Reading For The Heck Of It

Gosh, I love books. I love the way they feel in my hand, the way they smell, the way they look piling up all around me as I drown amongst their pages...I really, REALLY like books.


Favorite genres: nonfiction (especially science), sci-fi/fantasy, classics, and children's literature.


Unread/unloved genres: romance and seafaring odysseys.

A bit of reality

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie - Julie Sternberg, Matthew Cordell

I am all for works of fantasy and sci-fi to tell stories that pull the reader into different worlds and experiences. However, there's something to be said about introducing a piece of realistic fiction to an emerging reader so that they can feel that 'so someone has felt the same things that I have' feeling. When you're growing up, it's so easy to feel isolated and alien. You feel like your problems are huge and that no one could possibly understand your pains, frustrations, or anguish. And then a little book like this one comes along. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg follows a little girl called Eleanor who experiences suffers abandonment and all the attendant stages of grief that come along after when the babysitter she's had her entire life moves away. With Eleanor's adjustment to a new babysitter who is wholly different from Bibi, she learns that sometimes change is good and relationships can survive distance. This is a good lesson for us all I think. This book is perfect for the emerging reader (probably why it was recommended in Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers). It's written in short, simple sentences (somewhat oddly structured on each page) with illustrations by Matthew Cordell liberally spread throughout.  7/10


What's Up Next: The Doll People by Ann M. Martin with pictures by Brian Selznick


What I'm Currently Reading: The Gods Themselves by Isaac Isamov

Salt: A World History - Mark Kurlansky

Didn't make it past 50 pages. This book was duller than dirt.

Lumberjanes: A Masterpost

Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware The Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson (2015-04-07) -  Noelle Stevenson Lumberjanes Vol. 2 -  Noelle Stevenson Noelle Stevenson: Lumberjanes Vol. 3 : A Terrible Plan (Paperback); 2016 Edition - Shannon Watters,  Carolyn Nowak Noelle Stevenson Lumberjanes Vol. 4: Out Of Time -  Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen Lumberjanes Vol. 5: Band Together -  Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen

As I was trying to put together my review of the first volume in the Lumberjanes series (collaboratively written and drawn by Grace Ellise, Shannon Watters, Noelle Stevenson, & Brooke A. Allen) I realized that it was going to be nigh on impossible for me to formulate new thoughts/observations about further volumes without repeating myself ad a masterpost. 


The volumes of this series that I've read thus far:

  1. Beware the Kitten Holy
  2. Friendship to the Max
  3. A Terrible Plan
  4. Out of Time
  5. Band Together

On first beginning the series, I immediately felt like I was somehow starting in the middle as the reader is launched immediately into the inner circle of our main protagonists (Jo, April, Molly, Mal, & Ripley). What initially caught my interest were the excellent illustrations and the various looks of the main characters which are all widely different (much like the characters themselves). [A/N: I want to say here that the illustrative style changed for each of the volumes and I didn't really dig that.] I kept reading because the format of survival manual blended into a narrative arc was unique and I like the idea of a female led story being written and drawn by females. This is a great message for girls who may have felt that the comic book world wasn't for them. That being said, I'm not likely to continue the series beyond these 5 volumes and if I do I won't be reviewing it here unless it totally ends up blowing my mind. It felt gimmicky and at times I felt they were trying too hard and falling into contrived territory. I get that they're trying to be hip and inclusive (major props that there's not only a lesbian couple but a transgender character) but there was so 'trying to be hip' vibe that the story became second fiddle. Strong elements of fantasy, mystery, adventure, and friendship will appeal to all sexes but I don't think I'm the right age demographic (and this is coming from someone who routinely reads picture books). It's a 6/10 for me.


What's Up Next: Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg


What I'm Currently Reading: Our Uninvited Guests: The Secret Life of Britain's Country Houses 1939-45 by Julie Summers


The value of the dollar was VERY different in the 1940s

The Saturdays - Elizabeth Enright

The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright was one of the titles mentioned in the Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers that I reviewed not too long ago and one of the first from my holds list that I picked up to read. Firstly, even though this book was written in the 1940s it's still very readable for a contemporary middle grade (or adult in my case) audience. The book follows the 4 Melendy children (Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver) who are described (and drawn) with loving detail by the author along with their father, Cuffy the housekeeper, and Willy Sloper the handyman. The basic premise of the book (which is the first in a 4 part series by the way) is that the four children form a club to stave off their boredom wherein they pool their weekly allowances so that every Saturday they can each afford to go on solo adventures and do something that they really want to do (but which will likely not appeal to anyone else). Their interests much like their personalities were realistic for the time period in which the book was written although they feel somewhat far-fetched in comparison to today's children (one of the kids is obsessed with opera). Each of their Saturday adventures comes complete with peril (of the lightest variety) and life lessons learned so that there are built-in morals (sometimes heavy-handed) built into the narrative. I liked it but it's probably not going to be the first book I think of to recommend...unless the kid really digs the opera in which case I am ready. 6/10


What's Up Next: Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson (might be a masterpost with more volumes included)


What I'm Currently Reading: The Umbrella Academy, Volume 1: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba


Is this the same alt reality that gave us Abraham Lincoln the vampire killer?

Dread Nation - Justina Ireland

Dread Nation: Rise Up by Justina Ireland is the first of a series about an alternate version of Civil War America where zombies roam the earth. Race and slavery are major themes of the story as well as feminism. In fact, it's black females that are sent to special schools to train to fight the undead ("shamblers") and protect their white employers. The reader follows Jane, a student at one of the more prestigious combat schools. While Jane is a talented fighter she is not gifted in the art of gentility (which is really just bowing down to societal pressures). In a lot of ways, this is a typical zombie apocalypse story with the requisite gore, guts, and guns. However, the setting, time period, and atypical female protagonist make for an exciting change of pace. I really enjoyed Dread Nation but some loose ends could have been tied off (and if they're not addressed in subsequent volumes I'm gonna be peeved). Fast paced, a good twist on a classic genre, and quality writing make this an A+ young adult novel for the zombie lover in your life. (Question: Witch, vampire, werewolf, or zombie? True fans will understand the importance of this question.) Bonus content at the back of the book: Indian American boarding schools were used as inspiration for the Negro and Indian combat schools described in this book. 8/10 with a few points deducted because the ending could have been tighter.


What's Up Next: The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright


What I'm Currently Reading: Strange Sight: An Essex Witch Museum Mystery by Syd Moore


Afraid to sleep

The Dreamers - Karen Thompson Walker

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker is a dystopian sci-fi novel that takes place in a small town in California. (Is it still dystopian/apocalyptic if it's contained in one area?) The book begins with a young girl in college who is a bit of a misfit on her dorm floor. She doesn't even have much of a relationship with her roommate...and then that roommate doesn't wake up the next morning. This is the start of a sleeping sickness that spreads throughout the city radiating out from the college campus. Written with multiple narrative lines and only a few likable characters this probably isn't the one for you if you're looking for a more straightforward contemporary fiction. This book explores what happens when a biological contagion that is not fully understood (and clearly not prepared for) rapidly spreads and the ensuing chaos. I'm talking about governmental influence, hazmat suits, and lock-down quarantine with all the requisite fear and panic, ya'll. This is disaster relief (contemporary fiction style) meets sci-fi (those afflicted are experiencing REM i.e. dreaming...and it might be precognition). This was a fast paced book (I zipped right through it) which I enjoyed for the most part but I was left feeling like there were a lot of loose ends that the author didn't adequately tie off. So this was ultimately a middle of the road read for me. 5/10


What's Up Next: Dread Nation: Rise Up by Justina Ireland


What I'm Currently Reading: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness



Reading resource

Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers - Kathleen T Isaacs

Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers by Kathleen T. Isaacs is more or less a giant bibliography of books for children. It's organized into different categories such as transitional books (between picture books, easy readers, or short chapter books), quests, talking animal stories, and books about magic. I ended up taking down so many titles to add to my TRL that I had a stack that was nigh on teetering to the ceiling (18 books before I stopped counting). Needless to say, this is an excellent resource for anyone who is either a professional working with children or a parent trying to encourage their child to reach their maximum potential. (It doesn't beat the Read-Aloud Handbook though.) This isn't a book one would generally read cover-to-cover (although that's exactly what I did) but rather one you'd dip in and out of for ideas on books you and the children in your life could read. 8/10


What's Up Next: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker


What I'm Currently Reading: The Lumberjanes Vol. 4: Out of Time by Shannon Watters, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, & Brooke Allen


Self-deprecating hilarity

Adulthood is a Myth: A Sarah's Scribbles Collection - Sarah Andersen Big Mushy Happy Lump: A Sarah's Scribbles Collection - Sarah Andersen Herding Cats - Sarah Andersen

Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen marks the beginning of her illustrated web comic being released in book format. Andersen's art is full of humor about her day-to-day life as a single lady who'd rather stay at home than socialize. [A/N: If you're not into jokes about menstruation then this isn't the book for you.] A lot of her jokes focus on how she doesn't want kids, in general doesn't like people, and prefers to stay at home to eat and sleep. (Some of these things seem eerily familiar to me...) Her art style is quite cartoon-y and definitely keeps the feel of her beginnings as an Internet comics artist (in the best way possible).


Good ol' menstrual humor featuring my legs.


Who among us hasn't done this?



Her sequel, Big Mushy Happy Lump, showcases relatable female humor at its best. She really leans into the jokes examining her introverted/socially awkward personality traits. She added an end section to this book where she talks directly to the reader about how she feels/acts in social situations. She also discusses at length why she's a sweater thief forever and always. It's really cute and I think it's a great way to connect more with her audience. 


I think you get why I took a picture of this one.




I didn't choose this life. This life chose me.


And finally there's Andersen's Herding Cats which (surprise surprise) features a lot of cat comics. In Big Mushy Happy Lump Sarah talks about how she has never been a 'pet' person but after she cat-sit for her mom this completely changed and this book examines her obsession with all things feline. This book has a phenomenal end section about navigating the Internet as an artist. Biggest takeaway: Keep making art. 


I laugh every time I see this.


That last one is how I feel during storytime at work.


What's Up Next: Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers by Kathleen T. Isaacs


What I'm Currently Reading: Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder by Jo Nesbo with illustrations by Mike Lowery



When the past catches up

Three Things About Elsie - Joanna Cannon

You may recall my review of one of my favorite books of 2017 titled The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon which centered on a small cul-de-sac in England and the mystery of a missing child. While I was discussing this book with a patron she asked, "Have you read her newest book?" then grabbed it off the shelf to show it to me. I took Three Things About Elsie  home that very night and began it with pretty high expectations. I'm happy to report that I was not disappointed. 


The main character, Florence, is an elderly woman living in an assisted living facility called Cherry Tree. The reader discovers that she's fallen down in her apartment and is awaiting imminent rescue. (What a way to start off a story!) The chapters flip flop between her lying there fantasizing about who will come to her aid and remembering incidents from the last several days and the distant past. Florence's best friend is Elsie and she talks at length about the reasons why she values her friendship beyond all others but over the course of the book she adds to her social circle Jack (retired military man and fellow inmate), Handy Simon (groundskeeper and handyman), and Miss Ambrose (second in command of the facility and at first Florence's sworn enemy). As with Cannon's previous book, this is a mystery set within a confined location (with a few brief journeys away) with one doozy of an ending. (I worked out one vital piece of the puzzle halfway through and agonized up to the very end that I had it wrong.) This book is not only about a mystery but also gives the reader a peek into the world of the elderly and what it's like caring for them. Topics like dementia, mental illness, loneliness, and self-worth are rather obliquely worked into the narrative. [A/N: Check the tags to this post if you want a bit of a spoiler-y sneak peek to another theme of the book.] This is a great book for a cozy weekend at home where you're happy to just sit and read for hours. The characters are fully realized and it's obvious that Joanna has a gift for localized mystery and drama. 8/10


What's Up Next: Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen


What I'm Currently Reading: Redwall by Brian Jacques


What a journey!

Elfquest Archives, Vol. 4 - Wendy Pini, Richard Pini

Before you read today's review you probably want to catch up by reading my review of Volumes 1-3 of the Elfquest Archives


Elfquest Archives Volume 4 by Wendy & Richard Pini is the final book in the Grand Quest (original 24 issues of the series) which follows the Wolfriders as they make their way from their familiar home in the forest to find others of their kind. This book is the epic conclusion which sees our heroes meeting their last tribe of elves called the GoBacks who have been at war with the Trolls that live in the mountains. These Trolls are the final barrier between themselves and their ancestral home, The Palace. Those who have undertaken to read all these volumes finally see some big questions answered like why Two-Edge has both hindered and helped Cutter's tribe in their fight against their enemies and the biggest mystery of all is revealed: Why and how they reached this planet in the first place. Additionally, Leetah discovers that her powers while very powerful have severe consequences. (Up until this point her healing abilities have almost been like a Get out of Jail Free card so this is an interesting development.) 


Also, a suspicion I've long held about a certain relationship was totally verified (at least I feel that it was and no arguing will sway me). I'm being purposefully vague because I don't want to spoil anything.


Resurrection and rebirth

Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield is a difficult book to categorize because it doesn't fit neatly into any one genre. It's historical fiction looked at through the medium of magical realism with a healthy dose of the supernatural. All of the interwoven narratives (of which there are 4 main ones) center on the River Thames with quite a few factoids about that body of water sprinkled liberally throughout. [A/N: The author's notes section at the back details Setterfield's research which is unsurprisingly thorough.] The opening scenes of the book take place in The Swan on a dark and stormy night with the arrival of a mysterious stranger who is injured and carrying a little girl who is dead...until she isn't. The biggest mystery morphs from how she could possibly come back to life into who exactly she is and subsequently which family can call her their own. Flipping between a couple grieving for their child who has been lost for years, a disturbed woman who thinks the little girl is her dead sister, a man who believes she might be his grandchild, and a doctor (and her would-be suitor) this is Drama (capitalization necessary). 


Frankly, I think Diane Setterfield has knocked it out of the park again. Once Upon a River is another work of beautiful writing with interesting characters (very different from those in The Thirteenth Tale which affirms my belief that Setterfield is a magician). This book is more adult in tone so be aware there are some explicit scenes but they are by no means overused or detracting from the overall story. And if magical realism and the supernatural aren't your thing then you're probably not going to fully get this book but I encourage you to give it a shot anyway because the writing is just so dang great. 10/10 


What's Up Next: Elfquest Archives Volume 4 by Wendy & Richard Pini


What I'm Currently Reading: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland



So hard not to give spoilers

Hilo Book 5: Then Everything Went Wrong - Judd Winick

HiLo: Then Everything Went Wrong is the 5th book in the continuing series by Judd Winick about the boy who fell to earth and turned out to be a superhero robot. [A/N: If you've been around for a while then you might recall that I reviewed the other books in 2 separate posts (1-3 and 4) so if you need to catch up then go read those posts first.] Winick is notorious for his cliffhangers in this series and the end of book 4 was no exception but fear not because MANY questions are answered in this book (although several more are posed). The true history of Razorwark and his creator are revealed. It's actually quite believable based on real life events (I'm talking Robopocalypse of course). Additionally, HiLo uncovers more about his past and how exactly Izzy and Dr. Horizon fit in (you're going to be shocked so prepare yourselves). This continues to fit the bill of 'excellent middle grade graphic novel for sci-fi nerds' so no complaints from me on that point but the gaps between books are lengthening. The next book doesn't hit the stands until January 2020!


P.S. The government finally figures out who the Comet is.


What's Up Next: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield


What I'm Currently Reading: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker


Totally insensitive

Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson chronicles the walking expedition that the author took across Great Britain right before he moved back to the United States. I loved how his enjoyment of the countryside (particularly Yorkshire) came through in his beautiful descriptions. If he had only stuck to his descriptions of the idyllic countryside and the interesting monuments and things that he saw there I would have enjoyed this book. Instead he interjected his beliefs/prejudices/stereotypes about different groups of people and it really turned me off of the entire book. The first note that I wrote after reading this was simply "I don't like Bill Bryson."


What he poked fun of (a shortlist):

  • fat people (fat shaming a family at a restaurant and staring so much they moved tables)
  • Asperger's (a trainspotter widower he met was too excited about trains apparently)
  • Lewis Carroll (described him as a "poor perverted mathematician" when pedophilia was only rumored never proven)
  • Parkinson's (need I say more?)


The only good things that came out of this is that I'll probably visit Warwick Castle and Snowshill Manor in the future...and I'll never read anything else from Bill Bryson.


For another viewpoint, check out the critique of A Walk in the Woods by Mary Jean Ronan Herzog entitled "Including Appalachian Stereotypes in Multicultural Education: An Analysis of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods" in the Journal of Appalachian Studies Vol. 5 Issue 1. 


What's Up Next: HiLo: Then Everything Went Wrong by Judd Winick


What I'm Currently Reading: Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers by Kathleen T. Isaacs



He's right about Halloween

Remember? Remember?  - Charles Beaumont

Described as 'mini obituaries for times gone past', Remember? Remember? by Charles Beaumont was exactly what I wanted it to be: Lots of fun. What I hadn't counted on was the excellent history lesson that I got as a bonus. This book is partly a history of life in America circa the early 20th century (nostalgic reminiscence being the preferred narrative lens) and partly a condemnation of letting this superior past be taken over by the clearly inferior pursuits of the present (1960s). His main concern seems to be that the adults of today's (1960s) generation have ruined the future of their children by doing away with the pleasures of yesteryear. 


