Friday, May 30, 2008

98. The Borden Tragedy

The Borden Tragedy by Rick Geary
A Treasury of Victorian Murder Book 3

Pages: no page numbers
Finished: May 29, 2008
First Published: 1997
Genre: graphic novel, true crime
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: Joy wrote a review of this recently and I just had to read it myself. My library didn't have it so I ordered it through ILL.

First sentence:

The grim and seething summer of 1892 will never depart my memory ... nor, I daresay, will it be ever forgot by the good citizens of Fall River.

Comments: Rick Geary takes his account of the famous Lizzie Borden murder case from the unpublished memoirs of an unknown lady of Falls River. Being very familiar with this case, it has been one of my obsessions since I was a child, I found the author wrote a very realistic and unbiased presentation. Most of the important facts are here and it is a compelling read. Geary does not try to point a finger at any one suspect but gives the list of suspects and lets the reader deal with the facts themselves. The heavily shaded black and white illustrations are a perfect complement to the mood and subject matter. This is very well-done and an intriguing use of the graphic novel format. I intend to read the others in the series. My only quibble with this volume is the sourcebook at the back which has reproductions of actual newspaper accounts of the murder and trial which would be fascinating to read. Unfortunately, they've been shrunk down so much I couldn't read it without eye strain so gave up trying.

97. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

Pages: 394
Finished: May 29, 2008
First Published: 1987
Genre: Southern Fiction
Rating: 5/5

Reason for Reading: Southern Fiction Challenge

First sentence:

The Whistle Stop Cafe opened last week, right next door to me at the post office, and owners Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison said business has been good ever since.

Comments: Evelyn Couch goes to the nursing home with her husband as he visits his mother ever week. Evelyn quickly gives her best wishes and then hurries out to the waiting room. It is here that she meets Ninny Threadgoode, an 86 year old woman who starts talking from the second Evelyn sits down. Ninny talks about the past, not her life, but the life of all the people she used to know and especially Idgie and Ruth two very special friends. Evelyn becomes caught up in this story and ultimately her life is changed forever.

The story is told through very short chapters that move back and forth through time. There are several narratives: the past, the present and local newsletters and newspapers. We follow the Threadgoode family and all their kin and townsfolk from the late 1920s through the 1980s.

This is absolutely a beautiful, wonderful, funny, heartwarming, story. Not much really happens plotwise, it's just a story of the lives of a group of people. The characters are just so truly wonderful I could not put the book down and when I had finished I was so sorry it was over. It's a story of good times and bad times, white folks and black folks, deaths and accidents, the young'uns and the old folks and how all together these things are a part of life. Wonderful book. Read it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Final Dose of Bill Peet

We've been enjoying more Bill Peet these last few weeks. We've enjoyed everyone of these books and really had a good time sampling Bill Peet's work. He is one of the greats and it is such a joy that all his books are still in print. I won't go into a review of each of these as I would say the same thing for each of them. Wonderful!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

96. The Eyes of a King

The Eyes of a King by Catherine Banner
First in a Trilogy

Pages: 435
Finished: May 27, 2008
First Published: May 27, 2008
Genre: YA fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: Received a review copy from Random House Canada. Also qualifies for the YA Challenge

First sentence:

These are the last words I will write.

Comments: Wow, this was an amazing book. There are so many layers to the story that I find it difficult to attempt to summarize but attempt I will. The main narrator, Leo, lives in the world of Malonia. This is a military run world. Soldiers patrol the streets. Children go to military school to learn to fight not so much to read and write. Children with powers are sent to 'special' schools where they are locked up and kept under control. People with mental problems are labeled 'Unacceptables' and taken away by soldiers. It is in this world that Leo lives and one day he finds a blank book. But words start appearing in the book and a story unfolds. It is a tale set in a fairy tale land called England about the boy who should be the true king of Malonia, but was exiled to this world when his father, the former King, and his mother were murdered.

Both story lines follow two teenage boys, approx. the same age. They are relatively happy, or shall we say content at the beginning but events happen in their lives and they become aware of realities and truths that lead them into sadness and despair. A running theme throughout the novel is that there are other things in life besides being happy. This is a dark tale; one that is melancholy and sad. If you like your books to have a happy ending you won't find one here but you will find acceptance and a glimmer of hope.

I really enjoyed this book. It has such a melancholy atmosphere, I found myself occasionally putting it down briefly to gather my thoughts. The characters are wonderfully developed and I found myself feeling deeply for all concerned. This is the first in a proposed trilogy and I very much look forward to following these characters into the sequel. This haunting fantasy with mature themes of death, suicide, and war is recommended to older YAs and adults.

Monday, May 26, 2008

95. Chomps, Flea, and Gray Cat (That's Me!)

Chomps, Flea, and Gray Cat (That's Me!) by Carol and Bill Wallace
illustrated by John Steven Gurney
Third book in the Gray Cat Trilogy

Pages: 89
Finished: May 26, 2008
First Published: 2001
Genre: children, fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: read aloud to the 7yo. next and final book in the series.

First sentence:

I loved sitting in the House Mama's lap!

Comments: Chomps and Gray are friends, summer is coming and Flea is expected back any day now. Comps and Gray spend their time together having fun and trying not to get into trouble with Mama but they just can't help it. Then one day after Flea arrives home the Mama is missing and in terrible trouble. It is is up to the three friends to get help for her.

This was a wonderful ending to this series. Full of fun and humour. The ending was quite intense with danger and the 7yo was caught up in the race to rescue Mama. Overall, a fun series for little ones, about ages 6-8.

94. Favorite Poems of Childhood

Favorite Poems of Childhood edited by Philip Smith

Pages: 84
Finished: May 22, 2008
First Published: 1992
Genre: poetry
Rating: 2.5/5

Reason for Reading: read aloud to the 7yo. We always have a book of poetry on the go.

First sentence:

From breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.

Comments: Collection of poetry that will appeal to children from short 4 line verses to longer story poems of several pages. This is a "Dover Thrift" book and does not have any illustrations to speak of there are 4 b/w line drawings with no appeal to them at all. This definately dampened our enjoyment of the poetry. As far as the poems go there were some favourites such as "The Raggedy Man", "The Peppery Man", "There Were Two Ghostess" and "The Quangle Wangle's Hat" and others , but there were far too many poems that marveled at the wonders of nature which bored the 7yo to tears. Not our favourite book of poems.

Friday, May 23, 2008

93. Alias Grace

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Pages: 468
Finished: May 23, 2008
First Published: 1996
Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: chunkster challenge. GRTB pick

First sentence:

Out of the gravel there are peonies growing.

Comments: This fictionalized account is based on the true story of 16 year old Grace Marks who was accused and found guilty of accessory to the murders of her master and his mistress, the housekeeper, in 1840s Toronto, Canada. As the book starts Grace is in prison and is waiting to be seen by a doctor who has obtained permission to study her. He is not the usual type of doctor but rather a doctor of the mind.

The narrative of the book switches from the 1st person of Grace to the third person narrative of the doctor and between these narratives are letters between the characters, excerpts from contemporary papers and poetry. The switching views and narratives keeps the reading moving. I particularly enjoy this type of back and forth narrative. Atwood has done a splendid job of filling in the spaces and presenting a perfectly plausible story of what really may have happened.

I really enjoyed the book. The themes are among my favourite topics, Victorian era prisons, asylums, a madwoman, a sensational murder case, and these all make for interesting reading. The character of Grace is fully realized and we care what has happened to her and will become of her but we never really know whether she is guilty, innocent or insane. Atwood's books often give off literary airs but sometimes I think they are just great genre fiction and this one is a magnificent historical fiction. Great book!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Once Upon a Time Challenge Completed

I finished the Once Upon a Time Challenge! Thanks to Carl for hosting such a suburb challenge!
I pretty much strayed from my original list and just read books as they came up. I loved them all though. I chose the first quest to complete any five books that fit the genre. The books I read are:

5. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
4. Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
3. The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
2. The Silver Treasure: Myths and Legends of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean
1. The Wrath of Mulgarath by Holly Black

92. Five Children and It

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
First book of The Psammead Trilogy

Pages: 242
Finished: May 20, 2008
First Published: 1902
Genre: children fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: Decades Challenge. Read aloud to my 7yo

First sentence:

The house was three miles from the station, but, before the dusty hired fly had rattled along for five minutes, the children began to put their heads out of the carriage window and to say, "Aren't we nearly there?"

Comments: Four children and their baby brother stumble upon a Sand Fairy and learn from It that he can grant them one wish a day but the wish will only last until sunset. They quickly learn that making and getting wishes is not as easy as it seems. They wish for the wrong things at the wrong time and even when they get it right it never turns out as they thought it would. Such as when they wish they were all beautiful and return home to find that the servants don't know who they are and turn them away. And when they wish the baby was grown up, and all grown up he does become, even older than they and what a stuffy, snobby man he turns out to be. Some wishes so do turn out fun such as when they wish for wings, only they forget to get home in time and at sunset find themselves stuck on the top of a church roof. Lot's of fun!

E. Nesbit is credited with creating modern fantasy where fantastical creatures or elements become a part of the 'real' world. Even with having been written over a hundred years ago the writing and style is immensely readable. The 7yo loved this book very much. He found it quite all very exciting and wants to continue on with the series. This is an old-fashioned type of story (all the horse and carriages for instance) and it is very British plus this time period in England was very class conscious which makes it a bit hard for a modern North American child to comprehend at times but most of it was a non-issue. I loved these books when I was a kid and loved this just as much this time as an adult. The 7yo boy is anxious to read more about this group of children and their magical adventures. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

91. Here We Go Again: My Life in Television

Here We Go Again: My Life in Television by Betty White

Pages: 289
Finished: May 19, 2008
First Published: 1995
Genre: autobiography, NF
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: I'm trying to always have a non-fiction book on the go. I enjoy old-time celebrity autobiographies and I've always admired Betty White.

First sentence:

"And now, here is Betty White --a woman who has been on television

Comments: This is Betty White's autobiography which starts with her first amateur stage performances and then quickly gets to her television career. Being written in 1995, it only goes up to the end of The Golden Girls and the brief sequel The Golden Palace. Not only is this the story of White's life, it also reads as a history of television. Ms. White was there at the beginning in 1949 and starred on one of the very first TV shows, Hollywood on Television which she was on air six days a week for five and a half hours a day!

Ms. White has a wonderful written voice which reads in a friendly and witty style. She has lead an interesting life, has known many people in the industry, had a fairy tale marriage to the love of her life, Allen Ludden. Along with her popular shows The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show she was a staple in the game show industry from the fifties through the seventies where she was a regular guest on Match Game. Ms. White shows herself to be a classy lady with a high set of values that stardom never managed to diminish. The information on the early days of television is highly informative and entertaining. It is amazing to see how something so much a part of everyday life came to be and developed so fast.

90. Airborn

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
First book in the Airborn series

Pages: 322
Finished: May 19, 2008
First Published: 2004
Genre: YA, fantasy
Rating: 5/5

Reason for Reading: once upon a time challenge. YA challenge. I've read all the Silverwing books and wanted to start this series now since the third book is coming out this fall.

