Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday: Books in the Mail

Books that came in the mail for me last week!

Penguin Group (Canada):

An enthralling historical novel about a young woman's struggle to become a doctor during the Civil War

In this stunning first novel, Mary Sutter is a brilliant, head­strong midwife from Albany, New York, who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Determined to overcome the prejudices against women in medicine-and eager to run away from her recent heartbreak- Mary leaves home and travels to Washington, D.C. to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of William Stipp and James Blevens-two surgeons who fall unwittingly in love with Mary's courage, will, and stubbornness in the face of suffering-and resisting her mother's pleas to return home to help with the birth of her twin sister's baby, Mary pursues her medical career in the desperately overwhelmed hospitals of the capital.

Like Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain and Robert Hicks's The Widow of the South, My Name Is Mary Sutter powerfully evokes the atmosphere of the period. Rich with historical detail (including marvelous depictions of Lincoln, Dorothea Dix, General McClellan, and John Hay among others), and full of the tragedies and challenges of wartime, My Name Is Mary Sutter is an exceptional novel. And in Mary herself, Robin Oliveira has created a truly unforgettable heroine whose unwavering determination and vulnerability will resonate with readers everywhere.
(Canada) - (USA)

From Simon & Schuster Canada:

Ruka is traumatized when Sora disappears into the night sea right in front of her. But although she refuses to speak of the incident, the meteorite Sora made her swallow is not so silent. It whispers to her from inside her body, and with its guidance she leads Umi and Anglade into the open ocean in search of answers. Surrounded by the sea, Ruka starts to see glimpses of the past that help her understand how Umi, Sora, Jim and Anglade all came to be connected.
(Canada) - (USA)

From Eureka Productions:

Edgar Allan Poe returns in a revised 4th Edition, with 40 new pages of content! New comics adaptations include The Pit and the Pendulum by David Hontiveros and Carlo Vergara, and William Wilson by Rafael Nieves and Dan Dougherty. The Raven returns in a revised adaptation by J.B. Bonivert, with Annabel Lee by the same artist as a new companion piece. Plus, The Black Cat, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, and four more terrifying tales.
(Canada) - (USA)

From Macmillan:

Amos Kincaid is the son of a dowser – a person gifted in knowing how to “find” water deep in the ground. As a young person, Amos doesn’t reveal his gift to others; he’s not sure he wants the burden. But through his experiences growing up and crossing the Oregon Trail, Amos learns about life’s harsh realities, especially the pain in losing loved ones. As he cares for those around him, Amos comes to accept his dowsing fate. This epic novel is a fascinating period piece about the westward expansion and one man’s destiny as he searches for love and family.
(Canada) - (USA)

Plus I also received the Fall catalogue for :01 First Second Books. There are a few goodies in there that I will definitely be asking to review. I love First Second Books!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bookcase Review

The bookcase I chose to review from CSN Stores was shipped on May 20 and arrived on May 24. I was very pleased with such quick delivery. Unfortunately, once we unpacked the pieces we found that the top corner of the two side boards had been chipped. From the wear of the box, it looks to have been done in transit. If I had paid for the item I would have called Customer Service at this point but we decided to go ahead and put the case together as we figured once it was put together it probably wouldn't be noticeable even though you can quite evidently see the damage in the picture here.

After a bit of hesitation in trying to figure out step 1 in the instructions, I took over as instruction reader whilst hubby put the case together and everything went smoothly from that point on. Here we have the frame put together and the back hammered on after about 15 mins. Now to take it upstairs to the bedroom.

So we brought the case upstairs and easily slipped in the other bookshelves. I loved the little thingies that hold the shelves. I've never seen this kind before. I should have taken a picture of them but they are metal with one end that pokes into the hole and the other end has been flattened into a round shape for the shelf to sit upon. Very sturdy. Here's the case in my room waiting for some books.

As one can see the chips are not noticeable on the finished product. One must look down from on high to see them so we are not bothered, as so far we have never swung from the ceiling. All in all I am pleased with my new bookcase!

Now to fill with books!


I've left this picture on flickr so you can CLICK on it and have a close up at the books but the titles do get blurry the larger you make the picture. This is my TBR Pile. Well, no longer in piles. These are the books from which I choose to read, adding only the occasional library books.

Starting on the top shelf those three books by themselves are two books I bought and one that was gifted to me that I must get to right away and um, haven't yet. Then the rest of the books are my current 2010 Review Books (Fiction). I am trying to keep this under control and am still trying to get out from under having been away on vacation for 3 weeks in April!

Shelf 2: These are all the books I've won and haven't read. Clearly I should no longer enter contests!

Shelf 3: On the left hand side are the non-fiction books I have lined up to read in no particular order except at the front are Review Books (1), then won books (1), (I'll read these first) then the rest consist of bought books and a small collection from shelves around the house that I want to be reading next. On the other side are my unread graphic novels. These are in a particular order. First we have library books (only 1 at a time), then Review Books, then won books (1), then bought books, and finally single issue comics (usually from my son's subscription).

Shelf 4 & 5: These {ahem} are Review Copies from {cough}2009{cough} that I haven't {gulp} managed to read ... yet {added enthusiastically!}. I will read them. I'm actually dying to read most of them. So come Hell or high water I will somehow get to them. But there is no way I will ever let Shelf 1 get out of control like that again. I read a lot of books every year (and some of you read even way more than I do) but still there are only so many books one can read. I must admit to that fact.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

95. The Boy Who Climbed Into the Moon by David Almond

The Boy Who Climbed into the Moon by David Almond. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 119 pages
Ages: 8+
Finished: May 24, 2010
First Published: Apr. 13, 2010
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: children, magical realism
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Some time ago, there was a rather lonely boy named Paul who lived in a city in the north of England.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Candlewick Press.

Reason for Reading: I have actually never read David Almond before and the title of this book grabbed me and gave me my chance to finally read him.

A whimsical story full of the unbelievable where a lonely boy who lives in a basement apartment, is rather shy, and does not like school but then school does not like him either takes a day off learns about living life to the fullest through a set of quirky characters and fantastical events.

One must set reality aside for this story. The people and events that Paul meets up with are beyond belief. The book is a joy to read; told with such whimsy it is a very endearing story. Paul is encouraged to say what he's always wanted to say and out he spurts that the moon is really just a whole in the sky. He manages to climb into the moon where he finds all sorts of people and things that have flown into it over the ages: hot air balloons, planes, helicopters and their pilots, people with wings who tried to fly and even a girl who was a human cannonball. With the encouragement of the denizens of the apartment building he makes friends, realizes everyone agrees that sausages are better than war, watches others plan a Great Expedition, and sees how the others live their lives, however obscure, to the best they can.

If you can't leave reality outside the door this won't be the book for you but if you can you will be in for a delightful story which is profusely illustrated with drawings as whimsical as the story. The characters are a motley crew from a man who switches to speaking in only vowels when he's in a conversational mood, to a dog who believes that when he obtains the age of seven he will grow wings and the ability to speak, to a little girl who lives inside the moon because she ended up there one night whilst performing her job as Fortuna the Human Cannonball. I found as I read and looked at the pictures that I kept thinking the style of the story was so much like William Pene duBois, a classic children's author/illustrator. I can also see this making a very good read aloud. The story is quirky, unconventional and humorous.

Friday, May 28, 2010

94. Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder by Jo Nesbo

Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder by Jo Nesbo. Illustrated by Mike Lowery. Translated by Tara Chase (USA)- (Canada)
Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder, Book 1

Pages: 265 pages
Ages: 8+
Finished: May 23, 2010
First Published: (2007 in Norway) English Translation Jan. 2010
Publisher: Aladdin
Genre: children, humour
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

It was May, and once the sun had shone for a while on Japan, Russia, and Sweden, it came up over Oslo - The very small capital city of a very small country called Norway.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Reason for Reading: Typically when I see a kids' book with words such as "fart" in the title I don't give them a second glance. However, this book is written by one of my favourite thriller authors and the simple fact that he had written a children's a book was enough to make me *have* to read the book, never mind what it was called or what it was about.

Surprisingly, though the book is about an invention of farting powder, there is not a great deal of "toilet humour" to be found. Perhaps it's cultural, or it gets lost in translation, but the humour comes from different directions. I thought this was a delightful, funny, well-written story.

Nilly is new in the neighbourhood, he is very tiny for his age. He meets neighbours Lisa on one side and Doctor Proctor on the other. Dr. Proctor lets them in on his latest invention which is a Farting Powder. When no real use for the powder can be found they decide to sell it as a novelty item to kids, but twin bullies Truls and Trym want theirs for free so Nilly gives them an extra shot in their powder which sends them flying up into a tree. Dr. Proctor has an industrial strength version of the powder which he thinks belongs safely in the hands of NASA to be used for rocketless space travel. But then someone steals the industrial strength powder for evil purposes.

The story is full of excitement and adventure. Nilly finds himself in extreme situations from being sent to jail to being eaten by a boa constrictor called Anna Conda. The story also has a wonderful cultural appeal to it as well with plenty of inside jokes on Norway's size and not-so-famous status in the world. It's quite amazing that Nesbo, who writes such stunning adult thrillers, has the ability to write such a fun, whimsical children's story as well. He certainly is a talented writer. I highly recommend this. It will appeal to both boys and girls, but I'd certainly add this to any Books for Boys list. A hilarious romp. This is the first in a series.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

91 - 93. Barnes & The Brains Series ( Part One) by Kenneth Oppel

In 1994, three years before Kenneth Oppel wrote his award winning, best selling YA novel Silverwing which propelled him into international success, he began publishing an early chapter book series of mysteries called Barnes & The Brains. Harper Collins Canada has reissued the six book series this year with brand new 21st century covers redesigned by the original illustrator. The first three books are already out and the last three have just been released . The books are not available in the US at this time, as far as I can tell from searching online. Here I've reviewed the first three:

#91. A Bad Case of Ghosts by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Victor Rivas Villa. 1994. 61 pages. Ages 7-10. - Giles Barnes moves to into an old fixer-upper house just at the beginning of the summer. He founds the house creepy and is not looking forward to going all summer with no friends. He hears all sorts of noises in his room at night, even what sounds like bird wings. Then one day, right outside his front step he meets Tina and Kevin Quark, geniuses, studying his house with a strange machine Tina has invented. Seems it's a ghostometer and Giles house has heavy readings of ghost activity. It isn't long before the ghosts show themselves and with the help of Tina and Kevin, Giles try to get rid of the ghosts once and for all. Easy to read and short, therefore pretty much all action and plot. But still one can see Oppel's unique storyline. These are not just your average ghosts! Well written and an intriguing story that kept me interested. Despite the short length the author has managed to give the characters distinct identities and there is plenty of humour to go along with the adventure. Young readers are sure to enjoy! 4/5 (Canada)

#92. A Strange Case of Magic by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Victor Rivas Villa. 1994. 62 pages. Ages 7-10. Tina Quark has enlisted the help of her brother, Kevin, and Giles Barnes to locate some books for her at the library for her latest invention. Of course, they end up in the basement in a dusty old room, where no one would ever want to read these ancient tomes. While searching Giles sees books floating and Tina checks her trusty ghostometer but does not get a single ghostly reading. If not a ghost, then why are magic books floating? "It's just me" replies a voice and Barnes & The Brains now match science and wit to figure out how to help poor Mr. Kapoor, beginner magician who made himself invisible and can't reverse the spell. Totally independent from the first book, though it does briefly mention events from that book. This book also gives a quick rundown on the characters and their status for those who haven't read the first book. I really enjoyed this one, even more than book 1 (Ghosts). The introduction of the bored librarian who was excited to help them in any small capacity was funny and she had some giggle inducing lines. I'm attached to the characters and I can see some growth in their relationship. Another well-written, unique plot and highly recommended first chapter book from Oppel. I look forward to reading book 3. 4/5 (Canada)

#93. A Crazy Case of Robots by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Victor Rivas Villa. 1994. 56 pages. Ages 7-10. Tina Quark is at it again and this time she's gone too far. For her science fair project she creates an intelligent robot called the Tinatron and from there plans to build many more to replace people the world over. Her mum and dad can't stand the thing so she convinces the Barnes' to look after it for a few days while she works on her parents. Well, the robot's insistence on everything being perfect drives Giles and his dad crazy but his mum is found having tea with it in the living room one day discussing mathematical equations (she is a math professor) and they become best buddies working on the ultimate equation. But then Tinatron's circuits spark and start to overload and they have a rogue robot on their hands who runs away. Can they find her and fix her before something terrible happens? Another great entry in the series. The most noticeable aspect here is that Kevin Quark's character has evolved from the dopey but happy slave of his brainy sister to a more regular kid who is overshadowed and bossed around by his brainy sister, making him a more believable and likable character. Otherwise everyone else is true to form. Tina is hit with some situations where we find that under that smart alek exterior there really is a kind heart. I really enjoyed the inclusion of Giles' mother in the story. Plus this book adds some variety by being science themed rather than supernatural in nature as the first two. I'm loving this little series that has great appeal for both boys and girls, but certainly is one to add to the list of early chapter books for boys. 4/5 (Canada)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

90. mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

mockingbird (mok'ing-burd) by Kathryn Erskine (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 235 pages
Ages: 9+
Finished: May 23, 2010
First Published: Apr. 15, 2010
Publisher: Philomel
Genre: children, realistic fiction
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

It looks like a one-winged bird crouching in the corner of our living room.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Penguin Group (Canada).

Reason for Reading: I have Asperger's and when I saw a book that featured a female protagonist with Asperger's I was elated and HAD to read the book.

I came away from this book very satisfied. As a female with Asperger's I felt that Caitlin was portrayed realistically. There can be wide differences in how males and females present and I think the author managed to bring those out in Caitlin, though the intense plot does put Caitlin in a situation above and beyond normal everyday life.