Examples of ruination include but are not limited to: 

  • Charlie Chaplin's exile from America after being a prolific entertainer that created art in a time when the world was gray.
  • The spectacle of silent movies taken over by the sterility of 'blockbusters' in cookie cutter movie theaters.
  • Steam trains being replaced by diesel engines which were then supplanted by airplane travel. (Beaumont is all about the romance.)
  • Halloween no longer being a night of mischief but a highly sanitized and supervised few hours of getting candy from pre-approved houses before calling it quits before the sun has even sunk below the horizon.


Conclusion: This was a fun (and surprisingly educational) book which has me looking forward to ferreting out more work of his in the (not too distant) future. 10/10



What's Up Next: Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson


What I'm Currently Reading: Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen



I'm not the audience for this one

New Kid - Jerry Craft

New Kid by Jerry Craft is a middle grade graphic novel that tells the story of a boy named Jordan who has (against his will) been enrolled in a prestigious private school in the upscale (and predominantly white) neighborhood of Riverdale. While he didn't necessarily feel like he fit in among his peers at his old school in Washington Heights he really feels like the outsider at this school being one of only 3 students of color. (There's a lot of mixing up of names by the teachers + bullying by peers.) In classic 'rebellious preteen' fashion he feels that the world (i.e. good ol' mom) is set on ruining his life because she won't let him go to art school instead of this place where it seems like everyone is either rich, white, or both. To help him sort through his frustrations and rage he takes to working on a sketchbook detailing his experiences. [A/N:These comics are interspersed throughout the book.] New Kid is a coming of age story about classism, racism, and finding out where you truly belong. 


Honesty compels me to tell you that I didn't necessarily love this book because of its predictability and slow moving pace. However, this book wasn't written with me in mind as its audience and therefore I think for the young person who is feeling 'other' and beaten down by circumstances out of their control this could be quite an important book. I liked the illustrative style particularly how it worked so well with the sprinkling of Jordan's comics with their very different artistic approach so no complaints on that front. For me it's a 4/10 but in terms of readability for that audience I'd say 8/10.


Source: Amazon


An example of Craft's style. [Source: iTunes]



What's Up Next: Remember? Remember? by Charles Beaumont


What I'm Currently Reading: ElfQuest Archives Volume 4 by Wendy & Richard Pini


Tracking down a killer

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer - Michelle McNamara, Patton Oswalt, Gillian Flynn

While perusing the New York Public Library's Winter 2018 Staff Picks  (an excellent recommendations list by the way) I came across I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. Since I have somewhat of an interest in true crime and especially serial killers (see my archive for the evidence) this seemed a natural choice for me. McNamara (who sadly passed away before completion of the book) covers the history of the Golden State Killer back to his beginning when he was still referred to as the Visalia Ransacker before upping his game to become the East Area Rapist. (Michelle actually gave him the moniker of the Golden State Killer.) He began as a peeping tom before graduating into a burglar, rapist, and then finally a serial murderer. His reign of terror in California where he committed more than 120 burglaries, 50 rapes, and 13 murders spanned about a decade from the late 70s into the mid-80s before abruptly stopping. His crimes crossed jurisdictions and so for many years police did not know that all of these crimes were the work of one single man...a man that at the time of this book's publication was still not identified. 


McNamara talks about her obsession with true crime and specifically with this man who she often referred to as her 'white whale'. She cultivated relationships with other true crime aficionados through online forums (and her blog) but also developed close working friendships with detectives both past and present who had worked on the case. By assembling all of the available evidence (of which there was an abundance) she began to comb through it hoping that she would see something that would help them find the man who many believed had either died or been imprisoned on unrelated charges. Although there was ample evidence including DNA there was no match in any database so detectives routinely fed his DNA markers into genealogy websites hoping for a match...and shortly after McNamara's book was published they found one. 


This book is as much a true crime novel about an unidentified killer as it is the memoir of the woman who devoted so much of her time to investigating his crimes. If you like watching shows like Cold Case or really anything on the I.D. channel you'll feel right at home with I'll Be Gone in the Dark. 8/10


What's Up Next: New Kid by Jerry Craft


What I'm Currently Reading: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield


Currently reading

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon
The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
Our Uninvited Guests: The Secret Life of Britain's Country Houses 1939-45 by Julie Summers
Strange Sight by Syd Moore
The Hidden Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag
The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Amphigorey Again by Edward Gorey
Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey