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March 2016

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

Reading Challenges

My Kind of Mystery Reading Challenge 2017 February - January 2017-8



The Boy Who Lost Fairyland: 03/31/16

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente is the fourth of the Fairyland books. As the narrator notes, magic rarely works in more than threes and when it does, it does something very unexpected. So this series follows suit, being a story of two changelings, sent to Earth from Fairyland for reasons unstated.

While the first three begin, as most urban fantasies do, in the mundane world, on Earth somewhere, this one begins in Fairyland, in the nest of young troll named Hawthorne. While the Green Wind takes children to Fairyland, the Red Wind delivers changelings. Life for a changeling is as governed by complex bylaws as visitors to Fairyland are.

Changelings are supposed to assume their new lives, their new bodies, and if anything, introduce a little fun and chaos to the human world. If they're really lucky, they'll get something like the Chicago Fire, attributed here to a changeling.

Changelings are supposed to be misfits in the human world. They are supposed to be teased and feel awkward.

They aren't supposed to hold onto their old personalities. They aren't supposed to be able to use magic. They aren't supposed to be able to find each other. And they certainly aren't supposed to return to Fairyland.

The middle act of this book, that is, Thomas Rood né Hawthorne's life in Chicago, is a bit slow. It's slow in that it's recognizable. It's Earth. It's Chicago. It's the 1920s and 1930s. It's not that much different from the world that Dorothy is escaping by her trips (and later relocation) to Oz.

Except, Dorothy knows the rules. She's human. At first she doesn't want to escape Kansas, beyond her boredom on one particular gray day. Hawthorne, though, doesn't know the rules. Even with keeping a copious notebook of all the rules he learns, he still can't keep up.

After a while I began to see Thomas as a metaphor for anyone who isn't "normal" for whatever reason. Thomas is the fantasy hero for any child who doesn't fit in. For any child constantly reminded by their parents, teachers, friends, neighbors, strangers that they are different.

The final act is a return to Fairyland. Remember, in the rules of magic, the fourth thing goes awry, off tangent, in its own direction. Changelings don't return. There are no rules of conduct for such an event. The lack of rules means improvisation. It means new magic.

While this book was a departure, it was still full of the beautiful language, humor, and pathos of the previous three.

Surprisingly the book ended up being completely on point for my road narrative project. I will need to revisit the earlier books and include them in my discussion of the Oz books.

Four stars

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Death Cloud: 03/30/16

Death Cloud by Andrew Lane

Death Cloud by Andrew Lane is the start of another Sherlock Holmes series. These series fall into one of four categories: young Sherlock, old Sherlock, gay Sherlock, relative of Sherlock. This one is of the young Sherlocks.

Young master Sherlock is expecting to spend his holiday time with his father and his older brother, Mycroft. Instead, he's unceremoniously sent to a distant relative out in the middle of nowhere. The house is run by an overly stern housekeeper and a rather absentee uncle.

To avoid death by boredom Sherlock begins exploring the neighboring village. There he becomes aware of a mysterious series of deaths involving a black cloud and the appearance of welts that people are assuming is the plague.

Now one the things these young Sherlock books do is try to explain how exactly adult Sherlock, the one first introduced to us by Dr. Watson in A Study in Scarlet amassed his amazing skills of observation, his encyclopedic knowledge of mud, tobacco, and beekeeping, and his ability to navigate the London of the lower class while being a man of means.

In this version the answer is his tutor, hired by Mycroft. His unorthodox approaches to things are in part because he's from the American territories. There are other reasons too, of course. That's how it is when Mycroft is involved.

Besides the tutor, Sherlock meets his first irregular. Of course it's rather silly calling a kid who is probably older than he is at this point, an irregular, but he fills the role. He lives by himself on a barge he has "liberated." When a town gets tired of him, he moves on to the next one by following the river.

So then there's the mystery of the deaths. It's not that hard to solve and certainly would be a cake walk for adult Sherlock. Here, though, he needs help. It's not that he's stupid; he's just young and he doesn't have the access to information like he does as an adult. He needs help and he needs sympathetic adults willing to help him answer his questions and encourage him to take risks. He has that now through both his tutor and his barge living friend.

Four stars

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Amulet Keepers: 03/29/16

Amulet Keepers by Michael Northrop

Amulet Keepers by Michael Northrop is the second of the TombQuest books. The search for Alex's mother has taken him and Ren to the British Museum in London.

When I read, even when I'm reading a series, I draw connections between other things I've read or watched, thus populating the new book with characters I'm already familiar with. Or I imagine settings from similar books as the backdrop for this book.

In the case of Amulet Keepers I imagined Steven Universe (as Alex) and Connie (Ren) around the time when she first started learning how to sword fight. Outside of the museum, I picture their adventures taking place in a neighborhood similar to Nobody Owen's home and village (The Graveyard Book).

I can't really say more without spoilers. These books are short and adventure filled. They're a fun mixture of puzzle solving and Egyptian mythology. There is also a website but I haven't visited it.

Four stars

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Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things: 03/28/16

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost is a book about the reasons some people feel compelled to keep stuff even to the point that the things make normal living spaces impossible to use. If Frost's research is accurate, we all probably know at least one person with some sort of hoarding behavior.

The book opens with New York's most famous case, the Collyer brothers. I knew the gist of their story through how it was recreated for a rather depressing and disturbing episode of The Streets of San Francisco. Two bachelor brothers lived in the multilevel home built by their parents, not paying the mortgage, without electricity, in and amongst tons of crap brought in and saved. Worse yet, they had built booby traps (one of which ultimately killed one of the brothers). The clean up of their building required climbing through the top floor to throw things out as the weight of the junk had actually become load bearing over the years.

Hoarders who can afford to, buy or rent places to house their stuff. As one fills up, they just get another and start over. Those who can't, just live with their collections, often sacrificing self comfort and health for the stuff. Too much stuff can damage the very structure housing it. It can invite in vermin, mold, and other dangerous things.

Stuff though can't decide whether it's a series of biographies of famous hoarders (and their styles of hoarding) or a self-help psychology book that examines possible connections between OCD and hoarding. Frost's research has shown that sometimes OCD manifests in the ritualistic collection of stuff, rather than the more typical cleanliness concerns.

Three stars

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The Ghoul Next Door: 03/27/16

The Ghoul Next Door by Victoria Laurie

The Ghoul Next Door by Victoria Laurie is the eighth book in the Ghost Hunter mystery series. MJ and crew are finally home but now she's waylaid by the reappearance of Steven who wants to hire her because his new fiancee's brother is possessed.

I have no problem with previous characters re-appearing and needing help. But to have MJ suddenly act like a jealous other woman when she is in a much better relationship than she was with Steven doesn't make sense. It's there as an artificial love triangle.

Fortunately the demon possession thing is far more compelling than the love triangle. Once the mystery really gets started the triangle is put aside. The possession thing seems to be tied to a single house with a long history of violent crime.

This mystery appealed to the part of me that enjoys Supernatural. There's a good balance between ghosts, crime fighting, local history, and sleuthing.

Four stars

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Sins and Needles: 03/26/16

Sins and Needles by Dayton Duncan

Sins and Needles by Monica Ferris is the tenth book in the Needlecraft Mystery series. Excelsior is a small enough town that everybody pretty much knows everybody else. Those who don't, at least know someone who does. So when someone new arrives, people take notice. When that someone is the spitting image of a well known member, people definitely take notice.

Betsy's friend and customer Jan Henderson has just that problem. A woman and her husband from Texas arrive wondering if she and Jan might be related. In a small, rather conservative town, this question spells FAMILY SCANDAL.

Before the scandal can get tongues wagging, Jan's eccentric and incredibly wealthy aunt is murdered. She has set up her will to only include matrilineal inheritance. The murder weapon points to either Jan or her mother. So Betsy is brought into figure out the truth behind both the aunt's death and Lucille's appearance.

Sins and Needles is a hybrid mystery, blending the two trends the series has played with so far: cold cases with the only clue being a piece of needlecraft, and modern day murders involving needlecraft or implements of the art form. It also draws on the fascinating world of early twenty century machinery like A Murderous Yarn.

Save for the pillow that's found, there's not as much needlework talk as other books. There's instead, a lot of time spent on the aunt's estate. If you're not into estate sales, you're going to be skipping a bunch of pages.

My only complaint though was with the copy editing. My guess is that the author at one point switched Susan and Jan's names. Susan is the mother and Jan is the daughter. In about a half dozen spots in the book, though, their names are reversed.

Four stars

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Out West: A Journey through Lewis and Clark's America: 03/25/16

Out West: A Journey through Lewis and Clark's America by Dayton Duncan

Out West: A Journey through Lewis and Clark's America by Dayton Duncan I read for my on going road trip narrative and semantics project. I came across this book mentioned in Romance of the Road by Ronald Primeau. Dayton Duncan drove through the backroads from Missouri westward to trace as best he could the route that Lewis and Clark took.

The goal here then was to recreate one of the first American road trips (even though much of it was on water) and see if he could find any points of similarity with the trip of old and the modern day experience.

On the surface it appears to be another Blue Highways. But on better inspect it's the polar opposite. This is a more typical road trip: male, white, middle class, privileged, self absorbed. This is the story of a man pretending to find himself by hanging out in the local dives of places he stops and then clapping himself on the back for being both homespun and worldly all at the same time. It's Mom, Apple Pie, and Uncle Sam all rolled into one.

It's so cliche that I found very little reason to keep reading. The only thing that kept me going was Primeau's mention of Duncan's rules. Rules follows into grammar and then into semantics. Here is what I'm interested in, even if I'd otherwise want to run screaming out of the room if forced to watch a slide show based on this trip.

There are 26 rules and numerous corollaries. With 26 the rules themselves become an alphabet and perhaps a way of encrypting stories into the very fabric of the road trip experience. The entire set of rules are on Tumblr with page numbers if you're curious.

Three stars

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Open Road: A Celebration of the American Highway: 03/23/16

Open Road: A Celebration of the American Highway by Phil Patton

Open Road: A Celebration of the American Highway by Phil Patton is a look at what factors have made the road trip a uniquely American icon. Patton looks at both the development of the American roadways and the evolution of the corresponding narratives.

Patton's thesis is that the road narrative extends to all forms of exploration in the American lexicon. His reason: until the modern day highway, the word road was for any means of conveying goods: waterways, roadways, trails, and later the railroad. It was in the early days of city growth and the expansion outwards (and primarily westwards) that the urban vs rural tropes were first being explored.

It's not until the automobile, the interstate roads, and the required standardization of roadsigns that the grammar for the road narrative develops into something recognizable to a modern day reader. He looks too at the different kinds of narratives written at the different stages of highway development: the early days with roads like The Lincoln Highway, the building of the U.S. highway system, the bypassing of the highways by the interstate, and the homogenization of the roadway experience along the interstates.

This is a book I'll be referring to again and again as I work on my road trip semantics project. You can see my live blogging of the book on Tumblr.

Four stars

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The Odds of Getting Even: 03/23/16

The Odds of Getting Even by Sheila Turnage

The Odds of Getting Even by Sheila Turnage is the third in the Tupelo Landing series. The trial of Dale's father has arrived but just when it seems everything will be getting back to normal, the father makes a jailbreak. The town now expecting the worst from a dangerous criminal goes on the defensive and life gets suddenly difficult for Dale, Mo and Harm Crenshaw (the newest of the Desperado Detectives).

From the reviews I've read, there's a bit of a re-hash from the first book (one I still need to read). For me though it was nice to revisit Tupelo Landing and watch over the shoulders of the Desperado Detectives as they try to find Macon Johnson.

Dale, Mo, and Harm all know Macon's m.o. He's not the brightest criminal and the evidence left in the wake of his escape don't match up. They seem either too smart for him or, though this is hard to believe, to too stupid for him. The break-ins and robberies and left behind evidence are for the most part completely un-Macon-like.

And that's the second half of this mystery. If it's not Macon committing these crimes? Where is he? Who is trying to frame him? And why are they trying to frame him?

Five stars

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Off Road: 03/22/16

Off Road by Sean Gordon Murphy

Off Road by Sean Gordon Murphy is a graphic novel memoir of an off road trip on the very same day of buying a new Jeep. Two friends gang up on the owner demanding to be taken off road to try out the Jeep's skid plate. The off road experience ended up being so addictive that by the end of the day they found themselves stuck in a waist high pond in the middle of no where.

Off roading is at one extreme end of the road trip narrative, whether fiction or nonfiction. It's a modern day, automotive response to the old "off the beaten path" approach to travel, which mean leaving the train behind and getting behind the wheel for yourself (Open Road by Phil Paton, 1986, p. 42)

The Jeep, originally a war surplus vehicle, has gone onto a rich play boy's toy with the promise of off road adventures, though perhaps, rarely actually taken off road. The Jeep has a skid plate, a metal cover that protects the undercarriage from contact with the uneven ground. It's not, though, magic protect against all types of off roading conditions as Sean and the others discovered as they came to be mired in the pond.

The end to the off road experience is usually the creation of a road. The same path taken over and over again does eventually flatten out to become recognizable as a trail or road. The really popular routes ultimately get flattened out and built into roads and that happens here.

Five stars

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Crazy for Cozies: 03/21/16

Just like Twighlight Sparkle, I'm crazy for cozies.

For most of my life as a reader I've had a thing for mysteries, especially the cozies. As a child mystery series were my summer vacation go-to books, especially on those long road trips we took as a family. School, college, grad school, small children, and ironically, book blogging, all signaled breaks in my cozy reading.

After years of taking a hiatus from cozies because I didn't have the time to purchase back issues of lengthy series runs and my local libraries only had the first and most recent volumes with the books in between weeded, I discovered a marvelous thing: ebooks. Of course I've known about ebooks for years but beyond poorly formatted egalleys, they weren't really on my radar. That changed when I decided a year ago January to revisit the Needlecraft mystery series by Monica Ferris.

When I searched for Framed in Lace, lo and behold, it was offered as an ebook downloadable straight to my phone. Feeling reluctant about revisiting a series I had sampled eight years earlier I decided to give the ebook version a try. If I didn't like it I could just return it early to the library and delete it off my phone.

Exactly the opposite happened. I loved the book and found that the cozy genre was perfect for ebooks. They tend to be short and easy to read. The library doesn't have to keep dozens of old books on hand taking up precious shelf space but can still offer access to them. As the older books are frankly, old, there's very rarely a hold list for them meaning I can download them to my phone the instant I get the urge to read one.

The downside of reading so much on my phone is that in the case of the Monica Ferris books, I've run out of ebooks and now have to check out the hardbacks from the library. In fact I'm nearly caught up with the series. When that does happen, I suspect I'll start buying ebook copies of my own to read through iBooks.

So what is it about the cozy that keeps me coming back for more? Well for one thing it's the formula. The protagonist is usually a professional in some other field (though there is one series I've dabbled in where the main character is a housewife and volunteer) who happens to have a unique skill-set through that career that gives insight into solving the local crimes (usually murders, though not always). Most often (at least among the ones I've read) the main character is female, though not always. Of the 29 series I've read all or part of that I believe qualify as cozies (with some squinting), 24 of them feature female protagonists. Of the five featuring men, the one that is most definitely a cozy series is the Cat Who series by Lillian Jackson Braun.

Usually along with the whodunnit fun of a Murder She Wrote type mystery, one can learn something about the main characters expertise. So if you like needlecraft, you get a pattern to try at the back of each of Monica Ferris's books. If you like cooking, you get recipes in Diane Mott Davidson's books. I like that even if I'm not going to try out the patter or the recipe. I just like these little asides that round out the books.

Mostly though I like being able to read the book in a few pages here and there. These books tend to be short, coming in around 250 pages. If I can't finish a chapter, I don't forget much before I can start it up again. If it's the weekend or I'm traveling, I can read one of these books in a day or two.

Here are the cozy sleuths I've been following with their authors and their occupations.

Female leads
Amelia Peabody Emerson (Elizabeth Peters) - Egyptologist
Amy-Faye Johnson (Laura DiSilverio) - event planner
Anna Pigeon (Nevada Barr) - Park Ranger
Betty Devonshire (Monica Ferris) - Storeowner
Brett Kavanaugh (Karen E. Olson) - tattoo artist / storeowner
Brooklyn Wainright (Kate Carlisle) - book binder
Bubbles Yablonsky (Sarah Strohmeyer) - Reporter rbr> Charlotte Bessette (Avery Aames) - cheese shop owner
China Bayles (Susan Witig Albert) - herbalist
Connor Westphal (Penny Warner) - Reporter
Dae O'Donnell (Joyce Lavene and Jim Lavene) - Mayor / psychic
Flavia de Luce (Alan Bradley) - child
Goldy Bear Schulz (Diane Mott Davidson) - Caterer
Inez Stannert (Ann Parker) - saloon owner
Kelly Flynn (Maggie Sefton) - consultant / knitter
Lucy Richardson (Eva Gates) - librarian
M.J. Holliday (Victoria Laurie) - psychic / ghost hunter
Minnie Hamilton (Laurie Cass) - librarian / bookmobile driver
Oscar's niece (Rebecca M. Hale) - antique dealer
Presley Parker (Penny Warner) - events planner
Rei Shimura (Sujata Massey) - Antiques Dealer
Ruby Rothman (Sharon Kahn) - Rabbi's wife
Vicky Bliss (Elizabeth Peters) - Medieval Art Scholar
Male leads
Dirk Pitt (Clive Cussler) - NUMA scientist / marine treasure hunter
Harry Dresden (Jim Butcher) - Wizard
James Qwilleran (Lillian Jackson Braun) - reporter / writer
Robert Langdon (Dan Brown) - Professor of Symbology
Tres Navarre (Rick Riordan) - Tai Chi master

Comments (2)


Old Magic: 03/21/16

Old Magic by Marianne Curley

Old Magic by Marianne Curley is a YA paranormal time travel story set in Australia (present day) and Scotland (distant past). Though the location in Australia is fictional, it's described as a rain forest that gets snow and is out of the way. The southern parts of Australia get snow but the most out of the way place would on the western facing side of Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, the island state just south of Melbourne. This is also a good spot as the state has a vibrant Scottish community.

Kate is a witch and a high school student (well, probably a college student as the upper grades are sent to colleges which serve as both high schools and jr. colleges in the American sense; I attended the Don College in Devonport, Tasmania whilst an exchange student). Anyway, Kate is a teenager in school and she's a witch. When the new boy, Jarrod shows up, she quickly realizes he also has magic but from the way dangerous weather seems to follow him, he's probably cursed.

Kate's grandmother, with the heart of Aunt Agatha and the under standing of potions of Dr. Bombay, quickly susses out the curse and realizes it can only be broken at the source in both location and time. Jarrod and Kate are sent back in time to fix the wrong that lead to his family being perpetually cursed.

The time travel bit is the book's weakest part. First and foremost the ancient ancestors are just so damn gullible. OK, sure, they don't understand genetics but I'm also having trouble believing that after all these generations that Jarrod would still somehow be visibly recognizable as part of the family. Yet they accept him as a long lost son of a man who has fled Scotland.

Then there's the growing romance between Jarrod and Kate. He's afraid of her from the get go because of her magic. Sure, they're forced by circumstances to pretend to be a couple but that doesn't automatically make them so! Yet by the end they're lovey dovey. Sure. Whatever. I guess it's this book's version of a HEA ending.

Long story short: present day story is compelling and quick paced; time travel bits are hackneyed and poorly paced.

Three stars

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Open This Little Book: 03/20/16

Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier

Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier is a cumulative story about different animals reading books of different sizes and colors. Through creative book design, the child reading the story is invited to open each of these little books too.

As the story unfolds, the next book being read is revealed. Each book is slightly smaller than the last, a matryoshka of books. But each one is also a different color and belongs to a different forest animal — much like Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?.

The book is illustrated by Suzy Lee, author of Wave and Shadow. Her cute pictures and the novelty of finding all the books is fun the first time. For very tactile children, I suspect Open This Little Book would be popular.

Five stars

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Orbiter: 03/19/16

Orbiter by Warren Ellis

Orbiter by Warren Ellis is a graphic novel in an alternate timeline where the space shuttle program ended after one of the ships disappeared during a mission. Now ten years later (and it's always ten years, isn't it?) the ship has returned to land at Kennedy. Except the economy and government have tanked and refugees are now living on the tarmac and no one expects the strip to be used for its original purpose.

In any story where a space vessel goes missing and then reappears, or a person disappears and reappears years alter un-aged, it's bound to be extraterrestrial interference.

That's the case here too. The sole surviving astronaut has an extraordinary tale of finding himself landing on Mars and then being taken to places he could never imagine traveling to in his lifetime or in something as primitive as a space shuttle.

