My Many Colored Days: 04/30/15
My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss was originally written the year I was born (so back in the days of bell bottoms, Adam-12, and Watergate) but wasn't published until five year's after Dr. Seuss's death. It's a book about color, emotions, and creativity.
Apparently, though, he didn't know how to illustrate it, which seems silly given the man's long career as an artist and illustrator. But he felt his art didn't match his words and he needed someone else to tackle the manuscript when the time was right.
Two illustrators did just that: Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, a husband and wife team. Their saturated colors and bold brush work are about as un-Seussian as possible. But given that he wanted the emphasis to be on his words, separate from his easily recognizable style, that's a good thing. The focus here is definitely on the colors and the emotions they can evoke.
Satellites in Outer Space: 04/29/15
Satellites in Outer Space by Isaac Asimov was written as an upper elementary introduction to satellites at a time when the man made ones were still a recent invention. It serves, though, as a straight forward introduction to what satellites are (including the moon), how orbits are used, and different uses (or potential uses) for satellites.
According to Universe Today, more than a thousand satellites have been launched since the first one in 1957. Give that large number, it's easy to understand that they have gone from being quaint pieces of modern technology to ubiquitous items of every day life. Naturally, then, Satellites in Outer Space is rather dated.
But there's a point when dated books become so dated that they actually become charming for their quaintness. This book is almost there, especially in the last couple pages where the concept of GPS is introduced. Nowadays with cell phones and navigation built into so many of our cars, GPS is becoming another ever present, taken for granted technology. It's eye opening to see it described as a cutting edge technology of the near future!
Sammy the Seal: 04/28/15
Sammy the Seal by Syd Hoff is about a seal who needs a break from zoo. So the zookeeper gives him the day off. Sammy heads into to town, meets all sorts of folks and ends up at a school, where he learns to read!
It's a silly premise, the what if being a zoo animal is a job like anything an adult human might do. There was a year long anime series that had the same premise: Polar Bear Café which had characters who either worked at the zoo or at other jobs around town.
There's just something endearing about animals and people living together — animals working side by side as salarymen.
J. C. Leyendecker: 04/27/15
J. C. Leyendecker by Michael Schau is a folio that highlights the life and illustration career of the artist. Before Norman Rockwell became famous for his Saturday Evening Post covers, they were done by Leyendecker.
I decided to track down a copy of this book after I saw a post about the artist on Collectors Weekly. The article outlines how a gay artist used homoeroticism to make a successful career as an illustrator. His illustrations were used to sell mens wear and magazines. And that's when I had an aha moment and knew I had to read a book about him. See, I realized I recognized his artwork — specifically his Arrow Collar pieces. My father has copies of some of his work on display at home (part of the fun of being the child of an antiques dealer).
And that brings us to the 1974 book by Michael Schau. It was written at a time when Leyendecker had fallen out of the public eye. The artist had died in 1951 and the author had come across his work when the artist's home was put up for sale. The book was an early attempt to reconstruct the author's life and body of work.
Frankly, though, there is more information online now about the artist than what was available to the author when the book was published. As it was also published at a time when color reproductions were expensive and difficult, there isn't much in the way of Leyendecker's artwork. The examples of his artwork are better represented online, especially on the Tumblr site completely devoted to full color, fairly high resolution reproductions of his paintings.
But I still enjoyed reading the book and rediscovering my childhood. The folio was like so many I read from my father's collection (used mostly for reference for building his inventory). For the casual fan, though, the online materials are better suited.
David Hockney: A Bigger Picture: 04/26/15
David Hockney: A Bigger Picture by Tim Barringer is a collection of essays about the work of painter and photographer, David Hockney, in conjunction with an exhibit at the Tate Museum. Each essay focuses on a different aspect of Hockey's long and varied career, though most are about his work in the last two decades when he returned to England and began applying lessons learned from his photographic collages and panoramas to large scale, plein air paintings.
Hockney is an artist whose work I was very familiar with as a child. He was living and working in Los Angeles at the time, and an uncle of mine was a fan of his work. He gave my grandmother a print of one of his collages — done with two or three dozen Polaroid photographs. The print hung in my grandmother's house for years and was something I saw on an almost daily basis.
It was actually my son who found this book at the library. He was drawn to it by Hockney's wide variety of artistic styles. Most recently he's explored born digital art, using Brushes on his iPad. It was an interesting, albeit somewhat surreal, experience to reconnect with an artist's work through my son's discovery.
Replacing ARCs with Research: 04/26/15
Sometime later this year you will start seeing reviews of research books I've read. After an encouraging chat with a Twitter friend, I decided to restart a research project I abandoned in 1997. It was going to be my PhD thesis when I was still thinking of working towards a PhD in film theory but those plans didn't work out.
Now I'm just doing the research for fun, meaning I can take the project at my own pace and in as many directions as I see fit. It also means the research doesn't have to be as film and TV centered as originally planned.
The central theme of my research is the interplay between the English language (and more specifically U.S. English) and the road. In the middle of all of this is the road trip story, or even the experience of the road trip as a form of vacation.
Before I can jump into the analysis of road trip stories, I'm building an understanding of the history of the American road, its highways, turnpikes, motels, road signs, etc. From this history I'm building a lexicon which will then feed into the story telling process.
While I'm posting my research, thoughts, quotes, etc., on Tumblr, I'll be reviewing individual books I've read here. The time spent on reading for research is time once spent on ARCs. It seems only fitting that the books themselves take up the space cleared out by the ARCs.
How To: 04/25/15
How To by Julie Morstad is a picture book that celebrates imagination and play. The book has a diverse cast of children, each one showing how to do something.
For instance, there's a two page spread for "how to go fast." It shows a line of children crossing the pages. One is on a scooter. One is running. One is on stilts. One is wearing butterfly wings and is flapping her arms. One is giving another a piggy back ride.
Morstad's drawings remind me of Gunilla Wolde's Sarah and Tommy (the Totte series) books from the 1970s. I had a copy of Sarah and Tommy Dress Up showing a pair of children pretend to be different types of adults as they went through an old steamer trunk. It's a simplistic but magical story. How To captures those feelings.
Julie Morstad is an illustrator and author who lives in Vancouver, BC.
Hard Truth: 04/24/15
Hard Truth by Nevada Barr is the thirteenth in the Anna Pigeon series. Newly married Anna Pigeon has left her home in Mississippi to be the district ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park. Shortly after she arrives, a pair of missing girls appear, nearly naked, bloody, and claiming amnesia. They are rescued by an ex-mountain climber who is now a paraplegic.
Hard Truth offers a break from the typical storytelling of the Anna Pigeon books. This time the point of view is shared, switching between Anna, the usual protagonist, and Heath, the woman who initially found the girls.
Anna quickly suspects sexual and physical abuse and the girl's home life in a hyper-conservative quasi-Mormon compound further fuels her suspicions. Meanwhile, Heath is being tormented by unseen demons (some of her own making and some relating to her rescuing of the girls).
I've decided I'm done reading this series. The problem isn't the violence. Instead it's the sameness of the plot, even when the narration is changed. Anna basically hates people and continues to insist on working in a job that requires lots of interaction with people because she likes nature and has this crazy idea that she might be able to get away from things out in the wilderness.
The problem is that whenever there's a couple presented in the book (other than Anna and her now husband or her dearly departed first husband), the man is most certainly a monster and the woman is complicit in his crimes, or in more recent books, as much a monster as he is. Seriously, to solve any of these Anna Pigeon mysteries, just look for the couple. They did it. But before you can get to the end, you'll have to suffer through Anna being an ass, Anna getting her ass kicked, Anna some how surviving again and finally confronting and probably killing (or somehow causing the death of) the male criminal.
No students! or My First Bookstore: 04/23/15
I didn't really get into reading until late elementary school. There was a small bookstore in the strip mall across the street from the elementary school, or halfway home from the jr. high. It was one of those stores that had a sign posted on the window warning, "no students" between the hours of such and such (basically the time when the schools let out). I would have paid no attention to this hole in the wall because the sign was unfriendly, the store was small, and books just weren't my thing.
But my grandmother knew the owner. Actually, my grandmother was the type of person who always knew someone wherever we went. I'm not entirely sure how she did that, but she did.
My grandmother who didn't like the sentiment of the sign either decided to use me as a teachable moment. Or something. So she introduced me to the owner — a stern older woman who looked too mean to be a librarian but secretly wanted to be, and so opened a bookstore instead.
I don't remember what exactly she said, except to promise I would be coming in one some regular schedule (weekly or monthly, I don't recall). More importantly, I wouldn't always be accompanied by my grandmother, and on those days I would be showing up after school. I would spend no more than an agreed upon amount of time and then I would make my selection and pay for my book. If I caused any undue trouble, she should telephone my grandmother.
All this time, I'm standing there somewhere between dumbstruck with anger and feeling scared to death that I'd be expected to be in here alone with the Wicked Witch of the bookstore. I hoped she wouldn't agree to such terms, but she did. (My grandmother had that effect on people too.)
Around the same time as this, I was getting ready for some of my first overnight camps (Girl Scouts, and a sixth grade graduation camp). My grandmother told me to pick some books to read on the bus because the ride one way was an hour or more and I might get bored.
I ended up picking the first two of the Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey because the dragons looked like dinosaurs and I had just seen Flight of Dragons based on The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson and Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson.
And I ended up reading both McCaffrey books on the bus ride (one out and one back) and I knew the grumpy bookstore had more of her books. So yes, I did start going. And throughout all that time until I went to college, I was a regular visitor. I even eventually got to invite some of my closest friends in (with my supervision and threats to call my grandmother if they misbehaved).
The store is closed now and I'm long since moved, 500 miles to the north, but it was my first experience as a regular bookstore customer. I actually still have many of the books I bought there, though not all of them.
Listening for Lucca: 04/23/15
Listening for Lucca by Suzanne LaFleur is the story of a teenage girl who has been dreaming about a house she's never seen and her much younger brother who hasn't talked for more than a year. In the hope of coaxing Lucca to talk again, their parents uproot the family from busy Brooklyn, to a small coastal town in Maine.
As it turns out, Siena's family has bought a Victorian style house that matches her dreams perfectly. Worse yet, the house seems to be making her dreams all the more real, revealing a two part story that must have taken place during WWII.
As with so many of these dream or ghost story plots, there's an uncanny parallelism between the tragic story of the past and the current situation. What I wasn't expecting, was Siena being able to affect the past. Usually these curses don't work that way; it was refreshing to watch as Siena found a way out for both the family before hers and her own family.
Stars by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Marla Frazee is a poetic exploration of stars. It begins with the night sky, asking what it would be like to collect those tiny dots of twinkling lights into a basket.
From there it moves through other star concepts - the shape of one, self esteem (feeling like a star), through the sun in the sky and other star shapes in nature.
It's a sparse, beautifully worded poem, that without the illustrations would fit perfectly in an anthology of poetry. With Frazee's illustrations, though, it becomes a truly special picture book. It's one of those quietly hopeful ones that make such lovely bedtime stories.
Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle: 04/21/15
Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle by Dana Simpson is a graphic novel about a girl and her unicorn. If you've seen the 1982 film adaptation of The Last Unicorn, you'll see a similarity in the art style. As the author's introduction explains, this work is her homage to Peter S. Beagle.
Phoebe is a modern day girl who goes to school and has homework and does chores. Now, she has a unicorn. The unicorn, meanwhile, is a vain, pampered, magical creature who has agreed to be this girl's best friend.
The gags fall under two main categories: the unicorn trying to understand Phoebe's world, and Phoebe trying and failing to impress her friends. There's a lot sly social and gender commentary that I didn't expect, given the very pink cover and the rather goofy title. Then there are the completely off the wall moments where fantasy and reality meet in unexpected ways.
Andy McBean and the War of the Worlds: 04/20/15
Andy McBean and the War of the Worlds by Dale Kutzera is about another attempted invasion of the earth by extra terrestrials. This time the invasion fleet picks a suburb of Seattle inhabited by the McBeans.
The initial invasion is an all at once thing with lots of destruction, a surprising detail for a children's science fiction. And then it's up to Andy and the other kids he rescues to stop the invading force from their dastardly plans.
But after the initial punch of the invasion and destruction, the book loses its pace. There's a lot of exploring and arguing and by the numbers planning to save the town. It ends up feeling more like Scooby Doo meets the Aliens than a modern day science fiction adventure story.
Zombie in Love: 04/19/15
Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio is a quirky picture book that will appeal to children and adults. Mortimer the zombie has tried every thing he can think of to find true love. As the cover shows, he's literally willing to give the right girl (or ghoul) his heart.
The book first goes through single panel examples of how Mortimer has tried and failed at finding love. He goes to the gym and his arms fall off, is one.
Scott Campbell's illustrations put a lot of expression into Mortimer and humor into the situations. It's always easy to tell how Mortimer is feeling and by the end, I was certainly hoping he'd find love.
Thankfully Mortimer does find his one true love.
The Necropolis Railway: 04/18/15
The Necropolis Railway by Andrew Martin is the first of a mind boggling eight long series of train themed mysteries set in the turn of the last century's England.
Jim Stringer gets his wish to work on the steam trains. Instead of getting the line he wants, he's assigned the Necropolis Railway — a line that ran from London to a massive cemetery.
While the book's description claims to be a thrilling mystery steeped in railway lore — I never really got to the mystery. Although I like trains, my interest doesn't come close to Stringer's obsessive fasciation.
Then there's Stringer himself. As the new kid on the railway, he's not popular. There's obviously something hinky going on that he's not privy to. Rather the usual bullying or hazing that this sort of story usually requires, Stringer prattles on about how good he is and how good a railway man he'll be someday. He becomes such an unbelievable and unlikable Marty Stu that I had to stop the book.
Moonhead and the Music Machine: 04/17/15
Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae is the story of a middle school or high school student who is drifting through school until he discovers the power of music. With the help of his dad and his friends, he sets out to build a musical instrument unlike anything that's come before it.
The one odd thing about him, and his family, is that he has a moon for a head. That means he can literally space out. It's a weird conceit but it works. It works as a metaphor for being different than the majority.
But it also works on a more literal level because there are so many unusual animation series right now where diverse groups of characters come together for slice of life stories. I'm not talking about racially diverse, though again, these characters are in part metaphoric. In stead I'm talking literally diverse and unusual and unexpected beyond even the classical mixture of animals that harken back to the earliest days of American animation.
The Moonhead family reminds me most of a family you'd see on the Amazing World of Gumball. Except for most of the book, they are alone as the others in town are clearly human beings. It's through the creative process and the taking pride in expressing his individuality that Moonhead is able to transform his environment into something more welcoming.
Bad Kitty School Daze: 04/16/15
Bad Kitty School Daze by Nick Bruel is the tenth Bad Kitty book (the fourth graphic novel). Bad Kitty's attitude needs an adjustment, so her family is sending her to obedience school. Poor Puppy is going along too just for fun, and maybe to work on that drooling problem.
The school is run by a woman who is a between Jackson Galaxy and a schoolmarm, with a dash of therapist for good measure. She runs a day long course where she teaches animals to get over the worst of their behavior problems. Bad Kitty, as you can imagine, doesn't want to be there. Worse yet, she seems to be stuck next to a dog who HATES cats.
But tucked into this ridiculous story of a cat in therapy, is actual advice on cat behavior and how to introduce cats to dogs and other animals.
Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices: 04/15/15
Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices by Ralph Fletcher is a misguided treatise on teaching writing in the classroom. I read it in conjunction with the older and better When You Are Alone/It Keeps You Capone by Myra Cohn Livingston.
Fletcher's thesis is that the school system is so over run by gentle, nurturing women, that there's no room for the rowdy natured boys. Apparently teachers across the country are actively discouraging boys from truly expressing themselves through their writing which because of their boyish nature leans towards gross out jokes, violence, superheroes and the like. Instead, teachers are encouraging girls and their boring stories about families and domesticity.
Are you mad yet? You should be. I certainly am. This book falls into the frustrating gender trap and is doing its best to further marginalize anyone who isn't someone likely to grow into a well off, privileged, white man. Here in a book about teaching are the seeds of bullying, rape culture, racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Think I'm off my rocker? In a chapter on social media (especially chat), there's a section on why boys love to write, especially when it's anonymously and online. The author includes a sample chat where a boy discusses his break up. The conversation quickly devolves into name calling and slut shaming on the part of the girl who isn't there to defend herself. This is conversation is held as a GOOD example of getting boys excited about writing.
And where is the author's hard evidence that there's such an anti-boy conspiracy? Are there any actual scientific or sociological studies cited? No. Any case studies of actual schools? No.
For better examples of the challenges of teaching writing to children any gender, personality, or background, I recommend the older books: When You Are Alone/It Keeps You Capone, and Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner (who has some interesting theories about fear motivating violent writing, rather than it just being some natural "boyish" thing).
Why I'm no longer accepting review copies: 04/15/15
Today I wrote the last review of an ARC I received in the mail. With that accomplishment comes a huge sense of relief and the lifting of a lingering weight.
For the first 18 months after dedicating this blog to writing book reviews, I was the captain of my reading experience (more or less, as I was reading bed time stories to my then young children). And then as the page rank rose (back when page rank was more of a BFD than it is now) I received my first offer of an ARC.
On the one hand, I was thrilled. On the other hand, I was a little disappointed. It wasn't a topic I was especially interested in.
And this is how review offers are so insidious. We're taught to "not judge a book by its cover". We're taught to "not look a gift horse in mouth." As hobby bloggers we're supposed to be grateful for any attention the publishing industry gives us. We're supposed to graciously accept their offers.
Like those "free cruise tickets" I get offers for in the mail, we also have to jump through a bunch of hoops if we want to continue receiving all these "hot" new books (even if they aren't things we're interested in). We have to keep to the publisher's schedule. We have to get our reviews OKed. We have to participate in blog tours. We have to be up beat and enthusiastic in our reviews. We have to post our reviews in the approved websites (like Amazon — a site I haven't been a customer of in five years).
Our shelves get cluttered up with books we might not be interested in reading but can't easily ditch (selling ARCs is a no-no and the garbage collectors get annoyed when the recycle bin is over stuffed). Or our computers get clogged with ebooks with ticking time bomb expiration dates. Even if they don't expire, sometimes the quality of the ebook is so poor that they're impossible to read.
What I'm trying to say is that review copies are too much stress with very little reward. Collectively they suck the fun right out of reading.
So now I'm going to focus on only two sources of reading: my own shelves (I maintain a perpetual backlog of roughly 300 or so volumes on the TBR pile) and the library. With the time freed up by the ARCs, I'll be able to focus on reviving a research project I began in 1995 but had to abandon in 1997 on the semantics of the road trip. If you're curious to follow along, I'm live blogging my research on Tumblr.
When You Are Alone/It Keeps You Capone: 04/14/15
When You Are Alone/It Keeps You Capone by Myra Cohn Livingston takes its title from the first two lines of one of the many sample poems. The purpose of the book is to help teachers do a better job of teaching children how to write poetry.
Good poetry does three things: it follows a form, it tells a story, and it evokes an emotion. Livingston argues that most teachers at least get the idea of the different forms of poetry and can get kids cranking out poetry that is technically correct but lacks heart and soul. The very best in her experience, are also able to get their students to tell a story.
But the emotional piece of poetry is an elusive one. Thematic poems (say, a winter one) will get everyone expecting certain words and images even if they are completely irrelevant for the local collective experience. Livingston taught in the Los Angeles area. Time and time again in the book she brings up the importance of making the poem true to yourself and your situation.
The other important lesson to take away from the book is the amount of work a single poem requires, especially for beginning poets. Getting a poem to fit a form isn't where one stops. It needs revision, testing aloud, and lots and lots of persistence and patience.
Grandpa Green: 04/13/15
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith is the story of family, memories, and topiaries. Grandpa Green has a beautiful garden full of different shaped trees and bushes. Each one tells an important family story.
The book follows Grandpa Green and his great-grandson as they tour the garden. As they pass a topiary, Grandpa Green tells the story behind it.
The artwork is done in a muted pallet of greens and browns.It's similar to Arnold Lobel's choice of color in his Frog and Toad books but the use of line and the attention to detail is like Chris Van Allsburg's style.
Buzz! by Ananth Panagariya is a graphic novel about street fighting. Except, the fighting is done with words, not weapons. Nonetheless, the fights are still illegal and still dangerous.
Webster (ha ha) is a new high school student but is quickly roped into a spelling bee gang. He's been warned about them from his sister. But he's good at it. He's quick and he has flair. His words carry power.
Drawn in black, white, and yellow, to drive home the bee aspect of the spelling bee, Buzz! takes a ridiculous sounding concept and makes it work. There is the drama of a family torn apart by crime (spelling), there's the thrill of power that comes from winning, and the lingering danger of either being caught or injured to the point of never being able to fight again. It has all the ups and down and excitement of a manga.
Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life: 04/11/15
Tutankhamen/Tutankhamun/ formerly known as Tutankhaten, late pharoah of the 18th dynasty, is someone whose always been part of my life. First through the old (though not my his standards) single, Old King Tut (not the Steve Martin version, I'm talking the old Billy Jones and Earnest Hare Columbia recording). Then in high school I took AP Art History and the treasures in his tomb featured heavily in the section on Ancient Egypt. So did a black and white photograph of his mummified face which scared the bejeebers out of me the first dozen or so times I had to look at.
As a coping mechanism, I decided to learn everything I could about the boy king, his life and his death. I read everything by local public library had, everything my high school had, and everything I could afford to purchase (or convince people to give me) at used book stores.
Although the Ancient Egypt part of AP Art History was long over — and later the class itself was long over, I continued to read. I read fiction along with the nonfiction and became a bit of a Tutankhamen fan girl, if such a thing is possible.
One of the things that came out of all this research was a novel (unpublished, and I think now lost on a long dead computer) called A Dead Giveaway about Tutankhamen working as Howard Carter's Egyptian foreman. The idea was that when the Priest Ay performed the opening of the mouth, Osiris took pity and made sure it actually worked, thus breathing life back into the now mummified remains of Tutankhamen. So at the end of the book after lots of adventures in modern (well, late 1920s/mid 1930s Egypt), Tutankhamen finally passes to the after life properly and his mummy falls apart from all the abuse he'd put it through (instead of it being taken apart by the men who were cataloging the tomb).
That part of my life faded with the responsibilities of college, graduate school, work, and parenting. But I'm still a sucker for a Tutankhamen story. Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life by P.J. Hoover, caught my eye in the new books section of my local library. The title right away had my attention. I had to read it — immediately, if not sooner.
Hoover begins her version of things with his death, again a murder. There's a curse involved and the gods intervene and rather than being put back into his body as an animated mummy, he's brought back to life and made immortal. He's also placed under the protection of the gods.
Now interestingly, in Hoover's book, he's much younger than he actually was at the time of death. That's saying a lot since he was only about 18 or 19 at his death. Here he's about 12 and he's currently stuck going from middle school to middle school. Worse yet, he's stuck writing a report on himself, and he's got a nerd of a partner who is as much a fan boy as I am a fan girl. It's just more than he can stand.
Although Tut's partner is described as a blond guy, personality wise he was so much like Tucker from Danny Phantom that I just recast the role, making him a Black nerd. I'll admit to also picturing Tut looking a bit like Danny Fenton, so it comes out as a wash, as Tut is accurately described as having dark skin.
At first I had some serious qualms about this big gap in Tutankhamen's age of immortality and what's taught in the history books. What about Ankhenesamen, his queen? What about the body that's on display in his tomb? What about all the evidence that shows he lived six or seven years longer? The truth is, Tut doesn't know and therefore neither to do we. He's aware of the inconsistencies and doesn't have an explanation for it. It's just part of the cover up the gods made for him to protect him from the curse.
Meanwhile at home, Tut has a "brother" who is another immortal with his own tragic back story. A big part of the second half of the book is learning the brother's part in Tut's on going protection. They have a similar relationship as Sam and Dean Winchester, minus the actually being brothers bit.
I think anyone who has enjoyed Rick Riordan's books (either the Olympus ones or the Egypt ones) will like Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life. Although the book stands alone just fine, I would love to revisit the characters. Gil's story itself could be fleshed out into a book. There's a lot of possibility for more here.
Ghouls, Ghouls, Ghouls: 04/10/15
Ghouls, Ghouls, Ghouls by Victoria Laurie is the fifth of the Ghost Hunter Mystery series. After the disappointing turn of events in Ghouls Gone Wild, we're treated to a fast paced, emotional, and well thought out mystery.
Holliday and her ghost hunting crew are still in Scotland. The producer of their new television show, Ghoul Getters, wants them to investigate the castle keep on the nearby loch, said to hold both an impressive treasure and a blood thirsty demon.
None of the local villagers will go near the place, including the local police. So when some of MJ's crew go missing, she has to her best to solve the mystery with limited resources. To complicate things, the keep's bridge is only accessible when the loch's water level is low enough and the wind is calm. Both are rare events.
The book was a page turner, just the right balance between mystery and horror. The humor was toned down and with Gillie among the missing, MJ was allowed to focus. I am planning to read the sixth book, Ghoul Interrupted soon.
On deja vu or why I keep a list of what I read: 04/08/15
I am reading The Power to Go (1956) by Canadian playwright Merrill Denison. From the very first chapter, the book felt familiar, like revisiting an old friend. As things progressed, that familiar feeling turned to a nagging deja vu. By Chapter 7: Power Goes Democratic I hit that "ah hah!" moment where I knew I had read it before because it contains one of my favorite quotes about the early days of the automobile:
Along with the quote is a memory of my childhood room with the drafting board next to my bed. It's late at night. I should be a sleep but I'm not. I'm bored and I'm reading. Since it's a book about the earliest days of the American car industry, it has to be one of my dad's.
That memory jives with other things. Before the start of eighth grade, I realized I could no longer remember the titles of books I had enjoyed but maybe not loved to the point of fandom (like The Hobbit, for instance). I could remember scenes but not titles nor authors and as this was before the internet as we know it today, I couldn't just search online to help jog my memory. So, I began a list of books I had finished.
Originally I toyed with keeping a list of books started too but that got to be too cumbersome, so decided to stick only with ones I had read start to finish. I began the list in its experimental form in June of 1987 but I didn't really settle on logistics until that July.
Since I wasn't really much of a reader until seventh grade, I can safely guess that I first read the book in in late 1986 or early 1987. Basically, I must have read it in that grace period when I had suddenly realized I liked reading but hadn't realized I didn't like forgetting what I'd read!
It's not that I don't like re-reading things. I just prefer to do it as an informed reader. I'd rather see that I've read something (even if I don't remember anything else about the book) and decide to re-read it, than be faced with a niggling deja vu that might be legitimate or it might just be my own nagging imagination!
A Night in the Lonesome October: 04/08/15
A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny is one of two books I alternate with for Halloween / October reading. The other is Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree.
Zelazny's book, though short, can be read over the course of a month, as each chapter is a different date in the month. The narrator, a dog, outlines his duties in the game that comes on Halloween when conditions are correct. His master and the other players take sides as either openers or closers (those who want to open a portal of unthinkable evil, and those who want to make sure that doesn't happen).
Part of his duty (and the duties of the other familiars) is to figure out who is in the game. It seems this year there is a new participant, as described by his familiar, a pack rat. But things aren't adding up and people are ending up dead (unusual, but not unheard of), and the things in the mirror are especially restless.
To add to the charm of this book are the illustrations by Gahan Wilson. Though the book is from the mid 1990s, Wilson's line drawings remind me of the sorts of things included in the pulp science fiction of the 1970s. That's probably because he was illustrating them back then! Anyway, it's a newish (does 20 years old count as newish?) horror story with a deliciously retro feel to it.
Paul Is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion by Alan Goldsher: 04/07/15
Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion by Alan Goldsher looks at an alternate history of the Beatles, one where John Lennon is a zombie. After reanimating Paul McCartney, the form a band and hatch a plan.
It sounds like a great set-up for a zombie novel. Except — it has to fall into the pseudo documentary trap. Rather than just getting a funny, off the cuff narrative of a pair of zombies trying to conquer the world through their music, we get a series of DRY, BORING, interviews with anyone vaguely associated with the band.
I read (skimmed, really) this one around the same time I was suffering through Abraham Lincoln, Zombie Killer by Seth Grahame-Smith. I didn't like that one either. So now I've sworn off all zombie books that are presented in a pseudo documentary format. If I see another faux interview or memoir, I will scream.
For those, though, that did like the book, it's being turned into a movie and there's a sequel: Give Death a Change. Thanks, I'll pass.
Satan's Prep: 04/06/15
Satan's Prep by Gabe Guarente is a graphic novel about a high school boy stuck in a high school in purgatory. So he's stuck with monsters, demons, and bullies.
Trevor Loomis ended up in preparatory purgatory after electrocuting himself with his amp. But here's the thing, the book is just the same old hackneyed story of jocks in letterman jackets trying to rule the school, and the wimpy main character, a male, of course, waffling between getting chewed alive by the system (which of course condones the letterman violence), and trying to get the girl (who is more of a trophy for his raging hormones).
Now to make it different, the story has the whole purgatory thing, which apparently means as much gross out artwork as possible. The problem though, is that these underworld stories need the punishment to match the crime or sin. For those who become monsters, their form and powers should also match their crimes. The underworld is a psychological landscape. Santan's Prep has none of that.
A Touch of Gold: 04/05/15
A Touch of Gold by Joyce and Jim Lavene is the second of the Missing Pieces mystery series. It literally opens with a bang, in the form on an explosion at the island town's maritime history museum.
The curator of the museum, Max Caudle, had years earlier found a treasure chest of gold coins. Now someone has shot a cannon into the museum presumably to get his hands on them.
Though injured in the explosion, Mayor Dae knows she has to piece together the history of these coins to figure out who would go to such extremes as to destroy a museum and kill its curator.
If the previous book was quaint in its history of Duck and its people and ties to prohibition era crime, this one looks at some of the seedier elements of the area around Duck. There are numerous small islands and sandbars in Dowdy Bay. Dae's uncanny ability to find things, takes her to one such place, and into the hands of a group of people living off the grid and outside the bounds of society.
This book was more adventure than cozy mystery but still an enjoyable page turner. I am looking forward to reading the third in the series, A Spirited Gift.
The Seer of Shadows: 04/04/15
The Seer of Shadows by Avi is set in New York just as the city is beginning to modernize. It's 1872. Horace Carpetine has been apprenticed to a photographer who specializes in ghost photography.