First sentence:

Sailing towards dawn, and I was perched atop the crow's nest, being the
ship's eyes.

Comments: Matt Cruse works as a cabin boy on the airship Aurora. His father, before him, worked and died on this ship and Matt himself was born on an airship. Sailing is in his blood and he feels he was born to be in the air. He befriends a girl passenger who is making her first air voyage to prove the existence of strange air creatures that her recently deceased grandfather was thought to have imagined. While making a routine voyage with a full load of passenger's and cargo they are attacked and boarded by pirates. This is the beginning of Matt and Kate's deadly adventures.

I loved this book! There is not one single thing that did not appeal to me. Set in an alternate earth similar to the Victorian era only instead of sailing the seas their ships sail the skies. This is a rip-roaring, rollicking good nautical adventure that takes place in the air. Strange creatures, air pirates, shipwreck and desert islands, it is all here. A strong female character with an equally strong male character will appeal to both boys and girls. As per usual with Oppel the death scenes can bit on the gory side and this is definitely a YA book. Both an absorbing plot and wonderfully in-depth character development, along with a fully developed alternate world make this a page-turning adventure. Highly recommended. I can't wait to read the next book!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Short Story Challenge Completed

Another challenge completed. The short story challenge was the perfect challenge for me as I had wanted to get into the habit of reading short stories this year and that mission has been accomplished. I hope to always have a collection on the go dipping into them regularly in the evenings on the weekends. My challenge was to read four collections of short stories and I read three of the four mentioned on my sign-up post. Thanks to Kate for hosting this challenge!

Here's my list of completed books:

Night Shift by Stephen King
Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories by Garth Nix
High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories by Robertson Davies
Best American Short Stories 2007

89. Night Shift

Night Shift by Stephen King

Pages: 326
Finished: May 18, 2008
First Published: 1978
Genre: horror, short stories
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: next in my chronological Stephen King Project. Short story challenge.

First sentence:

Let's talk you and I. Let's talk about fear.

Comments: Stephen King's first collection of short stories (mostly) previously published in various magazines. There were only a couple that didn't do it for me and those were ones that strayed from King's regular fare. The rest of the stories are creepy, or scary, or silly but they were all very good. This is an excellent collection and will be enjoyed by any horror fan. A brief synopsis of the stories and my thoughts follows:

First we start off with a rather boring Introduction by John D. MacDonald then we have a Foreword by Stephen King and this is the very first book in which he wrote a foreword. It was a very interesting essay on why he writes scary stories and why people read them.

#1. Jerusalem's Lot - This is somewhat of a prequel to 'salem's Lot. It is the 1850s and a man and his man-servant come to live in a relative's old home after he dies from an accident. The home has been in the family since the days of the Puritans. The residents of the nearby village are wary of the newcomers and eventually start to shun them, then stone them if they come near. This, of course, is very strange but not as strange as the noises they hear in walls. Nor as strange as what they see in the basement. Or especially as strange as what they find in the nearby deserted town of Jerusalem's Lot. What they find there is pure evil.

#2. Graveyard Shift - A drifter is working in a rundown, rat-infested textile factory. The foreman is overbearing and a regular tyrant. On the week of the 4th of July, the factory closes down for vacation but a crew of men sign-up to work on cleaning out the ancient basement with powerful water hoses on the night shift when it will be cooler. Each night the men work and have various run-ins with rats until the final night when they find that there is actually another sub-basement underneath them. It must be from here that the rats are originating. Down they go ... This was made into a movie, which I saw but barely remember.

#3. Night Surf - This story is related to Stephen King's novel The Stand. Here we have a group of teenagers who are among the lone survivors after a virus has wiped out most of the world's population. Each of them has previously had a different virus, making them think they are immune to this one. Not much happens but it has an eerie atmosphere and makes me even more eager to re-read The Stand.

#4. I Am the Doorway - An ex-astronaut tells his buddy his strange tale. Several years after coming back from an exploration mission to Venus and now retired the astronaut has horrible pains in his hands and wakes to find them covered with eyes. Eyes that not only see, but see this world as a strange alien world and the people seem like horrible creatures. He finds that the eyes can take over his body and make him do things, like kill people. He takes drastic action to silence them but ... well, you'll just have to read the story yourself.

#5. The Mangler - An ironing machine in an industrial laundry plant is possessed by a demon and is killing employees. Two cops are aware of the problem and set out to exorcise the demon. This was rather silly and made me chuckle more than anything. This was made into a movie by Tobe Hooper. (which I haven't seen)

#6. The Boogeyman - A man shows up at a psychiatrist's office with the need to unload his story. He had three children and all three of them were killed by the boogeyman as toddlers. Now the boogeyman is after him. Another one that I found more silly than scary.

#7. Grey Matter - A boy runs into the all-night store in a near panic. He has a very strange story to tell old men gathered there. His father, whom no one remembers actually seeing for several months, has been slowly turning into something not human. Leaving the boy behind with the wife of the owner, three of the men go to check things out. This reminded me a lot of The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill from King's "Creepshow".

#8. Battleground - A hitman returns from his last job, taking out a toy manufacturing mogul. On his way up to his penthouse apartment the desk clerk hands him a large package that has arrived for him. Sure it is a bomb or something equally unpleasant he takes his time before opening it. Eventually he unwraps the paper and finds stenciled on a wooden box the words "G.I. Joe Vietnam Footlocker" with a list of contents. I really enjoyed this one. It made me think of the army men from Toy Story only much more vicious.

