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.

Short but definitely not sweet

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories - Tim Burton

Ever since I knew of its existence, I’ve wanted to read Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories. Unfortunately, my library doesn't own a copy so I had to order it through Interlibrary Loan. Of course, after all of that effort it was a bit of a letdown to discover that it was only 115 pages long. But this short little book did deliver on the quirky, dark humor that we’ve all come to expect from Tim Burton. Organized into small rhymes and stories, these are creepy but hilarious (if morbid humor is your thing) vignettes. A/N: Parents beware if you take issue with your kids reading about death, patricide, suicide, etc.


Source: Goodreads


Source: Goodreads


What's Up Next: Amphigorey by Edward Gorey


What I'm Currently Reading: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Source: http://Https://

Princess Pat strikes back

The Birthday Ball - Lois Lowry

It’s amazing to me that the same author that wrote The Giver wrote the book I'm reviewing today because they couldn’t be more different. The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry is a nontraditional fairytale about a princess who’d rather live among the people than follow any ridiculous royal decrees. (Roman Holiday, anyone?) Now that she’s turning 16 years old, Princess Patricia Priscilla's expected to marry one of the three suitors who are courting for her hand. Each man is more ghastly than the last. A lot of time is spent describing these hateful men (and the illustrations by Jules Feiffer really drive it home how disgusting and despicable her choices truly are. As in much of middle grade fiction, her parents are blind to her discomfort and unhappiness as they are caught up in their own lives and interests. (Dad is obsessed with butterflies and Mom is preoccupied with her wardrobe and appearance.) So neither takes any notice of her switching places with her maid and escaping out into the village to go to the local school. Dark humor coupled with the somewhat realistic portrayal of what it's like to be a village peasant plus the fantastic illustrations make this a quick, fun read. 7/10


What's Up Next: The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by Tim Burton


What I'm Currently Reading: The Invited by Jennifer McMahon


The list maker

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus - Jen Bryant, Melissa Sweet

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant with pictures by Melissa Sweet is a biography (written for children) of the creator of the Thesaurus, Peter Roget. Some of the most beautiful mixed media art has been used to enhance a subject which I imagine many adults (not to mention kids) would consider quite dry. While the art is gorgeous, I have to be honest and say that Roget didn’t lead the most exciting life so the story itself isn't exactly edge of the seat content. From childhood, he spent much of his time making categorized lists (sounds like the life of the party) which didn't help his shyness but did help him to graduate early from school. It also helped him in his preparations to become a doctor where an ability to stay focused while learning a vast amount of information came in handy. This book tracks his life and accomplishments in an easy to digest manner for kids aged 9 and up (although younger kids could understand the content with help from an adult). If nothing else, this is an absolutely beautiful piece of art and for that alone should be celebrated. 6/10 because it didn't knock my socks off or supply me with any particularly new information.


What's Up Next: The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry with pictures by Jules Feiffer

What I'm Currently Reading: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo


Yes, this is ridiculous

Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder - Jo Nesbo, Jo Nesbo, Mike Lowery, Tara Chace

Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder by Jo Nesbo (you might have seen his books for adults) is the tale of a little girl and her new neighbor (a tiny boy with a big personality). They befriend a failed scientist (suitably eccentric) with many (unsuccessful and useless) inventions to his name (all more ridiculous than the last). However, his latest invention seems to be a real winner: a powder that when ingested causes the person to fart most spectacularly and explosively. In fact, the powder is so successful that it launches the person into the sky! Can you think of anything better for a group of children? An utterly ridiculous little book this would appeal to a middle grade reader who enjoyed the Captain Underpants or Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. [A/N: This book was originally written in Swedish before being translated into English.] 5/10


Trigger warning: pretty intense bullying and a corrupt, abusive father. 


What's Up Next: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant with pictures by Melissa Sweet


What I'm Currently Reading: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo


The transatlantic experience

Locomotive - Brian Floca

First of all, Locomotive by Brian Floca has absolutely beautiful illustrations. [A/N: It was a Caldecott Medal Winner and a Sibert Honor Book so you know I'm not just whistling Dixie.] This could be a potentially dry subject (a 19th century family's cross country journey to a new home) but the illustrations really take it to a whole other lever. This is best categorized as classic picture book meets historical fiction. It reads as if it could be a nonfiction story of a family journeying by the newest technical innovation, the transcontinental railroad, across the country. This would work best either with a child who loves trains or to a slightly older group of kids (maybe in a classroom) who want to know more about this period of American history. 8/10


What's Up Next: Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder by Jo Nesbo with pictures by Mike Lowery (translated from the Swedish by Tara F. Chace)


What I'm Currently Reading: The Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem



Unique concept combined with beautiful illustrations

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems (Reverso Poems) - Marilyn Singer, Josée Masse

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer with pictures by Josee Masse contains reverso poetry based on fairy tales which when read in one direction tells one story (and from one POV) but when read in reverse is a wholly different story. An example would be Cinderella’s story on one page and the stepsister's tale on the other page. The illustrations were truly excellent and the concept unique (and well executed) but as I had hoped to use this as a readaloud it didn't quite hit the mark for me. This is more of a singular reading experience or one-to-one with just one child. 6/10


What's Up Next: Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder by Jo Nesbo with pictures by Mike Lowery (translated from the Swedish by Tara F. Chace)


What I'm Currently Reading: The Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem


Which toy shall rule them all?

Toys Go Out - Emily Jenkins, Paul O. Zelinsky

Toys Go Out is a middle grade novel that follows 3 toy friends that come to life when their little girl goes to sleep. Lumphy (stuffed buffalo), Sting Ray (dry clean only), and Plastic (a bouncy ball) are the main characters with distinct (albeit simple) personalities. The primary story revolves around the desire to be the toy that gets to sleep in the little girl’s bed at night (sound familiar?). Some of the adventures include a trip in the washing machine and being grabbed by a garbage shark (maybe the best descriptor of a dog ever) at the beach. I’m not sure why I thought reading another book about toys coming to life was going to be a vastly different reading experience from The Doll People. [Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.] However, if you're looking for a fairly straightforward reading experience for your 10-12 year old then this will fit the bill nicely. 5/10 because I love a good sarcastic toy.


Topics discussed: insecurities, search for identity, and finding your place. 


What's Up Next: Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer with pictures by Josee Masse AND Locomotive by Brian Floca


What I'm Currently Reading: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade & Don Yaeger


The somewhat murky portrait of a man

Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey - Mark Dery

I have been a casual fan of Edward Gorey for quite some time and hoped to learn more about him by reading Born to be Posthumous The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery. While much is known about his work there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the man himself. He didn’t keep a diary and there’s not much in the way of correspondence. Was he a confirmed bachelor because of choice as an asexual man or was he a closeted man who never found time for love? Were his affectations symptomatic of a fake persona or was it the real him? Gorey was tested and judged to have a high IQ but his turbulent home life saw him uprooted often and he ended up delaying entry to Harvard to join the Army. Sporting long fur coats, white sneakers, lots of rings on both hands, and a big bushy beard insured that he stood out wherever he went. He compartmentalized his friendships, had no known romantic relationships, and spent inordinate amounts of time going to the ballet, watching silent movies, and reading copious amounts of books (specifically mysteries). [A/N: He once stated that he read 21,000 books and watched 1,000 movies a year.] At the end of his life he had moved into a dilapidated house on Cape Cod where he lived among lots of cats and a variety of knickknacks and curios. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and diabetes before finally suffering a heart attack. Not quite the ignominious fate that his characters tended to suffer; it was nevertheless the end of an iconic literary figure.


Dery spent a large chunk of the book talking about the 'hidden meaning' in Gorey's work but honestly I don't see it. I think on the fact of it they were fun little illustrated stories that captured (and continue to ensnare) the imagination of anyone who reads them. You can look forward to a masterpost of some of that work coming up in the (hopefully) not too distant future. Overall, this wasn't quite the eyeopening biography that I had hoped it would be and the reach that the author tried to make kind of put me off so that it took me way longer to finish than it should have done. 5/10


What's Up Next: Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins with pictures by Paul O. Zelinsky


What I'm Currently Reading: Stranger in the House: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War by Julie Summers


That subtitle seems familiar

Redwall  - Brian Jacques

Redwall by Brian Jacques has been touted as a classic but I'm not sure this is one I would recommend. I found it predictable, needlessly long, and frankly pretty boring. This is a difficult book to categorize as either a middle grade or young adult novel as it handles mature themes with a lot of gratuitous violence besides being a brick of a book (somehow this didn't bother me with the Harry Potter series but it did with this one). The story is a coming of age quest/adventure story set in the Middle Ages with rodents and various other wild animals as the main protagonists. Matthias, our hero, is a young mouse who is studying to be a monk at Redwall Abbey when a giant rat named Cluny the Scourge shows up on the scene. Matthias must then embark on a personal journey to seek the sword of a famous mouse warrior in the hopes it will turn the tide in the battle against the forces of evil. This is the first in a rather long series but I must be honest and say that I have no desire to continue with these characters. I really can't figure out what all the fuss is about so it's a 3/10 from me.


PS While I was double-checking my spelling of the character names I discovered that there is an actual cartoon of this book series. To say that I am shocked would be putting it mildly. That one is not going on my watch list. 



What's Up Next: Born to be Posthumous The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery


What I'm Currently Reading: When the Children Came Home: Stories From Wartime by Julie Summers


At night the dolls come alive

The Doll People - Brian Selznick, Laura Godwin, Ann M. Martin

This post has taken me far longer to write than I'd like to admit and I think that's largely because I found this book pretty lukewarm. The Doll People by Ann M. Martin (with pictures by Brian Selznick) was another one of those books recommended as a great book for the kids in your life who are trying to stretch their legs as early and eager readers. I didn't realize at the outset of reading it that it was actually the first in a series which follow the lives of the members of the Doll family. This is like Toy Story but dialed up to 11, ya'll. We follow the adventures of Annabelle Doll who is preoccupied with the mystery of her aunt's disappearance 45 years ago. Like Toy Story, there are certain rules about letting the humans see them moving but they actually have an oath with consequences attached. (We learn about Doll State or Permanent Doll State where they are frozen either temporarily or permanently.) The storyline is slow and rather predictable but suitable for beginner readers who are gaining confidence with chapter books. I guess the most 'interesting' part (if you can call it that) was when a new set of dolls entered the house and the reader can see the difference between the older porcelain toys and the newer plastic ones. 4/10


What's Up Next: Redwall by Brian Jacques


What I'm Currently Reading: When the Children Came Home: Stories From Wartime by Julie Summers


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



Currently reading

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Stargazing by Jen Wang
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Small Doses: Potent Truths for Everyday Use by Amanda Diva Seales
White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America by Margaret A. Hagerman
The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers by Emily M. Levesque
Sanctuary by James Patterson
The End of Policing by Alex Vitale
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth