Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kat & Mouse: Teacher Torture

Kat's father, a middle-school science teacher, has received a job offer at a prestigious private school in New Hampshire. The book opens as Kat and her parents leave Iowa and head across country in their rental truck toward their new life.

Kat feels a bit out of her element at the new school, where she has to wear an uncomfortable uniform and deal with snarky cliques and unfamiliar sports. Having her father as a teacher is also a bit embarrassing, but she makes friends with another relatively new student, Mee-Seen, known as "Mouse."

When someone steals the microscopes from her father's lab - and leaves a blackmail note for him, demanding high grades for everyone in the class, Kat and Mouse put their heads together to discover the culprit. They are both intelligent girls, and together, they discover, they make a great team.

I loved that the friends are puzzled by the obnoxiousness of the "popular" girls but clearly have no desire to emulate them or be part of their group. They are unabashedly intelligent, and they put their brains to good use. I also liked the fact that Kat's parents are not the two-dimensional parental constructs seen in many graphic novels. They are peripheral to the story, but we still see them dealing with their own challenges and issues.

The illustrations are clearly manga-inspired, but the faces in particular seem less stylized and more realistic than most manga. The artwork does a great job of depicting the emotional elements of each scene, and the mix of humor, mystery and school politics makes for an engaging read. I'm passing this one on to my 10-year-old, who I think will enjoy it, particularly the do-it-yourself science experiment that is included at the end of the book (which Kat and Mouse use in order to solve the mystery). I think this would appeal to fans of Baby Mouse, Fashion Kitty and, of course, Agent Boo (also by de Campi).

Books in the Kat & Mouse manga series:
1. Teacher Torture
2. Tripped
3. The Ice Storm

Teacher Torture (#1 in the Kat & Mouse manga series) by Alex de Campi and Federica Manfredi (Tokyopop, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy: "...have a hard time now with books where that (being popular!) drives the character. I much prefer a book like this which is about having friends, having fun, but not sacrificing self."
Chicken Spaghetti: "The art is very appealing and de Campi writes her characters with a great sense of humor, making Kat and Mouse a fun read for any kid who enjoys a detective story."
The Shady Glade: "With art that is a little more realistic-looking than traditional manga, you can almost see yourself at Kat’s school."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Return of the Emerald Skull

Barnaby Grimes returns in his second action-packed historical mystery. This tick-tock boy is not one to stand aside and watch other people be bullied or mistreated. He is brave, impetuous, clever, and - happily for the reader - not one to turn down a challenge. Even when that challenge involves a school full of boys on the rampage all under the control of a mysterious artifact discovered in the deepest jungles of South America.

Barnaby's adventures in this installment of Stewart and Riddell's beautifully illustrated new series involve ghost ships, mind control, a beautiful young girl with astonishing fighting skills, and a young "cobblestone-creeper," among other things. The book opens with a dramatic hook, as did the first, backtracks to explain the events that led up to the chilling opening scene, and tumbles to a quick resolution. My personal desire for a longer denouement and more time to become acquainted with the secondary characters will probably not be felt by the book's target audience, who will, no doubt, be thrilled by the exhilarating roller-coaster ride.

At any rate, Barnaby is great fun to spend time with, and I am looking forward to the U.S. release of the third book in the series, Legion of the Dead. Riddell and Stewart, not surprisingly, have a creative and entertaining website. Check it out for more information on this as well as their other series - and also to see the style of the wonderful illustrations. You can even try your hand at the highstacking game!

This book counts as a folklore book for the Once Upon a Time III Quest the Second because of the elements of South American folklore, with the jaguar imagery, jungle pyramids, human sacrifices, the emerald skull, and other mysterious artifacts from a lost civilization.

Books in the
Barnaby Grimes series
1. Curse of the Night Wolf
2. Return of the Emerald Skull
3. Legion of the Dead (forthcoming 2010)

Return of the Emerald Skull
(#2 in the Barnaby Grimes series) by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (David Fickling Books, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Ms. Yingling Reads: "This is worth buying if only for this sentence (pg. 11) "Of course, the most famous school rebellion took place a few years earlier, at Enderby Court College for Young Ladies. The Enderby Amazons defeated Dame Cecily Mandrake and her fifty-strong staff of ex-convicts using croquet mallets and feral cats...""

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tender Morsels

14-year-old Riga is living an unbearable life. Since the death of her mother, she has lived in a run-down old shack all alone with her father, who abuses her physically, emotionally, and sexually. She is kept away from the other villagers, kept apart, under his thumb, working hard, dreading the night time. When things become so very horrible that, finding herself with a baby and no way to keep either of them safe, she decides that death is preferable. But there is something - we never know what - a fairy? A sprite? A deity? that intervenes, transporting Liga and her baby to a safe place. Liga thinks of the benefic being as the moon-baby.

There they live, in an idyllic village, with kind people and safe wild animals, Liga and - eventually - two wonderful daughters. It is a delightful place to grow up, but even so, the real world insinuates itself from time to time, in the form of a greedy "littlee" man and some men in bear shape who travel through the veil separating the two worlds. One of the daughters finds herself longing for the truth, needing to know what lies on the other side. When she follows one of the bears through into the real world, she finds herself unprepared for the villagers' way of life. Still, it all so exhilarating and real.

This retelling of the fairytale "Snow White and Rose Red" is even darker and menacing than the grimmest Grimm's tale. Traditional fairy tales are all about plot and wonder - the characters tend to be flat, more devices to hang the story on than real people. When the characters gain depth and resonance, their misadventures are felt on a gut level, which makes for some difficult reading. I identified so strongly with Liga that, while I found the book to be valuable reading, I can't exactly say that I enjoyed it. I enjoyed parts of it, but after setting it down, I always returned to it with a dull sense of dread. Bad things happen in this book from its opening pages - and knowing that such things can and do happen gave the book an overshadowing sense of unease for me, as I considered the possible future of these characters I was coming to care so much about.

Lanagan has a writing style that is vivid and evocative, creating a pervasive sense of wonder, particularly as she relates the supernatural elements. For example, when Liga finds herself transported to her safe world, she is astounded when she finally comprehends what has happened:

Like a shaft of moon-plum light, it came to her, the realization: this was hers, all hers, the work and gift of the moon-baby.

"I do not deserve this!" But she heard the words miss the mark. The forces behind these events, these gifts, had stars and seasons to move, oceans to summon, continents to lay waste. They did not take account of such small things as Liga's deserving or Liga's not. To them in their vastness, she must look as blameless as her baby. This was a mere blink of their eye, a grain of purest luck fallen from a winnowing of such size that it was not given her to see the sense or benefit of it.
And beneath the sense of wonder, the supernatural elements, is a pervasive sense of the real world, of human nature and the fact that, magical happenings or not, life moves on:

Four years passed, and not without incident, for the infancy and childhood of two girls, making a mother out of their mam and sisters out of each other, is one incident after another, each as momentous as the last.
The narrative structure of the book did not always work for me - at times it felt as though the book were a patchwork of several short stories cobbled together. There were some odd point-of-view shifts that were confusing and had the effect of making the story momentarily lose its direction and focus. The third-person narration at times switched into first person, yet the first-person narrator was a relatively minor character, and the switch was puzzling and threw me out of the story for a moment or two each time it happened. However, that is a minor quibble in this powerful, bittersweet story about life, loss, and transformation.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Eva's Book Addiction: "From its truly horrifying and brutal beginning to its satisfying but bittersweet end, this novel is mesmerizing."
Neth Space: "As wonderfully told the story is, I have to admit that Tender Morsels is a story that really didn’t appeal to me. It’s not a book that I enjoyed reading, though to approach this book as a story to ‘enjoy’, may not be the best approach."
Page 247: "The fantasy is woven so tightly into this story that it became real for me, and I love the bears."
Things Mean a Lot: "I seriously couldn’t have loved Tender Morsels more. It’s such an intelligent, sensitive book. It’s both brutal and gentle, both subtle and completely naked."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Witty, Weird and Outrageous

Hector Hugh Munro wrote under the pen name Saki, and his short stories are among my very favorites. These tales are indeed witty, weird and outrageous, as the title of this 2-CD audio collection claims, and they lend themselves perfectly to being read aloud. Saki's characters are unforgettable, springing to life through his evocative descriptions, and the stories are funny and surprising.

Much of the humor arises from the fact that human behavior (particularly that of the upper-class members of early 20th-century British society who populate these tales) is very predictable - until one of the characters decides to capitalize on that fact, taking things out of the realm of the expected with hilarious results.

Saki is the author of one of my all-time favorite stories, "The Open Window." If you have not read this story, you absolutely must! And you don't even have to get up - just click here - right now! You won't regret it.

There are delightful stories and creepy stories - and they all have twists, turns and surprises. Another favorite included here is "The Hen," in which Clovis, a clever rascal who is featured in several of these tales, takes it upon himself to convince a stubborn house guest to leave early - something no one has ever succeeded in doing. His methods are as surprising as they are ingenious.

The stories in this audio collection are from Saki's Chronicles of Clovis (1911) and Beasts and Superbeasts (1914).

Witty, Weird and Outrageous: Saki Favorites by Saki; narrated by Tom Sellwood (Commuters Library, 2001)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Survivor in Death

This installment in the futuristic Eve Dallas series opens with a harrowing scene in which an entire family is murdered in their beds - all except for the 9-year-old daughter, who just happened to wake up in the middle of the night with a craving for a fizzy orange drink. Nixie is a resourceful child and calls 911. When Dallas arrives on the scene, she discovers the little girl, covered in blood, in shock, hiding in the shower.

The killers will be after Nixie when they find out she survived, and when she freaks at the thought of being taken away by Child Protective Services, Eve brings her home with her instead. Eve has a tangled mystery to unravel in order to find out who could possibly want to murder an entire family, by all accounts a normal, law-abiding, loving family with no apparent enemies.

Unlike most of the books in this series, this one is not an open mystery - we do not alternate viewpoints with the killers, and I enjoyed that change. I prefer to follow along with the investigation and draw my own conclusions as new information surfaces. Nixie's devastating loss is not glossed over by any stretch of the imagination - her suffering and trauma are clear and present in every page of the book. These murders are not just a puzzle to solve - they pack an emotional wallop. Eve's own abusive childhood has defined who she is, how she views the world, and fuels her determination to catch the killers in order to give the bereaved child the minimum comfort that justice has to offer. The book deals with the emotional impact of the crime as much as with the solving of that crime, and all our favorite characters make an appearance.

Each of these books is a stand-alone mystery, but I find that reading the series in order lends more emotional depth to the stories. The crimes that Eve and Peabody solve have consequences on everyone involved that extend into other books - things do not return to square one upon the conclusion of the story. While I enjoy the mystery element, I have grown to care about the characters, and I am every bit as interested in the drama of their lives as I am in the crimes to be solved. I believe that is why, twenty books into the series, I'm still looking forward to reading the next one.

Books in the Eve Dallas series:
1. Naked in Death
Glory in Death
3. Immortal in Death
4. Rapture in Death
5. Ceremony in Death
6. Vengeance in Death
7. Holiday in Death
8. Conspiracy in Death
9. Loyalty in Death
10. Witness in Death
11. Judgment in Death
12. Betrayal in Death
13. Seduction in Death
14. Reunion in Death
15. Purity
in Death
16. Portrait
in Death
17. Imitation
in Death
18. Divided
in Death
19. Visions in Death
20. Survivor
in Death
Origin in Death
22. Memory in Death
23. Born in Death
24. Innocent in Death
25. Creation in Death
26. Strangers in Death
26. Salvation in Death

Survivor in Death (#20 in the Eve Dallas series) by J.D. Robb (Brilliance Audio, 2005)

Also reviewed at:
Banter Basement: "I have read it before and I still couldn't put it down."
Revisiting the Moon's Library: "Really good read for characters, but mystery was eh for me. There have been better."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

White Witch, Black Curse

Many plot strands that began in earlier Hollows novels are woven together in this, the seventh installment of Rachel Morgan's adventures. First, memories are beginning to surface of the horrible night in which she lost someone she loved, and it appears that the new information may lead her to the killer. It also appears that a ghost is haunting the house, and the spirit is someone from Rachel's past (as recounted in the story "Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel" from the anthology Holidays Are Hell). And Marshall, platonic friend, all-around great guy, is worming his way into Rachel's heart. Can she be ready for another relationship? She's not sure, but she can't help thinking about it...
Rachel's immediate problem is that a banshee is on the loose, and as the creature has the ability to drain people's auras, sucking on their energy, even draining them to the point of death, that is a not a good thing. Especially when the Inderland police are refusing to act, leaving it instead to the mundane (and ill-prepared) FIB to take care of it. Rachel is way out of her league, as she realizes when she wakes up in the hospital, and her days spent there as a child, losing her friends one by one to various illnesses, are brought back forcibly to her. She needs to locate a murderer and somehow stop the banshee - and then Al steps in, snatching one of her friends away to the ever after - so teaching him a lesson goes on the list as well. Matters are complicated by a visit from her big brother, Robbie, who still treats her like she's ten years old and clearly disapproves of her lifestyle - and go from bad to worse when Rachel discovers she's been shunned. Which is so not fair, she thinks angrily, when every thing she's done in her dealings with demons has been to save the lives of others. But life, she already knows, has never been fair.

This is a solid installment in this series, which does a great job of balancing emotional issues with adventure and excitement. Rachel has come a long way from the first books, having learned a bit of tact and patience but still refusing to compromise her morals and willingness to take personal risks for her beliefs. The Hollows is an intriguing world, and with each book we are taken further into its mysteries. Certain characters and plot strands from previous books are only touched upon in this one - we catch a glimpse of Trent, and have a few brief scenes with the redoubtable Al - and we never get to see Ceri at all. But that's okay - the Hollows is a complex place, and while it will be an impatient wait for the next book, it's satisfying to know that there is still plenty of action waiting to happen.

Books in Hollows series:
1. Dead Witch Walking
2. The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
3. Every Which Way but Dead
A Fistful of Charms
For a Few Demons More
6. The Outlaw Demon Wails
7. White Witch, Black Curse

8. Black Magic Sanction

White Witch, Black Curse (#7 in the Hollows series) by Kim Harrison (Eos, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books: " I loved The Outlaw Demon Wails so much so there was a good chance that this book would pale slightly in comparison. I don’t think the series has started to go downhill at all."
Darque Reviews: "For fans of the series there are some pleasant surprises, but for every enjoyable moment the heroine has, there is something dark and potentially deadly just around the corner."
SciFiGuy: "It is the emotional power of our three central characters - Rachel, Ivy and Jenks - that continues to command my attention irrespective of the action of the moment. After six books they have grown and worked their way into my heart and mind."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Miki Falls: Autumn

Miki and Hiro can no longer deny their love for each other. Hiro is flouting the rules he is supposed to follow as a "Deliverer," feeling that it would be hypocritical of him to deny his love for Miki, considering the important role Deliverers play in relationships. Miki is head over heels, too, and when her nemesis, Reika, shows up to interfere once again, Miki fights back. She gives Reika a piece of her mind, and Hiro tells her to do her worst. If she wants to tell on them to his superiors, that is fine.

Miki and Hiro decide to run away, rather than passively wait for disastrous consequences. They know in their hearts that their time together cannot last forever, that life - or his superiors - will catch up with them at some point, but they leave together all the same. Their love is strong, and it will be enough...won't it? Miki thinks so, until she overhears a conversation that leaves her reeling.

I truly enjoyed this installment in the Miki Falls series, as I have the previous two. The books work very well because of the skillful way in which the images and text mesh, particularly as displayed within the specific layout of each page. The frames are broken up in such a way that they reflect the particular emotion within the scene. For example, when Miki and Hiro come across what appears to be an abandoned house in the woods, they turn a corner and see an old woman chopping wood. The frames are arranged in a zigzag pattern with jagged edges, which conveys both the sharp sound of the axe as well as the surprise that Miki and Hiro are feeling. In another, very emotionally charged scene between Miki and Hiro, the frames are stacked horizontally in such a way as to give quick glimpses first of one character's eyes, then the other's, which results in a cinematic effect of quick cuts from one face to the other as the emotions register. It's very effective.

Miki and Hiro have taken the plunge in this one, and there's no turning back from here. I find it interesting that the seasons for the 4-volume series begin with spring and end with winter: it creates a sense of foreboding, as spring is typically associated with hope and renewal, and winter, of course, with death and endings. I have come to care very much about these characters, and I hope they will be able to overcome the considerable obstacles in their path and move toward a positive resolution in the final volume.

Miki Falls: Autumn (#3 in the Miki Falls series) by Mark Crilley (HarperTeen, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Biblio File: "Crilley has an interesting frame style...I first really noticed this with Autumn, where it really ties in well with the tenseness of the situation and Miki's emotional state at the time. I love it."

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Death Collector

"Four days after his own funeral, Albert Wilkes came home for tea."

Take that show-stopper of a first line, and add to it foggy Victorian London, a mysterious department within the British Museum called The Department of Unclassified Artifacts, and a murder. Then throw a few teenagers into the mix: Eddie, a street urchin, who happens to pick a pocket at exactly the wrong - or right? - time; George, a clockmaker, who is on the brink of becoming an employee in the aforementioned mysterious department; and Liz, the insightful and brave daughter of an elderly clergyman.

Together, these three become involved in an intriguing mystery that involves zombies, seances, resurrected dinosaurs, ingenious clockwork mechanisms and a set of old journals that, it appears, are literally to die for. Despite the set of fairly stock characters and two-dimensional, thoroughly evil villains, the story takes off with its fast pace and gripping storyline, and there are enough plot twists and surprises to thrill any reader, particularly those in the targeted teenage audience.

I was delighted when the events of the book touched on the dinosaurs created by Waterhouse Hawkins, particularly the iguanodon statue in which he hosted the dinner, as so beautifully presented and illustrated in Barbara Kerley's The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins. It was fun to revisit the events from that book through the eyes of the characters in this one. Steven Pacey brings the story to life with his expressive narration, making it difficult to hit the "stop" button. A sequel to this one, The Parliament of Blood, has recently been released, and I'll be looking forward to seeing what bizarre trouble this sympathetic trio of friends will get into next.

