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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

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Rift Part 2: 09/29/14

cover artAvatar: The Last Airbender: The Rift Part 2 by Gene Luen Yang continues the story of Ang's trip to pay his respects to avatar Yangchen only to be thwarted by the existence of a modern-day factory. Something at the factory is blocking Ang's spirit world connection with his predecessor and now he's going to find out what it is.

The factory also provides an unexpected reunion for Toph. Although she has mastered earth bending and invented metal bending, she's not the daughter her very traditional family want. More heartbreaking though, is that Toph's family is directly involved with the mine and maybe even with the shady things that are causing the earthquakes.

The Rift Part 2 is full of mystery and adventure. Ang's friends are feeling their inner Scooby Gang. And like all good adventure serials, it ends on a whopper of a cliffhanger.



Five stars

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The Active-Enzyme Lemon-Freshened Junior High School Witch: 09/29/14

cover artThere is a short list of books that defines any person who is a reader. It varies from person to person but every list has its own story and each book on it will evoke a memory and a time period in that person's life.

On my list is The Active-Enzyme Lemon-Freshened Junior High School Witch by E.W. Hildick. It, for it's title alone, is the reason I've been keeping a lit of every book I've read since 1987. See, in elementary school, this book was one of the last ones I read, just as I was becoming an enthusiastic pleasure reader. I read it initially for the cover art and to a lesser degree, the goofy title. And while I tore through the book in about two days — because I was in the mood for a book about a girl my age being home sick (I had chicken pox, she had measles) and becoming a witch (no luck on my part).

By seventh grade, not six months after finishing the book, I realized I wanted to re-read it. Except there was a problem — a big one. I wasn't at my old school any more, and I couldn't remember the title of the book (except that it was long). I could remember that it was published by Dell Yearling (horse logo). What I could have done (and didn't) was ask the librarian at the new school if she could help me based on what I could remember. In the meantime, I decided I shouldn't run the risk of forgetting a title again. So I started a list (which after the advent of the world wide web, evolved into this book blog).

In my second year of junior high, fortune went my way in the form of a readers advisory display at the library. There among a bunch of other upper elementary school books (for the "Read it again!" display), was The Active-Enzyme Lemon-Freshened Junior High School Witch by E.W. Hildick. I immediately checked it out so I could add it to my list and never forget the title again.

That second reading was as fun as first time, though this time I hone in on the relationship between the two sisters — the older one who actually found the book and wanted to be a witch, and the younger one who despite her flippancy, seemed to have the natural talent for it. As an older sister, now watching my brother start to excel at things that I'd never dream of trying, I understood the sentiment.

Then as part of turning 40 I decided to purchase a copy for myself and re-read an old favorite, one I still think of, all these years later. The book and I were both turning 40 so it seemed appropriate.

In this last reading, I have to admit that the magic wasn't there as much. The whole measles plot seems quaint and contrived. The magic that both girls believe they are accomplishing, also doesn't seem there. Though it's hinted that the neighbor might be a witch (as evidenced by all his awesome old brooms), this time it seemed to be more a case rationalizing on the part of the sisters, than of actual magic.

Perhaps the first couple times I skimmed and read into the book the story I wanted to read. Maybe most of the enjoyment stemmed from my own misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Hildick's words. Or maybe I've just matured and because I'm now relating more to the adults in the book (the parents and neighbors).

I think I'll revisit this book in a few more years to see what I get out of it then.



Four and a half stars

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Simon's Cat vs. the World: 09/28/14

cover artSimon's Cat vs. the World by Simon Tofield is a full color comic book staring the Youtube sensation, Simon's Cat. While it's the Youtube videos that are the most popular, I frankly prefer Simon's Cat in print.

The cat has everything sorted in his life, that is until Simon brings home a new kitten. Rather than being a series of panels, Simon's Cat vs. the World is a series of one page scenes. Each one is titled along the lines of Simon's Cat vs _________. Could be the garden, could be summer, could be BBQ, and so forth.

These scenes besides showing the life and times of Simon and his cat, they also lay out the ups and downs of life with a new kitten. As we've gone through this experience twice recently, the kitten is extra funny to read.



