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August 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



A Finder's Fee: 08/31/16

A Finder's Fee by Joyce and Jim Lavene

A Finder's Fee by Joyce Lavene and Jim Lavene is the fifth in the Missing Pieces mysteries and the last one published by Berkley. The next two, Dae's Past and A Watery Death have been self published by CreateSpace. I'm still debating whether or not to continue reading the series, which would mean purchasing copies directly as I can't get them through the library.

Dae is possessed by the spirit of a woman who was killed for being a witch. There are still plenty in modern day Duck who believe she was, in fact, a witch. To put the spirit to rest, Dae needs to find the girl's body and give it a proper burial.

The problem, though, is that a new construction project is set to take place where Dae is convinced the body is buried. In a last ditch effort to find it, she uncovers a different body and a long lost race car.

Personally I don't care about the ghosts in Dae's life or inhabiting her body. I've read the series thus far for the modern day investigations. The race car discovery brought up a long time rivalry between two men and the last time they raced together. The how and why the driver of one car ended up being buried in the wrecked car of the other driver was what kept me reading.

Four stars

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Fake Mustache: 08/30/16

Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger

Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger is one of the weirdest books I've read recently. It's the story of the transformative affects an expertly made fake mustache has on its wearer. In this case, it's a boy named Casper. His friend, Lenny, has to stop him before he becomes a complete super villain.

The setting of this book is a fictional middle America type place. It reads like a mishmash of Beach City (Steven Universe), Danville (Phineas and Ferb), Pleasantville, and Springfield (Simpsons). Somehow, though, the setting didn't work for me. The town was too old timey, too quaint.

Then there was the narration — that's the method of telling a story, rather than the story itself. It's first from Lenny's point of view. Then at the halfway point it switches the perspective of the television star he ends up impersonating. I get that they end up collaborating to save Casper from the Heidelberg Handlebar #7 but I didn't feel like I needed to be inside her mind to know her part in the rescue.

Regardless, both characters are very chatty. They are all tell not show. The entire book reads like type of run-on sentences you get from an overly excited child.

A better version of this type of story is the Terrible Two and The Terrible Two Get Worse by Mac Barnett and Jory John.

Two stars

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A Female Focus: Great Women Photographers: 08/29/16

A Female Focus: Great Women Photographers by Margot F. Horwitz

A Female Focus: Great Women Photographers by Margot F. Horwitz is at first glance a history of women who advanced the art and science of photography. Certainly there are some short biographies in there but they are presented in a problematic fashion.

The title itself says it will be about "great women photographers" and yet every time a photographer is mentioned, her gender is used as a qualifier. Do we really need to be reminded each page, nay, sometimes, each paragraph, that these profiled photographers were also women?

Unfortunately when technology is involved there is a subset of men who insist that women can't be good at whatever the skill, job, art, etc, is because technology is strictly a male skill. Photography apparently is no different, though this misogynistic argument is new to me as my main mentor was a woman (my grandmother). What's more disturbing about it in the context of this book, is the book is written by a woman. So this is an internalized misogyny.

Another example of this book's internalized misogyny is the framing of each woman's accomplishments against the men (especially those who were also photographers) in her life. More pages are spent on outlining their work and their influence on her work, than are spent on her life and work.

Of course men and women don't live separately, even those in same gender relationships still know people of other genders. I'm not expecting this to be a women-only volume, but they should be the dominate topic. The book is supposed to be about "great women photographers" for goodness sake!

Two stars

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Flora and the Penguin: 08/28/16

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

Flora, the avian loving girl, is back, in Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle. This time, she's ice skating.

In Flora and the Flamingo, Flora uses ballet to mimic the positions of a flamingo. Now, though, she's the one being copied. A curious penguin has come up through the ice and is following a long as she skates.

The newest book in the series, released in 2016, is Flora and Peacocks.

Five stars

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Flying Too High: 08/27/16

Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood

Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood is the second of the Phryne Fisher mysteries. For whatever reason, it wasn't used as the second episode of the television series, though pieces of it show up in a later episode of a different name. I bring this up only because many of the first series of shows were taken directly from Greenwood's books.

Phryne and Dot move into the home that features so prominently in the television series. Knowing that she wants to make a career as a private investigator, she picks a home with the house number 221 to which she adds a B. I can't honestly remember if that detail is ever brought out in the TV show but it's a cute detail to show Phyrne's sense of humor.

Phyrne is hired by a woman convinced her son is going to kill her husband. The hot headed men run a flying school and it's Phryne's chance to show off her flying skills. Meanwhile, a young girl has been kidnapped by thugs who know her parents have recently won the lottery.

What's most noticeable by book two is how very different the book world is from the television one. The Esplanade is put into the capable hands of the the Butlers. It is Mrs. Butler who convinces Mr. Butler to come out of retirement because she's looking for a little adventure. In the TV show, Mrs. Butler's death is the reason for Mr. Butler coming out of retirement.

Inspector Collins still isn't on the scene and Dot while prim isn't the naive delicate flower she's made out to be in TV show. Dot appreciates the freedom Phryne gives her and perhaps sees her as a mentor.

Missing from the books is Phryne's meddlesome aunt. She's there to prevent Phyrne from being her full Bohemian self. In the books Phryne works and lives on her own schedule. Put more simply, the things that annoy me about the TV show were introduced in the TV show and the things I love about it were kept form the books.

Four stars

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As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust: 08/26/16

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley is the seventh of the Flavia de Luce mysteries. Flavia is sent to her mother's boarding school. Shortly after she arrives, a body is discovered in the chimney of the great hall.

