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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



The Children's Book on How to Use Books and Libraries: 12/31/14

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The Children's Book on How to Use Books and Libraries by Carolyn Mott is one of those special books that survives weeding. It was designed as an introduction to information literacy and library usage for elementary school aged children.

The basics of how public and school libraries work hasn't changed much in the last hundred or so years. Books (and other things) are curated and cataloged and shelved. Yes, libraries today also provide downloadable content or reference materials through databases, but a child's introduction to how libraries work is typically through story time and picture book checkouts.

And those parts of Mott's book are still on topic and still relevant. The rest of the book is a charming look back at how libraries used to work, with adorable stick figure illustrations that were done by children in collaboration with the author (a librarian).

This book is one of those gems that pops up whenever a library is doing a serious weeding effort. When I was working for Cushing Library at Holy Names, we were going through a major cataloging / weeding effort. The library hadn't yet fully converted from the old card catalog system (even though the drawers were gone), meaning that thousands of books were on the shelves but not necessarily findable by anyone using the local or consortium catalogs.

To keep the cataloging effort to as efficient a minium as possible, books that had been categorized as NICs (not in catalog) were weeded before coming to me for cataloging. Though our book dated back to the 1950s and showed aspects of the library long since made obsolete (like the card catalog), the book is just too cute and charming to let go of, as librarian Daniel Ransom noted on his tumblr site.

Four stars

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Chomp: 12/30/14

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Chomp by Carl Hiaasen is the latest of his tween environmental stories. Wahoo Cray lives with his parents at an Everglades animal rescue center. While Mom is in China, Wahoo has to help Dad try to run the zoo. Dad hasn't been the same since a bad head injury.

In the midst of all this chaos, the zoo is hired to provide animals and setting for a "reality" survival show. Wahoo and his Dad need the money but they don't want their animals exploited by Derek Badger, the star of this questionable but popular series.

Mixed into this reality TV show mess is a girl named Tuna. She is running fro her abusive, drunk of a father. He won't let her go and he has a gun. No good can come from this situation.

Thematically the book is most like Scat with a little bit of Hoot. But it has pacing issues. Too much time is spent on the gags of the reality show and on Badger's ego and stupidity.

Three stars

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Calvin Coconut: Rocket Ride: 12/29/14

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I started reading Calvin Coconut when the series was first published. School and work has kept me from staying current. So I've missed a book or two.

Calvin Coconut: Rocket Ride by Graham Salisbury marks the return of Calvin's father to the islands. He is scheduled to give a concert and Calvin has tickets.

With these Calvin Coconut books there's a certain flow to the plot. Something great happens, or there's a huge change int he family dynamics. As Calvin is either making plans or trying to cope, the local bully starts making trouble.

Here the good news is the concert and the return of Calvin's father. The big change is the stepmother. The bully comes in wanting tickets and won't take no for an answer.

Maybe there's an underlying no violence message to this series and that's why Calvin always ends up giving the bully some version of what he wants. So of course the bully gets tickets, Calvin having the choice of also watching the concert from backstage.

How, though, does this series play in an era where anti-bullying books are becoming common place?

For a similar story aimed at a slightly older audience, I recommend Louis Sachar's Small Steps.

Four stars

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Hotel Iris: 12/28/14

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I read Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa while taking a break from another (and much longer) Japanese novel, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Though one is science fiction and the other is literary fiction, they do share the theme of sex as a means of control.

The titular hotel is a struggling, rundown hotel on the Japanese coast. It's well past its prime and is being run by a woman and her teenage daughter, Mari. The sort of place that now brings in johns and prostitutes more than it brings in families or respectable businessmen.

The book opens with Mari witnessing her mother tossing out a drunken prostitute. Mari, bored with her work and her isolating life in the hotel, is fascinated by the smooth voice of the fifty-eight year old john. She introduces herself to him and learns he is a translator.

Known from that time on as just The Translator, he begins to fill the gaps in Mari's life — quickly pulling her into a world of sex that Mari is not prepared for. Ogawa uses beautiful language to describe a disturbing relationship that brings to mind 1Q84, as I mentioned before, and The Pirate's Daughter by Robert Giradi.

Three stars

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Monsters: An Owner's Guide: 12/27/14

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Shortly after we moved into our new home, our son started complaining about the monster who lived in his clock. It was a combination of living in a new (and creaky house — boy does this place settle at night) and an

active imagination. So I was faced with a problem: I could insist there were no monsters (and be the parent that doesn't listen), I could agree with him and go through the methods of chasing the monster away, or I could help him find a way of dealing with the monster on his own terms.

I chose the latter. Our son has always been a can-do person and loves to push himself. So I told him that there might in fact be a monster living in the clock but we should go to the library and figure out what type of monster it was. We read dozens of books that year and later he began to pick monster books on his own for pleasure reading.

Now with our daughter, she has grown up in a house full of monster themed picture and early chapter books. Though monsters aren't her thing, per se, she has a soft spot for the more humorous ones. One of her addition to the family collection is Monsters: An Owner's Guide by Jonathan Emmett.

Imagine if you could own a monster. Imagine if they came mail order from a catalog and were delivered right to your door. Now imagine if they required assembling. Imagine if the instructions were about as clear as the most complicated thing you can get from Ikea. Then imagine if the thing you built had a monstrous AI.

That's basically the book. It's an illustrated instruction manual. It also shows what happens when things go awry. It's short and silly and perfect for any future doctors Frankenstein.

Three stars

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Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem: 12/26/14

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Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem by Steve Niles is an omnibus collection of three comics that bring together the Golem of Prague story with an early WWII setting. A golem is used to protect an injured pilot whose plane has crashed outside of a Jewish village.

The location of the village and the timing of events are left sketchy. It's implied that the plane crash happened earlier in the war when the man who is now old enough to fight in the war was a boy. He explains how it was that the village made the ultimate sacrifice to save the pilot and their last line of defense, being the creation of a golem.

So now as things are looking especially bleak on the battlefront, the soldier must draw on his past experiences and decide if the same solution would work here. Whether or not his actions helped save his fellow soldiers is left up in the air though as the story is more about how he learned to make a golem, rather than how golems can be used or if they should.

Four stars

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time: 12/25/14

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time by Frank Cottrell Boyce is the second in the recently launched series inspiried by the Ian Fleming children's book.

The Tootings have arrived home only to find they are in the wrong eon. Dinosaurs are roaming where their row houses should be. That's what happens when you play with her chronojuster.

Now as any Whovian knows, a sentient time traveling device will go where and when it wants, when it wants. On their way home, the Tootings are given an exotic and magical tour of places and times important to Chitty.

There's a bunch of interesting time travel stuff tossed in with adventure and mystery. I can't say too much without risking spoiling the fun.

Five stars

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: 12/24/14

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You'd never know it now from amount our son reads, but when he was first transitioning to chapter books, it was a rough one. The books he had the most luck with were the hybrids — the heavily illustrated ones that are just one step away from being full-fledged graphic novels. Among those first successes was Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Greg Heffley has been asked to keep a diary by his mother. He's convinced that boys don't (can't / shouldn't) keep diaries. Of course, that's a ridiculous notion — but that's the set up. Along with his entries, the pages are decorated with various amusing stick illustrations, presumably also by Greg.

Over the course of a school year, Greg goes through numerous schemes and fills in the gaps explaining how previous schemes have gone awry. For instance, he wants to build up muscle fast to survive the wresting part of P.E., so he asks for a weight set. By the time Christmas rolls around and a weight set ends up being his BIG present (in an otherwise hilariously disappointing year), the wrestling unit is long since over and Greg has moved on to his next scheme.

It's a cute book — that an adult can read in about two hours. It's also the first in a nine (at last count) book series. I know we have a couple more in the series, and those I'll read. I'm not sure, yet, if I'll actually want to read the entire series.

Four stars

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The Rising: 12/23/14

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The Rising by Kelley Armstrong is the conclusion to the Darkness Rising series. Maya and friends are in the custody of the St. Clouds. They want nothing than to escape.

And that's basically the entire plot: dealing with imprisonment, creating an escape plan, actually escaping, and their flight. And of course, it's a chance for a crossover with the Darkest Powers series.

But the problem is that the characters don't mesh that well. All that this grand meeting did was remind me of just how much Chloe and friends annoyed me.

I really hoped more would be done with Maya and her brother's backstory. There were missed opportunities here to blend the paranormal with Native American legends (both of Maya's adoptive mother's and her biological mother's) and more importantly, the on-going disparity between reservation and non reservation life.