The Death Collector by Justin Richards; narrated by Steven Pacey (Listening Library/Random House Audio, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
Bookshelves of Doom: "The Death Collector is a rip-snorter of an adventure novel. "

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins

It may be difficult to imagine today, but not too long ago most people had absolutely no idea what dinosaurs looked like. When the first dinosaur fossils were found in England, scientists turned to an artist named Waterhouse Hawkins, a man who was particularly talented at sculpting animals, to make sculptures of the creatures based on the few fossil fragments they had unearthed. Unlike today, they had no complete skeletons, and Waterhouse had to work from bits and pieces with the insight of a paleontologist to guide him, compare them to the skeletons of existing animals, and use his imagination to do the rest.

This richly illustrated biography of Waterhouse Hawkins is a fascinating look into the life and work of this artist, as well as a glimpse into a time in which details of prehistoric life on our planet were barely known by the average person. Waterhouse was a sort of ambassador for the dinosaurs, lecturing and showing his works, allowing people to see how these ancient creatures might have looked when they walked the earth so very long ago.

My favorite scene in the book is when Waterhouse is about to unveil his work to the most critical audience of all: the leading scientists of England. Waterhouse decided to present his work with flair: he designed and illustrated the invitations himself, writing the words on the wing of a pterodactyl. Here is a photo of one of the original invitations (from Cabinet magazine):

When the scientists arrived for their elegant, catered dinner, they found themselves seated at a table inside the model of the iguanodon! Illustrator Brian Selznick (author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, one of my favorite books) based most of his illustrations on the original sketches of Waterhouse Hawkins as well as other images he found in his research. He transformed the above invitation into a lovely bookplate for the book itself. Below is an engraving from the London Illustrated News (from Cabinet magazine) of the dinner party.

Waterhouse Hawkins is a fascinating man and a sympathetic character, as we see him struggle against adversity and refuse to give up. Selznick's vivid illustrations evoke the historical time and the events with bold, engaging images, and Barbara Kerley's text is straightforward, never stuffy or didactic, with vivid descriptions and a keen focus on the key events that is sure to maintain the reader's interest. There are fascinating notes from both the author and the illustrator at the end of the book, and while the print is a bit too small not to be off-putting to younger readers, the contents are fascinating, detailing the background of the creation of the book, including entertaining personal anecdotes about their experiences. This wonderful book is sure to appeal to dinosaur lovers of all ages, as well as to those who are fascinated by history and artists, and the contributions of a truly amazing man.

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley; illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press, 2001)

Also reviewed at:
Biography Break: "The truth is stranger than fiction in this fabulous picture-book biography, paying homage to the life of a man who brought imagination to life and art and science together." "A remarkable book about a remarkable man, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins is an exciting intellectual adventure that takes young readers back to a time before everyone was familiar with dinosaurs’ appearance..."

Below is one of Waterhouse Hawkins' dinosaurs, which can still be seen today in the gardens of the gardens of the Crystal Palace in London.

Click here for more photos of the dinosaurs. It's amazing to imagine how awestruck people must have been by their size and appearance when they were first shown to the public.

Here is an interview with Barbara Kerley at Becky's Book Reviews.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

Donnie (a.k.a. Fanboy) is an aspiring writer of graphic novels. Aside from the times he's in his room, working on his secret graphic novel project, or talking with his one friend Cal (typically online, because Cal is usually too involved with his sports friends at school), life is fairly miserable for him. His parents are divorced, his mother remarried (to "the step-fascist") and hugely pregnant, and they've moved to a new town where Donnie hasn't mad many friends. It's hard to make friends when his mother has rules about never inviting anyone home.

Lately things have been getting worse. His mother's pathetic advice to "ignore" the bullies has resulted in enormous bruises up and down his arm from a sadistic classmate in gym class. However, it is that bullying that draws him to the attention of Kyra (a.k.a. Goth Girl). Not only do they find they share the same obsession for graphic novels (albeit they disagree on the best authors), but they become friends. She convinces him to show her his comic, and she is so impressed that she becomes determined to help him succeed in publishing it.

There is a lot happening in this book, which takes place over several weeks in Donnie's life. I am generally turned off by bully stories - I feel they have been so, so overdone, and while yes, it still happens, few authors seem to take into account the changes that have taken place in schools following Columbine and similar tragic school incidents. But this book wasn't exclusively centered around the bullying - it was just one symptom among the others that typified Fanboy's life. It was distressing to see how very alienated he is, and how little support he has. As a first person narrator, he presents the story from his point of view, and I enjoyed the fact that he kept slamming up against his assumptions and having to reassess (making the reader reassess as well).

I enjoyed the fact that everyone in the book has flaws, from Donnie's parents to himself, not to mention Kyra, and that nothing can be taken at face value - just like in real life. Donnie's assumptions prove to be wrong, time and time again, and sometimes this is a good thing (as he learns from Kyra that authority is not always to be passively accepted and obeyed, as seen in his very satisfying confrontation with the vice principal), and sometimes it's hugely disappointing to him. Fanboy won me over with his willingness to reexamine his assumptions and his courage to continue in the face of adversity.

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (Graphia, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews: "But what could turn out to be a morbid tale of a loner who goes crazy and unleashes that craziness on his classmates, instead is turned into the bittersweet journey of a young boy's first experience in love."
Bookshelves of Doom: "But my major problem? I kind of hated the narrator. I'm all for crotchety, obnoxious high school students, but he was so over-the-top. He had reason to be a pill to the people his own age, sure, but he was such a jerk at home -- it just turned me off. Maybe I'm getting old."
MotherReader: "Lyga finds a truly plausible balance between humor and credibility in terms of Fanboy’s obsession, and between harmless fantasy and destructive reaction to teen angst."
Reader Rabbit: "All in all, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, was well-done and I desperately want to read the author's other books."