A small town has been devastated. The local junior high was hit by two gun wielding students who managed to kill one teacher and two students before the police shot one perpetrator and apprehended the other. One of the students who was shot is Caitlin's older brother, Devon. Their mother had died many years ago when Caitlin was a baby and Devon had really become her rock. He was a great big brother. He treated her well and knew how to deal with her as a person with Asperger's almost naturally. He'd tell her not to do stuff 'cause it wasn't cool or that people didn't like it when she did this or that and why and his advice helped her. Now Caitlin's world revolves around seeing a councilor daily at school, coping with her father's sudden crying sessions and missing Devon in her own way. People want her to be more emotional and show more empathy (traits those with Asperger's do not always appear to show) and Caitlin finally finds the word "CLOsure" and knows that is what both she and her father need.

The plot itself is well done. A small community coping with this horrible violence that has entered its once thought serene boundaries. The author shows the effect not only on the family of those murdered and the staff and students at the school, but staff at other schools, neighbours, and a boy who was the cousin of one of the killers. There is fear, disbelief, and togetherness but no anger as they bond to help the community as one, heal. Very-well done.

As to the Asperger's, from the author's note she does not outright say but it seems clear that either she or a loved one has an 'aspie' child and she is writing from experience. Caitlin is well presented as a female with Asperger's. The typical picture the public has of someone with AS is a science, math, computer geek and this is not wrong. These are often very strong interests in males (which doesn't mean some females will too) but typically females show their 'geekiness' in words and books. They are writers, bookworms, grammar police, etc. Caitlin here is an excellent student with great writing skills and a fascination with the dictionary, who keeps lists of words with the accentuated part in caps. Typical female AS behaviour. Caitlin has some meltdowns, fortunately the author doesn't over do them, as has been done in other books I've read. Girls are less likely to have seriously noticeable meltdowns and hyperactivity making the typical age of diagnoses around 16 rather 8 as in boys. Caitlin's two least favourite subjects at school are recess and PE. This really endeared her to me as those were my most hated subjects as well. There is this anxiety feeling you get in the pit of your stomach as an aspie and Caitlin associates this with recess so whenever she gets this feeling she will say she is feeling recessy or has the recess feeling. This beautifully describes an everyday symptom of Asperger's.

The main aspect the author emphasizes here though is the AS person's lack of ability to show emotion or empathy. I think Erskine does manage to show that while we do not show emotion it does not mean we do not feel emotion. Two very different points to keep in mind. Empathy is something that Caitlin herself struggles with and tries to understand and the whole book is a process for her in finding out how to show she has this to others and to understand herself, that she does. While many Asperger's people may lack emotion or empathy, I think the majority of us agree that we lack the ability to SHOW it, rather than that we do not feel the emotions or know how to feel them. I would also like to add my own bit of advice: Never *force* an Asperger's person to look you in the eye, it is akin to torture.

Anyway, I felt a lot of sympatico with Caitlin and the author in her ability to show a positive female character with Asperger's. My only negative is that *I* personally do not agree with the the medical methods being used to treat Caitlin.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Little Runner of the Longhouse by Betty Baker

Little Runner of the Longhouse by Betty Baker. Illustrated by Arnold Lobel (USA)- (Canada)
An I Can Read Book

Pages: 63 pages
Ages: 6-9
Finished: May 21, 2010
First Published: 1962
Publisher: Harper & Row
Genre: children, easy reader
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

It was cold in the longhouse.

Acquired: Bought and own a copy.

Reason for Reading: Ds read this aloud to me as his reader.

This easy reader starts off with introducing us to Little Runner's way of life in the Indian village, eventually leading up to telling us that today is New Years Day for them. The older children play a game involving masks and an old woman with a basket where they go from longhouse to longhouse asking for maple sugar. The alternative is, if a family does not give maple sugar each boy may take something from them. The indigenous game has some similarities to the traditional roots of modern day Hallowe'en. Of course, Little Runner wants to play, too, but Mother says he is still to little so he cooks up a plan where he has taken Little Brother from Mother and won't give him back until she gives him some maple sugar. Of course, Mother can play the game too and it's quite a funny predicament Little Runner finds himself him.

This is a fun story. We had previously learned about longhouses when we studied Indians last year so ds was pointing things out in the pictures he would not have otherwise noticed or known. He thought Little Runner's idea of taking Little Brother was hilarious. The story is quite simple, but the use of repetition makes it fun and, of course, works on those reading skills. Lobel's artwork is as always just as expected from him. Except for the round baby faces on Little Runner & Brother, the adult Indians have been drawn realistically and respectfully. Recommended but unfortunately is out of print at this time. It is easy enough to find secondhand copies though.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday: Books in the Mail

My stacks are saying thank you this week! Just two review books to add to help me get caught up and my bookshelf arrived on Friday! Wow that was fast! Now I'm not a hammer 'n' nails or even an alan wrench kinda gal so I've gotta sweet talk my hubby into putting it together for me. As we speak it is a holiday Monday (Happy Victoria Day!) here in Canada and I'm letting him sleep in so we'll see if I have pictures for you tomorrow.

From Penguin Group (Canada):

How far will one man go to save the people he loves most?Sam White is an out-of-work actor, making a living as a security guard in a shopping mall. He returns home one night to find his house blown up and two body bags being removed from it. He assumes the bodies are those of his wife and daughter, until he receives a call from a man saying they are alive, but will only be spared if Sam follows instructions and completes the increasingly violent tasks set out for him.

When he meets Zack Parker, also a victim of the kidnapper, they realize their pasts are connected, and the two of them must race against time to discover the identity of their sadistic tormentor—staying one step ahead of the police—to save their families.

Set in Portland, Oregon, featuring the spooky and labyrinthine tunnels underneath the city, this is a fantastically commercial, brilliantly paced read from a debut author. (Canada) only

From the book's publicist Amy @ Phenix & Phenix:

What would a loving mother not do for her child?

Lawyer Danielle Parkman is at her wits' end. Her son Max, a whip-smart teen with high-functioning autism, has always been a handful. But lately he's shutting down, using drugs and lashing out - violently.

Desperate, Danielle brings Max to a top-flight psychiatric facility for a full assessment. But rather than reassurance, Danielle receives an agonizing diagnosis describing a deeply damaged, dangerous boy - one she's never met.

Then Danielle finds Max unconscious and bloodied at the feet of a patient who has been brutally stabbed to death. A fiercely protective mother instinct rears its head - and Danielle is arrested as an accessory to the heinous crime.

In a baffling netherworld of doubt and fear, barred from contacting her son, Danielle clings to the thought of Max's innocence. But has she, too, lost touch with reality? Is her baby boy really a killer?

With the justice system bearing down on them both, Danielle steels herself to discover the truth - no matter how horrifying. It's a path well on the wrong side of the law. But only finding the true killer will absolve her from having to choose between her son and her soul.
(US) - (Canada)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

89. Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor

Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 432 pages
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 23, 2010
First Published: Mar. 3, 2009
Publisher: Hyperion
Genre: Historical mystery, historical fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

Sometimes you frighten yourself.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Hyperion.

Reason for Reading: The book sounded perfect for me: a British historical mystery set in the thirties which the blurbs assured me was "beautifully crafted".

I have found myself a new favourite author! After reading this book, I want to get my hands on anything else by this man. This is a clever book, very intelligently crafted and written with a literary flair. His combination of mystery and history is absolutely superb.

There is so much story here and a mystery that morphs itself in so many directions it's nearly impossible to give a summery. The publisher's don't even bother to try with their brief blurb on the back of my trade pb edition. What can I tell you? Lydia Langstone is an upperclass woman who walks out on her husband because he hits her. She ends up a #7 Bleeding Heart Square, a boarding house, where her Father, a drunk, but jovial sort of fellow when he's upright, lives. She has never met him before but decides to stay with him and gets herself a job in a lawyer's office. Lydia then finds herself in a mystery that has already started; the owner of the boarding house, a Miss Penham, vanished a few years back without a trace, except for a letter arriving from America saying she'd runaway with an old flame. Some accept the letter as true, others believe it to be a forgery. It is within this atmosphere that Lydia gets caught up in the suspense and secrecy which seems to involve all boarders in the house, including her father. Which then spreads further afield and Lydia is on the trail of her own family's secrets and mysteries which lead home to her mother and husband.

The story takes so many twists and turns it makes for fascinating reading. What starts out as a missing person case morphs into several different crimes: murder, rape, kidnapping, suicide, impersonation and so on. With WWII only a few years in the future Britain's political scene and the founding of the British Fascist party only adds to the heavy atmosphere that seeps from the pages of this book. With a combination of crimes, characters, secrets, atmosphere and even politics Bleeding Heart Square has just the right amount of "it" to make me love this story. Once you've been shaken up and down along with the plot and everything settles down for the finale, a final screeching reveal hits you which you've actually been wondering about since page one. You see every now and then someone comes along and narrates in the second person, taking to you,the reader, about some diary entries. One wonders who this person is at times, then at others gets used to the voice and forgets to remember to wonder which character is doing this. The amazing conclusion wraps everything up with a satisfying bang and I'll say I was riveted from start to finish. I'll be looking at his other books now, hopefully he has another set in my favourite era of 1850-1950.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

OT - Ray Stevens & Illegal Immigrants

Ray Stevens is 71 years old and still singing his funny songs. This puts a few things into perspective.

88. Mrs. Kaputnik's Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium

Mrs. Kaputnik's Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium by Rona Arato (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 188 pages
Ages: 8+
Finished: May 20, 2010
First Published: Apr. 13, 2010
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: children, magical realism, historical fiction
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

Shoshi Kapustin clapped her hands over her ears to shut out the pitying voices.

Acquired: Received a review copy from LibraryThing's ER Program.

Reason for Reading: The combination of the time period (1898) and a dragon intrigued me. I read this aloud to my 9yo.

The Kapustins have immigrated to the USA because Papa has been gone for five years and has not answered any of their letters. Escaping the Cossacks and worried they arrive on Ellis Island, find the family restaurant and are told Papa left one day and didn't come back. The aunt and uncle running the place have turned it into a shambles. On their first night there, aunt and uncle steal their money leaving a note that they have taken it as payment for the restaurant, Mama can have it, they are going south. Mama must figure out a way to make a living off the restaurant but her matzo balls won't cook properly; they are more like stones. The children are trying to find Papa. The gangster Nick the Stick is making them pay protection money and they are never quite sure if their new friend Mr. Thornswaddle, circus barker extraordinaire, can be trusted. Oh, yes, and by the way they also accidentally brought a baby dragon over with them who doesn't make the situation any easier.

A fun, story with lots of silly situations going on that are unrealistic. The Russian Jew immigrants bring with them a folk tale sense of the tall tale and much that happens in the story is over the top, creating some laugh out loud moments and just plain silliness. But also, the author manages to set the characters in the real world of a turn of the century Jewish neighbourhood in New York and the reader sees the immigrant experience as well as life for a child in this era of New York. The names of the characters are a lot of fun too, such as Aloysius P. Thornswaddle and Dingle Hinglehoffer and the book works well as a read aloud allowing the teller to put on both Jewish and Irish accents during some of the most fun bits.

The one thing that disappointed me was the dragon; he had no charisma. While not being a main character, he was a constant throughout the plot and he did not have a personality of his own. He was very lightly sketched out but there was nothing to endear him to the reading audience. I think if he'd been given a personality his place would have felt more as one of the main characters and it would have given the story that extra bit of oomph that feels to be lacking.

Friday, May 21, 2010

87. Keeper by Kathi Appelt

Keeper by Kathi Appelt (USA)- (Canada)

Pages: 409 pages
Ages: 8+
Finished: May 18, 2010
First Published: May 18, 2010
Publisher: Atheneum
Genre: children, magical realism
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

Keeper leaned over the edge of the boat.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Simon and Schuster Canada.

Reason for Reading: Mermaids are another of my favourite mythological creatures to read about in novels. I actually had no idea the author was a newbery honor winner, although I have heard of her other book, I have not read it and didn't know who wrote it.

The book has a simple plot. Living on the Texan Coast in an isolated area close to a small town in three houses are Keeper and a young woman who is not her mother, an old man who has forgotten how old he is and a young man who runs a surfboard rental shop. These people are Keepers "family" and she loves them very much but one day Keeper has a bad day and everything she does goes wrong and she hurts each one of these people. Living a life filled with tales of the sea and a strong belief in mermaid lore, since she herself is half merfolk she sets off under the stealth of night, on the night of the blue moon, to make her way to a sandbar out in the ocean with her dog BD and a segull named Captain to call her mermaid mother back to ask her help on fixing everything that has gone wrong.

The book is well written and has a dreamy, calm atmosphere even when Keeper feels that everything has gone wrong. The pace is slow. The book starts with Keeper in the boat and then goes back to explain everything that happened that day to get her to this point. Along the way, we get the backstories of the people (and animals) inhabiting her world. This takes perhaps the first half of the book. Then the second half takes Keeper on her journey out to sea and reveals secrets of those back on shore culminating in the worst bad thing that has gone wrong all day. There are some magical elements to the story which are not explained in any sense as to whether they are real or dreamings. It is up to each reader to decide for themselves.

