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August 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

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The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth: 08/31/15

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth by Ian Lendler is a graphic novel adaptation / retelling of the Scottish play by Shakespeare. Now when I see an animal themed "presentation" of something famous like this, I'm skeptical. So often, these things are dumbed down, simplified, and so far removed from the original that there's no point in keeping any reference to the title except perhaps to make it sound vaguely educational.

Lady Macbeth

Not so with the Stratford Zoo series (their take on Romeo and Juliet comes out in this year). Though the animals are doing their own thing, the characters are still recognizable. The humor is on point plot-wise and outlandish at the same time (as a good parody should be).

But what makes this book really something special, something to show to everyone (as I have been doing!), is the acting by the animals. Or, put more succinctly, the artwork by Zack Giallongo, is hilarious. It's like reading the storyboard to an old Warner Bros' short (think Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, or Friz Freeling).


Five stars

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The 26-Story Treehouse: 08/30/15

The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton: The story of how these two friends met and why they built their treehouse.

The 26-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and illustrated by Terry Denton is the second in the treehouse series. The author and illustrator spent the entire last book stalling so they wouldn't have to write their next book for Mr. Big Nose — their publisher. Now we get to learn the story of how they met.

The lonely boy

There's the story of a boy running away from home and nearly falling to his death. There's another stranded at sea. There's a headless pirate. And all sorts of other ridiculous details that come together to tell an entertaining and compelling adventure.

The expanded treehouse

The treehouse has also grown, adding another thirteen stories. Of course part of the fun is getting the grand tour of the new as well as the old floors!

Five stars

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Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril: 08/29/15

Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril by Jarrett J. Krosoczka: It's a plan Moist von Lipwig would be proud to call his own.

Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the eighth of the Lunch Lady books. It's picture day and the Breakfast Bunch realizes something isn't right.

I read this book right after finishing two Discworld books featuring a con man forced to go legit: Going Postal and Making Money. So having spent two enjoyable books thinking about "opportunities" made the plan here blatantly clear.

And maybe because this plot is grounded in at least a glimmer of reality, Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril is one of my favorites. Sure, it still has the sleuthing, and the gadgets, but the basic crime is recognizable and understandable.

And besides, who actually likes picture day? OK, sure, you might get out of class for a time, but you have to dress up in your best. And then you spend the day worrying you'll mess up your outfit or you're uncomfortable. And then no matter how hard you try to give your best smile, you end up looking goofy. Right? Well, maybe all that trouble is part of a conspiracy.

Four stars

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The Islands at the End of the World: 08/28/15

The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan: Leilani loves surfing and would be happiest doing nothing but in her spare time.

The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan is set in Hawaii on the big island and on Oahu at a time when the world goes dark. Leilani loves surfing and would be happiest doing nothing but in her spare time. Unfortunately she's an epileptic and her parents have put her into a study, meaning she and her father have to make regular trips to Oahu.

As part of Leilani's treatment is to stop her normal meds. This is one of those convenient plot points that often get tossed into disaster stories, because then it's not just a matter of an uncomfortable change in life style or some hardcore roughing it, it becomes a matter of life and death due to an otherwise manageable medical condition.

So, of course, something weird has to happen. The lights go out across the island. Radio goes down. TV goes down. The island is essentially cut off from the other islands and from the rest of the world. And isolated location like Oahu does provide a good, closed environment for a disaster story — more so than a continental one where the excuses have to be more far flung to explain why no one can get through.

A big portion of the disaster part of The Islands at the End of the World focuses on the situation where a tourist island is suddenly cut off from all imports. Society quickly begins to fall apart and the U.S. military presence takes over, putting everyone in protective camps while they decide how to deal with an island which no longer can support the population.

In the background of all of this, is an extraterrestrial event, a thing in the sky that looks like a glowing orchid. The orchid thing awakens Leilani's connection to her Hawaiian heritage. But this part of the plot didn't feel as genuine as the military machinations. It's not that native Hawaiians wouldn't be reacting to the experience against their traditions and creation stories. Of course; it's a natural human reaction. But here what should have been magical realism ends up feeling forced.

Having read The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett, I couldn't help but see similarities between the space orchid and the strange light above the Disc. Except Pratchett while playing with tropes and poking fun at a lot of fantasy ended up creating a rather deep statement about our place in the universe. Leilanli's experience falls far short of that which is a shame because the initial chapters showed such great potential.

Three stars

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The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle: 08/27/15

The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle by Lynne Cherry: mangroves can take root in salt water.

