How to Be a Cat: 05/31/15
How to Be a Cat by Nikki McClure is a concept book that follows a kitten through the course of a day as she practices essential skills: pounce, clean, scratch, and so forth. The book is nearly wordless, save for the title and the single word on each page marking the kitten's skill.
At first glance, the kitten appears to be rendered in calligraphic ink. Turns out, she's actually cut from paper.
Though the book is clearly aimed at either parents reading to infants or to young children first learning to read, it's still a cute and entertaining book for anyone who has cats.
The Ghost Prison: 05/30/15
The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney is a first person account of a night guard at a prison. Billy's job is to help feed a prisoner who is more monster than person, and to keep watch on the ghosts of prisoners who have died while serving their sentences.
This is a very short book and heavily illustrated. It's really more like a short story repurposed as a tween horror because the main character fits into the age group. As introduction to the horror short story genre, it's an acceptable stepping stone to the likes of Poe, Lovecraft, or du Maurier — if it were taken as part of a larger collection.
But as a standalone it lacks punch beyond what Scott M. Fisher's dark and moody illustrations bring. The surprise ending is anything but. It's drawn from the same sort of story telling of the summer campfire, lacking even the twists and turns of an R.L. Stine book.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore: 05/29/15
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce is about a bookworm who is whisked away to a magical world in a storm and becomes a librarian. He spends his life as a librarian until he's too old to make the magical books behave and he finds a replacement in a young girl who has come to the library, perhaps under similar circumstances. In a nod to the Narnia books before they got too preachy for their own good, Mr. Morris Lessmore returns to his youth upon leaving the magical world.
Morris's pre-Narnia-Oz world is drawn in drab colors reminiscent of the old silent films of the early 20th century. Specifically, Morris is the picture book twin of Buster Keaton. Keaton often portrayed rather bookish characters who through trial and error and excessive amounts of earnestness manage to win the affections of a beautiful young woman.
But the library itself within the bounds of a magical world where books fly lacks a certain something. It's not that books as actual magical items hasn't been done before. It's just not as effective here. My favorite example of this trope is the library in the film Mirror Mask.
Bookworms don't become librarians to control books or keep them in order or to have more time to read. Actually there's very little time on the job to read. Librarians like information and like hooking up people to information. Librarians know how to find stuff and to get to heart of a question even if you don't know how to ask the question.
Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir: 05/28/15
Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir by Nicole J. Georges is on the American Library Association's 2014 Rainbow list. It's a memoir told as a graphic novel of a Nicole George's childhood and early adulthood.
There are two competing threads to this book. The first is Georges's attempt to locate her father, whom she had been told had died before she was born but hadn't. The second is her coming to terms with her identity and her sexual orientation.
Unfortunately for me, I read this book as a library book and I tend to rush through them because of the ticking down of the due date. Calling Dr. Laura at least for me, wasn't a book that can be quickly read. Part of my problem was keeping characters separate in my head because of the switching between narrative threads and the very similar character design for a number of characters.
To be honest the part where she finally breaks down and calls into the Dr. Laura show didn't leave much of a impact one me. Again, that's mostly through the need to read the book quickly. If you do decide to read this book, take it slowly.
Your Food Is Fooling You: 05/27/15
Your Food Is Fooling You by David A. Kessler was nominated for a young adult nonfiction CYBILs. This is the teen version of this two adult books on overeating.
The book includes some information on how chain restaurants manufacture their food to be easy to eat and as tasty as possible by using insane amounts of fat, sugar, and salt. The point to avoid fast food and certain kinds of food at restaurants is fine.
But there's also this assumption that everyone has the author's food compulsions. And if everyone just stopped compulsively buying In N Out burgers on the way home from work, then we'd all be thin! Because of course all weight issues come directly from binge eating.
Nope. Human beings aren't that simple. And making it seem like it's just that easy especially when marketing a book to teens who might be facing teasing or worse if they happen to have weight issues is irresponsible.
Five, Six, Seven, Nate!: 05/26/15
Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle is the sequel to Better Nate Than Ever. While it's a satisfying conclusion, I really, really, really hope to see more of Nate's adventures on Broadway.