#9. Trucks - Here is the one I've been waiting to re-read! A small group of people are under siege at a gas station. They can't get out, the electricity has been cut and they are surrounded by heavy trucks. They try to deal with the situation, try to figure a way of escape and not all of them make it to the end alive. It is rather a cheesy idea, trucks taking over the world, but I loved this story the first time I read and I loved it this time. I'm also very fond of the movie version "Maximun Overdrive".

#10. Sometimes They Come Back - A high school English teacher has a 'slow learners' course for last period each day. The students of this class are mostly unruly, leather jacket students or not so bright jocks. Three of his students mysteriously die or disappear and the day after each disappearance a new student is transferred into his class. These 'new' students look exactly like the thugs who killed his older brother. Except they were teenagers almost 20 years ago, how could they still be the same age now? And if that isn't bad enough, they know he knows who they are and they've come to settle unfinished business with him. This was the best story I read this weekend. It really creeped me out.

#11. Strawberry Spring - A 'Strawberry Spring' is a lot like an "Indian Summer', a few extra weeks of the nice weather, but with a strawberry spring comes a lot of fog and they usually only happen about every eight years. An unknown narrator tells about a strawberry spring eight years ago when he was a college student. They had a rash of girls murdered on campus that year and the killer was never found. Now eight years later, another girl has been killed. Another good one with a surprise at the end.

#12. The Ledge - As the story opens a man is sitting in a high rise apartment with another man whose wife he has been having an affair with. He and the wife are running off together. The husband, who just happens to be involved with the mafia, makes him a bet that if he can walk around the 5-inch wide ledge of the building he will let him go with his life, his wife, and an envelope of money. This is a superb story full of tension and a fabulous ending. One of the best in the collection. This was filmed as one of the stories in the movie "Cat's Eye"

#13. The Lawnmower Man - A man lets his lawn get overgrown and hires a company to come mow it. The man who arrives is extremely strange, he takes off his clothes and eats the mown grass right behind a self-powered lawn mower. When our man tries to call for help, the lawnmower man becomes upset. This is just weird. This was made into a movie (with Pierce Brosnan) but it had nothing to do with King's story other than the title and King sued (and won) to have his name removed from it. I do actually like the movie, though.

#14. Quitters, Inc. - An old acquaintance gives a man the name of a place that can help him quit smoking. It worked for him and they guarantee it will work for anyone. So our man visits and becomes trapped in a contract with no way out. He is under surveillance 24 hrs a day and if he takes a puff his wife will be taken and given a little shock therapy. And that is just the punishment for the first offense. This is another great story and you are just rooting for the guy to succeed but then you know he's going to cave or it wouldn't be much of a story, would it? This story was also included in the movie "Cat's Eye"

#15. I Know What You Need - A female college student meets a male student who gives her the questions to a test she is worried about. He keeps turning up with just the thing that she needs at the time until things go horribly wrong. This had a stalker-type vibe and was pretty creepy.

#16. Children of the Corn - A couple run over a boy who has had his throat slit. They drive to the nearest town to deliver the body to the police but instead find a creepy little town with no adults. The children appear to be part of some cult that worships the corn and they attack the couple. This is a very creepy story. There is just something so scary when children turn evil. This, of course, was made into a movie which had a couple of sequels, I believe.

#17. The Last Rung on the Ladder - This is different than the other stories so far. It is not a horror story or even a scary story. It tells the tale of a man who was not there for his sister when she needed him most. Well done.

#18. The Man Who Loved Flowers - A man walks down the street and everyone notices that he must be a man in love. He stops to purchase flowers and everyone assumes they are for his sweetheart. But things are not what they seem and King pulls out a shocker ending.

#19. One for the Road - This is a direct sequel to the book 'Salem's Lot. A man and his wife and daughter get stuck in the snow on the way to a relative's house. The man goes for help and arrives frozen and frostbit and a little bar. Two old men are there and listen to his tale of how his family needs help and that they are stuck in a little town called Jerusalem's Lot. The name of the town puts fear into the old men but the agree to go out and help. It had been a number of years since the previous events unfolded in 'salem's lot but everyone local knows why they should stay clear. Loved this one.

#20. The Woman in the Room - Not the usual King type of story. A young man goes to visit his mother who is dying from cancer in the hospital and as he goes he contemplates whether or not he should give her an overdose of pills. Not my type of story.

Flute's Journey: The Life of a Wood Thrush

Flute's Journey: The Life of a Wood Thrush by Lynne Cherry

Finished: May 16, 2008
First Published: 1997
Genre: picture book, non-fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: read aloud to the 7yo.

First sentence:

Four lovely turquoise eggs lay in a nest in a small dogwood tree in a forest in Maryland.

Comments: This book follows the life of a wood thrush from the time it is born and learns to fly in the Belt Woods of Maryland. Then as it journeys to Costa Rica for the winter and once more back again to Maryland where he mates and has babies of his own. The author/illustrator has written a lovely, interesting story full of information on the bird and his surroundings, including an even-handed presentation of environmental issues. The illustrations are lush, intricate and detailed. While the text will be over the heads of young children, the illustrations will be appreciated by all ages. The end pages are especially nice with the front showing a map of the journey from Maryland to Costa Rica and a border of birds found in summertime Maryland, while the back pages show a map of the reverse journey and birds found in wintertime Costa Rica.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

88. The Anatomy of Deception

The Anatomy of Deception by Lawrence Goldstone

Pages: 342
Finished: May 17, 2008
First Published: Jan. 2008
Genre: historical fiction, forensic mystery
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

First sentence:

For days, clouds had hung over the frigid city, promising snow; an ephemeral
late winter veneer of white, but the temperature had suddenly risen and a cold,
stinging drizzle had arrived instead.

Comments: It is 1898, Philadelphia and Dr. Ephraim Carroll is studying with the renowned Dr. William Osler. Autopsies have been legal for only five years and still many people find them barbaric. It is in this setting that one day the corpse of a young lady found in the streets turns up on Dr. Osler's table for autopsy. Dr. Carroll notices that two of the other doctor's seem shocked by her appearance and Dr. Osler quickly replaces the sheet and ends the class early. Later, looking into the suspicious death of one of his colleagues leads him down a dark trail to the waterfront, seedy 'Paris Revue' clubs and back alley operations. Many real-life personalities populate the story and fact mixes with fiction in this intriguing story of late 19th century medicine.

While the mystery portion of the story was rather slow going and predictable to this reader, I found the historical aspect absolutely riveting. The characters were rather cliched but the story was entertaining and kept me reading. The piece de resistance of this book is the historical setting and the detailed research of the author. The surgical processes, the medical knowledge and research of the time makes for fascinating reading. This book will appeal more to historical fiction fans than those looking for an intense mystery.

Friday, May 16, 2008

School Books

This is our last week with our program for this year, Animals and Their Worlds from Winter Promise and we've finished off several of our books we've been using with the curriculum. Here are the final books we've used and the brief reviews I wrote for LibraryThing.

One Small Square: Coral Reef by Donald M. Silver
Beautiful illustrations are the main focus on each page drawing the child into the book. An engaging text, combined with the illustrations, encourages one to linger over the pages. My 7yo enjoyed the book immensely. We have used almost all of the One Small Square series and this one was our absolute favourite. Recommended for ages 7 and up.

Kids' Easy-to-Create Wildlife Habitats by Emily Stetson
Detailed information and instruction on how to turn your backyard into an inviting habitat for local wildlife from rabbits and birds to butterflies and frogs. While most of the ideas are more suitable to those living in houses with decent sized backyards, suggestions are also given for city and apartment dwellers. Projects are very do-able, with minimum of expense. In fact, the majority use simple household or natural items. My 7yo son has his head full of ideas to implement this summer. Last summer we used the bird ideas and have enjoyed the increased visits by our feathered friends. Nature loving kids will be sure to be find plenty in this book to keep them busy.

Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever!
A collection of previously published stories and poems by Richard Scarry. Topics include words, colours, alphabet, numbers, fables, mother goose, cars, planes, manners, animals and much more.

This is a fun book for young children. The topics are most suitable to very young children but those a bit older will be able to read most of the text. We used this book with our curriculum this year, reading a few stories spread out over the whole year. He was always happy when it time to read the stories and he's enjoyed reading some of it on his own. Recommended.

Animal Habitats! by Judy Press
Divided into habitats, each section includes paper type arts and crafts projects. Each project includes information about the animal or plant. Some include extra art suggestions, websites to visit and books to read.

We used this book all year long as part of our curriculum and my 7yo loved each and every project. This is one of his favourite books we used this year and when we finished the last page he very sorry to see it end. Highly recommended.

The Kids' Wildlife Book by Warner Shedd
This book concentrates on North American animals, divided into large and small mammals, amphibians and birds. Written in an engaging text each animal starts off with a range map and food key and tracks are shown across the top of each page. The usual type of information is given along with environmental info, native legends, fiction reading suggestions and crafts.

We used this book all year long as part of our curriculum. We found the text extremely interesting though it did get a little dry at times. The cartoon b/w illustrations were engaging and the book is very informational. The crafts are mostly quite involved and we did not do very many of them. Overall, this is a good engaging book for interacting with North American wildlife.

Animals in Motion: How Animals Swim, Jump, Slither and Glide by Pamela Hickman
Informative and interesting text tells all the different ways in which animals move. All types of animals are included from all over the world. This book does not have as many experiments and demonstrations as the others in this series but the few it did have were simple and enjoyable. Large bold, bright illustrations are appealing. My 7yo enjoyed this book very much, as he did all the others in the series. Recommended

DK Animal Encyclopedia
What can I say? This is Dorling Kindersley at their best! Beautiful photography and interesting text. Arranged alphabetically, information is easy to find. The pictures make this book interesting to even the youngest child while the more mature text make this a useful resource through the early teen years.

My 7yo loves this book so much. We have used it all year long as part of our curriculum but he has spent a lot of time browsing through the pages. This is the type of book a kid just likes to lie on his tummy on the floor and slowly turn the pages. Definitely a keeper!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

87. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz
Illustrated by Robert Byrd

Pages: 81
Finished: May 14, 2008
First Published: 2007
Genre: historical fiction, non-fiction, play, children
Rating: 2/5

Reason for Reading: This is last year's Newbery winner and I am reading all the Newberys.

First sentence:

The Feast of All Souls, I ran from my tutor -
Latin and grammar - no wonder!

Comments: A collection of monologues/soliloquies written to be performed by middle grade students. Each monologue tells the tale of an individual child from the middle ages. Footnotes are presented in sidebars and a few non-fiction factual pieces explain various medieval customs and history. The book is gorgeously illustrated with medieval-type illustrations in ink and watercolour. The design of the book is also very visually pleasing with coloured ribbon sidebars on every page.