Three stars

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Outside In: 12/22/14

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Outside In by Sarah Ellis is about Lynn's struggle to find normalcy in her life. Lynn keeps her life busy with choir practice, school, and shopping. But home is the worst, her mother, Lynn, can't keep it together. The house needs repairs, her choir trip has to be canceled because of paperwork she's forgotten to mail, and Lynn feels like the adult in the relationship (and she always has).

When Lynn is stuck in Vancouver while her choir goes to the United States to compete, she is introduced to a side of the city she didn't know existed. Lynn meets a girl on the bus who is living off the grid. The girl lives with her family as "underlanders" instead of like the "citizens."

Outside In to me is the Canadian Neverwhere. It's not as firmly planted in the fantasy realm as Gaiman's novel, but there is an emotional kinship. Both are about homelessness and how those who aren't homeless see those who are as less than human. To others, they are even invisible. Both these books cast a light on homelessness — in London and Vancouver (and Burnaby) — and bring the humanity back into the equation.

Five stars

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Mad Love: 12/21/14

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Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors is set in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. While being primarily a YA fantasy about Cupid, aka Errol, befriending the teenage daughter of a romance writer, it's also a serious exploration of single parenthood, mental illness, and terminal illness.

Alice Amorous is the daughter of the Queen of Romance. She should be living an easy life off the massive royalties her mother's books earn. Except, her mother's been hospitalized for a mental breakdown and the medical bills are draining the coffers. As her father isn't around, Alice is left in the care of her mother's tenants — who provide her last source of regular income too.

Now with the deadline for the latest book long since past, the publisher is demanding results. Alice feels her only chance to save her mother's reputation and keep her safe is to write the book herself.

In the middle of all of this is a strange skateboarding dude named Errol who needs her help on his own unusual quest. While Alice is trying her best to keep her life together, he needs her to believe in magic, curses and long forgotten about Gods.

I could write essays on the themes and motifs of Mad Love. It takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster, while forcing them to think on difficult subjects. The mother's mental illness and Errol's chronic pain are smartly rendered.

Five stars

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Half Magic: 12/20/14

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Half Magic by Edward Eager puts me right back in Mrs. Sullivan's class. I can't tell you exactly which grade that was, as I had her for grades 4 through 6 and sat at the same table the entire time. But I can still picture the classroom bookshelf and on the shelf just over my head sat a copy of Half Magic along with some other fantasy chapter books.

Half Magic is the first of the seven part Tales of Magic. Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha have moved to the countryside with their mother. As they are adjusting to a new life, they find a coin that's so warn out it only has half its magic. It takes some trial and error to learn how to properly use it.

In the meantime, they end up making a cat say nothing but "sick", travel to a far off land, and some other general mayhem. Its the first book I remember reading that had a "be careful what you wish for" plot. Among the ones I've read since then, it remains one of my favorites.

So recently I decided to revisit the book, this time as an audio. The book being only 192 pages, makes for a very short audio book, one that can be listened to over a couple hours. Though it works fine as an audio, I did find myself missing N.M. Bodecker's illustrations.

Four stars

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The Thingamabob: 12/19/14

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The Thingamabob by Il Sung Na is about an elephant and an umbrella. Imagine finding something and having no one to explain its purpose to you. That's the elephant's conundrum.

The umbrella isn't a boat. It isn't a parachute. It can't hide him. So what is it for?

It's a delightful book with the pay off being in the adorable illustrations. What sort of things can you think of that an umbrella might also be?

Five stars

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Miss Lina's Ballerinas: 12/18/14

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Miss Lina's Ballerinas by Grace Maccarone is about a ballet teacher and her eight students. They dance in two rows of four. That is until a ninth student joins the studio!

Maccarone's rhymes and word choice brings to mind the rhythm of Bemelman's Madeline. Combined with the soft almost impressionistic sketches by Christine Danvier and the homage is complete.

For children starting ballet or fans of Angelina Ballerina, the story uses a number of dancing terms. The children as they go through their day perform a number of different steps.

Next the book is good for children who might have a new child in their class. The eight girls are less than thrilled to have an extra person upsetting their routine. They stumble. They crash into each other. They burst into tears. That is until Miss Lina teaches them a new way to cooperate and a new way to dance.

Finally there's a small lesson in division. If eight can be divided into two groups of four, how can nine girls be evenly divided? Adults and older children will know the answer but for children just learning their number or just learning fractions or division, it's a good puzzle to figure out along with Miss Lina's students.

The book had many re-read requests at my house.

Five stars

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Small Steps: 12/17/14

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Small Steps by Louis Sachar is a companion piece to Holes. Theodore is home and wants to improve himself by taking "small steps." These steps include avoiding violence and getting rid of the nickname "Armpit." His only problem — X-Ray continues to be up to no good and is trying to drag him down.

Theodore's best friend is a learning disabled girl who lives next door. He wants to take her to a concert staring her favorite singer, Kaira DeLeon. X-Ray though messes things up and Theodore and his friend end up in a whole heap of trouble.

But as is so often the case in a Sachar book, trouble is always just the beginning. Bad things lead to tangents and magical moments.

It was nice to spend time again with "Armpit" and get to know him better as a strives to better himself. Although I had read Holes first, Small Steps stands alone just fine.

Five stars

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Elephants Cannot Dance!: 12/16/14

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Elephants Cannot Dance! by Mo Willems is the ninth in the Elephant and Piggie series. Piggie has taken up dance and tries to get Gerald to join her. He, though, is convinced that elephants can't dance. His efforts to join in seem to bear out his observation.

What mostly happens is that Gerald zigs when Piggie zags. I wonder if Gerald (or Piggie) is left handed (and footed) and the other isn't. Or perhaps, Gerald is dyslexic. Whatever is the cause of his inability to learn the moves is never revealed.

Since my daughter loves to dance and has been in two recitals, I expected her to love Elephants Cannot Dance! She didn't. If anything, she found the book confusing. There's a lot of dance humor that just went over her head.

Three stars

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The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Volume 1: 12/15/14

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The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell is the first part of the adaptation from novel to graphic novel. It's also the third version of this story I've read and the second one I've reviewed.

The Graveyard Book is a retelling of Rudyard's Kipling's Jungle Book. The location has been moved from the Indian jungle to an unnamed, but decidedly European, perhaps even British empire, town and the time period has been brought if not to the present, at least closer to it.

As the boy Mowgli was abandoned to the wolves, Nobody Owen, is abandoned to the graveyard up the hill from his home. Though Kipling leaves the reason behind the disappearance of Mowgli's parents to the imagination, Gaiman creates Jack, a hired hitman sent on a bloody mission for reasons later revealed.

On the dying wish of Bod's mother, the Owens take in the baby (shown in this version as a toddler). Just as Mowgli is given the ability to talk to the animals, starting first with the wolves, and later with Baloo the bear, and Bagheera the panther, Bod is given further access to the grave through Silas and Miss Lupescu.

As the relatively short book has been subdivided and expanded to accommodate Craig Russell's drawings, the pacing seems off. But in terms of the original Kipling book, which is a series of short stories spread across two volumes, it's more in tune. That leaves me a bit torn, because I like the rhythm of Gaiman's book and the way he lulls us into a false sense of security before unleashing the ghouls before the return of Jack.

Here, though, Bod as a teenager, going up against the danger that once tried to kill him (as another boy who lived), comes in the second volume.

Five stars

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Purple Springs: 12/14/14

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In the December email that John Mutford sends out at the start of each month to participants in his Canadian book challenge suggested that we should read a Nellie L. McClung book. He listed two titles: Sowing Seeds in Danny and The Second Chance as both are available online. I decided to see what I could get via my library and found Purple Springs via Link+.

My first impression of Purple Springs by Nellie L. McClung is that it's Anne of Avonlea for adults. At it's most basic it's about a young woman having returned from teaching college, ready to tackle her first year of teaching. After being rebuffed by her fiancé of three years, she sets off on the world of suffrage, temperance, and teaching.

Because she has the respect of the men around her, a good solid education, and enough self respect to withstand countless setbacks and rude statements, Pearl is able to say and do things that most women around her can't — or have stopped trying to.

According to the introduction, Purple Springs was inspired by the author's own time working in Winnipeg politics, in all the things her protagonist also works in. But as it's omniscient, third person fiction, she records the arguments for and against feminism with other characters, letting them sit there for the reader to sort out.

