Wednesday, June 29, 2011

138: Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith

Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith (Canada) - (US)
Bone, Vol. 1

Pages: 138
Ages: 9+
Finished: Jun. 7, 2011
First Published: 1991, 1992 (2005, colourized)
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: children, graphic novel, fantasy, humour
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Still no sign of the townspeople.

Acquired: Purchased a new copy from an online retailer.

Reason for Reading: One of my goals this year is to finally read this series!  So, here I go!

Volume One of the Bone series was everything I had hoped it would be.  This has been on my must read list ever since Scholastic came out with the colourized editions, so that would make it six years of getting around to it.  Happy to say I was not disappointed.  The characters are adorable.  The writing is funny, even witty, and an interesting journey has begun with a bad guy after one of our heroes for unknown reasons at this point.

The Bone cousins, Phoney, Fone and Smiley have been run out of Boneville, crossed the desert, get lost in the mountains and are separated.  We follow Fone Bone, who I believe is our hero, as he is certainly the most likable of the three, as he finds a valley and meets the people and creatures there while he searches for his missing cousins.  So far my favourite characters are Fone, of course, Ted the bug, Gran'ma Ben and the Red Dragon.  Sometimes when one has heard nothing but praise for a book (or series) over the years, once you actually get to reading it yourself there is a bit of a letdown.  I'm pleased to say that Bone, from the start, has lived up to it's expectations.  Can't wait to start reading Vol. 2.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

137. Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman (Canada) - (US)
Astronaut Academy

Pages: 188
Ages: 8+
Finished: June 5, 2011
First Published: June 7, 2011
Publisher: First Second
Genre: graphic novel, children, humour
Rating: 3/5
First sentence:

Welcome now! The official promotional guide: To: Astronaut Academy.
Acquired: Received a review copy from First Second Books.

Reason for Reading: It sounded like a lot of fun.

This tells of the happenings of first semester at Astronaut Academy.  Opening with the official promotional guide the principal shows off the school and then we start off with the main character Hakata Soy arriving at the school a month late due to his former status as a space hero.  Then in a unique way, each short "chapter" starts off with "My name is ...." and is told from the point of view of various different classmates, the occasional teacher or surprise narrator.  Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems and Hakata's first semester is interrupted when a robot shows up with a mission to kill him.

I'll have to say this underwhelmed me.  It just wasn't my kind of humour.  It was silly, just not that funny.  Now, I won't say it wasn't entertaining, I'll give it that but I had expected more.  Kids who like school humour will probably enjoy this the most.  A caveat to parents who like to be aware of this type of content, there is a brief, 3 panel, episode involving a h*m*s*xual student.  Overall, fun but just OK in my opinion.

Monday, June 27, 2011

136. Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Vol. 3

The Nura Clan Assembly by Hiroshi Shiibashi (Canada) - (US)
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Vol. 3

Ages: 13+
First Published: 2008 Japan (June 7, 2011, English translation)
Publisher: viz media
Genre: YA, manga, fantasy
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:
When the yokai Gyuki was still a human being, he was called Umewakamaru.
Acquired: Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

Rikuo is challenged by Gyuki if he wants to be the next leader.  After accepting Gyuki as a member of the clan those who are not loyal to Rikuo are exposed and again another clan comes along from the West to take out the leaders of the other clans so they can be the ruling clan.  This time it is not Rikuo who is in danger but the Supreme Commander himself who reveals his real magic power.

Another good entry in the series.  Lots of new yokai are introduced and while Rikuo's schoolmates make appearances only Yura plays a major part.   This volume concentrates more on the politics of the yokai clans and finally sets Rikuo up in his place as a candidate for the future leader.  Several new characters on the Yokai side are introduced and plenty of action is found in the very cool battle scenes.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

135. Nick of Time by Tim Downs

Nick of Time by Tim Downs (Canada) - (US)
A Bug Man Mystery, #6

Pages: 309
Ages: 18+
First Published:May 17, 2011
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: crime, mystery, Christian fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

"I'm not sure I can do this," Nick said.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Thomas Nelson's Book Sneeze Program.

Reason for Reading: I've always wanted to read this series.