When last we saw our hero, he was called back at the very last minute. Now he's living in Manhattan with his aunt (who reminds me of a modern day Auntie Mame, with less means, but just as much of an off-beat attitude).
So Nate, like Peggy Sawyer of 42nd Street, ends up getting more and more important roles to play in the E.T. musical. Also like Peggy, Nate has to work his butt off to keep up. Unlike Peggy, though, Nate's been spending his entire life preparing for this moment.
It's wonderful seeing Nate find himself in the madness of this E.T. musical. Nate as an E.T. understudy, makes friends with the woman cast to play the alien. It was nice seeing him grow through the mentorship process. There's also a subplot involving a secret admirer which is charming and cute and delightfully sappy.
I really don't know if there are any more Nate books planned. If there are, I will read them. I will pre order them. I will camp out by local bookshop waiting for them to come in. If there aren't, then I am eagerly awaiting whatever the author is working on.
Ammie, Come Home: 05/25/15
Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels is the first of the Georgetown gothic mysteries by Barbara Michaels. I read it after reading the last in the series, Stitches in Time first (not realizing it was part of a trilogy).
It's the close of the 1960s and Ruth, a 40s something widow is having her niece, Sara, over to stay. Things begin to go awry when she is dropped off by her college professor — a man clearly going through a midlife crises — as seen through his choice of dress and his cute little sports car.
Sara begins having trouble sleeping, thinking she's hearing a neighbor call for a missing bet named Sammie. But soon it's apparent that it can't be a missing pet. It has to be something more sinister. Perhaps the house is haunted? Or maybe it's all one big prank?
The haunting is an excuse to drag out gender roles and gender politics — hot topics for Barbara Michaels / Elizabeth Peters early works. Although she does still include explorations of gender roles, she was tempered them and hidden them better in her plots. The Georgetown trilogy seems the most rife with gender politics of any of her books or series and the politics get in the way of an otherwise interesting (albeit formulaic) haunted house story.
As I was reading it, I had a nagging sense of deja vu, and not just from having read the last book in the series. I attributed the feeling to the fact I was also reading The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong as the ghosts Chloë keeps encountering seem to be hiding in all the same places as the ones in Ruth's home.
But no, the post on the Gothic Romance Forum snapped it all into place for me. There was an ABC made for TV movie in 1970. I'm sure I watched it in reruns on my grandmother's cable. I went through a phase where I watched every single horror film I could find on cable (as this was before video rental stores or streaming media).
Hey! Who Stole the Toilet?: 05/24/15
Hey! Who Stole the Toilet? by Nancy E. Krulik is the eighth of the George Brown, Class Clown series, and hopefully the only one I'll have to read (or listen to, as I was offered an audio book through the LibraryThing early readers program). George Brown is apparently cursed with evil burps which get him in trouble. This time they might meddle with his first over night camping trip.
George besides being plagued by nonsensical evil burps (maybe a slight of hand referral for ADHD?), he also has a female stalker. She's found a way to join the scouting troop so that she can go on the first camping trip which she imagines will be an incredibly romantic thing. Really? What second or third grader thinks about romance?
I don't know what these characters are like in print but the audio performance tries to give unique voices to each character. The voice given to the already annoying girl is enough to make paint peel. I really had to restrain myself from skipping through any scene where she has more than a couple of lines of dialog.
Hey! Who Stole the Toilet? reminds me of the books my second grade teacher would read to us. If we had been good in class before story time, we got a chance to hold her pet rosy boa snake. The snake petting was usually the highlight of story time as I wasn't a fan to these sort chapter books with ridiculous, oft times gross-out situations. Or they featured kids believing absolutely stupid crap. Like Flora in Flora & Ulysses, I've always been a bit of a cynic). For kids who like How to Eat Fried Worms, Freckle Juice, or similar will probably like the George Brown series too.
Here She Is, Ms Teeny-Wonderful: 05/23/15
Here She Is, Ms Teeny-Wonderful by Martyn Godfrey is the May challenge book for the 8th annual Canadian Reads. It's the first of the Carol and Wally trilogy. Carol is a five-canner, meaning she can jump her BMX over five garbage cans. She'd love to move up to being a six-canner but so far, she hasn't managed to. For her, a perfect weekend would be spent on her bike doing tricks and having adventures.