Along with campaign for women's rights, are the poetic descriptions of the harsh but beautiful prairie landscape. To this Californian, the landscape she paints is similar to central California but colder, darker, and snowier. Along with the harsh beauty is the isolation that many women and their children face: left alone during the winter months, with only the party line telephone.

The worst case is Mrs. Paine whose husband works in Winnipeg, leaving her and their son on the homestead with only the funds she can make from selling butter. He's trying to buy a hotel in the city but has given no thought to what his wife and son might want and with the law of the time, he can sell the house right out from under them and take the son with him without her input as she has no right to property or even her children.

Another woman, a widow and the owner of the eponymous ranch, pretends to be an unwed mother as its the only way to have legal rights as a parent over her son. Her father in law was willed the rights to the raising of her child when her husband was killed in a train derailment. It is better to withstand the ostracizing that comes with being an unwed mother than it is to lose her son to a man who barely knows her child and didn't approve of the marriage!

Five stars

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Bulldog's Big Day: 12/13/14

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Bulldog's Big Day by Kate McMullan and illustrated by Pascale Lemaitre is about a plucky bull dog who desperately needs a job. He's given a chance to try out a number of local jobs and has hilarious problems with each one.

I read this book with my children. They know I had been looking for a good full time position for two and a half years. Like Bulldog, I've had to find other things I'm good at and retool myself. For Bulldog, the secret is in his love of baking. For me, it's my love of books and information.

I think Bulldog's Big Day is a perfect book for parents who are looking for work to read with the children. It illustrates with humor the things adults looking for work in tough economic times might have to go through. It also offers hope.

Four stars

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Ballad: 12/12/14

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Ballad by Blexbolex is one of those books that's hard to pin down. For the purpose of the CYBILs, it is a graphic novel but that's merely a way of saying it's mostly illustrations and it's longer than a picture book.

But it's really more an art piece, an experiment in narrative structure, if you will. At it's most basic level, it's about a journey from home, to school and back again. But this story is told multiple times. Each time it's retold it becomes more complicated and more magical.

Looking beyond the initial story, it's also the tale of The Bandits. They look a bit like the Fox and Cat from Pinocchio and they appear throughout the book doing nefarious things. No matter what it is they are doing, they are listed simply as "The Bandits"

Along with the ever changing story is the ever changing text. The text being just a pair of words per page (usually an article and a noun), rendered in an a looping script, takes on the form of the story. When magic mysteriously turns the town upside down, the text too is inverted. When things are tossed about willy nilly, so are the letters. When things vanish, so does the text.

For an adult, Ballad is a fairly easy read — though one should take time to ponder how the story is told. For younger readers, the script might be difficult. For my daughter who is just now learning how to write and read cursive, Ballad's plot seemed secondary to the the emphasis it puts on testing readers on their ability to read cursive.

Four stars

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In Real Life: 12/11/14

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In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang is a graphic novel about MMORPGs. Anda, who loves video games is recruited to an all girl guild on Coarsegold Online. As long as she follows a few simple rules online (no bullying) and offline (no giving away personal information, no getting in the way of school work), then she can play.

Anda, though, has to find her way through the world of Corsegold and she is befriended by a bounty hunter. Sure, there's a chance to make real world money (thus breaking one of her mother's rules), but doing so, requires killing gold farmers (characters who do nothing but collect valuable items, rather than earning them through quests).

But Anda begins to see that there might be people behind the gold farmers. She gets curious — perhaps because she's such a new player herself. Thus begins her friendship with a particular gold farmer.

Online interactions come with consequences in the real world. That's the message here. In Real Life isn't a warning against women being bullied online, it's a more general story about how online communities can bring people together, for positive or negative results.

Five stars

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Bird & Squirrel on Ice: 12/10/14

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Bird & Squirrel on Ice by James Burks is the sequel to Bird & Squirrel on the Run Bird in his enthusiasm to fly south for the winter has taken himself and Squirrel all the way to Antartica, where they taken in by a village of penguins.

See, there's a prophesy about a flying warrior who will save the village from its orca master. The problem is, except for his flying abilities, Bird has no special abilities. Squirrel has the smarts to know the prophesy can't work the way they've been told. The chief's daughter, meanwhile, has the hunting prowess and bravery to actually fight the orca.