Author interview here!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure

This first book in the Haunted Bookshop Mystery series is a sweet, clever homage both to classic hard-boiled mystery detectives as well as the wonderful book (and film), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Ladytink's alluring reviews of the series pushed me over the edge, as usual, and I very much enjoyed this introduction to the books.

Penelope Thornton-McClure has moved to the picturesque small town of Quindicott, Rhode
Island with her young son following the death of her husband. Her aunt owns a book shop there, which had been failing, but now Penelope is her partner, and things are looking up. In fact, Penelope is putting to good use the skills she learned during her previous career in the publishing industry to publicize the store, and she has managed to get a bestselling mystery novelist to come to the store to launch his latest book.

When a sudden death occurs at the book signing, Penelope is devastated. First because she thinks that it will ruin the store, and then because it looks as though the death is a murder - and she's on the list of suspects. To add to her fear and confusion, she's started hearing voices. Can it be that the voice is actually that of a P.I. who died in her store back in the 1940s? The same P.I. that the famous mystery writer's books are based on? If it's actually true, he might be the perfect partner in solving the murder before she ends up being arrested for a murder she did not commit.

At first I found Penelope a bit wishy washy, but as the story progressed it became clear why that was. Those reasons, once revealed, made me root for her as she began asserting herself - with the aid of the very pushy dead investigator, Jack Shepard, to bolster her courage. This first volume begins to explore the main characters, as well as the small town of Quindicott with its quirky cast of residents. I look forward to the further adventures of Penelope and Jack, particularly as their unique relationship continues to develop.

Books in the Haunted Bookshop Mystery series:
1. The Ghost and Mrs. McClure
2. The Ghost and the Dead Deb
3. The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library

4. The Ghost and the Femme Fatale

5. The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure (#1 in the Haunted Bookshop Mystery series) by Alice Kimberly (Berkley Prime Crime, 2004)

Also reviewed at:
The Movieholic and Bibliophile's Blog: "Penelope Thornton-McClure (Pen for short), is a great character but what will really draw the readers in is Jack Shepard. He’s interesting and I love learning what he can do as a ghost..."
On My Bookshelf: "If the solution is a little pat, that was fine with me, because the Jack/Pen relationship sparkles, Quindicott, Rhode Island and its inhabitants are real and interesting, and the mystery is compelling enough."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Girl Meets Boy

I was not aware of the Canongate Myths Series until I read Rhinoa's - and then Nymeth's - review of this book, which, as per just about every one of their reviews, quickly persuaded me I absolutely had to read it. Who could resist that double-whammy? I'm glad I couldn't, at any rate.

The book is inspired by, rather than based on, the gender-bending myth of Iphis as described in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Told in alternating points of view by two sisters, Imogen and Anthea, the novel focuses on their concurrent experiences of enlightenment. Imogen has pulled strings to get her sister hired at the company where she works, called Pure. Anthea doesn't much care for her job or the people who work there (aside from her sister), and one day she finds herself falling in love with a young woman who calls herself Iphisol, whose personal anti-corporate, anti-Pure campaign includes spray-painting enormous signs that decry the company's policies.

Imogen works hard at Pure and, while she doesn't appear to care much for the petty politics of the place, she is ambitious and feels that she has a future there. The sudden discovery that her sister is a lesbian shakes her world view substantially. Directly on its heels comes a work-related discovery that makes her further re-evaluate her assumptions.

This is a thoughtful novel, with characters who change and develop substantially throughout the course of a rather short book. I found myself caring very much about both of them, and rooting for them as they made their way down unfamiliar paths. I particularly enjoyed following along with Imogen's thoughts as she tries to come to terms with the fact that her sister has suddenly fallen madly in love with a woman. She is horrified and upset and worried, but the love she feels for her sister comes out as Imogen struggles to understand and accept the new situation. Here is some of what goes through her mind as she's out for a run, with all her worries swirling around in her mind.
(I am not upset. I am fine.)
(It'd be okay, I mean I wouldn't mind so much, if it was someone else's sister.)
(It is okay. Lots of people are it. Just none that I have known personally, that's all.)

(My little sister is going to grow up into a dissatisfied older predatory totally dried-up abnormal woman like Judi Dench in that film Notes on a Scandal.)
(Judi Dench plays that sort of person so well, is what I thought when I saw it, but that was when I didn't think my sister was going to maybe be one of them and have such a terrible life with no real love it it.)
(My little sister is going to have a terrible sad life.)
(But I saw Robin Goodman lean my sister into the hedge with such gentleness, there is no other word for it, and kiss her...)
There are no quotation marks in this book, which made it hard for me to fall into the story as easily as I usually do. I kept having to go back to figure out who had spoken, and who had replied, and all that tended to throw me out of the story. I became more used to it as the book progressed, but as I read it became clear that I have become a traditionalist and no longer find the stream-of-consciousness format as appealing as I did years ago. It seems to call attention to itself and the story as a construct, which is no doubt interesting on an intellectual level. But it interfered with my all-encompassing sinking-into-the-story experience. That is a very minor complaint, however. I loved the strength, compassion and humor in this tale, and I will be interested to read other books by this new-to-me author.

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith (Canongate, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Adventures in Reading: "The end of the book is sensational and develops the idea of metamorphosis as not only being personal but also being political and social."
Rhinoa's Ramblings: "This was a beautiful story. I adored it so much and have been telling everyone I know to read it. It has the most unusual and moving sex scene I think I have ever read in a novel."
Things Mean a Lot: " I loved the way she explored gender in this story – the way we perceive it, the way others perceive it, the ingrained sexist practices that are still seen as natural by so many."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom

Courtney Crumrin is back in this third volume of her adventures. The book opens as she returns to her old neighborhood, where she lived with her parents before they were invited to move to the huge old Victorian house in another town and live with her eccentric old uncle. Her parents have been unable to sell their old house, and while they are wheeling and dealing, Courtney hooks up with her old best friend. Being with him makes him realize how much things have changed for her - and how the decisions she has made, for better or worse, have changed her life.

Things are still not easy for her - particularly now, as a rift has formed between her and Uncle Aloysius following the events that occured at the close of the previous book. As if that weren't bad enough, she must now attend "Saturday School" with other magically gifted children. She quickly discovers that she doesn't fit in any better there than at regular school. When a curse one of the other students casts, just to show off, has disastrous consequences, Courtney feels obliged to help fix the situation, even though it means returning to the very dangerous Twilight Kingdom.

