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January 2015

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



My Little Round House: 01/31/15

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My Little Round House by Bolormaa Baasansunen follows baby Jilu through her first year. Her year is defined by her yurt and the seasons.

Jilu is born in winter. She knows the warmth of the furs, the smell of the cook pot, and the circular shape of the family home.

As the seasons progress the family moves. Jilu explores the world outside her home as she grows. Soon it is time for winter again.

The book is a nice introduction to the Mongolian culture as well as the seasons. If used in a classroom setting, children could be asked to compare their own home and family life and how the seasons affect what happens at home.

Three stars

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Zoobiquity: 01/30/15

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There's a divide in medicine that separates veterinary and human medicine. Zoobiquity by Barbara Matterson-Horrowitz looks at some of the lessons human doctors have learned from veterinary medicine.

Each chapter covers a different medical topic that ties a veterinary lesson and its application to human medicine. The repeated lesson is that both medical sciences do benefit when there is collaboration between the two.

But there's still reluctance to collaborate, or just an outright blindness to similar work being done in the other field.

Three stars

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Clockwork Game: 01/29/15

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Clockwork Game by Jane Irwin is a historical graphic novel about Wolfgang von Kempelen and his chess playing machine which was the hoax of the eighteenth century. Von Kempelen made a career for himself by putting his machine against different chess players, usually defeating them. But even from his early days, he had his naysayers who could see it was a hoax but couldn't figure out how exactly the trick worked.

The book opens after Kempelen's death as a man in Boston has taken possession of the machine and hopes to restore it. As he tries to figure out how the machine works (it doesn't, and never did) we are treated to its history.

It's eventually revealed that the trick is an elaborate blending of puppetry and contortion. The chess playing Turk was essentially the same set up as modern day Oscar the Grouch. Everything that Kempelen did was misdirection from the man or woman hiding inside playing on behalf of the machine.

While the book isn't 100% historically accurate, the author includes an afterword outlining the changes she made in adapting the story to a graphic novel format.

Five stars

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Kosher Nation: 01/28/15

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Kosher Nation by Sue Fishkoff is an exploration of the kosher food industry. Like Mary Roach (Gulp [link]), Fishkoff organizes her book into a series of related topics.

While keeping kosher is a cornerstone of Judaism, not all Jews keep kosher. And those who purchase and eat kosher products aren't necessarily Jewish.

What was once a practice kept within the Jewish community, has expanded well beyond those bounds. The growing Jewish populations within urban areas combine with the rise in mass produced foods created both a need and a method for mass producing kosher food products.

As quantity increased, the kosher products expanded beyond their core, target demographic. Would any self respecting business owner try to stop that? Of course not. Quite the opposite.

Kosher Nation has three parts: the history of kosher food production in the United States, the reasons why non-Jews would have a vested interested in consuming kosher products, and finally, how businesses are now trying to court both markets.

Three stars

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The Art of How to Train Your Dragon 2: 01/27/15

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The Art of How to Train Your Dragon 2 by Linda Sunshine is a folio highlighting the artistic process behind the film. It's a full color, glossy affair.

The reproduced artwork is gorgeous and something any fan of the film will probably enjoy being able to linger over. There are photographs of the inspiration behind the the landscapes and sets. There are comparisons with the old film to see how characters were aged for the new one.

The unfortunate part of this book, though, is the conflict between the luscious artwork and the tiny text for the captions. The book needs to be read under good lighting, or with a magnifying glass, and there's no excuse for that. The book is huge. All it would have taken would be slight larger type face or some white space behind the text blocks.

Three stars

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The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession: 01/26/15

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The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf outlines the correlation between the American colonies and the rise of modern botany. She does this by following the correspondence and commerce between a colonist and a British gardener. There is also mention of the arrogant but often right Lineas as well as the Bounty's botanical adventure to Tahiti.

At the time I read the book I was in the midst of a difficult but fascinating cataloging course. So my take-aways from the book are based around cataloging. Botany is rooted in classification of plants and flowers. It's a way to describe something that might be shipped as a seed, a cutting, a fruit or dried flowers.