Bird & Squirrel on Ice is about heroism and prophesies and making them work with something better than blind faith. The action is as fast paced as the original, but with a more character and plot oriented story. The first one was a long string of gags, during which the two become friends. This time, the friendship well established, they can work together to do bigger and better things.

Five stars

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Up and Down: 12/09/14

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Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers is about a boy and his penguin. They like to play backgammon together but the penguin has bigger aspirations — he wants to fly. His desire to learn how to fly leads him down a strange path that ultimately takes him to the circus.

The illustrations are cute, done in a retro kitschy style. They carry the slapstick and emotion of the penguin trying to fly and the boy doing his darnest to help him learn. Finding the solution involves things like a balloon, an airplane, a trip to the zoo and a cannon.

Up and Down is the fourth and final book in The Boys series. The others are How to Catch a Star, Lost and Found, and The Way Home. This book stands alone just fine but I would like to read the others.

Five stars

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The Princess in Black: 12/08/14

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The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale is about a princess who lives a double life as a superhero. Princess Magnolia knows how to play the part expected of her: with a perfect castle, perfect decorum, and perfect attire. But she also knows how to give a helping hand, and how to protect her land and her people from invading monsters. She does this by dressing in black.

Princess Magnolia has a guest over, a very snoopy Duchess, who loves to put her nose in other people's business. The Duchess wants nothing more than to catch people acting out of place. But Magnolia also knows she has to do the right thing by her people, even if that means leaving mid tea party to stop a monster.

Rather than turn Princess Magnolia into either a knight (Adventures in Cartooning by James Strum (2009) or a modern day superhero, she's given a costume wonderfully similar to Zorro's. Not only does Magnolia transform, so does her unicorn.

As a fan of Zorro and a lover of stories with strong, capable women, I loved The Princess in Black. I am eagerly awaiting her further adventures.

Five stars

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Rich Cat, Poor Cat: 12/07/14

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Rich Cat, Poor Cat by Bernard Waber is the story of Scat the cat who spends her time on the streets imagining how life must be for the house cats she sees in the windows.

Much of the book then is a compare and contrast. Some cats do this, and Scat has to make do with that. For instance, some cats look out windows, smell roses, (basically the ultimate in catios), while Scat is stuck with cobblestones for a pillow. Some cats love getting petted and fondled — and so would Scat.

While not every stray cat — and I'm calling Scat a stray in lieu of feral because she clearly desires human companionship and is therefore socialized — has a happy ending, Scat does. There's a special someone, a cat companion, if you will, who has a place in her heart and her home for Scat the cat. They also give her a new name.

If you want a cat, I recommend checking out your local shelter.

Four stars

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Ollie and Claire: 12/06/14

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Ollie and Claire by Tiffany Strelitz Haber is about two dear friends who have their routine and love each other and the things they do together. Except Claire wants to expand her horizons and go on a trip. She desperately wants to take Ollie along except she's convinced herself that he won't want to go, so she tries to find a traveling companion, to hilarious and charming results.

After my daughter and I read this book together our conversation about the story evolved into a recollection of what it was like in the early days of dating her father. Ultimately this book isn't so much about the dangers of routine as it is the dangers of assuming you know what your nearest and dearest is always thinking.

Interlude whilst I wander down memory lane and get sentimental about mushy stuff. If you don't want to read it, you can stop here and know that I loved the book. Cute story. Cute illustrations.

Before I met the person who would ultimately become my spouse, I had the romantic, albeit naive, notion that whomever I met would be able to read me like a book and just know what I wanted. We would just be on the same page. Oh silly, silly me. People don't work that way.

After a very frustrating walk to the cliffs to watch the sunset my boyfriend of all of about two months — maybe — rightfully snapped, "I can't read minds!" And while that's not exactly what Claire learns in this book, it's close. Her lesson is more like, don't assume Ollie doesn't like to travel just because you've never seen him go anywhere. Or perhaps, ask before you assume.

Five stars

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Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale: 12/05/14

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Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale by Charles de Lint is the follow up / companion piece to The Cats of Tanglewood Forest. A mother and her seven daughters move to a home on a hill, where their only nearby neighbor is an older woman, presumed to be a witch.

Sarah Jane is the one sister who believes all the tales of faeries and magic told about the forest. She's desperate to meet a faerie and doesn't realize how dangerous such a wish could possibly be.