The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle by Lynne Cherry is the story of how a storm helps to create a new mangrove island. As the tree grows so does the island. Animals and plants come to it, providing food, shelter, and shade.

The thing that interested me most about the book was how mangroves can take root in salt water. I realized they could take tidal water where a river was emptying into the sea but I didn't realize they could take full on ocean salinity.

The book brought back memories of canoeing through a mangrove forest along the Hawkesbury river, north of Sydney, New South Wales. The mangroves darkened the entire sky. The landscape was a tangle of roots, branches, vines. It was easy to let one's imagination run wild, picturing all sorts of creatures and dangers lurking on the just visible shoreline. (In actuality, it was an abandoned citrus orchard)

I read the book while working a temporary inventory job at the Region 9 library of the EPA. The library contains a mixture of environmental related materials from reports, maps, studies, history, and picture books.

Five stars

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Clementine and the Spring Trip: 08/26/15

Clementine and the Spring Trip by Sara Pennypacker: Clementine, while somewhat goofy, is a good and responsible child.

Clementine and the Spring Trip by Sara Pennypacker is the sixth of the Clementine books. Clementine is excited about an upcoming field trip to Plimoth Plantation. She and her best friend have everything planned but those plans are messed up when a new girl arrives at school.

Clementine, while somewhat goofy, is a good and responsible child. Her teachers clearly trust her and that's why she's given the ever important job of being the new girl's partner on the field trip.

But you can imagine the heart break Clementine is feeling at having her plans dashed. If this were a Junie B. story, most of the book would be tied up with the protagonist wining, throwing tantrums, and being bizarre, all to avoid the change in plans.

Clementine, though, does her best to come to terms with her new situation. She's worried about her best friend, who hates dirt. The plan had been for Clementine to do all the dirty, hands on exhibits, and now she can't. There's also the weirdness of trying to make friends with the new kid during a field trip. Clementine, though, steps up and does her best.

Now that all by itself, would have been a heartwarming book about a field trip and making friends. But there's a B plot involving the school bus that ties all the sillier loose ends of the story into one, tight and hilarious, satisfying end.

Five stars

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The 13-Story Treehouse: 08/25/15

The 13-Story Treehouse

The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is a graphic novel hybrid about an author and his illustrator friend who live together in a 13-story treehouse. They should be writing their next book but are too busy playing and having adventures.

The appeal here is in the illustrations. The treehouse is elaborate and silly. They have self-making beds, a marshmallow machine, a shark tank, and a bowling alley, among other conveniences.

Apparently Griffiths and Denton have written a ton of stuff together. I haven't had the pleasure of reading any of their other collaborations yet. For fans who have, this book offers a fictional look behind the scenes.

This book reads like a behind the scenes episode of Phineas and Ferb (rather like the Tri-Stone Era episode). Imagine if Jeff "Swampy" Marsh and Dan Povenmire goofed off too long and then made an episode about it.

Five stars

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Farmyard Beat: 08/24/15

Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig uses catchy rhymes and rhythms to tell the story of a barnyard of animals who can't sleep.

Farmyard Beat by Linsey Craig uses catchy rhymes and rhythms to tell the story of a barnyard of animals who can't sleep. First the chicks wake up and one by one the other animals do too. Until at last, Farmer Sue is up!

Marc Brown (author of the Arthur series) provides the illustrations for this adorable book. They are collages that use a variety of paper types that provide pattern and visual texture to the pieces.

    The book is a good mixture of basics.
  • naming of animals
  • the sounds they make
  • lots of repetition
  • easy to read lyrics
  • bold illustrations

Four stars

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Explorer 2: The Lost Islands: 08/23/15

Explorer 2: The Lost Islands by Kazu Kibuishi: My favorite of the set is the collaboration between Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman in which a girl is stranded on an island.

Explorer 2: The Lost Islands edited by Kazu Kibuishi is the second of the Explorer compilations of short comics. Each of these collections is based on a central theme, and this one is islands.

This collection has works by Kazu Kibuishi, Jason Caffoe, Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman, Jake Parker, Michel Gagné, Kate and Steven Shanahan, and Chrystin Garland.

My favorite of the set is the collaboration between Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman in which a girl is stranded on an island. She meets two other people, a young woman and and old woman. They share a bond through a song they all know. Are they all aspects of the same person, or just very similar?

Four stars

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The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Mud-Slinging Moles: 08/22/15

The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Mud-Slinging Moles by Maxwell Eaton III: Hilda lives with her mother in a cabin in the foothills..

