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Rating System

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



 


June in Review: 06/30/08

I wrote 57 reviews this month. Here they all are in alphabetical order.

  1. The ABCs of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond by Steven Charney and David Goldbeck
  2. At Her Majesty's Request by Walter Dean Myers
  3. Bleach Volume 14 by Tite Kubo
  4. Blind Side by Penny Warner
  5. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
  6. Castrato by Michael Collins
  7. Character Flu by Robert Reed
  8. Chronicle of the City of Havana by Eduardo Galeano
  9. Color for Thought by the 5th grade class of Coast Episcopal School
  10. Crescent Moon Volume 1 by Haruko Iida
  11. The Cuba Journal by Sophia Peabody Hawthorne
  12. Cuba Revisited by Martha Gellhorn
  13. Cuban Childhood by Fidel Castro and Frei Betto
  14. Diary of the Boy King Tutankhamen by June Reig
  15. The Dive from Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer
  16. Dora's Backpack by Sarah Willson
  17. Dreaming in Cuban (excerpt) by Cristina Garcia
  18. Dreamland by Clarence Budington Kelland
  19. Fables from the Mud by Erik Quisling
  20. Fergus by Mary Patterson Thornburg
  21. The Ghost of Lizard Light by Elvira Woodruff
  22. The Girl Genius Omnibus by Kaja and Phil Foglio
  23. Go Green by Nancy H. Taylor
  24. Image of Josephine by Booth Tarkington
  25. Jewel in the Skull by Michael Moorcock
  26. The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
  27. Litany by Rand B Lee
  28. Local Rites by Paul Daffey
  29. Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann
  30. Monkey See... by P. E. Cunningham
  31. Nature's Children: Ostriches by Merebeth Switzer
  32. Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda
  33. No More Monsters for Me by Peggy Parish
  34. OPEN Brand by Kelly Mooney and Nita Rollins
  35. Operation Ghost by Jacques Duquennoy
  36. Ophie Out of Oz by Kathleen O'Dell
  37. Our Man in Havana (Excerpt) by Graham Greene
  38. Peacocks by Ruth Berman
  39. Picture Purrfect Kittens by Erika Tatihara and Masaru Mizobuti
  40. The Pigeon Loves Things That Go by Mo Willems
  41. The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
  42. The Salting and Canning of Benevolence D. by Al Michaud
  43. The Sea Shack by Mark McNulty
  44. She Who Hears the Sun by Pamela Jekel
  45. Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter
  46. Shoes by Debbie Bailey and Susan Huszar
  47. Show Me Your Smile by Christine Ricci
  48. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
  49. State Birds by Arthur and Alan Singer
  50. Still Hot by Sue Mittenthal and Linda Reing
  51. A Superior Death by Nevada Barr
  52. Tundra Swans by Bianca Lavies
  53. The War with Spain (excerpt) by Henry Cabot Lodge
  54. Where's the Big Red Doggie? by Norman Bridwell
  55. What to Wear by Consuelo Hermer and Marjorie May
  56. Wheels, Wheels and More Wheels by Ed and Ruth Radlauer
  57. Wild Turkeys by Julian May

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The Poe ShadowThe Poe Shadow: 06/30/08

My final review for June is The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl, a book I bought last year because I liked the cover and the title. It's the same superficial reason I used for Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann and for the most part, my intuition paid off for both.

Edgar Allen Poe showed up unexpected and in a confused state to the Washington College Hospital in Baltimore. He died there on October 3, 1849. Before his death he called out for a person named Reynolds and a letter was sent to a Dr. Snodgrass on Poe's behalf asking for help. Poe was given a simple burial and only managed to achieve recognition as a great American writer after his death. Those are the facts and the starting point of The Poe Shadow.

Matthew Pearl creates a fictional überfan, Quentin Hobson Clark, who happens on Poe's burial and feels compelled to solve the mystery behind the writer's death. He puts his own life on hold to track down all of the leads no matter how tenuous. He even goes to France with the idea of finding the man behind Poe's fictional detective, Dupin.

For the most part I enjoyed Pearl's odd mixture of fiction and historical fact but things go awry in the last third of the book. The book starts off so focused on the facts of Poe's life and death that as the plot snowball rolls towards near pure fiction the book seems to lose direction and credibility. The book falls into many of the same traps as The Seven-per-cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer.

I went from enjoying a historical fiction mystery to wishing the darn thing would end. I stopped counting possible reasons behind Poe's death at after the third rehashing of the last days of his life because it was too late in the game for an homage to Roshomon.

My over all impression of the book is still one of enjoyment but it needed tighter editing in the last 100 pages.

To learn more about the author, please see his website.

Read the reviews at: Lori Anderson Designs, Thomas Wingington, Odds and Ends.

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HavanaThe War with Spain: 06/30/08

The next piece in Havana is a short excerpt from Henry Cabot Lodge's book The War with Spain (1899). You can read the entire book online at Google Books.

The excerpt covers pages 23 through 30 of the 277 page book. It covers the Cleveland administration's first dealings with Spain regarding Cuba up through the explosion of the Maine.

These events are rushed through but as an introductory chapter to a longer book, they would serve to set the stage for further discussion and analysis. The excerpt does include some interesting details regarding the trip that General Stewart L. Woodford made to Spain and the assassination of Spain's Prime Minister before Woodford's ship arrived.

As the excerpt was interesting enough in its disembodied fashion, I am adding the full text to my Google Books library to read when I have more time.

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Show Me Your SmileShow Me Your Smile: 06/29/08

Another of Harriet's Dora books is Show Me Your Smile! A Visit to the Dentist. It breaks with the usual Dora format but Harriet and Sean both seem to like it but I find it a bit of a chore to read. How many times in a row can one read with enthusiasm about Dora's trip to the dentist where she has a cavity filled?

The early episodes and books of Dora were very formulaic. Dora and Boots had to go from point A to point B an had to follow the route plotted for them by the Map. Along the way they'd pass two or three check points and have a couple of obstacles to navigate through. Near the end of the series run, Dora became such a superstar that her stories started to focus more on her and less on her exploring. Show Me Your Smile! falls into this latter category.

Ignoring the fact that a trip to the dentist has nothing to do with exploring, especially when Dora's parents obviously brought her there, the book does teach young children what their first trip to the dentist might be like. I just don't think that Dora is the character to do this. But don't tell my kids, because they still like the book and I'll probably be reading it to them for months to come.

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Dora's BackpackDora's Backpack: 06/29/08

One of Harriet's current passions is Dora the Explorer. The director of Sean's current school (soon to be Harriet's) has given Harriet her daughter's old stash of Dora books and Harriet has been in book heaven.

From Harriet's collection, her favorite by far is Dora's Backpack so I'll begin my series of Dora reviews with it. As the title implies, Backpack is the star of the story.

Dora and Boots need Backpack's help to return eight books to the library before it closes. As they are running late they need the Map to find the quickest way there. Along the way they have their usual adventures and Boots needs rescuing once.

Harriet's favorite bits are the library itself (make sense living in a book crazy family like ours), the part where Boots needs rescuing and of course Map. She's about as nuts for the Map as she is for Dora with Backpack coming in a close third.

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HavanaChronicle of the City of Havana: 06/28/08

The next piece in Havana is a three page scene from The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano. It recounts a humorous ride on the guagua 68 bus.

The story whether fiction or not illustrates perfectly the way people can shrug things off and take charge of a situation when things break with routine.

In the case of the guagua 68, the bus driver gets distracted by an ice cream eating beauty. At first his unscheduled stop is a source of amusement and then a source of frustration for the passengers. Finally though, one person decides to get things back on schedule with or without the driver.

Coming in at the shortest story so far, it is also the funniest.

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Image of JosephineImage of Josephine: 06/28/08

Let me start by saying I loved Image of Josephine by Booth Tarkington and that I'm surprised not to see more written about it online. It's one of the last two novels by a Pulitzer Prize winning author (The Magnificent Ambersons, 1918 and Alice Adams, 1921).

Who is Josephine? The most intimate portrait we get of her comes in the four chapters (34 pages) when she's an a typical American teenage girl, though one of means who is probably oblivious of the Great Depression. We learn that she will be taking over as director of her grandfather's fledgling art museum and for reasons never given she is the best choice for the job.

The remainder of the book we never get as close to her again. She's now in her late twenties and the director of the museum. She is revered, feared and loathed by her staff and yet she's fiercely loyal to her grandfather's original vision and continues to live in his home which shares a hallway with the museum.

Instead of seeing the museum through Josephine's eyes, we see it and her through a soldier and distant cousin, Bailey Fount. He has been sent to work in the museum on medical leave after a horrific event on the front line where Bailey was the only survivor. Through his shell shocked eyes we rediscover Josephine Oaklin.

Josephine may be the title character but Bailey is the driving force of the book. I've read a number of novels written during WWII but Bailey is the first character I've come across who comes across as a realistic and broken individual. He's not just a prop for Uncle Sam.

If you can find a copy of this book, read it. It's one of the best I've read this year.

Read it online Google Books

Learn more about Booth Tarkington at his website.

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No More Monsters for MeNo More Monsters for Me: 06/27/08

I've probably read No More Monsters for Me! more times than I can remember. When it was first published, 1981, I was the target audience for this book and I know my school had many of the "I Can Read Books" as text books.

Thematically the book is similar to The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer by Jimmy and Amy Carter except funnier and a bit more on point. It's a story about consequences and responsibility.

Minneapolis Simpkin learns first hand why her mother warns her about staying away from the forest where the monsters live. She thinks her mother is joking (and perhaps she is) until she finds a baby monster in the rain. Clearly the creature needs help but her mother has told her not to mess with monsters. Minneapolis decides to break the rule because it was only a baby.

Here's where the book plays up the consequences of rule breaking (and more important secret keeping) to hilarious results. Monsters, and hungry ones especially, grow fast and it gets harder and harder to hide he once baby monster.

Ultimately Minneapolis has to confess to her mother and face the consequences of breaking two rules. The final lesson comes with the mother's reaction: frustration and understanding. The monster gets to go home and Minneapolis learns that she was right in helping the baby monster but wrong in keeping it a secret from her mother.

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Ship of FoolsShip of Fools: 06/27/08

Katherine Anne Porter's long novel Ship of Fools modernizes the old Christian allegory to trace the roots of Nazism. It doesn't take more than 100 pages to understand the point of the book, it continues on for 400 pages as the ship slowly makes its way from Argentina to Europe.

Porter took her inspiration for the novel from her first sea voyage from Mexico to Germany. She took the trip in 1931 and wrote a long letter describing her fellow passengers with the hope of turning it into a short story.

Except for Ship of Fools, Porter was a writer of short stories and it shows in the novel. The book is made up of a series of very short scenes and they often read more like a series of connected short stories than as a single novel. All of that starting and stopping made it difficult to read at my usual speed an worked against my enjoyment of it.

The book was adapted into a film in 1965 which is in my queue.

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HavanaOur Man in Havana (excerpt): 06/26/08

The six piece in Havana is a short excerpt from Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene. I just wish there was more to it.

I'm scratching my head here at the editor's choice for stopping the excerpt. It's just a tiny hint of the book and if I didn't already love the Carol Reed film, I'd be hard pressed to figure out what's going on from the ten pages or so included in this book.

I'll save a proper review of the novel for when I've actually read the whole thing.

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Jewel in the SkullJewel in the Skull: 06/26/08

By all accounts I should have loved The Jewel in the Skull by Michael Moorcock. I normally enjoy his twisted take on things. This one has plot elements I normally enjoy; it's a post apocalyptic fantasy with a mixture of science and magic but the book just left me cold. I put it down after the first sixty pages.

This first volume in the four volume History of the Runestaff series is deceptively short (160 pages or so) but dense. At the same time it's incredibly stupid. It's somewhere between Heart of Darkness for the complex plot being crammed into so few pages and Red Sonja (except that I like Red Sonja).

I was willing to put up with not getting the plot or even when the story was supposed to be taking place but when I hit the gratuitous nudity I had to stop. The book went from being an odd example of early Moorcock to Moorcock "writing with one hand" as my husband would call it.

Get a better overview at the wiki.

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Operation GhostOperation Ghost: 06/25/08

My son likes ghost books but I have to admit that I got Operation Ghost as much for myself as I did for him. The cover reminded me of a typical O.R. scene in M*A*S*H but with ghosts so I snapped it up. It's a strange reason to get a book but fairly typical for me!

Operation Ghost by Jacques Duquennoy is basically a shaggy dog story but aimed at beginning readers. The book follows a ghost into the hospital when his ticker goes bad.

Here's where Sean and I part ways. He's still learning about puns so he doesn't get why I laugh every time we get to page where Dr. Ouch pulls out a busted alarm clock from the ghost's chest. I've tried explaining to him that a heart can be called a ticker but so far we haven't gotten past the "why" or "how come" phase.

Nonetheless, we both enjoy the book and love reading it together even if we laugh at the jokes for completely different reasons.

Read the review at Books and Magazines.

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Ophie Out of OzOphie Out of Oz: 06/25/08

I chose Ophie out of Oz by Kathleen O'Dell from the library for two reasons: the title and the cover. With that in mind, I went into reading it half expecting not to like it.

Oz is this case is California and Ophie sees herself as a Dorothy and loves to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Oregon, though, is no where as magical as California and Ophie will have to adapt or be miserable. Ophie out of Oz is a coming of age story written in a style similar to the Junie B. Jones books but for an older audience.

Ophie though takes most of the book to become a likeable character. She suffers from the same anger management issues as Andy in the Sea Shack or Venola in Catty-Cornered and any number of other 'tween protagonists but Ophie's growth as a character is nearly glacial; coming in at just slightly faster than Harry Potter in the 5th book.

Despite Ophie's problems as a lead character, I did still enjoy the book because of the supporting cast of characters. Brittany Borg who is set up as the school bully ends up being the most interesting and sympathetic character in the book. She and her sister made the book worth reading.

Read the reviews at Just a Middle School Guy, Bookworm Readers, Childrens Literature Book Club, Pixiepalace.

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HavanaThe Cuba Journal: 06/24/08

The fifth piece in Havana is a letter from Sophia Peabody (soon to be Hawthorne) to her parents while she was in Cuba for her health. Her letter is among my favorites so far because of my fondness for her husband's books. Sophia by the way was the inspiration for House of the Seven Gables; (1851) I highly recommend it if you haven't read it.

In her letter (the third written during her trip), Sophia describes the voyage and the fun she had borrowing the captain's glass to watch the "distant ships and land when ever they were in sight." She goes on to describe where she is staying including the unusual architecture of the home and the day to day sounds she can hear from her window. As she was racing to beat the last call for mail, her long letter is peppered with odd word choices and other mistakes but that is nature of letter writing. Her words convey her enthusiasm and sense of adventure all these many years later.

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At Her Majesty's RequestAt Her Majesty's Request: 06/24/08

Walter Dean Myers in the introduction explains beautifully why I love old books and ephemera. I don't have the time or budget for the dedication that Myers. Therefore I am grateful that he was able to buy Sarah Forbes Bonetta's letters and bring her to life again in this short but fascinating biography, At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England.

Sarah Forbes Bonetta was the daughter of the slain Egbabo leader as far as accounts go though there is no mention of Sarah's recollection of the first few years of her life. She was slated for ritual execution by her Dahomian raiders but saved as a "gift" for Queen Victoria by some quick thinking on Frederick Forbes's part. He was there attempting to stop the slave trade driven raids.

Frederick Forbes renamed the girl he had rescued to Sarah Forbes (his last name) Bonetta (his ship). The letters and other ephemera that track Sarah's life from her rescue show that she became friends with Queen Victoria. Her friendship though ended up being a major controlling factor in the events of her life.

Myers interjects his own thoughts and feelings on the events of Sarah's life as he understands them. Given how spotty her timeline is, Myers's text helps to segue between the facts. He also includes many of the photographs in the collection that he bought. The photographs though didn't print all that clearly on the paperback I have. They often times aren't much clearer than a black and white photocopy. I would have liked to see more detail on them.

I read this book for the In Their Shoes Challenge.

See also my review of The Blues of Flats Brown.

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Picture Purrfect KittensPicture Purrfect Kittens: 06/23/08

Picture Purrfect Kittens is on Sean and Harriet's short list of favorite stories. It was originally published in Japan as Boku no sagashimono in 1991 and translated into English in 1993.

In the English translation, an artist leaves an illustration of a kitten unfinished overnight. The drawing is so realistic that he comes to life on his paper and has a series of adventures in a large metropolitan area that could be almost any city in the world. In the morning, the artist finds his drawing altered by the kitten's overnight adventures.

The story depends on the realism of the illustrations. Masaru Mizobuti's drawings are amazing. Sometimes we just enjoy the drawings instead of reading the story.

Sean likes the magic of the story while Harriet loves the realistically drawn kittens.

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Fables from the MudFables from the Mud: 06/23/08

A couple of years ago a BookCrosser found a copy of The Angry Clam, by Erik Quisling. A couple pages were shared in the forum and we decided to do a bookring with the book. Book karma being a fickle thing, the book got lost somewhere down the line before it got to me. So, I put the book on my wishlist for future reading.

This year I was sent a copy of Fables from the Mud for review. It contains three oddly entertaining fables by Erik Quisling. The three tales are: "The Angry Clam", "The Adventures of Glen in my Stone Garden", and "Grant's Tomb." The heroes are a clam, an ant and a worm. Each one looks beyond its own insignificant existence for a bigger piece of the universe.

Fables from the Mud is not your average book. I've seen it compared to Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry or any of Richard Bach's books. Having read those books and Quisling's book, I can see why those books were chosen for comparison but I disagree. Exupéry and Bach's books are incredibly upbeat and Quisling's book is jaded and antisocial and that's part of its charm.

If you'd like a chance to read my copy, I'm giving it away. The contest ends at 11PM Pacific time on June 26th. Please read the rules before leaving a comment.

To learn more, visit Erik Quisling's website.

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HavanaCuban Childhood: 06/22/08

The fourth selection in Havana is an interview from Frei Betto's collaboration with Fidel Castro, Fidel and Religion (1987).

Although both men have an ongoing respect for each other, it's hard to tell from this interview. It's an absolutely bristling interaction between Brei and Castro.

In between the bickering and interrupting, Castro outlines a brief history of his childhood, his parents' background and his religious up bringing. Castro describes how very rural much of Cuba was and Spanish traditions influenced life even in these out of the way places.

It's hard for me to imagine an entire book of this confrontational writing style.

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DreamlandDreamland: 06/22/08

Film buffs will recognize Ethel Merman on this pseudo cover art I bodged together. She played Joyce Lennox (Adriadne Joyce in the book, Dreamland) in the 1936 film adaptation Strike Me Pink.

Dreamland is fairly typical of Kelland's novels: a protagonist with a heavy chip on his shoulder and an unrequited love. To prove himself worthy to his dream girl, he must take on a herculean task. He'll always end up with a girl (though not always the one he thinks he wants) and he'll usually end up being the best man for the job (whatever it may be).

In this case, the hero is Hadrian Pink (renamed to Eddie Pink in the film). He's an academic who has been taking tutoring jobs to stay in academia without the added responsibility of lecturing. To get over his shyness he starts following the "Character Builders" method of self assertion in hopes of winning the attention of Adriadne Joyce, a senator's daughter he's only ever seen in newspaper clippings.

Hadrian, though, can't settle for using his new-found voice to be a better tutor or even a lecturer. No, in true 1930s screwball comedy fashion, he talks himself into being the president of Dreamland, a new (and yet to be opened) amusement park. Hadrian though can't keep his mouth shut and ends up taking on the mob in the process of getting Dreamland opened and profitable.

From the small selection of Kelland books I've read so far I found Dreamland to be rather average. Hadrian didn't strike me a very believable academic even if he was a humorous executive later on. Hadrian's dialogue throughout the novel tends towards overly wordy as an attempt to make him sound educated and perhaps out of step with the general public. The dialogue comes off as forced and painful to read at times.

As a screwball comedy, though, it was still entertaining. I kept on reading to see if Hadrian Pink would get himself out of the trouble he had created and if Dreamland would open. What Kelland does with Adriadne Joyce at the end took me by pleasant surprise.

I read this book for the Decades Challenge.

My other Kelland reviews to date include:

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Where's the Big Red Doggie?Where's the Big Red Doggie? 06/21/08

Besides cats, Harriet has three passions: Dora, Caillou and Clifford. So at our recent trip to the library, She picked out Where is the Big Red Doggie? by Norman Bridwell.

This book carries on with the PBS cartoon where Clifford and his family are living on Birdwell Island. In this short board book, Clifford plays hide and seek with the reader. As he's a big red dog, he's pretty easy to find but my daughter found the game loads of fun.

Harriet recommends this book.

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Wild TurkeysWild Turkeys: 06/21/08

The last of the birds books (really this time!) that Sean checked out was Wild Turkeys by Julian May which has a number of interesting facts about wild turkeys: their habitat, life cycle, and how they differ from domestic turkeys. Most interesting to both of us: wild turkeys can fly unlike the domesticated variety.

One oddity Sean and I noticed was the fact that no wild turkeys exist in California. While I haven't been able to find any concrete facts on the native status of the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in California, they do certainly exist in the state both in southern and northern California. What all the sites seem to agree on is that the birds were brought to California in 1877 but whether it was to repopulate or create a new source of hunting stock is unclear.

In the Bay Area, there are wild turkey populations in Marin, Berkeley and down here in the Hayward hills (Fairview, Hayward and Castro Valley). In fact, they are one of the road hazards I have to look out for when picking up my kids from school (the other one being our local deer population).

Here is the list of bird books Sean and I have read and I have reviewed:

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HavanaWhat to Wear: 06/20/08

The third item in Havana is an excerpt from Consuelo Hermer and Marjorie May's book Havana Mañana called "What to Wear.'

Hermer and May warn against the tell tale signs of being a "tourista" when visiting Havana. They offer wardrobe advice for men and women for all seasons. The basic advice is "dress as you would for work at home but in lighter weight fabrics."

Although the specific advice is probably now dated the foundation is still sound for wherever one may travel. Dress for the weather but keep in mind the type of place being visited. If visiting a large well established city, dress formally but in weather appropriate fabrics. Wear more conservative colors in the winter months than the summer months.

Of course, the other option is to do what you darn well please but be willing to be branded a tourist!

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Measuring the WorldMeasuring the World: 06/20/08

How does one measure the world? Daniel Kehlamnn's novel, Measuring the World offers diametrically opposed answers: one theoretical and one empirical. Representing the theory is mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and representing the experimental is explorer Alexander von Humboldt.

Kehlmann alternates his narrative between Gauss's life and Humboldt's exploration of South America and into New Spain (modern day Mexico). Both men wish to describe the world as elegantly as possible. For Gauss that means mathematics at the cost of basic social skills. For Humboldt it means jumping in head first to make every measurement even at the risk of personal injury.

Humboldt and Gauss seem like an unlikely pair of protagonists for a historical novel but Kehlmann's dry wit makes it work. By focusing on these two eccentric men he paints a portrait of the Enlightenment. Other "celebrities" from the era that make cameo appearances include Immanuel Kant, Louis Daguerre and Thomas Jefferson.

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The Light in the ForestThe Light in the Forest: 06/19/08

The Light in the Forest reminds me of James Fenimore Cooper's books in the way it glorifies Native American life during the early days of the United States.

In all fairness, Richter's novel does try to examine the differences (good and bad) of the two cultures and the ways in which both misunderstand each other. It does this through True Son's forced re-assimilation into Pennsylvania society. He had been born John Cameron Butler but had been kidnapped and raised by a nearby tribe.

The reasons behind the initial kidnapping are never made clear. The book concentrates mostly on the aftermath of his return and how he loathes being "home" and forced to live with people he now considers savages.

Although True Son is the focus of the book, he is so full of teenage angst and wankery that he's an uninteresting character. I found myself more intrigued by Del Hardy, the man who brings True Son back to his parents because he can speak both English and Delaware and is the only character who seems to see both sides of situation with any clarity or empathy.

To learn more check out Markings: Days of Her Life, Book Talk 7.

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ABCs of Fruits and Vegetables and BeyondThe ABCs of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond: 06/19/08

Back in May when I reviewed Eating the Alphabet I was asked to review The ABCs of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond.

The ABCs... starts off as another alphabet book. This list serves as an introduction to the "Beyond" half of the book but by itself is a rather lackluster list. Although Eating the Alphabet an The ABCs of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond have nearly identical lists, their presentations skew the affect. Ehlert's book groups some letters together so that every page is crowded with numerous colorful fruits and vegetables. In The ABCs... each letter gets its own page giving some pages an unfinished feeling.

Were this book only an alphabetical list I wouldn't rate it very highly. It isn't until the "Beyond" section that the book excels. "Beyond" includes facts, recipes and other miscellany about fruits, vegetables and farming. The pages are illustrated with collages that draw the eye in.

If you are interested in reading my copy, I'm giving it away on June 22nd.

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HavanaDreaming in Cuban: 06/18/08

The second item in Havana is an excerpt from Cristina Garcia's novel Dreaming in Cuban.

Celia as a grandmother to twin girls looks back on her life, comparing her current situation to the unhappiness of her early marriage and the lover who left her. She also shares a brief memory of the early days of the revolution and the way it served as well needed distraction from her life.

The melancholy tone of the excerpt with the pastiche of magical realism reminds me Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo.

I liked the twenty pages I read and hope to some day read the entire novel.

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She Who Hears the SunShe Who Hears the Sun: 06/18/08

Yesterday I shared my ongoing fascination with Tutankhamen and the 18th Dynasty. Today I'm reviewing a historical fiction about another interest of mine, Navajo (Diné) history and culture. I think it started with all the family vacations to Arizona as a kid but it wasn't until college that I started doing actual research for fun.

She Who Hears the Sun is a historical fiction that covers the war with the United States as settlers pushed west and the eventual demarcation of the modern day Navajo Nation (Diné Bikéyah) which extends through much of Arizona, New Mexico and into Utah.

Although Pamela Jekel mostly keeps the narrative centered around a single family of Navajos, she does try to give the perspective of the other groups involved: the Utes, the Mexicans and the American soldiers. She further sets the state by following a number of wild creatures who also give a somewhat spiritual gloss to another wise straightforward historical fiction.

The main characters though are Ayoi and her daughter, Pahe, later renamed At'ééd Johonaa'éí Yidiits'a'í (She Who Hears the Sun) and the other members of their immediate family. Like many cultures, there is the private name that only the closest family members will use and the public name that everyone else will use. Jekel uses these two identities for her characters to bring an extra intimacy and poignancy to certain scenes.

The book comes in at about 400 pages with another ten or so of bibliography. Although the book is fiction, it is full of so many interesting details that I was constantly putting the book down to take notes, something I very rarely do when reading for fun. I even bought a book listed in her bibliography (one that I had used as a reference back in college).

To learn more about the Navajo, check out their website!

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Diary of the Boy King TutankhamenDiary of the Boy King Tutankhamen: 06/17/08

I've been interested in Tutankhamen and more broadly the 18th dynasty since my senior year of high school. So when I saw this 1978 historical novel, Diary of the Boy King Tutankhamen by June Reig, I had to read it.

Diary of the Boy King... covers roughly a year, starting just before the coronation and through the first few months of Tutankhamen's reign. Reig's entries include common every day events along with historically significant moments. Some of the entries have little drawings to illustrate some of the items found in Tutankhamen's tomb. The diary helps to put these pieces of treasure into a more human context.

From the dozen or so historical fictions I've read where Tutankhamen is a character, Reig's depiction is the most genuine. She manages to walk the line between little boy and powerful monarch.

The book ends as it must with a brief note from Ankhenesamen mourning her husband's early death and wondering about her future and the kingdom's future. I knew the ending was coming but it still left me feeling a little sad.

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peacocks.htmlPeacocks: 06/17/08

Remember when I said I was done reviewing all the bird books Sean and I borrowed from the library? I was wrong. I found a few more while going through my reading notes. I can't believe I forgot our favorite book from the the set: Peacocks by Ruth Berman.

In 48 pages Peacocks covers the habitat, breeding cycle, life cycle, diet and history of this beautiful bird. It teaches all the different terms for the species (collectively called peafowl). Peacocks are obviously the males; peahens are the females; peachicks are the offspring. Peacocks are members of the pheasant family and spend most of their time in trees.

Sean and I enjoyed this book so much because peafowl are such a feature at most zoos and gardens the birds are never really explained. They just are. This book helped fill in the blanks.

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HavanaCuba Revisited: 06/16/08

Havana: Tales of the City is a collection of essays and short stories about Havana, Cuba. The book starts off with "Cuba Revisited" by Martha Gellhorn, an essay originally published in The View from the Ground (1988).

Martha Gellhorn was Ernest Hemingway's third wife (1940-6) and spent her marriage living in Havana. She returned in 1987 and that trip forms the basis of this essay.

As to be expected, Gellhorn's essay compares Havana before and after Castro. At first she is sad to see the changes but as she travels around the city and visits with the people she comes to see some of the positives. She never endorses Castro's regime. Her positive take on things is more a celebration of the human spirit than an approval.

My favorite part of the essay is her visit to a local school. She sits in on an English class, a history class and a biology class. This section reminded me of my own time as an exchange student to Mexico City, so I bonded with her own hunt for nostalgia in Havana.

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Girl Genius OmnibusGirl Genius Omnibus 1: 06/16/08

My husband started reading the Girl Genius web comic last summer and I've read much (but not all) of the series with him. Since we've been enjoying the online version, we bought the first (currently only) omnibus (although volumes 4 and 5 are available in print form too). I'm hoping that once volume 6 is in print, a second omnibus will be published. This first omnibus contains volumes 1, 2 and 3 of the comic.

The title character is Agatha. In these first three volumes she comes to terms with her importance and her hidden talents. She has always enjoyed building things but hasn't had much luck until her amulet is stolen. Turns out she might be a powerful spark after all. If that's the case, she'll be very interesting to Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, the most powerful spark (and man) in Europe.

Agatha lives in Europe but as realized in the Foglio's own special version of steampunk that they call "gaslamp fantasy". It's a world of clockwork robots (clanks), giant airships and other oddities.

The omnibus version is printed in grayscale (the first volume actually was never colored). The individual "collections" are printed in color and the online version is in color too. The lack of color makes some of the pages a little difficult to read but the story is still so much fun that it is worth the effort!

If you have the omnibus and want to read more, the story continues with "crashing the airship", the first page of volume 4. The web comic is up Volume 8 so I have some catching up to do.

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Local RitesLocal Rites: 06/15/08

During my brief time in Australia as an AFS exchanged student I watched a lot of Australian rules football. I'm not normally a football (either soccer or grid iron) fan but there's something about the wild nature of Australian rules that appeals to me.

Fast forward about fifteen years. Through BookCrossing I got a copy Local Rites: A Year in Grass Roots Football in Victoria and Beyond by Paul Daffey. From what I understand, this book is a collection of sports essays Daffey wrote for one of the local papers. Fans of the different clubs and the long time rivalries will enjoy these essays. Because of this, the book is really aimed at a readership already familiar with the teams and players.

For readers (like me) who know the rules but aren't necessarily familiar with the players or the teams will get an appreciation for the history and the fans. Beyond that, one will have to do research on the different teams to get up to speed.

If you'd like to sample a chapter, the Fitzroy Football Club has their chapter (the first in the book) online.

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The Ghost of Lizard LightThe Ghost of Lizard Light: 06/15/08

As I mentioned in my review of The Magnificent Mummy Maker, Elvira Woodruff is good at getting into the heads of both her child an adult characters. In The Ghost of Lizard Light she takes the typical plot of a child trying to prove himself in the eyes of his overly strict parent and turns it into a chilling look at how a parent's good intentions can go wrong.

The story covers two generations of fathers and sons: the modern day Jack Carlton and his father and Nathaniel Witherspoon and his father from 150 years ago. Nathaniel is also the book's supernatural element and he takes a more active roles than the mummy's ka does in The Magnificent Mummy Maker. Nathaniel is seeking proof that his father died a brave man.

While Jack is trying to help Nathaniel he must contend with his father's strict rules while his kid sister gets away with all sorts of things. Jack spends much of the early part of the book angry at his parents (and father especially) but through Nathaniel's help and some studying on his own, he comes to understand the reasons behind his father and gain the self confidence needed to help his father see when he might be wrong.

As this is also a ghost story, there are some wonderfully eerie scenes and some sad ones too. At the end of the book when we learn how Nathaniel died, he is such an important part of the story that his death is a poignant break in Jack's adventures.

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Cresecent Moon Volume 1Crescent Moon Volume 1: 06/15/08

My first break from Bleach is volume 1 of Crescent Moon by Haruko Iido.

As with any series with a large ensemble cast of characters, Crescent Moon takes a good chunk to introduce everyone and set the state. The prologue and first chapter go about introducing all the characters in a melodramatic and sometimes confusing fashion.

The heroine of the story is Mahiru Shiraishi who is a good luck charm for everyone except herself. She is also plagued by nightmares and visions of demons from an old song about an ill fated romance between a human princess and a demon.

Of course, this being a fantasy, the demons or as they call themselves Lunar Race are real and the desperately need Mahiru's help. She has to decide whether or not to help them and they have to prove to her that they aren't the evil creatures of the stories.

Misunderstandings abound and both sides have to learn to set aside deep seated prejudices if they are going work together.

I'm still on the fence with the series but I have volumes 2 and 3 on my to be read shelf. I will be reviewing both volumes later this year.

Read the reviews at Tiamat's Manga Reviews, Triforce.

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CastratoCastrato: 06/15/08

I normally enjoy thriller mysteries and this one should have been a good one with its location: Santa Barbara but it just didn't do it for me. There is a certain amount of machismo built into the detective story and it can work with the story or it can hinder it. Castrato is all macho and not much of anything else.

Dan Fortune the private investigator in this tale is working on a missing persons case gone horribly wrong. While he skirts around the darkest alleys of Santa Barbara he laments how forefoot State street has become by 1989 He wishes for the dangerous days of the 1980s.

I know Santa Barbara of the 1980s and the 1990s. The biggest change to State Street came when the 101 freeway was turned from a five stop light road to a proper highway, raised above the city rather than running right through it. That process finished in 1991 with the opening of the State Street overpass.

A more realistic (though still flawed) depiction of Santa Barbara in this time comes in Sue Grafton's alphabet series, first published in 1982. Even though Kinsey is now living in the past, in her first book, her cases were contemporary.

My favorite depiction of Santa Barbara, though, is in the much sillier Christopher Moore book Coyote Blue.

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The Pigeon Loves Things That GoThe Pigeon Loves Things That Go: 06/14/08

Harriet loves to do what her big brother does. Since Sean was getting bird books from the library, she chose The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! a board book by Mo Willems. Sean actually has a number of the longer Pigeon books but Harriet saw a character she recognized and had to take it home to read.

The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! features each of the Pigeon's favorite things. There's the infamous bus of course, and a train and best of all, the hot dog.

As with all of the Pigeon books, the drawings are quick and bold and happy. Even a ten page board book is enough to bring smiles to Harriet, Sean and me.

Check out Mo Willems's blogs: Doodles and Stuff.

Check out my other Pigeon reviews:

Read another at Katie's Book Blog.

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State BirdsState Birds: 06/14/08

State Birds by Arthur and Alan Singer is the last of the bird books Sean checked out from the library.

Each state bird is beautifully illustrated in its typical habitat. The artwork is the best part of the book.

Sean and I found the presentation of the information illogical and sometimes confusing. At first glance the book appears to be listed alphabetically by state. As some states have the same bird, the listing of birds by state breaks down by Florida (as it and Arkansas have picked the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). It probably would have made more sense to list the birds alphabetically by common name and then provide brief information about which states use that bird and why or when the chose it.

For the full list of state birds, please see the Audubon Society website.

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Still HotStill Hot: 06/13/08

I don't feel qualified to review Still Hot. Except that I am a woman who has been married (and still am) I otherwise have nothing in common with the intended audience of this book. I am not a recently divorced Baby Boomer. My mother did go through a divorce back when I was an infant but not for any of the reasons listed in this book.

The book was inspired by authors' own divorces and their own husband's actions. From there they went on to interview around one hundred women and their collective experiences are the basis for this book. Again, having never been through any of this, I can't really comment on what they found or on the humorous way they told it. I personally didn't laugh much through this book.

Still Hot is divided into ten phases from: "Your Marriage is Toast..." through to "Happily Ever After..." with stops through the divorce process to the learning how to live on my own and to finally finding a new man.

To learn more, check out the Still Hot blog.

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Never Have Your Dog StuffedNever Have Your Dog Stuffed: 06/12/08

Let me start this review off with a little disclosure. I am a complete and utter Alan Alda fangirl. My grandmother was a Robert Alda fan and I remember comparing notes with her during those few M*A*S*H episodes where the two acted together. So when I heard Alda on the radio back when Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned I've wanted the book. Mom got me a copy for last Christmas and my inner fangirl squeed with delight.

Was the book worth the wait? Yes! I tore through my copy in about a day and I enjoyed it start to finish. If you are looking for facts and figures and geeky trivia, this book isn't for you. If on the other hand you want to see what makes the man tick and get a very personal recollection of his life, then this is the perfect book.

Don't expect much about his time on M*A*S*H, it (like everything else in the book) gets one chapter. As the book is short, the chapter too is short (under 20). If you're specifically looking for information about the TV show, I highly recommend making a trip to UCLA to look at the Larry Gelbert papers in the Film and Television special collections.

I have to admit that I was glad that M*A*S*H didn't take up much of the book's length. I can sing along with every episode and I know that piece of his carrier well; probably most fans my age do. The one thing I wish he had mentioned that wasn't in the book were his post M*A*S*H films (and my favorite Woody Allen film Manhattan Murder Mystery).

I liked his first memoir well enough that I have his second memoir in my reading queue: Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. I'll be reviewing it in late July or early August.

To learn more about Alan Alda, check out his website.

Read the reviws at Snoskred, Zot79's Ant Tracks, A Reader's Journal, An Adventure in Reading, Feel Free to Read.

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The Dive from Clausen's PierTundra Swans: 06/11/08

Until Sean got interested in learning about birds beyond owls, I had never heard of the tundra swan. We live too far south to have wild swans; the only ones we have are the ones you'll see in gardens or zoos.

The tundra swan turns out to be one of two native species of swans to North America. Bianca Lavies's focuses on one group of tundra swans that make a yearly migration between the Alaska / Canada border and the Chesapeake Bay. Each page of text is beautifully illustrated with Lavies's photographs.

After a brief introduction to the tundra swan species, its migration and life cycle, the book turns focus to conservation and tracking efforts. The photographs show a wide range of volunteers capturing, measuring and tagging the swans for future tracking.

For more information on tundra swans, please see the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game website.

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The Dive from Clausen's PierThe Dive from Clausen's Pier: 06/11/08

I was looking forward to reading The Dive from Clausen's Pier. I had enjoyed Mendocino and Other Stories and hoped to have the same positive experience with this novel. Although I enjoyed bits and pieces of it, the over all experience was rather dull.

Carrie Bell, the narrator and protagonist of the novel recounts the way her life changes when her fiancé is paralyzed after diving off Clausen's pier into shallower than normal water. Carrie's emotional response didn't strike me as genuine and it made me question her entire account of events. I wasn't expecting a happy ending but I was expecting something more determination and loyalty from Carrie and less self pity.

I think the book fell flat for me because I read In an Instant back in April. Having the raw emotional diary of Lee Woodruff's experience during the immediate aftermath of her husband's injury in Iraq created a tough but unavoidable point of comparison with Packer's novel.

Read more at Bookish Bent, Grand Thoughts.

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionLitany: 06/10/08

The June issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction ends with the cover story, "Litany" by Rand B. Lee. The story is a mixture of mythologies and competing forces, all which come to a head in La Llorona, New Mexico. A mysterious gray eyed man who calls himself Rafael Anderssen has come to La Llorona on a persona quest but what he finds at the end isn't what he thought he was looking for.

I loved the story for its odd mixture of Mexican, native American and Judeo-Christian themes. The residents of La Llorona take all the weird things in stride, though some are more aware of the mystical things happening than others. Being named for the Weeping Woman gives the town enough mystery to make it a character in its own right. If you're not familiar with the legend, I recommend Spooky California which has a chapter devoted to it.

Other characters of note are Roberta, the realtor, her nephew David and the three-legged dog. They all have their parts to play in Anderssen's search even if they don't know it.

But ultimately the story is about Rafael Anderssen and his search. He has a long history reminiscent of Lucia Bastardo (Immortal) but he seems less angry at the world.

Read the interview at the magazine's blog.

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Cannery RowCannery Row: 06/09/08

Although I know it's not the sequel to The Long Valley, Cannery Row feels like the natural progression from Steinbeck's 1938 collection of short stories. Like so many of Steinbeck's books, both take place in and around Monterey county so there are bound to be similarities by their locals alone.

Steinbeck was best when writing short fiction. Cannery Row works as a novel but the different chapters could easily stand alone as short stories. What ties them all together are the characters and the slight progression of the narrative.

The plot is really basic: Mac and his friends who have been squatting in the local grocer's warehouse, decide to throw a party for the local marine biologist. When it goes horribly wrong, they try again with a new party to cheer the doctor up. Intertwined with this simplistic but cute story are vignettes of life along Cannery Row during the Depression.

My favorite chapter, though, was Doc's drive down to La Jolla to collect baby octopuses. I liked it for my own experience of making that drive and because I grew up near La Jolla and know the beaches well.

Read more at Hauling Like a Brooligan, What Did You Expect?, The Write Stuff.

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OstrichesNature's Children: Ostriches: 06/09/08

Continuing with Sean's self imposed study of all things avian, we checked out Nature's Children: Ostriches by Merebeth Switzer from our local library.

Ostriches is 48 pages of full color illustrations and facts written for elementary school aged readers. The book covers the life cycle of the ostrich, how the parents take turns watching the nest, the different colors for males, females and chicks and where ostriches live. We learned that ostriches used to live on all the major continents but hunting killed off all the populations except for those in Africa.

The book we read was from the first series but Scholastic has a second series of books out that comes in 8 different sets.

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Go GreenGo Green: 06/08/08

Go Green: How to Build a Earth-Friendly Community by Nancy H. Taylor is a slim volume (164 pages when counting the resources and index) that introduces key concepts for environmentally friendly living.

The book starts with simple changes that can be done at home or in the office to save energy and resources. From there it builds outwards, first with ways to remodel existing structures, then to building green from scratch, green transportation, sustainable local food sources, water conservation and recycling, renewable energy, a world view and finally how all these things can be brought together to realize a fully green community. The book concludes with a lengthy set of resources (many of them online) for readers to further their progress in becoming part of the solution.

The first couple of chapters I wish were longer as we have already implemented everything in chapter one. I was hoping to learn something new that my family and I could add to our conservation tricks.

My last little nitpick is the choice of ink color: it's turquoise blue. It doesn't show up well under my compact florescent lights. It made for an eye straining read at night. I hope later editions will go back to black ink.

To learn more, please see the author's website.

Read more at Think Green Media, Online Business Group, Breeni Books.

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionMonkey See...: 06/08/08

P. E. Cunningham's fantasy story "Monkey See..." is the fifth story in the June issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction and one of my favorites.

"Monkey See..." works on the expectations built on knowing the rest of the expression: "monkey see, monkey do". The payoff comes quickly and satisfyingly. Here the "do" is magic and the results are both funny and disturbing.

Fortunately the last person to get done in by a monkey has the ability to fix the problem. How she fixes the problem makes for an equally satisfying end. In her interview at the FSF blog, P. E. Cunningham says that the main characters in this story were pre-existing from previous stories. I would love to read more of Ji and Shakaru's adventures.

Read the interview at the magazine's blog.

Read more at Title Magic, Kougar Kisses, The Worm Seat.

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The Sea ShackThe Sea Shack: 06/07/08

The Sea Shack follows a long tradition of coming of age stories where a young child is sent to live with an elderly person, sometimes a relative, sometimes not and over the course of living with this person learns important life long lessons. For Any O'Brien, the trip is to his grandfather's sea shack for the summer while his father is on an extended business trip.

Andy goes full of anger and it takes him a good third of the book to rein in that anger. Andy narrates his own story but from some unknown time in the future where he is looking back on this turning point in his life. Because it is adult Andy or perhaps just teenage Andy, the story is told mostly in long descriptions with little time spent on dialog.

It took me a while to get into the novel. It's never much fun to listen to someone winge and that's what Andy does. Grampy, though, makes up for Andy's lack of personality at the start of the book. Grampy is an old sea dog, happily living on the beach, taking what he needs from the sea.

It was initially the mystery of Grampy that sucked me into the story and as McNulty explains in the Afterword, the novel is really more about Grampy than Andy. McNulty though doesn't answer all the questions about Grampy's life. Things I wanted to know: how long had he been living in the sea shack, what had happened to his wife, and how did Andy's parents meet. Of course had these questions been answered, the book probably would have felt bloated. At 192 pages, the book feels just about right.

For more coming of age stories I recommend:

To learn more about the book, please see the publisher's website.

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Bleach 14Bleach 14: 06/06/08

Bleach 14: White Tower Rocks has convinced me that now is a good time to take a break from reading the series. I'm getting tired of the never ending escalation of opponents and spirit energy. The newest one, Mayuri Kurotsuchi, I've actually seen in an anime clip that was posted on Nanashi-Inc awhile back. All I can say is he's more impressive in the anime than in the manga. In the manga he reminds me of a demented kachina but he doesn't instill in me the visceral reaction he did in the clip.

Bleach 14 gives a false sense of forward progress. Rukia nearly escapes. Ichigo nearly manages to single handedly rescue her only to almost be mortally wounded again. I know Ichigo is supposed to be stronger and more determined than what anyone has ever seen and if he can learn to hone his powers but after awhile it pushes the suspension of disbelief well past the breaking point.

In the early volumes, a lot happened in each issue. There were always a couple hollows to dispatch, friends discovering secret powers and the odd relationship between Ichigo and his father. Now it seems that the rescue party is slogging through quick drying cement. Each new volume seems to have less in the way of plot progression than the previous one.

That's not to say I totally hated volume 14. Yourichi obviously has an interesting back story and powers previously unrevealed which calls into questions her motivation for joining the team. Likewise, there are some weird after affects of Ichigo's near transformation into a Hollow.

I have up through volume 17 which I will be reading and reviewing eventually. For now though I will be concentrating on different manga series.

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ShoesShoes: 06/06/08

Back in January we got Harriet her first pair of shoes. Once she started walking her feet have been growing like crazy and she's already on her third pair this year. With all this new emphasis on shoes in her day to day life has made her a bit shoe crazy.

On a recent trip to our local library Harriet found Shoes by Debbie Bailey and photographs by Susan Huszar. It's a fourteen page board book full of bright photographs of different types of shoes. Each page has a brief bit of text describing what the shoes are or when they should be worn. For example, there's a page with a sleeping baby wearing booties. The text underneath says: "There are tiny shoes for babies."

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionCharacter Flu: 06/05/08

Robert Reed returns with the fourth story in the June issue of FSF, "Character Flu", a monologue similar to some of Isaac Asimov's short stories.

"Character Flu" warns of an unseen epidemic that is slowly wiping out the real population and over population the world with an imagined one. In four angry pages, the unknown protagonist speaks directly to the reader, warning of this nanobot driven infestation. The consequences of which will bring about a world not to dissimilar from the one imagined in the Matrix trilogy.

The real question for the story is who is the narrator. Is he real or imagined? What does his status mean for his monologue? Does it make it more or less real? Why does the narrator want to tell us about this "flu"?

If you'd like more information on stories Robert Reed has written, please see these two reviews: Five Thrillers and Reunion.

Learn more about the author at his website.

Read the reviews at Suite 101, The Fix, Aether Cowboy,

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Sister CarrieSister Carrie: 06/05/08

Sister Carrie is a deceptively good book. It starts out looking like a simple morality play about the evils of the big city but Carrie is no innocent girl from the country. Apparently Carrie's willingness to use people to better herself without any thought of the consequences caused quite a scandal in its day (1900) and the original manuscript had to be toned down before it could even be published. The 1927 edition I read most certainly was the edited version but it was still modern, crass and eye opening.

Overall, I liked the book. I wish I'd had the luxury to read it at a slower place because the book is long and complex with a large ensemble cast and an equally large number of plot twists. I though was under a number of deadline and caring for two sick children at the time so I didn't get a chance to curl up with this book.

That being said, the book's length in terms of pages and in time covered are both bordering on being too long. The book reminds me a great deal of Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann except set at the beginning of the 20th century, rather than at the mid point. Carrie, though, comes off as a stronger character than any of the women in Valley of the Dolls, in that she survives and thrives. I take issue with Dreiser saying Carrie can't find happiness no matter what she does; I don't think she was ever looking for happiness. She wants and has power.

Read the reviews at Songs the Didn't Used to Exist, Spacebeer, Opednews.

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A Superior DeathA Superior Death: 06/04/08

A Superior Death by Nevada Barr is the second in her Anna Pigeon series. Anna has transferred reluctantly from Texas to Lake Superior where it is too cold and too wet for her tastes but she's making her best effort to make a new life for herself as a ranger here along the "frigid waters." Just as she's still learning the different cliques in and around the islands that make up the park, one of the locals is found buried in a historical captain's uniform in a 1927 wreck at the bottom of the lake.

I was reading A Superior Death at the same time as two other shipwreck stories, The Gulls of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Tres Seymour (about the most famous sunk ship in Lake Superior) and Treasure by Clive Cussler. When taken with The Ghost of Lizard Light by Elmira Woodruff, it was a month full of shipwrecks and deaths at sea.

When I started A Superior Death I was doubtful that the story would pull me in as much as Track of the Cat had with its strong descriptions of the Texas landscape. I shouldn't have worried. Barr's depiction of Lake Superior's environment above and below the surface chilled me to the bone.

Barr populates A Superior Death with a cast of interesting characters who are well enough realized that their quirks seem believable. As with Track of the Cat, the mystery was complex enough to keep me guessing until the end.

I have Ill Wind, the third in the series on my shelf and will be reading it soon.

Read the reviews at Visit Isle Royale, Soak, It's a Jungle Out There.

To learn more about the author, please see her website.

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Color for ThoughtColor for Thought: 06/03/08

Color for Thought was written as a collaborative effort by the 5th grade class of Coast Episcopal School. It is a solid introduction to colors and pigments. Think of it as an elementary school version of Colour by Victoria Finlay.

Besides the fascinating information about the different colors of the spectrum and the pigments that we can use in art to capture those colors, the book has its own colorful illustrations. As with the text, the illustrations were drawn by the students. The skill level varies from page to page but they are all still very well done and complement the text nicely.

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionThe Salting and Canning of Benevolence D: 06/03/08

The third story in the June issue of FSF is "The Salting and Canning of Benevolence D" by Al Michaud. It is a satisfying and silly ghost story, or as Professor Stebbins calls it, "a ghost infestation."

Usually ghost stories deal either with hauntings or possessions. I've never heard of an infestation before but I like the concept. With a haunting, a ghost gets attached to a place and continues to haunt it until it can find closure. In possessions, a ghost or spirit takes over a human host. With an infestation, a ghost follows a person around but doesn't possess the person. That's what happens with Clem Clowder after he takes a trip to the dentist.

The ghost in question is the Silent Woman. To solve the mystery of her infestation, Clem, Dunky and Professor Stebbins must unravel her past. It's here that the story goes from being a better than average ghost story to being a humorous and truly memorable one. I really enjoyed the history that Michaud creates for the Silent Woman and the way in which the different factions try to use her for their own purposes.

I'll admit that I figured out the why behind the infestation in the first page of the forty page story but I still had fun following Clem and Dunky as they learned the reason behind the infestation. This story doesn't rely on a drawn out punchline to work. It's funny and entertaining all the way through.

Read the interview on the magazine's blog.

Read the reviews at Raves and Rants, The Gangster of L'ouef.

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Blind SideBlind Side: 06/02/08

Blind Side by Penny Warner is a perfect example why I love BookCrossing. I snatched up the book based on the ties to the frog jumping contest and the fact that Penny Warner is a local author. What I hadn't expected, was that I'd end up finding a new favorite mystery author in the process. But that's exactly what happened!

Blind Side takes place in Flat Skunk, a fictional California town in Calaveras county with a name typical of the old mining sites. This little town, though, survived boom and bust of the gold rush era and is clunking along like so many of the small mountain towns. In the days before the annual frog jumping contest inspired by Mark Twain's Story, frogs and then a frog trainer are found dead.

Connor Westphal's friend and coworker Miah is accused of the murder. Refusing to believe that he'd be capable of killing a rival and to seek out a story for the Eureka! paper, Westphal sets out to find the true killer.

Blind Side could easily have been like any of a number of cozy mysteries. It has all the usual trappings: a small town, a civilian sleuth, quirky characters and a relatively short page count. The book though, goes beyond the cozy subgenre at the strength of its lead character. Connor Westphal is deaf and her deafness tosses out many of the typical mystery conventions (like the overheard conversation). Instead, the cliches are replaced interesting details about deafness: nuances of ASL, TTY etiquette, misunderstanding spoken slang, and the pitfalls of lip reading.

As this book is the fifth in the series, Warner mixes things up a bit by introducing a blind character, Del Oro, who forces Connor to rethink her own preconceptions of the world. The two women, though, hit it off and end up making a good sleuthing team.

I've actually purposely skipped over the secondary mystery. I want to save some of the mystery for anyone who hasn't read the book yet. If you're looking for a new mystery series to try, I highly recommend Blind Side. I will be looking for earlier books in the series to read.

The Connor Westphal series so far is as follows:

Learn more about the author by reading her blog.

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Wheels, Wheels and More WheelsWheels, Wheels and More Wheels: 06/02/08

Ed and Ruth Radlauer collaborated on close to 150 books over two decades. They were at their height of publishing in the mid 1960s through the end of the 1970s. Then in the early 1990s, they published a couple more books, one of which is Wheels, Wheels and More Wheels.

I have tried searching for information on the Radlauers and specifically the book I'm reviewing but I haven't had any luck beyond verifying the order in which their books were first published at the Library of Congress catalog. The old looking photographs in the book is the reason why I wanted to find out more about its publication history.

Wheels, Wheels and More Wheels doesn't look like a book published in 1992. The photographs show strange vehicles in city settings that remind me of my childhood (late 1970s). All things in the photographs point to a time earlier than 1992. The cars, the fashions, the hair styles, the eye glasses and so forth all peg these photographs as being from earlier.

When I first read Wheels, Wheels and More Wheels, I made a note that the book could have been a repackaged version of an older book called Wild Wheels (1974). Frankly, though, there are so many different books about wheeled vehicles that it's possible the photographs were taken from a wider selection than just one. Another possibility is that the Radlauers found some previously unpublished photographs in their collection. I just don't know.

Regardless of the book's history, it is a fun read for the 4 to 8 set. The photographs give the book a funky retro feel. Parents who were children in the 1960s or 1970s might enjoy pointing out the differences from then and now. Children and parents will enjoy all the wacky vehicles included in this book.

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Open BrandOPEN Brand: 06/01/08

OPEN Brand by Kelly Mooney and Nita Rollins starts with the thesis that the internet is changing how brands work. The problem with this thesis is that it assumes that brands work. So many recent business books get hung up on the all powerful brand and never really stop to think about what a brand is in the grand scheme of things. In other words, marketers become punch drunk on their own marketing even if the general public doesn't.

OPEN Brand attempts to be a handbook for traditional marketing to learn how to use the concepts of open source, the internet, social networking and web 2.0 to revolutionize the branding experience while lowering expenses and increasing ROI. Unfortunately the book's description of all these things sounds as genuine as a Baby Boomer using l33tspeak.

For traditional marketers, OPEN Brand may very well be a good starting point if they've never played with the internet beyond their own company's website but it is not the all-in-one handbook that it hopes to be. The twenty-somethings that OPEN branding will apparently work on just aren't that interested in brands.

The version I was given to read makes use of a green, black and white color scheme. Yes, green is making a comeback on the internet with so much interest in the environment with the current energy crisis and of course global warming. This book though has nothing to do with the environment and yet it's sporting a hideous green color throughout the book. Important buzz words are printed in green making them hard and annoying to read. I'm hoping that later editions of this book will do away with the presentation and focus more on the message.

Green on an internet marketing book outside of the new environmental niche marketing is so 1999; think pre dot-com bubble. For the concept of OPEN (on-demand, personal, engaging and networked) branding to work, the internet model has to come out of the dark ages of the 1990s and take a serious look at how the internet is being used now, not how marketers think it's being used.

Read the reviews at Business Consulting, Marsha Collier's Blog, Forex Info Blog.

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionFergus: 06/01/08

The second story in the June issue of FSF is "Fergus" by Mary Patterson Thornburg. Fergus plays on a parent's worst nightmare: a child going missing.

After naming a new cat Fergus, the narrator of the story learns from her friend Eileen's lost son, also named Fergus and the number of times his "ghost" had visited her, each time appearing as the four year old he was when he went missing.

No explanation is given behind the appearances of Fergus or the many times Eileen has run into people (or in the most recent case, a cat) named Fergus even though it's a rare name in the United States. One of the children she meets was found under the same circumstances that her son had gone missing but it had been too many years for it to be the same boy. As the story is so open ended one can draw conclusions about the reason behind these many appearances. Eileen could be imagining them, it could be one of life's many coincidences, or time travel, or changelings or any of a number of fantasy or science fiction cliches.

What struck me most about the story was the circumstances of Fergus's disappearance. As a three year old, Sean nearly got lost in the Berkeley math building after he figured out how to make the elevator go. Ian, though, managed to stop the elevator before the doors could close with Sean on the inside and him on the outside.

Read the reviews at The SFRevu, The Fix , Shortbits, Opening to Change.

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