In previous volumes, Courtney has taken some rather ruthless steps to see that justice (as she sees it) is served - edging very close to the darkest side of the magical world. Here she is thrust into a new position of responsibility, and it is fascinating to see her maneuver through these new demands and ethical choices. She has been on her own, for the most part, in the previous volumes, but now she is with - gasp - some...could they actually be friends?

This is fast becoming one of my favorite graphic novel series. I love the dark humor, the striking illustrations, the moral ambiguity that is explored throughout, and most of all, smart, feisty, no-nonsense Courtney, whose character is further developed in each volume of this compelling series.

Books in the Courtney Crumrin series:
1. Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things
2. Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics
3. Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom
4. Courtney Crumin's Monstrous Holiday

And also:
Courtney Crumrin Tales: Portrait of the Warlock as a Young Man
Courtney Crumrin and the Fire Thief's Tale
Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere

Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom (#3 in the Courtney Crumrin graphic novel series) by Ted Naifeh (Oni Press, 2004)

Have you reviewed this book? Please leave a link in the comments to your review, and I'll link to it here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Magic Half

Miri is having a tough time of it. Life as the middle child between two sets of twins is challenging at the best of times, but now that they've moved to a new house, a place that is rumored to have stolen treasure hidden somewhere on the property. The younger set of twins is too young to care, and her older brothers are determined to find it themselves, excluding Miri at every turn. Then she has a fight with one of her brothers, who chases her, pushes her and breaks her glasses. She loses her temper, bops him on the head with a shovel, and gets sent to her room in disgrace.

There, stuck in her room, in a terrible mood, Miri stews. Then she happens upon something curious. Taped against the wall, is a piece of glass. When she looks through it, she finds herself transported back in time - same house, but decades earlier. There she meets a little girl just her age named Molly. Molly is in a desperate situation and needs Miri's help. But this whole magic thing is so confusing. They need to figure out the rules so Molly can get Miri to a safe place before it's too late.

This is a charming time-travel mystery, with two very sympathetic heroines, a thoroughly nasty villain, and a wonderfully baffling situation that is sure to delight young readers. It explores the eternal riddle of time travel - if something is changed in the past, does it change the future? Or is the past fixed and immutable because of the way the present has turned out? This is a wonderful introduction to the genre for children, and I read it aloud to my own girls (ages 8 and 10). They were literally on the edge of their seats, hopping up and down with excitement as we approached the climax of the novel. They laughed at the humor (particularly at the realistic and very funny dialogue between the siblings), recoiled at the villain (one even had a nightmare about him), and bounced up and down on either side of me on the sofa as the tension mounted. And they rejoiced in the just-right ending.

Annie Barrows is also the author of the children's Ivy and Bean series, as well as co-author of the very popular adult novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Check out this great blog for a fascinating interview with the author.

The Magic Half by Annie Barrows (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
The Miry Wilds: " This was a very sweet and magical romp!"
A Year of Reading: " is a great first time-travel book for readers new to this genre. Simple enough to understand, yet with enough time travel questions--can you change history--to pull new readers into the genre of time travel books."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Off to the Big Apple!

We leave for today on a New York City adventure. The girls have never been, so we have lots of plans for museums, zoos, shows and food.

See you next weekend!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fool by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore's latest book begins with the following warning:
This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as non-traditional grammar, spit infinitives, and the odd wank. If that sort of thing bothers you, then gentle reader pass by, for we only endeavor to entertain, not to offend. That said, if that’s the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened onto the perfect story!
He's not kidding. So be forewarned. This is a retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear, but it's much more than that. It's a clear homage to Shakespeare's genius, which takes characters and settings, not just from King Lear, but from other plays as well (there are the witches from Macbeth, for example, and we have the dubious pleasure of getting to know them a lot better this time around).

Our hero and narrator is Pocket, the king's fool. And he is a riot - he is witty, acerbic, intelligent, sarcastic, and hilarious. He recounts the events we are familiar with from the play, but weaves in a backstory that explains quite a few things I've always wondered about (like Cordelia's mother). Now, I was an English major in college, and I adore Shakespeare. But King Lear has never been my favorite play. I mean, I can appreciate it, but I have always found it very upsetting and infuriating. What is the man thinking? How could he begin to make such ridiculous, foolish decisions? And them, all the moaning and groaning and railing at the gods out in the wind and the rain. I feel like shaking the man every time. I had to laugh to see how irritating Lear was to Pocket - and smile at how Pocket always managed to retain some sympathy for the king, in spite of himself, especially as the story unfolds and we begin to learn why he feels the way he does.

There were so many passages that had me laughing and appreciating Moore's skill with words. The humor is always there, but there is often a serious undercurrent flowing beneath it. Here's one, in which Pocket is talking with Kent, the one friend Lear seems to have left. Pocket says to Kent:
"Lear says that killing takes the place of bonking in the ancient. You're killed a multitude of chaps, Kent. Do you find that to be the case?"

"No, that's a disgusting thought."

"And yet, with Lear lies your loyalty."

"I'm beginning to wonder,' said Kent, sitting down now on an overturned wooden tub. "Who do I serve? Why am I here?"

"You are here, because, in the expanding ethical ambiguity of our situation, you are steadfast in your righteousness. It is to you, my banished friend, that we all turn - a light amid the dark dealings of family and politics. You are the moral backbone on which the rest of us hang our bloody bits. Without you we are merely wiggly masses of desire writhing in our own devious bile."

"Really?" asked the old knight.

"Aye," said I.

"I'm not sure I want to keep company with you lot, then."
The story of Lear is the springboard for this story, its characters and plot - but the narrative takes a leap and moves in some new directions, so there are surprises in store for the reader. I loved the way characters that seem two-dimensional, just there for comedic convenience, suddenly say something or do something surprising, and with that they become real people that I find myself caring about. Pocket is a thorough rascal, but he wiggled his way fairly effortlessly into my heart. And Cordelia? Well, she rocks.

The text is liberally footnoted, and the footnotes are every bit as delightful and irreverent as the rest of the book. Take, for example, the footnote for "Saturnalia":
Saturnalia - the celebration of the winter solstice in the Roman pantheon, paying tribute to Saturn, the "sower of seeds." Celebration of Saturnalia involved much drunkenness and indiscriminate shagging. Observed in modern times of the ritual of the "office Christmas party."
It is delightful to watch the events unfold, particularly with the ghost that periodically appears with rhymed foretellings that are just convoluted enough to have Pocket railing at her for being so abstruse (and the ghost looking a bit smug about it all). I loved when the characters said things that were just exactly what I always think upon reading or watching the play. In this scene, Lear in his madness is bonding with Tom O'Bedlam, and both are clearly out of their minds:
Kent turned to Gloucester and shrugged. "He's not in his right mind."

"Who can blame him?" said Gloucester. "After what his daughters have done - his very flesh rising up against him. I had a beloved son who conspired to murder me, and just the thought of that nearly drove me mad."

"Do you nobles have any reaction to hardship besides going bloody barking and running off to eat dirt?" said I.
This book was a pleasure to read from beginning to end - and the author's note at the end was wonderful, too. He writes about his admiration for Shakespeare, and the fact that "No matter what you have to say, it turns out that Will said it more elegantly, more succinctly, and more lyrically - and he probably did it in iambic pentameter - four hundred years ago." He shares what he learned a about the history of the play, which is fascinating, and I was delighted to discover that after watching a dozen different versions of Lear ranting and raving, Moore found him as annoying as I do:
"Amid all the attractions at Stratford-upon-Avon, I think they should add one where participants are allowed to push King Lears off a high precipice. You know, like bungee jumping, only no bungee. Just, "Rage, wind, blow, crack your cheeks! Ahhhhhhhhhh! Splat! Sweet, sweet silence."
I will inflict on you one last passage from the book, again from the author's note at the end, because it is simply priceless:
Fool quotes or paraphrases lines from no fewer than a dozen of the plays, and I'm not even sure what came from which at this point. I've done this largely to throw off reviewers, who will be reluctant to cite and criticize passages of my writing, lest they were penned by the Bard hisownself. (I once had a reviewer take me to task for writing awkward prose, and the passage he cited was one of my characters quoting Thoreau's "On Civil Disobedience." You don't get many moments in life; pointing that out to the reviewer was one of mine.)
The only downside to reading this one is realizing that I'm stuck once again, waiting for Moore to write the next one. Luckily there are always rereading opportunities.

Fool by Christopher Moore (William Morrow, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
The Book Chick: "I would even venture to say that this is my favourite Christopher Moore book to date. This book is truly intelligent, subtly borrowing characters from many of Shakespeare's plays and bringing them all together to result in a laugh-out-loud novel."
Leap in the Dark: "What Moore has done with Fool is taken one of the great works of literature, King Lear, turned it on its head, and in the process reminded us of Shakespeare's genius."
The Shakespeare Geek Blog: "I highly recommend this book to anybody who, like me, has a sense of humor regarding their Shakespeare. Yes, he adds characters and changes the story. Yes, it’s twelve kinds of filthy and offensive. It’s also very, very funny. And, better, it still remains a tribute to its source material."
Worducopia: "Moore's irreverent sense of humor is in the same camp, to my mind, as Monty Python, so I think an appreciation for Python is a pretty good guage of whether you'll find this book the least bit funny."

B&OT reviews of other Christopher Moore books:
Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story
A Dirty Job
You Suck: A Love Story

Friday, April 3, 2009

Scaredy Kat

In this second installment of the Suddenly Supernatural series, 13-year-old Kat is still trying to get used to the abilities that surfaced in the first book: when she turned thirteen, she started being able to see spirits, just like her mother, who is a professional medium. Kat is still not too thrilled about her "gift," but she's trying to make the best of it.

The story opens at the beginning of spring break. Kat is feeling down because Jac, her best friend, has been dragged off to a conference for young musicians. Jac is an amazing cello player, a child prodigy, and her mother is very ambitious on her behalf - even though Jac is becoming increasingly ambivalent about her mother's career plans for her, particularly as Jac's opinions are never taken into consideration.

Kat, bored alone at home, decides to get started on a school project. With her new digital camera, she takes pictures of the empty house next door, and is surprised when she sees a face looking out at her from one of the windows. The house has been empty for years, hasn't it? Kat sneaks over the wall in the back yard and goes into the house, where she has an incredibly unsettling appearance.

At first I was skeptical about the fact that Kat keeps so much to herself, particularly when she is frightened, because she and her mother have such a close, positive relationship. After all, who better than her mother to explain and help her when she encounters difficulties of the supernatural kind? Kat's attitude is explained later on in the book, however, and luckily she meets a friend of her mother's who is able to help Kat gain some control over her new abilities.

While at times Kat's language is more adult than one might expect for a 13-year-old ("I don't know where Jac found the time to watch these ancient horror films, but she certainly had a commanding knowledge of them."), her thoughts and actions ring true, and I particularly love Kimmel's believable and moving portrayal of Kat's relationships those around her. Her friend Jac's mother is is a thoroughly unsympathetic character who seems indifferent to the needs and desires of her daughter, which is a stark contrast against Kat's relationship with her own mother.

This is an excellent series that is fast-paced and exciting, with interesting characters and an intriguing premise. The supernatural elements are intrinsic to the plot, but so are the regular, everyday issues that Kat and Jac are experiencing simply as young teens trying to find the right direction for their lives. I am very much looking forwar to the next book in this series, Unhappy Medium, which was released on April 1.

Books in the Suddenly Supernatural series:
1. School Spirit
2. Scaredy Kat
3. Unhappy Medium

Scaredy Kat (#2 in the Suddenly Supernatural series) by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel (Little, Brown and Co., 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books: "I think the Suddenly Supernatural series is a fantastic young reader (middle grade?) series and the writing is clear and full of humour. Kimmel captures the young teen mindset wonderfully."
The Curious Reader: "I liked the fact that even while Kat was dealing with the spirit world, she and her best friend were also dealing with being thirteen. They both had to make decisions about being their own person and relying on themselves rather than on their parents."
PikeAlicious Books: "I loved this book! Way to go, Elizabeth, for taking what could be a very suspenseful genre and making it just a little edgy, but never overstepping the line of scary for younger kids."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

They didn't cover THIS in library school

So I'm sitting at the reference desk at my library, and a young man (maybe 12 or 13 years old) comes up to me to place a hold on a book. I pull up his record to place the hold, and I find a note on his record that reads: Patron returned 4 books in the book drop that were covered with sticky yellow food. Please ask him to take care to return the books in better condition.

I dutifully passed on the message, and he had the grace to look embarrassed. "That didn't happen at home," he mumbled. I raised my eyebrows inquiringly. He leaned toward the desk and said, "Don't tell the librarian, but that wasn't food on the books." (I'm not sure who he thought I was, sitting there at the reference desk, but okay.)

I hated to ask. But of course I had to. "So...what was it?" I cringed inside, waiting for the answer.

"Dog pee."

Right Ho, Jeeves

If it hadn't been for Bertie's cousin Angela and the shark - not to mention the new mess jacket Bertie acquired in Cannes, none of it would have happened. But the fact that Jeeves oozes disapproval at the idea of Bertie wearing such an inappropriate garment in England, combined with the fact that Bertie finds himself cast aside thoughtlessly as everyone rushes to consult Jeeves about their troubles - Jeeves, never Bertie - makes Bertie decide he's had it. Surely he can solve their problems every bit as easily as Jeeves? Especially after Jeeves' advice to Bertie's friend Gussie Fink-Nottle ends up with Gussie gallivanting through London dressed in a red Mephistopheles outfit. Jeeves has lost his touch, Bertie decides. He will handle Gussie's problems himself.

This fateful decision on Bertie's part results in a hilarious matchmaking fiasco, with everyone engaged to anyone but the one they truly love, as Bertie wreaks such havoc with each scheme that his aunt takes to calling him Attila. Wodehouse is truly a comedic master. His set-ups are meticulous and brilliant - everything goes into place, just so, and the results are so very funny and always - even when you can see much of it coming - present a few delightful additional twists and surprises. He is particularly skillful with dialogue: each character has such a distinctive way of speaking that it would be simple to tell whose lines were whose if they were taken out of context. The characters are not simply foils for the humor or action; they possess unexpected depth, with pasts and aspirations and ties with others that embroil them very satisfactorily into the plots of the books.

I am thoroughly enjoying my revisit to the world of Jeeves and Wooster, particularly as narrated by Alexander Spencer (not the author in the above cover - sorry). He is an excellent reader, delivering each line with impeccable timing and expression, and truly, these are stories that lend themselves perfectly to being read aloud. I have already ordered the third book from my library, and am very much looking forward to whatever pickle Bertie will doubtlessly get himself into next - and even more, to the delight of watching him try to extricate himself. With Jeeves nearby, there's no real fear, of course, but it's a joy to watch it all unfold.

Books in the Jeeves and Wooster series (the novels):
1. Thank You, Jeeves
2. Right Ho, Jeeves
3. Code of the Woosters
4. Jeeves in the Morning
5. Mating Season
6. Return of Jeeves
7. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit
8. How Right You Are, Jeeves
9. Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
10. Jeeves and the Tie That Binds
11. Cat-Nappers

Right-Ho, Jeeves (#2 in the Jeeves and Wooster series) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Alexander Spencer (Recorded Books, 1997; originally published 1934)

Also reviewed at:
Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books: "It's sort of a comedy of errors, a comedy of manners, and a good dash of British humor all shaken and poured for your enjoyment."
On the Shelf: "This has been rather a giggle and I fear that I may start spouting such words as "what-ho!" and "spiffing!" at any given moment."
Vulpes Libris: "...he offers us a view of a world that most of us will never have any meaningful contact with and fills it with characters we want to know and to care about."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Yotsuba&!, Volume 3

Yotsuba, the irrepressible little green-haired girl, has further everyday adventures in this third installment in her series. Everything is new to her - she's never lived in a city before, never had neighbors, never seen a fireworks show, never even ridden on the bus. It is fun to see the world through her eyes - and funny, too, because she takes everything at face value, very literally. She is sweet and kind, thoughtless and impulsive, and her relationship with her father never fails to make me smile.

In this volume Yotsuba visits the zoo for the first time ever and is astonished by everything she sees. I particularly enjoyed the scene where the owl stares at her with its enormous eyes, and she stares back at it. When she runs around to the other side of the cage, and its head swivels so it can keep looking at her, Yotsuba gets a bit freaked and is suddenly huddled behind her father.

We discover more about Yotsuba's father's good friend, Jumbo. He is very big and seems like a strong, tough guy, so Yotsuba is surprised to find out that he is a florist. He is too nervous to invite Asagi, Yotsuba's pretty neighbor along on a trip to see a fireworks show - and he makes Yotsuba do it. It's fun to watch as he ends up having to kowtow to Yotsuba and her two young friends, instead of Asagi, after there is a misunderstanding with Yotsuba (he still hasn't learned that she is very literal, so when she tells him Asagi is coming, it doesn't necessarily mean she she's coming with them).

This series continues to be delightful, funny, and full of surprises. Yotsuba's sense of wonder is a joy to witness, as she experiences ordinary things that are extraordinary to her. She makes everyone around her see the world through new eyes, and she leave smiles behind her wherever she goes - along with quite a few puzzled looks. This is an appropriate series (at least the three volumes I've read so far) for those younger readers who want to try some manga. My fourth grader loves it, and my second grader is going to give it a try, too. There are five volumes that have been translated into English and published in the U.S. so far, and the sixth one is due to be released on April 9.

Books reviewed in the Yotsuba&! series so far:
Volume 1
Volume 2

Yotsuba&!, Volume 3 by Kiyohiko Azuma (ADV Manga, 2004)

Also reviewed at:
BasuGasuBakuHatsu Anime Blog: "I really love this manga. It’s probably still my favorite comedy manga of all time. It’s just wonderfully cute, weird and enjoyable to read."