Thursday, January 31, 2013

MONKEY OF THE MONTH by Adam Kramer, illustrated by David Kramer

Six-year-old Lilah helped me review this title, a K-3 rhyming picture book about a boy who receives a special gift: membership in the Monkey of the Month Club. Since Lilah is very literal, I expected her to be annoyed that the first few "monkeys" included a gorilla and orangutan and she is fond of reminding people that these are apes, not monkeys. She told me, however, that she really liked the pictures and she thought that since "monkey of the month" was a funnier title than "primate of the month," it was okay with her. She's right - the illustrations are what make this book a joy. The rhyming is sometimes clunky, and we actually don't have a separate entry for each of twelve monkeys, which was disappointing, but the rich illustrations depicting monkeys with various skillsets (one, for example, washes dishes) and an increasingly fed-up mother are great fun. This was another "Read it again, Mama!" review for us.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.


Ah, Flavia! I feel strongly that a reader either adores Flavia de Luce or can't stand her. If you're in the second camp, skip this one - Flavia is just like herself as always, only more so. I adore Flavia, and this, the fifth installment of her adventures, is no disappointment. Flavia is an eleven-year-old girl living in a decaying estate outside a small village in 1950s England. Her interests include getting revenge on her older sisters, distilling poisons with her impressive chemistry lab, and solving the shocking number of murders that take place in and around Bishop's Lacey (to the consternation and sometimes relief of the local constabulary).

As the five hundred's anniversary of St. Tancred's death approaches, Bishop's Lacey plans to unearth the grace of its patron saint. Naturally, Flavia can't keep away from such a grisly, macabre event, and she watches as the body of the church organist is pulled out of the tomb. Flavia uses her wits, her chemistry lab, and her keen powers of observation (along with the fact that a child is practically invisible and thus ideally suited to skulking about) to solve the murder.

The series begins with the delightful THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE. I recommend you start there, although the series need not be read strictly in order.

Source disclosure: I received an advance electronic copy of this book from the publisher.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


"The one thing to remember about an adventure is that if it turns out the way you expect it to, it has not been an adventure at all." - THE MAP OF LOST MEMORIES

The adventure begins in Shanghai in 1925. Irene Blum, passed over for her expected promotion to the curatorship of the Brooke Museum in Seattle, has arrived to meet Simone Merlin and recruit her on a mission to recover scrolls that will illuminate the history of the mysterious Khmer. Irene's father had bequeathed a letter proving the existence of the scrolls to Irene's mentor, Mr. Simms, who presents this evidence to Irene when she leaves the museum in fury. Along for the ride are Marc Rafferty, recommended by Mr. Simms, and Simone's recruit, Louis Lafont, a competitor of Irene's. Naturally, everyone has ulterior motives and secrets, which just keeps things interesting. Running underneath the story (and bubbling to the surface) is the colonial attitude of ownership in another country's treasures and questions of a country's right to control its own history.

Fay evokes her settings (Shanghai, Saigon, and, finally, Cambodia) with rich prose:

"Breathing in the scent of fish drifting on a current of lemongrass and star anise, she felt her strength begin to return. And it amazed her that somehow, despite how this part of the world wearied her, it also gave her sustenance--just to stand in the middle of it, sheltered from the midday sun by the flaming petals of a coral tree."

Along with the spices, Irene and Simone breathe in the history and culture of Cambodia, and it is a heady brew. The sense of place and time and culture is well-balanced. The only sour note for me was the relationship between Marc and Irene. He irritated me - much more Kate Capshaw than Karen Allen - and the romance, compared to the mystery and adventure, simply wasn't that interesting. But then, I've never found the love interest component in adventure novels or movies to be the most compelling part; if that's something you enjoy, simply ignore my mild complaint. Adventure, betrayal, mystery, history, culture, and exotic locations - an excellent way to pass the time. I recommend THE MAP OF LOST MEMORIES to anyone who loved Indiana Jones films but wished they had a woman at the center.

Source disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program.

Lilah helps me review LULU AND THE DOG FROM THE SEA

LULU AND THE DOG FROM THE SEA by Hilary McKay: My six-year-old daughter and I both enjoyed this sweet story about a stray dog and a girl who decides he just needs a friend. This is a short chapter book (I think we read it in a single bedtime) with lovely messages: kindness to animals (and to the less fortunate), tolerance, compassion. This is also a successful depiction of a family of color with no mention of race. The second we finished reading this one, my daughter begged to hear it again. Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title through NetGalley.