Her mother, meanwhile, believes her daughter could and should be more feminine. She believes in an antiquated feminine ideal and has entered Carol into a brand new pre-teen magazine sponsored beauty contest, Ms Teeny-Wonderful. Carol, to her shock, is a finalist and has been invited from St. Albert, Alberta to Toronto with her mother and a male escort of her choice. Out of desperation to have at least one sympathetic person with her, she invites her best friend and bicycle bro, Wally.
Carol finds herself facing lots of things she doesn't want to but she's too proud and stubborn to back out. She also wants to participate in the contest on her own terms since she was entered without her knowledge. She is a small town girl going to the big city, like a kid from Julian, California flying to New York City.
And then she gets to meet the kids who take this sort of contest seriously. Too seriously. The two to watch out for are a set of twins invited to compete as a single entry: Jean and Joan. Given their obviously wealthy background, spoiled personalities, and down right nastiness, I couldn't help but think of the Biscuit Twins from The Littlest Pet Shop. As that cartoon is a joint US/Canada production, I can only guess that the Biscuits' creator must have read this book. Carol, though, isn't Blythe. She isn't into fashion. She doesn't design her own clothes. She's a stunt rider, through and through, and she's decided to prove to the rest of Canada, that girls can be awesome at it.
I'm not a BMX bike person myself but I'm also not into fashion. I think I would have been mortified if my mother had entered me into a beauty contest. I do, though, love Carol for remaining true to herself, even when facing the bullying of the twins, her own insecurities and fears, and finding her own way to shine on her own terms.
I'm going to leave off with this review with the Biscuit twins doing what they do best, singing about themselves.
Whistle for Willie: 05/22/15
My daughter is an Ezra Jack Keats fan, especially his Peter books. One of her recommendations to me was Whistle for Willie, the sequel to Snowy Day.
It's spring time now and Peter and his dog, Willie, are out exploring the city block. Peter desperately wants to learn how to whistle so he can call Willie whenever he needs to. Whistling doesn't come easy, though.
As with Snowy Day, Peter isn't completely focused on learning how to whistle. Peter, like real children, gets distracted. He does other things when he can't whistle and is bored of practicing. Those asides give Peter a chance to grow as a character while showing children more of Peter's neighborhood.
My daughter learned in school that Keats used wallpaper as one of his materials in this book. So on our second read through the book we paid special attention to the illustrations. She pointed out all the wallpaper to me that she could find.
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: 05/21/15
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Kahn is a beautiful picture book that teaches colors through a Muslim perspective.
The book follows a mother and daughter as they walk through their community. The daughter points out the colors of her life and their significance to her.
I read the book with my daughter. As we're not Muslims, she had some questions about the different words and the traditions mentioned. It gave us a chance to chat.
For anyone worried (and the book has been challenged), there is NOTHING bad about this book. It is a typical concept book that features a child and her family and a lesson on colors. The only difference is the setting and frankly there needs to be a greater diversity of characters and setting in children's literature.
Grandma's Gift: 05/20/15
Grandma's Gift by Eric Velasquez is an autobiographical picture book about the Christmas when he realized he could be an artist. The book follows young Eric as he and his family prepare for Christmas, by making tamales and decorating.
Then his grandmother takes him across town to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. Although they are the only Hispanics on the bus and they only ones in this part of town, inside the grandmother wants him to see the artwork by another Velasquez, Diego.
Here he sees himself and his calling. Grandmother, being attuned to the heart of her grandson gives him his first box of paints and the encouragement to paint his world, his way.
As someone who spent many an afternoon at the San Diego Museum of Art, I can relate to that sense of wonder and the sense of belonging.
Zak's Lunch: 05/19/15
Zak's Lunch by Margie Palatini is a picture book about a boy and his over active imagination. It's lunch time again and Zak's mother has made him a ham and cheese sandwich. He'd rather have something more exciting. His mother retorts that she's not running a restaurant.
It's the restaurant quip from Mom that sparks Zak's crazy imagination. Soon he's imagining that he's in a magical dinner where he can have whatever he wants in whatever amount. All sorts of fast food and deserts are flung around with carefree abandon.
But in the end Zak is brought back from his revere and is convinced to eat the ham and cheese. So after staring off in to space and going to his happy place, I guess, he comes to and Mom wins the lunch battle.
My problem with the book is that I completely feel for Zak. I hate ham and cheese. It's not something I'd ever want to eat of my own accord but there have been plenty of times when I've been in a situation where it was my only choice of food. These were times when I was traveling and the food had been prepared en masse.
But as a parent — even with picky eaters, I can't imagine making such a stink over a sandwich. I'm not suggesting that she bow to Zak's every whim, but a more sensible dialog between the two would have been nice.
Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break if You Want to Survive the School Bus: 05/18/15
Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break if You Want to Survive the School Bus by John Grandits follows Kyle on his first day at a new school. The previous year he had walked to school and his brother had ridden the bus. Now that they've moved, it's Kyle who has to ride. Can he survive the ordeal by following his brother's list of rules?
One by one, and followed by hilarious illustrations, Kyle manages to break his brother's rules. He's sure he's going to get clobbered on the ride home. But out of the mess that he makes of his brother's advice, he manages to make friends and find his own rules to survive by.
Line 135: 05/17/15
Line 135 by Germano Zullo is a Swiss picture book about a girl's trip via train to see her grandmother.
The train trip is a metaphor for greater things. From her window seat she imagines the train lines offering her an infinite set of possible destinations.
The strong lines and bold colors to the illustrations remind of Along a Long Road by Frank Viva (2011). I don't know, though, if these illustrations are as complex as Vivas (as his book is comprised of a single, massive vector illustration). Regardless, I like them.
I recommend this book to any young child who loves trains.
Charlie and Lola: My Best, Best Friend: 05/16/15
I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato (or I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato in the United States) by Lauren Child introduced Charlie and Lola to the world. They went on to have their actual own adorable television series — so popular in fact that the library DVDs are scratched to death. The series in turn inspired a new series of books writen by Carol Noble.
Charlie and Lola: My Best, Best Friend by Carol Noble is one of the television series inspired books. It has new to the book characters but will be recognizable to fans of the series. Even if you haven't seen the series, these characters are still great additions to the series.
Sometimes when a children's series goes from book to television and back to book, something is lost in the process. Characters change. Artwork adjusts. Old quirks are smoothed over. Not so with Charlie and Lola. Somehow even with the expanded characters and scenery (school, neighbors, etc), Charlie and Lola as characters stay true to themselves. Lola keeps her unique diction. Charlie is the loyal, patient, and bemused older brother.
If you watch the television series, Lola's best friend from school is Lotta. They are the best, best, bestest friends ever. Except sometimes something gets in their way. This time, it's a someone — a new girl at school.
As a fan of the series, and the mother of another fan, these series inspired books help fill the gap. We can't always find an unscratched, playable DVD, but we can find and read the books. We're getting pretty good at doing the different characters' voices.
Mr. and Mrs. Bunny — Detectives Extraordinaire!: 05/15/15
Mr. and Mrs. Bunny — Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath is the story of a pair of rabbits who end up saving Canada from cyber terrorists and rescuing a girl's parents from kidnappers. Meanwhile, all the girl wants to do is save up enough money for white shoes in time for Prince Charles's visit to her school. Instead, though, her parents are missing, her uncle's in a coma and she has to work with two very strange rabbits to put everything to rights!
Polly Horvath's books always have a very strong sense of place. Like the Everything on a Waffle books, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire! is set on and near Vancouver Island. Vancouver Island is the largest of a group of islands to the west of Vancouver city and to the north of Port Angeles, Washington. It is only accessible via water or air; there are no bridges! Madeline and her family happen to live on one of the outlier islands, Hornby, but she goes to public school in Nanaimo (a city on the northeast side of the island). I've included a Google map with instructions on how to get from Hornby to Nanaimo, and they comport with Madeline's own description early on in the book.
On the outskirts of Cumberland (near where Madeline's ferry lands) Mr. and Mrs. Bunny have moved into their new home in a rabbit city. Why Cumberland — well, it's the home of the Marmot Recovery Centre's Cormox Valley Visitor's Centre. And marmots (and foxes) play a role in mischief that will unite the Bunnies and Madeline.
Horvath's books are usually incredibly Canadian but this one is excessively so, and does for Vancouver Island what L.M. Montgomery's books do for Prince Edward Island, Laura Ingalls Wilder's books do for De Smet, South Dakota, or Beverly Cleary's books do for Portland, Oregon. Take for instance, Madeline's parents, Flo and Mildred, are ex-hippies from California. If they're ex-hippies, chances are they're from the Bay Area.
Seems far fetched? Nope. Completely possible. Our one night out on the town for a fancy meal in Victoria (the capital of British Columbia) our waiter asks us where we're from. We tell him we're on a car trip from the Bay Area and he goes to explain how he was born in Santa Clara but raised here. I think of his story every time I think of Madeline's. Though I suspect her parents are more trying on a day to day basis than his were!
The final piece in this equation is an uncle who is one of Canada's top cryptologists. The foxes have come across a key piece of information for running a rabbit flavored food chain but it's in code. Knowing that the best de-coder lives in the area, they decide to kidnap his family to force them to divulge his address. There's just two small problems: their mastery of human English isn't so hot and Flo and Mildred have no clue where he lives (their minds long since rotted by their alternative lifestyle).
What follows is a ridiculous mash up of a typical girl's mystery series and a typical animal fantasy story. Think Nancy Drew teaming up with the animals from The Wind in the Willows. Along with that mashup is threaded some very strong opinions on the monarchy, on parenting, on feminism, commercialism, and the environment.
I Was Told There'd Be Cake: 05/14/15
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley is her debut memoir in the form of a collection of essays. I listened to this audio after having read her second collection, How Did You Get This Number.
Crosley writes almost stream of consciousness type musings on moments of her life — or on things she would like to happen with her life. She opens with how she'd like to have a child in Europe and uproot him or her to the States. There's another section where she describes being sent to a Christian camp by her clueless Jewish parents every summer.
And there's a lot of just so-so stuff that falls into the category of wacky, off-putting memoirs. I think the salient bits of these essays could be reworked into a graphic novel style memoir. In that regard, I would recommend this book to anyone who has enjoyed Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer or Lucky by Gabrielle Bell.
To This Day: For the Bullied and Beautiful: 05/13/15
To This Day: For the Bullied and Beautiful by Shane Koyczan is a poem, done originally as an online video, to anyone who has ever been bullied. The video went viral, as they say, and was enough of a success to prompt a book, illustrated by a number of artists. The book was nominated for a 2014-2015 CYBILs in the graphic novel category.
For anyone who needs a boost of self esteem, or to give someone a hug in the form of a book, To This Day is a good choice. It's the right balance between uplifting and realistic.
Finch's Fortune: 05/12/15
Finch's Fortune by Mazo de la Roche is the third (in publication order) of the Whiteoaks of Jalna series. With the death of the matriarch the family is reeling from the revelation that Jalna and its fortune goes to Finch.
For his 21st birthday, and his coming into his inheritance, Finch goes to Europe. He will be spending time with his Aunt Augusta and falling in and out of love with a cousin, Sarah Court.
Half of Finch's Fortune takes place in Europe and half back in Canada. Plot-wise, it reminds me of Guermante's Way, the third piece of Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Tone-wise, though, it reminds me of one of Daphne du Maurier's novels. Finch's interactions with Sarah and the others in his family is always strained. Even when everyone is apparently happy and having fun, there's a lingering sense of wrongness.
Happy Families: 05/11/15
Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis is about a family being torn apart by the father's secret identity as a trans woman named Christine. Their perfect world is shattered and he's forced to slink away to save the family from the horrible embarrassment.
Truth be told I never got far enough into the book to meet Christopher or Christine. Instead I had to contend with the oh-so-perfect and über talented twins: Ysbael and Justin. Two chapters of their successful hobbies and their religious faith and I was ready to throw the book out my window.
As it was a library book, I chose instead to return it unfinished.
Not Every Book Gets a Review: 05/10/15
Although I do use a one star rating, I don't review every book I read. Criteria for reviewing books is pretty straight forward: I have to have something to say about the book.
I try to avoid just giving plot summary. Plot summary isn't a review. It doesn't tell you anything beyond what happened. Chances are, you don't want so many spoilers!
I also try to avoid purely emotional responses. Love or hate with nothing else to say isn't enough beyond maybe a quick notation in GoodReads and LibraryThing or maybe a photograph with a reaction on Tumblr. This blog, though, is for multi-paragraph posts about books.
Ideally I'd like to have a post where I share something meaningful about the book. Maybe I can draw in cultural connections across other books, or the author's body of work. Maybe I can draw on my personal experience and share a story that relates to the book. Maybe I ended up doing a silly mental mashup with another book or cast the characters with cartoon characters, or something. All those are fun posts to write, and I hope, fun to read.
Sometimes, though, I'm staring a book I've read, and even with my notes taken, I can't think of anything beyond a sentence or two to write. Those are the books that I leave rated on the other sites but unreviewed here.
Here is my current list of books I'm not going to review:
The dates next to the titles are when I read them. As you can see, there's sometimes quite a lag time between reading and writing a review. I will explain in a later post why I take so long to write a review.
Zen Attitude: 05/10/15
Zen Attitude by Sujata Massey is the second of the Rei Shimura mysteries. Rei has moved in with her boyfriend and her antique business seems to be taking off. Everything, though, goes wrong when she is tricked into paying too much for a tansu.
Shimura has fallen for a classic con and it's cost her most of her savings. The blow to her confidence and her wallet strains the relationship with her boyfriend. Pretty soon everything is flying out of control.
Having started the series with the later books first, I'm surprised by how naive and scared Rei is. I'm also now saddened that she gets back together with her boyfriend later because he's actually abusive here — not physically, but definitely emotionally.
As far as the mystery goes, I'm reminded most of the film, The Spanish Prisoner, though the con run on Rei isn't specifically that con. But there's that sense of realizing the pieces of the con by the shock of revisiting the places and events a day or even days later and realizing it was all put on for her benefit.
One star ratings are short hand for DNF: 05/09/15
In my more than 20 years of tracking my reading each year, I've had many years where I've read more than 100 books. Since switching my web site's focus to book blogging, that number has been 300 or more. To keep that pace up, I have to have a lot of books going at one time and I can't always take the time to work through difficult books.
A difficult book doesn't have be one that has a ton of pages, a large vocabulary, or unpleasant subject matter. A difficult book is one that is difficult to come back to because reading it is a chore. That doesn't mean it's a bad book. It doesn't mean no one should read it. It doesn't mean that no one should love it.
But if a difficult book gets me to the point emotionally where I'm ready to set it aside and read something else, meaning it's a DNF (did not finish) then I give it a one star rating. The online sites I use as tools to track my reading, such as GoodReads, LibraryThing, or to release books, such as BookCrossing, don't have a DNF option for books. You've either read them or not. Or on some of them (BookCrossing, being the exception), you can delete a book from your virtual shelves.
Thus I use the one star as a a personal short cut for DNF. If I do finish a book but I still don't like it, I give it a 2 star rating.
As a librarian and book blogger, I still will recommend my one star books to you if I feel your reading interests are a good match for the book, or it's on topic for something you're interested in.
Then Came You: 05/09/15
Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner is the story of the women who make parenthood possible through egg donation and surrogacy. There is Jules Strauss, a Princeton senior who is recruited for her eggs; Annie Barrow, a blue collar working mother who sees surrogacy as a chance to make some well needed money; and finally India Bishop a 43 year old gold digger who decides she wants (but can't have) a baby with her new and wealthy mate.
The novel jumps between these women, after introducing each one. I listened to the book on audio and different readers were brought on to read each of these sections. I've found that I don't like multiple narrators. One person doing all the performance seems to be better and less disjointed. I find it's easier to gauge the ebb and flow of a novel and the interplay between character with only one reader (even when the book has multiple points of view).
But I must also say that I was completely put off by India. She is everything I'm not and I just wasn't interested in seeing her take possession of a child as she does everything else. Children aren't things.
