Friday, September 30, 2011

Ghost in the wires

Ghost in the wires: my adventures as the world's most wanted hacker/Kevin Mitnick 419 pg.

I've sort of followed the adventures of Mitnick since I became interested in computers but this book makes it all very plain for everyone to see.  Sure, knowing the computer operating systems and how things work are important for the hacker but the most important factor by far is the ability to do a little social engineering and convince people it is necessary to give you information and access.  Mitnick was the champ of this type of confidence game that did wonders for his reputation and got him into many systems thought to be secure.  He even "social engineered" other hackers.  In the end, he served quite a bit of prison time for his crimes, most of which were harmless.  He never stole money, just information/programs and never really did anything with his booty, it was just a prize.  He kind of got railroaded and now he is a legitimate security consultant.  His hacking "hobby" brought security issues to the forefront but you have to wonder how many places are still vulnerable to the guy who acts like an internal employee and asks for a favor.

Crafting Digital Media

Crafting Digital Media/Daniel James 428 pgs.

I was hoping this book would help me with the mysteries of Drupal but mostly it just talked about installation and very little about how to use it.  Many other open source tools are included but just a dab of each.  This book certainly won't bestow any expertise but it does expose you to a lot of stuff that is out there waiting to be discovered by the digital media junkie.

Fables, vol. 3 & 4

Fables: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham, 190 pages
Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham, 231 pages

What an odd pair of books to blog about together. Volumes 3 and 4 of Fables are the first real introductions to love and war in the series. Volume 3, Storybook Love, starts with part of Jack's backstory during the Civil War and ends with the backstory of the Lilliputian men who fall in love with Thumbelina. In between, you've got the introduction of Sleeping Beauty, a weird side story about a journalist who thinks the fables are vampires and Goldilocks and Bluebeard conspiring to kill off Snow White and Bigby Wolf.

Volume 4, March of the Wooden Soldiers, kicks off with the forlorn tale of the final battle in the homelands and the short-lived love between Boy Blue and Red Riding Hood, before switching to a modern-day build-up to battle. While March of the Wooden Soldiers is a pretty serious volume in this series, I've got to say that there's a scene in this one (during the titular march) that is quite possibly the funniest thing I've ever read in a graphic novel. Kudos to Mr. Willingham for pulling off such fantastic humor in the middle of such a serious situation. It gives me high hopes for the rest of the series.

In the Blink of an Eye

In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and the Day that Changed Everything by Michael Waltrip & Ellis Henican  223 pp.

For NASCAR fans, like me, the death of Dale Earnhardt in the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 is stuck in their memory like the Kennedy assassination and the Challenger explosion. We can all tell you where we were when we heard about it. Michael Waltrip, long time friend, and then driver for DEI Racing (Dale Earnhardt Incorporated) waited ten years to finally tell his story of wanting to be a racer like big brother Darryl,  his rise in racing, his friendship with "The Intimidator," the win of the Daytona 500 that was overshadowed by the death of his friend and boss, and his struggle to make Michael Waltrip Racing a success. Waltrip is brutally honest in talking of his failings as a driver and a businessman and is eager to give credit to those who helped his career along. He also talks honestly about racing safety and the changes that have been made in the last ten years. The HANS (Head and Neck System) restraint device existed when Earnhardt died, but it was optional, Earnhardt chose not to use it, and it probably wouldn't have saved his life anyway. However, had the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier walls been in place back then, chances are he would have not had serious injuries. My only complaint with this book is that the co-writer removed too much of Mikey's voice from the book. Yes, it is Michael Waltrip telling the story, but too much of it reads like his words were over edited to remove that "somewhat goofy, big ol' country boy" style of talking. Those of us who have heard him hundreds of times in interviews and calling races can tell the difference. The inclusion of an index would have been helpful also.

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: the authorized adaptation by Tim Hamilton  148 pp.

I read Fahrenheit 451 back in junior high honors English. I will admit to probably having forgotten more than I remembered. But this graphic novel version just doesn't seem to capture all of what was in the book. Don't get me wrong, it is nicely done and written with the blessings of Bradbury himself who wrote the introduction. I just don't think it captures all of what the book has about this future society where firemen start fires, specifically to burn books that are illegal. Montag, the main character, is one such fireman who comes to the realization that what they are doing is wrong. If this version has accomplished anything, it makes me want to go back and re-read the original, which I have around the house somewhere.

Fables vol. 15: Rose Red/Bill Willingham, et al

Fables 15: Rose Red; Bill Willingham, Mark Buckinham, etc; Graphic Novel, 245p

Okay Fables, I will admit I was not expecting this great big showdown to turn out the way it did. You got me.
I think this volume was probably the most satisfying in terms of character backstory, and that goes hand in hand with my utter joy that Rose actually gets to freaking do something in the story for the first time in what feels like eight volumes. Ahem. yes. Once again we see Fabletown's(or in this case the Farm's) lack of democracy in action, and while that's a satisfying moment in the story, I kind of realized that wow, none of these characters are really great or functional people, and in fact each and every one of them is in their own way a jerk. With the possible exception of Flycatcher, haha. Anyway, that's part of what makes Fables such a compelling series for me, because as much as I like to see Our Heroes win, sometimes I like to see them fail as well. Good going, Willingham.
As far as this volume goes, I am just a teeny bit disappointed in how anticlimactic the end turned out, buuuuut they have to have some loose ends to leave for the next volume so I will just have to wait somewhat patiently for 16. Somewhat. I have other things to read in the meantime.

Dear George Clooney Please Marry my Mom by Susin Nielsen 229 pages

With a new George Clooney movie coming out soon, there will be more women swooning over this talented actor/director. Although the premise that a girl could snag George for her deserving, divorced mom seems far-fetched, Violet has a plan. Her father is a TV director who has moved from their home in Vancouver to California. Violet hopes to drop in on George and make her case. She is desperate because she can't stand Dudley Wiener, her mother's current beau. Viiolet's friend Phoebe is much more helpful than her younger sister, Rosie. Violet uses her Magic 8 ball to communicate with both Mom, Dad and Dudley. Funny and believable.

Grounded by Kate Klise 193 pages

Very offbeat story. Daralynn loses her brother, father and sister in a plane crash. Well wishers send her 237 dolls and give her a new name, Dolly. Her mother caught up in grief starts a new career, beautician at the local mortuary. Mom has a poor relationship with Daralynn's aunt and hasn't caught the signs that her mom has early stages Alzheimer's Disease. When her job is threatened by talk of a big new crematorium opening up in town, Daralynn has a brainstorm. She creates a new sideline: Living Funerals -- plan your farewell party to be enjoyed before you pass on!! Set in Missouri (the author lives in the Ozarks), this book is an original.

The Sweetness of Slat by Cecilia Galante 309 pages

Julia should be having the greatest summer of her life. She has just graduated as class valedictorian and she will be off to college in a pre-law program after completing an internship arranged by her father. On graduation night, her older sister Sophia returns for a brief visit and tells her that her parents are hiding a big secret from her about something that happened to the family before Julia was born and they lived in a different town. Sophia gets into an argument with their parents. She gives Julia keys to a car for her graduation present along with an invitation to visit her at her new home where she will be opening her own bakery. Julia's father confesses that they had had another child who died of asthma. Julia is shocked and decides to visit her sister and find out the rest of the story. There is much more to the story. This novel emphasizes the importance of open communication within a family and how secrets can poison and stunt family members. I especially enjoyed the author's depiction of the family Sophia created for herself in Poultney and the courage she had in reaching out to her younger sister.

A Time of Miracles by Anne-laure Bondoux 180 pages

Blaise Fortune has two names -- his name as a citizen of the French Republic and his refugee name, Koumail. With the collapse of the Soviet Union his life is in danger. He seems to be without family. Gloria takes him on and makes it her mission to transport him across the Caucasus and Europe to safety. They are separated, but the boy survives. As he reaches adulthood, he resolves to put together the puzzle that is his past. This poignant novel was the winner of The Batchelder Award, (best children's book originally published in a foreign language).

Plague: A Gone Novel by Michael Grant 492 pages

Yesterday was a beautiful day. I celebrated by whipping through this latest installment of the Gone series. You would be an idiot to start with this chapter. You must start with Gone. Anyway, picking up where our characters left off.... it's not like they are able to sit back and think about how miserable their existences are or applaud surviving past challenges. Flying snakes spit green goo and if it lands on you, congrats you have just been infected with a parasite kin to that memorable one in Alien(the movie) which will give birth and eat you from the inside. Now if all the good guys were together they may have come up with a solution quickly, but, of course, they are split up all over in this tiny geographic area. Drake, the guy with the snake arm, and Brittney, a "good" freak are trapped in the same body having an existential battle for supremecy. Petey and lots of kids have caught a killer flu that Lana can't seem to cure. Lana's gift also won't kill the parasites that are eating up Hunter and other characters. Sam and Astrid are on the outs. Albert almost bites the dust and Computer Jack becomes a "good guy" again. Definitely has comic book elements, but will satisfy that craving for escapist action. Next episode won't be out until April.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Goliath/Scott Westerfeld

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan, book 3); young adult, alternate history, steampunk; 560 pages

I usually have problems fully immersing myself in historical fiction. I find myself getting too worried about what I know is going to happen next: "Yes, these characters are happy now, but what happens in five years when the Great Depression hits?" That kind of thing. The great thing about Scott Westerfeld is that his books are reliably awesome: awesome enough to keep me from worrying too much about the Next Great Disaster, and focus solely on the characters and the time at hand.

This is the third book in the Leviathan series, so if you haven't read the first two volumes, you should start there. Westerfeld's story is set in an alternate World War I, where Central and Allied powers have been replaced with rival factions defined by their adherence to one school of tech or another: Clanker (steam/mechanical) and Darwinist (genetic engineering), respectively. Our heroes are Alek, exiled prince of Austria, and Deryn, a British girl disguised as a boy, and serving on the living airship, Leviathan. At this point in the story, Leviathan has been sent halfway around the world on various missions, and now finds itself floating over Russia on a quest for a mad inventor whose latest discovery could stop the war.

I LOVED this book. If I was a little underwhelmed by Behemoth, Goliath more than makes up for it. Westerfeld wraps up the story beautifully, but still leaves it open enough that he could continue Alek and Deryn's adventures if he chose (and I really, really hope he chooses to! This world was too interesting to let it lie after only three books!). And while there are lots of liberties taken with history here, there were also a lot of cameo appearances from actual historical figures--including Nicola Tesla, who's fast becoming one of my favorite fictionalized people (seriously, is there a genre for Tesla fiction?). Westerfeld even addresses my Next Great Disaster issue, by introducing some allies that could prevent the second world war. Overall, this was a fun book, and I couldn't put it down. As always, I can't wait to read the next thing from this author.

The Bookman / Lavie Tidhar

The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar. 394 p.

In my review of Camera Obscura I said I hoped that The Bookman would have more lizards in, and indeed it does. How can it not, when Queen Victoria is a lizard? Set in London around 1895 (maybe), Orphan, a poet, proposes to Lucy, a marine biologist who studies whales. Lucy is killed during the Bookman's attempt to sabotage the launch of Prime Minister Moriarty's Mars probe. But the Bookman tells Orphan he can get Lucy back. All he has to do is what the Bookman asks him...which includes, among other things, traveling to the mysterious island from which the lizards originally came.

I enjoyed this a lot, and am looking forward to the third volume in the series, The Great Game, which is due out in January. The lizards-related stuff was lots of fun, and Spot the Reference was even more enjoyable that it was in Camera Obscura--in fact, there's a scene in a bookstore where Orphan is looking through many books, and I only recognized about a quarter of the title/author jokes. I'm looking forward to investigating the ones I'm missing. (Although the presence in that bookstore of a mystery novel by Harriet Vane rather calls into doubt the 1895-ish setting of the story--there's no way Vane could have published a book before 1920. All of the other internal hints about the setting indicate some time between 1891 and 1895, though.)

The Golden Compass/Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials book 1); Philip Pullman; Young Adult/Sci-fi/Fantasy, 399p

Okay, this is a re-read. I read and ADORED the His Dark Materials trilogy when I was the target audience, and now I'm reading through it again, which just happened to coincide with banned books week. And oh, the hullabaloo over this series. Whatever, I'm not here to talk about people's religious feathers getting ruffled.
The aspect of this book that completely captured my heart initially was the worldbuilding, but upon this reading I really have to appreciate the way Pullman writes children. Lyra is the most realistic, self-centered, viciously stubborn protagonist I've seen in a children's book maybe...ever. She's fantastic. As for the worldbuilding, Lyra's  home in the multiverse is just as dark, mysterious, and compelling as it had been upon my first reading. Pullman does a fabulous job of exposition, dropping little hints that this world is just a bit different in fundamental ways from our own (and not just in that people have external souls in the form of animal daemons), and the vocabulary, oh my gosh the vocabulary. I have a lot of fun just researching all the cognates going on. (Yes, I am a huge nerd.)

Anyway, this first book starts off with the basic sort of child unknowingly stumbles into a greater destiny trying to save her friend plot, but wow, WOW does Pullman hit the reader with a suckerpunch to the heart. There are parts of this book that are tremendously unpleasant, and that sort of....artful brutality is one of the aspects that make this one of my favorite books, still, after all these years. I'm about halfway through the second book now, we'll see if I can get that review in under the wire for this month. :)

Stiff

Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach  303 pp.

This book preceded Roach's book Bonk. Instead of sex research, it is about dead bodies. It's not about how the bodies got that way but rather what happens to them afterward. Included are the various ways donated cadavers are used for scientific and medical purposes, a "body farm" where human decomposition is studied, cannibalism, the myriad of ways bodies can be embalmed, cremated, composted, or preserved, and a look at the process that creates the "Body Worlds" exhibits. Roach did extensive research, traveling internationally to observe different research and techniques and to interview the people who do the "hands on" work with dead bodies. She is not afraid to observe the grotesque, disturbing, and often smelly firsthand. Nor does she shirk from asking the difficult questions. Throughout the book, the subject is handled in a respectful manner, even when humorous comments are included. I'm glad she disproved the "human buttocks in the Chinese dumplings" story or I might have to give up some of my favorite foods. And the idea of freeze-drying and composting just might change my mind about being cremated when the time comes.

Room by Emma Donoghue


Room by Emma Donoghue, 321 pages.
We had a great discussion about Emma Donoghue's new book last night. The book:
Jack and his mother "Ma" have been in "Room" for all of Jack's life, kept there by the seldom seen "Old Nick." And, as the small room is Jack's whole world, he has become the whole world for his mother, and she will do anything to protect him. As he turns five and changes loom, Jack must learn to cope with the wider world and with change in his once unchanging world. Thanks to Jack's five-year-old bright-eyed world view and his strength, this is not completely depressing and is a great book, but has a strong sense of hope.

Join us next month, on October 26, as we discuss Ralph Ellison's classic Invisible Man.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, 759 pages.

The final chapters in the Harry Potter saga. We had been reading the series to our kids, and listening to Jim Dale read them to us on long drives, for the last couple of years, but had stopped before the unhappy events at the end of the Half Blood Prince. Luckily, one of my son's friends told him how it ended, so we were good to go. We didn't finish listening to this before our last trip ended, so we have been listening to it at home. This involved a LOT of re-listening, as people went out of the room or went off to watch tv. It was worth it. We finally listened to the exciting ending as we drove to see our sons' grandma and grandpa. On 17 CDs. The scariest of the HP series, but my eight-year-old loved it

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Audio CD-read by the great Jim Dale!

Drive by James Sallis


Drive by James Sallis, 158 pages.

I only recently heard about Sallis and this book. Apparently it has been made into quite the movie. Wowed them at Cannes. The review I heard made me seek out the book, and I am glad that I did. The main character, Driver, keeps every detail of his life private. He does stunt driving for the movies, and he drives getaway for professional criminals in Los Angeles. His father got him started in a life of crime, and he lived that life until his mother broke down in a big way, leaving Driver in foster care. Now he lives alone and no one knows him. That comes in handy when his last driving gig goes awry and his cohorts end up dead. He is left trying to drive and think his way out of a big messy situation. Great for fans of Lee Child, Richard Stark and George Pelecanos.

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Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter


Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter, 193 pages.

PTSD before anyone knew about PTSD or realized that it could have looked like a horse who spoke to you with the voice of an angel, a horse who told you where to go with your infant son, now that your wife was dead, an angel-horse who had turned his back on Christ and knew your infant son would be the new King of Heaven. The horse could really be the angel you saw in France, or it could have been way too many shells falling too near Henry Bright while he was over there during the first World War. Josh Ritter's book is strange, haunting and beautiful, and many of the questions it asks are never really answered.

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Against All Enemies by Tom Clancy


Against All Enemies by Tom Clancy, 756 pages.

A big, clunky, jingoistic work concerning itself with drug dealers, terrorists, drug dealing terrorists, and anti-Americans of all stripes. I hadn't read a book by this author in a while, though he is the founder of his own sub-genre and the literary father of Vince Flynn, David Baldacci, Kyle Martin and a score of others. Once you get used to the two-dimensional feel of the characters, though Clancy and his co-author give everyone a few sentence's worth of nuance, the book is a page turner, with lots of stuff blowing up and lots of shooting. So it's not all bad. Fans of large thrillers, who aren't looking for complicated plots or complicated characters will enjoy.

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A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports by Gerald L. Early


A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports by Gerald L. Early, 263 pages.

A wonderful collection of essays by Washington University's Gerald Early. Curt Flood, Donovan McNabb and Jackie Robinson are at the center of several of the works. Early explores the racism that has run through sports and through American Society and he does so with an even hand, quick wit, and a great knowledge and love of sports. Entertaining and thought-provoking, Early seems to be several steps ahead of anyone else talking about the African American experience in sports.

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Freakangels volume 5 by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield


Freakangels volume 5 Ellis, Warren and Paul Duffield 144 pages.

In which the powerful young people who accidentally ruined the world discover their possible immortatlity. While this was a big deal, this volume still had a placeholder-between-the-action sort of feel. Great art. I look forward to volume 6.

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Anansi Boys by Neal Gaiman


Anansi Boys by Neal Gaiman, 336 pages.

I read this tale of Fat Charlie Anansi, his brother Spider, and their dear departed father several years ago when it first came out. I had read a couple Gaiman's other books by that time, and had really been taken by American Gods. I remember not really loving this one, probably because it wasn't American Gods, and never really intended to re-read it. I needed something to listen to during a long drive or weekend project, or something, and started this one. I found it much more engaging this time. Maybe it was the excellent narration by Lenny Henry. Fat Charlie is a great character, and the story really works.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago's Public Hospital by David Ansell


County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago's Public Hospital by David Ansell, 221 pages.

A passionate, compelling memoir of one doctor and his time at one of the busiest hospitals in Chicago. Ansell writes a book that is partly a history of the hospital, partly a glimpse into the idealism among a committed group of medical personnel in the 1970s and 80s. Cook County hospital was always a political football. With an independent board controlling the hospital itself, and the patronage-hungry county government controlling the finances, money was always in short supply, the hospital was always understaffed, the equipment was always obsolete, and the length of time that people spent waiting for care was staggering. Ansell attempts to weave the his own story of how he and four fellow med students at Syracuse University traveled to Chicago to intern at Cook County Hospital with the larger narrative. All of it is interesting, but the book seems at though it could have been longer.

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League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Century 1969 / Alan Moore et al.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. [Vol. 3, part 2,] Century: 1969 by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill. 80 p.

I really like the first two LoEG graphic novels, but was somewhat let down by this one. Part of it is because I can tell I'm missing a lot of the cameos--background characters--in a way that I didn't in the Victorian-set books. But part of it is that the League characters don't really do much here. There's a lot of walking around and talking, but very little of the adventure that was in the earlier books. A lot of the "walking around London" scenes seemed like an excuse to fill the backgrounds with visual jokes that I'm not getting at all. In the earlier volumes the visual jokes were a bonus to the story; here it feels like they are the story. I love playing "spot the reference" but the idea of figuring out all the stuff I missed here just makes me feel tired. (Although Voldemort's appearance amuses me.)

As much as I'm disappointed by the writing, I must say that O'Neill's art continues to be gorgeous. The 60s look here is really fabulous.

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Three quarters dead by Richard Peck 193 pages

While Newbery winner Richard Peck never had any children, he totally understands high school cliques from a female point of view. Kerry, a perennial follower finds herself adopted by the cool girl trio. Life at the top though, is rather stressful because Tanya is totally manipulating Kerry. It turns out that the trio was in a fatal car accident, but Tanya is able to slow time and wants to get revenge on the one guy who turned her down. Can Kerry find the strength to save Prom Night? It is subtle, but Peck addresses bullying, cliques and friendship in this not so fluffy book.

Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel 316 pages

This is the first of a new series: Suddenly Supernatural by an author of several middle grade chapter books. Kat has "suddenly" discovered on her birthday that she shares her mother's talents; mom is a medium. Kat has always been rather embarrassed by her mother's calling and doesn't know if she wants to see and communicate with ghosts. She has a first best friend who moved to town recently, Jae to study with a local music teacher. Kat and Jae find themselves trying to solve a mystery concerning a ghost, Suzanne who has ties to their school and Jae's music teacher. Both of them also are trying to decide about their own futures -- whether Kat will accept her gift for ghosts and whether Jae will purse her musical gift of playing the cello. They also join forces to stand up to the school's catty bullies.

The Borrower

The Borrower/Rebecca Makkai 324 pg.

Lucy is a young children's librarian who really bonds with kids, especially Ian, her favorite who is being raised in a way that Lucy doesn't really approve of...I mean, his parents censor his reading and don't encourage him to "be himself".  Ian decides to run away and spends the night in the library.  When Lucy finds him she goes a tad "irrational", scoops him up and they go on a ten day road trip with no plan and very little money.  Along the way, we meet Lucy's parents - her Russian father who may or may not have ties to the Russian mob, family friends and the mysterious Mr. Shades who has been following them for a few days.  In the end, you can't imagine how this is going to turn out well and in one way it does not but it also doesn't turn out as badly as you imagine it will.  Always good to get some librarian lit in the mix.
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Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins p. 374

Katniss lives in Panem, the future North America, in District 12. Her father died in a coal mining accident when she was younger so she is left to take care of her mother and younger sister. Years ago, the 13 districts rose up against the Capitol but were defeated and District 13 was completely destroyed. Their punishment was the Hunger Games. You're eligible from ages 12-18. The winner of the Hunger Games is the only person alive at the end. At the reaping, something unexpected happens. The odds are defied. And then the games begin.
I was hooked in this book by page 24. It seems so far off but, in fact, it is not that hard to imagine something like this happening somewhere in the world. It does seem to be a bit gruesome for a teenager though.

Seven Paths to Death by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler 192 pages

This is the sixth episode in the Samurai Mystery series by the Hooblers. Yes, I believe that I have read all of them. In this,Seikei, the adopted son of Judge Ooka and the ninja Kitsune are both racing to find an unusual treasure. They have each seen a partial piece of a treasure map tattooed on the backs of different men. Set in eighteenth century Japan, the Hooblers include authentic cultural details to give the readers the feeling of time and place. It is not necessary to read these books in order, although I would probably recommend reading the first book, The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn to meet the major players.

Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes p. 218

This is the story of a boy, Sandy, growing up in Kansas. He is being raised by his mother and his grandmother and he doesn't have a permanent male figure in his life because his father is always traveling "looking for work." There are two very opposite examples of how to behave in his life. His grandmother  and mother go to church and work all the time and his Aunt Harriet, who comes back to live with them, is worldly. She sings the "devil's music," works at the hotel and wears red stockings (oh no). When his father comes back, he plays the "devil's music" and Harriet dances, much to the disappointment of her grandmother. He is also influenced by his own experiences in school and at work. He goes to work in a barbershop and listens to the stories of the men who come in. When he gets an opportunity to make more money working at a hotel, he takes it. It is here that he encounters racism. This isn't the first time but this was a direct experience. Hughes exaggerates their characteristics so we could get a good understanding of what people were like during this time and look at them, not so much as individuals, but what they represent.
This was a good book. It is still relevant today. A lot of the examples of racism in the book are still happening. It was almost like Hughes saw it, even back then.

Saxby Smarat Privatae Detective in The Treasure of Dead Man's Lane and other case files by Siimon Cheshire 195 pages


Saxby Smart returns for a second volume with three more stories. This young detective holds office hours in his garden shed and like yesteryear's Encyclopedia Brown uses his brain to collect clues to unravel the secrets: a stolen rare comic book from a locked safe, a scroll hidden in a historic mansion and home intruders. Saxby has two great sidekicks, Izzy and Muddy who help him complete his investigations. Light mysteries for the young armchair detectives.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Rule against Murder by Louise Penny

A Rule against Murder by Louise Penny, mystery, 322 pages. This was the first of Penny's mysteries that I have read, and while I liked the character of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache well enough, the book itself was rather tame and predictable. Fans of Christie or Dorothy Sayers, or anyone looking for a drawing-room mystery set in Quebec will like this one.

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Three by Wodehouse




Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets 224 pages
A Damsel in Distress 242 pages
The Girl on the Boat 212 pages
We have all three of these works by the great P. G. Wodehouse in our downloadable audio collection. The Girl on the Boat (1921)and A Damsel in Distress (1919)are novels, and Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets (1940) is a collection of Wodehouse's Drones Club stories. None of them feature Jeeves and Wooster, but all of them are hilarious and sparkle with P.G.'s inimitable style. Frederick Davidson narrates one and Jonathan Cecil does the other two and they do a very good job. Great fun.

Dust Devil by Anne Isaacs illustrated by Paul O Zelinsky 38 pages

The team that created the Caldecott Honor Book Swamp Angel are back again. Tall tales have long been dominated by the male gender. Isaacs does a fine job creating this original folk heroine. When Swamp Angel grew too big for Tennessee she moved to Montana, a state just about big and tough enough for her. When a dust twister pulls her up into the air, she captures a buckin', neighin' whirlwind of a horse she names Dust Devil. With his help she is able to take on even bigger jobs, namely catchin' desperadoes. The Desperadoes ride mostquitoes( "a Montana mosquito can carry a heavy suitcase and two watermelons on each wing without sweating"). Although the Sherriff rejects her offer of help because she is a female, she gets his permission to go after the mosquitoes and saves the day. Zelinsky's American primitive-style illustrations perfectly capture the humor and energy of Isaacs' words.

The Talent Show by Dan Gutman 211 pages

How often natural calamities are hitting the front pages of newspapers. This totally made up story has a homespun feel about it. A town located in the middle of Tornado Alley is decimated by a tornado. A naive new principal suggests a talent show to raise the spirits of the townsfolk and some cash to help rebuild the town. Gutman looks at some of the candidates, from the local primadonna (with the stage mom) to some of the less likely applicants. But the big show is upstaged by yet another tornado. Behinds the scenes drama paired with natural forces make this an easy to read junior novel with a good blend of humor and suspense.

What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstuff 218 pages

Get to know Mo's unique, though a bit rough( but sadly fox-free) around the edges neighborhood. This summer promises to be very different.When her best friend arrives for her annual summer stay with her (Da) grandmother and Mo's neighbor, Mo is shocked. Mercedes arrives hairless, having shaved her head in rebellion against her new stepfather. They share some commonalities, both are missing a parent (Mo's mother died years ago; Mercedes's father left before she was born). Her Dad hates his job and saddles her with watching her always on the move younger sister Springstubb has lovingly created a micro-world with elders, neighbors, friends and relatives. It has a bit of mystery (Maureen's missing father),a bit of magic (the long wait for rain) and a subtle examination of race relations. This is a 'hood worth visiting.

Goldstrike by Matt Whyman 262 pages

This sequel to Icecore is sure to appeal to Anthony Horowitz fans in search of action, adventure and computer savvy readers. Okay, y'all know that I am not a computer savvy reader, but I do enjoy the occasional testosterone book or movie. Carl Hobbes, super-hacker is on the run not just from CIA (after being falsely accused, he escaped from an arctic American prison in Icecore) but al-Qaeda, too! His girlfriend, Beth becomes a liability -- she just can't help trying to sell the gold bullion she stole from Fort Knox. Yeah! So not quite reality based, but a fun fast read.

The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli 260 pages

Donna Jo must be one of those people who thrive on a couple hours of sleep. Mother of five chidren and two grandchildren, author of linguistics at Swarthmore, poet, lecturer has spoken on several continents and author of juvenile and young adult books. This is a young adult version of a Sicilian fairytale that also has similarities to Grimm's King Thrushbeard. Don Giovanni, a young wealthy nobleman, makes a foolish wager with the devil after losing his entire fortune in a 1169 tidal wave. He will regain his fortune and soul only if he does not bathe, change clothes, cut his hair for THREE YEARS. (Can you imagine?) The devil cheats to make his stinking body painfully disgusting to people. As he reaches the bottom of survival, he finds strength and redemption.

Milo: sticky notes and brain freeze by Alan Silberberg 275 pages

The new kid in town is a common theme for middle grade chapter books. Milo's mom died and nothing is bright and happy any more. Milo struggles with his anxieties about himself and his family. He has a crush on a classmate that looks hopeless, but he begins to make new friends. There are Wimpy Kid like drawings and an honesty that readers will recognize. Especially poignant is the slow forming friendship with his elderly neighbor, Sylvia Poole who warns him not to forget his memories of mom. Milo will stay with readers long after the book is finished.

Playing sick? : untangling the web of Munchausen syndrome, Munchausen by proxy, malingering & factitious disorder / Marc D. Feldman 288 p.

This is a fascinating topic, even if the case histories sometimes beggar belief. For example, it has apparently been documented that Munchausen patients have injected their joints with substances such as milk and feces in order to initiate an infection which will land them in the hospital. Feldman's presentation is clear but dry. I was especially fascinated by his distinction between Munchausen's syndrome, in which the damage is self-inflicted, and Munchausen by proxy, in which one deliberately sickens another person, usually a small child. For Feldman, Munchausen's is an illness, while Munchausen's by proxy is criminal behavior.

Illumination / Kevin Brockmeier 257 p.

What would it be like if we could see one another's suffering? Brockmeier explores this idea in a series of loosely interwoven vignettes in which all physical pain, from a hangnail to cancer, lights up brilliantly. Our Monday Matters book group discussed this last night, with different reactions. The mood here was dark and sad, but the writing...my goodness, it was gorgeous. More a meditation on suffering and loneliness than a novel, in my view, this is the product of an amazing imagination. I won't forget it soon.

Studs Terkel's Working

Studs Terkel's Working: a graphic adaptation adapted by Harvey Pekar  197 pp.

Working started out as a book and has evolved into a radio drama, a Broadway show, and this graphic novel version. Terkel interviewed working people in all sorts of professions from waitresses to grave diggers, stock brokers to hookers. Some love their jobs, others hate what they are doing, still others look upon their jobs as...just a job. The great thing about this graphic novel version is how well the artists used their talents to portray the different people and their take on their jobs. The stock broker, whose commentary is pretty boring, is drawn in a very straight forward (and boring) way. The union organizer is drawn with solid angular lines of organizing posters. The artwork for the opinionated and somewhat snotty hair stylist is very busy. The young, long-haired magazine proofreader is in a very cartoon-like fashion. This book captured Terkel's work beautifully.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Vol. 5

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Vol. 5/Philip K Dick 144 pg.

Continuing on our android hunt, this volume takes a little break to consummate the relationship between Deckard and Rachel. This series continues to impress me with its artwork and it has been such a long time since I've read the original, the story even surprises me as I've forgotten some of the details. At this point I want to finish this graphic novel series before going back to the original but I won't wait too long after vol. 6 which I understand to be the end. The essays at the back of each volume are also very interesting as a variety of people talk about PKD himself and his writing.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dark Song by Gail Giles 292 pages

This is a very dark story...almost ripped from the headlines. Ames Ford's perfect life shreds to pieces when her father gets fired from his job and her mother turns into a zombie. Well, not a real zombie, but like an automaton afraid that they will sink into the dire poverty she was raised in. Mom sells like everything, even her sister's stuffed animal collection and they move to a shack owned by her dad's here-to-unmentioned parents. Her life becomes a nightmare and into this nightmare rides Marc, her hero. Marc has wells of anger and is not the uncomplicated nice kid he appears to be to her parents. He rapes her and shows her his gun collection. His plans for her rescue amounts to the destruction of her family. Can Ames find a solution to her worst problem? Gripping reading.

Eggs over Evie by Alison Jackson 215 pages

What a yummy book! Evie is trying to survive her parent's divorce. Her dad, a celebrity cook, moved out of the house and into a condo with his young editor. When he left her with her mom, he took the family dog and family photos. Evie has a hard time forgiving him and relating to his girl friend who is now expecting twins. Evie wants to learn how to cook and signs up for a summer cooking class. She is assigned a partner, who is the nephew of the cooking teacher. The yummy part art the recipes-- each chapter has a heavenly sounding recipe. While this is a trend in adult novels, I have never seen so many recipes in a kid's novel. I feel tempted to buy my own copy just to have these recipes: biscuits, lemon meringue pie, homemade pizza, monterey chicken and lots more. The relationships in this book may be a bit messy -- but not the recipes!

I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson 233 pages

Imagine having the unfortunate name of Emma Freke (pronounced am a freak). Emma blames her free-spirited mother for her name and wonders about the father she never met. Always an outsider at school, things don't improve dramatically when her mother gives her a bizarre birthday present --- an ancient partial homeschool correspondence course. Her mother's plan is for her to work at her mother's bead shop and spend her free time at the library teaching her self out of books. Fortunately, Emma has a best friend and meets a kindly librarian. When she receives a mysterious invitation to the Freke family annual reunion, Emma hopes to find a group that wants her. The reunion is nothing like her imaginings; but Emma ultimately finds satisfaction. Some pretty weird adults!

Around the World in 100 Days by Gary Blackwood 358 pages

Gary Blackwood is a master at historical fiction. Several of his stories were set in Shakespeare's world. In this novel, he captures the essence of Jules Verne for a "sequel" to Verne's classic Around the World in 80 Days. This story supposedly picks up a generation later with Harry Fogg, son of Phineas who makes a similar bet, but relying on "modern" transportation -- making the trip in a steam driven automobile. He has three companions. The car's creator, the son of his father's rival and Elizabeth, a mysterious journalist. In 1891, cross continent driving can only be imagined as quite an ordeal. I have not watched any of reality TV's great races -- but I would guess that Harry, could beat all reality's competitors. He has a derring-do attitude and does not let illness, mechanical difficulties, or sabotage slow him down. Rousing adventure.

The Memory Bank by Carolyn Coman & Rob Shepperson 263 pages

Carolyn Coman has written before about very dysfunctional families (What Jamie Saw was a Newbery Honor and National Book Award finalist). Hope Scroggins has THE WORST PARENTS I have encountered in a children's book. This out-Dahl's Dahl (Matilda, James and the Giant Peach). One day, her parents force her sister, Honey out of the car on a family outing and order Hope to forget her. Hope is ordered to report to The Memory Bank because she stopped recording her dreams after she lost her sister. While there, she thinks of a way that she might be able to save her sister. However, the Cleann Slate Gang is out to clear memories and if they succeed, Honey will be gone to her forever. This is obviously a rather surreal book -- it reminded me a bit of Sendak's universe and particularly Outside, Over There in which a baby brother is kidnapped by trolls. This also has full page black and white illustrations (by Shepperson).

The psychopath test

The psychopath test: a journey through the madness industry/Jon Ronson 275 pgs.

Patrick and Kathleen had already read this book and so I kept hearing about it and decided I could not let this one pass me by. I've never really worried that I'm a psychopath but if you have, that pretty much proves you are not one. Yes, the notable incidents in the book are crazy but make you realize the dangers and risks associated with this...the mental illness most associated with serial killers. The one guy earned a 3 hour pass from his facility and wasted no time after getting out and went straight to killing someone. When asked why, he said he wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone. When reminded that he had killed many people before, he said that those murders had been a long time ago and he had forgotten what it felt like. So much for treatment. But one of the biggest problems with "treatment" is that is generally trains the psychopath to become harder to detect by giving them the skills they need to "act normal". Not every psychopath is a killer...some are business leaders. In the end, the lack to empathy and inability to register the reactions of others leads to the guy who did not know how to describe the emotion when shown pictures of people in fear but he did know enough to say, "I don't know what this is but I see it a lot right before I kill people." YIKES. Pick up this book and take the test.


Townie: a memoir

Townie: a memoir by Andre Dubus 387 pg.

I picked this book out while browsing overdrive. I'm not overly familiar with the author but liked "House of Sand and Fog" and was looking for something to listen to. I can break this book down into 3 main parts. 1. Crappy poverty-stricken childhood where the author was weak and in a tough neighborhood. 2. Deciding to "get strong" and defend himself, the author bulks up and learns to fight then proceeds to tell us about so many times where he beat the crap out of someone, I was starting to get the urge to get into a fight myself or at least get into a boxing ring. 3. Growing up and leaving the violence behind...repairing relationships and moving on by getting married and becoming a father. The second section is by far the longest. I mean to say, this guy was out kicking some ass and doing a good job of it. All of these experiences make us who we are and the author has had some INTERESTING experience.

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat, short stories, 244 pages.
I read this for our Wednesday night book club back in March. This is not a novel, but a series of related short stories, in which the characters are Haitians, or Haitian immigrants living in the United States. The Dew Breaker himself, prison guard, torturer, the one who comes to your door in the early morning, breaking the dew with his footsteps, is a recurring character, seen by his family in some stories, his former victims in others. Danticat does a great job evoking loss, bewilderment, and survival as the tales unfold broken lives and hidden secrets.
A wonderful collection of stories.

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Wildwood

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, 541 pages

I'll readily admit that the main reason I picked up this YA fantasy book is because its author is the lead singer of the Decemberists, one of my favorite bands. I hoped that it would be as fun as the stories in their songs, but wasn't holding my breath.

As it turns out, I could have held my breath after all. The story of a seventh-grader who ventures into the Impassable Wilderness to save her baby brother (who was abducted from an urban park by a murder of crows) is a charming, fantastical tale that includes armies of clothed, talking animals, a double-talking witch and a well-organized group of bandits. Yes, Meloy does draw on his YA predecessors — as well as some of the ideas that he's already put forth in his music — and the book has a high level of hipster appeal, but it's still a great adventure story.

Adding to the appeal are the book's charm are illustrations by Carson Ellis, an acclaimed illustrator of children's books (see The Mysterious Benedict Society) and Decemberists albums. The illustrations match up to the prose in a way that's rare (although it probably helps that she's Meloy's wife and therefore has much more invested in this series).

This is the first book of a planned trilogy of Wildwood Chronicles and I can't wait for the next one.

Fables: the deluxe edition, book one

Fables: the deluxe edition, book one by Bill Willingham, 264 pages

So what would happen if all the fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters we grew up with were actually real and living in secret in New York? Bill Willingham's Fables series explores just that situation. In his series, the fabled characters have been exiled from their homeland by the ominous Adversary and are trying, in a very Harry Potter-esque way, to live among the regular folks (the mundys) without showing their true identities.

The first book of this deluxe edition, Legends in Exile, reads something like a parlor murder mystery, with Fabletown sheriff Bigby Wolf leading the investigation. It's fairly light-hearted and serves the purpose of introducing the series' main characters. The second book, Animal Farm, however, dives straight into what is sure to become the main conflict of the series — a war between the fables and the Adversary. Or maybe it's a civil war between the human fables and non-humans. I haven't read far enough into the series to really find out. All I know is that Goldilocks is not the sweet confused girl we know from the nursery rhyme.

I'm mid-way through book 3 right now, and I'm very much enjoying the series. Meanwhile, my husband's on book 10 or 11, and I'm doing everything I can to keep him from telling me what's coming up next. Hopefully, it won't take me long to catch up with him.

61 Hours by Lee Child


61 Hours by Lee Child, 383 pages.

The unstoppable ex-Military Police officer, Reacher, six-foot five, two-hundred fify pounds, comes up against a diminutive drug dealer who may end it all for the seemingly indestructible hero. There's really no way of knowing whether or not Reacher survives, unless the best-selling series continues after this one. Oh, wait. It does. Never has a hero been quite so blown-up and survived since the golden age of pulp fiction. Action-packed, well-written and fun, but getting a bit much.


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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde


Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde, 388 pages
Eddie Russet inhabits an odd, dystopic England of the future, where caste is determined by color perception, and those most color-blind, the "greys" occupy the lowest level. Eddie is a Red, not the highest level in the Colortocracy, but he has good prospects. He has hope of marrying an Oxblood, once he has served his chair-survey penance; incurred by trying to change things a bit in his interpretation of Munsell's rules. Eddie's future hangs in the balance once he encounters, in several unlikely places, an alluring, but violent young lady, a "Grey" named Jane. He must choose between a safe life following the rules, or an exciting, possibly short, life with the possibility of answers to what was the "Something that Happened" hundreds of years ago, and the possibility of winning Jane.
A fun, slightly silly read.

A Library Journal "Best Audio Book."
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Tinkers by Paul Harding


Tinkers by Paul Harding, 191 pages, Fiction
I re-read this for a book discussion group earlier this year and am just now getting around to blogging about it. Here is what I said in the past about this Pulitzer Prize winning, ALA Notable book: I first heard about this one at ALA-Midwinter, where it was selected as one of the Notable Books for 2009. I finally got around to reading it and it was freakin' lovely (I had to add the adjective 'cuz as a guy, I'm uncomfortable just calling a book lovely. Even though it was). The story follows George Crosby through his final days, after his long, full life. And then it jumps back and tells of his father, Howard, a tinker and an epileptic. Howard veers toward a decision that changes his own life, and has a lasting impact on the life of his son, as he ponders relationships, trust, and betrayal. Jumping back to the present, George's family has gathered and what he sees and what he thinks he sees and what he remembers takes us back through his time fixing clocks, and back to his childhood and the loss of his father. The story unfolds in glimpses and colors and impressions. We get information on clocks and on George's and Howard's thoughts and wonders. It is a beautiful little book.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness


The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, YA Fantasy, 479 pages.
Todd and his faithful dog, Manchee, must flee from their home when Aaron, the crazed local preacher, the Mayor's son, and most of the local townsfolk come hunting for them. The surprise reason given towards the end didn't seem to warrant all the effort, in my opinion, but it was a pretty good read, nonetheless. This is book one of the Chaos Walking trilogy, and while I enjoyed it, I haven't been strongly tempted to continue reading this YA dystopian account of another world inhabited by Todd, Viola, the Spackles, and the noise.

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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde


The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, 374 pages, mystery.
After years of hearing about Jasper Fforde and the Thursday Next novels, I finally gave one a try. Thursday, the character (for those two or three of you who know less about this that I), is a member of SpecOps 27, a Literary Detective, in this slipstream (got that word from SPL's David Wright) alternate mid-eighties England, where people can move in and out of literary works, and changes can be wrought therein by the unscrupulous or criminal. In this first outing, Thursday attempts to safeguard Jane Eyre in its manuscript form, battling the evil Acheron Hades who is attempting to ransom national literary treasures. A fun book, great for fans of Brit-Lit and semi-cozy mysteries. I listened to this on downloadable audio during a stay at a mildewy hotel in mid-Missouri. The engaging story and pleasant narration by Susan Duerden made the trip bearable. I believe I will read another in the series, but I don't know if it will be soon.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Pirate King / Laurie R. King

Pirate King by Laurie R. King (a novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, #11). 304 p.

This is a very odd book. Mary Russell, wife of Sherlock Holmes, is asked to investigate goings-on during the making of a silent motion picture: a movie about the making of a movie about The Pirates of Penzance. She travels to Lisbon with the cast and crew, working as assistant to the producer; this means her job is essentially to be the sane person who makes things happen properly. It also means she doesn't really have time to carry out her investigation. So for a large part of the book, you have Russell failing to detect anything relevant to her real purpose and being separated from Holmes. He shows up in the latter part of the book, but there's still very little interplay between the characters. And frankly, that's what I'm looking for from these books--deduction and interplay.

Don't get me wrong--it's a quite humorous book. But there's no reason whatsoever for it to be a Mary Russell book. I think I'd have enjoyed the book more if the main character had been the other British agent embedded in the cast of characters. I felt like this particular setting rather wasted the specialness of Russell and Holmes.

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Birds of Prey: Club Kids/Gail Simone

Birds of Prey: Club Kids by Gail Simone (Birds of Prey vol 8); graphic novel; 128 pages

Okay, here's the problem with a series like Birds of Prey: DC likes crossovers. And I generally like crossovers, too. It gives the writers more time and a larger canvas on which to hang the story, and it lets us play with other characters in the DCU. In a series like Batman, most crossovers are collected under the Batman title. Likewise with JLA, etc. So in a series like Birds of Prey, which gets crossed-over a lot, there are a lot of holes, because those issues have already been collected under larger titles. And that's what this motley collection of seemingly unrelated stories seemed to be: little one-shots that took place between crossovers, which have since been collected elsewhere. I kept feeling like I had missed HUGE plot developments because they happened in other titles: Green Arrow proposed to Black Canary? When? Barda is dead?? How???) The title story, "Club Kids" is probably the best to read without any background, and it still references things that I knew nothing about (Oracle tried to take Black Alice under her wing? When was this? And why does Black Alice hate Misfit so much?). A frustrating reading experience.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Falling In y Frances O'roark Dowell 245 pages

Light fantasy about Isabelle Bean a daydreamer who falls into a parallel universe in her school's supply closet. Partially due to her ecletic apparel, the residents in this new land fear that she is the rumored witch ravenously hungry and eager to devour them. Isabelle is in no hurry to return to her boring prior existence and decides to find the witch on her own. She meets Grete, an elderly herbalist. She also finds a connection to her real life and decides to step out of her shell. Good chapter book for middle grades.

Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles by Karen Romano Young 99 pages

Girls, your wait is over. If you have been pining for A Wimpy Female Kid, this book's for you. Dodo' s family is moving and she thinks that it may be because she got in trouble at her last school. She knows she has ADHD, and has found her own "pillless" solution: doodling. She christens herself "Doodlebug", but gets seriously upset when a couple of the teachers insist that their classrooms are no doodling zones. Told in journal and graphic design, this should appeal to sister's of Wimpy Kid readers. Readers will discover empathy for the ADHD plight and cheer her well-deserved victory due to her well-executed plan. This is also a good read for siblings of kids with special needs. It is also a shout out to teachers who recognize the need for a multitude of teaching styles.