The "new world" was filled with unusual and exotic plants that were in high demand back especially on the British estates that were trying to recreate the colonial wilderness in their stately gardens. Shipping entire living plants was a difficult and expensive venture. Seeds worked better if the garden could be made to mimic the expected climate and soil conditions.

It was an interesting look at a specific time in history. The illustrations are good. The asides are fascinating but sometimes long winded.

Three stars

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Eliot Porter: In the Realm of Nature: 01/25/15

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In the summer of 2013 I read an article bemoaning the artistic divide between professional / artistic photographers and hobbyists who share their work primarily online. The gist of the article was that most hobbyists can't name a single photographer whose work is in a gallery or museum.

At the same time (coincidence? or perhaps a librarian responding to the article?) my local library put together a display of books about famous photographers as wells as history books on photography movements and techniques.

Eliot Porter: In the Realm of Nature by Paul Mortineau and Michael Brune is a retrospective of the artwork of a man who studied under Ansel Adams and used his techniques to make color photography a recognized and legitimate art form.

Porter's main passion was bird watching. Along with perfecting the craft of capturing colors on film, he worked at techniques to get naturalistic shots of birds in their habitats. His elaborate set ups in trees that could accommodate his bulky camera equipment without spooking the birds are the precursor to the repurposed ducklings used by Thomas D. Mangelsen (review coming).

Porter also took photographs of rocks, leaves, grass and other natural odds and ends. If anything, I no longer feel silly hiding on my balcony trying to snap shots of the chickadee who loves to tell me off. Nor do I feel silly about stopping to shoot a stray leaf or an odd tuft of grass.

Five stars

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Reading a Japanese Film: Cinema in Context: 01/24/15

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We are a family of anime watchers. I would hazard a guess that three quarters of what we watch is anime. Recently we've gone through a run of very surreal series. And that got my husband and me talking about what cultural influences might be behind these abstract series.

Long story short, a Google Book search brought up an interesting chapter about My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro). While not exactly on topic for the conversation on hand, it was still too tempting a snipet to leave unread. So I found a copy via Link+ and voilá!

Reading a Japanese Film: Cinema in Context by Keiko I. McDonald is a beginner's guide to understanding some key Japanese films, though not necessarily the most famous ones. These essays aren't exactly film theory in that there's a lot of time spent in these essays just describing the action on the screen, rather than putting those things into a larger perspective or cultural reading.

Along with the essays, though, there is a introduction and a conclusion that offers the history of Japanese cinema. The historical perspective is where this book excels. I wish there was more history and less attempt at film analysis.

So back to the original question: is there a tie between the French avant-garde and modern day anime? Yes, along with American, German, and Russian, because Japan has repeatedly sent filmmakers overseas to learn from other industries. But to answer the question is there a specific chain of influence between the recent anime we've watched and France, this isn't the book.

Three stars

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Skippyjon Jones: 01/23/15

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Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner is the first in a twenty book picture book series about a Siamese kitten who looks like a Chihuahua and thinks he's one too. His mother cat, though, isn't convinced.

Skippyjon Jones lives in a perpetual fantasy world where he is convinced he's a small yapping dog who speaks Spanish. Except he's a small, delusional kitten, who according to Jane H. Hill, speaks Mock Spanish.

As a series, the Skippyjon Jones books have even inspired a masters thesis on its repeated use of Mock Spanish (Analyzing the use and function of Mock Spanish in the picture book collection Skippyjon Jones by Alicia Juncos Zori).

So far I've read exactly two of the books, the first and the last (Cirque de Olé). I found the Mock Spanish more prevalent in the latest book as the focus was on Skippyjon Jones joining a flea circus. And of course, the fleas spoke the pseudo Spanish of Speedy Gonzalez of the 1950s Warner Bros. cartoons (the most recent iteration actually speaks both fluent Spanish and English).