Five stars

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The Grannyman: 09/27/14

cover artThe Grannyman by Judy Schachner is about an old cat, Simon, and a new kitten, Tink. If you've read the more recent book, Bits & Pieces, Tink is the old cat now charged with teaching a new kitten the ways of the house.

Simon, the geriatric Siamese, is a realistically rendered cat. There's a scene where he climbs up onto the stove to warm his arthritic joints that really hits home. Caligula in her last months of life did exactly that, nearly daily.

Now of course this book and Bits & Pieces to a lesser degree, is about human companions transitioning from the life of one cat into the life of another by welcoming in a kitten. In Schachner's books the transitions seem to go easily. She coats over the hissing, bopping, growing, fighting and hiding that often goes with introducing new cats. Certainly we went through it with Caligula and Tortuga and now we're going through it again with Tortuga and Salmon.



Five stars

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Hilda and the Midnight Giant: 09/26/14

cover artHilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson is another book that has unfortunately fallen through the cracks of my review schedule. Originally I read it as part of the 2012 CYBILs. I even wrote the blurb for it when it made to the short list. I think in writing the blurb, I wanted more time to think about what else to say, and to avoid undue influence on the judging process. Somehow though, I never did get back to writing a review for posting on this blog. Now it's a year and a half later and I'm still thinking fondly of the book. I've also since then read Hilda and the Bird Parade and have Hilda and the Black Hound waiting on my to be read shelf. Hilda with her blue hair and plucky spirit, reminds me of Laika Entertainment's 2009 adaptation of Coraline by Neil Gaiman. With her yellow scarf, red shirt, and blue skirt, she's even dressed in a similar fashion. Regardless of the reasons (if any) behind the similarities, the basic look of Hilda put me in the mood for an otherworldly experience, and that's exactly what Luke Pearson delivered.

Hilda and her mother for reasons left unmentioned, live in an Alpine area, far from human civilization. Soon, though, Hilda discovers that it's not far from other, magical types of civilization. In fact she and her mother have been stomping through an unseen village for months (years?) until something happened to open up Hilda's eyes.

Then like a slowly peeled union, more and more of the scope of this hidden world is revealed. The whole valley and mountainous area takes on new meaning. But this new awareness on Hilda's part also introduces new dangers to her and her mother. Ultimately they have to decide if they can live in harmony with their neighbors or if they should rejoin society and let the cabin go.

Beyond the Coraline connection, there's also a nod to Studio Ghibli in the interaction between humanity and faerie or the spirit world, as represented by (and hidden by) the surrounding nature. I think any fan of My Neighbor Totoro or Spirited Away will appreciate Hilda and the Midnight Giant.



Five stars

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Ghostbusters, Volume 5: The New Ghostbusters: 09/24/14

cover artI try to avoid re-reviewing books, but sometimes I make exceptions — if the original review was too short or if the context of the reading has changed significantly enough that I feel a need to revisit the review. In 2013 I reviewed a partial egalley edition of Ghostbusters, Volume 5: The New Ghostbusters by Erik Burnham without the context of the entire series of graphic novels and without the entire omnibus in hand. That now has changed, as I purchased a full copy to continue my reading after finishing Total Containment.

The first four omnibuses (or sixteen comic issues) introduced all the characters, the original ghostbusters and then the characters who in this issue become the "New Ghostbusters" with the disappearance of the original crew.

Now in the copy I read before, the book ended with Janine finally getting her way with the mayor's office, after they had demanded "sexy" outfits for the women on the team. The full omnibus includes the escape from the ghost prison and the consequences of their return.

I still enjoyed The New Ghostbusters and I certainly appreciated seeing how all the pieces fit together, rather than trying to guess based on my original cold reading. But (and this is my own inner fangirl speaking), I wanted more scenes with Janine and the FBI agent from New Mexico. Fortunately, some of that plays out in Ghostbusters Volume 6: Trains, Brains and Ghostly Remains.



Five stars

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xxxHolic Volume 15: 09/24/14

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Volume 15 of xxxHolic by CLAMP ends the story arc with Yuko. Her disappearance is as shocking and depressing as Rory's at the end of "Cold Blood" (Doctor Who)

Much of what happens to Yuko is revealed through another extended dream sequence. Her true role in Watanuki's life is revealed as is the way in which his fate is tied up in the decisions made by Syaoran, Sakura and the others in Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle.