Julia's House for Lost Creatures: 05/08/15
Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke is the story of a hostel for wayward creatures — from mermaids to monsters. Julia does her best to provide for them but their needs and the demands of running the place are wearing her down. Something has to give!
Julia's choices are hire help, evict her guests, or get them to help. She opts for the last one — giving them all chores. This book is perfect for parents who might be introducing chores into their children's lives. It shows that everyone can do something to pitch in, even if it means making accommodations (like a wash basin of water for a mermaid to sit in while doing the dishes).
This book was nominated for the elementary school level of the graphic novels category for the 2014 CYBILs. I think this has more to do with the author being Ben Hatke (of the Zita the Spacegirl graphic novels) than with its actual format. It's the size of a picture book, and frankly if I were cataloging it, I would put it with the picture books. But it does have panels, so it's sort of a transitional book between traditional picture books and graphic novels / comics for young readers.
Greenglass House: 05/07/15
Greenglass House by Kate Milford is a multilayered tale of smuggling, role playing, story telling, and family. Milo lives with his adoptive parents in an inn at the edge of ocean. It's accessible by trolley or via a treacherous road. When the snow begins to fall, the inn typically closes. The family celebrates a quiet Christmas together. But this year, one by one, guests start to arrive, unannounced.
Included in the guests, is a girl named Meddy. She uses a Dungeons and Dragons style role playing game to turn the adults' stories of the Greenglass house in its days as a smuggler's den, into an adventure. Through larping Milo and Meddy take on the task of decoding a treasure map and solving the mystery of the Greenglass House.
Greenglass House, like The Boneshaker is a poetic and layered book. Story telling features prominently and each character has his or her story to tell, except for Milo, who has a foundling, is desperate to know his origins. He knows he's Chinese but he doesn't know anything of his parents or how he came to this smuggler's hideout. So instead, he invents a new story for himself which he plays out through his larping as a master thief named Negret.
Although I started reading Greenglass House as a library book, I ended up purchasing a copy for my home library as my renewals ran out. In the nine weeks I had the book, I had only managed to read half a book. It's the sort of story that is so resplendent in language that I needed to record my favorite quotes. These I collected through live blogging on Tumblr.
Day of Doom: 05/06/15
Day of Doom by David Baldacci is the disappointing conclusion to the Cahills vs. Vespers series. Why he was brought on write the ending is a mystery to me.
At the start of the 39 Clues, there was an educational aspect to the books. Despite the silliness of all these competing teams and the online interactive bits for diehard readers, there was some actual history, culture, and geography thrown in. The educational aspects fell to the wayside in this second series and by the end, any actual grip on reality is completely lost.
At the end of Trust No One by Linda Sue Park, the siblings realize they have been gathering the pieces of a doomsday device designed by Archimedes. A magical version of this thing appears in Mark of Athena and The House of Hades (reviews coming) both by Rick Riordan. So maybe I should be making the sink eye at him too.
Most of this book is the final race across the country to rescue the prisoners and turn off the doomsday device before it can be completely activated. This device has the following non-sensical effects: strange weather, plans unable to fly (due to reversed polarity) and a massive subduction zone generated earthquake (and land tsunami)! But — but — but — the subduction zone is in the Rocky Mountains — in an Amtrak tunnel. Colorado doesn't have a subduction zone (as there is no plate diving beneath another). What it does have is an extensive aquifer network.
There are so many things wrong with the premise that I just would need about a month's worth of posts to outline why this book is just so wrong. And it's not a fun wrong. It's a frustrating, book-tossing-worthy wrong. It's extra-special wrong because it doesn't fit the personality of the previous books, even remotely.
But let's take a deep breath and set the doomsday device aside to look at the the Vesper organization. All the way through we've been told that no one knows who Vesper One is because everyone goes by a number only. As anyone with the right credentials can be recruited, there's no obvious guarantee as to who is the top Vesper. So with that set up, who ends up being Vesper One — yup — a dude with the last name Vesper.
I want a do over.
Night Soldiers: 05/05/15
Night Soldiers by Alan Furst is the first book in a long series of books set in different places and times within the setting of World War Two. The books don't have to be read in order and in that regard are rather like Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.
