Thursday, February 28, 2013

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday can be found right here.

One of those quick, easy questions that I ask periodically because the answer is always changing: What are you reading right now? (And, is it good? Would you recommend it? How did you choose it?)

I am currently reading THE PALACE JOB by Patrick Weekes, a fantasy take on an Oceans Eleven-ish plot. After finishing the Kate Atkinson book, I needed something fun and light, but not dopey. I read the first page of several books on the TBR list, but nothing was quite right until I started THE PALACE JOB. Smart AND funny. That's the ticket.

Picture Book Thursday

MUMFIE'S QUEST: THE BEGINNING OF THINGS by Britt Allcroft (BRITT ALLCROFT'S MAGIC ADVENTURES OF MUMFIE: BOOK ONE): I read this to my six-year-old daughter and we were both perplexed. Her assessment: "That was weird, and it stopped in the middle of the story." That about sums it up, but I'll add that it seemed an odd mishmash of THE WIZARD OF OZ and ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and Mumfie looks exactly like Dumbo. The premise is fine, with Mumfie coming across a scarecrow and taking him along on an adventure. The two meet up with other animals, helping when needed, until they end up trapped on an island. That's it. It ends with them trapped on the island, with no resolution at all. Apparently, we're supposed to pick up the next book for more of the story. I'm accustomed to series fiction, but each entry needs to be self-contained, and that was not the case here.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Science AND Mystery in Graphic Novel Form?!

THE MISSING CUCKOO CLOCK: A MYSTERY ABOUT GRAVITY by Lynda Beauregard and Der-shing Helmer is number five in the Summer Camp Science Mysteries. I helped my six-year-old daughter read the dialogue in this graphic novel. We both agreed that the illustrations of the idyllic camp are beautiful, and we were entertained while we learned something. It's Megan's first time at science camp, and a cuckoo clock goes missing. How can the campers crack the case? I'll tell you how: by making it fun to learn science. Not only is this book in kid-friendly graphic novel form, the explanations for the forces involved (gravity, friction, center of mass) are so simple and engaging that my six-year-old had no trouble understanding why a feather falls more slowly than a rock. Camp counselors help the children design experiments to examine various questions, the children also do more traditional "camp" activities like horseback riding, incorporating what they've learned about gravity, and of course, they search for clues in the mystery of the missing clock. As if that weren't enough, there are experiments and a glossary at the end of the book. My daughter was immediately ready to conduct the experiments.

This is an absolutely brilliant series for introducing science concepts to children in a high-interest, well-explained way. We'll be checking out the other books in the series!

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

Waiting on Wednesday

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week, I'm going with Lisa Lutz's next Izzy Spellman novel, THE LAST WORD. I have to wait for this until July 9. It will feel like an eternity!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

February 26: Top Ten Authors That I'd Put On My Auto-Buy List (basically an auto-buy list is no questions asked. You love this author so much that no matter what they wrote next you'd buy regardless of genre or subject matter)

1. Kate Atkinson
2. Jasper Fforde
3. Jincy Willett
4. Ha Jin
5. Christopher Moore

That's it, I think. I have series whose next installments are auto-buys for me, but I might not follow the author across genres. I have authors who've written books that are favorites, but I don't assume everything they write will be my cup of tea.

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I'm currently reading THE PALACE JOB by Patrick Weekes. I was craving a fun, smart read and tried about a dozen books before hitting on this one. Perfect.

"Loch kicked Orris in the shin. As he howled and brought the saber down, she raised her shackled arms, caught the saber on the shackles, crossed her wrists to trap the blade, and spun away, yanking the sword from his grasp."

Monday, February 25, 2013


This is GOOFBALLS #4, and after reading it to my six-year-old daughter, we'll be looking for the first three in the series. The mystery is fun and engaging, the children are cute, and the jokes are terrible (in that way a six-year-old loves!). Jeff, Mara, Kelly, and Brian (Brain) are a tight-knit group of friends with a penchant for solving mysteries. When the talent show begins to fall apart (a missing pink tuba, wrong-sized costumes, a disappearing director), the Goofballs (as they call themselves) investigate, uncovering the culprits.

This was a fun, high-interest readaloud, but I expect it would also be a great series for reluctant readers. The constant banter, puns, and bad jokes told by the Goofballs is nonstop. Although jokes are not my favorite, I was chuckling along with my daughter Available February 26. The first three in the series, now available are: THE CRAZY CASE OF MISSING THUNDER, THE STARTLING STORY OF THE STOLEN STATUE, and SUPERHERO SILLINESS.

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

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia. Mailbox Monday is a gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week and explore great book blogs. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

February's host is Audra at Unabridged Chick.

I received a couple more e-galleys this past week, THE MISSING CUCKOO CLOCK: A MYSTERY ABOUT GRAVITY by Lynda Beauregard, THERE COMES A PROPHET by David Litwack, and WEDNESDAYS IN THE TOWER by Jessica Day George:


Friday, February 22, 2013

SECONDHAND HORSES by Lauraine Snelling and Kathleen Damp Wright

This is the third book in the S.A.V.E Squad - the group of three eleven-year-old girls, Sunny, Aneta, Vee, and Esther. When I requested an e-galley, there was no indication that it was Christian fiction, an area in which I have no expertise or interest, so I will be reviewing it as series fiction/middle-grade fiction. I read it aloud to my six-year-old and we both agreed that it seemed LONG (and we've read much longer chapter books), although the animal-rescue parts kept us reading. As series fiction, this book had some flaws. Ignoring the number one rule of a series, there is no summary of what happened in the previous two books. Apparently, the girls have had adventures before, and I gathered eventually that these adventures involved helping animals, but I was missing backstory. The girls are different from each other in background, family life, and personality, but they are two-dimensional, embodying only the characteristics the author assigned them.

As far as messages go, this book is very mixed for me. The girls compromise with each other and love to help animals in need. They come up with a great idea to help the reluctant readers group at the library learn to enjoy reading. There are some preachy passages that I skipped because I'm in serious disagreement with their philosophy. "Sunny...felt kind of like the zoo. What good was she? She knew from years of Sunday school that God loved everyone. That He didn't make mistakes creating people; however, she wasn't quite sure He hadn't dozed off when He was finishing her brain." So, if you believe that human beings only have value because God created them and doesn't make mistakes (um, hello? Hitler?) and you're looking to indoctrinate your children into that belief, this is definitely the book for you.

The premise of the book is that after Sunny ruins dinner on her night to cook (by becoming distracted with something else), her "consequences" are to go stay with her uncle for two weeks on his new ranch and help take care of the horses and clean out the previous owner's stuff. It was a few chapters in before I realized Sunny must be homeschooled (see above for missing backstory). The attitude of the parents when Sunny ruins dinner is really harsh and seemed disproportionate the the offense (they simply sit at the dinner table with nothing in front of them while the spaghetti she put in the pot burns). Sunny and her parents together determine the appropriate consequences, which was nice. The idea is that Sunny will learn to finish things without getting distracted, but when she fails to clean out a barn as promised, her uncle trips on some junk and breaks his ankle badly enough to need surgery. Now Sunny is also in charge of taking care of her uncle as he recovers. (Seriously? She's eleven.) She and her friends decide to buy a petting zoo from the carnival (Creepy Carnival Guy) by pooling their money when CCG announces he hates the zoo and wants to sell it. I had a number of problems with that - buying a zoo without permission? Handing $50 over to a creepy guy and telling him where they live so he can deliver the animals the next day? Not really smart choices. When someone is breaking into the barn at night and they decide to withhold evidence from the sheriff and catch the guy themselves? Not smart. My six-year-old said at one point, "I don't think it's a good idea to chase the bad guy in the woods! Why don't they just call 911?" Exactly.

Sunny was fairly irritating. Her favorite (very frequently repeated) catch phrases are yayness/ughness to denote good/bad things, "rocko socko," and "for pizza sake." The point of her learning to finish things could have been made in many fewer pages without having her get distracted and abandon a project at least a half-dozen times. The repetition really made the book drag. That said, there's a lovely story of girls helping animals and finding a creative way to help reluctant readers hidden in here somewhere. Uncle Dave is also a good example - he shows compassion and generosity in taking in an abandoned horse and working with a family to help them keep their horse in difficult economic times. He's also surprisingly understanding when Sunny's distractedness causes his ankle injury, but that may have been the pain medication.

My daughter and I agreed that we might be interested in the first two books if we skipped the boring parts and just read the animal-saving parts.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday can be found right here. This week's question: How often do you visit a library? Do you go to borrow books? Do research? Check out the multi-media center? Hang out with the friendly and knowledgeable staff? Are you there out of love or out of need?

I enjoy taking my daughter to the library. She goes nuts in the picture book section and we bring home a stack every week or two. My favorite use of the library is using the online catalog at home to research a topic or choose books with a specific theme - I request several, from many different branches, and they all turn up at my local branch under my name. Magic.

Picture Book Thursday: The Return

In an attempt to get more organized, I'm taking up Holly's Picture Book Thursday concept. All picture books I review from now on will be on Thursdays. Since not everyone reading this blog is interested in picture books, that will keep the children's posts more contained and avoidable. Likewise, it will be easier for picture book fans to follow our picture book reviews.

WHAT THE SNAKES WROTE by Hazel Hutchins and Tina Holdcroft: I read this aloud to my six-year-old daughter and we both agreed it was one of the best picture books we've read. One day, while the farmer is busy filling in a hole so no one trips and breaks a leg, the dog notices the snakes are behaving very oddly. In fact, they spell out words, asking the dog for help. The dog tries to attract the notice of the farmer, only to find that the words are now unrecognizable. When the snakes try again, dog is able to alert the farmer to the snakes' plight and the farmer comes up with a creative solution that will prevent harm to both snakes and the denizens of the farm. The final page includes interesting facts about snakes and their hibernation.

Does it get better in a children's book than adorable pictures, a positive message of cooperation, empathy, and consideration toward the natural world, and educational material? I can't imagine it does. My daughter and I were both enchanted by this sweet yet practical story. As soon as we finished the page of snake facts, she announced, "That might be the best book ever." I concur.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

ANTON AND CECIL: CATS AT SEA by Lisa Martin and Valerie Martin

I read this book to my six-year-old daughter over the course of three days, and we were both riveted. Anton and Cecil are cats, brothers who live in the lighthouse with their mother, Sonya. All the cats near the docks know to be cautious lest they be pressed into service aboard a ship, but young Gretchen is taken, throwing the cats into shock and horror. Cecil is an adventurous cat who loves to join the fisherman on short jaunts, but Anton prefers to stay near home. When Anton is pressed into service aboard the Mary Ann, his brother tries to follow, only to fall into the ocean. Desperate to find his brother, Cecil stows aboard the next big ship to come along, not realizing how very large the ocean is. Each brother has his own adventure, ranging from pirates and monster island birds to close encounters with a whale and friendship with a lizard. All along, a cat-like eye in the sky seems to draw them to each other, with the old cat saying, "Where the eye meets the eye, the lost shall be found," echoing throughout the book. Forces beyond the cats' control seem to be bringing them back together, but will Anton and Cecil find each other on the wide sea?