The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Mud-Slinging Moles by Maxwell Eaton III is the third of the Flying Beaver Brothers series. There's always some new environmental threat to the island getting in the way of the brothers enjoying their extreme sports.

In there

This time, the interruption comes in the form of mud. Lots and lots of mud. Everything seems to be sinking into it. Behind the muddy mess is a mass of moles.

Four stars

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Hildafolk: 08/21/15

Hildafolk by Luke Pearson: Hilda lives with her mother in a cabin in the foothills..

Hildafolk by Luke Pearson is the first of the Hildafolk series and was done to highlight Pearson's artwork. It's about a third the length of the later Hilda books but shows the potential of the following ones.

Hilda listening to the rain in a tent

Hilda lives with her mother in a cabin in the foothills. She adores nature and the creatures who live there: mundane and magical. She's wary of giants. She isn't as brave about the magical elements of her surrounds as she will be. But she's willing to believe and willing to share.

She loves to explore. She's prone to get lost. The forest is changeable. In the later books, Hilda's ties to the spirit world are firmly established. She can see them because she thinks like them, and she takes things at face value. Here, he shows this through her crossing paths with a giant. She's lost and she believes he knows where he's going. Turns out, he doesn't.

Though it's short and not as refined as the later ones, it's still a must read for fans of Hilda.

Five stars

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Tune: Still Life: 08/20/15

Tune: Still Life by Derek Kirk Kim: Sock Monkey doesn't want a bath.

Tune: Still Life by Derek Kirk Kim is the second of the graphic novel series. Andy has come to realize he's stuck in this facsimile of his home and he won't even get days off for good behavior.

To cheer him up, and probably to start a breeding program, his alien zookeepers have found his girlfriend. Except, she's not his girlfriend. She's an alternate version from another dimension.

These Tune books feel like the fan service / sex comedy animes that I tend to avoid. There's a lot of embarrassment humor through awkward situations, gender tropes, and other things that make me want to pull my hair out.

Andy does manage to escape at the end. I'm a little curious to see if there will be any exploration of the alien's world but I'm not curious enough to actively seek out volume 3.

Three stars

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Sock Monkey Goes To Hollywood: A Star Is Bathed: 08/19/15

Sock Monkey Goes To Hollywood: A Star Is Bathed by Cece Bell: Sock Monkey doesn't want a bath.

Sock Monkey Goes To Hollywood: A Star Is Bathed by Cece Bell was her debut book. It's the story of a stinky sock monkey whose friends stage an intervention. Sock Monkey can't go to the Awards Ceremony unless he takes a bath.

This book is for anyone who has a kid with a special toy that gets taken everywhere. It can be really tough to wrestle away the favorite toy to get it washed. Here as Sock Monkey is a toy and all his friends are too, it's also a tale of why it's important to bathe, much in the same way as I Don't Want to Take a Bath by Julie Skyes


My sister in law actually used a duplicate version to swap out a clean one for the one that needed washing. That idea worked until the eye of one of the toys got scratched, thus making the two distinguishable from each other.

Four stars

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Rust: Death of the Rocket Boy: 08/18/15

Rust: Death of the Rocket Boy by Royden Lepp: Jet Jones is nearly out of battery life and the army is closing in on his location..

Rust: Death of the Rocket Boy by Royden Lepp is the third in the planned four part series. Jet Jones is nearly out of battery life and the army is closing in on his location.

As his life is running out, much of volume 3 is back story. We learn of his creator, his reason for his long life, and his flight from the war.

Along with Jet's history, we learn how the military keeps tabs on its soldiers and equipment. Those harmless repurposed war machines are killers lying in wait for the signal.

Five stars

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How to Make Friends with Demons: 08/17/15

How to Make Friends with Demons by Graham Joyce: A forger can see demons.

How to Make Friends with Demons by Graham Joyce was originally published in 2008 as Memoirs Of A Master Forger under the nom de plum William Heaney. Normally when I review a book, I go by its original title, even if I read a reissued version under a new name. As the author seems to have decided to take back the pen name, I'm going with the reissued title and author information.

William Heaney, the narrator as nom de plum, is a forty-something, divorce who has a government job and dabbles in making book forgeries on the side. He also for reasons never fully established can see demons. A prank from his school days has come back to bite him on the ass and now he has to clean up his mess.

The book was a pretty quick read, sort of a mashup (at least in my head) of Supernatural and Black Books. Sometimes, though, Heaney reminds me more of an adult Watanuki from CLAMP's xxxHolic manga series than Dean or Sam Winchester, in that he's not especially brave about the demons he sees and he's not exactly out to put an end to them.

For all the fun mix and matching I was doing in my head, I wanted more from the actual novel. It lacked coherence. There wasn't enough conflict or narrative drive to keep me turning the pages. I didn't especially connect with Heaney or any of his friends. They were there and they were entertaining but not especially memorable.

Three stars

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I Was the Cat: 08/16/15

I Was the Cat by Paul Tobin: Maybe the cats in our lives, throughout history, have been up to more than just being cute mousers and lap pets.

I Was the Cat by Paul Tobin tells the tale of a woman who has been hired to ghostwrite a memoir of a wealthy recluse. She knows nothing of her employer except for his name and that he has a lot of cats. Her best friends warns her he's up to no good. She's right but not for the reasons she comes up with.

See, he's literally a talking cat. Maybe the cats in our lives, throughout history, have been up to more than just being cute mousers and lap pets.

Beginning the interview

What follows is a series of "lives" as he recounts his life through history. Is he on his last life and wants to share his centuries of adventures? Or is there something more sinister on his mind?

Regenerations for a cat

I was the Cat reminded me of a mixture of Immortal by Traci L. Slatton, the Nine Gates (1999) (more so than it's inspiration, The Club Dumas, I am John, I am Paul by Mark Tesesco, and Doctor Who.

Five stars

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The Sixth Gun, Volume 1: 08/15/15

The Sixth Gun, Volume 1 by Jamie S. Rich: Though there is a lot of violence, there's also a discussion of the evils of violence.

The Sixth Gun, Volume 1 by Cullen Bunn is an omnibus of the first two volumes of the graphic novel series. There are six pistols with supernatural powers. The person who wields one becomes bonded to it and protected by it. But there's a risk of becoming a monster the longer one has it.

The book opens with a young woman picking up one of the guns. She is instantly in danger, perused by cut throats who want it at any price. Soon she's in the middle of a gun battle in a desolate part of the old west.

A pair of panels from the omnibus

Though there is a lot of violence, there's also a discussion of the evils of violence. The series will appeal to fans of Supernatural.

Four stars

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A Boy & a Girl: 08/14/15

A Boy & a Girl! by Jamie S. Rich: Travis meets Charley on her last day in town and he desperately wants to get to know her better before she ships out.

A Boy & a Girl by Jamie S. Rich is about a chance meeting and infatuation at first sight. Travis meets Charley on her last day in town and he desperately wants to get to know her better before she ships out.

But this isn't just any boy meets girl, boy loses girl type comedy. No. This one is set in a future where artificial intelligence has gotten good enough that androids are becoming commonplace. There are even those, its rumored, who can pass as human, even to themselves.

Two panels from the book

A Boy & a Girl is the graphic novel thematic missing link between Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968) and Ridley Scott's Bladerunner (1982). Anyone familiar with either the book or the film will figure out what's really going on pretty quickly, but it's still a delightful and satisfying read.

Four stars

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The Gallifreyan Roundabout or Circular thinking and navigation: 08/13/15

Cambridge and Cardiff transliterated to the Gallifreyan and rendered over Apple maps imagry of Cambridge, Cardiff and the land between. Click to see a larger version.

If you're anything of a Whovian, you know that Gallifreyan is a circular language (although in the older series it was first written as maths and hieratic script). By that I mean the words are written like pieces of clockwork within the circumference of a circle. As an American Doctor Who fan I didn't think much about the language beyond obviously clockwork connection (if you've ever taken apart anything that runs with springs and gears, you'll know what I mean).

After a week of navigating through three parts of the United Kingdom: London (primarily on rail), Cambridge (primarily in taxi) and Cardiff (primarily on foot), I see a bigger connection between the language of the Time Lords and the basic British mental map.

Circles are everywhere in the British landscape. Look at the Underground's logo. Then there's the Circle Line which doesn't exactly go in a circle — it's really more like the subway version of a yo-yo. Above ground there are the numerous roundabouts.

Cambridge, built around the meandering Cam and other waterways seems to be nothing but a series of interlocking roundabouts. Every single time we hired a taxi to take us into town we took a different but circuitous route. It was really like the taxi was trying to find the correct transfer orbit for that day's conditions. Then throughout the nation, the road signs are primarily circular, compared to the US and Canada's obsession with square or rectangular signs.