I think Skippyjon Jones in the first book was supposed to be more about a child's (or in this case, kitten's) over active imagination and the silliness of a cat trying to be a dog. What it seems to have become over the course of the series is a tale of a misappropriation of culture.

For this first book, though, I'm still giving it a high rating because by itself it's about play and imagination, and not the "humorous" sounds of Mock Spanish.

Three stars

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Shopaholic Takes Manhattan: 01/22/15

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Originally published as Shopaholic Abroad, Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella is the sequel to Confessions of a Shopaholic. Rebecca Bloomwood, now dating financial mogul, Luke Brandon, feels like she finally has her life under control. Her debts are paid, she has a great career on television, and she has a boyfriend most everyone is envious of. But all that changes when he invites her on a business trip to Manhattan.

Manhattan isn't London. Although Luke has ties (his mother), Rebecca's in for a bit of culture shock. Free time and the chance of a new career in New York, brings out the worst of her impulses. A complete in ability (or at least unwillingness) to convert pounds to dollars further exacerbates the situation.

At home in London, thinks aren't all golden either. Rebecca learns first hand about the ephemeral nature of public reputation. So much merit is placed on exaggerated moral behavior — usually with more of the onus placed on women. Rebecca's exuberance for the finest things available in Manhattan is used in an attempt to bring down Luke Brandon.

I'll be up front here, I don't like Luke. Even with the added melodrama of his cold mother, I'm not sold on him as the right one for Rebecca. I was really hoping that Luke would crash and burn. Oh well.

Four stars

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Magic by the Lake: 01/21/15

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Magic by the Lake by Edward Eager is the third of the Tales of Magic series but the moral sequel to Half Magic. It's only a few weeks after the end of the sibling's first adventures, and now they are being whisked away to a lake for summer vacation with their mother and new step-father.

The children, desperate to avoid a boring summer of swimming and nature hikes, look for anything magical. Their prayers are answered in the form of an annoying, and officious turtle. The turtle's magic is their access to a summertime of adventures.

As it's a lake, most of these new adventures are water related: mermaids and pirates, and a rather unfortunate chapter with island savages. Then near the end, the book takes a preverbal left turn at Albuquerque and does some completely unexpected and extremely satisfying time travel.

Thematically I'd say this book is most like Drift House by Dale Peck, except without the underlying depressing subtext of a post-911 America. The children's adventures here aren't as an escape from real world terror.

Five stars

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The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared: 01/20/15

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During the 2014 D Day celebrations, the news story that most people were talking about was that of an 89 year old pensioner who had gone missing from his retirement home only to show up in Normandy to partake in the events. Thankfully he didn't get into any trouble or go on any sort of murder spree.

I bring him up because his escapade is very similar to the opening chapter of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. Allan Karlsson decides he's had enough of living in his retirement home and decides to make a break for it, minutes before the start of this hundredth birthday celebration.

But Allan can't just go on his own. He decides to swipe the suitcase of a local criminal. That is the first and least heinous of Allan's crimes. Along the way he picks up a few likeminded compatriots — all of whom share in Allan's new found fortune and uncanny knack for violent crime.

Now if this book took place solely in the present, with Allan as a centenarian, I would be singing its praises. It doesn't. Instead it gets bogged down in Allan's remarkable backstory, one in which Allan ends up meeting everyone important from each big event of the twentieth century. Allan's backstory is LONG, improbable, and boring as all get out. It's clearly padding for a story that would have otherwise been a delightfully Edward Gorey-esque novella.

Two stars

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An Armadillo in Paris: 01/19/15

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An Armadillo in Paris by Julie Kraulis is a picture book about an Arlo the armadillo traveling to Paris to see the sites described by his grandfather, Augustin. His ultimate goal is to meet the Iron Lady.

The tour through town takes the Armadillo to a famous cafe, the Louvre and walking along the Seine. Each stop along the way teaches Arlo one more thing about the Iron Lady. For instance, she changes her colors every seven seven years.

Maybe it's because of where I live. Or maybe it's because I've watched A Monster in Paris a dozen times recent months, but I got the clues straight away and the clue about changing colors every seven years was the clincher.

If want to meet the Iron Lady too, follow along with Arlo as he figures out his grandfather's clues.

Five stars

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Mog's Christmas: 01/18/15

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Mog's Christmas by Judith Kerr is the sequel to Mog the Forgetful Cat. This is a great book fans of the recent A Very Fuddles Christmas looking for another book involving a cat confused by Christmas.

Mog's territory is once again being invaded. This time it's by a giant tree, and decorations, and presents. What's a cat to do but run away! Or in Mog's case, climb onto the roof to wait things out.

In all my years of having Christmas in a home with a cat or two, I've never had a cat on the roof. I did have one cat who fell off the balcony and got lost during a barbecue. The point though is that change can be hard on cats. They have a reputation for being aloof but they really can be put off their game during the holidays, or if there are house guests.

Four stars

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Xander's Panda Party: 01/17/15

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Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park is a story of friendship and a birthday party. Xander wants to have a panda party for his birthday but he's the only one. So he tries to expand his list to the bears. But as the koala points out, he's not a bear. Xander needs to weigh the importance of friendship with the logistics of party planning.

Matt Phelan's (The Storm in the Barn, and Bluffton) illustrations bring to mind Jon J. Muth's books about Stillwater the panda (Zen Shorts, Zen Ties).

Except Xander Panda is more like the Panda from the anime series, Polar Bear Cafe. He's enthusiastic, goofy, and prone to making quick decisions, that later need to be reworked.

Five stars

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The Rise of Aurora West: 01/16/15

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The Rise of Aurora West by Paul Pope is a prequel or companion piece to Battling Boy and The Death of Haggard West, two graphic novels I haven't read. I read book three as part of the CYBILs.

So bear in mind this "review" is one written on an incomplete understanding of oeuvre. Many of my objections probably stem from those gaps. According to the blurb, it's actually a prequel, but I have a feeling that most of the stage was set with the previous books.

Aurora West is learning how to fight along side her father to defend the city from monsters. They live in a city that at one time was normal — meaning it was like our world, full of mundane routine, various forms of entertainment, and things in between. Now though, the city is in ruins and over run with monsters. Therefore Aurora's life is one of training and fighting and wondering what happened to her mother.

The latter half of the book is focused on Aurora trying to track down the truth behind her mother's death. In this regard, I was reminded of Generator Rex, where Rex is trying to understand what happened to parents and how their research was responsible for the event that changed the world.

Now Aurora's superhero / scientist father is apparently Acropolis's best bet for defeating the monsters. But he's presented as a bit of a blowhard. Maybe he's trying to protect his daughter, or maybe he's just an ass. His barrel shape character design and tendency to lecture, though, made me think of Jack Fenton (Danny Phantom).

Anyway, I wasn't blown away with the female hero in training. It was disappointing that her reason for becoming on was because of her mother's tragic death. That's too often the motivation for young women to rise above the "gender norms" to become something strong or heroic.

Two stars

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Sea Change: 01/15/15

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Sea Change by Aimee Friedman is a young adult paranormal romance that draws on the legends of the selkie. Miranda and her mother have moved to Selkie island to the ancestral home.

Miranda is thrust into a society built on generations of tradition and a rigid class structure. She is expected to understand. Except, she doesn't, but it's apparent that her mother does and for reasons she keeps to herself, she doesn't readily share them with Miranda.

Into this mix is the handsome outcast, Leo. Rumor has it that he's a selkie. To make all of this work, Miranda must learn the island's history and her family's dark secrets.

Four stars

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Scored: 01/14/15

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Standardized tests and GPA determines in part a person's opportunities for higher education. Scored by Lauren McLaughlin takes those unfortunate facts to their dystopian conclusions.

Imani is a high school student with a high enough score that she can go to any college she wants and her entire education will be paid for. Her best friend though has been on a downward spiral.