Well before the modern day Photoshop, photographers with access to a darkroom could use superimpositions and collage and hand retouching to augment their photographs. Some used their skills to make apparitions "appear" in their work.
Horace's first big job is to take the reference photographs that will help the photographer make his ghostly portraits for the wealthy family that's hired them. Except in doing so, Horace unearths an actual ghost and a dark family secret.
For fans of Goosebumps and similar books looking to sink their teeth into something a little scarier, The Seer of Shadows is perfect. For older readers who also enjoy Stephen King's shorter works, like "Sun Dog" will also like this one.
Moby Duck: 04/03/15
Moby Duck by Donovan Hohn is the Pacific Ocean's answer to Charlie Connelly's Attention All Shipping (LINK). Both start with a simple concept and turn into a mixture of travelog, memoir, and social essay.
In the 1990s, a container ship was hit by a wave and dropped some of its cargo, namely 28,000 (at best count) bath toys: ducks, beavers, frogs, and turtles. The ocean managed to force open the crates. The salt water dissolved the cardboard packaging, The ocean currents did the rest.
Their path took the toys into the Arctic Circle where they got trapped in the ice later began washing up on Alaskan shores. Many years later reports surfaced of sun bleached bath toys showing up on Eastern Seaboard beaches.
Hohn's book started as an exploration of the currents, the trash eddies, and climatology. It morphed into a study of container shipping (and just how much stuff is probably lost overboard but left unreported). The book includes interviews of people who found the toys as well as thoughts on how the hunt for them brought people together.
While interesting, I wanted more from the book. The book would have been stronger with photographs: the actual toys, the people interviewed, etc. It also needed more maps and infographics. The book is basically crying for illustrations.
Sneakers, the Seaside Cat: 04/02/15
Margaret Wise Brown is one of those authors who wrote dozens of books over the course of my grandmother's childhood into the early years of my mother's. Her books are still popular and in print, especially Goodnight Moon. And yet, with her being one of the classics of American picture books, I've pretty much only read her as an adult. The one exception is The Color Kittens which was one of my mother's books, and I read it dozens of times as a child.
In the case of Sneakers, the Seaside Cat, the book was first published three years after Brown's death and re-issued again thirty years later (1985) and most recently in 2003. It was until the most recent publication with new illustrations by Anne Mortimer. And it was her jaunty portrait of a young tuxedo cat on the cover that caught my attention.
Now I've had cats all my life — all different types. Most of my adulthood my pet was a calico who wasn't exactly a "normal" cat but she was mine and we understood each other. And she was close to my kids. When she died in February, we needed a new a companion for Tortuga, our bottle baby tuxedo.
The cat who picked us was a half Siamese tuxedo, named Salmon. So now with two tuxedo cats, my daughter's love of cat picture books has turned from anything with a calico to anything with a tuxedo. Thus, Sneakers, the Seaside Cat is suddenly on her radar.
So Sneakers is having his first trip to the seaside. Now I've not personally taken a cat to the beach, but there are cats who live on ships and others who do live near the sea (take for instance Tashirojima, Japan). Sneakers ends up meeting the various sea life and learning about the nature around him.
It's truly an adorable book and perfect for children who love the beach or have cats. Or both!
The Tail of Emily Windsnap: 04/01/15
The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler is the first of a five book middle grade fantasy series. Emily and her mum live on a boat off the coast of an English town. Though she lives over water, she's only now facing her first swim lesson. And it doesn't go anything like she expected or feared.
In fact, it turns out that Emily Windsnap (the name should be clue enough, but more on that later) is half mermaid. She and her mother's memories have been wiped, including the truth as to what happened to Emily's father. He's not the deadbeat dad everyone has told her.
This first book serves an introduction to the world of the merfolk and their relationship to human (at least English) society. It also gives a chance for Emily to reunite her family and learn the basics of her powers as a mermaid.
But in audio form it's also rather twee. In all fairness there's a long literary tradition in Britain of characters having names that match their character traits or jobs or whatnot. Heck, even British society itself did that (think of the family names Smith, Carpenter, Butcher, etc). In children's entertainment we get twee names like Windsnap or Mousling.
I bring up Angelina "Ballerina" Mousling because the audiobook was recorded by Finty Williams, the voice of Angelina Ballerina from the original animated series that ran from 2001-2007. Having her read Emily Windsnap's adventures makes is damn near impossible to not compare Emily's world and friends to Angelina's.