Nick is about to get married on Saturday, but a few days before the wedding he is called out of town and discovers that a close friend has been murdered.  As he investigates he finds himself moving farther away from the church as he finds a suspicious death of a deputy sheriff in a small town in the Poconos and starts to solve a cold case in the same area, all which bring him closer to solving his friend's death and further from making it home in time for the wedding.
I loved this book!  The actual plot, once one of the cases has been solved, is quite a bit over-the-top from believability but somehow I didn't mind as the other cases were fun and the main characters were wonderful.  I absolutely love Nick Polchak, an entomologist, who is asocial, wears coke bottle glasses, and extremely sarcastic.  He considers humans another species which he doesn't understand and doesn't particularly like, but he's a genius when it comes to forensic entomology.  One quickly becomes endeared to this social misfit, and as someone with Asperger's I just loved the way he interacted with others.  He is a unique protagonist, somewhat comparable to Grisham on CSI, but the two characters are also widely different from each other.

As far as being Christian fiction, in this case it means the book is clean; no language, no s*x, no gore.  It was a refreshing read in this genre, which I read a lot, and I am certainly going to add this series to my must reads.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

134. Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 5

Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 5 by Kiiro Yumi (Canada) - (US)
Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 5

Pages: 200
Ages: 16+
First Published: 2010 Japan (June 7, 2011, English translation)
Publisher: viz media
Genre: YA, manga, science fiction, romance
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

My parents have been following me around the library all day long.

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

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

Continuing on right where vol. 4 leaves off, only several uneventful weeks ahead.  Iku's parent's are on the last day of their visit and it has been hard on all involved.  The plot of this volume changes pace and concentrates on a side story about Instructor Komaki and a love interest.  He is also arrested, due to idle untrue gossip, by the MBC (Media Betterment Committee) and held for several days while being tortured.  The story mainly involves the team figuring out a way to rescue him.  In the meantime, Iku and Dojo are back to bickering with each other in that "I love you/I hate you" way.  But when Iku has to get all dressed-up feminine-like for a party and is hit on by all the men, it's Dojo to he rescue when an overly ardent admirer has her trapped against a wall.  Lots of fun and a nice sideline departure with the focus on another character for a change.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

143. Empire of Ruins by Arthur Slade

Empire of Ruins by Arthur Slade (Canada) - (US)
The Hunchback Assignments, III

Pages: 309
Ages: 10+
Finished: Jun. 19, 2011
First Published: Feb.8, 2011 (US: Sept. 13, 2011)
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: YA, steampunk, fantasy
Rating: 5/5
First sentence:

In a Queensland rainforest, over ten thousand miles away from London, Modo leaned his humped back against a strangler fig tree.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series; plus I read every new book by the author.

Modo and 'Tavia are back with a bang in a brand new adventure that is fresh and exciting.  The Clockwork Guild are back as is the villain with Miss Hakkandottir at the command but she has some new tricks up her metal hand's sleeve, namely a falconer and some vicious clockwork falcons added to the poisonous menagerie who are out to get Modo.  On an exploration trip to Australia to find perhaps a valuable weapon called the God's Face, the Association enters the jungles to discover what can only be described as an Egyptian temple.  All the crew are here, Modo and Octavia, back to work together again, along with Tharpa, Mr. Socrates joins the team in the field for a change as well!  Another nice surprise is to see Mrs. Finchley back on the scene, not about to enter any jungles, but back in civilization where she may be needed.  A fast-paced rip-roaring tale that certainly leaves the sameness some series often get bogged down in by transporting our heroes (and villains) to new surroundings and obstacles to face in primitive early 20th century Australia.  My favourite of the series so far!  There is a teeny-weeny bit of romance in the air but there is so much to be overcome by the participants themselves, individually, that the romantic theme is only barely only a whisper in the background, which suits me fine.  Great characters, great adventure, cool inventions, and book 4 seems to be headed for Canada so another out of the ordinary adventure to look forward to in the next book!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

133. The Boxcar Children #1 by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  illustrated by L. Kate Deal  (Canada) - (US)
The Alden Family Mysteries, #1

Pages: 156
Ages: 7+
Finished: June 1, 2011
First Published: 1942
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Genre: Children, mystery
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery.
Acquired: Purchased a used copy from a book/garage sale of thrift shop.

Reason for Reading: This is another book from the Random Bookshelf that I am reading from this year.The Boxcar Children have played a big part in my and my children's lives.  I intend to acquire a complete set of the first 19 books (the others hold no interest to me) and keep them as keepers on my juvenile shelves for my future grandchildren.

When I read these books from the library is the mid '70s, they were hardcover's with picture boards and I was entranced with them.  I'd always go over an pick one out to read whether I'd read it before or not.  For my oldest son, who was a very young, strong reader, these were his first chapter books that he read for his own personal pleasure.  Due to my business as a used book dealer at the time of his childhood, we went to a lot of garage sales on Saturdays and he would always take a Boxcar Children book with him in the car and have it finished before we'd finished garage sailing.  He had a huge collection of all the newer books and super specials, etc.  For my younger son, these were his first chapter book read alouds and he loved him so much.  I think he and his dad read about 8 of them when he was about five.  Now having just re-read this one again I'm fairly confident he could read it himself so I'm going to set it aside for him and let him have a go in the near future.

Although the books in this series always have a mystery to solve, this first book does not really have a mystery other than the children themselves.  Orphans who have runaway because they don't want to stay with a mean, old grandfather they've never met.  They stumble across an old boxcar and set up house in there, which is a lot of fun seeing how these children work so diligently to create a simple home for themselves.  The writing style throughout the series is also very high interest while keeping to a simple 3rd grade reading level.  I honestly can't remember the stories of any of the other books offhand but I do especially love this first book as it is the only one of the series to be illustrated by L. Kate Deal in stunning silhouette art.  One can tell the story takes place long ago with the girls in dresses and kerchiefs and the boys in short pants and long stockings but the darkness and absence of detail leave much to the imagination.  Even if you have no intention on reading the series as a whole, "The Boxcar Children" itself is a modern classic to be enjoyed by all.

Monday, June 20, 2011

132. The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell

The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell (Canada) - (US)
Pages: 247
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 30, 2011
First Published: 2009
Publisher: Little, Brown
Genre: graphic memoir, non-fiction,
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Whenever my father went out of town, he had the mail stopped.

Acquired: Won a copy from bookfool at Bookfoolery and Babble.

Reason for Reading:  I love memoirs; I love graphic memoirs.  The shady dealings grabbed my interest.

The author is a journalist who mostly spends her time interviewing celebrities.  She is currently an editor for a well-known fashion magazine and has written for many well-known magazines.  She grew up very close to her father who was an awe inspiring man (sometimes fear inducing) who was a former Green Beret, fought in Viet Nam, held 4 prestigious diplomas and spoke several languages.  But when Laurie went to college and tried to apply for a credit card she was denied and found out that she was in debt to several credit card companies.  She had her two younger sisters look as well and they found the same thing.  Thus began the strange story of founding out that her father was not who he said he was; his diplomas were lies; his family history was lies; he never fought in Viet Nam and so on.  This broke down Laurie's own self worth and she set about to uncover her father's lies and secrets, hence the writing of this book.
This was a truly fascinating story.  In today's society it is actually easy to imagine someone living an undercover life whether it be as a member of a terrorist cell or a foreign spy just from recent headline news.  But to imagine it actually being someone you know and love is very scary and Laurie does a wonderful job of describing her feelings versus those of her family who never really get behind her in exposing her father, whatever he is.  Laurie Sandell tells the story with emotion, humour, wit and though she goes to dark places at times in her life she manages to keep the overall tone of the book light.  I really enjoyed the read.  The only thing that bothered me a bit was that I didn't understand the author's need to draw so many nude portraits of herself.  There was an excessive amount of full frontal bath and bed scenes for my tastes, but ymmv.

Friday, June 17, 2011

131. Stones for my Father by Trilby Kent

Stones for my Father by Trilby Kent (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 170
Ages: 11+
Finished: May 30, 2011
First Published: Mar. 22, 2011
Publisher: Tundra books
Genre: children, historical fiction, war
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

My mother once told me of a dream she had as a young girl, in the days before the English came.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Tundra Books.

Reason for Reading: In my love of all things Victorian, I enjoy reading historical fiction about the Boer War, especially when it involves the Canadians who fought in the war.

This is a haunting story of the Boer War (fought in what is now South Africa) between the Africaaners (of Dutch descent) and the British.  Told through the eyes of a young girl, we are told the behind the scenes side of the war, that of the Boer women and children left alone on the veldt to fend for themselves.  Often their homes are burnt to the ground so that they cannot help their soldiers hiding out in the bush and many turn to joining together and forming laager's with their wagons to protect themselves against the British.  But eventually, in this losing war, woman and children are rounded up and placed in internment camps for the duration.  Corlie's father died of sickness before the war started, so she is left with a mother who hates her for some secret reason and two little brothers, one four years younger and the other a babe in arms.

Quite a tragic tale as we learn of Corlie's life, where the only love she's known came from her now deceased father.  She is close to her younger brother and to the African servant boy, but she is getting to an age where her playing with him is now frowned upon.  A harsh, mother who obviously loves her brothers and not herself takes them along on their journey away from the British but only to end up under their guard in the interment camp.  Corlie does make a secret friend along the way though of a Corporel who looks British only he has a small maple leaf on his uniform to distinguish him as being Canadian.  This man pops up several times in Corlie's life and through him we learn the British side of the War. 

A well-written, intense story.  Tragic, harsh and bittersweet it shows the side of war of those who are not fighting but simply living in the war zone.  A quick read, I found quite gripping and enjoyed the character of Corlie who had a rough life yet was a friendly, loving girl with an imagination and a fondness for storytelling.  A good read.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

130. I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg

I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg (Canada) - (US)
Pages: 315
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 28, 2011
First Published: Nov. 9, 2010 (Paperback Jun. 28, 2011)
Publisher: Random House
Genre: southern fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Today was the day Maggie had been thinking about, obsessing about really, for the past five years.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading:  I've only read one Fannie Flagg book, Fried Green Tomatoes, but I loved it so much.  I'd like to read all her books because I love Southern Fiction and after I read the book I realized she was one of the regulars on Match Game. LOL

Now this wasn't as good as "Fried Green Tomatoes" and since I haven't read any others yet I can't compare but as one of the characters in this book was fond of saying "Close enough!."  It is a delightful, entertaining story with a rather macabre plotline but a feel good, happy ending.  A good book for a summer read or beach read as they say.

Maggie is a former Miss Alabama, now a talented real estate woman in Birmingham.  Her age is never mentioned but we do know she isn't receiving social security yet.  From her state of mind I tended to think of her as pushing up to either the big 6-0 or 6-5.  Maggie has decided life has lasted long enough and has a well-planned elaborate suicide all figured out; all she needs to do is pick the day to put the plan in motion.  She has a plan for all of her belongings, her money, a note, etc.  She'll neatly close her life off with nothing left undone, not even a body for anybody to worry about.  When she does pick the day, something happens which she must see to which delays her for a few days.  The next time she picks the day something more significant happens and she has to put the date off for a longer period but she's content knowing that eventually she'll end things as soon as she can.

So not exactly the most uplifting plotline; a woman determined to commit suicide.  But this woman who has regretted a lot of choices she's made in life suddenly finds herself continually faced with a life that needs to be lived just a bit longer.  The story is told in the present but often goes back in time to tell of past events in the life of Maggie and the other main characters namely Harriet, who has died before the book begins, the real estate owner, a 3 foot-four little person exuding optimism; Brenda, Maggie's real estate partner, a large African-American woman with a weight problem who is addicted to food but is determined to run for mayor one day soon and finally Ethel, the grumpy office manager, in her nineties, always wears shades of purple and thinks this generation is the end of civilization.  Not to mention their competitor Babs Bingingham, a ruthless real estate agent who will stop at nothing, whether it's legal or not, to steal clients away from others, who hates Maggie with a passion and plans to buy out her business just as soon as legally possible.

A delightful read, with an eccentric cast of characters that even turns into a bit of a mystery when a skeleton  is found in an old house just put on the market.  Plenty of story lines to follow that all lead back to Maggie and a great humorous Southern fiction romp that is sure to please those looking for a light read.

Monday, June 13, 2011

128 & 129 Yokaiden Vol. 1 & 2 by Nina Matsumoto

Yokaiden, Vol. 1 by Nina Matsumoto (US) - (Canada)
Yokaiden, Vol. 1

Pages: 192 pgs.
Ages: 13+
Finished: May 26, 2011
First Published: Nov. 18, 2008
Genre: fantasy, manga, YA
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Yokai...A class of creature in Japanese lore, often translated as "monster", "demon", or "spirit."

Reason for Reading: Re-read, in preparation for reading volume 2
Acquired: Purchased new from an online retailer.

This is a re-read for me as I am about to read Vol. 2 which I bought pretty much right after reading Vol. 1 (in 2009) but never got around to reading as the series was never finished due to the publisher dropping this particular line of their books.  The author is contemplating continuing the series in a web comic format, but if she does I would hope that she also published them in book format like so many others do as this is a fabulous book.  I'm not going to re-review it.  I have changed my rating to a 5 instead of the stingy 4.5, I gave it last time.  You can read my original review here and from the sounds of it, this may have been the first manga I read!  Looking forward to reading Vol. 2 tonight

Yokaiden, Vol. 2 by Nina Matsumoto (Canada) - (US)
Yokaiden, Vol. 2

Pages: 192 pages
Ages: 13+
Finished: May 27, 2011
First Published: Nov. 24, 2009
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: fantasy, manga, YA
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Mm... I love the Yokai Realm!

Acquired: Purchased a new copy from an online retailer.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

I just loved this second installment of Yokaiden.  Even better than the first, I think.  The plot is pretty simple, your basic fantasy quest.  Hamachi set out alone on his hunt for the kappa he believes may have killed his grandmother, but has picked up two travelling companions along the way, both yokai: a paper lantern and an umbrella who have complete opposite personalities and are adorable characters.  Along his journey they meet other yokai, some troublesome, some helpful, some dangerous, whom they must deal with.  There is a side quest in this book as Hamachi heads for the ninetailed fox who is all knowing and can tell him where the kappa can be found.  She will give him the answer he seeks if he brings her three items she has lost first.  The yokai we meet in this book are fabulous.  I really enjoyed meeting them, some were cute and funny.  One was very dangerous and I was thrilled that I had already read about her, the slit-mouthed woman.  She's appeared in another manga series I've read,  though I couldn't tell you which one, but to think I've now read enough fantasy manga that I'm starting to become familiar with Japanese folklore is exciting!  Loved the book, love the series.  Too bad it got cancelled due to publishing whims and I hope the author finds a way to continue the story and bring it to print format.  I'd pre-order vol. 3 in a heartbeat!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Away For a Week

Well I'm setting off first thing in the morning to go away for a week with my aunt.  We'll be headed up North a bit to Port Elgin to spend some relaxing time in a cottage and at the beach, if the weather permits.  But no worries, the whole point is to kick back, relax, have some drinks, watch some movies, read and most importantly, No Husbands and accompanying stresses of life.  Girl Time!

I've left you with a few scheduled posts over the week so this spot won't be empty while I'm gone.  See you again around the end of next weekend.  I'm going to be totally cut off from the internet!!

Canadian Starters (Canadian Themed Readers)

Canadian Starters are a huge set of 90 easy readers published for the school market in the 1970s and 1980s.  I have seen British and Australian versions of these as well and I'm fairly certain they started in Great Britain as the "MacDonald Starters".  The Australian once are aptly called "Australian Starters".  There are 9 categories starting off with the simple Me & My Community and from there they move onto culturally significant topics pertaining to the country is question.  There has never been a set of Canadian easy readers comparable to these, nor do I ever think there will be.  I'll admit the drawings are 70s/80s cheesy but the text is wonderfully simple to read while being informational and interesting.  What other set of easy readers includes books on all the provinces, Norman Bethune, Nellie McClung, Stephen Leacock, Insulin, Standard Time, Snowmobile, Hockey, Curling, Lacrosse, Welland Canal, Casa Loma, Giant Nickle, Columbia Icefields, Magnetic Hill, Thousand Islands, beaver, prairie dog and the Canada Goose plus oh so much more all in one series.  I used to have many more of these long ago but they went by the wayside when we moved across the country.  Here are the four we currently have and ds has read them as his non-fiction readers.

Canadian Starters series

Alexander Graham Bell. 1981. by Paul Miller. Book 3 in the People Series. Focuses on Bell's invention of the telephone but does mention his other work with visible speech, kite flying, the telegraph and his work with the deaf. Emphasizes that though Bell traveled and lived in the US and UK, he kept coming back to Canada.

Raccoon. 1981. by Jim Bricknell. Book 8 in the Wildlife Series. A brief non-fiction account of the life and habits of raccoons in the wild. From birth, enemies, food, homes, etc. Outdated in the fact that it talks about using raccoon fur for coats & hats, but that only brings the topic to the table for discussion.

Emily Carr. 1981. by Paul Miller. Book 2 in the People Series.  Tells the story of Emily and her love for painting.  Follows her as she travels to San Francisco, England, France to learn her art and finally back to British Columbia where she painted her love for the Native Totem Poles and Indian villages but she was not successful as a painter so she did other arts for a time and not until she met the Group of Seven did she start to paint again and this time she took on her favourite object, trees and forests, finally being recognised for the fine artist she was.

 Moose. 1981. by Jim Bricknell. Book 5 in the Wildlife Series. Offers information on moose in the wildlife from distinguishing features, habitat, origin of name, diet and social activity.  Also mentions moose hunting both from a Native point of view for clothing and food and from a hunter's point of view.  No opinions on hunting are given so one may insert their own personal views easily into the story, pro or con.  Informative.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

127. Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection

Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection edited by Matt Dembicki (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 231
Ages: All Ages
Finished: May 25, 2011
First Published: June 1, 2010
Publisher: Fulcrum Books
Genre: Graphic Novel, Folktales, Legends, Short Stories
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

When the Mother Earth was extremely young, things were not as they are now.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Fulcrum Books.

Reason for Reading:  This was a Cybils '10 nominee and I hadn't read it by the time judging was due as it was not a contender by that time and I'm just now getting to it.

I have to admit I was not exactly excited about reading this book.  Graphic anthologies have mostly been a miss for me in the past and though I love myths and legends, Native American tales are not exactly my favourite (tall tales don't do it for me either).  So it was with some trepidation I read the first story which I found entirely entertaining, as I did the next, and the next, and the next, and so forth.  The book contains a total of twenty-one tales and I only found one to be "ho-hum", the rest were funny and amusing with a few on the more serious side but still delightful.  The book itself is a gorgeous work of art with thick, glossy quality paper and a firm binding that will last repeated readings.  The artwork is wonderful.  Each story is illustrated by someone different and the various art styles create a gorgeous book to wander through.  The stories are suitable for all ages both in text and illustration.  There is no indication of intended audience and I recommend it for all ages.  Adults will certainly appreciate the stories on a higher level than children, but the book is easy reading for approximately grade five and up, with the stories being entirely acceptable to read aloud to much younger children.  A fine book, I'm glad to own!  Wish I hadn't taken so long to read it!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

126. Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 306
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 12, 2011
First Published: Apr. 26, 2011 (CAN)
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Genre: literary fiction, historical
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Other children were out picking that morning, but she passed them by in her light-blue dress and sandals.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading: I've been interested in reading this author for a while now and haven't got around to it yet.  The early 1930's and the Saskatchewan setting pulled me into starting off with her latest book.

An excellent book!  Though a hard one to describe.  The plot has many layers and is meandering to the point where it is not exactly what drives the book.  The book is most certainly character driven and the relationships between these characters are what propels the story along.  The story covers the time period from 1929 to 2008 and focuses on one Connie Flood, a school teacher, journalist, traveler; a woman of independence who takes lovers as she wants them and lives life to its fullest according to her small needs though she has a large presence.  The book is told from the point of view of Connie's niece, who is telling the story from the first person, looking back telling a tale of which she is omniscient from each individual character's thoughts and feelings.  This pov was hard to get used to, I must admit.  The narrator only appears in the beginnings of the story a few times and when the word "I" is used I found it confusing to remember that "I" was not Connie but the narrator, Anne.  This becomes more clear a little over half way through the book when Anne actually becomes a character in the story but then the flipping from near past to far past with this continued point of view still felt unusual to me.  Now, it's not that I was totally annoyed with the pov, it was just hard to remember who was telling the tale, and it did slow down my reading speed.

The characters and their relationships, mostly triangles, are what make this book such an enticing, intense read.  First of all, the element that brings all the persons together and moves the plot along is the brutal, unrelated, deaths of two young girls some years apart.  The same character's are around at these times and this is what sets Anne off into investigating her aunt's past, perhaps to solve an unsolved crime.  I've discussed Connie and Anne, but also there are two men to round out the main characters.  Parley Burns, school teacher, principal, refined, detached, strict, perhaps mentally unstable, who has feelings for Connie.  Secondly Michael, an older student at the school, not much younger than Connie herself who is slow and ridiculed as such; he is what would have been called dyslexic in the future, but not mentally challenged at all, and Connie takes a shine to him in trying to teach him to read.  In fact, they take a shine to each other.  The triangles that shape the book are principal, teacher, student then later on husband, wife and lover, a chance meeting turns us to aunt, niece, lover and in the background there is even grandmother, mother, daughter to overcome in the end.

A wonderfully written book, I enjoyed tremendously with characters that will remain with me, especially Parley and Michael; but a slow-paced meandering read that will take your attention to appreciate fully.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

125. A Study in Scarlet Graphic Novel by Ian Edginton

A Study in Scarlet by Ian Edginton. Illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard. Adapted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Foreword by Paul Johnson (Canada) - (US)
A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel (2)

Pages: 129
Ages: 12+
Finished: May 23, 2011
First Published: Feb. 100, 2010
Publisher: Sterling
Genre: YA, graphic novel, mystery, classic
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

In the year 1878, I took my degree as Doctor of Medicine at the University of London before proceeding to Netley and the course prescribed for Army Surgeons.

Acquired: Received a copy from Sterling.

Reason for Reading: This was a Cybils '10 nominee and I hadn't read it by the time judging was due as it was not a contender by that time and I'm just now getting to it.

I was a young teenager when I read through all of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and since then I've only reread the occasional short story as it appears in anthologies that cross my path so my memory is dim on the book. A bit brighter on the various movie versions but that is still some time ago as I don't watch much TV anymore; all this to say I can't really compare to the original. What I can say though is that this was a wonderful read that certainly had the atmosphere of Doyle's Sherlock down pat and the both Holmes and Watson came across as genuine. This is the very first Sherlock Holmes story, so it is a treat to watch how the famous pair meet up and begin their detecting together. I think the author may have gone just a little soft on both Sherlock, making him just not quite that bit as egotistical and Watson, is just a little bit less awestruck and aware of Holmes' faults. This adds just a touch of originality to the adaptation as does the artwork which depicts Holmes in the familiar tall, long angular-faced personage (that both Rathbone and Irons brought to his character) but with a more frequent smile on his face. Watson is not a typical depiction at all, as he is suitably dressed, slim, fit and an expert in his own fields. This is an enticing murder case which brings two cultures together and starts off with a perplexing murder. Edginton & Culbard have done a wonderful adaption of this classic bringing it to a new generation of readers through the graphic medium. Highly recommended. I will try to read the others in the series as well.

Monday, June 6, 2011

124. Death Note, Black Edition, Vol. 3 by Tsugumi Ohba

Death Note: Black Edition, Vol. 3 by Tsugumi Ohba. Art by Takeshi Obata (Canada) - (US)
Death Note, Vol. 5 & 6

Pages: 400
Ages: 16+
Finished: May 22, 2011
First Published: 2003 Japan; 2006 English (May 3, 2010 this edition)
Publisher: viz media
Genre: YA, manga, paranormal, crime, serial killer
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

I wouldn't wanna live in a place like this...

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

Reason for Reading: Next in the series

Wow!  This series just keeps getting better and better!  The best volume so far.  In this omnibus edition volumes 5 and 6 go together so well as they contain a mini story-arc.  Both Light and Misa have temporarily given up their notebooks and had their memories erased all as part of Light's master plan to throw L.'s suspicion off of him, while at the same time Misa's book has been turned over to someone else and a group of 8 individuals at a Japanese corporation, knowing one of them, but not which one, is Kira, are using the power to kill off competitors and make their company's stocks and profits rise.  That's all I'm going to say about the plot!  These two volumes are really heavy on the mind games between L. and Light as they try to capture Kira.  L. still believes Light is Kira.  Even though Light no longer knows that he is, he has the intelligence to wonder if maybe he might have been and would he behave that way.  Light without his power though is more able to ethically make decisions based on right and wrong.  A spectacular story with an adrenaline-high race to the end.  I could not put this volume down! I can't believe I'm half done the series now.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

123. Tales of an African Vet by Dr. Ray Aronson

Tales of an African Vet by Dr. Roy Aronson (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 224
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 21, 2011
First Published: Oct. 5, 2010
Publisher: Lyons Press
Genre: non-fiction, memoir, animals
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

I was crouched in a small clearing in the dense African bush with the trackers about 10 meters (11 yards) ahead of me when all hell broke loose.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Globe Pequot Press.

Reason for Reading: I enjoy travel books and although I am not an animal activist I enjoy memoirs of vets along the lines of James Herriot and Gerald Durrell. This book simply caught my attention.

Roy Aronson has been a veterinarian in Cape Town, South Africa for twenty-five years and while he sees his fair share of cats and dogs, he's also had some unique African wild animals brought into his office. Plus he has friends who are vets on Wildlife Reserves and they often call him in to assist or simply to have a look-see at an interesting case and thus Aronson has led an eventful life caring for wild animals both clinically and in the bush. Each chapter of this book is a separate vignette and there is also no real chronological progression either making this an easy book to pick up, read a chapter and come back to again later.

While a couple of cases take place in Aronson's practice most of the stories take place out in the African bush on wildlife reserves or the Pretoria Zoo. He also goes out to farms, specifically fish farms, both trout and koi, and an alligator farm. Each chapter was interesting telling tales of elephants, lions, hedgehogs, snakes, rhinos, cheetahs, gemsboks, and many more. Each story usually involves some sort of danger, either to the animal or the animal handlers, so there is a sense of excitement to the reflections along with the author's apparent love for animals of all species. He also spends some brief time, without preaching, on educating against needless slaughter/poaching of animals for inane reasons. For example, rhinos are still killed in the wild for their horns which are sold for tremendous amounts of money to be ground into powder to make teas which supposedly are an aphrodisiac. The author has sampled said tea and can vouch for its ineffectiveness. Through such types of education of the masses, the author feels the slaughter can be stopped.

An interesting read that I really enjoyed. The author's voice was friendly and informative but was lacking an element of humour which I think would have made the book just that bit more enjoyable. He did have a sense of humour, of a sort, but if fell rather flat, leaving funny scenes without the laugh. Overall, though, an entertaining read.

Friday, June 3, 2011

122. John F. Kennedy: The Making of a Leader

John F. Kennedy: The Making of a Leader by the Editors of TIME for kids with Ruth Upadhyay (Canada) - (US)
TIME For Kids Biographies

Pages: 44
Ages: 7+
First Published: 2005
Publisher: Harper Trophy
Genre: children. biography, easy reader
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

On a cold spring day in Brookline, Massachusetts, a baby was born in the big frame house at 83 Beals Street.

Acquired:  Purchased a new copy from an online retailer.

Reason for Reading: read aloud to my son as part of our history curriculum.

We've really enjoyed the books in this series and this one was no exception.  Telling the story of JFK's life, briefly, from birth to assassination in a lively, interesting narrative with lots of photographs that contain extra information in their captions.  There are also a few sidebars throughout which bring further details to the table other than those discussed in the text.  It is in one of these sidebars we learn of the futures of Jackie, John Jr and Caroline.  Pleasantly enough, the book restricts itself to John Kennedy and barely mentions any of the clan.  Of course we meet his parents, but other than being told and shown a picture that he came from a big family we are only introduced to Joe,Jr. an older brother who died in the war and, obviously, Robert, as he was at Attorney general.  Otherwise the book stays on focus with John, giving plenty of information of his pre-presidency days, a chapter on Jackie's influence on the world and politically focusing on Cuba, the Soviet Union and Civil Rights.  A very enjoyable book. This series is highly recommended for brief, yet meaty, glimpses into the lives of famous Americans. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

121. MAOH: Juvenile Remix, Vol. 5 by Megumi Osuga

MAOH: Juvenile Remix, Vol. 5 by Megumi Osuga (Canada) - (US)
MAOH: Juvenile Remix, Vol. 5

Pages: 200
Ages: 16+
First Published: 2007 Japan (May 10, 2011, English translation)
Publisher: viz media
Genre: YA, manga, science fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Thanks to your old man...
we've got nothing left.

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

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

The story takes an obvious shift in the protagonist's character and this volume takes the plot up a notch.  Interestingly enough, the nemesis,Inukai, leader of the vigilante Grasshoppers is not a part of this volume, though he is mentioned.  The assassins are the main feature for a good majority of the book.  They are out to get the mayor while Semi continues his odd new job of protecting the mayor.  The book is chock full of assassin vs assassin violence.  We are also introduced to a cool new assassin, with an abnormal power.  During this part of the story, Semi has to take stock of his life's goals and ambitions.  At the same time Ando, finally allows his brother to join forces with him and they must face an angry mob to save his friend Anderson.  The brothers connect in a new way and Ando decides to continue using his ventriloquism to fight the violence, even it is going to kill him.  The book ends with a "one month later" scenario which sets the scene for the next volume and promises to bring an exciting storyline.