I'm having a hard time coming up with a rating for this book as I'm caught in the middle as to whether I really liked it. I certainly enjoyed the characters, they were all brought to life for me and I appreciated who they were and what they had experienced very much; I just wish something actually happened to them in this book. The plot is simple and dragged out but the book does leave one feeling tranquil most of the time. I think what I may be trying to say is that the writing is almost like poetry and that just may be my problem; I'm not big on poetical writing. I think this may be one of those books that you're either going to love or just could do without.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

86. Shake, Rattle & Turn That Noise Down! by Mark Alan Stamaty

Shake, Rattle & Turn That Noise Down!: How Elvis Shook up Music, Me and Mom by Mark Alan Stamaty (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 40 pages
Ages: 7+
Finished: May 17, 2010
First Published: Jan 12, 2010
Publisher: Alfred a, Knopf
Genre: children, graphic novel, non-fiction, biography, history,
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

The day I turned eight, in 1955, my parents game me a really cool birthday present.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading: I entered a contest the author was running for a free copy because the book sounded so cool. I never heard back, knowing I'd not won, and honestly, forgot about the book when six months later I received a cool letter in the mail from the author with a postcard and an original drawing he'd made. I just had to read it after that!

This is truly an amazing book and story that kids and their parents will love and their grand-parents may love even more! I think it's integral to the enjoyment that the child be aware of who Elvis is both through hearing his music and having seen footage of him performing to get the full effect of the story.

The book starts with showing some difference in home life from 1955 and now and to emphasize how excited the author was to receive a radio for his birthday. How pleased his mother was to walk past his room and hear lovely band music coming from it until one day later the next year Elvis hit the airwaves and turned Mark onto the new music scene of "rock and roll". Well, mother flips out from the screeching noise emitting from the radio and we see the comparison in all our lives through ages of parents thinking that their children's music is noise compared to what they listed to as children themselves. Mark takes it a step further and combs his hair Elvis style and learns all his dance moves and words to his songs until eventually his Cub Pack puts on a skit at an annual dinner and they ask their resident Elvis to perform. The end of the book has some photographs of the author as a child and performing at the event as well as of him now turning into an Elvis impersonator.

The book is a lot of fun with some actual laugh out loud moments. This is one that truly will be enjoyed by all ages. I imagine grandparents reading it to grandchildren will especially bond over the book. This is a must have for the classroom and the library. The graphic design of the book is appealing as well. Much of the book uses narrator style rectangles within frames with bubbles showing up here and there. He also has flowing rivers filled with lyrics or music notes emanating from radios and record players to denote music. The lettering is very large caps throughout with the occasional stylized word here and there. Stamaty's drawing style is eye-catching with his people not being quite proportional they look a bit short and squat with big heads. This disproportion is only slightly off so it only gives his characters just that extra bit of interest. I really enjoy the style.

While the story is a lot of fun and kid's will relate to little Mark's feelings of parental frustration, idol worship and later performance anxiety it also contains quite a lot of information on the history of rock and roll: who the early pioneers were and how it was different from what came before. This is a keeper!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

85. The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill

The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill (Canada) - (USA)
A Simon Serrailler Crime, Book 5

Pages: 372 pages
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 16, 2010
First Published: May 4, 2010 (Canada)/ Apr. 2010 (UK)/ Sept.2 (USA)
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Genre: British police procedural, mystery
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

Leslie Blade stopped in the overhang of the college entrance to put up his umbrella.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

I enjoy Susan Hill as a writer so much, even though I've only read three of her books so far! Fortunately she has an extensive backlist that will keep me busy for a long time. This latest Simon Serrailler novel continues on very much with the private lives of the Serrailler family, namely his sister and her children and his father and his new wife. They dynamics of Simon's private life takes up a good amount of space in these novels. The book also starts out by introducing all the characters and having them going about their daily lives that one becomes wrapped up in the story and is well into the book before a murder even happens.

Prostitutes are being strangled and found in the river of the Chapel town that Simon and his family live in. They have two strong suspects but neither can be proved nor do they really seem to fit as the unsub. Trying to work an angle involving an unsub who has some psychological reason for going after prostitutes is thrown for a loop when the resident Dean (Reverend)'s wife goes missing, then next a married a mom with two children. A case that has Simon and his teams going nowhere fast as every clue ends up back where they started.

I enjoy these mysteries tremendously. The characterization is wonderful. All players are fully fleshed out with backstories and personalities. The mystery is intelligent and clever. I had my eye on the culprit but can't really say I solved this one as I also had my eye on a few others! I read the book quickly over the weekend; it was one of those can't put it down 'til I'm finished books. The type of mystery found here is best described as a psychological suspense. The pace of the writing keeps in tempo with the pace of the case, at times slow as we bang our heads on desks trying to make sense of it all and then boom! we're off on another lead or another body has been found. Another great entry to the series. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

84. The Three Firecrackers by Eleanor Frances Lattimore

The Three Firecrackers by Eleanor Frances Lattimore (USA) Out of Print

Pages: 127 pages
Ages: 7-10
Finished: May 15, 2010
First Published: 1970
Publisher: William Morrow and Company
Genre: children, realistic fiction
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

It seemed to Rosie Warren like a long time since she had seen her sister Viola.

Acquired: Borrowed a copy through Inter-Library Loan.

Reason for Reading: Lattimore is one of my favourite childhood authors and there is not a lot about her or her books available on line. One of my long term goals is to review every book she wrote.

The Three Firecrackers is a contemporary story of eleven year old Rosie Warren who has excitedly been invited to come stay at her sister, Viola's, house and then help out looking after her three little boys for the few days Viola will be in the hospital having her fourth baby. The three boys range in age from two and a half to almost five and the parents have nick-named them the "firecrackers".

This is a cute story told in the third person from Rosie's point of view. While it is quite simplistic it does tell Rosie's coming of age story. She is nervous and excited at first and must deal with many trials along the way. It is a quaint, wholesome story that was fun to read.

This book, unlike others by Lattimore I've read so far, does show its age simply because of its contemporary setting. Viola has all the modern conveniences at her place and Rosie has never seen a dishwasher or a clothes washer and dryer before. The latter causes one of her trials. She also marvels at the see-through door on the oven. None of these are to be found in her small town New Jersey home.

Another sign of the times is the mother's easiness in letting her small children wander off around the suburban complex they live in. Built in rows up a large hill the children are told not to go to the very top where an old cistern is in a marsh nor to go down to the very bottom where the traffic is heavy, otherwise they have freedom to roam as they please. Rosie being self-conscious of her job to look after the children asks several times if she should go find the children while the mother brushes her off with oh they'll be along soon. Of course being a child of the seventies myself I know all about roaming the neighborhood all day. We were just expected home for supper. When Rosie is left to look after the children on her own, she has the trial of her stay when all three children go missing in different directions at once.

Lattimore is most widely-known for her Chinese stories as she portrays the people so exceptionally well and in the 30s-50s she was relatively alone in her graceful portrayals of non-white characters. In some of her other books Lattimore also brought other ethnic characters into play without ever making race an issue. Of course by the seventies, racial issues were aplenty in children's lit. but Ms. Lattimore now closing in on her own seventies stayed true to her own form. In this story Viola has two neighbours, a cranky, chubby lady with a son who is always enticing her oldest to get into trouble on one side; on the other, is a very nice lady with black hair from Pakistan who doesn't speak much English but her daughter who is very motherly towards Viola's youngest translates for her. Mrs. Nasrit and Pandra are not major characters, though they do have an important scene to play, but Lattimore captures them beautifully and they frequently pop up throughout the story . She uses the Mrs. Nasrit character to quietly insert into her story the possible scenario of having an immigrant as a next door neighbour (remember this is the seventies) and all the while never making it an issue within the story.

Not one of my favourites but still an example of Lattimore's fun stories of children and their hi-jinxes, while remaining a wholesome story, though by this era definitely showing it's age.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday: Books in the Mail

It has been a super-duper, killer of a week for my mailbox. So many books. I wish I could figure out a way to read in my sleep or skip sleep altogether and just read! I have too many books this week to give pictures and summaries of all, so I'll just link you to a-zon so you can check out any that sound good and I certainly have some goodies I'm looking forward to this week.

From McArthur & Company

Captivity by Deborah Noyes
Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius by Colin Dickey

From Simon & Schuster Canada:

Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 1 by Kiiro Yumi

From Harper Collins Canada:

Toy Story: The Return of Buzz LightYear by Jesse Blaze Snider
Essential Modern Classics: White Boots by Noel Streatfeild
Essential Modern Classics: Feather Boy by Nicky Singer
Essential Modern Classics: Street Child by Berlie Doherty
Essential Modern Classics: Spellhorn by Berlie Doherty
Early to Death, Early to Rise by Kim Harrison
First Modern Classics: Dimanche Diller by Hanrietta Branford
First Modern Classics: I, Houdini by Lynne Reid Banks

From the book's publicist:

Never Let You Go by Erin Healy

And a Mystery Box from Scholastic Canada

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan & Peter Sis
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve
Trackers, Book One by Philip Carman
Wolven by Di Toft
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
The Deadlies: Felix Takes the Stage by Kathryn Lasky
Dark Life by Kat Falls

Sunday, May 16, 2010

82. Gold Rush Fever: A Story of the Klondike, 1898

Gold Rush Fever: A Story of the Klondike, 1898 by Barbara Greenwood. Illustrated by Heather Collins (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 157 pages
Ages: 8+
Finished: May 12, 2010
First Published: 2001
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: children, non-fiction, historical fiction, Canadian history
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

Will you look at this old photo?

Acquired: Bought and own a copy.

Reason for Reading: Read aloud to my 9yo as part of our history curriculum.

As others from this series of like books from Greenwood and Collins an historical fiction tale is interspersed with non-fiction sections that expound upon information presented within the fictional story. While other books contained crafts in the non-fiction sections this book can't really be said to have crafts, there are a couple of experiments, a card game, a recipe and recommended reading instead.

Another difference is that rather than being about a family as in the Pioneer books and the Underground Railroad book, this book features in on two orphaned brothers: one almost a man, the other 13 years old, Tim. Tim narrates the story and tells of how he and his brother head on out for the great stampede north to Dawson City where they aim to make their fortune. Greenwood has presented a very realistic tale of all the hardships experienced along the way, though she does stay away from any of the grizzly details. She tells of the trials of the Chilkoot Pass, the river, the lawlessness before reaching Canada where the Mounties ruled with an iron fist and the backbreaking, often hopeless working a claim. The characters in this book seem to have more than the average share of good luck but still it comes out an entertaining and informational book on the topic. Particularly nice in this book, over the others, is the inclusion of real photographs which adds even more reality to the story. A good beginning book on the topic with plenty of information to get a good overview of the Gold Rush. Not my favourite of the series though.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A New Bookcase (Soon)

Isn't that bookcase gorgeous?! CSN Stores are going to let me review it!

I know exactly where I'm going to put it and all my review books which are currently in stacks on my bedroom floor are going to be gracing its shelves. Full details and photos when it arrives and I post my review.

Did you know CSN has over 200 different stores where you can buy everything from bookcases to recessed lighting. I've been having a blast looking at the toys and games, kitchen accessories and home decor items.

And what's even more important to me, as a Canadian, is that they ship to the US and Canada and are Canadian friendly. They're GST registered, so when you pay them, that's it, everything is taken care of! No nasty surprises at the door with the delivery guy wanting you to pay up before you can get your parcel.

From their website:

"Founded in 2002, CSN Stores LLC is a fast-growing, privately-held company offering customers the best online shopping available for home and office goods. A $200 million company, CSN is made up of more than 200 online niche shops offering a huge selection of products ranging from barstools and bedroom sets to grills, greenhouses and gaming equipment. We have items for budget-minded shoppers, luxury seekers and everyone in between"

83. White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat by Holly Black (Canada) - (USA)
The Curse Workers, Book 1

Pages: 310 pages
Ages: 14+
Finished: May 14, 2010
First Published: May 4, 2010
Publisher: McElderry Books
Genre: YA, urban fantasy
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

I woke up barefoot, standing on cold slate tiles.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Simon and Schuster Canada.

Reason for Reading: I'm a fan of the author.

Set in an alternate reality almost identical to the Earth we live in with one small difference, some people are born with a special ability which is called a "curse". One must touch another's skin for the effects to take place. These "curse workers" are a minority of the population and their curses range from luck to changing emotions to causing death. In this world everyone wears gloves to keep everyone safe from "curses". No one knows who may be a "worker" but working itself has been deemed illegal.

In this world Cassell finds himself the only non-worker in a family of workers. His family, along with others who have a strong heritage of workers, are what we would call organized crime families, mobsters and con artists. Since Cassell can't "work" he at least has honed his skills as a con artist. But his life starts to unravel when he finds himself sleepwalking, having dreams sent from a white cat and beginning to notice some unaccounted for events in his life. His brothers act strangely when he asks them about it and Cassell begins to feel that perhaps he is the subject of a huge con himself.

I loved every word of this book! I was hooked from the first sentence and couldn't continue with my regular life until I had finished the book. The world Black creates here is very dark and dangerous. One wonders if any character can truly be trusted and the main character himself is not exactly an honest citizen. The direction the story takes is surprising and makes compelling reading. The unexpected actions of characters, including Cassell himself, are shocking and yet as one gets to know them not out of character at all. In this world of dark magic and crime the back stabbing characters are always at each other and it's as matter of magic against magic and wits against wits. The ending is absolutely brilliant and so appropriate! Don't expect any happy, happy, joy, joy ending here! I can't wait for book two!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework

Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework by Nadja Spiegelman. Illustrated by Trade Loeffler (Canada) - (USA)
A Toon Book

Pages: 40 pages
Ages: 6+
Finished: May 13, 2010
First Published: Apr. 5, 2010
Publisher: Toon Books
Genre: graphic novel, children, easy reader
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Wikki, are you playing video games AGAIN?

Acquired: Received a review copy from RAW Junior, LLC.

Reason for Reading: My son read this aloud to me as his reader.

Zig is late handing in his assignment, a pet for the class zoo. While he and Wikki, an animate computer, are flying around the galaxy they find themselves near Earth where they drop by to see if they can find an animal for Zig's assignment.

