Book Review – How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting To Kill You

How to Tell if Your Cat Is Plotting To Kill You
Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal)
Paperback, 2012

My boyfriend bought this book at a recent trip to the bookstore.  As soon as he brought it home, his cat, Ellis, a grey tabby, perched himself three feet away and glared at us as if he could read the cover and we were somehow onto his evil plot.  Yes, this book might just be a bit more than comedy.

The book itself is a collection of comics about how you know if your cat is plotting to kill you.  I’ll give you a clue.  He is.

It includes a series of comics featuring the Bobcats at work, a bit about ways to tell if your cat is a mountain lion, cats vs the internet, and how to tell if your kitten is plotting to kill you.  After reading the book, you will have a better understanding of why your cat eats dog food (hint: it’s bulking up on protein omnomnom), you’ll be reminded that attacking large inanimate objects is practice for hunting large game, and you’ll finally have that oververbal cat talk translated – they’re huge roars of awesomeness!

Sure, the book is cheezy, but it’s nothing that we’ve never thought once in a while owning cats.  I have three – DC, Brynn & Alix – and I’m telling you, if the book is telling the truth and the kneading cats do is really to check for weak spots, I have no chance.  Brynn does that stuff for an hour at a time.

But I do think that the book is fun.  I think it’s a must have for any cat lover.   With that said, I don’t think a not cat lover will like it at all.  So, if you’re a cat lover, It’s a 5/5 but if you’re not, I’m not sure you’ll appreciate the book.

Book Review – Dreadnought

Cherie Priest
Paperback, 2010

Dreadnought is the followup to the incredibly popular Boneshaker, possibly Cherie’s most famous novel.
I love Dreadnought. It’s easily a 5/5 book. So when I found out that there was a sequel, I got really excited.
Dreadnought starts in Virginia with Mercy Lynch, a war nurse getting a couple letters. One tells her that she’s a war widow, the other is from her long estranged father, requesting her visit him in what we know as Washington state.
The book is part alternate history, part Steampunk and part Dieselpunk, with a smattering of western and a groaning of zombie thrown in for good measure. It’s an interesting combination, but I wasn’t disappointed in it.
See, in this book, the Civil War has been going on for about fifteen plus years. Texas was its own republic, with its own problems because of Mexico. Mercy gets her letters and military widow pension and for some reason, decides she needs to cross the country to visit her father, since it was his dying wish.
She then embarks on… pretty much the worst trip ever.
The dirigible she’s on crashes into what becomes the front lines of the war and she loses her suitcase. Every town she gets to, her red cross cloak – worn to help her get safe passage no matter who controls the territory she’s in – seems to draw her business. (At one point she even gets almost bit by one of the un-dead/un-humans.)
After what seems like an eternity, she makes it to Memphis and the Mississippi river, which she takes north to St. Louis before boarding the Dreadnought on a trip west. But that trip is frought with peril, too. The back and front of the train are carrying secret cargo and blocked off. Raiders and another train are coming in to attack, and somebody on the train keeps sabotaging the cars, disconnecting them in motion.
Also, 500 Mexicans are missing and that causes quite a bit of trouble in her trip.

So my comments. First of all, if you didn’t read Boneshaker, you can totally read this book. There are a few comments that relate it back to the first book, but if you hadn’t read them, you wouldn’t have caught it, and honestly, it didn’t really matter – they tell you enough to have played along on your own.
If you have read it, you’ll like how they tie in some things that are going on. I actually am really looking forward to reading the next book. I want to see how they link the stories together since they’re so different.
With that said, the book spends quite a bit of time – as in most of the book – with Mercy stuck on some form of transportation. While this isn’t that bad, it’s a little tedious after a while. I’m sure it would have been for Mercy, too, what with the trip taking weeks by train. But it does limit what can happen. For instance, on the “weeks and weeks” she spends on the train west, the only action we can get is her sleeping or playing cards or walking between the moving train cars.
And that was another thing. This was supposed to be a special train, all souped up and everything. Based on train speeds of the time and the way the book implies Mercy’s time on it, I question why the train trip took so long.
Also, this may be a weird comment, but the fact that Mercy and I share a last name was a bit distracting. I can’t fault the author for it, but I will say that it pulled me out of the story a few times, especially since they generally referred to her by last name instead of first. I didn’t include that in the rating, though.

Even with the book’s problems, I can’t help but wonder what is going to happen in the next one. So considering it’s #2 of 4 (I think), and I can’t stop thinking about how this is going to hook to the first one and continue on, I am going to give it a four out of five. It doesn’t stand as well as the first one on its own, but you’re definitely going to be sorry if you miss out on some of this stuff.

Book Review – James A. Garfield

James A. Garfield: The American President Series: The 20th President, 1881-1881
Ira Rutkow
Hardback, 2006

There is a series of books out, obviously titled The Presidents that has gone through most, if not all of them by now. I’m not going to lie, I don’t really care about Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. They’ve been talked about to death by our “glorious” edumication system. Besides, my interest in history lies in what Mark Twain called the Guilded Age and what many of us like to refer to as America’s Victorian Era. In other words, roughly post-reconstrution until the start of World War I. Garfield, having grown up and having made his estate so close to where I grew up, I tended to take a bit more interest in him than most other people do.
I read Dark Horse, which is hands down one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, and that’s saying a lot. Also, I’ve been to his house, which is now a state park, several times. So I was really excited to get another book about Garfield to read.
This book seemed to have a bit of a different take. For instance, Ira Rutknow, the author, isn’t really a historian. He’s a doctor and his interest was more in the medicine of the time. [For those of you not at all into this sort of thing, I promise that will be a point in a little bit…]
The book starts out pretty simply, with an overview of Garfield, including his family and all of his education and political success through the years. It’s written in a way that’s really easy to read. In fact, if there was such a thing as young adult non-fiction, I’d almost expect this to be there, which is spectacular. This is a series meant for people that want to know a bit about each of the presidents, not for people that want in-depth scholarly information.
After that, we get into Garfield’s inauguration, and then more than I knew before about his issues with his vice-president, Chester Arthur.
For those not in the know, just a few months into his presidency, a man by the name of Charles Gateau, who was a bit of a loon and convinced that he should be given a high-ranking office for no reason other than he told people to vote for Garfield (nobody asked him to, nor did they as much as know who he was before Garfield started getting called upon by him), decided that Garfield had screwed him over and, under the banner of being for the New York Republicans, who were unhappy with Garfield, shot him in the back at a train station.
I now need to say that Lucretia Garfield was an incredible woman, and she has, from what I’ve read about her, quite a bit of grace and decorum that I’m sad we don’t get to see today. She sat by his bedside for weeks.

Anyway, back to this book itself. Here’s the problem with Garfield. He was shot in 1881. Medicine was nothing like we have today, and really, he’s lucky he didn’t get the leech treatment, which isn’t saying much because there was nothing lucky about any of his treatment.
And this is where the book shines. Ira’s interest in Garfield’s story was the mishandling of his medical care from the time he was shot until the time that he finally died of a horrible infection of the oozing-puss kind. I won’t go into all the details, but basically, the doctors spent weeks probing the wound with unwashed utensils and dirty hands.
I really liked hearing about the politics of medicine back then. His doctor, a man named Bliss, decided to take it upon himself to be the leader of his care, and turned away anybody with their newfangled notions of antiseptics. Bliss even refused to use that new listening tube device known to us as a stethoscope. I guess I can understand being old school and being afraid/unsure/whatever of new, invasive procedures, but I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t use a stethoscope instead of putting his head against Garfield’s chest and trying to listen.
In fact, the care was so mis-managed that a reporter (after the president’s death) made a comment in a newspaper that “Ignorance is Bliss” – and now you know what you get that from.
In Dark Horse, there was a reference to Louis Pasteur that wasn’t in this book, which made me a little sad – I liked that global connection. Also, there was some update of the Garfield family, but I would have liked to see a tad bit more.
The one thing that I really, really liked was the epilogue. It started with a paragraph of Ronald Regan’s assassination attempt and how modern medicine, just about 100 years later, had him patched up and he was back in the Oval Office in a week. Then it discussed what would have happened to Garfield if he had been shot today.

You know, in the end, the thing that killed Garfield was arrogance – Bliss was too arrogant to share control of the case or to listen to anybody else’s reason. Hell, he even lied to the newspapers and anyone who asked about the president. Had the wound been wiped off and stitched up, he would have waked with a limp for the rest of his life but lived for many, many years.

As a doctor, I consider Bliss a total failure.

As for this book, I give it a solid four pages.

Books Review – Kit, Julie, Marie-Grace

Meet Kit
Written By: Valerie Tripp
Illustrations By: Walter Rane
Hardcover, 2000

Meet Julie
Written By: Megan McDonald
Illustrations By: Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2007

Meet Marie-Grace
Written By: Sarah Masters Buckey
Illustrations By: Christine Kornacki
Paperback, 2011


With this one, we’re back among the American Girl reviews, where I get to finish my involvement with the last three yet-unknown-to-me girls Kit, Julie, and Marie-Grace.
I’ll start with Kit Kittredge.  For starters, I hate her name.
Also, Kit’s family is one of those totally well off, perfect/rich, everything’s awesome families.  And that’s fine and good I guess, but I think that one of the ongoing problems with American Girl has always been that the people involved are almost always the well-off of society.  (Okay, so Addy was a slave and Kirsten was an immigrant child, but look at the rest of them…)  How well-off is Kit?  Well, the Depression started in America in 1929, and in 1934, when this book happens, Kit’s living happily with her family in their huge house and her father still has his car dealership in Cincinnati.  (Oh, and her uncle has more money than God apparently.  They bring that up in the book.)
Actually, that’s the catalyst of the book – Kit’s dad finally closes the lot and they’re plunged into the masses of poor.  Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly.  Kit’s dad finally closes the lot and they’re plunged into the category of people taking on boarders and her brother can’t go to college anymore because the father has used his college fund to keep the dealership going and the employees working for as long as he could.
Okay.  Noble man.  I’m okay with that.  And I do like the play between Kit and her brother Charlie, who treats her like she’s not some dumb little kid, like we tend to see with everyone else. And I like Ruthie, Kit’s best friend.
Now, then, onto more problems. Kids can be cruel and all, but usually we don’t see it as much with the MC in these books as we do with Kit’s reaction to Stirling Howard moving in (he and his mother first stay for free and then become boarders). I mean, the kid’s sickly, and she’s just mad that she doesn’t get a cool playmate. “He’s a shrimp!” she tells her mother, and whispers things to her best friend. Then again, I don’t know if I should forgive this or not, because Kit does make an effort to talk baseball with him, but after a mishap involving a tea tray, Kit’s basically banned from talking to the kid, even though he lives in her house. [Side note-I know the kid’s delicate, but maybe if he had ever done anything for himself, he wouldn’t be half dead all the time.]
Also in the woe-is-me category, she ends up relegated to the attic, which she has to herself. She could have ended up sharing her brother’s room or something. Or sleeping on the couch. I mean, it’s the depression after all. Instead, she’s got this huge attic to herself and she still manages to have her own bed, a typewriter and desk, paper and cartridges for said typewriter, and several other things. Which goes back to my not-bad-off-ever comment about the American Girls.

[Historical side note: The Depression hit America in 1929. By 1934, the President’s first New Deal was digging us out of it already, so it’s weird to see her spiral downward start when the country’s on it’s upswing. Unemployment was at its worst in 1933, so if the father had hung on till then, he had half a chance to stay in the game. Maybe the whole car-dealer thing had something to do with it, I mean, people just digging themselves out of the depression would have had better things to buy than cars, but still.]

In Meet Julie, we get the only American Girl that’s normal, except maybe Kirsten or Molly. Julie’s a child of the 70s, so flower-power and women’s liberation make their way in here. Her parents got divorced (gasp!), and oddly enough, her father is a pilot and never home, but he got to keep the house and Julie and her sister go live with Mom in the upstairs apartment over her mother’s hippy-dippy store (her mother did the 70s version of up-cycling).
A lot of the other American Girls had to deal with war, racism, etc. Julie’s problems are divorce, fighting with her best friend after moving strains their friendship, and being on the basketball team. She’s a girl. The team is a boys team. And even though Viet-Nam is raging, it’s not affecting those at home (unlike Molly and WWII), so really, all her issues are normal and relate-able.
For the record, I’m not saying if that’s bad or good – part of the joy of the series is being able to see a culture/world/time period not your own – but as a book in general, it’s always nice to relate to the MC.

In Meet Marie-Grace, we’re once again with child of privilege. Marie-Grace is the child of a doctor, and her mother died several years ago. They’ve just moved back to New Orleans with her puppy and housekeeper from New England, so she’s basically been dropped into culture shock (she’s from there, but was too young when they left to remember), and we get to experience the culture as she learns it.
She meets Cecile, who becomes her best friend, gets enrolled in private school and then voice lessons from a professional opera singer, and gets invited to the ball. Her biggest issues are the snobby girls at school and whether or not her Doctor Father will get home in time to take her to the dance.
While we do learn about Free People Of Color and some of the differences in well-established New England in 1858 vs. predominantly French/Creole New Orleans, the issues between Marie-Grace and Cecile aren’t big deal things. I don’t know if they will be in the next book – they broke format tradition with this, book 2 is Meet Cecile – but as it stands, they’re treating it like color segregation is no big deal.

So what do I think?
Julie’s story is simple and common and we can all relate to the stuff she deals with – fights with friends, children of divorce, being the new kid in school, etc – so if you’re okay with the historical stuff being fairly recent, then definitely read this book. I’m giving it a 4/5 for sure, and it doesn’t fall that short of being a five page rating. I really like the artist in this series, too.

Kit’s story annoys me in several ways. I know all 10-year-olds are still learning the hard lesson that the world is a huge place and there’s a lot they’ve been shielded from, but there’s only a 10 year setting difference between Kit and Molly and the two are worlds apart. Molly is mature and doing what she can for the effort and Kit’s pouting and hates everything and it takes a kid she makes fun of to remind her that she’s not got that bad a lot in life. 3/5

Marie-Grace’s story is… adequate. But there’s nothing special about it. And I seriously hate the artist. Like, the illustrations are almost creepy in a couple places. But I’m curious to see where they’re going with this so I might pick up the next book. 3/5 for this one as well.

Books Review – Diary of a Teenage Girl (series)

Diary of a Teenage Girl
Kim #1 Just Ask 2005
Maya #2 It’s a Green Thing 2008
Melody Carlson


Okay, I got these two books from the library sale, thinking that they were one and two of a series. I got them home and got a better look at them and discovered that they are but they aren’t – the Diary of a Teenage Girl series is apparently four books each about several different girls (five for Caitlin) that are somehow, somewhat related (cousins, friends, students at school together) with a few interrelated topics: God, journalism, and, uh, being a teenage girl. Thus, what I really got was Kim’s first book and Maya’s second book but not two consecutive books. Alas.
I started reading Kim first and got about a third of the way through before I just couldn’t stomach it any longer. I don’t mind Christianity being a part of a story if it really helps the story, but I don’t go seeking out Christian fiction as a matter of course. I’ve found some gems this way [Note: Eric Wilson’s Jerusalem Undead series. Go. Read. It. Now.]. But for every book like the Mandie series, where the characters happen to be Christian, there’s a book like this that tries so hard to jam it down one’s throat that you can’t help but choke on it.
In Just Ask, Kim is dealing with several things – wanting to get a car, trying to be Christian when her heritage dictates otherwise (she’s Buddhist by heritage, adopted into a Christian family), etc. And when she gets a speeding ticket, her father makes her pay it off by doing an advice column in the paper he owns. (The advice column thing is apparently an ongoing thing in the series, since one of the other girls ends up doing a column of some sort, too.)
So the book didn’t start off horrible. It’s a diary format, so it’s first person, which drives me nuts, but how else would you write a diary? But the author used a remarkable amount of underlining in the book – moreso than in everything else I’ve read this year combined – and that drove me nuts. Then there’s her writing style.
Look, everyone. There’s a big difference in a character doing something because it’s the right thing, or learning a lesson because God wanted one thing, etc., and having couple characters try this passive-aggressive “I know she died, but God’s there, so it’s totally okay” thing. This reads more like a sermon than a YA book, and that’s really off-putting to me. Everything that was done or happened in this book suddenly because a relate-it-to-God sermon. They went and saw Passion of the Christ and it became a “it’s good for a church movie” conversation where she ends it feeling inadequate because she’s not Christian. I was raised Catholic and didn’t have that much of a religious discussion about the movie; ours was more along the way of “How could any person treat another person that way, theology aside?!”
So like I said, I got a third of the way through, and the combination of good-enough (as opposed to actually good) writing and beating one over the head with God God God (hitting one’s self with the book would have been less painful) was just too much and I gave up.
I put both of the books aside for a bit and then decided to try the other one to see if it was any better.
Maya is Kim’s cousin, and with her mother in jail for drugs and her father a famous pop star, so she moves in with Kim. And Maya is totally in to being green, so she gets her own column in Kim’s dad’s paper (how many columns does one paper hold!?). And she’s just found God (I always hate that phrase. Where was he? Behind the drapes?!), so now she’s trying to figure out how recycling and God fit together. Because, um, that’s a problem how?
So, four pages in, we already have to have the “are you a Christian” discussion. Now, let’s stop for a minute. I have never in my life walked up to somebody and asked them what their religion was unless we were in a forum specifically for that – like an academic religious discussion – but here we have strangers that are doing community service asking if they’re Christian. Maybe that’s the author’s experiences, but they’re sure not mine. And like I said, I’m so not a fan of God-in-your-face being the way you write a religious book.
I’d rather a character show me they’re a good person through doing than have them quote a book to me. I know Athiests that have read the bible, too.
Oh, and with Maya, we get that added bonus of her being psycho into being green. And everything I’ve just said about the “Christian message” we now get about the “green message” too. At the end of every chapter, we get a tip box about going greener. “If we could recycle one newspaper a week…” “…do you know the difference between greener cars?…” And that doesn’t count what you get in the text. “How can this city not have a recycling program!?”
So, yeah. I gave up on that book about 15 pages in, because it was clear that the style problems I found in the other book continued in this one.

On to the rating, I suppose.
I tried to offer these to a couple friends and despite being Christian and having attended religious high schools and colleges and whatever, even they refused them. I’m actually considering throwing them in the trash.

No, really.

So, uh, I guess I give them a 1/5. Just, don’t bother with these at all. Unless you need toilet paper or firewood.

Book Review – My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

Title: My Friend Dahmer: a graphic novel
Author/Illustrator: Derf Backderf
Format: Trade Paperback

Okay, this is the weirdest book I’ve randomly picked up this year. The title is what grabbed me first. I mean, My Friend Dahmer?! So I took it off the shelf and looked it over.
My Friend Dahmer, as it turns out, is a graphic novel written by one of Dahmer’s old classmates. So, yeah, I took it home.
Because it’s a graphic novel, the read time is pretty quick – I think I finished it in about an hour. But it’s the story of Dahmer from the start of Junior High until about a year after graduation – and after Dahmer’s first kill.
I have to say, I loved the book. The author has worked this project for several years and it really is a masterpiece. The artwork is gorgeous, the story is told well, and I, uh, sort of feel bad for Dahmer.
No, I’m not forgiving him, as the author said: once he killed the first time, that was it. But up to that point, he had a sort of shit life. His parents were too concerned with having the messiest divorce they possibly could (both lawyers say its the worst they have ever had). He was gay in a small town in a time where you couldn’t be gay in a small town. The friends he did have weren’t good friends – they didn’t talk to him outside of school, for instance, despite the fact that they lived near him and drove past his house all the time.

I can’t help but wonder how different he would have turned out if somebody gave a damn.

And I think everyone needs to look at this and buy a copy (or read it if you can’t). Because it’s incredible. 5/5 pages, for sure.

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