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February 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

Big Hairy Drama: 02/28/15

cover artBig Hairy Drama by Aaron Reynolds is the second of the Joey Fly Private Eye graphic novel mysteries. This time Joey Fly and his young assistant are hired to find a missing actress. Can she be found before the opening performance?

Joey Fly and his assistant learn how theaters work and how plays are put on. Tucked into the traditions and mechanics of putting on a play are the clues for finding the Diva.

There are also the same ridiculous bug related puns from the first book as well as the nod to the hard boiled detective genre. I found all the pieces came together into a tighter and more enjoyable story than the original.



Five stars

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101 Things I Hate About Your House: 02/27/15

cover art101 Things I Hate About Your House by James Swan is supposed to be a humorous guidebook through "the mistakes we all make" as we try to decorate our homes. Except it's none of the above. So here is a brief list of things I hate about this book.

  1. It's written in an over the top style that obiviously meant to appeal to upper middle class straight folk who expect their interior designers to a) be gay men and b) talk a certain way.
  2. Ever listen to actual home remodeling / decorating talk? It's a dull mixture of regulations, material choices, colors, and prices. If no prices are listed (as in this book), you can't afford (and probably don't want to!) the services offered.
  3. Homes come in all shapes and sizes but you'd never guess that from this book.
  4. Homes are for the people who live in them. I'm not going to feel guilty over not doing things "right" just on this dude's say so (or anyone else's).

I could go on but the basic shtick of this awful book is that the reader is too stupid and too un-fabulous to host anyone until doing everything in this book just-so. If you don't or can't, you're a terrible, barbarian of a host or hostess.



One star

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Unthinkable: 02/26/15

cover artUnthinkable by Nancy Werlin is the sequel to Impossible. The original woman who has been cursed for centuries to live as the plaything of the faeries has been given an opportunity for freedom now that curse has been broken.

To gain her freedom and her mortality, she has to betray the safety of her family three times. To do this, she is sent to live with Lucy, her husband and their daughter. Sounds like a hokey set up but I was willing to play along.

Basically this one is a time travel and family betrayal story. Time travel from the past to the present plots are often fraught with problems. The goal is to show how modern life is today. This is often done by showing how confusing modern day contraptions are. But these scenes are often played for humor. Yet if a modern day person is sent either direction in time, usually that protagonist is show as being able to figure everything out.

So we have Frenella the originally cursed who has watched "countless generations" of her daughters succumb to the curse. Presumably she's watched other aspects of life too. But no, she gets confused by all sorts of things. So much of the first half of the book is wasted on her doting family explaining modern life to her that I just had to stop.

It was such a disappointment after the other two Werlin books I've read.



One star

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Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo: 02/25/15

cover artMy husband heard about Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo by Obert Skye and was curious to read it. As we had a road trip coming up, I borrowed the audio version, performed by E.B. Stevens (the narrator of the Fablehaven audio books).

The book is about three refugees from the land of Foo who together can either be the land's salvation or its destruction. In comic book fashion, we're given three origin stories to see how the three unlikely heroes have ended up in Burnt Culvert, Oklahoma. Most of the book is spent in uniting these three before they can set off on the quest to stop the Foovian hell bent on giving all of Foo a chance to return to Earth.

The titular character is Leven, an orphan left in the care of his mother's half sister and her lazy husband. Winter is a changeling, left in the care of a mother not at all interested in being a parent. No mention is made as to the fate of exchanged baby. Finally, there's Geth (who Stevens pronounces as Gef), once a king and now through the power of "Fate", a walking, talking tooth pick.

There are a number of distractions with this book. As this is an audio, the first and foremost, is the performance. I'm not a fan of Stevens's odd over enunciation of words or how often he mispronounces words.

Secondly, there's there's the over use of FATE. Throughout the book Leven and Winter are reluctant to blindly follow the orders of Clover — a catlike creature who is somewhere between a house elf and Jar Jar Binks. Yes, he's that annoying, and yes, I was imagining all sorts of painful fates for him. Anyway, whenever Leven or Winter don't want to listen, Clover and Geth sit back and smugly tell them to trust in FATE. And of course, FATE steps in, because it is the deus ex machina of the book for every single time the author writes himself into a corner.