This Toon Reader is slightly different than all the others to date. It is described on the website as being "science-based". How this happens is that every now and then when the two are confronted with an unknown element Wikki's screen will turn on and a large oval display will show up with an interesting fact about said element. These aren't just your boring little information blurbs either; they are very interesting information, often humorous or gross, on the subject such as "Fly Spitting: Flies use spit to turn their food into liquid, then they suck it up, again."

My learning disabled 9yo really enjoyed this book. As far as both of us are concerned, we'd say this is the best graphic novel Toon Books has put out so far (and we've read them all)! Even though the book is in the 3rd level, ds was so interested in the story that he even surprised himself at how well he could read the book. The story has all the ingredients an easy reader calls for: interesting plot, humour, enjoyable characters and a surprise ending. We hope Zig and Wikki will return in further adventures!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

81. Meridian by Amber Kizer

Meridian by Amber Kizer (Canada) - (USA)
First in a series

Pages: 305 pages
Ages: 13+
Finished: May 12, 2010
First Published: Aug. 11, 2009
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: YA, fantasy, paranormal, romance
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

The first creatures to seek me were the insects; my parents cleaned the bassinet free of dead ants the morning after they brought me home from the hospital.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading: I was attracted to the angel aspect of the story as I enjoy paranormals involving angels.

When Meridian turns sixteen her family has planned for her to be whisked away to live with "Auntie" for an undermined amount of time. It is here that she learns that she is only half-human, the other half is angel. In fact she is a Fenestra, a window to the 'other side' that the dead seek out, if she is near, to make their passing easier. Auntie is also a Fenestra and Meridian has been brought here to learn how to open and close the window properly without getting sucked in herself. But time is short and their evil opponents, the Aternocti will do anything to destroy Auntie and Fenestra before the information can be passed on.

The premise of this story is very exciting and I feel the book could have been so much more than it was. The only character I really connected with Meridian herself, even though there were plenty of times when her behaviour didn't quite ring true. I'm of two minds when it comes to this book. I feel as though my words will make the book sound worse than it was because I really did enjoy the story, became quite caught up in the plot and read the book quickly.

Besides the lack of fully developed characters my main irritant with the book were the religious issues. The author went to great pains to repeatedly let Meridian know that in (the book's) world their is no Christianity. Meridian would ask questions about Heaven and would be given answers like religions have many names for it. She'd ask about God and be told "the Creators are known by many names". This type of thing is mentioned so much you are hit over the head with it. And yet, the bad guys are masquerading as Christians. We are told once at the beginning of the book, before we meet the bad guys, that they are a cult, after that they are simply referred to as Christians. However, throughout the entire book all the detailed descriptions of this group, their practices and church celebrations are all based on The Old Testament. The self-styled preacher quotes Biblical phrases often and their are notes for the reader to look them up (all Old Testament). There is no mention of Jesus or Christ, except once when someone mentions they voted to keep the Christ in Christmas. This just really irked me. The two issues together come across as being anti-Christian. This isn't the first I've run into this. If an author wants to make the bad guys a group of Christians, so be it, but at least have them follow the The New Testament where Christ is found i.e. the term "Christian". As far as I would say, 'Christians' who only follow the Old Testament would actually be Jewish.

Back to the story, remember I did say that overall I did enjoy it. It has a very strong beginning and the Fenestra creation, with the other mythos created around it is unique and interesting. The book ends satisfactorily but the two main characters are ready to set off for their future, making a sequel more than obvious. I would read a sequel should one be written.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

80. Die Hard: Year One, Vol. 1

Die Hard: Year One, Vol. 1 by Howard Chaykin. Art by Stephen Thompson (Canada) - (USA)
Die Hard series

Pages: 112 pages
Ages: 16+
Finished: May 9, 2010
First Published: Apr. 13, 2010
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Genre: graphic novel, crime fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

America's having a birthday ... and everybody's coming to the party ... the bicentennial celebration in New York City.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: More Die Hard? A young John McClane? C'mon? How could I resist?

The time is 1976 and John McClane is a rookie cop starting out. He's been partnered with a Training Officer of the seasoned, fat and complaining variety so needless to say they do not get along but McClane quickly learns to keep his mouth shut and make backhanded remarks out of the side of his mouth. On the street a series of incidents all lead to McClane taking on a small terrorist group and cops gone bad.

I loved this! The story was a bit jerky and could have flowed smoother. Hoping to see it come together a better as the series progresses. But it is a thrill to read a good old fashioned cops vs the bad guys story in graphic format. The seventies setting allows for some fun with clothing and colours at times. John McClane is a young version of the movie character not Bruce Willis, though some Bruce Willis does creep in and I'm glad it has been presented that way. Willis' brand of humour which shows up in every part he plays is a big part of the screen version of John McClane's character, in the graphic representation, the humour is there but it's not overkill. John McClane has a resemblance to Bruce Willis and in most shots it is only faint, except every now and then there will be certain angle which is the spitting image of Willis. To me this says the author & illustrator are acknowledging the already formed Willis version of John McClane but they do not intend to be limited by it. Obviously John McClane started out somewhere and grew into the character we are familiar with in the movies. This graphic series is going to show us what happened along the way.

As usual with Boom! Studios they publish a mean hardcover book. I love the cover picture on this! The jacket has a nice matte finish (I so prefer this over glossy ones) and there is an attached sliver ribbon bookmark. Removing the jacket will show the front board has been stamped in silver with an NYPD shield and the pages inside are thick, quality. A very enjoyable read which I look forward to continuing reading.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

79. Pearl of China by Anchee Min

Pearl of China by Anchee Min (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 278 pages
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 9, 2010
First Published: Mar. 30, 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

Before I was Willow, I was Weed.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Penguin Group (Canada).

Reason for Reading: I am a huge fan of Pearl S. Buck, having read almost all of her books.

The book purports to be the fictionalized story of Pearl Buck's life in China told through the eyes of a lifetime Chinese friend. Pearl's mother went to the US to give birth to Pearl after losing several babies but soon came back to China with the babe in arms and Pearl was to remain there well into her thirties, except for brief periods away while she sought higher eduction in the US. She even married and came back a missionary herself. Willow, her fictional friend, tells the story of her own life and how it intermingled with Pearl's and through this the reader gets glimpses into the great writer's life, who though she was white on the outside was Chinese on the inside.

The book is enjoyable and we are given a touching look inside the day-to-day life of a small Chinese village, Chin-kiang, from the early 1900s through the end of Mao's Cultural Revolution. The villagers themselves are eccentric and lovable and the reader falls in love with the people and way of life, though one must watch out for the war lords, in Chin-kiang before the terrible atrocities of the revolutions started.

I'm not sure I completely agree with the author's portrayal of Pearl's mother and father. She does have the personalities correct but it somehow feels overboard. It has been a long time since I read Buck's two biographies, that each tell the same story, one through her father's eyes, The Fighting Angel, the other through her mother's, The Exile, so I can't say anything concrete but I am left with an odd feeling here.