The determination of the brothers to find each other despite the odds is, of course, a lovely illustration of loyalty and familial bonds. Anton, though the meeker of the two cats, rises to the occasion and proves himself brave and resourceful. Both brothers make unlikely friendships and find help in unexpected places. The adventures they have are staggering; pirates, a ghost ship, mermaids, dolphins, an island market, a strange island with bizarre animal inhabitants, and the brothers shine through it all, exemplifying loyalty and courage through the most dire circumstances.

The paranormal has a role here, too, with the strange moon appearing as a cat's eye, seeming to bring the brothers nearer each other. What, after all, are the odds that two cats would be brought together over the vastness of the ocean without some outside force helping them along? Anton and Cecil are intrigued by the idea of a great cat in the sky helping them along, but they do their best to make a reunion possible using all available earthly means as well.

This is a delightful read-aloud to a younger child, although it's billed as a book for the 8-12 set. I'm sure the adventures and sympathetic characters are more than enough to hold interest in that age group. Nautical terms are explained or their meaning clear in context. Harrowing situations add excitement, but are resolved in a reassuring manner. We read this 256-page book over three days, with my daughter eagerly asking if we could read more ANTON AND CECIL.

ANTON AND CECIL: CATS AT SEA is a rollicking adventure and tender family story with the feel of a classic. Publicity draws comparisons to THE WIND AND THE WILLOWS, and I don't think that is an exaggeration. Memorable animal characters, positive messages, and riveting adventures make this a good bet for Christmas gifts for 2013. Available October 8, 2013.

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

Waiting on Wednesday

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson (see yesterday's teaser). A new Atkinson is always cause for celebration, and this one is available April 2. In the meantime, she has a number of novels you can read while you wait. Standalones: BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM, HUMAN CROQUET, and EMOTIONALLY WEIRD. Jackson Brodie: CASE HISTORIES, ONE GOOD TURN, WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS?, and STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG. Also memorable is her short-story collection NOT THE END OF THE WORLD, which is more like a novel built of stories.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

THE YARD by Alex Grecian

THE YARD is set after the Ripper murders in London and Scotland Yard credibility is at a low point when Inspector Day and his Murder Squad must pursue the killer of a fellow inspector, assisted by forensic pioneer Dr. Kingsley. Is the Ripper back at work, or is this killer something new? If you're looking for a taut police procedural, this is not it. What this is: a detailed portrayal of Victorian London with an entertaining inspector and a fascinating look at forensic investigation in its infancy. There is a fair amount of suspending disbelief required by the reader, but Grecian is not an author who seems to take himself overly seriously, so I was more than willing to meet him halfway. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Teaser Tuesday - LIFE AFTER LIFE

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I'm currently reading LIFE AFTER LIFE, the forthcoming novel of Kate Atkinson, one of my very favorite authors.

"She observed the turn of the seasons for the first time. She was born with winter already in her bones, but then came the sharp promise of spring, the fattening of the buds, the indolent heat of summer, the mold and mushroom of autumn."

Teaser Tuesday has become far less random for me now that I have a Kindle. I could generate a random number on the computer and go to that page of the book (or percentage, actually, since I don't have page numbers), but I tend to either choose the page I'm currently reading or something I've highlighted.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

February 19: Top Ten Favorite Characters In X Genre

Fun! I'm going to choose a subgenre, Nordic crime fiction, since I'm behind on my book reviews for these books and it's a subgenre I've really been enjoying. I'm listing them by author, then character name, then the first book in the series. Where I have a review, I will link to it from the title. I'll work on reviewing the others as soon as possible. Frankly, these are in no particular order because it's hard enough for me to choose favorites, much less rank them.

1. Quentin Bates - Officer Gunnhildur (FROZEN ASSETS and COLD COMFORT): "'Gunna? Can't miss her. She's a big fat lass with a face that frightens the horses.'" An exaggeration, and one told with affection, for though Gunna is stubborn as a mule and often deliberately contrary, she is an excellent investigator. This series is written by British Quentin Bates, who lived for a time in Iceland, where the series is set.

2. Arnaldur Indridason - Inspector Erlendur (JAR CITY)Another Icelandic police procedural, this one with several books in the series. Not only is Erlendur an inspector to remember, his partner Sigurdur Oli and female colleague Elinborg are also richly drawn.

3. Karin Fossum - Inspector Sejer (DON'T LOOK BACK): This Norwegian series by "Queen of Crime" Fossum features the introspective detective and his young sidekick.

4. Anne Holt - Hanne Wilhelmsen mysteries (BLIND GODDESS, though I read 1222 first): Another Norwegian series, this one features the unstoppable Hanne. In 1222, she is trapped with other train passengers in a snowed-in hotel. It's an excellent locked-door mystery with moments of humor from Hanne's abrasive personality.

5. Jussi Adler-Olsen - Detective Superintendent Carl Morck (THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES and THE ABSENT ONE): This one is Danish. Morck is deeply flawed, his career thrown off track by an injury. A promotion to head "Department Q" turns out to be exile in the basement. He demands an assistant and ends up with Assad, an excellent character in his own right, who does everything from scrub the floor to ferreting out clues.If I were actually trying to rank these, I might put this one at the top. Hmmm.

6. Hakan Nesser - Inspector Van Veeteren (BORKMANN'S POINT): Van Veeteren is a Swedish Poirot, firmly believing that a bit of thinking is all that is needed to solve a crime. He uses his amiable charm to extract the information he needs.

7. Lene Kaaberbol - Nina Borg (THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE, INVISIBLE MURDER): Nina is a Danish nurse and mother of two. She is drawn into an investigation when a package she picks up for a friend turns out to hold a drugged young boy. (That this is a female sleuth written by two women and centered on the exploitation of women and children is a feminist bonus.)

8. Mons Kallentoft - Superintendent Malin Fors (MIDWINTER BLOOD)Swedish female Superintendent Malin Fors is young but talented, balancing her parenting of a teenager with her aggressive pursuit of criminals. The mother/cop combination makes for an interesting read.

9. Yrsa Sigurdardottir - Thora Gundmunsdottir (LAST RITUALS): This one is from Iceland as well. Thora is an attorney and single mother pulled into a murder investigation.

10. Asa Larsson - Rebecka Martinsson (SUN STORM): Rebecka is a Stockholm attorney who returns to her hometown in the far north of Sweden, where she was involved with a strange church now implicated in a murder.

Please note that Henning Menkell's Kurt Wallender is not here. I know this is a glaring omission. Believe it or not, I haven't read him yet.

Monday, February 18, 2013

WATCHING THE DARK by Peter Robinson

This is the twentieth book in the Chief Inspector Banks series. I don't normally start a series so far in, but the premise was intriguing. The murder of a police officer (by crossbow!) triggers a wider investigation, reaching back to one of the murdered officer's unsolved cases and to more recent murders. Banks must work with Joanna Passero, from internal affairs, as his partner, Annie, returns from her convalescence.

For jumping in on the twentieth book, I was impressed. Robinson does an excellent job of providing enough information for a first-time reader of the series. The mystery itself is complicated and interesting, and the interpersonal relationships (Annie returning to work and facing her fears, Banks working with internal affairs) were satisfying. All in all, an excellent British mystery, and I'll be looking for Peter Robinson's previous books so I can get caught up.

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

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia. Mailbox Monday is a gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week and explore great book blogs. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

February's host is Audra at Unabridged Chick.

This past week, I received an e-galley of LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson, which I'm currently devouring. Atkinson is one of my favorite authors, and this is her first standalone in a few years since she began the Jackson Brodie series.

Other e-galleys I received this week: ESCAPE THEORY by Margaux Froley (YA), THE GIRL WHO CRIED WOLF by Robert Ferrigno, WHAT THE SNAKES WROTE by Hazel Hutchins and Tina Holdcroft (picture book), GOOFBALLS #4: THE MYSTERIOUS TALENT SHOW MYSTERY by Tony Abbott (chapter book for reading to Lilah), THE SEVEN MARKETS by David Hoffman, 14 by Peter Clines, THE LITTLE DEATH by Michael Nava, THE EMPEROR OF ALL THINGS by Paul Witcover, and THE FIRST BOOK OF CALAMITY LEEK by Paula Lichtarowicz.

Clearly, my resolution to stop requesting galleys until I'm caught up on the books I already have has been a raging success!

As an unequivocal introvert, I thought I should get around to reading QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT WON'T STOP TALKING by Susan Cain.

Friday, February 15, 2013

I give up! Or, Allison actually can't bring herself to finish a book

THE GIRL WHO CRIED WOLF by Robert Ferrigno: I'm going to preface this review by emphasizing that I only made it 20% through the e-galley, so this is far from a complete review. And with blurbs from Elmore Leonard and Michael Connelly, Ferrigno has more credibility than I do. Still, I'm going to explain why I was able to put this book down (and I'm never able to stop a book in the middle) and you can decide for yourself whether or not it's for you.

The premise had more than enough interest for me: a kidnapped girl who turns the tables on her kidnappers, terrorists moved to unspeakable acts by their concern for the environment. But the characters are little more than cardboard cutouts, and I didn't care the least bit what happened to them. If you're looking for suspense with humor and an environmentalist bent, Hiaasen does it far better. Remy, the kidnap victim, has an unbelievably blasé reaction to her plight, Tree and Eli are clueless puppets, Glenn is more irritating than menacing, and Cleo is a cliche. No, cliches have more personality. When the kindle said I was only 20% in, I could not see my way to slogging through what I expect is a formulaic, predictable plot drawn from stilted prose. (I did scroll to the end to verify that the "plot twists" I could see coming from four miles away unfolded as I expected. No surprises.)

This might be a satisfactory beach read in paperback. Used paperback.

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


THREE GRAVES FULL opens with the observation: "There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard. Jason Getty had grown accustomed to the strangling night terrors, the randomly prickly palms, the bright, aching surges of adrenaline at the sight of Mrs. Truesdell's dog trotting across the lawn with some unidentifiable thing clamped in its jaws." I defy you to put down the book after reading that.

Despite the rather disturbing knowledge the reader has about Jason at the beginning of the book, he is a sympathetic and relatable character, so it is horrifying when Jason's landscapers dig up a body - but not the one he buried. The police arrive and dig up a second body - still not Jason's handiwork. The tension builds as it appears more and more likely that the police investigation into the previous owner's buried bodies will expose Jason's secret. Meanwhile, the former owner of Jason's house and the fiancee of one of the bodies in the yard are about to intersect with Jason's hidden past.

Mason explores the limits of human control, of rage and other powerful emotions. "Evolution had brought us out of the trees, then culture had neutered the beast, but even a eunuch can get angry." What would any of us do if pushed to extremes? Is there any way to even guess? And once pushed past our own limitations, how far will we go? "It never occurred to him what sort of man might split out of his own brittle composure if it ever lost his glue." What does it take to turn one's understanding of oneself upside-down?

Leah, the fiancee of one of the bodies found in the yard, has an equally gripping story, of loss in the face of uncertainty. Mason exposes the raw emotions of Leah's tragedy. "The milestones of time accumulated - a week, and the crying was still rampant, as were the kind prompts not to lose hope; a month, and the phone rang much less, but still occasionally with callers who didn't realize that he was gone; a year, and a picture of Reid went into the casket with Sheila and rested in a marked grave in a churchyard."

Mason captures the torture and grief of never knowing beautifully.

Tim Bayard and Lyle Ford, the investigating officers, are refreshingly complex. At the same time I rooted for Jason, for his secret to remain hidden, I also rooted for Bayard and Ford, whose banter lent comic relief to their scenes. "Lyle watched him slip into distraction, entertained. He leaned in to stage-whisper, "Do you really get paid for that?" "Huh?" "All these years, do they really fork out cash for you to look serious and make thinking noises?" "You know, I'm going to make sure I'm on your next review panel," Bayard said." Despite their funny moments, they are not cardboard cutouts of country bumpkin law enforcement, nor are they played strictly for laughs. They do very thorough police work, and despite the improbability of Jason having involvement in murders committed before he lived in the house, something about him sets off Bayard's radar. The character I loved the most, though, is none of these: it is Tessa the sometimes-K9 dog who steals every scene she's in.

It was inevitable that one character would be less compelling. Despite repeated assertions about his motives, Boyd remains flat to me. But with such a rich cast of characters, I hardly noticed.

Publicity compares THREE GRAVES FULL to the films of the Coen brothers, and I concur. Darkly funny, yet weighty. A taut suspense novel with a twisting mystery and a wicked grin.

Last year, GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn was the knocked-out-of-the-park more-than-a-mystery novel for me, the one I recommended to everyone. It's only February, but I'm comfortable saying that THREE GRAVES FULL takes on that role for 2013.

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

Friday, February 08, 2013


The cover of A SLOW COLD DEATH is an interesting choice, since the entirety of the story takes place in Pasadena. But since our hero, Lori Barrow, has fled Canada ("The only safe month in Montreal was July, and it was all alone, a sad pitiful little month standing up to eleven cruel others.") for a tenure-track position at "Superior Technical Institute" (I think we all know which university this is based on), it's oddly appropriate. Cold makes an appearance in several ways, actually, beyond the death of a researcher in a "cold room." Lori's ex-girlfriend dumped her rather than live in frigid Canada, Lori's research involves ice core analysis, and of course, a "slow cold death" is a theory for the potential end of the universe, appropriate in a novel in which physics has center stage.

Lori was just a child when she graduated from STI, and now she's returning as an assistant professor. Two of her former graduate school friends have preceded her to LA; Abby McRae, who abandoned grad school to become a lawyer, and Carol, who works at the LPR Lab (also called the LEPERLab). Lori has a reputation for being around death, so it's not that surprising when a grad student who is forced on her ends up dead, locked in the cold room. Lori is convinced that politics are behind the murder, especially when bodies begin piling up. And the politics are a minefield, giving us plenty of suspects.

I found this novel a delight to read! Besides the intricate mystery and the suspense of having a killer loose in the physics department, the process of competing for a multi-million-dollar grant is a surprising nail-biter. I've never been so on edge when reading about professors trying to get the department head's signature before FedEx closes. There are plenty of red herrings, high-speed chases, and double-crosses to keep the pages turning, and Lori is a fun character.

Recommended to any mystery fan with experience with acadamia.

Source disclosure: I received an advance copy from the publisher.

MANIFEST by Beth Dolgner

Alice Meriwether is a genteel young lady with a keen interest in the New Science that her mother barely tolerates. In Fairburn, Georgia, after all, steam-powered gadgets are not an acceptable pastime for a woman. When Alice becomes engaged, her mother forbids her from even reading about New Science. When she is unable to resist her deep, abiding passion for knowledge, her engagement falls apart and her mother sends her to Atlanta to become a governess. There she meets the uncle of the children she tends to, Roland, and discovers that he is a real New Scientist. Eventually she becomes his assistant, traveling with him to demonstrate an invention she helped to perfect.

This is a fun steampunk reimagining of Atlanta, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Alice attends an exposition, which gives Dolgner a chance to describe many curious machines, such as a clockwork housekeeper and a coffee/tea dispenser. The "science" behind Roland's Ghost Machine is so ingeniously described that I almost started to believe it was possible.

If you view this book as a steampunk exposition, it's a great success, but conflict is very limited. The initial disapproval of her parents and fiance is brushed aside, and potential conflicts (such as a visit from her sister, who could spill to her parents about Alice's further adventures in New Science) fizzle out. Once she leaves Fairburn, there is no serious attempt by anyone to keep her from her involvement and potential objections to her working closely with Roland are minimal. If not for the thoroughly entertaining world Dolgner has built, it would have been all too easy to set the book aside midchapter and let it gather dust. The chronicle of Alice's rise as a New Scientist is far more interesting than any broken engagement or parental disapproval, so I was not bothered by the lack of suspense.

Steampunk fans will find plenty of entertainment here, and this book would be suitable for the YA crowd as well.

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

Thursday, February 07, 2013


This chapter book is told in alternating chapters in first-person by Sydney and Sidney. Sydney is nervous about third grade, as it's the first year she won't be in class with her best friend, Harley. Sidney is the new boy in town, and he first encounters Sydney in their third-grade class after an embarrassing name mix-up. Sidney is nervous about his new school, but he quickly makes friends with Gomez after they share a joke at the bus stop. Sidney and Sydney's mothers meet, so the two children are thrown together. Apprehensive about being friends with a member of the opposite sex at first, they quickly discover common interests. The approach of Halloween gives them a project: Harley's mother doesn't allow sugar and Gomez is diabetic, so Sidney and Sydney team up to make the holiday fun for their friends.

I read this book to my six-year-old and we both really enjoyed it. The messages are very positive: Sidney and Sydney are very different children who find common ground and become friends despite a rocky start. Sidney and Sydney consider the feelings of their friends and use creative problem-solving to make sure Halloween is fun for everyone. The conflict is extremely mild; I expected at least a chapter of Sidney and Sydney hating each other, but they quickly resolve their differences. This is probably appropriate for the 6-8 age range the book is suggested for. The inclusion of a nut-free table in the cafeteria and a diabetic best friend opens the door for talking about how different people have different needs, and Sidney and Sydney are sensitive to that.

Very cute chapter book for the younger set. First in a series.

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

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

THE POODLE AND THE PEA by Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Dawn Beacon

The Poodle and the Pea is in a series called Animal Fairy Tales, and it's exactly what you'd expect: a retelling of The Princess and the Pea with dogs instead of humans. The story is somewhat abridged for young readers. The illustrations are cute, and my six-year-old enjoyed the story (the book is billed as for ages 3-7).

I feel more could have been done with the story. It's hardly a retelling at all - it's the same old story, with dogs in the pictures instead of people. It's fine, but it doesn't add much to the original story. I prefer retellings that veer away from the feudal system (this one has a "servant" coming up with the pea idea), which could have been easily done here. I kept waiting for a twist that didn't come.

Still, it's a cute version of THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA.

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

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

KYLIE JEAN, CUPCAKE QUEEN by Marci Bales Peschki

My six-year-old daughter and I read this cute chapter book about Kylie Jean, a little girl who lives in Texas, aspires to be a beauty queen (even perfecting the beauty queen wave), and has two brothers, one of whom is a dog. The beginning dragged for both of us, but the last half of the book was charming with a positive message.

Kylie Jean's ambition to be a beauty queen is not my favorite, so I'll admit I was not enthusiastic at the beginning of the book. She decides she wants to sell something to make enough money to buy whatever she wants at the garage sales she frequents with her family. Again, I was not enthusiastic: "make money to buy stuff" is not a message I want to share with my daughter. Discussions about the cupcake-making process were rather tedious. I did like that Kylie Jean's mother supports her business sensibilities, but requires Kylie Jean to use her allowance to buy her ingredients. Kylie Jean convinces her family to hold a yard sale so she has a venue for her cupcake sales.

Here is where the book gets interesting: Kylie Jean decides to make doggie cupcakes and brings some to the animal shelter for the dogs to sample. There she learns two unfortunate truths: a lovely older dog named Tess is having trouble finding a home because people just want puppies, and the shelter owner will have to close in a week because he doesn't have enough money. Kylie Jean immediately decides that her cupcake profits will go to the shelter, and she enlists her family's commitment to use the garage sale money for the shelter as well. She also hatches a plan for an older neighbor to meet and adopt Tess.

The ending of the book is a bit of a muddle, as Kylie Jean is sick of cupcakes and decides to have a going out of business sale. I asked my daughter what she thought Kylie Jean would do after the end of the book, and she felt it was obvious that Kylie Jean would come up with another business idea and keep helping the shelter. I agree, and while Kylie Jean doesn't demonstrate persistence in giving up her cupcake business so soon (and before she has a chance to make cupcakes for cats!), she is young and is certainly entitled to try a number of endeavors before settling on one. I wish this had been discussed a bit at the end.

The folksy, Texas-twang writing style fits Kylie Jean well, though I wish words like "gonna" had been spelled out properly.

This book also gives children a step-by-step guide to starting a business. Location, advertising, profits, set-up costs - these are all addressed. Kylie Jean's cupcake recipe is even included at the end. I'm afraid my daughter will ask me to organize a garage sale so she can sell cupcakes for pets!

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

LAST TO DIE by Tess Gerritsen

When fourteen-year-old Teddy Clock's foster family is murdered, in an eerie echo of the murders of his birth family two years before, Rizzoli and Isles send him to Evensong, a secure and strange boarding school where child survivors of violent crime learn survival skills. The school is run by the mildly annoying (to me) Mephisto Society, which R&I readers will remember from earlier novels. Other orphans who have survived two attacks on their families emerge, and R&I must find the connections among the victims. Much of this one takes place at Evensong, where things are not as they seem. Teddy, Julian (from ICE COLD), and other students form an amateur detective society, the Jackals, to help with the investigation.

This is the tenth in the Rizzoli and Isles series, and it wasn't my favorite. Gerritsen fans who adore the Mephisto Society will probably be delighted. Evensong was an interesting setting, at least, and the amateur detectives add freshness to the storyline. All in all, a fun entry to the series.

Recommended to Rizzoli and Isles fans. If you need a place to start, the first in the series is THE SURGEON, and it's really an excellent police procedural/forensic science series.

Monday, February 04, 2013

DOOR IN THE RIVER by Inger Ash Wolfe

This is the third book in a series that follows Inspector Hazel Micallef in Port Dundas, Ontario. I had not read the first two in the series, but was not in the least lost; rather, I determined I'd have to download the first two in the series immediately.

A DOOR IN THE RIVER begins with a mysterious death: A local man is found dead outside a native cigarette shop on reservation land. It is determined that he died of a bee sting - but he certainly died at night, and bees are not nocturnal. This investigation (in cooperation with reservation authorities, which adds a frustrating twist) leads to a massive crime operation.

Hazel is a fantastic protagonist: "The force of her will and her peculiar way of building evidence for a case was something to see. He understood why she'd driven Ray Greene crazy. And in the end you had to agree with her! There was no way you were going to make your own logic as internally consistent as hers. Supposedly this was "instinct". He'd never really seen it. Too bad she wielded it like a mallet." I really love her. She's stubborn and sometimes rude, but she gets the job done. Her job is complicated by the necessity of cooperating. She's also affected by a decision to consolidate police departments, which means a colleague with whom she has a thorny past will be her superior.

The mystery itself certainly kept me guessing, though it strained credibility at times. The crimes are particularly brutal and disturbing, almost too much for my sensibilities. But Hazel kept me reading. Recommended for mystery/police procedural fans. The first in the series is THE CALLING, followed by THE TAKEN. I'll be reading both.

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


This is the fifteenth entry in Kathy Reichs's Temperance Brennan series, and I'm not getting the least bit tired of the formula as a good beach read. If earlier books in the series are more complex and interesting, I suppose that's to be expected. I do wish Tempe would manage to avoid getting kidnapped just once. Now, that would be a twist! Still, the mystery held my interest and the Ryan-Brennan relationship is entertaining.

A woman checks into a Montreal hospital and is found to have given birth recently. Before an investigation can be launched, she disappears. When Tempe finds three decomposing infants in an apartment, the team follows her movements to Edmonton, then to Yellowknife, a remote diamond-mining town. Yellowknife is a really interesting setting; Tempe's past with the RCMP sergeant is not. A non-love triangle? Seriously? The mystery kept me guessing, though, and the forensic science is excellent as always, and that's what I look for in the series.

Recommended to Reichs fans. Interested in jumping in? Start with early books in the series. The first is Deja Dead. If you watch the television show BONES, please don't expect to recognize Tempe in the books and you won't be disappointed.

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


This is Book One in Tales From Lovecraft Middle School, and it is an auspicious beginning! Lovecraft fans will be delighted to have this bridge to ease their children into the world of classic horror. While less complex than Harry Potter, Lovecraft Middle School offers plenty of interest for the middle-grade reader. Robert Arthur will attend Lovecraft Middle School, a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility, while his friends attend a different school, so he's naturally apprehensive. On his first day, the only person he knows there is Glenn Torkells, the bully who has extracted a Dweeb Tax from Robert for years. He does meet a girl named Karina who seems a promising friend, but things become very strange when rats leap from student lockers on the very first day and Robert gets literally lost in the library, winding up in a strange, moth-ball-scented room from another century.

While the Harry Potter books take place over the course of a school year, the first Lovecraft Middle School book spans just three weeks, long enough for Robert and his unlikely sidekicks to learn that things are not as they seem at the school (made from recycled materials - but recycled from WHAT?) and to set up neatly the second installment, THE SLITHER SISTERS. I found this book to be great fun. The lenticular portrait of Professor Goyle that shifts to reveal his horns is inspired (my ARC also included the lenticular portrait from THE SLITHER SISTERS to use as a bookmark, and this one looks just as fun). Robert is likable and relatable, and his curiosity and fear are both warranted. I liked Karina quite a bit, and Glenn turns out to be more complex than Robert had thought.

I would say this is easier reading than Harry Potter, which may make it a good choice for reluctant readers. Fantasy and horror readers will also find much to like in the creepy halls of Lovecraft Middle School. Have a copy of Lovecraft's stories handy for more advanced readers - they'll enjoy the references even more having read some of the original material.

Source disclosure: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher.

Sunday, February 03, 2013


I think THE TEMPLETON TWINS HAVE AN IDEA is probably a series that will appeal to the Lemony Snicket crowd. While I've found much middle-grade fiction has appeal for me, I never warmed to Lemony Snicket and the overly intrusive narrator. Likewise, the overly precious, snarky narrator in this book left me cold. And I usually *like* snark. From the publisher:

LET'S SAY John was pragmatic and played the drums, and Abigal was theoretical and solved cryptic crosswords. Now suppose their father was a brilliant, if sometimes confused, inventor. And suppose that another set of twins--adults--named Dean D. Dean and Dan D. Dean, kidnapped the Templeton twins and their ridiculous dog in order to get their father to turn over one of his genius (sort of) inventions. Yes, I said kidnapped. Wouldn't it be fun to read about that? Oh please. It would so.

LUCKILY FOR YOU, this is just the first in a series perfect for boys and girls who are smart, clever and funny (just like the twins) and enjoy reading adventurous stories (who doesn't?!).

If the asides and parentheticals don't irritate you, give this one a try. The whole book is like this description - littered with tangents and chatting by the narrator. To add to the fun (?) there's quite a bit about cryptic crosswords that is fairly interesting, though the tone of the whole book negates the interest for me.

I recommend this book for Lemony Snicket fans, who may be delighted to have a new favorite series.

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


Cookie the dog likes to walk on two legs. Her friend Kevin walks in the usual dog fashion, but supports his friend's choice. When Cookie's talent is discovered by humans, she embarks on a crazy career path that turns her into a star! Kevin visits her every step of the way. Though Cookie enjoys the benefits of fame (treats galore), her feet are getting tired. Can Kevin help her find a way to be a regular dog again?

Lilah and I really enjoyed this sweet story about friendship and fame. Kevin keeps Cookie grounded and he's supportive of Cookie's choices, but ready to help when he senses her unhappiness. After Cookie's taste of fame (and endless treats), she appreciates the simplicity of her old life.

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

Saturday, February 02, 2013

THE SECRET FIEND by Shane Peacock

This is the fourth in Peacock's series about "the boy Sherlock Holmes," and since it's the first I've read, I can assure you that it can stand alone; however, I'm eager to read the series from the beginning.

Sherlock is fourteen years old in this book, and Disraeli has just become the first Jewish prime minister of England, a truly terrifying prospect to some of the ruling class. Social unrest abounds, with increasing demands for expanded voting rights and for feeding the desperately poor. The real terror begins when a mysterious creature, reminiscent of the Spring Heeled Jack of the Penny Dreadfuls, with red eyes and blue flames shooting from its mouth, begins randomly attacking the poor and other marginalized people, beginning with Sherlock's friend Beatrice. Sherlock has apparently decided to forgo sleuthing until he is an adult, but Beatrice more or less drags him into an investigation.

The historical details really make this book rich and enjoyable. 1868 London is beautifully described as Sherlock and his friends walk (not having the money for cabs) back and forth through every part of the city. The social unrest is woven neatly into the story, and if the solution is rather telegraphed, Sherlock's clever sleuthing makes up for it. The seemingly impossible villain is unmasked and Sherlock has another case under his belt.

Sherlock's development will be interesting to fans of Arthur Conan Doyle, as he attempts to shelve emotion in favor of logic and trains in martial arts with the apothecary. I found this a thoroughly enjoyable romp through 1868 London and in the mind of young Sherlock.

Source disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.


My six-year-old daughter and I both enjoyed this cute, quirky book. It's time for the school pet show, and Ernest is undeterred when his crocodile, Gustave, can't fit on the school bus. Cindy Lou is sure her pink poodle, Fifi, will win, and is not above sabotage. Cindy Lou reminded me a bit of one of the horrid children in a Roald Dahl book (which is a good thing). While the repeated chorus of "My crocodile does not bite" is not the catchiest, the colorful, fun illustrations as Gustave performs astounding tricks make up for it.

The very last page makes a huge difference - it's a surprise ending that keeps the book from being disturbing. My daughter would not have liked this book without the last page! She was concerned before we turned the page to see the resolution. After that, she announced that she loved the book and wanted to read it again.

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

Friday, February 01, 2013

THE DOLL by Taylor Stevens

I loved THE INFORMATIONIST. I loved THE INNOCENT. So I was excited for a chance to review the latest thriller featuring Vanessa/Michael Monroe. My review of THE DOLL is "Meh." Let me be more specific. What I loved about the first two novels in the series, in a word: Michael. This entry has less Michael and less-believable Michael, both of which took away from the enjoyment for me. Michael is a fabulous, edgy, resourceful female heroine (who often transforms into a man when it's expedient for her missions). She's also a sociopath, but since she uses her powers mostly for good, I'm okay with that. Michael is the reason I read Taylor Stevens. So what happened with THE DOLL?

Stevens makes Bradford and his team more of a focus in THE DOLL. Nothing against Bradford and company, but their missions/actions are simply not as interesting to me. Bradford is more like "insert your favorite action hero here" and less...fresh and interesting than Michael. His part of the story (which is substantial) feels like a Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay movie: perfectly serviceable and fun with popcorn, but not particularly meaty or insightful. Michael is complex and nuanced and her methods are unpredictable.

Speaking of Michael, her character took on a very odd twist that seemed inconsistent with the previous two novels. Logan, her dear friend, has been kidnapped and beaten by a man known as the Dollmaker (I'll get to him in a minute) in order to "persuade" Michael to deliver actress Neeva Eckridge to a man who has bought her from the Dollmaker for his personal entertainment. Michael has surprisingly few qualms about handing Neeva over to slavery with a psycho so that she can keep Logan safe. I felt this complex situation deserved more thought and reflection from Michael, but she focuses on accomplishing her goal to rescue Logan.

As a villain, the Dollmaker was more annoying than anything else. He's completely insane and delivers women and girls into unspeakable horror for profit, but his odd personal habits offset his menace and he reads cartoonish, in an unsatisfying way. In THE INFORMATIONIST, Michael is forced to confront her past, in THE INNOCENT, she infiltrates a cult, and in THE DOLL...she cooperates with a nutjob who dresses kidnapped women as oversized porcelain dolls and contemplates his extensive doll collection (actual dolls, not humans). It's anticlimactic. The first two novels had very meaty, rich plots, while THE DOLL feels less substantial, less nuanced.

All that said, I still recommend this book to thriller fans. It was just disappointing to me after the excellent first two books in the series.

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

VIOLET MACKEREL'S NATURAL HABITAT by Anna Branford, illustrated by Sarah Davis

I read this to my five-year-old daughter and we both loved it. We were delighted to discover that it's the third book in a series, so we have more Violet to look forward to

As the smallest in her family, Violet Mackerel has an affinity for Small Things. When she finds a tiny ladybug, she is intent on helping it, but her intentions go terribly wrong and she learns a hard lesson about Natural Habitats. What, Violet wonders, is her Natural Habitat? With surprising help from her sister, she begins to unravel that question. This book deals with death in a very real, nonthreatening way, and explores the often-strained sibling relationship that can be a lifesaver in hard times.

Available May 13. The first two books in the series, VIOLET MACKEREL'S BRILLIANT PLOT and VIOLET MACKEREL'S REMARKABLE RECOVERY are currently available.

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