When Flavia was shipped off to Canada at the close of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches I was super-excited to see what Flavia would do with a chance of location. And when the body showed up only a dozen or so pages I was encouraged that we would be back to the headstrong, devious Flavia of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Except she isn't. She's out of sorts throughout the entire book. The school she's in is weird. It's built from a cobbled together series of buildings. The school prides itself on not providing new students with maps. I expected Flavia to find all the secret passages, make keys for all the best rooms, and basically have the run of the place.

But she doesn't. She acts like a lost, scared, mopey girl the entire book. Even when she's investigating the murder she's shy, apologetic, and completely out of character.

The book ends with a reset switch. Flavia's sent packing for England. Out of some crazy loyalty to this series, I have the eighth book, Thrice the Blinded Cat Hath Mew'd on my wishlist. But if it's Flavia isn't showing her earlier book gumption by the end of it, I'm giving up on the series.

Three stars

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Tailing a Tabby: 08/25/16

Tailing a Tabby by Laurie Cass

Tailing a Tabby by Laurie Cass is the second in the Bookmobile Cat Mystery series. Minnie while on her rounds with the bookmobile is flagged down to help a man who is suffering a stroke. Later the man, who happens to be a locally famous artist, leaves his hospital room and is later found slumped over the body of a murdered young woman. Minnie believes he couldn't possibly have had the strength or heart to do such a thing and sets out to discover to clear his name.

But this murder investigation is almost secondary to the other things going on in Minnie's life. She's still trying to keep Eddie the cat secret from the library director. She also still has to find funding since her benefactor died in the first book, Lending a Paw.

Of the four books I've read so far in the series, this one struck me as the most disjointed. It's the one that doesn't really stick out in my memory beyond the initial event and the continued back and forth at the library. Because this one hasn't made more of an impression, I can't give it a higher rating even though over all I am enjoying the series.

Three stars

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The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco: 08/24/16

The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco by Laura DiSilverio

The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco by Laura DiSilverio is the start of the new Book Club Mystery series. Amy-Faye lives in Heaven, Colorado where she runs a book club. They read a variety of different kinds of books and then watch the movie inspired by the book.

When she's not running her book club, she's an event planner. One of her book club regulars falls ill during their Maltese Falcon night. Amy-Faye has the bad luck of finding her near death the next day. The authorities want to call it a suicide but the book club ladies know better.

As the book is set in Colorado, right on the heals of me reading Knit One, Kill Two [LINK] by Maggie Sefton I ended up conflating the two series. DiSilverio's series is set in Heaven and she includes tons of fascinating details behind the town's name and it's recent name change.

This first offering is a little rough around the edges but most series starts are. It's a good blend of the things I like from the Presley Parker party planner series by Penny Warner and the Goldy Bear catering series. As I've read both those series to completion, it's nice to have something new to fill that gap.

Four stars

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The Great Greene Heist: 08/23/16

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson is about a self proclaimed reformed teenage conman. His last big con made him famous and still has lasting repercussions. The victim of that prank is now running for class president against Jackson Greene's ex-girl friend and things are about to get ugly.

This book and The Terrible Two Get Worse both focus on school election shenanigans. Johnson's book is a little edgier in that there is clear corruption (bribery) on the part of the school administration.

The story is told from multiple points of view, not just Jackson's. It was informative to see his reputation against his own internalized intentions but his internal monologue is the most entertaining of the points of view offered.

Although this is a public school, the heist that Jackson Greene pulls off is on the order of some of the more complex cons of a Rockford Files episode. That part was fun, though it did stretch my own suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Much of the school is too easy to access after hours, something no school near me would allow. But my local school district isn't representative of all school districts, and it is fun to imagine what secrets lurk after hours.

Four stars

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Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, & a Very Strange Adventure: 08/22/16

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, & a Very Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans was originally published in the UK as Small Change for Stuart — a much better fitting for the book and main character. For more on my feelings on the disservice done to American children by the alterations to imported English language fiction, please read Stop Americanizing imported English language books.

The once titular character is a boy named Stuart Horten. He has the unfortunately luck of being short and having a name that can be abbreviated to S.Horten. That combo has lead to lots of teasing. Now he's facing the big unknown of a new town since he and his parents (a surgeon and a crossword puzzle author) have moved to the old family town of Beeton.

Straightaway Stuart is drawn into an old family scavenger hunt, one that's obviously been neglected and unsolved for decades. The clues are tied to the late uncle Tony Beeton's factory where gear based devices were once made — like the old mechanical piggy banks.

I must admit that I figured out the big plot twist early in the book. It doesn't matter. It's a fun and a rewarding book. I enjoyed all the old (albeit fictional versions) of late Victorian mechanical devices. That's of course my own experience as the daughter of an antiques dealer coming through.

Five stars

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The Murder of Mary Russell: 08/21/16

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King is the 14th book in the Mary Russell series. Anyone familiar the Sherlock Holmes series will know to expect that the titular character won't actually end up dead. This book is clearly by title set up to be Mary's Final Problem.

Sherlock Holmes was supposed to die and stay dead at the conclusion of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. The fans revolved. The Strand was beside itself. And thus he was revived and his "death" retconned away in "The Empty House."

The Murder of Mary Russell, though, is not a simple combination of The Final Problem and The Empty House, though most of the present day action does literally take place in an empty house. Instead, for reasons that baffle me (and other reviewers), the action is centered on Mrs. Hudson. Not her solving Mary's disappearance, rather her childhood and her life before Sherlock Holmes. In fact, her entire relationship as established in "A Study in Scarlet" is rewritten in a way that feels like it was inspired by Elementary rather than the thirteen books that have built this post-retirement world of Sherlock Holmes.

Long story short, I didn't like Mrs. Hudson's story. The writing was done in a clunky third person. It lacked Mary's vitality. After an amazing shocker of an opening chapter, I was crushed to then see a flash back going back about seventy or so years.

After slogging through about fifty pages of Clarissa "Clara" Hudson's family saga, I got back to a very brief chapter involving Mary and her immediate danger. Suddenly the book was back to being a nail biter.

Rather than keep slogging through Hudson's story, I chose to only read the present day bits. Guess what, just like in The Isle, there is nothing revealed about the plot that isn't later discovered by Mary or Sherlock. These long passages of Hudson's past are just filler. What's actually sitting here is a nice, tight, novella bloated up to novel length.

Two stars

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A Study in Sherlock: 08/20/16

A Study in Sherlock by Laurie R. King

A Study in Sherlock edited by Laurie R. King is a collection of short stories inspired by the original Arthur Conan Doyle canon by a variety of mystery authors.

The Sherlock Holmes stories have been in the public domain long enough to have inspired many more fan fictions and pastiches than the original stories combined.

Sherlock Holmes continues to inspire adaptations: the recent movies, two competing television series: Elementary on CBS and Sherlock on the BBC.

These stories beyond being "inspired by the canon" share very little else in common. Some are straight up Sherlock Holmes stories written in the time period of the originals and in the style of Doyle. Others are modern day tales either with a modern day Sherlock (as both television series have) or more loosely, just a set of circumstances that feel like a Sherlockian mystery.

Four stars

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The House of Hades: 08/19/16

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan is the fourth of the Heroes of Olympus series. As this is now a larger ensemble cast, there are multiple adventures happening — all to the common goal of preventing Gaea from awakening.

At the start of the series Jason whisked away to Camp Half Blood with no memory of who he was or who he got there. Meanwhile, the camp's big damn hero, Percy, has gone missing. All of that has been resolved and now the members of the two camps must — to make the prophesy work — work together.

Much of The House of Hades is a dungeon crawl, well, through the underworld. No surprise there, right? As the focus was primarily on Percy and Annabeth finally getting to work together again, it was the part of the book I was most interested in.

Four stars

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Mission Mumbai: 08/18/16

Mission Mumbai by Mahtab Narsimhan

I really don't know how to react to Mission Mumbai by Mahtab Narsimhan. The subtitle is a "novel of sacred cows, snakes, and stolen toilets." All those mentioned things are part of the plot along with a fire, monsoonal flooding, and a terrible train ride.

The basic plot is that the son of a wealthy New York family is visiting Mumbai with his best friend, a boy they've been hosting so that he can go to school in the United States. On the surface level, these are two upper class families but the amount of money each has is a difference as big as the Grand Canyon. The Lal's are struggling with the continued expense of New York and are thinking of keeping their son, Rohit home.

The point of the trip after all is said and done, is a wedding. The rest of the stuff in the book is there to show how different India is from the United States and more specifically, how different Mumbai is from New York City. New York covers 304.5 square miles and Mumbai 232.8 square miles. Mumbai is roughly two and a half times more populated than New York (21 million vs. 9 million). Or roughly a population density of 30,000 per square mile vs 90,000 per square mile.

Mind you, both families are upper class so neither one would be living in the most densely populated areas. But the point is, Mumbai is smaller and more crowded. Expanded outward, India (as mentioned in the novel) has more than one billion people (as compared to 316.5 million in the United States). India has nearly four times the population in a country that's only a third of the size.

I'm putting these numbers here first as perspective because a big part of the book beyond the wedding preparation is Dylan Moore's non-stop faux pass. Dylan is a stereotypical wealthy American white dude. Despite being "best friends" with Rohit for years, and despite learning a few words of Hindu, he is self absorbed, completely clueless, and perpetually rude. He's also spoiled rotten as evidenced by the high end camera he has with him and the Rolex watch he later throws at an elderly man. What kid owns a Rolex watch? They don't even make children's watches.

Rohit, meanwhile, seems to take infinite delight in setting up Dylan for failure. The book is strung together scenes of Dylan getting a bad idea, Rohit rolling his eyes, Dylan getting in trouble, and Rohit laughing at him. How is this a friendship? While I'm not a huge fan of backstory, there's not enough here for me to understand how they came to like each other, let alone how they even came to know each other.

I'm not expecting a completely happy romp through India. That wouldn't be realistic either. Travel is exhausting. Travel is eye opening (unless you're on a carefully controlled package tour). Travel is embarrassing. Travel is messy. Travel can be dangerous.

A more upbeat look at traveling to India is Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins.

Two stars

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Upside-Down Magic: 08/17/16

Upside-Down Magic by Jess Keating

Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins is the tale of a new school for fifth grade magical misfits. It reminds me a bit of Ms. Jool's class in Wayside School series — except with magic. Or it's like Goddess Boot Camp by Tera Lynn Childs.

Nory ends up there when she fails the entrance exam to her father's school. She was supposed to turn into a black kitten. But her animals are always hybrids: bittern (beaver kitten) or skunkephant (skunk elephant).

The exploration of Nory's abilities and the abilities of her classmates is a way to learn about how magic works and the history of magical education. Magic is very structured, broken into very specific skill sets: fire making, levitating, transformation, and so forth. There's no room for mixing up skill sets, nor creativity.

If this book were a YA, I could see it set in a totalitarian world. I could see this class being used as the start of a resistance movement or as the first stop in an underground railroad.

But it's aimed at elementary school aged readers. So while there's a hint of a troubled world, it's too upbeat to be dystopian. There are two more books in the series: Sticks and Stones and Showing Off.

Five stars

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How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel: 08/16/16

How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel by Jess Keating

How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel by Jess Keating is the sequel to How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied. As of posting this review, I haven't read the first book, but I plan to.

Ana, her brother, and their parents live at a zoo, started by their grandfather. Ana had plans for her last year of middle school but her best friend has moved to New Zealand, where she's already starting high school. So now her friend has upped the ante, suggesting that they kiss a boy before the close of Ana's summer vacation.

Along with worrying about boys, Ana also has to contend with her grandfather's new exhibit, one devoted to sharks. While she gets over her initial repulsion, she also has to work with a girl she considers her enemy from school, a popular girl named Ashley.

If this were a typical good girl being kept down by a popular girl story (aka Babymouse), Ashley would be every bad thing Ana believes about her. When things start going wrong for both girls, Ana assumes it's always Ashley. She has a hard lesson ahead.

I really enjoyed seeing Ana grow as a character. She goes from blindly believing that the popular girl is a bully who will stop at nothing to stay on top, to seeing her as a flawed but decent person.

Five stars

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Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts: 08/15/16

Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding

Look Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding is tween fiction set on a fictional Pacific island. The Fitzgerald-Trouts are a blended family of cast-off children who live in the car of one of their fathers.

Kim maintains a to-do list. Near the top is find a house. The youngest siblings are getting too big to comfortably sleep in the back seat. They also have a pet goldfish who sloshes around in its bowl when they drive. The car needs new tires.

In the background of their adventures to find a home are their parents: two mothers, two fathers. There is the mother who tells them to wash their hands and the mother who sometimes gives them money. There is their scientist father, lost at sea. And another father who is really more of a footnote to an already complex family situation.

But mostly the book focuses on the children's attempts at finding a home as their car rapidly becomes unsuitable. Although there's a lot of heavy stuff, the story is told with a gentle humor, almost like a fable or fairytale at times.

Five stars

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Doctor Who: The Spear of Destiny: 08/14/16

Doctor Who: The Spear of Destiny by Marcus Sedgwick

Doctor Who: The Spear of Destiny by Marcus Sedgwick is the third in the Doctor Who short stories published in conjunction with the show's 50th anniversary. As it is the third book it features the Third Doctor and his second companion, Jo. Together they need to retrieve a spear that has dangerous special abilities.

When popping into the museum where it's housed in the present day (this present being the 1970s to be contemporaneous with that regeneration of the Doctor on Earth) goes wrong, the Doctor and Jo must travel back in time to a much earlier reported spotting of the weapon. Of course this ultimately leads them to a trap involving the master as many Third Doctor plots do. This is not the more modern day mincing nancy-boy master nor the Victorian styled older lady "Missy", but the goatee sporting, evil, cackling master who is just a hair away from being Snidely Whiplash. (Can you tell I don't like the Master in any of their forms?)

The Third Doctor is one of my favorites, even with his ridiculous (and ridiculed in this book) Inverness Cape. He drove an awesome old car, Bessie, got stuck on Earth for quite some time and had to work for (or with depending on whom you ask) UNIT, and was basically bad ass. He had two companions: Liz Grant, a brilliant scientist, and Jo Grant, a much younger companion who mostly due to her age, I suspect, was written as an affable bubble head.

Unfortunately for this novella, Liz's time with the Doctor is mostly during his grounding on Earth. She consults for UNIT much as he does. Sedgwick's story, though relies on the TARDIS being functional (as well as it ever is). The title, though, brings to mind the first adventure the Third Doctor has, Spearhead from Space.

In terms of the final solution to the problem of the spear, it's more akin to an excellent Fourth Doctor episode, City of Death (1979) where the Doctor and Ramona uncover a mystery spanning several different moments in time. In the process of saving the world and ending the time loops, they create a number of fake Mona Lisa paintings.

Five stars

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Mind the gap (between reading and reviewing): 08/13/16

The last of my 2016 reading goal is to "shorten the average length between reading and reviewing a book." There's a romantic (or masochistic) notion that a book blogger will close the cover on a book (or scroll past the last page) and set to writing the review immediately. The post about a finished book goes up within minutes or at worst case, hours, after finishing a book.

That has never been the case here. It's not possible. It would be too stressful for me and, frankly for you, the reader.

In 2010, 2011, and 2012 I read a total of 1578 books. Were I to have posted a review of every book immediately after finishing, I would have to post three reviews every two days (on average). I did briefly experiment with posting two reviews on some days but two reviews plus my occasional article ended up being too much for my core readership and they let me know through comments and emails.

So I settled on "a book review a day" with the caveat that sometimes I would also post an article. I Would not, though, post an article and a review each and every day, resulting in 720 posts or so a year.

In that time when I was also still very active with BookCrossing and I was using my reviews as a way to reassure book ring participants down the line from me that I was reading the books sent to me and not hoarding them, I had to focus on reviewing those books first. Then there were the review copies which I promised one a week, for a total of 52 in a year. Those took the second priority. That left all my fun reading, books I was often genuinely excited about, out of the blogging queue.

Really, though, the backlog goes back even further. I mentioned ending 2009 with a backlog of 166 reviews to post. But it wasn't until 2012 that I realized I was swimming up stream against the continuing flood of books read. I was a year or more behind in the reviews I posted, meaning that a review going onto my blog in 2012 was probably one I had read in 2011 or 2012.

So after four years or actively trying to get a handle on the gaps between reading, reviewing, and posting, how am I doing? I have 204 reviews written and waiting to post. If I stopped reading today I could continue posting a review a day until March 5, 2017. That's not likely to happen.

Bar graph showing the number of reviews remaining to post from 2012-2016 by month In looking at the reviews I have to post, the majority of reviews needing posting are clustered around November 2015-June 2016. That's a two to eight month lag. But I do have some long tail stragglers from as early as 2012 (a single picture book).

Pie chart showing the percentages of reviews to post by year

Looking at the percentage of books left to review, 93% of the reviews I plan to post are from books I've read in 2015 and 2016. Of those, more than half, or 60%, are ones I've read this year. I would like to get the lag down to under six months, but I'm encouraged by the progress.

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The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party: 08/13/16

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon Hale

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon Hale is the second book in the series. It's Princess Magnolia's birthday and all she wants to do is have her other princess friends over for a party. The monsters, though, won't let her go for more than a couple minutes before she's back to having to fight them again.

About half of this book is a rehash of the first and I was afraid it would continue along those lines. I know Zorro, the basic source material here, does the same, and has more than 100 years, but here, it gets old quickly. More on why in a bit.

First though, there's the back half of the book which sets up a cliff hanger. As Magnolia and her royal friends appear to be children, the birthday party includes children's games. One of those that she tosses out as an excuse to once again run off to hunt a monster, is hide and seek. The problem with hide and seek is that secrets just might be revealed by accident!

Take for instance, a princess who is drawn like the living embodiment of a wallflower. She even has a daisy for a hat. In three different illustrations, she is shown as a natural master of hide and seek, at least on the hiding part. Her skirt matches with the curtains. Her entire ensemble is a double for a floor lamp. She blends in perfectly with a throw rug.

Those who hide, though, are also good at finding other's hiding spots. Or in this case, Magnolia's secret passage to her alter ego's lair. One hopes that this princess can be taken on as an understudy.

And that leads me back to the problem with the running gag. In this world Magnolia as a princess knows she must dress and act a certain way. That involves a lot of pink (although not all of her princess friends follow this rule) and acting demure. However, there is a monster problem which she keeps in check by dressing in black and fighting the monsters in hand to claw combat.

It's implied repeatedly that should anyone find out about Magnolia's other life, bad things will happen. What these consequences are, though, are never stated. How bad are we talking? Will she lose her title? Will she be jailed? Will she be excommunicated? Executed? Put on time out? Laughed at?

These unspoken consequences that are there as a threat of unknown quantity belittle the message that girls should aspire to being anything they want. I really want Magnolia to stand up to all her guests and proudly declare her dedication to her people and the methods she uses to keep them protected. That's an important message too: people (not just females) where different costumes depending on what they're doing — what they need to do.

A soldier has fatigues, dress uniform, and maybe a slinky black dress for other occasions. Or maybe she likes to wear bright pink when she's out and about. These can all be the same person, filling many roles and being a role model in each case. That's who Magnolia should be, but isn't yet.

Three stars

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On reading diversely: 08/12/16

Harriet and Trinity read a story together

Book Riot has a post about reading diversely which has caused a stir in the library community. I'm not going to rehash the arguments for and against the article. Rather, I'm gong to use it as a stepping off point to examine my own stated goal of reading more diversely.

Last December I made a list of reading goals that I have been trying to follow this year. They were:

  1. Stay more current (with a goal of reading / reviewing at least 52 books published in 2016)
  2. Read a wider selection of Canadian literature (including POC and First Nations authors)
  3. Read a wider selection of American literature (including POC, Native American, and immigrant authors)
  4. Read more ebooks
  5. Read more books off my own shelves.
  6. Shorten the average length between reading and reviewing a book

These goals may seem to be all over the map. In a way they are but I am a voracious reader. I am also currently unemployed. While I do spend about ten to fifteen hours a week volunteering, I still have time to read. That's not to say I'm spending all my free time reading. I'm not. I do, however, read and blog with the realization that when I start working again, my reading and blogging time will be impacted. By how much, I don't know.

Right now, though, I have enough leeway in my reading to address my different goals without feeling stressed and without it feeling like work. Now, it's entirely possible, that I might end up with a position where reading is part of my day to day responsibility, in which case, the reading I do for work will be vastly different than my reading for fun.

My blog has evolved over time. It started as a place to prove to other Bookcrossers that I was reading my book rings in a timely manner. Then it moved to a place to record what I'd read to my children. Then it became a review blog of smaller publishing houses and self published authors. When I went back to school for my MLIS, it was a place to look at some of the books I'd read as text books or as part of my research. Now it's a mixture of curated reading recommendations, a place to write more in depth thoughts about my road narrative project, and a place to track the ebb and flow of my personal reading.

Getting back to the reading diversely, that by itself is a pretty open ended statement. Put in a personal context, it means reading beyond my own few favorite authors, reading books by authors or with characters who are different from me (white, middle aged, middle class, Californian). As I work with children through my volunteering, the bulk of my reading is children's and YA literature. I do this because the books I talk about most are children's books — either to parents, teachers, children's and teen librarians, or directly with children and teens.

As I live in a diverse area and have a diverse group of people to recommend books to, the vast majority of my efforts to read diversely are aimed at books for children and teens.

So how am I doing?

Spread sheet of diverse reading by month

As of posting this article, I've read and reviewed 225 books. Remember, the goal to shorten the average length between reading and reviewing books? The difference in percentages in the pie charts represent that gap. (I have a future post planned where I look at the continuing problem with lag.) Among the books I've read this year, 21% (or 60 books) are diverse. Among the reviews posted so far, 23% (or 67) books are diverse.

The bar graph

The pie charts

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The Unexpected Everything: 08/12/16

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson is about the daughter of a politician having her summer plans completely canceled when her father is caught up in a scandal. Rather than participating in a prestigious summer internship, she's stuck with the only job she can find, dog walker. Worse yet, it's in her old neighborhood from before she and her dad moved after her mother's death.

Before Andie has even had a chance to find her summer job, she meets Clark and Bertie W. when Bertie gets off leash and nearly runs her over. Clark to the savvy reader is a scifi geek as demonstrated by the slogans on his shirts. Andie, though, is woefully not clued in with the genre or the fandom — part of her busy and sheltered life.

Still from Littlest Petshop showing Blythe shushing her father while her boyfriend watches

In a nutshell, the plot is a YA Littlest Pet Shop Except, of course, Andie's father isn't a pilot and she can't actually understand any of the dogs she walks.

With the summer dragging on, the friendship between Andie and Clark takes on greater meaning, though like Andie's father, I admit to being a little squicked given that she's still a minor. Sure, Clark a home schooled wunderkind so he's younger than he acts, he's in a position to take advantage of her.

Except for the awkwardness of the summer romance plot which is frankly unnecessary for the book, The Unexpected Everything is thoughtful and humorous. There's even a side plot involving Andie's friends, one of whom has made a bet that she can go the entire summer texting only with emojis.

Four stars

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Hour of the Bees: 08/11/16

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar is at first glance, the story of a Mexican American girl coming to terms with her grandfather's dementia as she and her family clear out his ranch and move him into an assisted living home. But it's also the story of bees, the environment, and the tree of life. This is a book that sits at the crossroads of Holes, Tuck Everlasting, and The Jumbies.

I read the book at the close of a road trip that took me in a lopsided circle through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona before heading home through California. The Hour of the Bees is set in an unnamed, drought stricken, remote piece of New Mexico. It's written by an author from Utah, the Beehive State. Had I not just made the drive through both states, these details would have washed over me with little regard.

State highways in Utah use the beehive as their symbol

Detail of Utah State Highway 12 ©2013 Doug Kerr (Flickr)

If you drive through Utah on any of the state highways — the blue highways — you'll see the highway number drawn inside of a beehive. The bees are there subliminally. Where there are hives, there bees.

For Carol, (Carolina as her grandfather loves to call her), the bees are ever present too. There is the one in the car that she releases by rolling down a window. There is the hum in the forbidden bedroom. They are there in the barn. They are there when she is contemplating her grandfather's future and her father's past.

To everyone else, there are no bees. There can't be. The land is the middle of the worst drought in history. To her grandfather, there can be no bees because they are angry over the chopping down of the village tree. With the tree gone for selfish reasons, the bees have stolen the water. That is the story Carol hears pieces of over the course of the summer.

In terms of the road narrative, Hour of the Bees is built on tension between the itinerant and those who can't or won't leave. Like Sean in Bone Gap, Sergio, the grandfather, refuses to leave the ranch. He is the last remaining inhabitant of a long forgotten village. Rosa, his wife, was itinerant, forever called into the world by the lure of the road and what adventures it would lead to.

For me, the timing of the book was perfect. It came as I was immersed in the landscape — the mesas, the canyons, the red rolling hills. It was all there before me and floating around in my memory when I closed my eyes.

Five stars

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Another Kind of Hurricane: 08/10/16

Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith

Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith is set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the north is a boy who has lost his best friend to an unexpected death. In the south is a boy who has been displaced by the hurricane. A pair of jeans and a marble bring the two boys together.

Here the hurricane is basically window dressing. Essentially it's another MacGuffin story (something I'd mentioned not seeing much of in children's literature but is apparently becoming more of a thing). Here the MacGuffin is the marble tucked away in the donated pair of jeans.

The MacGuffin is something that must be followed. Usually the plot leaves the living protagonist behind and follows the thing instead as it goes from place to place. Here, though, the MacGuffin is something that compels the northern protagonist south to find the marble.

Anyone in contact with the MacGuffin will invariably cross paths, though again, they don't always realize that they have or even make the connection to the thing they have all been affected by. Again, that's subverted here in that both boys want the marble and become friends over the wanting of the marble.

So why a MacGuffin story? Well, the title gives the answer. Another kind of hurricane doesn't refer to the destructive forces of nature but to the emotional rollercoaster of grief. As we often remember our beloved ones through their possessions, that marble becomes a tangible reminder of the friendship that's been torn asunder by death. It's also the means for forging a new friendship.

Three stars

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The Girl in the Well Is Me: 08/09/16

The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers

In 1987 a toddler named Jessica McClure fell into an abandoned well in her aunt's yard in Texas. For three days the story of "Baby Jessica's" ordeal was the main story on every single national news outlet.

The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers is an updated fictional ordeal of an older girl falling down a well in a case of hazing going horribly wrong. Kammie Summers, once one of the popular girls herself, in a different city and a different time, before her father was arrested and the family assets seized, now has to start over.

It seemed like a dumb, somewhat embarrassing request, but a harmless one. She was supposed to stand on an old plank in the middle of an old plank and sing Christmas carols. She wasn't supposed to fall into the well beneath the plank.

Save for the last chapter, the entirety of the book happens while Kammie is down the well. By making her older we're given more insight into her life and the circumstances that lead her to the abandoned well. We also get a very personal account of what being down the well is like. We as readers are as much the girl in the well as Kammie is.

Five stars

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Lowriders in Space: 08/08/16

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raul the Third is a graphic novel about a trio of friends who build a beautiful lowrider, go on a epic drive through the cosmos, and win the money to go into business for themselves. The artwork has a style all its own but to me it brings to mind the detailing you'd see on lowriders, hotrods, and other rebuilt vehicles.

This book stars a trio of friends: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack (an octopus), and Elirio Malaria (a mosquito). Lupe's the mechanic. Chavo washes and waxes. Elirio takes care of the detailing.

Lupe Impala

Every page had some detail I wanted to share with the people around me while I was reading. My all time favorite though is how the trio uses their car repair smarts to escape a blackhole.

There's a second book now, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, which I will be reviewing soon.

Five stars

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Stop Americanizing imported English language books: 08/08/16

An example of an illustration from Small Change for Stuart completely altereed for the US version

Dear publishers of children's literature — stop bastardizing the perfectly good English already contained within the pages of the books. Children in the United States speak a rich and varied version of English. Discounting the numerous languages children grow up speaking in their homes besides American English, they still also grow up with a rich language full of regional differences.

We wouldn't expect a book to be simplified for other readers across the country if it's:

  • Set in New Orleans and has bits of Cajun in it
  • Set in Los Angeles and has some Spanish
  • Features an Iranian family and uses some Persian
  • Is set in Hawaii and uses some Hawaiian

I could go on, but I think you get my point.

Original written note on the left. Americanized version on the right.

I could go on. We're a nation with eight major dialects and numerous sub dialects. We're not a homogenous version of English. We're not so different from any other version of English that we can't understand books published in English in other English speaking countries.

Yet, publishers of children's books insist on Americanizing books they import. The u from some words disappears (neighbour becomes neighbor). Streets change names from the High Street to Main Street. It's not like we're incapable of reading books with non-American English. Look at Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. It ironically has more British English in it than all of the Harry Potter books combined.

Original cover on the left. American cover on the right.

A recent book I read is a perfect example of the weird ways children's books are butchered to make the "acceptable" to an American audience. The version I read was Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery & Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans. This version has a 2016 copyright date. In reality, it was published in 2011 as Small Change for Stuart: Magic Mystery, and a Very Strange Adventure.

Original cover on the left. American cover on the right. The original title is perfect for the book. It's a pun that defines what Stuart wants more than anything (to be taller because he's tired of being teased for being short) and what helps him (a pile of small change which leads him on a magical adventure).

A map created for the American version of the book. Note Main Street and the gas station. That should be the High Street and the petrol station.

Despite the weird, nonsensical, unnecessary alterations to the book, I still rated it high. The story is still there and it's still delightful. In this case, the Americanization didn't destroy the book but it can. Take for instance the first Harry Potter book. It's a philosopher's stone. It's the same, dangerous, scary ass thing that Edward and Alphonse Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist are first searching for and then desperately trying to prevent the creation of as they learn its true nature. Many kids that start with Harry Potter go onto read or watch FMA. How exactly is Scholastic helping children by changing the title?

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All My Friends Are Still Dead: 08/07/16

All My Friends Are Still Dead by Avery Monsen

All My Friends Are Still Dead by Avery Monsen is the follow up to All My Friends Are Dead. The dinosaur is still dead, his friends are still dead, and he's found other still dead friends. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one. That's the tl:dr version of the review.

So rather than go into a lengthy review for a short, novelty book, I'm going to reminisce — not about dead friends (though I have some, everyone who lives long enough, does). Rather, I want to think about the books and the person who gave me this one.

In 2010 when the first book came out, I was an active member of a local Bookcrossing group. One of the other members brought along this book to exchange and I took it on a lark. It was short, cute in a dark humor way, and I knew I could read it, review it, and pass it along all by next month's meeting.

I have since learned that's never the case. It's not that I can't do those things. Rather, it's that books I think are a quick, one time, lark of a read, end up becoming the absolute favorite of one or more of my family members.

In all fairness, Monsen and John's book looks like a children's picture book. Heck, Jory John has even co-authored some children's books such as The Terrible Two and The Terrible Two Get Worse. So with hindsight, it shouldn't be a surprise that the All My Friends books would appeal to children.

Both my son and daughter fell head over heels for the first book. He was eight and she was four. It's so simplistic in its vocabulary, both could read it. And read it, they did. And argue over who got to read it next. It was the hotly contested book for about a year, being included in the nightly bedtime stories.

I never did manage to release that copy. We still have it. Rather, the children still have it in their bedroom library. I had pretty much forgotten about it.

My son, it turns out, has not forgotten about it. He recently went on an end of middle school trip to Washington D.C. As a souvenir / thank you gift for letting him go and paying for his trip, he brought home All My Friends Are Still Dead. He brought it home as a representation of how important the trip was to him by giving me the sequel to his first favorite grown up book.

So to you, these books are probably just novelty books. To me, now, they are extra special. They are sentimentally special.

Four stars

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Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life: 08/06/16

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley is the first book in a six book series. Scott Pilgrim is a schmuck; he's out of work, he's dating (preying on) a high school student, and he shares his gay roommate's bed because he's too cheap to get his own bed.

All that changes when he starts dreaming about a roller blading delivery woman named Ramona Flowers. Things get weirder when he meets her in person. She is, to borrow a phrase from Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's Long Earth series, a natural stepper. But in a Being John Malcovich (1999) sort of way, Ramona's short cuts happen to go right through Scott's mind.

I'll admit right away that I started liking the book a hell of a lot more after Ramona shows up. Ramona is her own, self possessed, proud person. She's not going to be gas-lamped by Scott. She's perfectly capable of turning the tables on him. She also comes with her own supernatural list of angry-ex-boyfriends, who each want to take down Scott Pilgrim.

I have to admit I'm rooting for the boyfriends.

Four stars

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Mutt's Promise: 08/05/16

Mutt's Promise by Julie Salamon

Mutt's Promise by Julie Salamon is about a stray dog, Mutt, and her puppies. Mutt is befriended by a grumpy old man who runs a small farm with help from a migrant family. Because Gilbreto is good with animals and takes responsibility for the puppies, Mutt and her four dogs are allowed to stay.

But opportunities for Gilberto's parents cause trouble for everyone. The farmer now alone decides the puppies must go. He finds two good homes but Luna and Jefe are sold to a nearby puppy mill.

This is a book written for upper elementary tweens. It is the Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows for the mid 2010s. Except it doesn't involve rabies or hunting. It does though involve animal cruelty and it's told from the dogs' point of view.

Thankfully this book has a happy ending. It's not about children learning that dogs are disposable tools or that rabies is a terrible disease. Instead it's about the things that some animals are forced to endure before finding their forever home. And it's about those animals not lucky enough to find such a home.

If you're looking to modernize your classroom library with an animal centric story, add Mutt's Promise to your collection. For your cat lover students, I also recommend Cat in the City by the same author.

Five stars

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The invisible Pokémon Go player: 08/04/16

Ghostbusters 2016

There's a Pokémon gym at Five Canyon's Park. It's one of my daughter's favorite parks because she likes the swings there. She also is becoming a very skilled Pokémon Go player. Today we went for a combination of swinging and Pokémon hunting.

When she was done swinging, we checked on the status of the gym. It was held by Team Valor, the team my daughter picked. So she decided to sit and wait to see if anyone would take it on.

As it was an unusually cold and windy August afternoon we pretty much had the park to ourselves. That is except for two dudes. Two dudes with cell phones, obviously there only to claim the gym.

She quickly realized that they didn't see her as the competition. They saw a nine year old girl. They didn't think for a moment that she could be playing against them — or at all. They sat on the grass right in front of the play structure. She was able to see right over their shoulders to see what Pokémon they were playing with.

They didn't move. Now when there are competing teams usually the teams try to keep their screens private. But they didn't take her seriously.

Pinsir at the gym

So she decided to have some fun. As soon as they got the gym she went into action and quickly took it back for Valor. Rather than put her best Pokémon up there, she decided to make a statement. She put an Arbok. When it was defeated she took out the replacement Pokémon and put up a Pinsir.

The dudes face palmed and gave up. They left muttering about the other player, still not able to come to grips with the girl sitting on the bench behind them being the player that defeated them twice.

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You're Never Weird on the Internet: 08/04/16

You're Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day

You're Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day is a memoir about a life of gaming, becoming an actor, being a YouTube star, and being a target of the Gamergate shit storm.

I know of Felicia Day's work on two series: Eureka and Supernatural. In reading this memoir, I'm suppose to know her from her YouTube (and later Netflix) series, The Guild. I haven't seen a single episode and I'm not really inclined to watch at this juncture.

The most fascinating and horrifying part of the book is the last couple chapters that deal with her part in Gamergate. As I was following her Tumblr because of her role as Charlie Bradbury on Supernatural, I saw her initial post about feeling the need to cross the street when she saw a male fan approaching, something she had previously never felt the need to do.

I also saw the initial flurry of comments that came in response to it. The doxing and threats and other horrible stuff happened over night. By then I focused on something similar happening to a pair of librarians, so colleagues by proxy.

It's an uncomfortable read at the end of an otherwise quirky and delightful memoir. Granted there are places I skipped because I don't share her unbridled enthusiasm for MMPORGs or for YouTube but I still got caught up in her bubbly writing.

Four stars

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The Jumbies: 08/03/16

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste is the tale of a girl taking back her family after it's been infiltrated by a jumbie. Corinne La Mer is the woman of the house after her mother's death. She grows the best fruit which she proudly takes to market. It's there that she catches the eye of a supernaturally beautiful woman.

Corinne knows the lore of her island and she respects its power. The main character is well aware that things are not what they seem. She manages to keep her wits about her throughout. Here the threat is truly supernatural, something I remember wishing were so for The Unstoppable Octobia May (though I do appreciate direction it ultimately took)

The Jumbies is a retelling of the Haitian tale "The Magic Orange Tree" a story I'm not familiar with. Thematically this book is right there with Neil Gaiman's Coraline and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, A Taste for Red by Lewis Harris.

Four stars

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The Hound of the Baskervilles: 08/02/16

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Ian Edginton

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Ian Edginton is the first of four graphic novel adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. It's a good starting point for a reinterpretation as it's one of the longest of the mysteries, being novel length, rather than short story or novella, and it's the most memorable.

A print left by the hound of the Baskervilles

Sherlock and Watson are called out to a lonely estate on the moor on word of a mysterious death. Lord Baskerville has been found dead with huge dog prints next to the body. Everyone believes he was brought down by a hell hound as part of a family curse. Sherlock, though, doesn't buy this story one bit and sets out to prove it's a hoax covering up a more pedestrian murder.

Ransom note

What really makes this adaptation is its use of color and it's inclusion of the moor as a character. The moor is a remote, dangerous place, perfectly capable of swallowing up people, especially those distracted by fear and superstition.

Five stars

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A Taste for Red: 08/01/16

A Taste for Red by Lewis Harris

In A Taste for Red by Lewis Harris, Stephanie Grimm, who prefers the name Svetlana, believes she is a vampire. She prefers to sleep under her bed, doesn't like the way certain people smell (like her teacher), and prefers red foods above all others.

She's also having to deal with a huge upset in her life, going from living in Texas and being homeschooled, to living in California and attending middle school.

Svetlana with her taste for red things reminds me of Marceline from Adventure Time. Her neighbor and confidant, though, is more like either Miss Spink or Miss Forcible from Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Svetlana's growing abilities lead her to uncover the true evil that has befallen her new town. It's a great middle grade mystery with horror undertones. It would also recommend it to fans of fantasies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Five stars

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