphic novels. Zita is imprisoned for crimes she did while trying to save her friends. Now she needs to figure out how to either survive or escape because rescue or a pardon doesn't seem likely

One of Zita's best assets (beyond her bravery) is her ability to bring people together. Rather than be afraid or disgusted by her dungeon cohorts, she enlists them in a plan of escape. Some of their ideas are wacky and some are brilliant. Separately they'd never be able to escape, or feel like it was even an option. Together, though, they just might be an unstoppable team.

The conclusion to the Zita trilogy is action packed and satisfying. Lose ends get tied up. Old characters return. Questions are answered. And to the ever hopeful, there's a little bit of an opening for a fourth book should Ben Hatke ever feel like sending Zita on a new adventure.

Five stars

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All Clear: 08/26/14

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All Clear by Connie Willis is the conclusion to Blackout. The various Oxford time travel researchers are still trying to get home and the net seems to be completely FUBARed.

These two volumes are really one epically long book, coming close to 1300 pages. For all of those pages, it's very sparse on actual plot. There are a couple of groups stuck in London near the start of WWII. There is another group stuck in London near and at the end of the war. All of them were there to do specific research projects for specific lengths of time. Their deployments were rushed and something went wrong in the process.

Some amount of slippage is normal but all of these deployments have gone noticeably, disturbingly wrong. The research aspects these trips have all been tossed aside as everyone wants to get home.

Most of All Clear is spent with the various characters either surviving being shelled, worrying that the others haven't survived, or trying desperately to get to their presumed pick up spots, even though through repeated failures they've come to realize the net might not being opening at all.

In the end there's some wibbly wobbly time stuff that comes as a direct result of the problems of the net failure. But it's too little and too late. Really this sort of paradox should have been woven in more, rather than being just hinted at during one of the many frantic crowd scenes. These two books would have been a much better story had it been a single volume at about a third the total length.

Three stars

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The Hidden Spring: 08/25/14

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The Hidden Spring by Clarence Budington Kelland was the fifth of his stand alone novels. It was adapted to a five reel silent film in 1917 staring Harold Lockwood. I would like to see it re-adapted by Adam Sandler not because it's necessarily a comedy, but because he has a similar sense of character development.

This book follows a similar pattern as later books, the main character moves into town from a long distance away, and right into the middle of trouble. Usually that trouble is some sort of corruption or criminal activity. Here, it's a lawyer in a logging town where the company boss owns everyone and gets to make his own rules. Anyone who disagrees is either killed on the job or chased out of town.

Now take a lawyer with a conscience who needs somewhere to hang his shingle. Before he's even gotten a chance, he's adopted by a dog and entreated by a distraught young woman to help bring down the town thug. In later books, especially his Depression era ones, the main character mostly faces problems of his own making. Any serious troubles faced are usually due to a lack of money.

The Hidden Spring, though, is different. There is actual, physical danger, and actual problems that can't be solved by reconciling with a distant but wealthy family member. That turn of events surprised me, even with the set up. If anything, the book reminds me most of the James Stewart and John Wayne film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

Five stars

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Touchstone: 08/24/14

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Just before the release of The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King, I was offered an egalley to review. Now while Touchstone and The Bones of Paris stand alone, I felt like I didn't understand and Harris Stuyvesant's personality and motivation. To avoid giving The Bones of Paris a rushed and unfair review, I decided to start at the beginning, namely Touchstone.

Agent Harris Stuyvesant, American, is working in London, following a string of bombing from the United States, across the pond. Now he's being called into the countryside to work with a man who could break the case open, except that he's too shell shocked.

Stuyvesant ends up at the Hurleigh House, belonging to one of the oldest and most influential families. Some one there is responsible for the politically motivated violence.

In terms of tone and basic mystery plot, the book mostly reminds me of the Arncliffe Puzzle by Gordon Holmes (1907). Both focus on the power that the oldest nobility have (for good or bad) and the way the 20th century was a difficult transition as the well established (for better or worse) class structure had begun to buckle.

Five stars

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Cherry Heaven: 08/23/14

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Cherry Heaven by L.J. Adlington is is a companion piece to The Diary of Pelly D.. It's not a full sequel in that the events take place in between the two halves of the original — sometime after the original genetic wars mentioned by Pelly D. but before the demolition work of Toni V.

Like the original, Cherry Heaven is told in a parallel structure, one from the point of view of a factory worker in the Blue Mountain bottling company, a deplorable sweatshop on the edge of town, and a family of refugees from the genetic wars of City Five.

The refugee family moves into an abandoned cherry farm, a once beautiful place, but not falling onto hard times. The cherry trees are dead or dying and many are rotten. Plus the place appears to be haunted both by the bad karma of a decade old mass murder, and by a shadowy figure who is stalking the girls now living there.

Cherry Heaven is more of a straight up mystery — like Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie than its predecessor. The keys to the mystery lie in the how the parallel stories relate and in what secrets the modern day town leadership is hiding.

Five stars

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3 Below: 08/22/14

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3 Below by Patrick Carman is the sequel to Floors. Leo's father and Remi's mother are married on the roof of the Whippet Hotel. Before they can even cut the cake, they are whisked away by Merganser D. Whippet for a surprise honeymoon. Meanwhile, Leo and Remi are facing a massive tax bill.

The Whippet Hotel, set in an undisclosed Manhattan block is known for its unusually themed rooms. Floors gave readers a tour of its inner workings. In 3 Below, the solution to the tax problem lies in the three subterranean levels.

And here's where my suspension of disbelief is severely challenged. It's probably because I'm a property owner and therefore a payer of property taxes. They are predictable and timely bills. But they also have some wiggle room — both in paying without penalty, and with paying an extra percentage as penalty. Now take a world famous hotel that everyone has heard of and think of the land it sits on, which by its own value would more than pay for the taxes of one overdue bill.

But no, the taxes have to serve as an artificial deadline that forces the two boys to explore the "dangerous" bits of the hotel. Remi and Leo are sent with a shopping list of things they need to complete their quest and pay the tax bill.

3 Below reads more like a Roald Dahl novel than Floors does (including lots of BFG reminiscent bodily noises). There's magical monkeys, an incredibly stinky cat, and a whole lot of burping.

The final act though makes up for the unnecessary silliness. Finally the potential danger manifests. It's also the closet thing to an explanation for all the secrecy to the three basement floors.

There's a third book, The Field of Wacky Inventions which concludes the adventures of Leo and Remi.

Three stars

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Journal of a UFO Investigator: 08/21/14

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Journal of a UFO Investigator by David Halperin is a debut novel about a boy who is forced to be a shut in because of his ill mother. Danny Shapiro tries to enrich his life through a fantasy life he has invented for himself, involving alien invasion, ancient intelligent species, men in black, and enough conspiracies to keep Fox Mulder happy.

The set up of Journal is similar to Michael Ende's The Neverending Story. One could argue that it's just the tale of a boy hiding in his school's attic reading a really awesome book. Here, then, it's a boy stuck at home apparently writing an awesome book.

And there in lies the fundamental problem with this book. The fantasy sequences are so much better than the "coming of age" part that it's always a HUGE disappointment when the story shifts gears.

One star

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The Color Master: Stories: 08/20/14

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Stephanie who works at my neighborhood book shop knows my reading tastes so well, that she often either predicts my wish list choices, or remembers books on the list better than I do. If I had the money to just give her a budget, I would have her pick the best-for-me new releases sight unseen.

In the case of The Color Master: Stories by Aimee Bender, she handed me the copy bought for display as it came out of the box. I had completely loved Girl in the Flammable Skirt and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake but I hadn't mentioned either to her.

The Color Master is a collection of short stories that are somewhere in between magical realism and slice of life. Some are just one step removed from contemporary life. Others are in the realm of fantasy or even the surreal. These are stories that need to be experienced, one or two a night over the course of about a month. Read, think, digest. Repeat.

Five stars

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Ragtime: 08/19/14

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As a kid growing up in the 1970s — 1980s, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow was one of those books that all adults my parents' age seemed to have a copy of. As a teenager it was also one of the books I borrowed from my parents from the shelf of books they had pretty much forgotten about but kept just because.

Ragtime takes place in New Rochelle, New York at the turn of the last century. It involves the way the twentieth century heralded in a bunch of stuff we now take for granted (like automobiles, electricity, and other modern conveniences). But it's also a product of its era, a decade when it seems every book was trying to out do every other book for the amounts of depravity included in the name of art and literature.

So as a naive teen living in a San Diego suburb, most of the sex went over my head. The sex parts are actually so dryly written, that it's no surprise that I missed most of it except to have a gut feeling that it was there. (I didn't miss the sex in Philip José Farmer's stuff, though, but that's a different blog post.)

This time around, re-reading it as an adult, it wasn't the sex that made me put the book aside. No. It was all the white privilege, specially the rich, white, privilege. The book opens with a long and dull passage about what life was like near the house in New Rochelle. It's all idyllic because it was only rich white people. There were no poor and no immigrants and no people of color.

So it seems the message of Ragtime is that all the modern conveniences and entertainment comes with a price. That is, rich white folk have to learn to live with everyone else (while, of course, still running the show and saving everything for themselves, but hey! it's progress, right?). And all of this is presented with horrendously dull passages with labored descriptions and painful attempts at allusion.

One star

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Under the Dome: 08/18/14

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Under the Dome by Stephen King opens with a pilot and instructor flying over the sleepy Maine countryside and then suddenly being smashed to pieces. A rock solid but completely transparent dome has encircled a town in Maine, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the world.

Thus follows many more deaths. Really the first hundred pages or so are just the stupidest folks of the town all rushing towards the invisible barrier to their untimely deaths.

After all that, those left are the most reprehensible dullards stuck inside with dwindling resources, a steadily rising temperature, and the military outside trying to figure out what's going on. And ultimately there's a single person who has control over the dome for reasons all his or her own.

And frankly there was no way in hell I was going to sit through another five hundred pages of idiots being idiots until the person behind the magical dome had decided the mission was accomplished (or had managed to kill off everyone he or she wanted to kill off). So I skipped to the last hundred pages and sped through them to confirm what I'd already figured out so that I wouldn't waste hours more of my time.

There's was also a television series based off this book. No, I didn't watch. Even when it comes onto Netflix (if it does), I have no desire to see it.

One star

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Afterparty: 08/17/14

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Afterparty by Daryl Gregory is a Canadian near future speculative fiction. When a teenage girl under arrest for using Numinous — a mind altering drug sort of like a mixture of Flash (see Continuum) and Spice (Dune). But Numinous has permanent side effects, something its creator is living with each and every day.

Most of Afterparty is a detective fiction in a science fiction setting. There's a crime &mdash the illegal distribution of Numinous. There are clues to hunt. And there's a detective — Lyda Rose. But Lyda Rose, as the creator of the drug and ex-user of the drug, she has her own personal angel, a smart mouthed woman named Gloria (who I pictured as an older and sassier version of LeShawna (Total Drama Island).

With a main character who talks to her own personal angel and has some other problems with reality, there's no reliable narrator. In this regard, the mystery unfolds a bit like Memento or Vertigo, but dressed up with all sorts of near-future technology (like micro-farming and 3D printers that print pharmaceuticals).

For me, it was a slow (ten pages a night) but satisfying book. It took about two months to read and another couple to mull. It was well worth the effort though.

Five stars

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The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina: 08/16/14

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The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina by Mike Padilla is about four friends and their troubles with love and what not. One of their friends, Marta, owns the cantina where they like to unwind after a hard day.

I was really expecting to enjoy the book. I loved the cover and the setting (the San Bernadino Valley) but NONE of the characters came across as believable, even remotely. Theres a lot of scheming, and spying and attempts at boyfriend stealing. There's also a lot of drinking.

But in the hundred pages I managed to slog through, nothing of any significance happened.

One star

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Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons: 08/15/14

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Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin is the third of the original Pete the Cat picture books. Pete is now being written by the illustrator.

Pete has a new yellow rain slicker with four colorful buttons. As with his white shoes, Pete's jacket is in for a rough day. For one reason or another, he pops a button.

Pete, philosopher that he is, has a reason to not worry even if the very last button falls off his coat. That twist of humor woven into the moral of the story makes Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons my favorite of the books. It's also the book my daughter picks the most from her collection of Pete the Cat books.

Five stars

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Ghostbusters: Total Containment: 08/14/14

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I am, as I've admitted many many times, terrible at reading series in order. Whatever special sense most bibliophiles have that a new series is starting, and what order books in said series are published (or will be published), I don't have it. Even if I am a diehard fan of franchise, I'm still oft-times clueless!

Take for instance the Ghostbusters comic by Erik Burnham that started a few years ago. I only just heard of it last fall with the release of a partial egalley of Volume 5 of the omnibus version. I loved the story and, though I wanted to read more, it sort of slipped out my mind until earlier this year. I was at my local indie, The Book Shop of Hayward and noticed on the hold shelf, a giant omnibus with a gorgeously drawn containment center. I recognized it immediately and just as quickly had them order a copy for me!

So — Ghostbusters: Total Containment by Erik Burnham is an omnibus of omnibuses, featuring volumes 1-4 (which in turn feature the first sixteen issues of the comic). These are stories that lead up to the disappearance of the original Ghostbusters.

I'm not going to try to describe the epic amount of plot that happens in 430 pages (counting the back of book awesomeness, and various side stories). Let's just say that for people (like me) who grew up watching the movies and the cartoon, The Real Ghostbusters, The first two volumes (or eight issues) fills in the gaps between the films and the cartoon. Sure, there's enough inconsistency between them to make the task a daunting one, but Erik Burnham does a very satisfying job.

But he also makes improvements by picking and choosing the best character traits from the movie and cartoon versions of these characters. Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II were rated PG because of their sophomoric humor, with a lot plot filler coming in the form of idiotic sex jokes. The Real Ghostbusters (now rated TV Y7) was pretty much a G rated cartoon — meaning that there was no obvious T. and A. humor (though Janine's utter romantic fascination with Egon was explored in nearly every episode). To fill the gaps left by removing the sex gags, there was actual world building.

Erik Burnham has kept the world building from the cartoon and expanded up on, extending out threads back to the movies. The characters in the comics aren't as sophomoric as their film counterparts but they are still more adult than their cartoon ones. Egon remains the engineer and pragmatist, Ray is the information gatherer, Peter is the guy who gets the jobs and funding, Winston is the bravest, and Janine is the glue.

Five stars

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How to Paint a Cat: 08/13/14

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How to Paint a Cat by Rebecca M. Hale is the fifth book in the Cats and Curios series. As I mentioned in my review of book, two, Nine Lives Last Forever, the blurbs for these books are deceiving. This time, the basic plot is described in first person present tense. But despite all the many points of view which really took off in How to Moon a Cat, none of them are written in first person or in the present tense.

The Cats and Curios series continues to buck with cozy traditions by allowing stories to unfold at reasonable rates. I read two other cozy mystery series set in San Francisco: The Party Planning series by Penny Warner and the Bibliophile Mystery series by Kate Carlisle. Both these series have main characters who are plagued by murder and forced by the extreme violence in their lives to be amateur detectives. So far in five books, there has been exactly one murder and that happened at the close of book three, How to Tail a Cat. In book five, the ensemble cast of characters are still reeling from Spider Jones's brutal murder inside city hall.

Were it not for the moon and bricks, along with the cats, of course, being given points of view in How to Moon a Cat, I would have been extremely skeptical of making Spider more of a character post mortum than he was in the previous book. Along with the copious amounts of San Francisco history, there is a growing element of magical realism.

But the solving of Spider's murder is tangential to the capers Oscar's niece is asked to participate in. This time her quest through the City takes her through the history of Coit Tower and its WPA era murals.

Is Spider's murder solved? Yes and no. There's a bit of a cliff hanger which will be addressed in How to Catch a Cat coming out in 2015. Will I keep reading? You bet!

Five stars

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The Summer Experiment: 08/12/14

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The Summer Experiment by Cathie Pelletier is a tween book about a girl hoping to one-up her nemesis, Henry, at the local science fair. She believes the recent return of UFO sightings might make the perfect project.

The book unfolds as a series of first person narrated vignettes about life in the very northern reaches of Maine. It's more Maine than even Stephen King would be comfortable with, is one way Roberta describes it. Her town is small, isolated and doubles in size every summer with vacationers.

In the background of all of this, is the reported return of the mysterious lights, believed by some (including the sheriff) to be extra terrestrials. Roberta sees the commotion these lights is causing as a means to distract Henry from his science fair project. It's not necessarily that she wants to win, but it's very clear that she doesn't want him to win again.

In terms of the narrative ebb and flow and Roberta's narrative voice, The Summer Experiment thematically complements A Separate Peace (1959) by John Knowles. It has a similar gut wrenching scene at the climax too.

Four stars

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XXXHolic Volume 13: 08/11/14

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Volume 13 of xxxHolic by CLAMP finishes up the Kohane-chan arc with startling revelations. Although Watanuki is still struggling with staying awake or even knowing for sure what is real and what is not, he knows he has to help Kohane-chan, the young psychic.

Kohane-chan has one last chance to prove herself to the public and the other so-called psychics. Her mother's abuse has become dangerous and Kohane-chan to save her life has to lie about what she can or cannot see at the next live television event.

Watanuki, though, knows that she won't lie. He has to offer her a way to escape. There's just one huge problem... and what that problem is, floored me. I think it floored me even more than the resolution and crossover with Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles

Five stars

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Simon's Cat in Kitten Chaos: 08/10/14

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Simon's Cat started as a series of flash videos on YouTube. As anything involving cats on the internet does, Simon's Cat quickly became a thing. Along the way, there came a series of comic books.

Simon's Cat in Kitten Chaos by Simon Tofield is the third of the comic books. Simon's cat, who as far as I know, remains unnamed, must now share his home with a new kitten. As anyone who has introduced a kitten to an older singleton cat knows, this process is not easy but is very amusing to watch.

Tofield uses sparse black line drawings to full humorous effect to create recognizable and relatable experiences of a cat and a kitten squabbling over the home territory. Except for the back of the book which includes an appendix of how to draw various characters and animals (as these are also a regular segment on the Simon's Cat YouTube challenge), the book is wordless. It's just the cat, the kitten, and their well meaning, albeit somewhat clueless owner.

Simon's Cat appeals to any age, to anyone who has cats or knows cats.

Five stars

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Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book: 08/09/14

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Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book by Grumpy Cat is a small hardback humor book with life tips from the internet meme sensation, Grumpy Cat. The book includes some interactive bits like a crossword (every answer being no) and a dot-to-dot.

The cat behind the phenomenon is Tartar Sauce, a domestic short hair born with feline dwarfism. A post on Reddit when she was five months old became an instant meme sensation. A YouTube video posted shortly after went instantly viral.

2013 was the year where on Twitter and Tumblr, at least in the librarian circles, most memes involved either Grumpy Cat or Hyperbole and a Half comics. Grumpy Cat has also been making appearances at a variety of conferences.

I think Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book would have struck me as funnier if either I didn't know so much about Tartar Sauce or if the pictures were drawings instead of photographs. The thing is, she doesn't look grumpy to me any more. She just looks like a cat.

Three stars

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Inside Out and Back Again: 08/08/14

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Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai covers a year in the life of Hà and her family. She is the only daughter and believes their last year in Saigon was cursed by her breaking with tradition. The floor on New Year's morning should be walked on by a boy and she beats her brothers to the punch, hoping to make her own destiny.

For readers who know their history, what's really going on is the Vietnam War. It has nothing to do with Hà's feminist leanings. In that year, though, going from March to February, covers their fleeing from Saigon, the time on the ship, and ultimately relocation to Alabama.

For the amount of hardship and heartbreak Hà and her family go through, the book remains remarkably upbeat and hopeful. Part of this is how it's written — in verse. These poems, each one standing in for a chapter in Hà's experience, bend and break poetic form in ways that parallel her rebellious side.

We listened to the audio version of the book on a drive to Oregon. The reader does an excellent job of bringing Hà to life.

Five stars

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Across the Universe: 08/07/14

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Across the Universe by Beth Revis is a parallel narrative about life and death on a slow ship. Amy is one of the founding members, placed into cryosleep. Elder, is the ship's next generation of leader, generations after Amy but when she's unexpectedly awakened, he has to become her mentor and protector.

Places, even enclosed environments, evolve over time. Cultures change. Language too. Through Amy's chapters we experience the change and the disorientation that goes with it. Society on the ship has evolved into mix of Stranger in a Strange Land, Logan's Run and Soylent Green (the film, having a different message than Harry Harrison's Make Room, Make Room)

Though it takes Across the Universe time to settle down, it eventually becomes a murder mystery. Someone is turning on the cryochambers and letting people die. People close to Amy are dying and she against all odds has to protect them.

Elder, bored out of his gourd, and well aware that his mentor, Eldest, is keeping stuff from, uses Amy as his excuse to finally learn the truth behind the ship.

So — while the plot is predictable to anyone who is an active consumer of science fiction, it's still a satisfying plot. My only complaint is that the explanation behind dystopian shift in the Godspeed's society, is one that at face value doesn't physically work. But given how many other lies were being told, I'm willing to believe that the "explanation" is just one more lie.

Four stars

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Adventures of Superhero Girl: 08/06/14

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If you see the name Faith Erin Hicks on a graphic novel or comic, drop whatever else you're reading, and read her work. Anyway, that's my policy.

The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks is the story of a superhero who is trying to break free from her famous family of heroes and make a life for herself. It was originally published as a black and white webcomic, from 2010-2012. The book's artwork has been colorized.

Even when one is a superhero, it's still hard to establish oneself as a new adult. Shopping at thrift stores for superhero costumes, isn't going to make the showy impression people expect. Then there's the mundane problems too: bills, groceries, school, skeptical friends, and worse yet — pesky big brothers coming to help but just showing off!

It's a fun read and a refreshing one in contrast to the over sexualized portrayal of female superheroes in many mainstream comics. The fact that I have to qualify superhero with a gender speaks to the problem with the superhero genre.

Five stars

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Hilda and the Bird Parade: 08/05/14

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Hilda and the Bird Parade by Luke Pearson is the third of the Hilda books. Hilda and her mother have moved away from their cabin, to a busy city. The mother now has to work outside of the home, leaving Hilda on her own.

Scared of a new city, confused by its size and complexity, and befriended by the wrong crowd, Hilda's introduction to city life isn't going so well. Her mother and she have plans to watch an annual parade celebrating a local bird spirit.

Hilda with her ability to see what most people can't (first sight, second thoughts — a perfect term from Wee Free Men), she gets to experience a magic she thought she had left behind on her mountain.

It's a beautiful book with nods to the Japanese spirit procession, but with birds and in a city that's Alpine. The colors are bold and saturated, taking on the harsh tones of a busy city and the rich hues of dusk and torch light.

The next book in the series is Hilda and the Black Hound (2014).

Five stars

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Curses! Foiled Again: 08/04/14

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Curses! Foiled Again by Jane Yolen is the sequel to Foiled!. Aliera Carstairs is the defender of the Seelie Courts. With her weapon in hand she can see the fantasy world living side by side among humanity.

Avery, the Unseelie troll, is still a thorn in Aliera's side. But things aren't as simple as she thinks they are. She's about to discover that things are more complicated than just magical world vs the mundane. To Aliera's annoyance, Avery is the key to understanding the threat that's brewing.

The previous book was mostly an introduction to the characters and the blending of fantasy and fencing. This one goes more into the world building, allowing Aliera to explore and fight in both worlds.

I read Curses! Foiled Again at the same time I was reading Summer Knight and Golden Girl. It was an epic month of reading about battles between the Seelies and Unseelies.

I hope there is a Foiled 3 in the future. If not, Curses! is a satisfying conclusion to the original Foiled.

Five stars

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Olivia and the Fairy Princesses: 08/03/14

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Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer finds Olivia in a bit of an identity crisis. Of course she likes to the star of the show but she's finding that everyone of her peers (including some of the boys) take to dressing as pink princesses at every special event. Olivia, a strong believer in individuality, wants to do something different and wants recognition for it.

Olivia's not against princesses — just the pink, frilly, thing that seems to be the only thing offered to girls her age. She doesn't want to be a princess who needs rescuing. She doesn't want to wear pink frills. She points out that there are other options even among the princesses, like Egyptian, Chinese, or African ones.

Most importantly though is the notion of self expression. She is taking her direction from Martha Graham (whose avante garde style of dance is highlighted on several pages). That is combined with her continued love of black, white, and red.

In the end, Olivia reaches a solution, one that includes a suitable raise in station.

Five stars

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The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes: 08/02/14

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The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by DuBose Heyward is a classic picture book about a determined female bunny who all her life wants to be the Easter Bunny. There are challenges that potential Easter Bunnies must face. The best one is awarded magical golden shoes that give them the ability to travel the world in a single night.

She is told as a child that she can't because she's a girl and she will be expected to raise a family instead. Through patience and hard work she does ultimately achieve her goal. And she does but as her children are nearly grown she is given the chance at long last to wear the gold shoes. All the home management she has done with her children gives her the wherewithal to be the Easter Bunny.

Best of all, her good parenting has given her children the skills to keep the home running smoothly while she does her job. As a parent who recently went back to school and changed career with the full support of my family, I found The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes a relevant and uplifting story.

Five stars

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The Vampire's Visit: 08/01/14

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The Vampire's Visit by David A. Poulsen is the first of the Salt and Pepper Chronicles. Salt and Pepper are best friends and on a trip with brother Hal to London. The home they are staying with, though, has garlic hanging from the windows. Soon the suspect that their host might know a vampire or two.

Turns out, they're right. While trying to decide what to do about this problem, Hal is kidnapped. The remainder of the book centers on getting Hal back.

The vampires aren't the evil blood thirsty things that you might expect. Instead, there are factions to them — those that are friends with non-vampires and those who prefer to stick to their own kind. The children are introduced to a London underground inhabited by these creatures and get a glimpse into the vampiric history of the city.

I happened to listen to the book on audio. The narrator was an exceedingly chipper reader — to the point of distraction. This was the type of reading where I could just hear the forced smile.

Two stars

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