Things go awry when Sarah Jane rescues a little wooden man, thus taking sides in an ages long faerie battle. Soon she finds family in the middle of the battle as her sisters are kidnapped by opposing sides.

It's a fairly standard faerie war story but it's rendered down to a tightly told story, taking less than 300 pages. Text wise, it's probably only 200 pages but the book is filled with the lovely watercolor illustrations of Charles Vess (who has illustrated a number of Neil Gaiman's books and graphic novels).

Four stars

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Wild Ocean: 12/04/14

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Wild Ocean edited by Matt Dembicki is an anthology of short comics about oceanography and marine biology. Topics covered include: sea turtles, sea horses, manatees, among others.

Like Trickster each story involves a different author and artist. How well one likes this type of book depends on how well one knows the topics covered. For me, Wild Ocean works on so many more levels than Trickster and much of that comes down a better working knowledge of marine biology.

There's a lot of humor tucked in with the educational aspects. There is the sea turtle who is controlled by its passengers. There is a rough and tumble manatee, feared by all the younger ones, who is in love with a pirate.

Five stars

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Dragon Girl: The Secret Valley: 12/03/14

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Dragon Girl: The Secret Valley by Jeff Weigel is about a girl doing her best to protect a clutch of dragons. Alanna lives in a valley where dragons are feared, dangerous creatures. They are hunted to protect the people but what if they aren't the vicious monsters the knights will have everyone believe?

Alanna stumbles upon a nest of dragon hatchlings. Believing them to be orphaned, she decides to do what she can to keep them safe, including making a dragon costume so they won't imprint on her. Unfortunately, her disguise is so good that she is mistaken for a dragon hatchling herself.

Much like How to Train Your Dragon 2, Alanna's adventures opens her world up to a different one where dragons are intelligent, social, caring creatures. She is introduced to an explorer who cares for the dragons in the same way she does.

Dragon Girl is a collection of fantasy and steampunk. There are knights and dirigibles. The explorer's dirigible is well thought out and by far my favorite part of the book. I would to experience more adventures upon it.

Unfortunately, the major characters all seem to take turns holding the idiot ball. While I realize the book is aimed at children, it's still lazy plotting to rely on characters being suddenly unable to figure out some basic things just to move the story along.

Four stars

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Through the Woods: 12/02/14

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Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is a collection of short stories that are in the tradition of the uncensored brothers Grimm. Most specifically, they are drawn from the Little Red Riding Hood tale because: "the WOLF only needs enough luck to find you ONCE."

These stories, though, are not about young, beautiful women being captured or devoured by monsters. These women, though in the path of danger, are dangerous themselves, and capable of calling on their inner strengths to rescue themselves and those around them.

My favorite example from the book is the story of a brother taking his bookish sister to the lake house of his financée's family. The girlfriend tries to befriend the sister but she can see right through the ruse, seeing through to the monster that lies beneath.

Four stars

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BirdCatDog: 12/01/14

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BirdCatDog by Lee Nordling is a mostly wordless (the only words being at the start and finish of the book) graphic novel about a bird, a cat, and a dog. Or rather, it's three parallel but interconnected, mostly wordless, graphic novels: one about a bird, one about a cat, and one about a dog.

At the top of each page is the story of the bird, done in shades of sky blue. In the middle, is the story of the cat, done in shades of green. At the bottom is the story of the dog, done in oranges and reds.

The bird's story is one of flight, beginning with the escape from the birdcage hanging near an open window. With freedom, though, comes responsibility and danger. The bird soon finds itself being chased from below by the cat and from above by a bird of prey. The bird then must weigh the exhilaration of freedom against the guaranteed survival of captivity.

The cat, being a cat, can't help but go after the bird. In the process of being caught up in the thrill of the chase, it overlooks its own dangers (the dog for example). And like all cats, it knows how to lick its wounds nonchalantly when things don't turn out as expected.

Finally there's the dog who wants nothing but to get out of the backyard. But once free, there's more to do (like chase the cat and bark at the dog). It too finds the woods to be far more than expected.

As this short graphic novel progresses, more and more of the threads intertwine. There are other characters too who join in the fray. And at the end, the book asks the same question as the beginning: who is the hero of the story? Is it the bird? the cat? The dog? Or maybe one of the other characters introduced. As the book is so open ended, that answer is left up to the interpretation (and mood) of the reader.

Four stars

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