While I found this book very pretty, the text did nothing for me. The majority of the monologues are written in verse (some even rhyming) which was very tedious to read and frankly, boring. I can't imagine watching a play that consists of a bunch of monologues to be very entertaining either. I enjoy both historical fiction and books that take place in the middle ages but this book was just not my thing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

First in a Series Challenge - Complete

I finished the First in a Series challenge! I loved this challenge. I got to start some series I've been meaning to read for a while and some of them I've even gone on to the second book. Thanks to Joy for hosting, her challenges are always so much fun. Here's my list of completed books:
12. The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet #1)
11. Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse #1)
10. Gunpowder Empire by Harry Turtledove (Crosstime Traffic #1)
9. Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan (The Saga of Darren Shan #1)
8. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (Dexter Morgan #1)
7. Birdman by Mo Hayder (Jack Caffrey #1)
6. Naked in Death by J.D. Robb (Eve Dallas #1)
5. A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George (Lynley & Havers #1)
4. Destiny by Alex Archer (Rogue Angel #1)
3. The Field Guide by Holly Black (Spiderwick Chronicles #1)
2. Beyond the Deepwoods by Paul Stewart (The Edge Chronicles #1)
1. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians)

86. The Stonekeeper

The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet Book One

Pages: 187
Finished: May 14, 2008
First Published: Jan. 2008
Genre: children, graphic novel, fantasy
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: The cover and the illustration caught my attention

First sentence:

We're supposed to pick up Navin at eight o'clock.

Comments: The opening panels chronicle an intense scene of a car crash in which everyone escapes except the dad. Two years later Mom and the two kids, Emily and Navin, are moving to an ancestral home in a small town because of financial hardships. It is an old rundown, creepy place but they settle down for the first night until they hear strange noises. As they follow the noises down to the basement the mom is attacked and kidnapped by a strange bulbous tentacled creature. A door in the basement opens and the children follow it into a strange alternate world. Emily finds an amulet with a strong power and they meet up with other creatures who want to help them but all the while an dark figure is trailing them. This is a beautifully illustrated story with an anime feel to it. It is cute and fun but on the dark side and atmospheric. The plot is very entertaining and I really enjoyed this quick read. I'd recommend this for middle grades as the intense death scenes (one of a parent) would not be appropriate for the very young. Book 2 isn't out yet but I'll be interested to see where the story goes when it is published.

85. The Vampire's Assistant

The Vampire's Assistant by Darren Shan
Cirque Du Freak, The Saga of Darren Shan Book 2

Pages: 241
Finished: May 14, 2008
First Published: 2001
Genre: YA, horror
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: next in the series. YA challenge

First sentence:

My name is Darren Shan.

Comments: Darren and Mr. Crepsley return to the Cirque de Freak and Darren has a hard time coming to terms with his new half-vampire status. He makes friends with the Snake Boy but finds himself becoming weaker and weaker as he resists the urge to drink human blood. This second in the series was even better than the first one! Most of the book is spent fleshing out Darren's character as he struggles with his preconceived ideas about evil and good. And exiting and unexpected ending with plenty of gory bits made this a quick, page-turner. I'm looking forward to the next in the series.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

84. The Resurrectionist

The Resurrectionist by Jack O'Connell

Pages: 304
Finished: May 13, 2008
First Published: April 2008
Genre: literary fiction
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: received this ARC.

First sentence:

Alone in the doctor's office, Sweeney's eyes lingered on the final panel and, once again, he found himself feeling something close to sympathy for the cartoon strongman, exiled and adrift, the world town down in a random instant and supplanted with a precarious replacement.

Comments: This is a very strange story and a hard one to summarize. There are many different threads to the story but on the surface there are two main plots. Sweeney has moved to a small town and placed his comatose son in the care of the specialized clinic. He has taken the job as the night shift pharmacist and lives in an apartment in the basement. Very quickly he realizes that there is something going on at the clinic and on his very first day in town he has an unpleasant run-in with the local biker gang, the Abominations.

Also, running through the book is a story within a story which takes the form of a fantastical comic book plot. The story of a troupe of misfit circus freaks who travel across their Old World landscape seeking a home. They follow the chicken boy who goes into trances that reveal the way they should travel. Ultimately each of these plots, Sweeney and his son, the clinic, the mad doctor, the biker gang and the circus freaks will meet in an explosive ending. This is an outlandish story but underneath the layers the themes of faith and forgiveness are simple enough.

I was really taken with this book. The first few pages had me hooked and I was drawn into the strange and surreal world. The whole book, even the "real world" portions had a comic-book feel to it and reality became suspended. There are a lot of characters, a lot of plots and downright weirdness that will make this book not for everyone and probably even not for most people. While the book isn't overly violent, (though there are a few parts) I would compare this to a stylized Quentin Tarantino movie or the dark, weirdness of a Tim Burton movie. If that type of plot appeals to you, then this book will be sure to satisfy.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

83. The Rabbi's Cat

The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar
Translated from the French by Alexis Siegel and Anjali Singh

Pages: 142
Finished: May 10, 2008
First Published: 2001-2003, 2005 English edition
Genre: graphic novel
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: looked interesting.

First sentence:

Jewish people aren't crazy about dogs.

Comments: Set in Algiers of the 1930s, this is the story of a Rabbi and his daughter told through the eyes of their pet cat. This is a very Jewish story with much theology and insight into Jewish customs, traditions and history. Personally, I know very little about the Jewish faith and always find it interesting to learn more. We follow the Rabbi in his day to day life and we watch as the daughter meets and then marries a young Rabbi from Paris. This is mostly a light story with a witty sense of humour and yet at times very profound. A wonderful insight into this time and place in history where Arab and Jew lived side by side. I really enjoyed this book, both the flavour and the story. Recommended.

82. The Mephisto Club

The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen
Sixth Jane Rizzoli/Maura Isles mystery

Pages: 355
Finished: May 9, 2008
First Published: 2006
Genre: mystery, thriller
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: next in the series

First sentence:

They looked like the perfect family.

Comments: Ritualistic killings and satanic messages lead Rizzoli and Isles down a twisted path as they search for the killer. Things hit too close to home when Dr. Isles wakes up to find a satanic message on her door. Lots of twists and turns take us deeper into this eerie plot with supernatural undertones. I always enjoy books in this series but this is probably my least favourite to date. There was a supernatural element dealing with the true nature of evil, which was left hanging and it just felt out of place in this series. I found the topic more than interesting but Gerritsen would have been better to have written a standalone with this demon-hunter plot rather than subjecting it to Rizzoli.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Southern Reading Challenge

I missed out on this one last year but really enjoyed reading all the reviews as they came out. Rather than just listing 3 books I'm going to make a list of books from which I'll pick my three. The Southern Reading Challenge: Read 3 southern books from May 15 to Aug 15

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell
God's Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross
Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Honk and Holler Opening Soon by Billy Letts

Monday, May 5, 2008

Short Story Monday

#12. The Ledge - As the story opens a man is sitting in a high rise apartment with another man whose wife he has been having an affair with. He and the wife are running off together. The husband, who just happens to be involved with the mafia, makes him a bet that if he can walk around the 5-inch wide ledge of the building he will let him go with his life, his wife, and an envelope of money. This is a superb story full of tension and a fabulous ending. One of the best in the collection. This was filmed as one of the stories in the movie "Cat's Eye"

#13. The Lawnmower Man - A man lets his lawn get overgrown and hires a company to come mow it. The man who arrives is extremely strange, he takes off his clothes and eats the mown grass right behind a self-powered lawn mower. When our man tries to call for help, the lawnmower man becomes upset. This is just weird. This was made into a movie (with Pierce Brosnan) but it had nothing to do with King's story other than the title and King sued (and won) to have his name removed from it. I do actually like the movie, though.

#14. Quitters, Inc. - An old acquaintance gives a man the name of a place that can help him quit smoking. It worked for him and they guarantee it will work for anyone. So our man visits and becomes trapped in a contract with no way out. He is under surveillance 24 hrs a day and if he takes a puff his wife will be taken and given a little shock therapy. And that is just the punishment for the first offense. This is another great story and you are just rooting for the guy to succeed but then you know he's going to cave or it wouldn't be much of a story, would it? This story was also included in the movie "Cat's Eye"

Sunday, May 4, 2008

81. Madapple

Madapple by Christina Meldrum

Pages: 410
Finished: May 4, 2008
First Published: May 13, 2008
Genre: YA, literary fiction
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: Received a review copy from Random House Canada. and qualifies for the YA challenge

First sentence:
The women resemble schoolgirls with gangly limbs, ruddy cheeks, plaited flaxen hair; they walk holding hands.

Comments: Aslaug has been raised by her mother in near isolation in a rural area with only one nearby neighbour. They spend much of their time gathering plants and Aslaug knows the properties of every plant in the area. They eat what they forage, nuts, seeds, roots, grains and teas. Then Maren, Aslaug's mother dies and Aslaug finds relatives she knew nothing about and she moves from one kind of isolation to another. She learns the secret of her birth, her mother's insistence of her virgin birth and as each family secret is uncovered the reality becomes darker and more horrendous. As the book opens we find Aslaug on trial for a double homicide.

This is an immensely deep and powerful book. It reads as a modern dark fairy tale. There is an ethereal quality to the story which feels as if it comes from the same place as one's dreams or nightmares. Religion plays a big part from controversial topics and theology of the Essenes to the pagan beginnings of Christianity to waiting for the return of the Messiah. Darker topics of child abuse, rape and incest add to the potent force of the book.

I was hooked from the first chapter. The short court scenes that alternated with the lyrical narrative propelled my reading along and I found it very difficult to put down. This is quite unlike any book I've read before. I wonder if perhaps it's a bit deep for a YA book and would hesitate to recommend it for under 16s but otherwise highly recommended.

I'll leave you with one of my favourite passages:

And yet, the more Mother teaches me science, the more cracks I see, and the more cracks it seems Mother must see. Science describes the world; it doesn't explain it; it can describe the universe's formation, but it can't explain why such an event would have occurred, how something can come from nothing. That's the miracle.

Friday, May 2, 2008

More from Bill Peet

We have been spending more time with Bill Peet the last couple of weeks. These books are just so wonderful. They are around 50 pages each and about on a Grade 4 reading level and appropriate to read aloud to any age. It is hard to decide whether we enjoy the story or pictures more but the pictures most certainly enhance the text.

Buford the Little Bighorn, 1967
Buford is a bighorn sheep who has very long horns that have grown all the way around his body. He finds walking on the mountains very difficult and the other sheep must pull and push him along. One day he decides this is not fair to the other sheep so he says goodbye and goes off on his own. He travels the dangerous route down the mountain to the fields below. Here he comes across a cattle ranch and he spends the summer hiding in the middle of the herd. But one day a plane overhead spots him and comes down to land. Buford recognizes them as hunters and knows it must be bighorn hunting season. So he takes off back up the mountains and at the end of the day his horns save him from the hunters. He finds a place where he is safe and his horns are appreciated. Lots of laughs and adventure for all ages plus lessons on accepting differences and making the most of what one can do rather than dwelling on what you can't.

Chester the Worldly Pig, 1965
As a youngster Chester the pig realizes that his lot in life is pretty grim. He thinks that if he is special he might not end up as ham or pork or bacon. So he decides to join the circus and practices and practices to learn a trick, it isn't easy but he is determined and one day he succeeds. Things do not go as easily as he thought they would, he faces one trial after another but perseveres all the time until at the end he learns he was special all along without even knowing it. This is a hilarious story. When the pig joins the circus and is dressed up in doll clothes with a clown pushing him around the ring the 7yo burst out laughing at the look on Chester's face. Plenty of other laughs to be found in this story that focuses on determination and perseverance through all odds.