The same goes for Pearl actually. Since the author chose the rather strange narrative of telling Pearl's life through the eyes of a (non-existant) Chinese best friend from childhood, the reader can only experience those parts of Buck's life in which the friend is involved. Thus creating long passages of time where Pearl Buck is not present. I have only read Buck's first biography, My Several Worlds, but there is a large amount of information missing on Pearl's life and the topics that were close to heart. I'm rather dismayed that Anchee Min glosses over the atrocities of the Nanking Massacre so quickly, as it is a subject that Pearl writes about in much detail.

Now, rather than being the story of Pearl Buck, this novel is more the story of Willow a Chinese peasant who happened to know Pearl Buck. We are shown how her childhood is influenced as she becomes like a sister to Pearl and Carie (Pearl's mother) becomes like a mother to her for her entire life, as her own mother died when she was very young. Her father is converted to Christianity, fake on his part to start with, but eventually a true convert and the reader sees how being a Christian in Mao's China affects ones life. Actually, the most riveting part of this novel is the Mao years. I always find reading about the Cultural Revolution almost unbelievable and then terrifying when the reality sets in my mind.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I think it is a mistake to assume this is a book about Pearl Buck and will be better enjoyed with the understanding that it is the story of a peasant girl who knew Pearl for thirty-odd years. I certainly enjoyed the writing style and if I had known nothing about Pearl S. Buck to begin with, it would be a teaser of an introduction to this great woman and perhaps may make readers look up some of her lesser known work. This is the first Anchee Min book I've read and I see she has written several others; I will definitely be reading her backlist.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday: Books in the Mail

Here I am back again! I didn't make a Monday post last week because ... well, let's just say when I came back after 3 weeks of being away I had way too many books to make a posting about. While there was a tonne, it was a healthy mix of novels and graphic novels to review, books I had won and even a couple of bookmooches. But I do now have quite a heavy stack of books towering on my bedside table, just after I'd got all got up with the current arcs, too. ;-)

On to this past week, a nice small load for the mailbox this week to help me get caught up:

From Boom! Studios:

Incorruptible by Mark Waid
This past December, BOOM! showed the world that Mark Waid is now... INCORRUPTIBLE — here’s your chance to get the first four issues of the hit series collected in just one volume! Super villain Max Damage had an epiphany the day The Plutonian destroyed Sky City. When The Plutonian turned his back on humanity, Max Damage decided to step up. Now Max Damage has changed his name to Max Daring and turned from his formerly selfish ways to become... INCORRUPTIBLE. (US) - (Canada)

From Penguin Group (Canada):

mockingbird (mok'ing-burd) by Kathryn Erskine
In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes that is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white—the world is full of colors—messy and beautiful. (US) -

From LibraryThing Early Reviewers:

Alison Dare: Little Miss Adventures by J. Torres
Alison Dare: Indiana Jones meets Lara Croft in fabulous, graphic adventures.Alison Dare is not your typical twelve-year-old. She's the daughter of an archaeologist/adventurer and the masked hero known as the Blue Scarab. To top it off, she's also the niece of an international super-spy; it's no surprise that a craving for danger is in her blood! Unfortunately, her parents have locked her away at the prestigious St. Joan's Academy for Girls, hoping that this would lead to a more "normal" life for their daughter.

But despite all the strict rules at the school, Alison and her best pals - Wendy and Dot - somehow manage to find themselves involved in adventures that rival those of Alison's globetrotting, planet-saving relatives. Whether it's magic genies, super-powered bank robbers, or a dastardly baron bent on world domination, Alison Dare delivers the best thrills since Indiana Jones and more action than Lara Croft!
(US) -

Sunday, May 9, 2010

DNF: Biomega Vol. 2

Biomega, Vol. 2 by Tsutomu Nihei (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 216 pages
Age: 18+
First Published: May 11, 2010
Publisher: VIZ Media
Genre: manga
Rating: DNF

Acquired: Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

This book does not have page numbers but I managed to read 3/7 chapters. I was wary going in as I had problems with Vol. 1 but the story was intriguing enough for me to give Vol. 2 a try. Surprisingly enough, I had different problems this time around. After writing my review on Volume one I was contacted by fans of the author and told that he is well-known for his stark, wordless mangas with minimal text, and from that I knew I was probably reading the wrong guy as I like words. So when I started to read Vol. 2 I was surprised at the amount of text. Not as much as normal but way more than in Vol. 1 and this was a level of text and art I could get along with. My problem this time was I got completely lost with the story. I have a very bare bones idea as to the story line but this volume was just getting me more and more muddled. The art is gorgeous though. But I'm just going to have to say that this is not an author for me. But if you are a manga fan who enjoys futuristic stories with lots of zombie violence and motorcycle action, plus enjoys stretches of wordless panels this could be right up your alley!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

78. The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley (Canada) - (USA)
The Buckshaw Chronicles, #2

Pages: 348 pages
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 7, 2010
First Published: Match 9, 2010
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

I was lying dead in the churchyard.

Acquired: Received a review copy from the publisher.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

Flavia's second case follows the traditional set up of the golden-age of classic British mysteries. A travelling puppet show comes to town, but not just anyone; this is Ruper Porson famous for his television puppet show. He agrees to put a show on for the village. At this point the reader is completely immersed in the story, introduced to all the characters, in the village, and the newcomers, along with bits and pieces of backstories but never enough to let us know who is going to commit a murder. And a murder there will be, just like the classic Agatha Christie we know this is all building up to the right moment and we've figured out who will get murdered and probably when but not how.

Once the murder has been committed the rest of the book follows through keeping the pacing and formatting similar to the classic British mystery. Of course there are a few modern twists, our protagonist is an 11-year old girl, who is fascinated with poisons and completely knowledgeable in chemistry and herbs to be able to make an unlimited amount of poisons and their remedies. Flavia is a very interesting character. She is bright and knows it but is never smarmy or ignorant to adults. She knows when to use the child side of her to get more answers for certain witnesses. Flavia starts out by totally expecting the police to take her on as a deductive member of the team from her experiences showing them her skills last time but when she is questioned and then sent along she is feels indignant that they would dismiss her so easily. So Flavia takes on the case by herself, sneaking around, traveling by bicycle (just like the old-time female British sleuths!) and getting interviews that the police couldn't possibly succeed in as well as she, beloved child and fellow villager, is able. The author seems to have a good hold on her character by this point, as she is now entirely believable as a child, which I had problems with in the first book. It is good to see the character more realistic and fleshed out.

I will say though, I didn't enjoy this book as much as The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I think the original uniqueness of the situation has worn off a bit and while the book is so comparable to a typical Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh, I do prefer my mysteries nowadays to start right off the bat with the murder. O course that's just me. Flavia de Luce is going to be a winner with all lovers of British cozies, one you'll surely not want to miss.

An interview with the author: