Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Title: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Scored a: C-
Status: Finished

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a disappointment. I picked it up because the art looked like a lot of fun. And it’s true, the comics in it are pretty charming. The problem was the characters.

With a few exceptions, the characters are pretty repellant.

The father’s sexism/homophobia/whateverness made anytime he was on the page teeth-gratingly irritating. While he was a good explanation for why the wimpy kid was a real jerk, I could have really done without him.

One of the bits of the story that really stood out to me was how the kid wanted a Barbie Dream House for some reason, and his father threw a fit, so the kid asked his uncle, who gave him a Barbie instead. So the father threw another fit and ordered him to get rid of it.

I don’t care much that the kid never learned a lesson about how not to be horrible, because that would have been fine if he was at least entertaining to watch going from situation to situation. But in the end I just wanted my money back.

I rated this a C- instead of anything lower because the art was fun.


Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones

Title: Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
Scored a: A+
Status: Finished


Cover of Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
Cover of Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones (It actually took me a year to realize it had a face)

Hexwood was my favourite book for years and years. It didn’t fall out of favour with me so much as The Neverending Story fell into favour, but it’s still dear to me.

Hexwood is a book with a lot going on in it. And when you think you know the plot, it turns out you don’t. And even when I was rereading it with that fact in mind, it still totally side-swiped me, because my memory is terrible and I got caught up in believing the narration.

One of the plots is one day a young girl is very sick and notices that people are going into the Hexwood Farm and not coming out again, and she decides to investigate. In the process she gets caught up in an Arthurian legend. Then there’s all the other plots.

Diana Wynne Jones books have one major flaw, and that’s usually their endings. But in this case the ending is pretty solid and all the threads running around the story tie up together pretty tidily.

A problem with stories with a lot of moving pieces is they can leave you frustrated from the feeling things are being kept from you, but in the case of Hexwood you don’t get that feeling at all, as things aren’t kept from you, but things are added instead as things go on. You think you’ve got a stick figure and then it turns out to be an elaborate oil painting.  Like pieces clicking into place.

If you forget things like I do, this book has an excellent reread value.

Just a warning though, later on in the book is some pretty intense child abuse. Like Dogsbody‘s animal abuse it makes sense in context, but it’s fairly shocking. When I got to that part I had to stop and look at the ceiling for a while. I’d managed to totally forget that part.

I’m glad a lot of Diana Wynne Jones’ oeuvre has been made available digitally, as it allows me to revisit my old favourites since my paper books seem to continually shift around the house and into hiding.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Title: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Scored a: A
Status: Finished


whenyoureachme  One of my hobbies is composing themed lists of movies/books, etc, to suggest to people or just find themes in entertainment.  Others do work, but this does what it needs to to keep me entertained.

I’d put When You Reach Me on a list of excellent time travel fiction. I don’t have a very big list of that so far, mind you. Just The Time Machine and A Tale of Time City so far. But I’m sure it’ll grow. The problem is time travel isn’t usually a plot point that makes me go ‘well, hey there little book. Let’s get some reading done.’ Which doesn’t mean I dislike it, I’m just way more likely to go ‘Oh my god! Griffin in wizard school!’

But as I said, When You Reach Me is excellent. The plot is that Miranda Sinclair has three things going on in her life: Her mother is preparing to go on a gameshow, her best friend refuses to speak to her and she doesn’t know why, and she’s getting letters from the future.

Everything ties together just right. The ending is satisfying in a good way, and you get to really see Miranda discover the world around her as she’s forced to leave her comfort zone in the book. It also features a SO for her mom that is not dickish, which is nice to see in fiction because that’s so dang rare.

I’m a little biased on account of getting on pretty good with my stepmom, I admit.

It’s a good book if you like time travel, or if you like books that explore what friendship is.

Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton

Title: Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton
Scored a: B+
Status: Finished


Cover of Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy Atherton
Cover of Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton

And now for the third book I finished over my vacation! Although it looks like If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell (same as the witchcraft vintage store mysteries, but this one is about home repair and a good deal more gritty) is fast approaching putting me at four completed. See, what happened was, at the airport on the way home I was struck by wanting to read a LOT of ghost cozy mysteries so I googled ‘mystery partner ghost’ and and the first result was exactly what I was looking for. Thanks, googley overlords.

The page I found was a huge list of cozy series that featured ghosts and summaries of the series. I picked out a few to start with (Aunt Dimity, Family Skeleton, Haunted Bookshop, Haunted Home Renovation) and started with Aunt Dimity’s Death.

Well, it was a mystery, but not the kind I was expecting. Not a single murder! But that’s not a criticism, since a book not being what I expected when I didn’t  read the summary all the way is not its fault in the least.

Since the amazon page is withholding summaries from me, I will donnez:


Lori Shepherd’s life has been in a downward spiral. She’d had a happy childhood with a loving mother and stories her mother made up of the adventures of ‘Aunt Dimity.’ But now her mother’s dead, she can barely get any work, and a law office just contacted her to tell her that not only is Aunt Dimity real, she died some months ago. But she has a task for Lori.

There was a ghost as promised and I am satisfied.I will be reading the next book in the series.

The book itself was very much like a fairytale, but the idea of a fairytale and not a real one where your life is in constant peril. It was fun to read and picture the descriptions, because the places in the book sounded beautiful.

It’s not an A because as much as I enjoyed what it was, it didn’t give me all I wanted – the plot wasn’t full enough for me. Hopefully the next ones will be more meaty.

Sketch Me If You Can by Sharon Pape

Title: Sketch Me If You Can by Sharon Pape
Scored a: B-
Status: Finished

Cover of Sketch Me If You Can by Sharon Pape
Cover of Sketch Me If You Can by Sharon Pape



She’s a police sketch artist. He’s a dead lawman. Together, they put a face on murder.

When her uncle dies, police sketch artist Rory McCain get’s a list of clients from his private detective business and a beautiful, old house with a ghostly inhabitant: Federal Marshal Ezekiel Drummond, aka Zeke.

Having a ghost as a housemate is bad enough, but as Rory’s drawn into one of her uncle’s unsolved cases and faces a cold-blooded killer, she may need the marshal’s supernatural help to stay alive.


I’ve actually been reading this one for… well, it doesn’t appear to be logged when I bought it in my email. Needless to say, a long time. I didn’t stop reading out of dislike, but distraction. Fortunately after literally years, it was easy to pick up where I left off and finish this book. Which is sort of funny, because during when I was reading it the first time I totally forgot the prologue where you witness the murder and then was like ‘how does she know that her uncle’s murder WASN’T an accident then?’ because I am a sillybilly.

Rory was pretty great. Capable and interesting to listen to the narrative of. The ghost’s sexism, while time appropriate, made me sigh, but I enjoyed how they seemed to gel pretty quick. The series is ‘A Portrait of a Crime’ and I’ll be reading the next one to see what they’re like when they haven’t just met.

And, most importantly for a mystery? I liked the ending.

Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell

Title: Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell
Scored a: B
Status: Finished


The cover of Secondhand Spirits - in person the grey swirls have sparkles!
The cover of Secondhand Spirits – in person the grey swirls have sparkles!


Before I left town on a trip to San Diego, I was overcome with an urge to read about mysteries with ghosts. Fortunately my mother has one of the biggest cozy collections I have ever known and that included more than a few supernatural mysteries. What I chose was Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell and Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris. After doing a more thorough reading of the plot of Grave Sight, I chose not to read that one ever, but Secondhand Spirits kept me nicely occupied on the plane as well as being the first paper non-comicbook I read in years.

The summary:

Love the vintage- not the ghosts

Lily Ivory feels that she can finally fit in somewhere and conceal her “witchiness” in San Francisco. It’s there that she opens her vintage clothing shop, outfitting customers both spiritually and stylistically.

Just when things seem normal, a client is murdered and children start disappearing from the Bay Area. Lily has a good idea that some bad phantoms are behind it. Can she keep her identity secret, or will her witchy ways be forced out of the closet as she attempts to stop the phantom?