Here it is Bulgaria, 1934. Khristo Stoianev is recruited by the Soviet Union's KKVD (secret intelligence service) after his brother is murdered by the local fascists. He's sent to Span during their Civil War.
The other Furst books I've read have been trade paperbacks. This time I tried something different — an audio read by George Guidall. Here is one of those times when I wish I had opted for print, despite counting Guidall as one of my all time favorite audiobook readers.
Furst puts a ton of detail into his books, as well as observations on local customs and human nature. But these tangents and asides don't work as monologues. They need to be skipped, skimmed and re-read depending on mood — and none of those options are easy on an audio.
Are You My Mother?: 05/04/15
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel is the follow up to Fun Home, a book about growing up in a mortuary. This book is completely focused on the author's relationship (or lack there of) with her mother, and the authors extensive years of therapy.
So reading a book by the creator of the Bechdel test, the first question is, does it pass. Yes. It passes by dint of having no male characters in it. Is it an interesting book? No. Was it a catharsis for the author, probably.
What I've learned from slogging through this graphic novel is that the author had (or maybe has) a hard time letting go of painful memories. Her mother wasn't particularly maternal and her father was suffering from depression (but he's only mentioned in passing) and the author spent more time in therapy that in writing this book.
But there was no character growth. No plot. No humor. No rise and fall to the emotions. Just lots and lots and lots of therapy recreated in a graphic novel format.
If you have issues with your mother, then this memoir might be for you. If you are a rabid fan of the author's comics, this book might be for you. Everyone else can probably skip this one.
The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart: 05/03/15
The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu was published originally in French as La Mécanique du coeur and later turned into a 3D animated film, Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. As I saw the film (also translated to English) before reading the book, I will be comparing the two.
Both versions begin with a warning:
FIRSTLY: don't touch the hands of your cuckoo-clock heart
Both begin with a birth during the coldest winter day in Edinburgh's history. Both have a child with a poor APGAR score given a second chance of life with the help of a wind-up heart. Both have a horrendous school experience with a bully named Joe. Both have a brief encounter with a flamenco dancing singer named Miss Acacia. Both have a trip to Andulusia and the help of Méliès.
But the journeys through those way stations are completely different and the final destination is a 180 degrees different between book and film. This different destination in the film, though, isn't a bad thing.
And here's why:
The written word — even one that's translated — has the freedom of word play. Within the bounds of multiple definitions, idiomatic phrasing, double entendre, and so forth, is the magic of the metaphor and the simile. There's no reason to push things beyond the word play to tell the story.
The photoplay — to use the word popular when Georges Méliès was making his fantasy and science fiction films, is an art-form that thrives on special effects. The animated film has a long tradition of being a favorite for the fantasy genre.
So when given a choice between metaphor or reality, the book chose metaphor and the film chose reality.
Which one do I prefer? I like them both.
Regards to the Man in the Moon: 05/02/15
Regards to the Man in the Moon by Ezra Jack Keats is the fourth of the Louie books. Louie is upset because the neighborhood kids have been teasing his father, calling him a junk man. So he and Louie conspire to show them the importance of reusing and upcycling.
Louie and his step dad get to work to make a neighborhood version of Verne and Méliès's masterpiece. They make their rocket ship out of cardboard and other materials left in the scrap yard. As the children get wrapped up in their project and then in the playtime, Keats's illustrations switch more and more to showing what they are imagining.
Journey to the Moon
As the daughter of an antiques dealer, I could relate to the teasing Louie received. Every vacation we went on, we invariably ended up visiting local dumping sites for those forgotten (and free!) gems that could be fixed up and sold (for profit!) Locally there were the estate sales (morbid but kind of fun, see Bad Houses by Sara Ryan. And worse of all, there was the occasional Dumpster diving.
Scribble by Deborah Freedman is about a pair of sisters and their drawings. The older sister loves to draw princesses and has a very set opinion on how drawings should be done. The younger sister prefers cats and is a little freer with how she draws — basically she scribbles.
But it's through the drawings that we get to know the girls. See the cat and the princess form a friendship across their papers and together they make something useful of the left behind scribble.
This book reminded me of Picture Purrfect Kittens by Erika Tatihara and Masuru Misobuti but with an artistic style that's similar to Crocket Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon books.