Read This! Octopus Alone

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Octopus lives in a busy corner of the ocean. From her cave, she sees all sorts of maritime hustle and bustle. When three seahorses come to visit, Octopus starts to feel a little overwhelmed. She escapes and ventures forth until she finds a quiet, unoccupied cave to rest in for a while. When she’s ready, she returns to the hustle and bustle, happy to see her friends again. I love Divya Srinivasan’s illustrations of a colorful, underwater world. But more than that, I love this non-moralistic tale of an introvert’s need for some alone time and the joy of visiting with friends. Balance.

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Read This! Octopus Alone

January Round-up

Gunpowder Plot by Carola Dunn. Daisy Dalrymple returns in another fun and fluffy mystery – this one set at a Guy Fawkes celebration.

Moving Pictures by Kathryn Immonen. A graphic novel imagining of the true tale of the moving and hiding of art work from the Louvre in advance of the German takeover of France in World War II. Enjoyable with nice black and white illustrations.

All Clear by Connie Willis. The sequel to Blackout, which a read and really enjoyed last year, All Clear resolves to stories of the time travelling historians trapped in World War II England. Lived up to my high expectations. If you’ve never read Connie Willis, I really recommend her.

Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye: Hamster and Cheese. Aimed at early readers, this the first book in a cute graphic novel series in which a guinea pig tries to solve the mystery of the disappearing sandwich.

Dracula Madness by Mary Labatt. A graphic novel detective series featuring an investigatory sheep dog. Nothing brilliant.

Room by Emma Donoghue. This book was on a lot of “best books” list at the end of 2010 and having read it now, I can say that the acclaim is well deserved. The story is told from the perspective of a 5-year boy who has only ever known the room is held captive in with his mother who was kidnapped when she was a teenager. Definitely worth reading.

Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way by Dan Buettner. Buettner wrote a book that I read last year about lessons learned from communities where people live a long time (routinely get into their 90s and 100s), and with this book he takes the same approach with communities who rate high for happiness. Nothing new or brilliant to the book, but I thought his description of Denmark sounded pretty great!

Children of the Sea, Volume 1 by Daisuke Igarashi. Beautifully illustrated manga that tells the story of the friendship between the daughter of an aquarium owner in Japan and two boys from the sea (children raised in the ocean by sea mammals).

Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. This is the latest is a cute and fun graphic novel series staring some elementary school aged kids and their lunch ladies who foil evil plots using things like fish-stick nunchuks. Good for the mid to late elementary school audiences.

January Round-up

Early Reviewer: How to Read the Air

I felt really lucky to get this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program. How to Read the Air is the second novel by Dinaw Mengestu. His first, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, was set in Washington, DC, which is why I picked it up. It was also beautifully written, which is why I enjoyed it. This book has no DC connection. It follows the protagonist, Jonas Woldemariam, as he retraces the steps of his parent’s road trip from Peoria to Nashville, trying to make sense of his and his parents lives. It’s not really an uplifting book, Jonas’s parents had an unhappy and abusive marriage and his mother left once he was in college, Jonas’s marriage is falling apart, but as the story unfolds I found myself caring just as much as Jonas about what had happened and how the characters found themselves where they are. Mengestu is a great writer and if you haven’t read him before, I really recommend it.

Early Reviewer: How to Read the Air

October Round-up

I read 16 books in October, 5 Non-fiction and 11 Fiction.

Juliet by Anne Fortier. I heard about this book on NPR, and was interested in giving it a try. Juliet is a sort of Da Vinci Code-esque book, but focused on the story of Romeo and Juliet, not art. This isn’t a criticism, for all the criticism The Da Vinci code got, it was still a very engaging read. Juliet is probably a little better written, but equally engaging. If you like thrillers with a little history to them, this is a good one.

Salt Water Taffy: A Climb Up Mt. Barnabus by Matthew Loux. This is the second Salt Water Taffy graphic novel that I’ve read. They are the cute adventures of two brothers on vacation. I especially enjoy the fact that they are set in Maine.

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier. A great, detailed, colorful graphic novels for middle grades.

Mercury by Hope Larson. This is a interesting graphic novel that tells the parallel stories of a modern Canadian in high schooler living with relatives after her house burned down and the ancestors who first lived in that house. Great black-and-white illustrations.

Binky to the Rescue by Ashley Spires. I love Binky! Binky is an officially certified space cat (think feline astronaut) living a secret life as a house cat. In this second adventure, Binky must brave outer space (the back yard) to rescue his copilot (stuffed mouse, Ted) from aliens (bigs). Cute and smart and funny.

