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March 2017

Rating System

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

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Clover's Luck: 03/31/17

Clover's Luck by by Kallie George

Clover's Luck by Kallie George is the first of the the Magical Animal Adoption Agency series. It was recommended to me by my seven year old niece who is a reluctant reader but loves animals and fantasy.

My niece is Canadian — born and raised in Vancouver. So is the book, although with the magical aspect of the forest, I picture the story taking place on Vancouver Island. The forests on the islands come up on you quickly. Though the island is small in the grand scheme of things, it's big enough to get lost and big enough to hide an entire forest of magical creatures and people.

Clover believes she has the worst luck in the world. Her latest example is that her best friend got into horse camp for the summer but she didn't. She's still on the wait list.

And that's when Clover ends up off the usual path and lost inside the forest. She knows not to go there but she ends up there. She ends up at an animal shelter full of unusual creatures. By the end of the day she ends up being hired to care for the animals over the summer.

The first rule of the shelter is to make sure to adopt the magical creatures to the right owner. It's a matter of finding the owner who will love and care for the animal on the animal's own terms. Unicorns, for instance, might be something that princesses always end up buying but that doesn't mean a princes is a good fit for a unicorn.

Clover gets put to the test when she's left in charge of the shelter. As she's matching up the animals with new forever homes (and in the case of one creature, reuniting it with its owner), she also has to contend with a witch who is up to some sort of no-good.

It's a solid start to a series. I can see why my niece likes them. There are currently three books total in the series. Book two is The Enchanted Egg and book three is The Missing Magic.

Four stars

Comments (0)

Flora and the Peacocks: 03/30/17

Flora and the Peacocks by by Molly Idle

Flora and the Peacocks by Molly Idle is the third of the Flora picture books. This time Flora is doing fan dancing with a pair of beautiful peacocks.

This volume has some lovely lift the flap spreads that reveal different dance moves. Some of them are rather intricately folded. Young children might need help unfolding and refolding the pages.

While the previous books work well for a single child to read to themselves, I think this one works best for a parent reading with a child. The two birds act as rivals and get into the sort of trouble that siblings get into.

Five stars

Comments (0)

Zinnia: How the Corn Was Saved: 03/29/17

Zinnia: How the Corn Was Saved by by Patricia Hruby Powell

Zinnia: How the Corn Was Saved by Patricia Hruby Powell caught my eye when I was doing a keyword search for corn, cornfields, and maize at my local public library. I have found that the "crossing the cornfield" trope or motif as I'm calling it, is worth pursuing. The tropes are presented in their most concentrated form in the picture book format.

Zinnia: How the Corn Was Saved got my attention because the catalog coughed up a poorly rendered title that I recognized as Navajo. The Navajo title is Zíiniya: Hait'éego Naadáá' Shónáózt'é. This was a happy find for me as I was hoping to read some Native American tales involving cornfields as corn is native to the Americas and a staple of many indigenous diets. It's good to step back from transcribed European tropes and see the source material in a different perspective.

The story opens with a massive corn crop failure. The women in charge of planting and tending the corn have tried every method they know and nothing is working. Or rather, the corn crop has managed to fail in every imaginable way. Feeling that something bigger than just the corn crop was amiss, or out of balance, they go to a hataali for guidance. He says that the boy Red Bird (Tsidiilschii) to find Spider Woman (Na'ashjé'ii Asdzáán) as she will be able to help.

To the observant reader, Tsidiilschii finds her straight away but doesn't recognize her. He's expecting someone grander. He is so focused on the importance of the quest — one that could mean life and death for his people that he doesn't take in his entire environment.

Instead, Tsidiilschii goes from animal to animal asking for directions to Na'ashjé'ii Asdzáán. In this regard, the story is a classic building tale (like the House that Jack built) where one thing leads to another until finally reaching its conclusion. There are no tangents, no detours, no backtracking unless instructed.

In this regard, Tsidiilschii's quest is like a caper, for all through all his adventures and meeting the animals of his surrounding valley, he is both given directions to the Yei who has the answer and the actual solution to the cornfield crop failure.

Zinnia: How the Corn Was Saved ultimately is a how-so story of how Na'ashjé'ii Asdzáán taught the Diné to plant zinnias between the rows of their corn to encourage a healthier crop. It's also a how-so story of how the Diné learned to assume that any spider could be Na'ashjé'ii Asdzáán in disguise. It's also a story of the importance of corn to the People.

Here the cornfield is neither a barrier nor a portent of something evil. The cornfield is important, sacred, and tied to the well being of the people who grow it. There is also the lesson of how to use a secondary plant to protect the main crop. Zinnias or similar are even used here in California between the rows of corn.

It should be noted that Patricia Hruby Powell isn't Navajo but the book does include information to how she went about researching the story and getting sensitivity readings. There is a second book by the trio who wrote, translated, and illustrated this one, Ch'ał Tó Yiníló: Frog Brings Rain (2006).

Four stars

Comments (2)

Books about cats written by women: 03/20/17

Books about cats written by women

My friend Susan has a question this week on her West of Mars blog about cats in fiction. Specifically she's asking for recommendations about cat stories written by women. Look up at my header and you'll see that I like cats. I also like reading about cats.

Below is a subset of recommendations broken down by type of book. I'm including a bunch of picture books because they're fun. These are by no means all the cat books by women I've reviewed.

Picture Books:

Middle Grade:

Graphic novel:


Now I know she's asking for fiction but I'm including a very short list of cat nonfiction. These are excellent books that read like fiction but aren't.


Comments (0)

The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation: 03/28/17

The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation by by Shannon Hale

The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation is the fourth in the Princess in Black series. As noted in the Hungry Bunny Horde, Princess Magnolia's double life is exhausting. Before she face plants, she decides to take a well needed vacation.

While I was hopping her backup would be Princess Sneezewort, it turns out it's the lonely goatherd. Frustrated by all the monsters, he dons a new identity, that of the Goat Avenger.

Anyone familiar with the life and times of superheroes knows that trouble follows. There are no days off. Anyone who finds themselves in the proximity of a superhero, even one on vacation, should leave. Trouble is certainly not far away.

That is the case here. There are no simple beach episodes for superheroes. There is always a sea monster or some other sort of trouble.

I'm still holding out for Princess Sneezewort to step up.

Four stars

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The James: From Iron Gate to the Sea: 03/27/17

The James: From Iron Gate to the Sea by by Blair Niles

The James: From Iron Gate to the Sea by Blair Niles is the fifth of the Rivers of America series. The James river runs through Virginia and right by Jamestown.

There's a lot of history to Virginia and sure, a lot of it took place on or near the river. But this series is about the rivers themselves. The best ones are a mixture of geography, geology, history, and contemporary observations.

After the excellent The Powder: Let Er Buck by Maxwell Struthers Burt, I was horribly disappointed by The James. It was nothing but rich, white men, and the author asserting why they were right to whatever they did, whether it was subjugating the native populations, owning slaves, polluting the river, you name it. If you're white, male, and rich — then it's your duty and GOD GIVEN right to do all those things and fuck everyone else.

One star

Comments (0)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 27): 03/27/17

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 27)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

Monday and Tuesday, my youngest was home sick. Since I couldn't go anywhere, I had extra time to read. I also finished the necessary pieces of my redesign / move to the new domain. Now comes the fun part — creating new, larger images for all my older posts. I'm working my way backwards and just finished the posts from August 2016.

In other news, our move to Canada is being put off for at least a year. We may, however, be moving locally because we do need an extra bedroom.

What I read last week:

The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro
The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro - the latest Charlotte Holmes book
Read Review
From Here to Eternity by James Jones
From Here to Eternity by James Jones
DNF: I needed a break from it.
The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
DNF: I might finish it later
The Magic Cornfield
The Magic Cornfield by Nancy Willard
Library book
Awesome picture book I read for my road narrative project.
Otis and the Scarecrow
Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long
Library book
Picture book about a tractor and a scarecrow; also read for the road narrative project.
Over the Ocean
Library book
Over the Ocean by Taro Gomi
A Japanese picture book about what might lie over the ocean
Jem and the Holograms, Volume 3: Dark Jem by  Kelly Thompson
Jem and the Holograms, Volume 3: Dark Jem by Kelly Thompson

Two "did not finish" books in a week is unusual for me but I wasn't enjoying either of them. I might go back to both books later.

What I'm reading:

Mosquitoland by David Arnold
Mosquitoland by David Arnold
All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
The Genius of Birds
The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
Nonfiction, layman's introduction to ornithology.

Up Next:

My goal continues to read through my personal collection, although I do have one library book in the mix; it's a book about fishing. I haven't been fishing in about thirty years and I need a refresher before I take my own kids.

Complete Book of Baits, Rigs & Tackle
Complete Book of Baits, Rigs & Tackle by Vic Dunaway
Library book
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Giant Days, Vol. 3
Giant Days, Vol. 3 by John Allison

Last Week's Posts

Comments (44)

The Last of August: 03/26/17

The Last of August by by Brittany Cavallaro

The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro is the second book in the Charlotte Holmes series. Though it's set in Germany, rather than Switzerland, the title pretty much confirms that this will be a nod to "The Final Problem." I think it's an unspoken requirement among pastiche writers that the story which created the infamous fandom revolt that ultimately gave Sherlock Holmes his immortality must be paid homage to.

In most pastiches, there is a very small cast of regulars (besides Sherlock's "Irregulars"). There is Sherlock, Dr. Watson (James or John), Professor James Moriarty in the top three spot. Important supporting characters are Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft Holmes, and Mary Watson. That's the extent of roster.

Brittany Cavallaro has imagined a present day where the main three were the founding members of three families, destined to continue the roles of their forefathers. Over the years with many children in each generation the relationship of the three families has gotten somewhat muddied — so that not all Moriarties are evil. Not all Holmes are cold, inductive, nor are all Watsons happy to be biographers and doctors. But enough of them are to the point that everyone assumes that everyone else is as their family name implies.

This book, thankfully includes carefully drawn family trees for the Holmes and Moriarty families. As there is a lot of interaction between the two in The Last of August, knowing who's who is important. On a humorous side note, Charlotte has provided annotations to the trees, offering Watson as the mother of the Holmes family tree. It would explain why everyone is somewhat squicked at the budding romance between Charlotte and Jaimie.

Like A Study in Charlotte there is a lot going on here. There isn't a single central mystery. Instead there are three: Uncle Leander has gone missing, someone has poisoned Charlotte's mother, and someone is selling forgeries of artwork last seen when confiscated by the Nazis. All of these mysteries are related but how they are isn't immediately obvious.

It's a complex book that balances the YA romance parts with a story of the current generation being torn apart by decades of expectations and rivalries. Tragedies are bound to repeat themselves because no one is willing to let the traditions die.

Four stars

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The Sword of Summer: 03/25/17

The Sword of Summer by by Rick Riordan

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan is the first of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. It has the honor of being the first audio book I've listened to in about three years.

Magnus Chase is Annabeth Chase's cousin and he's fallen on rough times. After the death of his mother he's been living on the streets under the watchful eye of Hearth and Blitz. That is until everything gets really weird and Magnus ends up going head to head with a molten giant and falling to his death.

The end. Nah — that's just the first chapter.

Magnus Chase is the first demigod in a Riordan book to not survive the first chapter. That's not to say he doesn't have more story — but it's in the afterlife that Magnus comes into his own.

My only complaint is that despite unusual opening, this book follows the standard demigod plot. Child with tragic circumstances draws the unwanted attention of some supernatural beastie. Initial confrontation leads to a a new home for the hero (a camp, or here, a hotel). Even more extraordinary, e.g, earth ending events, forces the newly minted hero to leave on a quest. Hero goes through vaguely redressed mythological landmarks on a railroaded quest. Minor thing accomplished, cliffhanger established, and BIG cataclysmic event postponed for another book.

In Sword of Summer there are a few differences from the previous series. First and foremost is the weapon. It's a sword that will eventually bring around Ragnarok but it's a weapon that once belonged to a nature god. Like September's weapon in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, the sword is what it needs to be, to fit the needs of those fit to wield it.

The second different are the supporting characters. The Sword of Summer is set up to have readers expecting the warriors Magnus shares a floor with will be the ones he ends up questing with. Instead, it's his two friends from the outside world. Frankly, their stories are far more interesting and compelling than Magnus's.

What I really want is a spin book (or books) about the life and times of Hearthstone and Blitzen.

Four stars

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Charlie Anderson: 03/24/17

Charlie Anderson by by Barbara Abercrombie

Charlie Anderson by Barbara Abercrombie is the story of a cat and his people. Charlie spends his week nights with Elizabeth and Sarah and their mother. On the weekends, when the girls are in the city with their father and stepmother, Charlie is an outside cat. Or so they think.

As it gets colder and wetter, they start to worry about Charlie when they aren't home. They decide to learn where he goes in the day time to get an idea of what he does on the weekends.

That's when they meet Charlie's other family — a family who calls him Anderson. There he is an indoor, day time cat and, of course, a weekender. Rather than get in a custody battle over the cat, they decide to append his name to Charlie Anderson and accept him on his own terms.

Charlie Anderson reminds me of two of my grandmothers' cats: a brother and sister who showed up on her doorstep randomly. It was the same year that Oliver and Company was in the theater, so we jokingly named them Oliver and Anne (short for "And Company"). Like Charlie Anderson, Olive and Anne had another home five or so houses up the street. I don't remember their other names. Ultimately though, the two cats decided to stay at my grandmother's house.

Three stars

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Memory and Dream: 03/23/17

Memory and Dream by by Charles de Lint

Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint is the second of the Newford books. The elevator pitch for this book is that it's sentimental horror.

Some of the book takes place in flashbacks, back in the 1970s when the main characters were up and coming passionate artists, full of potential and untamed talent. The rest takes place in the near present (to the time it was published) — 1992.

As I have said in numerous reviews, I find most flashbacks unnecessary. The case is true here. The flashbacks are here to show the characters, including Kathy, who has since committed suicide, as a flesh and blood, artist. Her death or rather the memory of her life is the big mystery of this book.

A death of a character, even a suicidal one, is usually defined by the tropes of the genre the book is most aligned with. If the Newford books were mysteries, then Kathy's death wouldn't be suicide — even if it looked like it to all the authorities.

Keeping that in mind, the Newford books are urban fantasy, Newford sits on the border with the faerie lands so it goes to figure that magic will be a part of any book in the series. But Newford isn't, thankfully, the Unseelies vs Seelies, which gives the series more wiggle room in each book for a foray into other genres.

Newford, like Joseph C. Lincoln's fictional towns dotting Cape Cod, has a sentimental feel to it. Even when people are being cursed the narration keeps this oddly nostalgic tone.

In this case, the fantasy element comes in the form of artists being so in tune with their skills, and the magic of the nearby forest, that they have managed to bring their portraits to life — including portraits of themselves, as they sat for each other. Were it not for the wistful reminiscence, the book would read like Stephen King's Duma Key.

But over all, the book with its lengthy flashbacks, long descriptions of the paintings, and the diary entries, is frankly too long and too disjointed.

Two stars

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Peril in Paperback: 03/22/17

Peril in Paperback by by Kate Carlisle

Peril in Paperback by Kate Carlisle is the sixth in the Bibliophile mystery series. Brooklyn is at a mansion in Tahoe to help a friend inventory and repair some books. She's there during the owner's fiftieth birthday party and the family tensions thick enough to cut with a knife.

Of course people end up dead. Of course there is a weather related reason why the police can't get there quickly after the first murder and why Brooklyn thus feels compelled to help investigate while they wait.

The house is full of all manor of nostalgic stuff and some fanciful additions like computerized book shelves, secret passageways and holograms. It's also populated with a crowd of awful people with very little in the way of character development.

The book reads like a half hearted homage to And Then There Were None

Two stars

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Saturdays at Sea: 03/21/17

Saturdays at Sea by by Jessica Day George

Saturdays at Sea by Jessica Day George, the fifth (and final, per the author's post on GoodReads) of the Castle Glower series sees the royal family on a visit to the Kingdom of Grath for the upcoming wedding on Lilah and Lulath.

They are also there to build the ship from the pieces scrounged from the Castle because the Castle wants it! Since the very beginning, the royal family have been at the beck and call of their Castle — to the point that it picks the next king. So when the Castle tells you to go build the Ship — you do it! (Even if you're not sure how to)

In comparison, the Grathian royal family lives in a more traditional castle — a non-magical one called the Sanctuary. They are instead obsessed with flowers and dogs. Although the Munians of Star vs the Forces of Evil do in fact have magic (the seat of power being held in the form of the wand that the Queen inherits), I couldn't help but picture the Grathian dogs as Star's horde of laser-eye puppies.

And maybe that's part of my on-going slight irritation with this series. My own goofy imagination gets in the way of unusual (in a good way) world building of these books. I still find Grathian as understood through the Sleynian language off putting. With an entire kingdom, and therefore maybe a dozen different Grathians with dialog, it was like taking a tour in the Land of the Boov — if they were people living in a seaside community that looks like something out of a painting by Sir John Everett Millais.

Both "languages" are written in English. There is never any sort of snippets of either language as they would be spoken if either were real languages and we could listen in. The Castle Glower family is usually given very down to earth dialog — highlighting their commoner roots, and perhaps to make the book more accessible for the intended audience (middle grade readers).

The Grath, though, are presented as flowery — they like things to excess. Why have one dog, when you can have a hundred? Why have a single flower garden when your entire capital can be covered in flowers? Their language too is "very, O so very". It's both poetical and ungrammatical.

What's never made clear is why they speak this way — or at least, why their language is rendered this way. At first I thought it was because Lulath was trying to hard to impress his future in-laws. Then I thought it was just to make him sound foreign. Now I think it's supposed to be a hint at how Grathian language works.

Rather than giving a good sense of the different kingdoms and their cultures. I would say that of the two, Grath is actually the more fully realized kingdom in that it has a sense of place with a surrounding city, a sense of the people who live there, their artistic sense, their livelihood, etc. For Sleyne, the emphasis has always been on the magical Castle to the point that it's not always clear that there is anyone outside its walls.

So far my long winded review has only covered the first third of the book. The thing that really makes this series tick is the sentient Castle and how it seems to have roots into all manner of things beyond it's apparent foundation. In this regard, the Castle is like a happy, non-malevolent version of the house in House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Now the Castle is expanding its reach through the building of a Ship.

The second act of this book is the maiden voyage for the Ship. Through the ship we get the largest glimpse of the world beyond. We also see just how much (or how little) control Celie and her family have over the Castle and now the Ship. We also see how frightening a sentient, magical structure can be, especially when it has the ability to move.

The final act is indescribable without giving away spoilers. It though fits well with my recent "cornfield" research for the road narrative project. That, though, I will leave for a separate article, looking at the idea of dessert island as cornfield.

As I mentioned at the very beginning, the author posted in her "review" on GoodReads that Saturdays at Sea is the final book. There are still two more days in the week and Lulath and Lilah still aren't married. I think it should end with Matrimony on Monday, but I can't think of what Sunday would be. Regardless, this book is enough of a wrap up to be an ending but there's enough wiggle room left if the author ever wants to revisit the world and these characters.

Four stars

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City of the Lost: 03/20/17

City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong is the first of the Casey Duncan series. Casey Duncan is a Toronto homicide detective who has a huge secret — she has killed in revenge and gotten away with it. Her past is catching up with her and she needs to get away from it. There is a town in the Canadian wilderness that is completely off the grid where people can go to hide from their past.

Although Armstrong is Canadian, all of the books prior to City of the Lost, even the The Gathering which is set near Nanaimo, was still written in a generic enough way to read well on either side of the border.

City of the Lost from the very first page is distinctly Canadian. Before Casey is hired to be the new sheriff of Rockton, she asks where the town is. Jokingly it's described as somewhere in central Ontario — a place that seems far away to a Toronto resident in the same way that Tracy might as well be the moon to a San Franciscan.

In reality, Rockton is up in the Yukon. It's been off the grid long enough to have it's own sordid history, with a subculture of former residents who have decided to go even further off the grid — think Reavers in the woods. In terms of setting, I was most reminded of the anime, The Lost Village. Similar title, similar out of the way place, similar deadly situation — except that Casey and her friend are the only new arrivals and the village isn't abandoned before they get there.

In all of this though, ultimately, as iBooks likes to remind me, City of the Lost is a police procedural. It's a police procedural in a weird town surrounded by multiple dangers — the elements, the wild folk who are living off the land (such as it is), wild animals, and whatever criminal elements might be living under assumed identities inside the town itself. This first volume draws its tension from the horror of man as monster.

second book in the series is A Darkness Absolute and it came out in February 2017.

Three stars

Comments (2)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 20): 03/20/17

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 20)

It's been a few years since I've participated in the weekly What Are You Reading meme. In the time I've been away, the meme has been passed on to Kathryn of Book Date.

Before I get into my reading, let me introduce you to my new domain. I've dropped the .pair and now I'm here at I'm still offering a book review each and every day as well as bookish articles.

Besides the new domain, I'm busy making the older reviews prettier. You'll notice the larger image for newer reviews and articles. I am introducing that look and feel to the older articles. It's basically a big spring clean for the old blog in its new home.

What I read last week:

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Felix the Railway Cat by Kate Moore
Felix the Railway Cat by Kate Moore
Read the Review
Saturdays at Sea by Jessica Day George
Saturdays at Sea by Jessica Day George
the newest of the Castle Glower series.

It's not been a stellar week of reading because I've been so busy getting my new domain up and running.

What I'm reading:

The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro
The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro - the latest Charlotte Holmes book
From Here to Eternity by James Jones
From Here to Eternity by James Jones
I'm slowly slogging through this one. It will probably take me the rest of the year unless I decide to DNF it.
The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
book five of the Heroes of Olympus series. I skipped ahead and read the Magnus Chase books first.

Up Next:

This year my goals are to read through my personal collection (and do some shelf weeding) and to stay more current with recently published books. So none of what I've listed this week are review copies or library books.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold
Mosquitoland by David Arnold
Reading it for my road narrative project.
All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
Reading through my personal collection. This is one I got from the Scholastic Book Fair awhile ago.
Jem and the Holograms, Volume 3: Dark Jem by  Kelly Thompson
Jem and the Holograms, Volume 3: Dark Jem by Kelly Thompson
Another from my personal collection.

Last Week's Posts

Comments (52)

My Secret Guide to Paris: 03/19/17

My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa Schroeder

My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa Schroeder is a tween fiction in the style of 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. Nora has grown up listening to her grandmother's tales of Paris and just as she is about to get her chance to experience it first hand with her, her grandmother dies.

Grandmother Sylvia, though, planned for everything and left behind two prepaid tickets for Nora and her mother and a treasure hunt of things to see and do while they are in Paris.

Now Nora is gung-ho but she's too young to go by herself. This isn't Ginny's dot-to-dot adventure. Nora is tied to her mother and if anything, this book is mostly about Nora trying to get her mother to come out of her shell and enjoy an unexpected overseas adventure.

Three stars

Comments (0)

Felix the Railway Cat: 03/18/17

Felix the Railway Cat by Kate Moore

Felix the Railway Cat by Kate Moore is the biography of the senior pest controller and internet sensation of the Huddersfield Railway station in West Yorkshire. She currently has over 100K in followers on Facebook and her railway station receives hundreds (thousands) of tourists every year coming for a glimpse of the cat and her station.

Railway cats aren't a new thing, though the did fall out of vogue for a while. Poet T. S. Eliot (and later by Andrew Lloyd Webber) brought to life Skimbleshanks. Just like Skimbleshanks, Felix once stopped the trains into and out of her station (by hunting rabbits).

Like the late Tama the station cat Kishi station in Japan, Felix has her own uniform (including hi-vis safety vest and name tag), though she usually works au naturale, relying on her magnificent tuxedo floof.

Felix, who is nine months younger than my own floofy tuxedo, Tortuga (also briefly misgendered as a boy because of her floof), has been working for and living at (reigning over) the Hudderfield station since the summer of 2011. She was hired (adopted) for a variety of reasons — tradition (though her station never had a cat before), companionship (for the staff), pest control (mice), and for calming down stressed out travelers (something she does remarkably well). She was not adopted to be on Facebook.

Nonetheless, Felix ended up on Facebook on 2 July 2015 — and I've been following her the entire time (weird for an American as her page didn't take off until last year when she was promoted to Senior Pest Controller and the Daily Mail (among others) reported on it.

So how did I beat the curve on Felix? Well, I happened to be in the UK and I happened to be researching railway times because would be using the rail to travel from Cambridge to Cardiff. Facebook, my following of a variety of cat fostering sites on Facebook, recent searching, and proximity (more or less) to Huddersfield Station, resulted in Felix's page being recommended during a bought of insomnia (jet lag). Of course I clicked like.

The Facebook posts early on where primarily of Felix sitting on the nearly empty Platform One at night or in the predawn hours. That meant that even after my trip to the UK was done, I was able to follow Felix's adventures in realtime because she would always post right around the time I was going to bed or eating my breakfast. It was obvious that the person maintaining her file was someone who as on at the railway station early in the morning and at night. I thought it was staff who had free time at the start and stop of their shift. Turns out the page was created by a local commuter and fan.

Regardless, the Facebook page gave Felix (and her station and coworkers) the unexpected publicity that has given them a chance to give back to the community. Felix's biography, for example, is a fundraiser with proceeds benefitting Prostate Cancer UK (and reading the book will explain why that charity was chosen).

Felix the Railway Cat is a delightful book for railway fans, cat lovers, and for people who enjoy celebrity biographies. It's hard to put down and will easily help you lose an afternoon or two to reading. There are some full color photographs included.

Five stars

Comments (0)

We Found A Hat: 03/17/17

We Found A Hat by Jon Klassen

We Found A Hat by Jon Klassen is the third of the hat books (I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat).

The first book is about a hat being stolen and revenge taken. The second book is a caper about hat stealer. Now we have a lonely hat in the dessert and two tortoises who both desire the hat as it's the only different thing in their immediate universe.

Klassen's hat books have always taken me on mental tangents. Dessert tortoises immediately make me think of the initial interview in Bladerunner: "You see a tortoise in the dessert—" which of course ends up with the now flustered replicant killing the HR guy.

The ten gallon hat, though, got me to thinking about one of my favorite country songs: "Me and My Uncle." Tortoises also lead me to the Parry Gripp song, "Turtle" (as in "Dude, that's a tortoise!")

And turtles getting into fights takes me to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Except instead of their usual color coded ninja gear, it's just a pair of them in cowboy gear having a duel to see who gets the hat.

None of this actually happens. All that build up of drama and angst — the promise of violence doesn't come to fruition. They are, after all, friends. No ten gallon hat, no matter how awesome it may be, will come between these two tortoise buddies.

Four stars

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Demon Volume 2: 03/16/17

Demon Volume 2 by Jason Shiga

Demon Volume 2 by Jason Shiga explores more directly what it means to be a demon and how the process of possession works. Jimmy, though cornered, manages to escape and is on the run. The head of the OSS knows where he is going.

Jimmy, though, is in for a huge surprise. He learns that demons can see each other for who they are and not what body they're possessing. He also learns that the man he thought killed his daughter is actually now possessed by her!

This isn't going to be a series for everyone. I find it's an interesting comparison to Supernatural if the series were taken from Crowley's point of view.

Five stars

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The Specific Ocean: 03/15/17

The Specific Ocean

The Specific Ocean by Kyo Maclear is a picture book about a family going on vacation to a cabin at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The daughter doesn't want to go but ends up falling in love with the ocean.

The daughter calls it the Specific ocean, originally as an accident. But as she comes to understand the ocean on her own terms, it becomes her ocean, her specific ocean.

This picture book — or rather the process of writing it — is mentioned in Birds Art Life, Maclear's memoir. Like the memoir, this book highlights the importance of those quiet moments and the art of waiting.

    A few of my favorite quotes from the book are:
  • The ocean is a mystery of mysteries.
  • If people ask, I'll tell them the ocean is full of noises. Then I'll tell them that if they listen very carefully, they might even hear the ocean in their own breath.
  • The ocean is so big that it makes every thought and worry I have shrink and scatter.
  • There is no late or hurry or racing in ocean time.

Five stars

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No Longer at Ease: 03/14/17

No Longer at Ease

No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe is the second in the African Trilogy. Really it should be the Nigerian Trilogy as that's where it's set. Regardless of the vagueness of the series title, it's the sequel to Things Fall Apart.

The first book chronicles the upheaval of the Ibo culture with the arrival of British Missionaries. Now the British are a permanent fixture and Okonkwo has returned from receiving a university education in England. He comes home optimistic that he can take lessons from both cultures to make his village and country better.

What he finds instead is that he no longer fits. He's not completely Ibo but also not British. His loyalties lie with this homeland but he has fallen out of step with them.

Four stars

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Before There Was Mozart: 03/13/17

Before There Was Mozart

Before There Was Mozart by Lesa Cline-Ransome is a picture book biography of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George. He was the son of a French slave owner and a slave.

Joseph received a good education which included musical instruction. He excelled with the violin and was invited to France to make a career out of it.

I must admit that I went into this book without knowing much about Joseph Boulogne, beyond his title and his accomplishments as a violinist. In regards to his title, it was the highest title his father could give him because a black man wasn't allowed to hold property or be part of the aristocracy, even with a father who was.

Though this is a short book written for elementary school aged readers, I did come away having learned more about his life and his influence (including on Mozart, who was apparently a fan). I both want to read more about Joseph Boulogne and read more of Lesa Cline-Ransome's picture book biographies.

Five stars

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Brown Girl Dreaming: 03/12/17

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is an upper middle grade memoir told in free verse poetry. It recounts Woodson's childhood, through numerous moves, the heartbreak of loss and the events of the civil rights movement.

Through her poetry she also explains how she struggled as a child with reading and with telling stories. Just as she struggled with writing, I must admit I struggled with reading it. Poetry for me is time consuming and thus this book ended up taking me almost a year to read.

There's an audio version performed by the author that I was would like to listen to in the future.

Four stars

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In the Beginning...: 03/11/17

In the Beginning...

In the Beginning... by Arnaud Plumeri is a comic book introduction to paleontology. The dinosaurs are given a chance to talk to each other and act out their lives for the reader.

In terms of learning about dinosaurs, it's fine. It's no better or worse than other comic books that do the same. Unfortunately though I'm not recommending the book because it falls back onto sexist tropes for its humor, especially in the present day story.

First and foremost the book doesn't need a present day framing story to set the stage. I think the average kid knows that those types of dinosaur went extinct millions of years ago. The framing story is just there to show women being obnoxious blockades to doing manly things like science.

a sexist joke

So the only woman in the book is a fat, obnoxious, pushy wife who is there only to henpeck her paleontologist husband. Why the misogyny and the fat shaming? What purpose does it serve here?

Even when there's a built in poop joke (as part of paleontology is the study of fossilized feces, called coprolites. But it's framed again as a sexist joke with the wife demanding that the husband pick up the dog's poop while he's in the middle of working.

another sexist joke

I'm being generous here giving this book 2 stars and they are for the dinosaur parts only.

Two stars

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A Castle On Viola Street: 03/10/17

A Castle On Viola Street

A Castle On Viola Street by Dyanne Disalvo is about urban renewal and the desire to own a home. Andy and his family share a small apartment but would love to own a castle — a home with a yard. Meanwhile, Viola Street is falling into disrepair with more and and more homes being boarded up and abandoned.

Andy learns about a program where residents fix up abandoned homes to get access to a lottery to live in one of the fixed up homes. So Andy and his family get to work. They learn how to do home repairs and help a neighbor move into a house on Viola Street.

And with hard work, dedication and perseverance, Andy's family gets their own castle on Viola Street.

Five stars

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Allegedly: 03/09/17


Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson is set in New York group home and told from the point of view of Mary, a girl who has spent six years in "baby jail" and now is in the home because she was convicted of killing a baby when she herself was a young child. Was her sentence harsher because she is a black girl and the baby was white? Probably.

At the opening of the book, Mary discovers that she is pregnant by her group home boyfriend. Though she wants to keep her baby, whom she nicknames Bean, she finds herself with no voice — no autonomy. Her choices are get an abortion or let the system put the baby up for adoption.

Mary also wants to improve her situation and she sees getting perfect on the SATs as her way out. Again, though, she faces extraordinary obstacles. She has two roommates who bully her endlessly. She doesn't have a driver's license or a state issued ID. She doesn't have the money for the test or the practice materials.

And then there are the inserts about the crime, the trial, and the psychological studies done on Mary over the years. These parts of the book, and Mary's interaction with them (especially later on) remind me of When Rabbit Howls by Truddi Chase — except this one is fiction.

The writing is raw, emotional, and will leave you on edge. There are no happy endings here. No story threads tied up in neat little bows. It's messy story about a terrible situation.

Four stars

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Except the Dying: 03/08/17

Except the Dying

Our last trip to Victoria was a snowy one. The weather plus the Christmas holidays gives the city a reason to shut down and stick in doors. It was on one of those snuggle inside days, that we first started watching Murdoch Mysteries (2008-). We're now nearly finished with season six.

Knowing that the series was inspired by a series of mysteries by Maureen Jennings, I decided to go back to the source and read the books. The first in the series is Except the Dying. As it turns out, this book was done as a TV movie in 2004 with a different cast. I haven't seen it and I'm not sure that I want to.

In translating a story from one medium to another, just as in transcribing music from one instrument to another — changes need to be made. Now as the television series is borne from the experience of making three television movies. Problems that arose from the initial process have been worked out and as new writers are brought in, thus taking the imagined world of station house four from Jenning's mind into a collective process.

It's also obvious from the ebook editions that the television series are selling the books. It's rather silly to have two characters who don't exist in this book on the cover selling the book.

So to the mystery at hand — the naked body of a young woman, a teenager really — is found frozen to death in a back alleyway. The hunt for witnesses take Murdoch and Crabtree through all sorts of unsavory locations. Now if this were TV Murdoch, he would do his best to keep a straight face and would dive into his interviews with aplomb. Book Murdoch, though Catholic, is not as naively hopeful, nor as resolute in his desire to stay calm, collected, and optimistic. The change in Murdoch's temperament is credit to his portrayer — Yannick Bisson.

Murdoch in Except the Dying is hardened by life. His fiancée did dye, though not of consumption. He does live with Mrs. Kitchen. It's Mr. Kitchen who is afflicted with T.B. He rents the entire upstairs in part because he feels sorry for the Kitchens but also because he's a bit of a misanthrope.

Likewise, Brackenreid is a harsher, nastier person. He's more in his cups and thus Mrs. Brackenreid is compeletely justified for her participation in the Temperance League (is the book version does).

So the mystery itself. There's a dead girl found stripped of her clothes. While the winter chill helped in her demise it wasn't what killed her. She was murdered. How she got from her place of employment to the flop house is a big part of the mystery.

It's not the most brilliant of mysteries but still entertaining. The historical setting, Toronto in 1895, is a big selling point. Many of the streets and locations mentioned are still around and can be looked up on Google Maps.

The second book in the series is Under the Dragon's Tail. As there are only seven books in the entire series, I plan to read the remainder.

Four stars

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Happy Birthday, Babymouse: 03/07/17

Happy Birthday, Babymouse

Happy Birthday, Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm is the 18th in the hit or miss, yet still wildly popular, Babymouse series. It's her birthday and she's been so busy dreaming about it being her best one ever (even though she apparently has a track record of real stinkers) that she neglects to notice that Felicia Furrypaws is holding hers on the same day.

So right there, ugh. Rather than accommodating her best friends who said they would otherwise come except that they've already RSVPed, she blindly, idiotically (I suppose the nice word would be quixotically) believes they will come.

I really don't understand the bullying relationship between Felicia and Babymouse. Sure, it's a long played out cliched trope of the super rich bully deciding to pick on the middle class misfit but realistically they probably wouldn't even be in the same circle now that they're in middle school.

Basically I find the Felicia Furrypaws centered books tiresome at best. Bully driven plots get repetitive really fast. This one's a skip unless you've recently had bad luck planning a birthday party.

Two stars

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Giant Days, Volume 2: 03/06/17

Giant Days, Volume 2

Giant Days, Volume 2 by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin, and Whitney Cogar begins with revisions before winter holidays. It's the first big make or break period for these first year students. It's also a time to pair off with boyfriends or girlfriends.

Goth girl Esther is living my recurring university nightmare; she's signed up for a bunch of classes and has completely blown the off. She's not entirely sure even when or where the finals are. Revision for her is going to take a miracle. One of her classes includes a theology introduction and now she has to go to source for help.

Susan, meanwhile, has gotten herself into trouble and needs rescuing. Not euphemistically, but actual rescuing. It involves a nightclub and a crazy plan. Daisy, meanwhile, has the revision part down. School's going great. But she's still trying to figure herself out. She might be a lesbian. She might be bi. She's not sure.

My favorite part though, (besides Esther and her revision madness) is the first big snow of the year. I'm laughing for two reasons: first one is the snow we've been having up and down the west coast. Hilly Vancouver is besides itself with getting a year's worth of snow in three days. The second reason is that we're moving to a place where snow is a usual thing. We will be those goof balls trying to cope come the next winter.

Four stars

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On Mother's Lap: 03/05/17

On Mother's Lap

On Mother's Lap by Ann Herbert Scott and illustrated by Glo Coalson is a quiet story about a young child and their patient mother. They want to be rocked before bed and Mama is willing to rock them.

But anyone who has rocked a young child, knows how complicated a process it can be. This little one wants to bring along a favorite toy, a favorite blanket, a favorite plushy, etc. etc. Mama, always smiles and always manages to make room.

The original illustrations make this book extra special. The mother and child are clearly inspired by the illustrator's year in Kotzbue, Alaska. There is nothing in the text that makes the mother and child specifically one culture or another. They could be any mother and child and therefore every mother and child. It's nice to see representation when representation isn't the point.

Five stars

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Just Us Women: 03/04/17

Just Us Women

Just Us Women by Jeannette Franklin Caines is a picture book about an aunt and her niece taking a leisurely drive to a family event. The unnamed niece narrates this picture book story of all the detours she and Aunt Martha will have.

In the road narrative, the typical happy-go-lucky protagonist is a white middle class male, usually in his teens or early twenties. Or if it's a midlife crisis story, he's older and is using the open road to rediscover himself. Everyone else often runs the risk of something bad happening to them along the road.

Here there is none of that. Here there is just two black women enjoying a blue highways trip. They stop to buy fruit and vegetables. They stop to dance in the rain.

This is a joyful book.

Five stars

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Voltron: Legendary Defender, Volume 1: 03/03/17

Voltron: Legendary Defender, Volume 1

As I've mentioned before (and as anyone who follows my Tumblr knows), I'm a fan of Voltron. I missed most of the reboots in the 1990s and early 2000s, but I have been gleefully watching the Netflix / Dreamworks version and am now following the comic that goes with it.

While I do try to devote a sizable portion of my book reviews here for curated reading — suggested reading from a subset of genres an interests, I do leave room for fun reading, spontaneous reading. Voltron: Legendary Defender, Volume 1 by Tim Hedrick falls into the fun reading and I suspect it was fun to write and illustrate too.

In my review of Shelter from the Storm the first of a five part Voltron graphic novel series by Brian Smith I laid out the long, bizarre history of the story of a robot made up of five lion shaped space ships. I won't rehash that here. The Dreamworks relaunch isn't a rehashing of original story arc. Instead, as interviews with the team have stated, it's more a retelling of the show we all remember watching.

As the show is being run as single cour seasons with a limited number of episodes to follow major plot arcs and world build, not every character gets their moment to tell their story. This book fills in some of those gaps.

Volume 1 takes the time between "Rebirth" and "Crystal Venom", episodes eight and nine. While Allura is recovering from her efforts to revive the Balmera, Coran takes the Paladins to an old training spot. The training though, gets waylaid when Coran is caught up in some old gambling debts and the Paladins have to go through a series of trials to fetch an extremely valuable pearl.

While the opening and closing chapters (or originally, comic book issues) are from a third person point of view, the middle chapters get into the heads of some of the characters: Hunk, Lance, and Pidge.

To see some of the highlights from the book, I've posted some favorite panels onto my Tumblr. The most popular of them has turned out to be Lance complaining that they'll have to "form blazing shucker."

Five stars

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February 2017 ROOB and other news: 03/03/17

February 2017 ROOB and other news

I went into February still planning to read and weed as many of my own books as possible on the assumption that we would be getting the green light for the move to Canada. While my personal collection accounted for forty-six percent of the monthly reading, I haven't actually taken any of my weeds to the library or to Half Price Books.

5 = all new books, -4 = all to be reads. The goal is to be as close to -4 as possible.

It's not that I'm stalling. Rather, we've been busy with house repairs and other things. Also, the time table isn't as urgent as it first seemed. The move has been put on hold for at least a month and possibly as much as a year.

ROOB by year

Now in terms of the "read our own books" (ROOB) metric, the goal is to read through books that have been on the to be read shelf for a while before giving into the temptation to read newly purchased books. This idea is in complete opposition to my other goal of reviewing at least one newly published book each week (for a minimum total of fifty-two).

ROOB by year

The new books have also affected the over all monthly average, raising February's average by 0.09. March which already has one of the highest (meaning worst) averages, will probably suffer more.

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The Red Pencil: 03/02/17

The Red Pencil

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney is a free form poetry novel about the war in Sudan. It's told from the point of view of Amira, a young girl whose whole life has been spent on a multigenerational farm. Now she has seen relatives murdered and is on the flight for her life with her surviving family.

Before the violence, Amira loved to draw and write, having been given a drawing stick by her uncle. As she slips into fear and depression, she loses her voice, loses her stick, and her willingness to engage in the world beyond the bare minimum needed to survive.

The first part is her life before the violence. The second part is her family's flight from the violence. The final part is her slow and painful recovery.

It's a difficult but important book — one that should be used in the classroom.

Three stars

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Knit Your Own Murder: 03/01/17

Knit Your Own Murder

Knit Your Own Murder by Monica Ferris is the nineteenth in the Needlecraft Mystery series. After two years of solidly reading the series I've caught up and managed to read the entire thing. I don't know if if a twentieth book is planned. As the series stands now, a lot of the long character arcs are finished up enough for long time readers to fill in the blanks.

The Monday Brunch Club have been busy knitting and crocheting animals for an upcoming auction to raise money for the community center. They've been given front row seats for the event so that they can receive a round of applause from the audience. Everyone except one is fine with this plan. Then there's Marsha, the grump of the group. She's go a reputation for being a mean cuss but she's also the one who has made the most animals.

The only way Marsha will attend is if she's allowed to knit. Knitting has a calming effect on her. Betsy agrees and it's agreed that all of the Monday Brunch will be allowed to knit while there. Knitting materials will be provided and awaiting on their assigned seats.

All of this goes as planned until Marsha ends up dying at the event. Her yarn has been poisoned by something that can be absorbed into the skin.

From this point on, Knit Your Own Murder takes on a parallel murder plot similar to the best of the Tony Hillerman / Anne Hillerman Navajo Mysteries. Beside's Martha's death, a businessman was found murdered. Neither murder adds up and it takes Betsy's local knowledge and her circle of friends to bring all the pieces together.

Five stars

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Inclusive reading in February 2017: 03/01/17

Reading Gap

As the own voices piece of the book blogosphere is still contentious among readers and authors alike, I am sticking with the broader term of "inclusive." I am including in this umbrella term any author or book that realistically features characters who are not like me (white, middle class, able-bodied American). That means that some white middle class authors/books from other countries might get categorized here too. In this category I am also including lgbta+ narratives, ones that feature disabled characters, or stories of other marginalized people. My over all reading was down in January. A combination of two bad colds and then the worst seasonal allergies I've ever slowed down my reading. Percentage wise too, there is a dip from fifty-seven percent inclusive reading in January to forty-six percent. It's still though significantly higher then were it was a year ago where only a quarter of what I read was inclusive.

Bar graph about reading Reviewing of inclusive books also dipped, down to thirty-nine percent from forty-five percent, but is still up form last year's thirty percent. Looking ahead to planned reviews, I see roughly fifty percent of those currently scheduled being inclusive.

Bar graph about reviewing

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