The point though where the true horror of what has happened comes to light is through Watanuki's continued cooking lessons with the bride to be who won't eat her own cooking. Watanuki unearths the truth behind her quirk and in the process learns something about himself.



Five stars

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I Am Pusheen the Cat: 09/23/14

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I Am Pusheen the Cat by Claire Belton is another webcomic ( to make the transition to print. Pusheen is a round gray cat who in short panel comics offers advice and commentary on popular culture.

On the blog many of the Pusheen comics are animated gifs. These gifs circulate beyond the blog, being very popular on Tumblr, and to a lesser degree, Facebook and Twitter.

The book goes back to the early days of the blog. Pusheen introduces herself and lays out the basic rules for being a cat, as well as thoughts on why being a cat is cool.

Pusheen appeals to cat lovers of all ages, Children who have cats will be attracted to the cat's adorable and simply drawn antics. Older readers can de-stress for half an hour as they read through the book.



Five stars

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The Pigeon Needs a Bath!: 09/22/14

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The Pigeon Needs a Bath! by Mo Willems is the newest Pigeon book. The pigeon who embodies the best and worst of toddlerdom has decided he doesn't like to wash. It's up to the reader to encourage him to change his mind.

As with any toddler, the pigeon first gives all sorts of excuses and other delaying tactics for not taking a bath. He's washed more recently than you think, he's not that dirty. Then comes the bath every excuse he gives is one I've heard from one or both of my kids: it's too hot, it's too cold, it's too soapy, not enough toys, too many toys, etc. etc.

While the books are made for children, they ring true for parents and guardians. Not even thinking about if either child would want to read the book (as the youngest is entering third grade now), my husband and I bought a copy for ourselves. Both kids, though, also read it and laughed at the Pigeon's current antics. And that speaks to the universality of the Pigeon's appeal.



Five stars

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House of Leaves: 09/21/14

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When I was a kid, I had this fantasy that there was an entrance to a secret passageway through the back of my bedroom closet. It didn't go Narnia; it went a variety of places — sometimes into secret underground lairs, sometimes to the mountains, and sometimes to other places within the house. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski takes a similar concept and turns it into something sinister.

The book (a literal house of leaves) is metafiction horror made up of multiple narratives. There's a tattoo artist who is telling his demented account of things. Then there's a scholarly essay recounting and analyzing the Navidson videos showing explorations of a rather ordinary house that over time becomes more and more extraordinary and wrong.

House of Leaves is old enough to predate many of the internet memes that it would have / should have embraced. For instance, the Navidson videos are shot on super-8 or on camcorders and somehow widely shared (before YouTube, back when most users were still on dialup and video was both expensive to put online and painful to watch because of the lag), enough so to be a thing. These videos are more like grudge ghost infested VHS tape of The Ring, where nowadays, the ghost would just be stuck waiting for a victim for years, possibly decades.

And then there is the carefully reproduced colors within House of Leaves. The author maintains a forum for anyone to discuss the colors or other themes and Wikipedia has some interesting thoughts too. Here are mine, taken with in the context of the book's publishing date, 2000.

Back in the early days of a publicly available internet when the emphasis was on the hyper-text part of HTML, rather than the mark-up language part, web pages consisted of text and links and nothing more. The default colors were blue for the unvisited links and purple for the visited ones. Later as font tags were included (in the precursor days to CSS), the blue and purple colors were still holy, untouchable things, because users might be confused if the link colors were changed. But red was adopted as an IMPORTANT color, to highlight things that needed a viewer's attention.

Astute readers who have a full color edition will see that the house and any synonym for it is rendered in blue. Purple shows up in the story of P. (Pelafina), the tattoo artist's institutionalized mother. And the minotaur's story is done in red. In the parlance of early internet, it tells me that the house, while on the surface, the story, is the part of it never actually visited. The house is either to scary to visit or is an illusion that can't be visited. Johnny's story of his mother with the purple links, while tied to the color of her fingernails and his tattoo ink, is also the color of links visited recently and perhaps frequently. Finally, there is the Minotaur — the half man - half bull trapped below ground in an unsolvable (unless you have enough of a klew/clue) labyrinth. In red, the Minotaur is the IMPORTANT part of the story. To understand the house, one must understand the minotaur.



Three stars

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Bad Luck Girl: 09/20/14

cover artBad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel is the conclusion of the American Fairy trilogy. As I've mentioned in my review of Jim Butcher's Summer Knight, there are lots of points of similarity between the series. Now that Callie and her friends and family are in Chicago, it's impossible to not compare the two.

Callie has come in the late 1930s but the wars between the Seelies and Unseelies at a similar stalemate as in Dresden's time. She is also now made aware of other side teams, like the Halfers, who are like the halfmade creatures of forgotten and lost things in China Miéville's Un Lun Dun.

But it's Jack who grows beyond his character sheet in this book. He's always been a loyal and capable friend but in books one and two he's been more of a companion in the Doctor Who sense. Now, though, in his home city we get to see what really makes him tick.

Though the original story of the mother's kidnapping and her rescue is brought to a satisfying conclusion, there's some wiggle room left for a new book or series. I would love to revisit Callie's world and see her grow into her power and position.



Five stars

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Blandings' Way: 09/19/14

cover artSometimes a great new book just lands in your lap. Or, it's helped there by a friend or family member who knows your taste in books and is willing and able to feed your addiction.

In the case of Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice by Mike Maihack, it was a two step process. Books Inc had set up a book fair in the cafeteria where my husband works. He knows I love books about Ancient Egypt, tween graphic novels, and time travel stories. This book was a trifecta! So he snagged a copy for me.

Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice is the first of a new tween graphic novel series. Cleopatra of ancient Egypt is recruited by time travelers to save the far future. But before she can do that, she has to pass algebra. It sounds silly but it works. It works with the same goofy enthusiasm that Doctor Who does.

The book opens en media res with Cleopatra and a talking cat finishing up a dangerous mission. Of course they are discovered and there's a chase, and a quick battle. It's an energetic and exciting way to meet the two stars of this new series.

With that introduction, I was perfectly willing to go with a far future built on an ancient Egyptian aesthetic. I was even willing to let there be characters with the names of famous Egyptians. Heck, one of my favorite films is Stargate.

But then, with the second chapter, we're taken back to the beginning, and we see Cleopatra in school doing her best to avoid her lessons, except for the ones that involve combat. Just like Alice or Dorothy, Cleopatra's desire to be anywhere else is the impetus to new adventures well beyond her imagination.

Length wise, it's about as long as an Amulet book. There's just the right mix of world and character building to go with the adventure and mystery. The second book, The Thief and the Sword comes out next year and I am eagerly awaiting it.



Five stars

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Blandings' Way: 09/18/14

cover artBlandings' Way by Eric Hodgins is the sequel to the hilarious roman a clef, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Now that the house is built, the Blandings family settle in with being residents of a small Connecticut town.

The problem of purchasing or building a larger home on cheaper land, out in the countryside away from one's job is the commute. Daily routines stop being about family meals and become instead about getting to and from work. Lingering too long over morning coffee means a missed train. A late night in the office means a night in the city away from family. Finally, there's a cultural disconnect that develops between the home town and city; they don't share the same issues or follow the same ebb and flow.

The Blandings family goes through all these states. The daughters, sent away to school, grow into their own people and take their parents by surprise. Mrs. Blandings as a homemaker is perhaps the most in tune with their adopted town. She becomes a gardener and in her exuberance over does it in a few places but still manages to make Blandings Way a better home.

The person suffering the most from the move is naturally Mr. Blandings. He is the one commuting. He is the one living half his day in Manhattan's hustle and bustle and the other half in a sleepy Connecticut town that can trace its roots back to colonial days. He more than anyone feels the need to find a niche for himself in his adopted town.

Now interestingly, Mr. Blandings and his home are modeled on real life. Eric Hodgins was the vice president of Time Inc and did build a home in New Milford, Connecticut. The expenses of maintaing the house ended up being too much for him and he had to short sell the place a few years later. In 1992, The New York Times published an article about the house. Interestingly, too, there are now copies of the home scattered across the country in part as a promotion for the release of the film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

If you're interested in reading the book, the Internet Archive has a digital copy courtesy of the University of Florida.



Four stars

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The Elevator Family: 09/17/14

cover artThe Elevator Family by Douglas Evans is the story of a strange family who come to visit San Francisco at a place like the Palace Hotel (but not) and end up spending their vacation in an elevator. It's a Yearling book and feels like a throwback to the ridiculous early chapter books published when I was a child.

These books work like situation comedies and are about as short as one as they come in under 100 pages. The problem is that for these books to play out their situation it requires very naive, stupid, or clueless protagonists. In this case, it's a family who somehow has the wherewithal to travel around the country and make it to a big city such as San Francisco but have still never heard of the concept of an elevator or lift. The other piece of the equation is that everyone else — the so called normal folks — have to treat the main characters as if nothing is wrong.

But of course, as these things go, the odd ball family makes instant friends with everyone they meet. The hotel doesn't evict them even though they are squatting in an elevator and steeling other guests' room service. In this case, the family befriends the bellhop, the flower shop gal, and a woman who lives in the hotel with her yappy dog. Together they manage to save the local newspaper baron's daughter from kidnappers.

And that brings up my last gripe with this book. San Francisco is a real place with a rich and already somewhat goofy history. But this book (written by a then Berkley based author) tosses in idiotic pseudo-facts about the area, like the Golden Gate bridge being named for someone named Goldengate. Really? If you want to do that sort of thing, just make a place.



Three stars

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Counting by 7s: 09/16/14

cover artCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a middle grade book outside of my normal comfort zone of reading that will surely stick with me for years to come. Willow Chance is an usually bright child, living with her adopted parents in Bakersfield and happily working on her latest project — learning to speak Vietnamese — when her life is turned upside down.

Her parents are killed in a traffic accident and she will be tossed into foster care if she can't come up with a solution. With no relatives beyond her now dead parents, Willow turns to the mother of her Vietnamese speaking friends. It's an unusual one, but one that the mother accepts with gusto.

The death of parents can be a very maudlin topic but Holly Goldeberg Sloan keeps the tone upbeat and hopeful. She manages to create unique voices for all the different points of view — Willow, the school counselor, her new foster mother — and collectively they give a sense of hope and rebirth, rather than tragic endings.



Five stars

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Sufficient Ransom: 09/15/14

cover artSufficient Ransom by Sylvia Sarno is a mystery set in San Diego and Tijuana. Ann and her husband's son, Travis, is kidnapped. They believe an over zealous child protective services worker has him.

It takes about fifty pages for Sufficient Ransom to find its voice and its pacing. The introduction of Ann and Travis (while the husband is on a business trip) had me siding with the obsessed CPS worker, Kiki. Although we are told how Ann feels for her son, we don't get into her head enough to actually feel it.

Meanwhile, Travis is acting more afraid at bedtime than a child his age probably should. He's acting like he's being abused. There's also the typical excuse given, that Travis's bruises happened because he fell (off a swing). So I was willing to believe Kiki's suspicions even though I was supposed to be feeling for Ann.

Once things settle, though, the characters break out of their initially assigned roles, Sufficient Ransom becomes an interesting mystery. There are plenty of role reversals, betrayals, and unexpected alliances, all in the name of getting Travis home safely.



Three stars

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Zorgamazoo: 09/14/14

cover artZorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston is the tale of an unlikely friendship between a runaway and monster who works for a newspaper. Monty, the reporter, is the son of a once great hero, but now his father is ill and in hospice. So when the Zorgles go missing, the only one left to save the day is the very reluctant Monty.

The entire adventure is told in verse. It takes a page or two to get used to the meter. After that, things fall into place and the reader will be swept into Monty and Katrina's adventures. Their friendship is similar to Helena's and Valentine's from MirrorMask (2005) or Sarah and Hoggle in Labyrinth (1986).

The quest that Katrina and Monty take is delightfully illustrated, bringing to mind Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman or Michael Ende's Neverending Story with a touch of The Adventure of Baron Munchausen (1986).



Five stars

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Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: 09/13/14

cover artNaked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems is about Wilbur, a mole rat, who unlike his kith and kin, likes to wear clothes. He suffers teasing and bullying but manages to stay true to himself.

It's a good introduction to peer pressure and self identity. After all the bullying, the book does end on a positive note. All it take is one person (or mole rat) to accept Rufus before others decide "why not?" as well.

Of all the Mo Willems books I've read, this one is probably the most heavy hitting. It's also perhaps, the most open-ended. It can be used in any number of discussions where a child feels like he or she doesn't fit in.



Four stars

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New American Poetry: 09/12/14

cover artFor two and half years I worked as a cataloger (copy cataloger mostly) at a local university. The library was overhauling its collection — withdrawing items that are either out of date or no longer circulating, and purchasing new items that better meet the needs of the students and faculty. Those books that weren't weeded also need to copy-cataloged, or their record in the catalog improved.

One of the books we kept was a collection of poetry called New American Poetry edited by Richard Monaco. I decided to check it out (after working on it, of course) for two reasons: the few sample poems I read were really good and the book is as old as I am.

Forty-one years ago when the book went to publication, it represented the best of the up and coming American poets. These were poets who at the oldest were Depression era babies, and at the youngest were among the first wave of Baby Boomers. The themes covered include a distrust of authority, life in the big city, thoughts on sexism and racism.



Two stars

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Good Harbor: 09/11/14

cover artGood Harbor by Anita Diamant is the story of the friendship between two women living in Gloucester. One is a children's librarian who was recently diagnosed with cancer. The other is a freelance writer who has come to write a novel.

I read the book for a combination of the location and the basic character descriptions. I'm a librarian and would like to be a children's librarian. I also want to a writer and I've had fun doing Nanowrimo. I'm also a woman of similar age to these two protagonists.

At first, there's not much to this plot. It starts off as a quiet book with the librarian doing everything in her power to not obsess over her breast cancer, and the other one doing everything possible to procrastinate with her writing. And then just to force a cinematic second act, a random dude on the beach is introduced and of course, he becomes the other man. Because nothing says edgy women's fiction like an extra marital affair.

I could have let the affair thing go except that the "hot" sex scenes were just so silly and not in a good way. I ended up having to stop reading because I just couldn't take the book seriously any more.



Two stars

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Blue Moon: 09/10/14

cover artBlue Moon by James Ponti is the follow up to Dead City. At the moment it appears to be the conclusion of the story arc, but there's still enough side stories there should Ponti ever decide to write a third. If he were to, I'd definitely read it.

Someone is killing the zombies by leaving them chained on the subway lines that leave Manhattan. Molly and the Omegas are brought on to figure out who is doing it and why. They are up against a ticking countdown with the approach of the next zombie check in.

As with the first book, there are a number of riddles that Molly and friends must solve before they are given access to the information they need to do their investigation. These riddles are somewhere between the clues of the original 39 Clues series and the riddles of Merganzer D. Whippet in the Floors series.

There's less in the way of zombie mayhem and fighting as it's been established that most zombies aren't violent or brain thirsty. So for those wanting a more typical zombie book, I recommend Undead by Kirsty McKay or Flu by Wayne Simmons. But if you like a well thought out world where zombies exist side by side with humans and aren't an immediate apocalyptic event, then Dead City and Blue Moon are for you.



Five stars

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Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist: 09/09/14

cover artTequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist by Tim Federle is a slim volume that is part mixed drink recipe book and part literary criticism.

Each drink is both named for and inspired by a famous book. For book lovers who don't or can't drink alcohol, there is a section of alcohol free drinks and a section on some literary inspired snacks.

It was a fun book, something I sipped over the course of three nights of reading before bed. As yet, though, I haven't actually tried any of the recipes. Oops! But I do plan to.



Five stars

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Neighborhood Watch: 09/08/14

cover artNeighborhood Watch by Cammie McGovern is a mystery trying to be literary fiction. Librarian Betsy Treading has spent twelve years in prison for murder — a crime she confessed to committing even though she doesn't remember doing it. Now DNA evidence has exonerated her and for reasons that frankly baffle me, she's told by her lawyer to go back home and sniff around for clues.

Betsy tells her story in a series of flashbacks mixed in with her present day investigations. Those flash backs involve her time in prison — and how she won everyone's respect and admiration by being a damn good librarian (okay...), her tragic backstory, the events leading up to the murder and some other angsty stuff.

In her outlining of the characters, though, Betsy is about as subtle as a pile driver. She repeats lots of details and opinions. I suppose it's to show how on edge she is both with being released from prison (and a life she's gotten used to) and with facing her inner demons, she ends up telegraphing the identity of the murderer.

I got about a third of the way through the novel before I knew who had done it and way. With the mystery out of the way, there was no compelling reason to keep reading.



Two stars

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Lucky: 09/07/14

cover artLucky by Gabrielle Bell is a memoir set in three short comics. The time covered shows her attempts at living in New York and finding work.

New York hasn't been an easy place for outsiders to live in for a very long time. Moving into any super popular big city is fraught with problems — high rent, small apartments, over crowding, and few jobs for the amount of people trying to get them. It takes motivation, hard work, networking and good luck to get a foot in the door.

That motivation seems to be lacking here. Maybe instead there's depression but I'm not sure. The comics are mostly about her time moving from one crazy, over-crowded apartment to another and how much she hated each one. There's also a lot of moping and the sending of insulting cover letters.

It was amusing when I read it but I can't imagine wanting to re-read it. If this were fiction, I'd complain about the shallowness of the main character. But it's a memoir in a comic format. I'm really not sure how to respond to that.



Three stars

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The Night Bookmobile: 09/06/14

cover artThe Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger was first serialized in The Guardian. I came across it through a number of book blogs that seem taken with the cover of Alexandra hugging the book she's reading. As I had so enjoyed Three Incestuous Sisters, I knew I wanted to read this graphic novel.

Alexandra, angry after a fight with her boyfriend, wanders the streets one night. In her perambulations she discovers a night bookmobile, driven and maintained by Mr. Openshaw. His library on wheels oddly has every book she remembers reading, including the odds and ends she used as book marks. These aren't just books she remembers reading, these are the books she read — many long lost and forgotten.

Rather than be completely grossed out by such an eerie thing, Alexandra finds a new obsession to fill the void in her life. She desperately wants to be a bookmobile librarian. She wants to apprentice under Mr. Openshaw. She does everything she can, including going to library school. Though she finds a new career as a librarian, it isn't the one she dreams of.

Alexandra does ultimately reach her goal, but through extra-ordinary means. Her blinding obsession with books and a particular book mobile plays into a recurring theme I've seen in books or films where a librarian is the main character — loneliness and depression — the librarian who hides in her (almost always her) books. Niffenegger just takes it one doozy of a step further.

Like Alexandra I've had an on again, off again affair with books and libraries. My first library encounter was also with a bookmobile — though we didn't actually get to into the vehicle — they were brought to us in a rented storefront. I don't see reading as a solitary, lonely or depressing thing. It's not a substitute for human interaction — it enhances those interactions. A librarian's primary function is to connect people and books. There's more human interaction than reading involved in the job.

Also like Alexandra, I do sometimes dream about driving a bookmobile. In California that would require going back to driving school and getting a class C license. At the moment, I'm ready to be done with school, but maybe in a year or two, I'll revisit that dream.



Five stars

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xxxHolic Volume 14: 09/05/14

cover artAs the Quick Wit Links blog points out, things are serious in Volume 14 of xxxHolic by CLAMP because it's the first time Watanuki has been on the cover since the first volume.

By now if you're not reading Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, you will probably be very confused by Yuko's explanations of Watanuki's past and his relationship to Syaoran. For those who are, Watanuki's introduction to Yuko and the missing wish from the first volume of Tsubasa will both make sense.

I had started reading Tsubasa before Volume 14, mostly because I was watching the anime and was becoming aware of the importance of the crossover. So I had already started to figure out much of the connection between Watanuki and Syaoran. For anyone reading both series, CLAMP drops enough hints to connect most of the dots by volume 14.

What took me most by surprise was the true nature of the shop and Maro and Moro's role in maintaining it. The shop's existence relies on heavy magic and may not be able to survive an upcoming confrontation. Maro and Moro's main roll is maintenance.

For those who prefer more of an in story (vs. crossover) explanation of what's going on, there is a side story about Watanuki being forced to teach a reluctant woman who to cook. Her explanation is that she is getting married and wants to learn how to cook for her soon to be husband but she has never cooked for herself. She can't stand the way anything tastes when she cooks it herself. The cooking lessons reveal Watanuki's outlook on life and his belief that how a food tastes reveals something about the soul of the person who cooked it.

Suffice it to say that things are about to change significantly



Five stars

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Bones Never Lie: 09/04/14

cover artBones Never Lie by Elizabeth MacLeod is a tween / young adult introduction to the science and technology of forensics. Well, sort of.

Rather than focusing on the achievements made in the field, the book presents the mini-biographies of various famous dead leaders. So there's Tutankhamen, Napoleon, and so forth.

While the how did they die question is interested, it's not the forensics that was promised. A better book on both accounts is How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg.



Three stars

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Sign of Foul Play: 09/03/14

cover artSign of Foul Play by Penny Warner is the second of the Connor Westphal mysteries. Connor is settling into her job as the owner of the weekly newspaper in Flat Skunk. A grizzly death of man at a construction sight puts her paper and the bigger daily paper of the next door town in a race to scoop each other.

The man's death brings to light problems with the construction company and quite possibly the construction site. Now rebar, deeply dug foundations, and all the other stuff that goes with building a multistory structure says to me, big, urban area. Flat Skunk in no other book I've read is described as being big enough to need this size of a building. So I had to wonder if the construction company was trying to go out of business and abscond with the venture capital.

No. The construction goofiness is just goofiness. The plot instead is a mixture books from Diane Mott Davidson's series. I think these similarities are a product of both authors being of the same generation, and thus pulling from similar lifetime sources. But it did make solving the crime very easy; something I did by about the halfway point.

My final thought, though, is that I'd love to revisit Connor in new mystery. Her deafness, while not the main point, is an interesting side note to all the books. She often comments on the technology and techniques she uses to live her life and communicate with her hearing neighbors. I just wonder if cell phone saturation and texting would have made things a little easier for her.



Four stars

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I Shall Wear Midnight: 09/02/14

cover artI Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett is the 38th Discworld novel and the last of the Tiffany Aching books. Tiffany is back on the Chalk as their witch. And that means dealing with the unpleasantries of life, such as domestic violence. As this is the Disc, there are things that feed off the anger of people, and now one of these things has come to the Chalk.

Meanwhile, change has come to the Chalk with the death of the Baron. Tiffany therefore has to go and bring home the new Baron, Roland. It's her first time in the big city and you can imagine what can happen when a witch and her Nac Mac Feegles descend on Ankh-Morpork!

As this is the end of the Tiffany Aching series, it's time for Roland and Tiffany to assume the roles laid out for them. Roland must do his part as the Baron and use his influence to guide the development of the Chalk. Tiffany as the witch takes on her grandmother's role, being a shepherdess and a mentor for the Baron.

It's also a chance to see Tiffany as a full-fledge (albeit young) witch among her peers. Through Tiffany's friendship with the Roland, his wedding will be a big draw of both witches and nobility, including Magrat who is both. So it's fun to see Granny, Nanny, and Magrat all together again, even though Magrat has stepped aside from witchcraft for the most part, leaving her place in the trio to Agnes (Carpe Jugulum).

Like so many good YA series, this is one that grows with its readers. In the course of four books (Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight we see Tiffany grow. We see her go from raw talent, through initial lessons, to making mistakes and fixing them, to her first big responsibility as a full fledged witch.



Five stars

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The Candymakers: 09/01/14

cover artIt is a very rare book that can take me through the entire emotional spectrum from a one star — can't finish — to five star — recommend this book to everyone. Usually by the first couple chapters, I have a pretty good idea of how I will rate the book at its conclusion. The Candymakers by Wendy Mass, though, completely surprised me. Slowly but surely it rewarded me for my patience.

Logan, Miles, Daisy, and Philip are the regional finalists for a nationwide candy making competition open to children age 12. Logan, as the candymaker's son at one of the host facilities, is an expected shoo-in given that his father and grandfather both won. Logan, though, knows he doesn't have what it takes to get the ingredients just right, even if he does have a stellar idea.

The competition gives a chance for readers to explore an extraordinary but still plausible (and grounded in reality) candy factory. Although Logan's family produces all of their ingredients on site (including a spectacular greenhouse for a mini forest of cacao and rubber trees), Mass avoids the temptation to make the factory an overt homage to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory (Roald Dahl, 1964), which means Logan's idea is bound to be too difficult or impossible to create.

But, Candymakers isn't about Logan flaming out either. It's so much more. The best way I can describe this book is as a tween candy making equivalent to the delightful manga and anime, Space Brothers.



Five stars

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