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan. This book was mentioned a lot on Slog (The Stranger’s Blog), which made me curious. It is a really fascinating look at what clues evolution has left in our bodies and what they tell us about how our prehistoric ancestors lived and how we evolved.

The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser. A real life whodunit. If you like Ocean’s 11 and the like, you will like this book.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I read this over a matter of months on DailyLit. Classics are free on DailyLit and this is a good way for me to fill in those gaps in my literary knowledge caused by not being an English major. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t that crazy about Great Expectations, but I’m glad I read it.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen. This book was really funny, which I wasn’t quite expecting. Janzen wrote the book while on sabbatical and living with her parents after an emotionally painful divorce (her husband left her for Bob from Gay.com) and a physically painful car accident. That doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but trust me, it was upbeat and funny and interesting.

Spark: How Old Fashioned Values Drive a Twenty-First Century Corporation by Frank Koller. This is another book I heard about on NPR. I was intrigued because it is about a company (Lincoln Electric) that is one of our clients at the firm. I didn’t know anything about them, so it was neat to learn more about a company that we represent. Lincoln Electric offers profit sharing and a guaranteed employment program which is pretty unique in the corporate world. They have a promise to employees not to lay folks off during downturns due to lack of work. Instead they cut hours (down to 30 hours/week at the lowest) and shift folks to other jobs or even to painting the factory if need be. It was need to see how that worked.

Tall Tales by Jeff Smith. A prequel to the Bone series.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. This was a reread for me. I have been slowly reading the Harry Potter series to Jami (she had never read the books!), and we just finished Book 5. I forgot how dark things get toward the end.

Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler. Peter Hessler is an American journalist who lived in China for a decade. This is his third book about his experiences there and offer and really wonderful look into what life is like in China. If you are at all interested in China, I recommend reading him.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. This was our book club book this month. Prior to this the only  Atwood I had read was The Handmaid’s Tale, and this book was very different (a historical novel based on a true story instead of dystopian science fiction). It was really good though and lead to an interesting book club discussion. I think I will have to try more books by Atwood.

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel. Another graphic novel – this one about a boy who is inadvertently taken from the land of the living to the land of ghost and the efforts to rescue him. It’s another good one – well-drawn and exciting story.

The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg. This mystery reminded me of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books – probably mostly because they are Swedish, but also because of the weather and focus on domestic violence and the darker side of humans. If you like the Stieg Larsson books, I think you will enjoy this one as well.

October Round-up

August Round-Up

I read 18 books in August, 8 fiction and 10 non-fiction. I feel like that must be a personal record for non-fiction read in a month!

Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell. A graphic novel that looks at a family affected by mental illness. The book is from Top Shelf, which is one of my favorite publishers of graphic novels.

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars, Volume 1 by Frank Beddor. An interesting somewhat Steampunk reworking of Alice in Wonderland, in which Hatter M (part of an elite squad of millinery-ly inclined secret security agents) attempt to rescue Alyss, who has been kidnapped.

For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope. Parker-Pope decided to take a look at the scientific research done on marriage after her own marriage failed. Her book offers an interesting overview of the research out there, as well as some concrete advice, in an easy, enjoyable read.

To Davy Jones Below by Carola Dunn. Daisy Dalrymple again. DCPL continues to leave me hanging (I had to buy this book), but I just discovered Montgomery County has more comprehensive coverage of this series. Expect more Daisy Dalrymple books next month!

Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer) by Stan Cox. This book was the “bonus book” for our September book club. It was interesting, if sometimes dry, and a fairly quick read (it’s only about 200 pages). It definitely opened my eyes to how unsustainable our current energy use is here in the U.S.

I Am Hutterite: The Fascinating True Story of a Young Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Her Heritage by Mary-Ann Kirkby. This book is accurately subtitled. I found it truly fascinating. The only thing I knew about Hutterites going in was what I learned on a brief news program years ago – Hutterites are like Amish, but they wear patterns and are sort of communist (communal property). I learned so much about a group I hardly knew anything about. If you are curious at all, I really recommend the book.

The Shadow Spies by Nykko. This is the second book in the Elsewhere Chronicles series, which is a really book graphic novel series for middle school aged kids. Recommended.

Here If You Need Me: A True Story by Kate Braestrup. I’m reading Braestrup backward, having started with her second book, Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, but I really enjoy her as a writer – which is saying something since she is a UU minister, and chaplain for the Maine Warden Service, and I am generally pretty uncomfortable reading about folks’ faith or religious beliefs.

Aya: The Secrets Come Out by Marguerite Abouet. This is the third book in the Aya series, set in the Ivory Coast in the last 1970s – a time and place I know very little about.

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson. I finished the book about a week before the Pakistan floods and it really made me realize what a huge tragedy those floods are – and also how awful the security situation is in Afghanistan, especially for women and girls. No one should be killed or bodily injured for going to school. Let’s just agree on that now.

To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel. A memoir in graphic novel form about the author’s childhood and teenage years at the School of American Ballet in New York City. This would definitely be enjoyed by ballet crazed youngsters (and offers a positive view of a dancer who chooses not to pursue ballet as a career).

The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp. It really is striking how much the food universe has changed in just the 3o years I’ve been alive. Kamp does a good job of tracking the progress.

Korgi, Vol. 1 by Christian Slade. Beautifully illustrated wordless graphic novel set in a magical land filled with Mollies (wood folk) and corgi dogs.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier. A graphic novel memoir of middle school, with it’s normal doses of crushes, teasing, peer pressure, and a heaping side of dental distress.

Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson. My least favorite of all the Bryson books I’ve read so far. Bryson wanders solo around Europe in the early 1990s. Mostly he seems mopey to me.

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons In Life, Love, And Language by Deborah Fallows. I got this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. It thought it was a good, quick read (I read the whole book in one sitting on a bus to New York), but it’s definitely not my favorite of the expats in China genre. I found myself wishing that Fallows had either gone there more with the language (more research and nitty-gritty on the Chinese language, rather than just anecdotes), or had headed more firmly in the personal experiences direction. If you are interested in reading about the experiences of a Westerner living in China and learning Chinese, I recommend River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler.

Silverfin: The Graphic Novel by Charlie Higson. Imagine James Bond as a teenager, going to school at Eton. Now imagine a graphic novel was made of that account. Voila, Silverfin: The Graphic Novel.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. A Reliable Wife is a dark book, set in Wisconsin in the early 1900s. Ralph Truitt has advertised for a wife, and Catherine Land replies, finding herself in relatively short order on a train into the long, dark Wisconsin winter. Little is what it seems, and the back story unravels over the course of the book. It was a good read.

Solomon’s Thieves by Jordan Mechner. Another graphic novel. I know Mechner from his adaptation of Prince of Persia (yes, the video game) to graphic novel format, so it was interesting to see what Mechner creates when starting from scratch. Solomon’s Thieves is set in the Middle Ages and deals with the return of the Knights Templar from the Crusades and their subsequent persecution by the French monarchy. But humorously.

August Round-Up

July Round-Up

I read 14 books in July, all fiction. I’m really going to have to work on my “read more non-fiction” goal.

Foiled by Jane Yolen. Jane Yolen has written a lot of children’s and YA books, and now she has ventured into the realm of graphic novels. This one involves a high school fencer, and was quite enjoyable.

Kit Feeny: On the Move by Michael Townsend. This is a new (to me at least) graphic novel series for kids. In size and style it reminds me of the Babymouse series, although I think it will appeal to boys much more than Babymouse does.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. The final book in Larsson’s series. Much anticipated and throughly enjoyed. I’ve seen the first two (Swedish) movies now as well and they are quite well done.

Black is for Beginnings by Laurie Faria Stolarz. This is part of a whole YA series, and what is interesting me is that the first four books were regular novels and then with book five, there was a switch to a graphic novel format. Not my favorite, but then I don’t think I was quite the target audience.

Styx and Stones by Carola Dunn. Daisy Dalrymple takes on a village poison pen. Amusing as always.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. I loved this book, which tells of a romance between a widowed army major and a (also widowed) village shopkeeper (who happens to be Pakistani). Highly recommended.

The Good Son by Michael Gruber. I picked this up after NPR recommended it as a summer read. (And I just saw that Nancy Pearl also recommended it yesterday). It’s a thriller set mostly and Pakistan. It was indeed a good read, and will make a good movie one of these days. Lots of action.

Rattle His Bones by Carola Dunn. Another Daisy Dalrymple – this time she’s solving a mystery in a Natural History museum.

Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti. This book had shown up on my Amazon recommended list after I rated The Willoughbys so highly, so I was very eager to read. So eager that I bought it, since it never showed up at DCPL. I was quite disappointed. While I’m sure kids would find it amusing, it wasn’t anywhere near as *smart* as The Willoughbys. Read that book instead!

Kit Feeny: The Ugly Necklace by Michael Townsend. The second Kit Feeny book. There are only two out so far, but I bet it will become a popular series. It’s well done. Good for new independent readers.

The Saint of Incipient Insanities by Elif Shafak. This was a book club selection. I’m so lucky to have such a great book club. Elif Shafak is a Turkish writer, and this was the first book she wrote in English. The only other Turkish writer I’ve read is Orhan Pamuk, and I enjoyed this book much more. It lead to an interesting discussion on being a “foreigner” in another culture and on mental illness. I’m interested in reading another book by her – maybe Bastard of Istanbul.

Prime Baby by Gene Luen Yang. Yang is such an interesting graphic novelist to me. I don’t really get how his brain works, but I do usually enjoy his works. In this one an elementary school aged boy becomes convinced that his sister is an alien, with interesting results.

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers by Sharyn McCrumb. Sharyn McCrumb is one of my favorite authors, and this is her latest book in the Ballad series. The books are all mysteries, set in the Appalachian Mountain of Virginia/Tennessee, and they are beautifully written. I don’t think this was her strongest one, but it was still quite good. If you’ve never read her before, I recommend starting with the first book in the series, If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O.

Faithful Place by Tana French. Tana French is an excellent mystery writer and if you like mysteries, you should definitely be reading hers. This is her third book and I find her writing less formulaic than other mystery writers. Of the three, this was my least favorite, but I would still rate it pretty highly. Recommended.

July Round-Up

June Round-Up

I read 11 books in June: 8 Fiction and 3 Non-fiction.

The Blue Zones: Lessons on Living Longer from the People Who Live the Longest by Dan Buettner. Blue Zones are geographic areas where people have a longer than average live expectancy – commonly living active lives past the age of 100. Being interest in living a long, healthy, active life, I was interested in what Buettner would have found in his studies of these areas. Some common themes were a having a sense of purpose, diets with little meat, and frequent low to moderate level exercise (ie, walking).

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This was our book club book at the Ethical Society this month, and it was a good, if hard, read. The authors definitely weren’t neutral and expressed some strong opinions, some of which I questioned, but it was good to be reminded of the challenges that women around the world face.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave. This was an amazing book, and very interesting to read after Half the Sky – it addresses some of the same issues, but in a beautiful, heart-wrenching fictional form. Highly recommended.

Passage by Connie Willis.

Something to Declare by Julia Alvarez. This was a book of essays about writing, home, and other topics. I was excited to read it, loving as I do In the Time of Butterflies, but I found it to be just okay. Interesting to see how a writer thinks, but nothing to enthralling.

Dead in the Water by Carola Dunn. Book 6 of the Daisy Dalrymple series – this one set at some boat races on the Thames. This series continues to be a fun, light read. Perfect beach read, even when not at the beach!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. We read this for our other book club (which has the best discussions).  I realized about 50 pages in to it that I had read it before, in high school I think.  It was sadder than I remembered, but also hopeful. It’s an easy read.

Calamity Jack by Shannon Hale. Back to the graphic novels, watch my book counts soar! Calamity Jack is the sequel to Rapunzel’s Revenge, both fractured fairy tales. I don’t like Jack quite as much as I enjoyed Rapunzel, but still a good read that I really looked forward too.

Resistance: Book One by Carla Jablonski. This graphic novel covers the Resistance movement in France during World War II from the perspective of a few village children. It was good – well illustrated and intriguing. I am looking forward to future installments.

Alison Dare, Little Miss Adventures by J. Torres. This book, was really three separate comic adventures: Alison Dare & the Arabian Nights, Alison Dare & the Secret of the Blue Scarab, and Alison Dare & the Mummy Child. Miss Dare is the 12-year-old daughter of (separated) archeologists and she doesn’t want for action. I really enjoyed that Alison being a girl was simply a fact of the story with no further comment. It’s nice to see a female protagonist taking full part in traditional comic book adventures.

The Outlander by Gil Adamson. My second “highly recommended” book of the month. The Outlander is Adamson’s first book and it follows a young widow who we learn early on has killed her husband as she escapes West, trying to avoid capture by the dead husband’s brothers. The story of what happened to the widow evolves over the course of the story of her escape and it is a truly engaging read.

June Round-Up