Saturday, October 29, 2011

236. Alone by Lisa Gardner

Alone by Lisa Gardner (US) - (Canada)
D.D. Warren, #1

Pages: 451
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 19, 2011
First Published: 2005
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: mystery, thriller
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

He'd put in a fifteen-hour shift the night the call came in.

Acquired: I was visiting relatives and borrowed this from my sister.

Reason for Reading: I am reading this series but started with book #3, since my sister had the first book it was the perfect opportunity to catch up with the series.

Having read books 3-5 of this series it was a little strange going back to the first book as D.D. Warren is only a very minor character who is only introduced halfway through the book.  Obviously, this book did not start out to be the "D.D. Warren" series.  Instead the main character is Bobby Dodge, police sniper, who in the later books is D.D.'s partner.  Bobby is called out to an intense domestic scene where shots fired have been reported and he makes his first on the job kill.  The woman whose life he has saved turns out to be not only a woman in trouble but trouble herself.  Bobby is investigated by Internal Affairs to see if his shot was righteous but the dead man's affluent parents file a civil suit against him for murder.  While they also file against the widow for custody of the one grandchild whom they've accused of being mistreated by his mother.  Bobby gets wrapped up in the widow's life and finds himself embroiled in the middle of a complicated case where people close to the widow start to be violently killed off, one after another.

A very intricate plot with plenty of different angles from which to switch back and forth.  The character of Bobby is given a complete background and since having read other books in the series it was interesting to get to know him so much better.  A compelling story that deals with multiple themes: police procedural, SWAT teams, serial killer, child kidnapping and murder for hire.  All these rolled into one make for an entertaining, detailed plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  It was quite strange to find D.D. hardly fleshed out as a character though and it will be interesting to see how the second book plays out the situation so that D.D. becomes the star of the series by book 3, leaving Bobby as the second fiddle.  I would have enjoyed this even more if I hadn't read it out of order, something I try not to do too often with series.

Friday, October 28, 2011

235. Mean Margaret by Tor Seidler

Mean Margaret by Tor Seidler. Pictures by Jon Agee (Canada) - (US) Out of Print

Pages: 165
Ages: 7+
Finished: Oct. 14, 2011
First Published: 1997
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: children, animal fantasy, humour
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:
One spring afternoon Fred was out foraging for food in the meadow when an inky cloud seeped over the sun.

Acquired:  I'm visiting relatives and borrowed this from my niece.

Reason for Reading:  I've read one previous book by this author and since I enjoyed it was looking forward to reading another of his books.

I'm not sure "Mean Margaret" is actually the best title for this book as Margaret is not the main character, nor is the story really about her, but she is indeed the antagonist.  The book concerns Fred, a woodchuck, and his search for a mate.  His eventual marriage to the woodchuck Phoebe brings up the talk of children, which Phoebe loves and Fred hates, putting her off with lame excuses the next day they find a human child outside their burrow.  Sally, renamed Margaret by the woodchucks, is the ninth child of the Hubble's, a fat lazy couple with progressively ruder and wilder children.  Toddler Sally takes the cake though and no one but a mother could love her.  Sharing  room with siblings 6, 7, & 8, they plot to drop her off far away in the woods one night to hopefully never have to contend with her again.  Such then, is the story of how Phoebe takes in this mannerliness, self-centred child to look after and care for and love as only a mother can love.  Along with Fred and Phoebe are a cast of their animal friends including Skunk, Snake, Squirrel, Mr & Mrs Bat & Phoebe's sister with her own three young children.  The story mainly takes place amongst the animals in the forest but does switch to the human Hubble family a few times. 

This is a lovable, dear comedy where nearly everyone learns a life lesson by the end of the book.  Fred and Phoebe are wonderful animal characters and anyone who enjoys this type of animal fantasy will certainly like this book.  There are most definitely touches of Roald Dahl in Seidler's humour as his dark humour is laced with a witty meanness that makes this as much a fun read for adults as children.  The artwork by Agee is  plentiful and reminded me of William Steig in style.  A funny story, touching and heartwarming at times, while giggle producing at others.  Not exactly a fast-paced story but one to enjoy at its own leisurely pace.  This read makes me want to re-read "A Rat's Tale" the only other Seidler book I've read, and go on to reading his other books.

Monday, October 24, 2011

234. Avalanche Annie by Lisa Wheeler

Avalanche Annie: A Not-So-Tall Tale by Lisa Wheeler. Illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Canada) - (US)

Pages: unpaginated (approx. 32)
Ages: 4+
Finished: Oct. 13, 2011
First Published: 2003
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Genre: children, picturebook, tall tale, winter
Rating: 3/5
First sentence:

In northern Michisota,
where the woolly Mooskins roam,
below Mount Himalachia,
Annie Halfpint makes her home.
Acquired: I'm visiting family and borrowed this from my niece.

Reason for Reading: I like legends, myths, tall-tales, etc. and this sounded cute.

A short, cute picture book tall tale of a large little girl who lassos and rides an avalanche into town so it doesn't cause destruction. Told in ABCB rhyme, it would make a fun read aloud. The first half of the book has a Dr. Seuss feel to it with made up words but by the middle they have dropped off. This matches the story telling as the first half concentrates on the silliness and the second on the action of the story. All around over-the-top silliness throughout, then that is what tall-tales are all about. I thought it was a fun book and think that little kids will as well, especially combined with the bold, full-page, comic illustrations of Cyrus.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

233. Kaspar, Prince of Cats by Michael Morpurgo

Kaspar, Prince of Cats by Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Michael Foreman. (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 208
Ages: 8+
Finished: Oct. 13, 2011
First Published: 2008
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: children, historical fiction, cats, Titanic
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

Prince Kaspar Kadinsky first came to the Savoy Hotel in a basket.

Acquired: I'm visiting relatives and borrowed this book from my niece.

Reason for Reading: I've read and enjoyed the author before plus I am a Titanic fan.

This is an entirely fictional story about three things, two of them rooted in actual fact.  First and foremost it is the story of fourteen year old Johnny Trott, orphan, currently working as bell boy at the Savoy Hotel, secondly it is a story of how the famous sculpture of the Savoy Hotel cat may have come to be and thirdly, it is an account of the sinking of the Titanic.

An important guest at the hotel befriends Johnny and instructs him to watch over her cat, Kaspar, while she is away from her rooms.  Misfortune befalls her and Johnny keeps the cat as his own.  Then another family comes to stay and he befriends the impish daughter of a wealthy couple.  Here we deal with different types of friendship and love that Johnny has never experienced in his life before and this is the basic theme of the book.  To add some adventure, the family is fated to sail home to New York on the "unsinkable" ship, the Titanic.  Both Johnny and Kaspar end up on board but I won't tell you how or why but this eventually leads to the sculpture of the Kaspar cat being presented to the Savoy.

A fun story that will appeal to both boys and girls.  It is an easy-going book with the first half dedicated to Johnny and his relationships, much more character driven than anything else.  I enjoyed this half the best.  The second half picks up the pace and adds escapades and finally an account of the Titanic's sinking that is quite realistic.  The author ends with a Post Script telling the reader how, as a writer, he pulled the real elements from life and created his fictional story from them.

Final word on the illustrations, Michael Foreman is a prolific illustrator and one of the best England has to offer.  This book is no exception; it is profusely illustrated, in colour, and it was a delight to read a chapter book in colour for a change.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

232. The Remains of War by G. Pauline Kok-Schurgers

The Remains of War: Surviving the Other Concentration Camps of World War II by G. Pauline Kok-Schurgers (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 186
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 9, 2011
First Published: Mar. 30, 2011
Publisher: iUniverse
Genre: memoir, non-fiction, WWII, Asia
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

In the far distance, the soft droning of airplanes grew louder, just as the sirens started.

Acquired: Received a review copy from the book's publicist.

Reason for Reading:  I enjoy reading WWII memoirs and am especially interested in the Asian Holocaust.

The author was a child living in the Dutch Indies when WWII broke out.  Her Dutch family, including herself and three younger siblings, lived in Indonesia at this time which the Japanese occupied and sent all Dutch to concentration camps with some initial men being sent off to work on building roads and railroads for the army's use.  "Sofia", the author, tells her story of the war from a child's perspective having been nine years old at the time that they were invaded.  Her dad was immediately picked up one night soon after the occupation to disappear until the war's end.  The rest of the family were moved from camp to camp, each being progressively worse.

We are told of the poor living conditions, starvation rations of food, constant tropical diseases, no real medical aid, constant beatings and humiliations by the Japanese commanders, guards and Japanese-trained Indonesian guards.  The whole story being told through a child's eyes makes this memoir different from others I've read on the same topic as it gives a different perspective from someone who really doesn't know what is going on in the grand scheme of things.  Sofia also has to deal with a mother who has depression problems to begin with and as the war progresses she goes deep down into her own world giving up on caring for the children and doing nothing but her daily work and sleeping, sometimes even becoming delusional. 

Sofia's story is her own painful recollection of the brutal Japanese atrocities of World War II.  It is interesting to see this from a child's viewpoint, however, because she was not aware or did not understand all that went on and I did wish at times to have known what the adults knew that she didn't.  The Japanese plan to kill all POWs before surrender is only added as a brief note in the short Epilogue and I would have liked to have known what became of the main individuals once they settled down after the war was over.  I also found it puzzling that the author called herself Sofia throughout the book without explaining why when her author name is Gertrude Pauline.  These issues aside, I found the book to be a compelling and gut-wrenching story that I'm glad the author finally found the voice to share.

Friday, October 14, 2011

231. Bleeder by John Desjarlais

Bleeder by John Desjarlais (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 258
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 8, 2011
First Published: Aug. 15, 2009
Publisher: Chisel & Cross Books
Genre: thriller, mystery, catholic fiction, christian fiction
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

My Volvo's windshield wiper's slapped away spots of mid-March drizzle, chanting shouldn't, shouldn't, shouldn't.
Acquired:  Received a review copy from Sophia Institute Press.

Reason for Reading:  I love thrillers and, of course, the Catholic angle attracted me.

Reed Stubblefield goes to spend some time away in his brother's cabin out in the boonies of Illinois.  His wife had died last year of leukemia and he plans to spend his time writing a book about Aristotle.  His, brother, a Catholic convert, sets everything up for him with the campsite where his cabin is located.  Reed learns that the nearby small town is overcrowded with people as a new assistant priest has been working there recently.  He is rumoured over the state as being a stigmatic and a healer.  The diocese moves him from parish to parish every few years due to the large crowds of people he attracts to masses from all over the country to be healed.  Father Ray is a great student of St. Aquinas, hence also very knowledgeable of Aristotle, and Father Ray and Reed start a somewhat shaky friendship considering Reed is not a believer in Christ.

When Father Ray bleeds to death during the Good Friday Mass at the culmination of the Passion, what some think is a miracle is quickly determined by the authorities to be a murder and Reed finds himself at the top of the short list of suspects.  With the help of a reporter whom he is gradually finding himself possibly attracted to, they set out to find the real killer before Reed ends up behind bars.

A top-notch thriller which is fast paced and keeps the reader guessing until the end.  A unique murder makes for a fun plot and the Catholic themes add a spiritual dimension.  After the death of the priest Reed has to deal with questioning by both the local authorities looking into the murder and a representative from the church whose sole duty is to investigate the supernatural claims made of the priest.  This gives a good showing on how such things are conducted and makes clear the Catholic position that such things are not easily accepted by the Church, and even if approved by the Church, are always left up to the individual to decide themselves whether to believe or not.  The book uses both reason and faith to carry it's characters deductions along and this leads to a riveting and inspiring read.  Looking forward to reading more from this author.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

230. Green Lantern: Web of Doom

Green Lantern: Web of Doom by Michael Anthony Steele. Illustrated by Dan Schoening. (Canada) - (US)
DC Super Heroes

Pages: 54
Ages: 8+
Finished: Oct. 6, 2011
First Published: Aug. 1,2011
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
Genre: children, early chapter book, superheroes
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:
Hal Jordan was a Green Lantern.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Capstone Publishing.

Reason for Reading: My son loves these books and I always read them first before handing them over for bedtime story time. They are above his reading level yet.

Well I was excited as a little kid that Green Lantern and The Flash have been added to this series and couldn't wait to start reading.  As usual the illustrations are DC Comics quality and there are usually two per chapter.  The story here is pure superhero.  Taking place entirely in outer space Green Lantern is sent on an ambassadorial mission to help two warring planets reach peace.  However, as they are getting nowhere fast, they are all attacked and blame it on each other.  Green Lantern investigates and finds Kiriazis, a yellow lantern, is the culprit.  But while Green Lantern is battling Yellow Lantern, the Orange Lantern shows up and wants to turn everybody into his little orange minions.  The Orange Lantern can only be defeated if the enemies under attack call a truce and join together against their common aggressor.  A fast-paced, exciting superhero story!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

229. Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon

Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon. Illustrated by Tony Ross (US) - (Canada)
Horrid Henry (#1)

Pages: 90
Ages: 7+
Finished: Oct. 4, 2011
First Published: 1994 UK (2009 US)
Publisher: Jabberwocky/Sourcebooks
Genre: children, humour, realistic fiction
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:
Henry was horrid.
Acquired: Borrowed a copy from the local library.

Reason for Reading: I thought ds should be able to read this as his reader and I had read good reviews of how funny they were.

First, we must get one thing straight.  Henry is a horrid little boy.  He is naughty, likes to cause trouble, is contrary on purpose, likes to make his perfect brother miserable and is never happy unless he gets his own way.  Each book contains four short stories and in no way whatsoever does Henry ever learn a lesson, have things turn out bad for him or say he's sorry at the end.  No, Henry may have things go not quite the way he planned at the beginning but they only turn out better than he had planned and in the end he gets what he wanted or even better.  Henry is no role model, nor can we learn a life lesson from him BUT he is absolutely hilarious, laugh out loud funny.  My son wants to read more books in the series and even if he didn't, I would read them on my own and I am way out of the 7 to 10 recommended age group!
This is the first book written and so the first story simply introduces us to horrid Henry and his brother perfect Peter.  Henry decides to try being perfect for a day to see what it is like and while he finds it irritating at times, he so confuses his parents and annoys his brother that Peter gets into trouble for a change and Henry can't stop laughing and ends up in his room as usual.  Next Henry causes a ruckus at dance class; he'd rather go to karate lessons.  Practicing to be a raindrop for Henry is more fun when he does his elephant dance and one thing leads to another until he's finally kicked out of dance class.  Hopefully karate classes will now fill in the free time on Saturdays.  Then Henry gets together with his neighbour Moody Margaret and the two of them end up in the kitchen making a disgusting, gloopy, gummy, greasy mess called Glop, which they've dared each other to eat.  Finally, we end with a camping trip, but Henry's idea of a campground and that of his parent's vary from each other considerably.  He wants to go where Moody Margaret's family goes: they have electricity, a pool, TVs, a fridge, a shower and more.  Mom and Dad want to go back to nature.  Let's just say that when Harry is finished with them, Mom and Dad may never want to be left alone with nature again!  Hilarious!  Ds did a good job of reading the book, too!  It was just a tad over his ability but he enjoyed the stories so much he just kept on going!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

218. Orcs: Forged For War by Stan Nicholls

Orcs: Forged For War by Stan Nicholls. Adapted & Illustrated by Joe Flood (Canada) - (US)
Orcs Universe: prequel

Pages: 198
Ages: 16+
Finished: Sept. 25, 2011
First Published: Oct. 11, 2011
Publisher: First Second Books
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy
Rating: 4/5
First sentence:
The black clad Unis, put their faith in the protection of a single, all powerful deity.

Acquired: Received a review copy from First Second Books.

Reason for Reading:  I felt in the mood for some high fantasy and this sounded like it would fit the bill.

Stan Nicholls has written two trilogies set in the Orcs universe and this is the first graphic novel addition to this universe.  It is not an adaptation of previous material, but a new story which is set before the "First Blood" trilogy making it a prequel of sorts.  I have not read any of the other books in this series and it is not necessary.  The author has written a six page introduction which, although he says you need not know any background information, he has taken the effort to place the story within context of his Orcs universe for the uninitiated.  I read the Intro and thoroughly enjoyed the graphic novel without having even heard of these books before, though I would be interested in them, if I ever get my obsession for high fantasy back.

The story takes the point of view of the Orcs.  Orcs are always the bad guys in fantasy stories and here we have them being the good guys, well, at least not as bad as the others involved.  We are shown another side of Orcs.  They have feelings, camaraderie, customs and traditions.  The story involves a mission a group of warriors are sent on by the cruel Queen who rules their side of a larger war.  This is just one battle within that war.

The story is typical high fantasy with lots of different creatures: elves, goblins, ogres, etc. but with the orcs as the good guys.  I really enjoyed the story and read it in one sitting.  The book is not for the weak of heart though.  It is incredibly violent, heads seem to fly on every other page, blood oozes and squirts through each battle scene, limbs are severed and swords cut heads in half.  The language is rated "R" and female top-half nudity is occasionally shown.  Not a book for little ones or those sensitive to these types of things.  I'm usually not partial to swearing but in the context here it would only be natural for these brutal, violent creature to speak thus.  A good story from a unique angle.

Monday, October 10, 2011

227. Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen

Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 32
Ages: 4+
Finished: Oct. 9, 2011
First Published: Sept. 13, 2011
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Genre: children, picture book, fairytale retelling
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Are we all sitting comfortably?

Acquired:  Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading: I was sent a review copy by the publisher and the book looked cute.

Adorable artwork with characters who are charming and appear so friendly.  It is their simple round eyes, not always matching, with pin prick pupils which make them so distinct.  And just turning the background colour to yellow makes the innocence disappear and a new feeling comes along with the Big Bad Wolf.  Wonderfully drawn!
A cute story that takes a spin on the Big Bad Wolf tale.  Here we have Rolf, a very Good Little Wolf, who meets up with the BBW and is taunted by him that he isn't really a wolf if he can't do the bad things *he* can do.  So Rolf is bullied into trying to blow down pig's house and howl at the moon but when BBW threatens Mrs. Boggins something happens to Good Little Wolf that will make children cheer with delight.  The twisted tale has the last laugh though with one more twist at the end that will have those who love a good *bad* ending rolling on the floor.  Very clever!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

228. Adelina's Whales by Richard Sobol

Adelina's Whales by Richard Sobol (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 32
Ages: 8+
Finished: Oct. 3, 2011
First Published: 2003
Publisher: Dutton Children's Books
Genre: children, non-fiction, nature, marine life, picture book
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

La Laguna is the name of a quiet, dusty fishing village on the sandy shore of Laguna San Ignacio, in Baja California, Mexico.

Acquired: Borrowed a copy through Inter-Library Loan.

Reason for Reading: I am reading Richard Sobol's entire backlist with my son and discussing the life of a photographer/photojournalist as a career option while doing so.

Sobol offers us another book filled with gorgeous photography of gray whales, up close and personal, as here on La Laguna the whales allow people to come right up to them and pet them.  We follow ten-year-old Adelina who lives in a grouping of box-like structures patched together with wood and metal on the beach.  She adores her life here especially when in January the whales arrive from up north.  We learn about Adelina's life and that of the whales through Adelina's family, her father and grandfather.  A lovely story with tremendous photography to accompany it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

226. The Marvelous Land of Oz by Eric Shanower

The Marvelous Land of Oz by Eric Shanower. Art by Skottie Young (Canada) - (US)
Wonderful World of Oz (2)

Pages: 200
Ages: 9+
Finished: Oct.2, 2011
First Published: Sept. 29, 2010
Publisher: Marvel
Genre: children, graphic novel, fantasy
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

In the country of the Gillikins, which is at the north of the land of Oz, lived a youth called Tip.

Acquired: Borrowed a copy through Inter-Library Loan.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

Another absolutely fabulous rendition of an OZ book by Shanower and Young.  This is actually only as far as I've read of the original novels and I am inspired to start reading them now so that I can have read the book before continuing on with the next graphic novel.  I own a gorgeous collection of the Baum books.  This story only brings back a few old friends from our first encounter with Oz namely Scarecrow and Tinman and briefly for the last chapter Glinda.  Otherwise the story centers around a young boy, Tip, an old witch whom he runs away from, Mombi, and Tip's two companions, Pumpinkhead and Sawhorse.  They set off on their own adventure to Emerald City and meet many strange people or dangerous circumstances along the way.  A jolly, rollicking fun story.

I really enjoyed Shanower's detailed essay introducing us to the circumstances under which the original book was written.  Baum's motives, his state of mind and the times in which he was living add a certain look at the story through fresh eyes with this understanding.  I really enjoyed this adaptation and will say I even enjoyed it more than the book for one particular reason, The Woggle-Bug.  The highly magnified bug who has been thoroughly educated is a conceited know-it-all who talks on and on, full of puns and word play, facetious and self-centered.  He drove me absolutely bonkers in the book!  Sometimes his dialogue would go on for more than a page and I just wanted to throttle him, not finding him the least humorous at all.  However, Shanower's adaptation, has taken him into small doses which are easy to take and I find it hard to say, but I actually enjoyed his part in the story this time.  Of course, the illustrations are pure joy.  I sincerely hope this team manages to stay together and find the time to at least adapt Baum's original 14 books if not the entire Famous Forty!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

225. The Blue Umbrella by Mike Mason

The Blue Umbrella by Mike Mason (US) - (Canada)
Blue Umbrella series (1)

Pages: 426 + "after words" bonus section
Ages: 10+
Finished: Sept. 30, 2011
First Published: Oct. 1, 2009
Publisher: David C Cook
Genre: children, christian fiction, fantasy
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Not many people are killed by lightning.  Zac's mother was.

Acquired: Received a review copy from the book's publicist.

Reason for Reading:  Simply the plot!  The folkart cover appealed to me too.

I've had this book on hand since publication but it was unfortunately just one of those books that kept slipping further down the pile for no particular reason.  I sure wish I had read this sooner as it was absolutely fantastic!  One of the best children's fantasies I've read in a while!  The book comes from a Christian publisher and so technically is christian fiction, but this is as mainstream as Madeline L'Engle and C.S. Lewis' children's books.  The story is pointing to God, the Creator and this is obvious to me, a Christian, as I went in looking for it but there are no religious themes or preaching, etc. and the book is easily as mainstream as the Time Quartet with a scientific basis.  Here the weather is our theme.

Zac has been orphaned and taken in by two unknown "Aunties" who are very nasty, cruel and downright weird.  They live in a small town called Five Points and you could say the whole town and everyone in it is a little strange.  From the man who runs Porter's General Store who continuously carries a blue umbrella with him all day long outdoors and in, to the aloof, know-it-all, weather fanatic at school who befriends Zac but isn't exactly that friendly, to his sister Chelsea who *can* talk but hasn't spoken a word in years.  Then there is Dada whom the Aunties take Zak to meet, their own father, who must be pushing a hundred himself.  It is here that Dada introduces Zak to the powers of the cane, which he has previously only been beaten with, but Zac falls unconscious every time he touches the cane with Dada.  And Dada sends Zak back with a mission, get the Blue Umbrella and bring it back for him or else ...

A fantastically, unique fantasy with weather as it's main theme.  When Zak makes the connection of the blue umbrella's purpose we have entered a strange reality within our own world.  But Zac and his two friends must face evil in the form of the Aunties and Dada while along the way they pick up surprising allies and are shocked by who has joined against them on the side of evil.  The characters really make this book, along with those mentioned there is Butler, the Aunties' man about the house a tiny old man who at first is not kind to Zak but eventually they strike up an odd friendship only when the Aunties are out of the house.  Then there is Eldy another person who cannot talk but he can communicate and he has the tiniest store selling roses and balloons.  Finally the children also befriend the neighbourhood Barber, rightfully named Barber, who is an old man with very long hair and a very long beard who won't answer questions, yet if one is smart enough one can still have very informational conversations with him.

Well-written, a tight plot, a unique theme, fun and simply a great read.  The book finishes with the complete end of the plot yet ends on a note that leaves room for a sequel, which has already been published. This is a book that really needs to get more attention!  A great read!  Now, just to get my hands on the sequel "The Violet Flash".

Monday, October 3, 2011

224. Down the Yukon by Will Hobbs

Down the Yukon by Will Hobbs (Canada) - (US)
sequel to Jason's Gold

Pages: 193
Ages: 10+
Finished: Sept. 27, 2011
First Published: 2001
Publisher: HarperTrophy
Genre: YA, historical fiction, adventure
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:
The trouble started over a mongrel dog, small, mostly black, shorthaired and shivering.

Acquired: Received a copy through BookMooch.

Reason for Reading:  After reading Jason's Gold, I promised ds I would read the sequel to him sometime and here we are finally getting to it.  A year and a half later!  But he's more mature for Hobbs now and he wants me to read more books by him.

Though the word Yukon is in the title, it refers to the river not the territory, so don't mistake this book as taking place in Canada.  The first in this series (and I'd say it's important to read them in order to get the full value of this sequel) takes places entirely in Canada while this one takes place entirely in Alaska, except for the beginning couple of chapters.  Starting six months after the end of Jason's Gold this book has Jason and Jamie entering a race from Dawson City to Nome to win the grand prize of $20,000 which readers of the first book will know why they need the money.

Another well-written adventure with much descriptive language of the land and one gets a great feel for being there with them.  Jason and Jamie are written as equals, there is hardly any distinction that they are male and female, though Hobbs does manage to write in an already affirmed relationship that they are a couple with a distinct future together. The majority of the book details their trip down the river and the obstacles they face along the way including bad guy Cornelius Donner from the first book.  Touches upon the Nome, Alaska gold rush to a small extent, giving enough information to impart what it was like there at that time but this book concentrates more on the fictional story and the geographical location than the historical content as did Jason's Gold.  A rip-roaring read for those who love adventure, survival or wilderness living.  The book packs a walloping adrenaline filled climax that is sure to have you wanting to read more Will Hobbs.  This mum and son are certainly looking forward to more!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

223. One More Elephant by Richard Sobol

One More Elephant: The Fight to Save Wildlife in Uganda by Richard Sobol. (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 32
Ages: 8+
Finished: Sept. 29, 2011
First Published: 1995
Publisher: Cobblehill Books
Genre: children, non-fiction, nature, wildlife, picture book
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:
Why have elephants captured the imaginations of so many scientists, artists, photographers, and children around the world?

Acquired: Borrowed a copy through Inter-Library Loan.

Reason for Reading: I am reading Richard Sobol's entire backlist with my son and discussing the life of a photographer/photojournalist as a career option while doing so.

This book is dated, being over fifteen years old in the telling of its story but it was a captivating story at that.  My ds was extremely full of questions and it got to the point where I had to make him promise to wait until I had finished a page before he started in with the questions!  This tells the story of the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, Africa just after the rule of Idi Amin.  It very (very) briefly mentions the civil wars and the affect on the people but then focuses on how the park and its wildlife were destroyed by militia camps and poachers during those ten years.  Then the book tells the story of how they started to put the National Park back together again, focusing on the elephants who took a devastating hit in numbers, and the poachers who killed them for their tusks alone, as well as poaching in general.  We learn about the rangers, how they survived on the park and were now ragtag barefoot poachers themselves with no equipment to properly look after the park, we learn of the donations from people all over the world of heavy duty trucks to bring food and clothes to the rangers and their families, the new training they received and the all-out national campaign to end poaching through tough laws and public education.  Then we watch as the park begins to recover.  As I said, the book is dated as it states near the the end, "This is a beginning.  It is still too soon to know if the elephants will survive here."  One can easily visit the Queen Elizabeth National Park's website to see that it is a flourishing game reserve and noted to be Uganda's "most visited".  As I write about Sobol's books I can only feel redundant when I keep saying the photography is fantastic, wonderful and really makes the book.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

222. An Elephant in the Backyard by Richard Sobol

An Elephant in the Backyard by Richard Sobol (Canada) - (US)

Pages: unnumbered (approx. 32)
Ages: 5+
Finished: Sept. 28, 2011
First Published: 2004
Publisher: Dutton Children's Books
Genre: children, non-fiction, elephants, Thailand
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:
In most neighborhoods, elephants are way too big to keep in the backyard.
Acquired: Borrowed a copy through Inter-Library Loan.

Reason for Reading: I am reading the author's entire backlist with my son and discussing the life of a photographer/photojournalist as a career option while doing so.

This was my son's and my favourite book by Richard Sobol to date and we only have two more on his backlist to go.  A wonderful story of a village in Thailand called Tha Klang, which has domesticated elephants roaming freely.  It is not unusual for each family to have their own elephant.  While elephants are plenty in Thailand, Tha Klang is unique in its domesticated elephants.  The book follows one family, specifically the brother and sister, and their elephant Wan Pen, along with her trainer Choy.  She is 4 years old now but when she is older she will help earn money for the family by giving visitors rides on her back and performing tricks.  This will help the family earn money for food and pay for school for the children.

A delightful story where we learn so much about the life of a domesticated elephant who is loved as dearly as a Westerner's pet cat or dog.  We watch as Wan Pen is trained, plays with her family, plays soccer with the neighborhood children and loves to be hosed down.  While it is a simple story, there is an amazing amount of information about elephants imparted through the telling of the story.  The photographs are to-die-for, absolutely wonderful, cute, funny and majestic.  My son was trying to explain to me why this book was different from all the other Sobol books and one of the reasons he enjoyed it so much, when I finally realized he was telling me in his own words that this book was written in the third person, while Sobol's other books are usually written in the first person!  Wonderful book!  While copies are still available at, the book otherwise appears out of print.  Definitely time for a reprint, I'd say.  Doesn't look as if it's been released in paperback so that would be the perfect way to go.