As FATE is the ten thousand pound gorilla in this fantasy, there's not much room left for bravery or bravado on the part of either Leven or Winter. All these characters have to do is be transported from point A to point B. Leven is especially prone to just being carted around — at times being frozen and at other times, drugged by Clover.

Finally there's Foo. This is the land of dreams, where people who are unlucky enough to be at a crossroads under extraordinary circumstances, are sucked into Foo. While those who come out of Foo describe it as the most wonderful and important place ever, I am tempted to side with Sabine who was one of these stolen children and wants nothing but to get back home — even if it means destroying Foo in the process.

Foo is by no means Oz. For Foo being such a monumentally important place (fostering the creativity and hope of mankind) and for being such a potentially dangerous place (world destruction if it's destroyed), why does it have such a stupid sounding name? Seriously, Foo?



Three stars

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The Isobel Journal: 02/24/15

cover artThe Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop is a collection of one panel comics and sketches from her day to day life. The author was a teenager at the time she made these drawings.

Isobel Harrop describes herself as living in the "North West of England, squished somewhere between Manchester and Liverpool." Her illustrations include her friends, people she's watched on the tele, boys she's interested in, and animals she likes. She's especially fond of river otters.

I read this book as a graphic novel for the CYBILs, but it strikes me more as a sketchbook, like Sketchtravel, than a graphic novel. Though there are themed chapters, and a hint of her romance with a boy and the messy breakup, there's no clear plot, no clear characters.



Three stars

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Mr. Toppit: 02/23/15

cover artMr. Toppit by Charles Elton is about the fallout of being the inspiration for a famous fictional character. Loosely based on the life of Christopher Milne and his fictional counterpart in the Winnie the Pooh books, this book follows the life and times of Luke Hayman after the death of his author father and the ways in which he can't escape being compared to his father's creation, Luke Hayseed.

The book is told from multiple points of view, namely, Luke, an American who brings the Hayseed books to California (and inadvertently makes them world famous), Luke's troubled sister who wants to know why she was never included in the books. The events of Luke's life and the explosion of his alter ego's rise in fame come out of order, though there is somewhat of a progression forward in time. This mixture of points of view and moments in time make for an unnecessarily confusing narrative.

When I read the book, I was unaware of the author's work with the Milne estate but the similarity to Christopher Milne's life is unmistakable. That said, knowing now about that connection, I find myself less pleased with the added drama (namely Arthur's violent death and the American making posthumous fame possible). These elements don't ring true and in light of the source material, there is already enough there to make a compelling character study while still being fictional.

Recommended by Metroreader

For further reading

  • The Independent (Christopher Milne's obituary)
  • USA Today
  • Wikipedia (A.A. Milne)



    Two stars

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  • Mad Scientist: 02/22/15

    cover artMad Scientist by Jennifer L. Holm is the fourteenth Babymouse comic. The science fair is coming up and Babymouse needs an experiment. She also needs to clean her room.

    When the two come together, she discovers a new single celled life form who loves to eat cupcakes! Squish, by the way, has enough personality to spin off his own series. Frankly I enjoy the Squish comics much more and I'm surprised I haven't reviewed it.

    The book falls into the same old routine, which either works for you or doesn't. Babymouse gets a new project, does a bunch of day dreaming, finds most of the steps needed in her project be a complete waste of time. Babymouse barely finishes what she started to "hilarious results."

    At the time I read Mad Scientist I was struggling to help both my children with their science projects. For my daughter, the project was her choice and the only problems we had were with the weather and the squirrels (she was growing peas). For my son, though, the science fair was a requirement, so I saw a lot more Babymouse behavior from him. Had I not been in the middle of science fair chaos, I probably would have found Babymouse's antics annoying.



    Four stars

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    Zombelina: 02/21/15

    cover artZombelina by Kristyn Crow is another delightful ballet themed picture book. Zomebelina like many young girls is enrolled in ballet classes. She has a recital coming up and is enthusiastically practicing. She's also the only zombie in her class.

    Most of the book is about the lead up to the recital. Zombelina shows her unique interpretation of the different ballet standards. Many of these center on the problems zombies face, namely, detachable body parts.

    The last couple pages though change over to the recital. What was to be a joyous event isn't so. Even the most enthusiastic of students can get a case of stage fright, especially when there's a less than receptive audience. Though the other parents aren't thrilled to see a zombie on stage, her family is enthusiastic, boisterous and supportive.

    I love the gentle message of doing something for yourself and enjoying it without expecting to be the star of that thing, or even doing a thing well. I also love the reminder that family support for personal projects is vital.



    Five stars

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    Strange Fruit, Volume 1: 02/20/15

    cover artStrange Fruit, Volume 1 by Joel Christian Gill is a graphic novel history of African Americans. Covered in this book are: Henry Box Brown (who mailed himself to the North), the Noyes Academy (first integrated school), Marshall Taylor (The Black Cyclone), a chess champion, an aviator during WWI, Malagara Island, and Bass Reeves (a lawman in the frontier).

    It's one of those books that at first glance is deceptively simple. The comic book formatting and the occasional asides to define a word gives the impression of a children's history book or a simplified classic like those "Illustrated Classics" comic books that were popular when I was in grade school. Yet the artwork brings new meaning to perhaps abstract concepts to today's school child — Jim Crow laws being represented by massive, monstrous crows, for example.

    Each story is a mixture of a life story and the person's biggest or most memorable accomplishment. The stories are short and succinct but the book provides further information in the form of brief biographies. Of the stories my favorites were the chess one, and the one about Bass Reeves and how he tracked down criminals to remote places.



    Five stars

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    Language and Art in the Navajo Universe: 02/19/15

    cover artLanguage and Art in the Navajo Universe by Gary Witherspoon is my favorite of the books on Diné language and culture I've read by non-native speaker. Until recently, most books about the Navajo Nation were written by outsiders and many of them treat like anthropological oddities rather than a vibrant, interesting, valid culture.

    The books that come closest to treating the language instruction with the same practicality that say language books for Spanish, German, or French instruction would, are those by someone who has been forced through circumstances to learn the language. In this case, the author mentions his wife a great deal, so I suspect she was one of the people who taught him the language.

    So rather than teaching the language and culture, Witherspoon presents his internalized version of the highlights he has learned from his wife and other Diné. He backs up his observations with quotes from other anthropology books, which he then either agrees with or doesn't. For those that he doesn't, he uses sentence diagraming to show the errors in the assumptions.

    For anyone wanting to get nitty gritty into the grammar rules of Diné bizaad, Witherspoon's book is a great start. To say though that Diné bizaad is the most difficult language out there ever, I take offense.

    Every single language I've studied has had its own special collection of bizarre, illogical, unspoken but definitely important grammar rules. Think of all the exceptions in English. Just stop and think about them for a little bit. Ask a native speaker of any language about the exceptions in his language and the answer will probably something like, "just because" or "it sounds better this way" or even "I don't know; it's just how it's done."



    Four stars

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    Emily and the Strangers Volume 1: 02/18/15

    cover artAfter the close of the Emily the Strange novels with Piece of Mind, I worried that that would be my last crossing of paths with Emily and her cats. I heard rumors that there would be a new comic book series starting, but I don't follow comics as closely as I follow graphic novels and other forms of fiction.

    Thankfully, my lovely public library (who first introduced me to Emily, by the way) does have someone who follows both and is willing to purchase brand spanking new comics. So by dumb luck, not a week or two after it was first released, I had Emily and the Strangers Volume 1 by Rob Reger in my hands.

    Here I was sure it would be a completely different take on Emily, with its own timeline and whatnot. It isn't. Yes, the style of the drawings is cartoonier, and Emily looks younger, but events happen in the same universe and timeline as those of the novels.

    Emily is settling down after all her adventures, focusing on being a better daughter and future dark aunt. She also wants to return to one of her loves: music. There's a local contest where the prize is a magical (and haunted!) guitar. So Emily has to put together a band with the other local cooks and freaks.

    And since it's a comic, rather than a hybrid graphic novel, there's nothing but Emily. The illustrations remind me a bit of the Danny Phantom universe. Partially it's a combination of the ghostly mayhem and unusual pre-teen / teenage characters.



    Five stars

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    Chicken with Plums: 02/17/15

    cover artChicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi is a graphic novel style account of her great-uncle's suicide. When Nasser Ali Khan's beloved tar is broken in a heated argument, he decides life is no longer worth living. He retires to his bedroom and stays in bed for seven days, not eating until he eventually dies of a broken heart.

    Told with her usual start black and white artwork and her poetic turn of phrase, Chicken with Plums is the story of a life unwinding. It's mostly a look back throughout his life at the good and the bad and how music was his escape from monotony and possibly depression.

    Through no careful planning on my part, beyond going to the library and picking up a bunch of graphic novels I wanted to read, I read Chicken with Plums and Emily and the Strangers Volume 1 back to back. Both are about the importance of music, though the first is about the tragedy of lost music, whereas the second is about a haunted guitar that will bring the best music to the right person. Although one is very serious and the other isn't, I do recommend reading them together, especially if you're musically inclined.



    Four stars

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    The People Inside: 02/16/15

    cover artThe People Inside by Ray Fawkes is the adult version of BirdCatDog in that it's twenty-four individual stories, some of which are inter-related. How they all flow together is part of challenge of reading it.

    When the book opens, there are twenty-four panels that are divided up into twelve couples. Among them: there's a woman in a bad relationship, now finding herself pregnant; there's a happy couple trying for their first child; there are the newlyweds'; there's the gay couple opening up a bakery together; there's the one night stand. And so forth.

    Page by page we follow snap shots of their lives. Some are moments apart. Some are years apart. The flow of time isn't even across every panel.

    And then, one by one, the panels go dark. Until all that's left is the same flowering tree shown at the very beginning.

    If you're an emotional reader, have a box of tissues handy — or a stiff drink handy.



    Four stars

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    Amazing Grace: 02/15/15

    cover artAmazing Grace by Mary Hoffman is the story about a girl who loves to tell stories. Her class is putting on a play and she wants to the star. The play is Peter Pan.

    Now for anyone who has seen Peter Pan performed live, you know it's typical for a young, short, woman to play Peter's part. The children in the book though tease Grace for wanting to play Peter's role. She's further teased because she's black and Peter isn't.

    Thankfully Grace has a supportive family. Not only is she given a well needed pep talk, she's shown other women who have done things they've been told only men can do.

    Grace ends up taking the talk to heart and practices her lines to the point that she's the obvious choice to play Peter.

    I listened to an audio version of the book. I would like to go back and read it as a picture book to see the accompanying illustrations by Caroline Binch



    Five stars

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    Niño Wrestles the World: 02/14/15

    cover artNiño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales is about a young boy who is obsessed with lucha libre. He also has an active imagination, picturing opponent after opponent waiting for him to do his moves on.

    Niño puts on his masks and takes on all sorts of monsters from Mexican folklore: La momia de Guanajuato, La llorona, cabeza Olmeca, and El extraterrestre, among others. The illustrations are done in a comic book style, similar to the fight scenes that were done in the 1960s Batman TV show.

    Though mostly in English, readers will come away learning a few words and some new monsters. My monster obsessed son would have loved this book when he was younger.



    Five stars

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    Shackleton: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: 02/13/15

    cover artColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami is about a man who designs railway stations and his long standing belief that his life is boring because he has no color in his name. Tsukuru was the fifth wheel in a group of friends, the others who all had a color as part of the their name: Black and White were were the girls and Blue and Red were the boys. And then there was plain old Tsukuru.

    Now in his late thirties and in a relationship that might be going somewhere if he's just willing to take the initiative is put on hold when the girlfriend realizes he's still too hung up on his old friends. They left him one summer without explanation, cut him free as it were, and he's been spending his creative energy on imagining all sorts of amazing lives for them.

    So Tsukuru is given an ultimatum: find out what happened to them, go meet them as adults, and then get on with his own life. This impromptu reunion becomes his final pilgrimage. Along the way we are filled in with their life stories, for better or worse. And we get to see Tsukuru grow by what he learns.

    Many Murakami books have a bit of magical realism. Here, there's a lingering promise of such a twist. It's wrapped up in a story about the amputation of an extra finger, the turning the extraordinary into the ordinary and the consequences of doing so.

    In previous books I've read Murakami would have gone with the obvious extension of that story and give Tsukuru a long lost twin, either one that was adopted away, or a dead one, or a metaphysical one. Not this time. Tsukuru is an ordinary salaryman and he longs to be part of something more extraordinary. But sometimes that's just not possible and that ultimately is the crux of the book.



    Five stars

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    Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey: 02/12/15

    cover artShackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi is one of two graphic novels published in 2014 about Shackleton's attempts to cross Antartica (because he'd missed out on reaching the south pole). This one focuses primarily on his last attempt, one that took place at the start of WWI.

    More precisely, it's the story of a dangerous obsession. After so many failures (but a knighthood), you'd think he'd get it through his head that maybe crossing Antartica isn't something that can be safely or realistically reached with late 19th / early 20th century technology and gear.

    In this last attempt they miss their opportunity to get to land and the ship is trapped in ice. So rather than trying to abort the mission and get a rescue, they just hang out, eating through all their supplies, playing with the dogs and waiting for the thaw. When the thaw comes, of course the ship is destroyed.

    That's not exactly how things played out but that's how the book portrays the events. Shackleton's decisions during the emergency aren't explained.

    Now the book takes place in an icy wasteland and it's drawn in black and white. With tiny, highly detailed panels, the artwork is sometimes overwhelming. Sometimes the characters and dogs and other stuff are labeled, but most times they aren't. So it's an irritating story with difficult artwork.



    Three stars

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    I Remember Beirut: 02/11/15

    cover artI Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached is a graphic novel style memoir about growing up in Beirut during the fighting between Muslims and Christians. Though her block wasn't in the contested area, it was close enough to make life difficult and sometimes dangerous.

    Rather than focusing on the danger and destruction, Abirached hones in on the mundanity of childhood. She talks about hair cuts, and paper folding, and favorite songs. The scenes of her curly hair vs the overly conservative barber are hilarious.

    cover art

    The fighting is there too, of course. It comes in the form of memories of the ever moving bus stop, the trips to the coast to avoid the worst of the fighting, the repeatedly broken windshield on the car, and her brother's interest in collecting shrapnel.

    Recommended for readers who enjoy the works of Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken with Plums, etc.).



    Four stars

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    Once Upon a Curse: 02/10/15

    cover artOnce Upon a Curse by E.D. Baker is the third of the Frog Princess tales. Each curse Emma breaks seems to have further consequences. Her whole world is built on a foundation of curses. And now her aunt has fallen to the Green Witch curse, leaving Emma as the new witch and facing her own future doom.

    So Emma decides she needs to go to the source of her family's curse. That means going back in time to either prevent the curse or learn the ingredients.

    Emma's family curse is tied up in events very similar to Princess Aurora's curse. Rule one: don't short change a fairy. It seems like a simple fix, right? Let's just say the version of the curse that's been passed down the ages has been simplified.

    This is the book where the series finally addresses what exactly the Green Witch does for the kingdom and the castle. It's also the point where we learn that the curse might be justified.



    Four stars

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    Zita the Spacegirl: 02/09/15

    cover artZita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke is a graphic novel about an ordinary girl becoming a space hero after her best friend, Joseph, is kidnapped by space tentacles.

    Zita follows by jumping through the same portal before it closes. But she lands in a different spot and has to learn the lay of the land. As she does she evolves into a hero.

    Zita is another of these books where I loved it in the moment but now as I reflect back on the story I realize most of it hasn't stuck with me. Instead it is the sequel that comes to mind.



    Five stars

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    Culture Is Our Business: 02/08/15

    cover artMarshall McLuhan is the challenge author for the month of February for this year's Canadian book read. As he was a communications theorist, I'm sure I've read his work when I was film theory student.

    In case you've never heard of him, I'm including a scene from Annie Hall.

    Culture Is Our Business by Marshall McLuhan is a dialectical journal on the state of Western advertising as a reflection of culture at the close of the 1960s. Now separated from the source material, these quips read more like free verse slam poetry than responses to images and slogans that were at one point ubiquitous.

    Now, though, looking back at a slice of popular (primarily American, though there are some Canadian, British, and European ads included) culture as represented by headlines, full page (black and white) ads and slogans, it's difficult to assess sometimes which are the quotes and which are the responses. So I'm sure a portion (and it might be as high as 50%)

    But there were moments when I could see the same old dialog that is still being bandied about — especially worries about the current generation of youth or expectations that they will be fundamentally different because of "new media." Think now of the high expectations we put on Millennials at the expense of the previous generations. I'm apparently too old to know how to use a computer or a Smart Phone but my children are somehow genetically programmed to do both from birth (both are fallacies).

    As this is such a dense book, I did some live micro-blogging of what I was reading on my Tumblr site. If you want to read my thoughts, here is the link to the tag I used.



    Three stars

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    Forget-Her-Nots: 02/07/15

    cover artForget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount White is about a young woman discovering her talent at reading people through flowers and learning more about her deceased mother in the process.

    The book opens with Laurie giving a presentation on the language of flowers. in the process, though, she realizes she can also feel a connection with the person she's designing the bouquet for.

    I read the book in the midst of the Enola Holmes mysteries which also use the language of flowers as a recurring motif. So while I remember enjoying the magical aspects of the flowers, the specific details haven't stuck with me.



    Three stars

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    A Midsummer Tights Dream: 02/06/15

    cover artA Midsummer Tights Dream by Louise Rennison is the second of the Tallulah Casey books. She's now officially a student at the school of performing arts, but the school is in dire financial need. The school might end up closed at the end of the year.

    Tallulah, though young and and silly like her cousin, Georgia, has more opportunities and more drive. She has to make the most of the moment especially with a classmate off to Hollywood and a school that might not last the year.

    Oddly, though, the school centered plot hasn't stuck with me as well as any of the Georgia plots. Although I loved reading it and got caught up in the moment, I'm not sure the new series is as re-readable as the original.



    Five stars

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    Drood: 02/05/15

    cover artDrood by Dan Simmons exams the friendship and rivalry between Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. The book is framed within an 1865 train crash that Dickens and his mistress survived. It, if Collins via Simmons is to be believed, became a major obsession in the last five years of Dickens's life.

    Dickens tells Collins that he saw a mysterious figure at the crash site who answers only to the name Drood. This vision — or hallucination — inspired him to begin work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a novel he had not finished by the time of his death.

    This unfinished work has inspired other works of fiction, including The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl. It was also primarily the Drood connection that made me want to read the book.

    Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to make me want to finish it without severe skimming. The book is nearly 800 pages and densely detailed. Yes, Simmons did his homework and for fans of Dickens, Collins and the Victorian era, his work will be rewarding. To the casual reader, it's not something to pick up at the library and expect to finish in three week's time.



    Two stars

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    Whiteoaks of Jalna: 02/04/15

    cover artWhiteoaks of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche is the second (in publication order) of the series. It follows a few months after the matriarch's birthday. Things though aren't so rosy at Jalna and the neatly tied up threads are starting to unravel.

    Finch has found his passion in life: music. But he seems conflicted sexually. It doesn't help that most of his relatives refuse to accept him as he is. The exception (to everyone else's shock) is Adeline, the matriarch.

    Meanwhile in New York, Eden's marriage has completely fallen apart. His wife is back to her old life and thriving. But he's been eaten alive by the city and needs an intervention.

    When Eden's brought home to recuperate, things get even dicier at Jalna. The main problem is that everyone is too different but they're all staying put to keep Adeline happy. Her hold over Jalna is very similar to that of the grandmother's in Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

    Except in the case of Jalna, Finch learns that Adeline doesn't really expect everyone to stay at her beck and call. Jalna's a bit of a time capsule only because it's her home. She and her husband built it on their return from India. That doesn't mean she expects her children and grandchildren to recreate her experiences on a daily basis.

    But they have given up listening to her and she has given up talking to them. Thus Jalna has fallen into a weird stasis that will only be broken upon her death.



    Four stars

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    The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate: 02/03/15

    cover artThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly takes place in the last year of the nineteenth century in Fentress, Texas. Calpurnia Tate is the only daughter in a large family where the boys have been named for Confederate heroes. Her mother wants desperately to get her ready for her debut but Calpurnia wants nothing more than to spend time with her grandfather, exploring the natural world.

    Calpurnia is the first grandchild to take any interest in the grandfather's experiments. He is a naturalist and a devotee of Charles Darwin, stuck in a place where that sort of thinking is alien and dangerous. But he's an old man and a respected war hero, so he is given space to do his own thing. When he takes Calpurnia under his wing, people start to notice.

    In the middle of all of this, Calpurnia and he make a discovery, a new type of hairy vetch that they can't find in any of their botany books. Much of the drama of the back half of the book is drawn up in the waiting for an answer. Is this hairy vetch something new or not?

    Though the strong feminist message is the main point of the book, I got caught up in the vetch plot. Like Calpurnia, I love nothing more than exploring the nature around me. She had her creek and I have mine: Sulphur, San Lorenzo, Dry and Alameda. And along, grows a beautiful pink and purple flower, which, thanks now to Calpurnia, I know is a type of vetch. I haven't though found any new species — but that's not my thing. Mine is photography.

    cover art



    Five stars

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    Creepy Carrots!: 02/02/15

    cover artCreepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds is a mashup between Peter Rabbit and your typical zombie story. Japser Rabbit loves the carrots that grow in the Crackenhopper fields. But there's a rumor that they are evil, monster carrots.

    Like Nancy Raines Day's On a Windy Day, there's a monstrous version of the creeping carrots and then there's a reveal of which ordinary objects went to create the illusion of the carrots.

    The monster pages are done in a comic book, horror style heavy on the orange and black — perfect for a Halloween read. The reveal pages are contrasted with their wider range of colors and almost pastel hues.

    But as every horror story should, there's a twist at the end. Maybe, just maybe, there's some truth to Jasper's over-active imagination.



    Five stars

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    Unicorns? Get Real!: 02/01/15

    cover artUnicorns? Get Real! by Kathryn Lasky is the second in the Camp Princess series. The Unicorn Round-Up is coming to camp but Princess Gundersnap is heartsick on the news that her mother has taken her beloved pony Menschmik to be her next war horse.

    Gundersnap is certain that the task will mean her stead's untimely death. So she and her tower mates must find a way to use the events of the Unicorn Round-up to rescue Menschmik. Although Gundersnap doesn't believe in unicorns, the magical tapestry seems to imply that unicorns are going to be part of her future.

    So often with a set up like this, the ending would entail a tomboy princess learning to be more feminine to win over the beautiful and magical unicorn. Not here. Though Gundersnap does learn that unicorns are real, she does not stop being herself. The unicorns, rather, embrace her uniqueness instead of expecting her to conform to some crazy feminine ideal.

    The third book is called Dragonbusters? Give me a break!. The book is listed as having been published July 2014 but I haven't found any evidence yet that it actually was.



    Five stars

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