Recently some creditors have taken to watching the social interactions of their potential customers. Those who socialize on Facebook with others with low credit scores, might be turned down for a loan. The idea is that like minded people stick together. So someone who is friends with a bankrupt person is likely to go bankrupt too. That's the theory.

In Scored, these social interactions are watched too. When Imani's best friend's score dips to low and Imani continues to be her friend (against all the advice of friends, family and teachers) her score plummets too.

With her near perfect score gone, Imani's life takes a turn for the worse. Once this happens, though, Scored's plot does its best to hit all the after school special topics. You'll either like that it does, or you won't.

Three stars

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Humbug Witch: 01/13/15

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Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian is about a young witch who is frustrated because her spells don't work. It's perfect for children who love to play dress up and turn it into an all day affair.

This little witch has everything she needs; the hat, the broom, the shoes, and the hair. But none of her spells work and she can't make her broom fly.

With this sort of set up, the punch line is usually a try-try-again type moral. Here though, at the end of day, the little witch pulls off her witchy attire one piece at a time as she gets ready for bed. Underneath all that, there's a little girl who has a big imagination and is tired out from a full day of play.

Five stars

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Jumpstart the World: 01/12/15

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Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde is a YA about a teen, Elle, living on her own because her mother's boyfriend doesn't want her at home. She's taken under the wing of her neighbors, Frank and Molly. She eventually learns (after developing a crush on Frank) that's he's transgender. And (as these transgender themed books usually seem to go), her life is turned upside down.

Honestly, the the bigger issue here is a teenager being forced out of her home by an abusive boyfriend, and a mother not being able to see that. Elle is forced to do a lot of growing up just so she can survive on her own while still managing to stay in school.

Then there's all too perfect, crush-worthy Frank. Elle perceives him as gentle, caring and willing to listen. These attributes have nothing to do with Frank being trans. No, these are signs that Frank, unlike her messed up mother and would-be step-father, is a normal, caring, well-adjusted human being.

As seems required by these sorts of books, Elle myst go through a chapter or three of freak out. Does her crush signify something about her sexuality or gender that she's not been previously aware of? For a kid living on her own, I doubt she'd really have the time or energy to spend on this level of a freak out. But having Elle just roll with it, I guess, would have been too dull.

Sigh.

Four stars

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Freak Show: 01/11/15

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Freak Show by James St. James is about a gay teenager with a unique fashion sense, being relocated from a liberal eastern seaboard school to a hyper-conservative prep-school in Florida.

Billy Bloom, the protagonist, narrates in a first person, stream of consciousness that's similar to many a tween or YA book featuring a young woman looking for first love and greater freedom from her over protective or overly weird parents.

Bill though, being (or trying to be) as out and proud as as he is, where he is, runs the threat of personal harm that usually doesn't appear in the female heterosexual YA books (even though that danger does exist in real life). Of the ones I've read, Behaving Like Adults by Anna Maxted, albeit an adult book, comes closet to being an equivalent.

That said, I found the tone somewhat jarring. It never really settled on either being a comedy or a drama. Nor did it balance the two swings of the pendulum to be a dramady.

Three stars

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Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir: 01/10/15

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Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince is about the author's childhood and early teens. Liz Prince as a child hated dresses, loved baggy masculine clothing, Ghostbusters (and its spin-off cartoon series), and baseball among other things.

Despite the bullying, Tomboy is a very upbeat, funny read. It's aimed at a young adult readership but it's popular too with younger readers. Yes, the book has swearing and smoking in it, but these things were part of the author's childhood.

Liz thankfully had an understanding family but she still faced teasing at school for refusing dress as other girls did. Now, to me, Liz's childhood and tomboyishness seems completely normal. While I'm about eight years older than she is, we share similar tastes in clothing, sports and movies/cartoons. I didn't, however, have any Ghostbusters toys (but I do now have the comics).

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In fact people who know me and have read Tomboy have joked that I could secretly be Liz Prince. I'm not but I think she and I would have been friends growing up.

Five stars

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Hark! A Vagrant: 01/09/15

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Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton is a collection of her webcomics in print form. When the book was first published (2011) I was following the webcomic semi-regularly when Google Reader was still a thing.

The comics are three panel comics that go for a few sets in a theme before moving onto the next thing. These are running gags, or variations on a theme.

Now as a semi-regularly read webcomic, these on going gags are funny. Read back to back in print form, the gags do become repetitive. As I was reading a library book in the course of a weekend of reading before the start of reading for the CYBILs, I didn't give myself enough time between themes.

Three stars

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Clive Eats Alligators: 01/08/15

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Clive Eats Alligators by Alison Lester is about Clive and his friends. It follows them through the day as they go through their routines: breakfast, getting dressed, playing, doing their hobbies, taking care of their pets and so forth.

Each stop in the day highlights something about the four friends. Their choices throughout the day shows their character, showing how the are like their friends and how they are unique.

The alligators Clive eats are a sugary children's cereal. It's one of the many ways he celebrates his love of alligators. Clive and his friends remind me of my children's group of friends. They're so diverse in their backgrounds and likes. It's nice to see that celebrated in a children's book in a believable and charming way.

Five stars

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Giants Beware!: 01/07/15

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Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre won the 2013 CYBILS in the middle grade graphic novels category. Claudette wants to be a giant slayer even though her blacksmith father lost both legs and arm in the slayer business. Meanwhile, her brother Gaston wants to be a pastry chef. The only person who believes in Charlotte's dreams is her princess in training friend, Marie.

Jorge Aguirre and illustrator Rafael Rosado populate the pages of Giants Beware! with a diverse cast, but it takes a while for the characters to come into their own as individuals, rather than trope reversals. For me, the set up of Claudette as the tough girl who wants to a hunter / slayer needed to get going quicker.

The best parts of the plot and characterization don't really surface until Charlotte finally heads out on her quest to find and slay the giant. The initial introduction to her, her family, friends and village needs to be about half the length it is.

I still though, do feel the book is deserving of its CYBILs award for its positive portrayal of diverse characters, as well as the overall message of taking time to listen — even to one's enemy. That lesson, though, is a hard one for Charlotte to learn.

Three stars

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The Golden Twine: 01/06/15

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The Golden Twine by Jo Rioux is the first book in the Cat's Cradle graphic novel series. In it, Suri, a member of a traveling carnival, wants more than anything to be a monster tamer. When takes something valuable from the catsith (werecats), she must quickly prove herself as a monster tamer.

Rioux's panels have the rich colors of the reissued (colored) Bones books. Her characters fit into their setting and the world feels like a coherent place. By itself, The Golden Twine is a good adventure story with a strong female lead and interesting villains who are more than just evil.

As others have mentioned, the ebook version for review on NetGalley had some technical issues with incomplete lettering on some pages, making following the dialogue difficult in places. I would like to see it in its complete form someday.

Four stars

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Afoot on St. Croix: 01/05/15

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Afoot on St. Croix by Rebecca M. Hale is the second of the Mystery in the Islands series. Though marketed as a mystery series, these books really aren't classic mysteries in any of sub-genres. There isn't a crime in the first act and there isn't a criminal caught in the third act. But Hale's other series, Cats and Curios falls into the caper category, so these too are sold as mysteries.

The other interesting thing about the Mystery in the Islands series is that each book is a stand alone. Normally in a series, there's a recurring protagonist sleuth — often someone working in a different field (professional detectives like Sherlock Holmes being a very rare breed).

Charlie Baker is back on St. Croix to see his children one last time. He and his wife (against her will) had moved to the island with their children about ten years ago. She had then divorced him and kept the kids on the island. In all that time he has been writing the letters and not hearing anything in return. But he has the feeling that this will be his lucky break.

As with all her books, Hale switches points of view, giving a chance for the reader to see events from all the major, and sometimes even the minor ones (see my review of How to Moon a Cat for examples). This time it's a mixture of Charlie and his wife's points of view, their children, with the present and past mixed together. Thus the mystery is in the challenge of finding out what happened when and what's going on now.

Although Hale's books are put in the cozy section of the mysteries, in Afoot on St. Croix and in How to Paint a Cat, she has revealed a darker side. There's a thriller writer lurking, waiting to pounce. This book closes on such a shocker that I felt like the final chapters had been ghostwritten by the late Patricia Highsmith or Daphne Du Maurier.

Five stars

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Aw Yeah Comics! And... Action!: 01/04/15

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Aw Yeah Comics! And... Action! by Art Baltazar chronicles the superhero adventures of Action Cat and Action Bug and their female counter parts. Action Cat and Action Bug (the male ones) work in a comic book store when they're not fighting crime. The female superheroes are semi regular customers of the shop. And yet neither pair seems to realize the others' secret identities.

One of the villains is Evil Cat who has his own bug (or ghost bug) partner. He wants to take over the city and be taken seriously as a super villain. It's not going as well as he'd like. But he tries.

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I'd recommend this book to readers who are fans of superheroes and cats. There's a healthy dose of humor and very little in the way of violence.

Four stars

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Explorer: The Hidden Doors: 01/03/15

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Explorer: The Hidden Doors by Kazu Kibuishi is the third graphic novel anthology in the series. The other two are The Mystery Boxes and The Lost Islands. This one contains seven short comic adventures based on the theme of a hidden door.

The Hidden Doors contains works by Kazu Kibuishi (of the Amulet series), Jen Wang (Koko Be Good), Faith Erin Hicks (Zombies Calling), Doug Holgate (Zack Proton) and others.

My favorite of the set is the one done by Kibuishi. It involves a chase through a series of doors, a la the climax in Monsters Inc. The nature of these doors though is something very different and very personal.

My next favorite is a treehouse in a park that gives children the opportunity to change themselves as many times as they want. The fun here is just how many of kids have discovered this secret place without letting on that they know.

Four stars

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Teacher: 01/02/15

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Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner is a treatise on teaching disadvantaged children based on a career of working with Maori children. I came across this book in my metadata cleanup at work.

Ashton-Warner describes in her book techniques she used to get reluctant readers, reading. Rather than using the same text book — text books in her case that were often imported from Great Britain — she customized her primers.

She had the radical (and I mean this in the revolutionary sense) idea of asking children which words they wanted to learn how to read and write. The sad thing is that the words many of the children chose were violent ones: ones associated with guns, domestic violence, alcohol, and the other ills that come with poverty and oppression.

For the older readers, Ashton-Warner encouraged her children to write their own stories. These were often done on the blackboard. The stories were then erased at the end of the week, allowing students to start fresh the next week.

But these reading and writing tips are only the first third of the book. The remainder is a mixture of her thoughts on teaching Maori children vs. white children. Unfortunately her observations fall into the idiotic cliches, and it appears despite her years of working with the Maori and learning their language, she never quite got to thinking of them as people — as neighbors, as equals.

Four stars

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Murder under Cover: 01/01/15

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Murder under Cover by Kate Carlisle is the fourth of the Bibliophile mystery series. Brooklyn's best friend Robin asks her to appraise and repair a potentially rare copy of the Kama Sutra. But the book proves to be dangerous from the very beginning.

As is Brooklyn's curse, people end up dead whenever she's working on a particularly interesting or valuable book. This time it's Robin's sexy one-night-stand. Then it appears Robin's in danger too.

This series goes for violent, bloody deaths. The first one is especially gruesome. But these crimes are also becoming rather predictable — especially in their timing.

And this time before the first crime even happens, the set up is so blatantly obvious that I knew right from the beginning what would be setting off the crime spree. But this is one detail that's overlooked by the main characters until it's time to crank up the drama in the third act.

I still like the series for the book binding details. I hope in later books that the formula will be mixed up a bit. This book didn't have any sort of red herring, misdirection or spare details. Eventually the predictability will drag down the entertainment derived from the book geekery.

Three stars

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