Big Bad Bruce, 1977
Bruce the bear is a nasty type of guy. He likes to roar and rumble through the forest and his favourite pastime is to scare the wits out of the other forest animals. He especially enjoys throwing boulders at them. But one day he goes too far and throws a huge boulder down a hill where it lands in the garden of a witch. She is generally a nice old lady, unless she gets her temper up. She decides to teach Bruce a lesson he won't forget. Another fun story but not so good as the others we have read by Peet. This book points out that some us are just too set in our ways to ever wholly change.

Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent, 1974
This time Peet takes us back to a time when people crossed the ocean to travel to a new world. The Primrose sets off to undertake this journey but just as she sets off an old man tells them they will face all sorts of hardships. Cyrus, a sea serpent, hears this and decides to follow the ship and take care of them if they come to trouble. Trouble does indeed find the Primrose, first the doldrums, then a fierce storm, and finally pirates. Cyrus is the hero of the day in this rollicking good adventure on the high seas.

Medical Mystery Madness Challenge

This challenge is right up my alley! I love forensic mysteries. Read 3 medical mysteries from June 1 to November 1.

My choices are:
The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen
Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass
Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell

80. The Canadians: Biographies of a Nation Volume II

The Canadians: Biographies of a Nation Volume II by Patrick Watson

Pages: 359
Finished: May 1, 2008
First Published: 2001
Genre: non-fiction, history, biography
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: Looked interesting and I'm tyring to read more non-fiction this year.

Comments: Patrick Watson is a popular Canadian television personage and journalist. I remember him from a show I watched when I was a kid where he would dress up as a famous person from history and then sit down and interview himself. I don't remember what it was called but it was very good.

This book contains 16 mini-biographies on persons from Canada's past, some are famous and the others should be. It is a shame that many of these people are not known today. Looking at the table of contents I noticed that I had heard of only five of these people before I started to read.

This was a wonderful book! The biographies are well written in a narrative style, giving the facts of the person's life but concentrating more on their personalities and the interesting bits of their lives. Fascinating reading! The people profiled here (though not all) are mostly from the 1850-1950 era. Several of the persons have really sparked my interest and I will continue to look for books about them. I also intend to read the other two volumes in this series.

There are two points where the book could have been better. There are no pictures included whatsoever and they were sorely missed by this reader. I ended up doing a lot of googling to get a look at who I was reading about. Also an index would have been much appreciated and would make the book more useful to those interested in certain topics or to students.

The people featured in this volume are:
Mona Parsons (WWII hero)
Joshua Slocum (first man to sail around the world single-handedly)
Jacques Plante (hockey player who developed and used the first goalie mask)
Frances Rattenbury (Vancouver architect, scam artist, murdered by wife's lover)
Nell Shipman (silent movie actress, screenwriter and producer. First woman to do a nude scene on the big screen)
Bill Miner (an American outlaw who moved to BC. He performed the first Canadian railway robbery and became a hero of the Canadian West)
Katherine Ryan (The real Klondike Kate. Owner of restaurants during the Klondike gold rush)
Simon Gunanoot (A Gitskan Indian who was wanted for a double murder and became one of the longest manhunts in Canadian history)
Kit Coleman (The first female war correspondent when she was sent to report on the Spanish-American War)
Bob Edwards (controversial and colourful western journalist at the turn of the century)
Billy Hunt (known as the Great Farini, he was a tight rope walker who walked over the Falls carrying a washing machine on his back.)
Leon Giglio (The great magician, Mandrake the Magician)
Jay Silverheels (The actor who played Tonto on the Lone Ranger)
Wilf Carter aka Montana Slim ( yodeling country singer from the depression era)
Grant MacEwan (Alberta academic, politician and prolific author of books on the canadian west)
Ruth Lowe (Canadian song writer, she wrote several songs for Frank Sinatra)

79. The Shining

The Shining by Stephen King

Pages: 683
Finished: May 1, 2008
First Published: 1977
Genre: horror
Rating: 4/5

First Sentence:

Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.

Reason for Reading: Next up for my Stephen King Chronological Project. Chunkster challenge

Comments: Jack Torrance is a man with personal demons. After spending a childhood full of abuse, he turns into an alcoholic and one night breaks the arm of his three year old son. He and his buddy, just as much a drunk as he, are driving home one night and hit a bike in the middle of the highway, they can find no body anywhere but the shock scares them both into sobriety. Jack still thirsts for a drink every day of his life and in a fit of anger he attacks a student at the school where he works as a teacher. As the book opens we find Jack newly fired from his job and now interviewing for the position of off-season caretaker at a hotel up in the mountains, The Overlook.

The Overlook has its own demons and is not so much a building as a being intent on increasing its power. The hotel finds a source in Jack's five year old son who has an incredibly strong psychic power which allows him to see events that will happen and to see things not of this world. Since it cannot get to the son on its own it goes through Jack instead and a living nightmare begins.

The Shining is one of King's most brilliant works. The rising tension of the novel is taut. What starts off as uneasiness as Jack slowly starts to loose his mind turns to blood chilling fright as he chases after his family with a mallet. There is also an uncomfortable feeling throughout where one is not quite sure whether there really is an evil presence or whether Jack has gone insane. This is also King's first book that relies heavily on his signature style of stream-of-consciousness writing where his character's thoughts interupt the narrative frequently.

A wonderful book on many levels and a classic of the horror genre. This book showcases King's style and is highly recommended and would make a great place to start for those who haven't read any King.