The summary turned out to be misleading, as it turns out she cannot see ghosts.

I did like it, though. The cast of characters was appealing, her love interest wasn’t a dick, I enjoyed the job she did, and I only snickered a little every time she referred to the ‘burning times’ in reference to witch history.

It was a little light on the actual villain of the story, but the monster portion of the story was pretty cool. It was La Llorona, the weeping woman who drowns children. A note on the use of a Mexican spirit, at first for a lot of the book I thought Lily was Latina, but it turned out that while her grandmother was, she is only Lily’s grandmother via adoption. So it was a ‘oh, it’s her culture!’ followed by ‘oh, it’s sort of her culture’ but you know, a good scary ghost.

I’ve bought the sequel to read soon. Right now it’s chilling its heels in my kindle account.

The True Meaning of Smekday (just started!)



Snippets from The True Meaning of Smekday

Snippets from The True Meaning of Smekday. Click any of the pictures to enlarge

I’m reading The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex and oh my goodness, this is delightful! There’s so much in it I want to quote or share! The plot is Gratuity Tucci is writing essays about earth after aliens called the Boov invaded. There’s a picture of her in the above gallery.

Gratuity Tucci, the narrator, is really great and with what I know about history, some of this stuff is pretty much dead on, like:


In a ridiculously short amount of time, the Boov determined that humans were unwilling to mix peacefully into their culture. They pointed out all the people who fled instead of welcoming their new neighbours, even those whose home had been taken outright.
    Captain Smek himself appeared on television for an official speech to humankind. (He didn’t call us humankind, of course. He called us the Noble Savages of Earth. Apparently we were all still living on Earth at this point.)
    “Noble Savages of Earth,” he said. “Long time have we tried to live together in peace.” (It had been five months.) “Long time have the Boov suffered under the hostileness and intolerableness of you people. With sad hearts I must concede that the Boov and humans will to exist as one.
    I remember being really excited at this point. Could I possibly be hearing right? Were the Boov about to leave? I was so stupid.
    “And so now I generously grant you Human Preserves–gifts of land that will be for humans forever, never to be taken away again, now.”
    I stared at the tv, mouth agape. “But we were here first,” I said pathetically.
    Pig purred.
    The ceremony went on for some time. The Boov were signing a treaty with the different nations of the world. It all looked strange, and for more than the obvious reasons. Usually big political events are full of men in suits, but the Boov were joined now by totally ordinary-looking people. The woman who signed on behalf of the Czech republic was carrying a baby. the man who signed for Morocco wore a Pepsi T-shirt. When it came time to sign with the United States, our country was represented by some white guy I’d never seen before. It certainly wasn’t the president. Or the vice president. It wasn’t the Speaker of the House or anybody else I’d ever noticed on television or elsewhere. It was just some sad, nervous-looking guy in jeans and a denim shirt. He stooped. He had a thick mustache and glasses. He was wearing a tool belt, for God’s sake, pardon my language. We learned later it was just some random plumber. I think his name was Jeff. It didn’t matter to the Boov.
    So that’s when we Americans were given Florida. One state for three hundred million people. There was going to be some serious lines for the bathrooms.

I can’t wait to finish it and give a proper review, but just from where I am right now, I really really like it.

Year of the Griffin

Title: Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones
Scored a: B
Status: Finished

Cover of Year of the Griffin
Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones

The sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm was a typical Diana Wynne Jones sequel, in that it was just elaborating the world the first one took place in and wasn’t a continuation of the struggle in the first. Definitely not a complaint, that’s part of what I love about her writing.

Now, you’ll notice this has a lower score than the first one but that’s because some of the brutality in the book didn’t seem to mesh with the writing in other sections, so it’s a technical score that lowered it.

This is also, apparently, a book where Everyone Gets Paired Off, Even The Cameos. But since none of the pairings are repellant, I’m not docking points for that.

So! The plot is that Elda, Derk’s youngest daughter and griffin (although not the youngest anymore. Still a griffin) has gone off to wizarding college. She meets up with five other students and becomes fast friends, but each one (except her) has people back home who’d really rather they not be there. By lethal force, if necessary.

On top of that, most of the teachers are incompetent and amoral.

The students are great. I loved them. The dwarf Ruskin and Claudia the marshlady were my faves that weren’t Elda. The teachers were a recurring ‘toxic authority figure’ that shows up in Diana Wynne Jones’ books a lot, but just because I’m used to that doesn’t make them less frustrating to read, because oh boy do I feel for the people they’re being inflicted on.

Like Dark Lord of Derkholm, Year of the Griffin had a more solid, if abrupt, ending than a lot of her books do. So. Huzzah.

And the premise, which was griffin goes to wizarding school, delivered. Oh goodness, did it deliver. The similar premise, ‘wizard raises griffins as own children’ from the first is what grabbed me the first time. I’m running out of Diana Wynne Jones books I haven’t read yet, but the stuff remaining has been real gems.

Oh god I miss Diana Wynne Jones she was such an amazing author.

If I could make a book wish, I’d like for her to have written another book about the adventures the other half of Derk’s family had that got mentioned as a ‘that’s where they are’ when Elda’s relatives would show up. Because it sounded neat. And I wanted to hear more of the continent of griffins. And more about Elda’s new little winged siblings.  But I do not get book wishes.

Anyway! The two griffin books are just aces. I totally recommend them.

The Dark Lord Of Derkholm

Title: The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
Scored a: A+
Status: Finished


The cover of Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones


When people asked me what I was reading, I said it was a book about a pair of wizards and their human and griffin children. This seemed like a good blurb! And I was right, people were immediately interested after that.

Sometimes I’d go further, and explain that it was about a magical world that had been enslaved by a man from a world like ours, to perform as a sort of magic theme park for tourists to have ‘magical quests’ and that it was actually pretty dystopic, and this was how the wizards and their children saved everyone.

I really really liked this. I needed this book after something terrible happened. I had actually been reading James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small which, given its plethora of dead animals, was the exact wrong book for me at that moment.

Something I really enjoy in stories is unconventional families, and races that are as smart or smarter than us, but look nothing humanoid, and wizards raising griffins hit that exactly. There is also, if this sweetens the pot, dragons.

Diana Wynne Jones is my favourite author for a lot of reasons, and one of them is that she can write a story with a lot of threads that all tie up tidily as the ending approaches. The ending itself can be hit or miss, but the moment where it all comes together is one of my favourite feelings when reading.

I warn you, if you read this, that there is an upsetting scene that could be read two ways, bad and horrifying, that happens to Shona, the older human daughter during the soldier escorting.  I had to put down the book for a few moments after that and I had been expecting it.

I had already purchased and begun the sequel, Year of the Griffin, before getting started writing this review. It’s about one of the griffins going to a wizard school. Yessss.

The City & The City

Title: The City & The City by China Mieville
Scored a: C+
Status: Unfinished due to mishap

Cover of The City & The City
Cover of The City & The City

The City & The City was a book I was very eager to read, because the concept sounded great. Two cities occupying the same space? And the book delivers on the idea. The bits and pieces I saw of the cities before the Mishap was just what I was hoping for.

Unfortunately, I only saw bits and pieces. Mieville’s characters proceeded to get in the way of the world over and over. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the characters had been fun in some way, or at least interesting, but they were ciphers. Stick figures who kept standing in front of the shot you were trying to take.

And then, of course, I accidentally lost the book and can’t bring myself to buy a new copy to finish it. So I guess I’ll never find out how the murder mystery turned out, which is a shame. I’m also sad I didn’t get to enjoy the cities if Beszel and Ul Qoma as much as I would have liked.

When I was talking about my problem with the book before the Mishap with my friend, she told me she’d had the same problem with other books of his. Great worlds, not so great characters. Another friend assured me Mieville was really nice, but that didn’t quite explain the problem with the book.

So much for making this book 41 on my 100 books of winter.

Currently working on: All Creatures Great And Small by James Herriot, and Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones. Both of which involve a lot of animal care, but I don’t think Herriot gets anything combat worthy from his efforts, unless you count all that cow shit he gets covered in.