Although this is a much darker piece and is aimed at an adult readership, it gave me the same emotion response as Disney's Flight of the Navigator. Both have a decade gap due to relativistic space travel, NASA (or what's left of it) suddenly interested in the returned's story, and a complete disconnect between the returned and the rest of the world

Four stars

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Doctor Who: A Big Hand For The Doctor: 03/18/16

Doctor Who: A Big Hand For The Doctor by Eoin Colfer

Doctor Who: A Big Hand For The Doctor by Eoin Colfer is the first story in a twelve book boxed series to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first airing of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who, the television show, has had two regenerations: the original run which went through twenty-six series (1963-1989) and seven Doctors. There was a BBC/Fox TV (1996) movie accounting for the 8th Doctor. And after a long hiatus, the BBC relaunched the show in 2005 restarting the series count at one, but the Doctor count at Nine. BBC is currently on Doctor Thirteen, which tosses some of the really old canon into chaos, but it just goes into the "wibbly wobbly" part of the explanation, per Doctor Ten.

As this set of books was published before the Thirteenth Doctor, there are only twelve books. Each one is in the length of a short story to a novella, and they go in order of (re)generation. I'm not sure if the first one counts as a regeneration, but then how do we know beyond his say-so that he was in his original shape and form?

Anyway, Eoin Colfer's story features the Doctor as played by William Hartnell. Now when Hartnell was playing the Doctor, there weren't any immediate plans to keep the show going beyond his tenure. Also, he was set up as a time traveling grandfather and teacher. The show was meant to be educational (though with the Daleks in episode two, the EI part of the plan went right out the window).

With the few remaining episodes from Hartnell's tenure that are extant, the Doctor is portrayed as a stately, almost founding father, type figure. He's set in his ways. He doesn't like humanity. He's devoted to his grand-daughter (who is far more a fan of humanity, than he is) and he only begrudgingly takes on companions as a favor to her.

But if we're to assume that the actors who came after Hartnell are all playing the same person, though with a shifting hue of personality, then it's reasonable to retcon later personality quirks into earlier characters.

Colfer creates a doctor who is still loyal to his grand-daughter, though more so in a DEATH and Susan sort of way (see the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett). He's still not exactly interested in saving the Earth and he's perhaps more selfish than later (re)generations.

Like Doctor Ten, he's also missing a hand and needs a replacement. Much of the story is focused on what favors he has to do to earn his new hand.

Interestingly, too, Colfer supposes that earlier (re)generations can and do have glimpses of later (re)generations.

My only complaint about the book is a fact checking error in the unveiling of the shaggy dog story that is this first book. The book draws a lot of humor through comparisons with the Peter Pan story but that story is attributed to Doyle, rather than Barrie. Sure, the two were friends and on the same celebrity cricket team, but they aren't the same person!

Four stars

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Book of the Dead: 03/17/16

Book of the Dead by Michael Northrop

Book of the Dead by Michael Northrop is the first of the TombQuest series. There's also a corresponding online game, but I have not tried it and am not including it in this review.

Alex Sennefer lives with his mother in New York. She is an Egyptologist and he has a weak heart. They both know he doesn't have long to live and there's nothing they can do about it except keep giving him medicine and keep his life as stress free as possible. But when you're eleven years old, it's hard to do and it's easy to forget your medicine.

Here's the thing, his mother knows the same thing. And she's willing to try ancient magic to save his life. Whether or not she knows the consequences of her actions isn't mentioned. All Alex knows is that she has used the Book of the Dead to revive him when time had run out, and now there long dead people and creatures coming back to life too. Worse yet, his mother has disappeared and there are at least two factions out to get Alex and his new found power over the ancient scrolls.

The TombQuest series combines my favorite aspects of The 39 Clues and the Kane Chronicles, namely the culture and magical aspects of the Ancient Egyptians and round the world puzzle solving adventures. There's an added bonus for this first book in the form of an under Manhattan adventure.

Four stars

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Let's Get Lost: 03/16/16

Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid is a YA deconstructionist road trip novel. While it can be read as a single novel, it's actually five interconnected short stories that trace the route north west of Leila as she heads for Alaska and the aurora borealis.

As so many of the road narrative books point out, the typical road trip starts in the East Coast or the Midwest (around Chicago or similarly sized city) and heads "into the sunset" for the hopes and dreams promised by the West (meaning Montana or Wyoming if the ending is a pastoral one, or California if the ending is promised in wealth and fame). The protagonist is typically a young male trying to find himself.

Here the protagonist is a young woman named Leila who has a romantic notion that all her problems will be solved if she can see the northern lights. She has left from Louisiana and is heading north and then west towards Alaska. Each story is one chunk in her time when she meets someone along the road having their own troubles.

This brings us to the second piece of the road trip narrative structure. The road allows travel between urban the rural. Part of the protagonist's growth and self discovery is through his (or her) interaction with other people along the road. These can be the mechanic who fixes the car and saves the journey but may not himself have any interest in embarking on a road trip, the hitchhiker who acts as confessor and father (or mother) figure, the stranded person who is either injured, ill, or drunk and is thus a way for some self redemption, and finally the people at the destination who force the protagonist to do the soul search he (or she) has been putting off on the drive.

Leila meets each one of these prototypical characters and they each get their own story. Are these cliché? Sure — they are tropes. But here they are needed. They are building blocks to explore the route and to learn about Leila well before she is willing to divulge anything. These characters are here for the same reason that romances guarantee a happily ever after.

If the answers found at the end of road aren't what the protagonist was looking for — if the grass wasn't actually greener on the other side of the fence, there is only one option but to turn around. Let's Get Lost has that to but expands it out to a coda where at long last we get into Leila's head. And while she doesn't get the happily ever after she was hoping for, she does get a chance at different sort of one.

I loved this book. I love it for the same reasons that romance fans keep going back to their favorite authors and publishers. I loved it because it tells a compelling story within an agreed upon set of rules and expectations.

You can see my live blogging of the book on Tumblr.

Five stars

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Delphine: 03/15/16

Delphine by Richard Sala

Delphine by Richard Sala is the omnibus of a 4 issue comic about a man trying to find his girlfriend in her home town after she mysteriously leaves her life behind. In this road trip horror retelling of Snow White, the unnamed Prince Charming stand-in, makes the mistake of arriving on a bus, thus giving himself no means of escape when things get strange.

The atmosphere of the village Charming goes to reminds me most of all of The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert, another closed, insular community that is oddly devoid of both children and passersby. It's also a place where the streets are a confusing labyrinth and the locals all seem to be working to hinder Charming's progress.

The road

When the bus traveler becomes lost, he is forced to become a hitchhiker. If there are no other passersby, there is no means of escape. The road might as well be infinite and all rides can and will lead to danger.

If there are no passersby, mysterious villages need to either get rid of errant strangers or assimilate them. Delphine is centered on that conundrum. Will Charming be killed, captured, or somehow changed in some way that escape is no longer an option?

Four stars

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The Love That Split the World: 03/14/16

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry is a YA that defies easy description or even easy review. If you want absolutely no chance of spoilers, know that I loved it. Know that I tore through it in about two nights of intense reading. Know that it's one of those books that I will be giving to everyone I know.

Natalie Cleary was adopted as a young girl. She's a Native American being raised by white parents and she's been having visitations from a ghostlike woman she calls Grandmother. She also has therapy to control those visions. But what if those visions are real and are part of a bigger thing?

Just before she graduates from high school, she meets the school ghost and her world is turned upside down. Here is the make or break part of the book. If you're willing to accept the haunting attraction of Beau then you're in for a rollercoaster ride. If you can't, then the book will probably leave you feeling disappointed.

I happen to watch a lot of anime that covers similar plots and plot twists as The Love That Split the World. The book reminds me of a mixture The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzamiya, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzamiya, and Erased. If you're old enough to remember, it also has some hints of VR-5 in it.

I'll close with my thoughts on the title. It sounds like a typical romance title, doesn't it? At the surface, it is. It's about an impossible love between a girl and a boy. But it's really more about parental love and the power a parent's desire for their child to live to affect the very fabric of the universe.

Five stars

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Embroidered Truths: 03/13/16

Embroidered Truths by Monica Ferris

Embroidered Truths by Monica Ferris is the ninth book in the Needlecraft mystery series. Can I just pause for a moment and say: Poor Godwin? Because that's what I was thinking through most of the book.

Through the last eight books, it's been established that Godwin is gay. He's young but not as young as he acts. He's been in a long term, rocky relationship with a lawyer named John. John in the last couple books has been shown to be a bit of a sugar daddy and perhaps a gas-lamper too. And when he ends up murdered in Embroidered Truths after kicking Godwin out (again), Godwin is the police's first and only suspect.

Except for a couple brief conversations with Betsy, John has remained of screen. At work, Godwin hardly mentions him beyond making it clear that John doesn't approve of Godwin's line of work or his friends. The why behind John's behavior isn't brought up nor is anything else about him until now when Betsy has to learn everything she can about him to prove one way or another Godwin's innocence.

Embroidered Truths is also the first mystery, cozy or otherwise, I've read where the minutia of having a friend or relative in jail is ever addressed. Betsy, though recently come into her sister's inheritance, still has limited funds available. She has to decide how best to spend what she can to help Godwin i the best way possible: hiring a lawyer, investigating John's past, paying other legal fees. What this means for Godwin, is that he's stuck in jail until the trial.

Like Betsy I must admit to assuming the worst for Godwin's prospects while awaiting trial. Here he gets to show what's under the surface of his happy-go-lucky persona. He doesn't come out a changed man but he's also not beaten and defeated by the experience either.

Four stars

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FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Vol. 4: The End Times: 03/12/16

FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Vol. 4: The End Times by Simon Oliver

FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Vol. 4: The End Times by Simon Oliver is the conclusion of this series. The world is coming to an and there's something afoot with the last ditch solution. While the FBP folks are going through their own X-Files type conspiracy disaster, Ina and her mother are crossing the countryside on foot trying to stay alive. To do so, they quickly realize they must travel at night, not to avoid the quantum tornadoes, but to avoid the most dangerous of humans who have come out of the fringes of what remains of society.

Traveling at night

As described in Road Frames (review coming), Ina, her mother, and the other post-FBP refugees are in "a universe in which the very poor of any race travel as refugees living at the mercy of their machines and the police" (Lackey: 1997, p. 12).

Makin' observations

I know the story is over and it's good and tight the way it is but Ina just shines in this last book. She manages to keep her head on straight during the worst and most trying times at the almost end of days. While she isn't the hero who saves the universe single handedly, she is one of them. And it's hinted in the coda that she grows up to do even more heroic things.

Five stars

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Crewel Yule: 03/11/16

Crewel Yule by Monica Ferris

Crewel Yule by Monica Ferris is the eight Needlecraft mystery. The February conference has suddenly been rescheduled to December. It's inconvenient for everyone selling and buying patterns for their shops, so tensions are running high. Though it's in Memphis, a freak snow storm has closed all the roads and trapped everyone at the hotel. In the midst of all of this, one of the vendors ends up dead, an apparent suicide from the top floor.

At first glance, Crewel Yule is a re-staging of Unraveled Sleeve. Some of the same elements are there: an altered epi-pen, death at a hotel, a closed environment due to the weather, and Jill taking charge as an officer of the law when local authorities can't reach the scene. These aspects, so recently repeated irk me.

Except this time, Betsy is in her right mind and there are multiple witnesses to the death. Here then the question is can the events of a death be reconstructed from the conflicting accounts given by people already under tremendous stress? The second big question is, how can a public murder be made to look like suicide?

Here's another time when I had enough personal knowledge going into the book to understand how the murder, if it was murder, could be committed.

Four stars

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Icons of Popular Culture: 03/10/16

Icons of Popular Culture by Marshall Fishwick

Icons of Popular Culture by Marshall Fishwick written in the 1960s and published in the 1970s could just as easily be called Branding of Popular Culture. The central thesis is that with the secularization of modern American society, the brands created by modern corporations have become the new iconography.

In 1970 the king of the brands was Coca Cola. A good third of this slim book is devoted to the soda manufacturer out of Atlanta, Georgia. Though the brand is still around and the iconic bottle (now more often than not rendered in plastic than glass) is still around, it's not the king of the branding pantheon. Now that would be Apple, Android, Amazon, among others.

Coca Cola bottles on a Google image search.

In the context of my road trip research, I was looking for insight into commercial aspects of the journey. The road is lined with billboards. The Inns are replaced by chain motels and hotels. Food is provided by chain restaurants, and even those that are independent still all serve the same list of soft drinks.

In terms of the road narrative, the corollary to Fishwich's thesis was the most relevant: Americans aren't aware of how in depth their brand knowledge is or how they got it. It's at the silliest end of the road trip genre, the comedies, that this notion holds most true. Of course the creators are well aware of the brand's influence but their characters are not. By playing out expectations against those of the protagonists, we are made to laugh.

Two stars

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Missy Violet and Me: 03/09/16

Mister Orange by Barbara Hathaway

Missy Violet and Me by Barbara Hathaway is about the summer Vinney spends with Missy Violet, the local midwife. Missy Violet helps families bring their children into the world even when they can't pay her. They find other ways of paying, bartering, doing favors, and more and more families are finding it hard to pay her.

When Vinney's parents can't pay Missy Violet, the midwife offers to take Vinney under wing as an assistant. Most of this book is comprised of the girl's observations of the midwife's methods and the wide range of families that make use of her skills.

This book is also predictable. By the end of the story, Vinney is of course forced by the weather and an emergency to put her new skills to use. Although she's only eleven and feels like she hasn't been paying all that much attention, she's up to the task and does Missy Violet proud.

Three stars

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Mister Orange: 03/08/16

Mister Orange by Truus Matti

Mister Orange by Truus Matti is the story of Linus Muller and his most interesting customer. Linus and his family run a small green grocers in Manhattan. It's 1945, Linus is now old enough to start making deliveries while is brother is over sees in the last days of the war, and after a bad day of mixing up Roma tomatoes and heritage tomatoes, he meets a man who always orders a crate of oranges.

As the man is old and frail, Linus agrees to take the crate all the way upstairs for him. There his senses are overwhelmed with bright colors painted on the surfaces of different colors, well beyond the standard white Linus is so used to.

The book despite the time period (WWII) and the main character, a boy in an economically challenged family struggling to keep their shop float during rationing, is a relatively quiet story. It's an expression of the human spirit — of old and new generations learning from each other.

The American cover gives away the identity of this strange old man well before the narrative does, which is a pity. Of course, tweens who haven't studied art history, won't get the visual spoiler but might still want to get to know more about Mondrian.

Four stars

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Beneath: 03/07/16

Beneath by Roland Smith

Beneath by Roland Smith is about a younger brother looking for his older one in Manhattan. Pat, though the younger brother, has been looking out for Coop his entire life. Now that means hunting for him after he falls off the grid somewhere in New York.

Something is off with Coop. He's probably in the autistic spectrum but was never formally diagnosed. He was just that kid that every one knew about in their small town.

When Cooper was younger he dug extensive tunnels under their town. Now he's found a better underground place to live — under Manhattan in the abandoned tunnels of long forgotten infrastructure.

According to the picture book, Under New York (Link to Review) by Robert Ravevsky there are three layers of New York infrastructure:

  • 0-30 feet: water pipes, gas lines, steam pipes, telephone lines, fiber optic cable, electrical power lines
  • 30-200 feet: subways and sewers
  • 200+ feet: A new water tunnel

Pat in searching for his brother, discovers two different underground societies, one near the surface, and one far below and much scarier. These two worlds dig out their territories around the remains of the old Murray Hill Reservoir which now serves as the foundation for a public library.

And it was the inclusion of real world landmarks of New York and it's long history of underground construction that got me thinking about the vast number of stories that take place under the city, especially under Manhattan. I suppose with it being an island on a solid foundation that there has been more of a need to build down as much as to build up.

There are numerous stories that include trips under Manhattan and even entire underground societies. My thoughts prompted an entire thread on Tumblr listing all sorts of stories.

For Beneath I had a few concerns. The underground world here requires so much to have been forgotten. While I do realize there are abandoned pneumatic tube stations, an entire brick apartment building, even if falling apart, seems hard to swallow. The building isn't even really a big part of the story; it serves as a roadblock for both Coop and Pat.

Mostly though, Beneath reminded me of a cross between the 1990s TV series Beauty and the Beast and The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert.

Four stars

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Under New York: 03/06/16

Under New York by Linda Oatman High

My research into the road trip narrative took a detour in June when I started wondering about the numerous stories that take place under the streets and buildings of Manhattan. I'm not talking the pedestrian inclusion of the subway, but rather those tales of monsters, people, or ghosts residing down in the forgotten recesses of the Big Apple.

As cities grew too large in their outwards expansion, too large to contain traffic and to manage the flow of people and goods throughout, they had to find another way to accommodate the influx of people. There are two ways to go: up and down. Like a well established forest, the city has numerous layers of root systems.

To fully understand the road trip narrative and it's rural vs urban dichotomy, one must think three dimensionally. For every horizontal road trip story, there is a vertical one, and one that is often subterranean.

Under New York by Linda Oatman High is a picture book that investigates the different strata of New York City. The book is told as a typical day in the city with a "bet you didn't know" type approach.

Besides the subway, the city has these other things underground:

The layers of New York

  • 0-30 feet: water pipes, gas lines, steam pipes, telephone lines, fiber optic cable, electrical power lines
  • 30-200 feet: subways and sewers
  • 200+ feet: A new water tunnel

Four stars

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Mischievous Meg: 03/05/16

Mischievous Meg by Astrid Lindgren

Mischievous Meg by Astrid Lindgren is a short chapter book about a pair of sisters who get into all sorts of scrapes — especially when acting out bible stories.

Meg and her sister aren't Pippi. They aren't close. Their antics are framed within the bounds of family life — a mother and father who live at home.

Sure Pippi has a father but she choses to live on her own in the family house while he sails the south seas and lives as a pirate king. She takes care of her self through her extraordinary powers (physical strength and ability to eat anything). She's also able to charm nearly any adult and those she can't, she can out think or out maneuver. Pippi is like a self contained ball of anarchy.

Meg and her sister want to be good. They want to be loved by their parents, loved by God, and be friends with their neighbors. Their antics, then, are kept within the bounds of what average children do. Although they try some Pippi things (like jumping off the roof), they get hurt, because they are basically realistically portrayed little girls. The problem, for me, lies with the disjoint of whacky ideas and otherwise averageness. They don't seem to learn from their mistakes.

Two stars

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The Cat at the Wall: 03/04/16

The Cat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis

The Cat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis is a tween book about death, reincarnation, and war. A cat in Palestine has the memories of an American teenage girl who recently died. Through the girls consciousness the cat recounts events of soldiers finding a little boy left on his own after his family has been slaughtered.

I think the book is trying to get suburban white teens in the US to think beyond their own easy lives to the harsh realities that other children face in the world. To lessen the blow and to give them someone they can relate to, this weird explanation of a cat possessing the mind of an American girl is tacked onto an other wise heart wrenching drama.

Three stars

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Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India: 03/03/16

Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India by Gerald McDermott

Gerald McDermott has made a career of retelling folk tales for children, especially trickster tales. Trickster tales usually involve an animal pulling a trick as an explanation for why things are such a way in the world.

In the case of Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India by Gerald McDermott, it's the story of Monkey who outwits Crocodile. Crocodile wants to eat Monkey's heart and Monkey wants to get across the river to get to the mangoes. The book is a meeting of the wits. But Monkey's just a little quicker on this toes than Crocodile.

This moment can be used to introduce children to the terms: predator and carnivore. McDermott's illustrations show a Valentine shaped heart instead of a real one, so it's not that realistic, violent or gory. But it does give necessary motivation for Monkey to play his own tricks on Crocodile.

Five stars

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Lending a Paw: 03/02/16

Lending a Paw by Laurie Cass

Lending a Paw by Laurie Cass is the start of the Bookmobile Cat Mystery series. Minnie, the assistant director at Chilson, Michigan library has taken the initiative and gotten a bookmobile. As such she's also volunteered herself to be its driver (on top of her other duties). The two rules that she must follow and ends up breaking on her maiden voyage: she must have an assistant and no pets. Due to circumstances beyond her control she ends up without an assistant except for her cat, Eddie.

As you can imagine, Eddie ends up being the star of the show and soon the entire town is keeping him secret. Then everything goes pear-shaped when Minnie discovers a body while trying to chase down Eddie.

While Eddie is certainly a plot device, he's not given any extra sensory perception skills like some cozy mystery cats. We aren't allowed into his head and his only form of communication with Minnie is through typical cat body language, purring, and his "mrrr."

Minnie's ability to help in solving this case (and future ones) is enhanced by her mobility (the bookmobile) and her skills as a librarian. As the town is small there's also an abundance of local knowledge with a similar feel to the Needlecraft Mysteries by Monica Ferris.

Four stars

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Clark the Shark: 03/01/16

Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale

Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale is a book about learning when to use the inside voice. Clark is a very enthusiastic shark. He loves school. He loves play. He loves his friends. He tends to get carried away and cause a disruption.

Maybe Clark is a sign that the times are changing. Children from the 1980s until recently were often medicated for hyperactivity as it was once called and later ADHD. But maybe just maybe kids are naturally boisterous and maybe, especially in the lower grades, loud enthusiasm should be embraced and harnessed for learning.

Clark's teacher doesn't send him home with a note to see his pediatrician. Instead she uses a rhyming mnemonic to remind him when to be quiet and when to not. But part of me still bristles, thinking the inside voice thing, especially among children is a lingering effect of our Puritan roots.

Three stars

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