Cardiff, home of the Doctor Who Experience and BBC Cymru, where the series is filmed, is actually less circular obsessed than Cambridge. I think part of that is two fold: it's relative size and its recent reshaping as a modern city. Cardiff is also right at the ocean's edge so its geography is different.

Cardiff 20150705

None the less, Cardiff has it's own circle obsessions, like it's "Magic Roundabout" (with fantastic road sign inspired artwork). And of course it has Doctor Who and lots of touristy things that can be purchased in Gallifreyan or Welsh.

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The Martian: 08/13/15

The Martian by Andy Weir is Robinson Crusoe in SPACE!

The Martian by Andy Weir is Robinson Crusoe in SPACE! As it involves a lot of science and technical details, it's also a bit like the moon rescue plot of Space Brothers, except drawn out over a longer period of time due to Mars's remoteness.

Mark Watney has been left on Mars when a dust storm forced his crew to abort their months long mission. They believe him dead and believe their only option is to completely scrub the mission and return to Earth, thus leaving them in space for the many months it takes to traverse between the two planets, and him on Mars with limited supplies and no working radio.

If Mark hadn't survived those first couple of sols on Mars, The Martian would be a very short book. Ditto with Robinson Crusoe. Neither book is especially short. Mark finds a way to survive and to make his presence known to those back on Earth at NASA and JPL.

As this is a castaway story, it does has a happy ending. But how that rescue happens is one that's full of humor, science, drama, and potatoes.

Five stars

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Genuine antiquitee, yes sir-ee: 08/12/15

In which Sarah talks about Danger Mouse and the Piccadilly Line.

Series three of Danger Mouse ends with an episode called "Trip to America." In it, Danger Mouse and Penfold travel to the United States after a bunch of the world's monuments disappear. The last one to go missing is the Empire State Building so they figure the others are probably some where in the States too.

Sure enough, they are. They find the Tower of London in the middle of the desert in some undisclosed area that's an amalgam of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. As they're taking in the oddity of the Tower being in the middle of nowhere, a pint-sized cowboy rides up and proudly shows of his "little ol' birdie bath." He goes on to explain how he had to have it for his million acre backyard because it was "genuine antiquitee, yes sir-ee!" Nonplused, Danger Mouse retorts that why yes, it is, because it's the TOWER OF LONDON!

And there in a nutshell is the fundamental difference we noticed on our trip to the UK. The nation has hundreds of years of history, including hundreds of years of architectural history. Centuries of living with the same roads and buildings has given much of the two countries we visited the feel of a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" place.

When something needs to be expanded, the new architecture is grafted onto the old. In some places, there ends up being an architectural strata as buildings were expanded multiple times.

Sometimes, though, the new solution is built in parallel to the old, giving people an old and a new option. Take for instance the train ride from Heathrow to London. There are two lines: the express train, a direct, modern system that goes nonstop into Paddington Station, and the charmingly anachronistic Piccadilly Line.

The Piccadilly Line has roots that goes back to the earliest days of the London Underground, predating the New York Subway by about 30 years. Sure the wooden benches and steam engines are gone but there's enough of the original to make the line stand out. The platforms are smaller. The train carriages are smaller and more obviously tube shaped; bringing to mind the abandoned pneumatic system in New York.

Though the line is old it heads in the direction of Heathrow. Now rather than just make a new line that feeds travelers from the airport, a place that though it was in use as an airfield as early as 1930, didn't become a commercial airport until after WWII, the airport was extended underground to include a way to ride the Piccadilly Line.

It was actually the Piccadilly train's charm that first made me realize I had left my camera on the plane. Had I had it with me, I would have taken a dozen or so photos of the car we were riding in, it being stuffed to the brim with travelers and their luggage and locals just trying to get home.

I could just say that post WWII economics didn't allow for the building of a modern train line but there are too many other examples we spotted on our trip to hint that the choice to extend rather than rebuild was one of national pride.

It's not just London where we say this melding of old and new. We saw the same thing in Cambridge and Cardiff. More on those cities later.

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The Dumbest Idea Ever!: 08/12/15

The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley: Considering I've heard the same sentiments about graphic novels and comic books from educators and parents, I found Jimmy's ongoing campaign to let them be allowed in school fascinating.

The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley is a graphic novel style memoir about how the author first discovered comic books and graphic novels, and eventually, how he decided to write them himself.

Jimmmy was having trouble getting excited about school after chicken pox keeps him home during the championship game. With sports out of question and lots of homework to catch up on, he sort of fell apart. Although depression is never mentioned, it seems like something more than just teenage angst or ennui.

Eventually, his out are comic books. Convincing his teachers that they have value is another thing. Comic books and graphic novels (aka "extra thick comic books) are childish and without any literary or educational merit.

Two panels from the comic

Considering I've heard the same sentiments about graphic novels and comic books from educators and parents, I found Jimmy's ongoing campaign to let them be allowed in school fascinating. I'm not saying they should replace all other reading, but I see no problem in including them in school work!

Five stars

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The Summer of Love: 08/11/15

The Summer of Love by Debbie Drechsler: Life is so hard in the suburbs.

The Summer of Love by Debbie Drechsler is a roman à clef about the summer a pair of sisters with their parents moved to a new suburb. There's all the eye rolling drama of being a teenager in a new neighborhood.

There's Lili and Pearl. Pearl seems to adapt to the new situation but Lili just doesn't fit in. She has a crush on a boy but he's not interested. She misses her friends. She doesn't like the new house. She's bored. Her sister has a, GASP, girlfriend.

Boohoo. It's so hard being a white upper middle class Baby Boomer. Cry me a river.

Two stars

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Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain: 08/10/15

Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain by Jarrett J. Krosoczka: someone is stealing all the electronics at the school, including the ones kids bring from home, and worse yet, a new superintendent is making drastic budget cuts..

Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the ninth of the Lunch Lady books. It's school election time and Hector is running. Meanwhile, someone is stealing all the electronics at the school, including the ones kids bring from home, and worse yet, a new superintendent is making drastic budget cuts.

Whenever something went missing in this book I couldn't help but think that it was being put into some master June box. The June box is something teachers at my kids' school keep near their desks to house all the stuff they confiscate from kids. Most of the time parents get these things back the next day but the threat is always there that the things will be kept until the end of the school year. The solution though isn't a giant June box.

My one quibble with this book is that the A and B plots aren't very connected. Usually what Hector and company are doing is directly related to the sleuthing that the Lunch Lady and Betty do. This time, though, Hector's off doing a school election. Meanwhile kids are complaining about the missing stuff. And the Lunch Lady at the teachers are trying to cope with slashed budgets. It's all too much.

Four stars

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Harry Kitten and Tucker Mouse: 08/09/15

Harry Kitten and Tucker Mouse by George Selden plays with expectations of what letter stands for what.

George Selden introduced Harry Cat and Tucker Mouse to the world in A Cricket in Times Square. I read the book back in elementary school, years before I started keeping track of my reading. I can remember borrowing every single book my school library had that featured these beloved characters.

Recently I saw a copy of Harry Kitten and Tucker Mouse by George Selden on display at my local library. Feeling nostalgic I brought it home.

This one tells of the first meeting between Harry and Tucker, when Harry is just a kitten. They are both trying to survive in the hustle and bustle of Manhattan but haven't found their special place yet.

It's a cute fill-in-the-blanks type story. Anyone who has read A Cricket in Times Square will see how things have to end. Nonetheless, it's interesting to see how they got there and why it ended up being perfect for them.

Four stars

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Z Is for Moose: 08/08/15

Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham plays with expectations of what letter stands for what.

Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham is another alphabet book that tries to spice things up through a gimmick. Here, it's a play, run by Zebra and interrupted by the impatient and rude Moose.

Many of the reviews for this book are positive. The book plays with expectations of what letter stands for what. It breaks the fourth wall as Moose repeatedly speaks and mugs to the audience. And then there's the disappointment Moose understandably feels when Mouse is picked for M.

But let's look at things differently. Where does Zebra ever say Moose has been picked for M? Is there a moment — an aside to the audience — that explains that Moose has been part of the dress rehearsal? No.

Instead, there's just the expectation based on Moose's poor behavior that he will be / should be standing in for letter M. He messes up Zebra's alphabet play (sure, it's a rather dull one, but still—) and at the end, Zebra has to capitulate to this stupid Moose's demands all in the name of "friendship." Sorry but, I'm not convinced that Moose is a true friend of Zebra.

Three stars

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The Fifth Elephant: 08/07/15

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett:  Vimes due to his marriage to Lady Sybil, has to don the tights and attend the upcoming coronation of the Low King.

Oh boy. Here's another book that has twice now fallen through the cracks of my reading and blogging system. First and foremost, it sat pushed in the back of the bookshelf, unseen, and therefore, unread. Then, somehow beyond my ken, it either wasn't added to my list of books I wanted to blog about, or it was somehow deleted from the list before I had a chance to review it. In fact, even more distressing for my own list keeping (a hand written list I've kept since 1987), the book failed to make it into my book diary.

But in it's own special irony, it's the perfect introduction to The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett. See it opens with a very important thing going missing — the Stone of Scone — the thing upon which the Low King sits during coronation. A replica of the Scone, kept in Ankh-Morpork, has also gone missing.

Vimes due to his marriage to Lady Sybil, has to don the tights and attend the upcoming coronation of the Low King. Vimes, ever the member of the Watch, sees things aren't as they seem.

Now I happened to read The Fifth Elephant on the heels of Raising Steam the 40th and final book of the adult Discworld books — and the sequel to this one. What that meant for me, is that I could see many of things Vimes could see (and a few he couldn't yet see).

Somewhere around the mid-point of the Discworld series, the books became more plot driven and more oriented towards social commentary. What is begun in The Fifth Elephant is finished in Raising Steam.

Five stars

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Leo Geo and the Cosmic Crisis: 08/06/15

Leo Geo and the Cosmic Crisis by Jon Chad:  As the brothers are traveling through space, the pages are filled with background information about different aspects of space: facts about stars, planets, light speed, and so forth.

Leo Geo and the Cosmic Crisis by Jon Chad is the second of the science / science fiction graphic novels featuring Leo Geo. The first one took Leo Geo through the center of the Earth and on some Jules Verne inspired adventures. This one takes Leo and his brother on adventures through space.

As with the first book which required reading the book in an up and down fashion and then a down to up fashion as Leo Geo passed through the center, this one also has an unusual schema. Cosmic Crisis is like those old dime store two-in-one novels where one printed upside down and the two books met and ended in the middle. Here though, it's two related adventures: one being Leo's, and one being his brothers.

As my public libraries tends to hide all the relevant cover stuff under their copious stickers (library sticker, barcode, genre sticker, spine label), I mistook the brother's cover as the actual start of the book. So I ended up reading about the brother's rescue of Leo Geo before I read about Leo Geo leaving to rescue his brother. As you can guess — the brothers are working on only partial information due to a communications outage.

As the brothers are traveling through space, the pages are filled with background information about different aspects of space: facts about stars, planets, light speed, and so forth. The artwork in these books is very busy but its worth taking time to read and look at everything, either by going slowly through the book or by doing a second read later.

I don't know if more Leo Geo books are planned but if there were a third one, I'd definitely read it.

Four stars

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Around the World: 08/05/15

Around the World by Matt is a graphic novel style account of three different late 19th century trips around the world: by bicycle, for the news, and by ship.

Around the World by Matt Phelan is a graphic novel style account of three different late 19th century trips around the world: by bicycle, for the news, and by ship. These are all mini-biographies with the emphasis being on the journeys they took and how those journeys were transformative for the travelers and for the people they met.

The first biography is of Thomas Stevens, a man who became so enamored with the bicycle (and not the modern safety style, but the old high wheeler) that he took his on a ride around the world. Stevens saw the bicycle as a tool for peace and certainly had enough positive experiences to give some weight to that notion.

making good time and avoiding any serious injury without
taking a header  

The next biography covers Nellie Bly's successful attempt to recreate the journey in Around the World in 80 Days but in less time. She had her own problems mostly from resistance because she was a woman traveling alone, and from other newspapers sending competition after her (on higher budgets, meaning they could bribe their way into faster slots), and her own sea sickness and hatred of early mornings. She did however have the brains and stubbornness to accomplish the trip, and the affection of her readers, meaning even if she couldn't bribe her way, she didn't need to.

One Bag

Thank you Nellie

The last biography is a nautical one. It follows Joshua Slocum who one day said goodbye to his family and set off in his ship for a one man sailing adventure in a time when there wasn't radio or modern day tracking devices. Through personal peril he managed to become the first person to solo sail around the world.

This book has been on my wishlist since it was first published. It lived up to all my expectations and frankly surpassed them. I hope Matt Phelan continues to do these occasional biographies / historical fiction graphic novels along with the many picture books he illustrates.

Five stars

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Cold Comfort Farm: 08/04/15

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons is another of those books on a long personal list of titles I've heard people talk about all myself and somehow have only gotten to now. It's also among a short list I can remember my grandmother describing as the books she read one handed at the detriment of her chores and cooking.

Flora Poste is looking to put off making her way in the world by seeking a relative to live with and perhaps work for until she figures out what she actually wants to do with her life. Of all the dozens of letters she sends out, the only reply is from Aunt Ada Doom of Cold Comfort Farm.

Now Cold Comfort Farm is the British version of Jalna (and the two novels are contemporaries). It's another farm fallen on hard times, being run by an extremely elderly matriarch, inhabited by multiple generations of people to scared to modernize lest they upset the past glories they are so desperate to hang on to.

Toss in a newbie — in this case, a distant cousin who is unaware of some previous debt the family in question feels they owe to her family. As the newbie, and as someone used to the modern conveniences and liberal attitudes of the big city, she can see the farm for its true state.

Now in the case of Jalna, the arrival of a bride from New York is played for drama. Here, though, it's done for humor. Aunt Doom has spent her entire life, save for select nights where she counts her family, locked away in her room, reeling from the "something nasty" she saw in the woodshed when she was a child. Sure it was traumatizing but she's made her flailing about into an art form.

But with a pluckiness that's one part Anne Shirley and perhaps two parts Miss Phryne Fisher, Flora Poste snaps the family out of its fugue and manages to help modernize it some. As it's a comedy, it ends with a marriage (though not hers).

Now, besides hearing about this book all my life, I also came to it by way of the recent film adaptation. The book is fun and I'm sure I would have enjoyed it the other way around (book first, film second) but I did have fun replaying favorite scenes in my head as I read through the chapters.

Five stars

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Expiration Date: 08/03/15

Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski

Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski is set in a specific neighborhood of Philadelphia, one that in the present has fallen into disrepair but was a thriving working class neighborhood in the 1970s. The buildings though are rent controlled, and down on his luck Mickey Wade has moved into his grandfather's apartment while the old man is in the hospital.

And while he's there, he stumbles upon the ability to travel back in time to his childhood, back before his father is brutally murdered by a local kid, now locked up in a nearby institute. So questions arise: is this time travel real? Can anything be done with it? Is it bad for Mike's health?

What unfolds is a murder mystery and time travel story that flips between the past and the present. It's thematically similar to Clannad and Clannad After Story, the U.S. version of Life on Mars (minus the last episode), and The X-Files. It's not as hardcore a time travel story as The Man Who Folded Himself or The Man in the Empty Suit.

Five stars

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Down Under Donovan: 08/02/15

Down Under Donovan by Edgar Wallace: is rather like the movie version of a View to a Kill.

Down Under Donovan by Edgar Wallace is a mystery set in Europe in the late 1920s. As it was a contemporary novel when published, there's no specter of 20-20 hindsight. Meaning there's no morality play or message about the excesses of the rich, etc.

So what is it about? Well, it's about a race horse and the usual race course shenanigans that show up in a race track based mystery. There are also missing codes, lost perhaps during a train derailment. There's some espionage, and other mayhem.

Put another way, it reads like the horse racing bits of A View to A Kill, the 1985 Bond film that was fleshed out from the short story, "From a View to a Kill." The opening chase scene in Paris pretty much eats up the short story, so more plot was needed. Now Edgar Wallace's book isn't credited but as he was the most popular crime writer in England at the start of the 20th century, I'm sure his stories were familiar with the writers.

But in 2015 to an un initiated reader, there was something lacking to Down Under Donovan. There were a lot characters and a lot of loose ends. There's a haphazard romance involving the scientist's daughter that seems thrown in because it was expected, not because it was actually needed. And that's how much of the book feels: a by the numbers mystery adventure involving a race horse and a missing formula.

Two stars

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Marx: 08/01/15

Marx by Corrine Maier: A graphic novel biography of Karl Marx, told in first person.

Marx by Corrine Maier is a graphic novel format biography of Karl Marx. Marx's Communist Manifesto is something I had to read in 9th and 10th grades, so having a graphic novel biography aimed at that age range makes sense to me.

Maier's biography, told in the first person with Marx at various ages walking the reader through his life, along with scenes where Marx is actually living his life, serve to give the background on what lead Marx to write his most famous work. It also tries to give insight into his career as a revolutionary against capitalism as it stood at the pinnacle of the Industrial Revolution.

Many other philosophers and revolutionaries make cameos in this book. Unfortunately, as seems to be the case for graphic novels, there isn't much information given on these others. It seems to be left to the reader to either already know their stories or to look them up later.

Three stars

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