Wednesday, February 29, 2012

54. Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood

Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood. (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 202
Ages: 9+
Finished: Feb. 17, 2012
First Published: Jan. 1, 2012
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: children, historical fiction, southern fiction
Rating: 3/5

First sentence: "What was taking Frankie so long?"

Publisher's Summary: "A Mississippi town in 1964 gets riled when tempers flare at the segregated public pool.

As much as Gloriana June Hemphill, or Glory as everyone knows her, wants to turn twelve, there are times when Glory wishes she could turn back the clock a year. Jesslyn, her sister and former confidante, no longer has the time of day for her now that she’ll be entering high school. Then there’s her best friend, Frankie. Things have always been so easy with Frankie, and now suddenly they aren’t. Maybe it’s the new girl from the North that’s got everyone out of sorts. Or maybe it’s the debate about whether or not the town should keep the segregated public pool open."

Acquired:  Received a review copy from Scholastic Canada.

Reason for Reading:   I enjoy children's historical fiction set during the civil rights movement.

A quiet, coming of age story about the summer a white girl, daughter of a preacher, turns twelve amidst the turmoil of the civil rights movement coming to her small rural Mississippi town.  While the main plot issue deals with the problems caused by certain town folks who are adamantly against the new segregation laws being put into practice in their town, the real focus of the story is Glory and her relationship with various people and her becoming aware of these issues around her.  It is a story of sisters, as she and her sister, who is in high school now, drift apart and yet start a new kind of relationship.  It is also a story of friends as Glory becomes distant from her best friend from childhood and draws close to a newcomer from the North.

The issues are handled very well and seen through the eyes of a child just developing into an awareness of life around her.  Glory is an easy character to identify with, though some of the other characters weren't fully developed.  This is a quiet story with small events happening and leading up to the climax but without any real action except one scene where a boy is beat up.  Probably most suited to girls, an enjoyable quick read full of typical southern storytelling.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

51. Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 201
Ages: 8+
Finished: Feb. 5, 2012
First Published: Feb. 28, 2012
Publisher: First Second Books
Genre: YA, graphic novel, magical realism
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:  "First day."

Publisher's Summary: "A coming-of-age tale with a spooky twist!

Maggie McKay hardly knows what to do with herself. After an idyllic childhood of homeschooling with her mother and rough-housing with her older brothers, it’s time for Maggie to face the outside world, all on her own. But that means facing high school first. And it also means solving the mystery of the melancholy ghost who has silently followed Maggie throughout her entire life. Maybe it even means making a new friend—one who isn’t one of her brothers.

Funny, surprising, and tender, Friends with Boys is a pitch perfect YA graphic novel full of spooky supernatural fun."

Acquired: Received a review copy from First Second Books.

Reason for Reading:   I enjoy the author/artist and was intrigued that the book was about homeschooled teens.

The author is obviously writing from her own life seeing as she was homeschooled until high school and has three brothers.  This is the background of the main character in the book, added to Maggie's life is that her mom has just skipped out on them without her really knowing why and Maggie has been haunted by a 17th century ghost since she was about six.  I really enjoyed this book.  I think it gave a fairly accurate portrayal of homeschool life though Hicks did treat it like it was the 1990's, not now when it has become pretty much mainstream.  (I was homeschooled for high school in the '80s and have been homeschooling my children in one way or another for the last 19 years.) 

The title is a little deceptive as I thought we might get into dating and stuff, but it refers to sisters being friends with their brothers and I really appreciated this theme.  I don't have any brothers but I really envied the close relationship Maggie had with hers and how the relationship between Lucy and Alistair developed also.  The book deals with other typical teen subjects such as being new to a school, dealing with bullies, how to make friends and what it's like when your brother is popular but you are not.  Hicks artwork is as expected and truly measures up to her other work making it a delight to look at.  The only problem with this could be that she draws her characters very similar and the main two females in this book are almost identical to the two females in "The War at Ellesmere" with different hairdos. 

I loved the characters, the story about the teens at school, the family dynamics, etc. but the bit about the ghost haunting was an oddity.  It stuck out at first and didn't seem to fit in with the rest but eventually it came together and found a place within the larger scheme of things.  Only, while I was happy with the way things ended for the humans in the story, the ghost ending was rather abrupt and left many unanswered questions.  These kinds of endings bother me, but it does give one thoughts to ponder.  Taken as a whole, this is my favourite book by Faith Erin Hicks so far and the small irritations I had with it don't amount to the lessening of my enjoyment, so I'm sticking with the full 5 stars.

Monday, February 27, 2012

53. When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs

When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs. (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 48
Ages: 14+
Finished: Feb. 17, 2012
First Published: 1982
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Graphic novel, cold war, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:  "Cheerio Jim."

Publisher's Summary: "Raymond Briggs' now famous bestselling comic cartoon book depicts the effects of a nuclear attack on an elderly couple in his usual humorous yet macabre way."

Acquired: Borrowed a copy through Inter-Library Loan.

Reason for Reading:  I was posting a review on another site when this book was recommended for me.  I'd never heard of it before but since I love apocalyptic books and Brigg's Snowman is a treasured favourite I knew I had to read it..

The only reason this book doesn't get a full five star rating from me is that it does show it's age and is a product of its times.  This is a sad, despairing, dark book lightened with black humour.  It packs quite the punch and at the time it was written during the Cold War, when the Russian threat of Nuclear War was a real threat the book''s impact would have been even more chilling.  One must first note that *this is NOT a book for children*.  Briggs takes us from just before the announcement that a nuclear bomb is likely to be aimed at Britain to several days after the impact.  At the centre is an innocent rural WWII survivor couple who don't understand all of modern day's technologies and still believe in the government taking care of its citizens.  They have pamphlets, issued by the government, on how to cope during a nuclear attack and trust in them as they would the word of God, while in reality it's all rather useless and though they survive the bomb they unknowingly waste away from radiation poisoning.  Their innocent banter between each other is compelling and heartrending and yet one must also place oneself in the past to the era the book was written in for it to be believable.

The book is still relevant today, however.  While Russia is not the big threat anymore, there are any number of smaller countries in today's world that have the ability to "push the button" and cause the same scenario of dealing with the fall out.  While I think the innocence of this couple no longer exists in today's jaded world, it does make one realize the precious, innocent, beauty of Creation in all its aspects: human, animal and plant.  This is a powerful, poetic book.  I'm very glad to have discovered it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

52. Diver Down by Donald Lemke

Diver Down by Donald Lemke. illustrated by Yonami  (US) - (Canada)
Good vs Evil

Pages: 39
Ages: 10+
Finished: Feb. 13, 2012
First Published: Aug. 1, 2011
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
Genre: children, graphic novel, easy reader, adventure, modern pirates
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:  "What do you see?"

Publisher's Summary: "On a cloudless day, an American dive boat searches the Pacific Ocean for the remains of a sunken submarine and its mysterious cargo. However, they're not the only ones! When the SCUBA diver heads underwater, his loyal crewmate spots the flag of a threatening ship on the horizon. It's another dive team, and they'll stop at nothing capture the cargo and keep the sunken sub a secret."

Acquired: Purchased a new copy from an online retailer at my son's request. It is extremely rare that he asks for a book, so when he asked for the other two books in this series I purchased them for him.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

This easy-to-read series with a high interest level (written at RL 1.3, GRL: M for ages 8-12) brings a very unique interactive approach to graphic novels which I would honestly love to see more of in the future. The pages are split in half lengthwise, with one half being the good side of the story and the other the same story from the evil point of view. The stories do interact with each other and there are several ways to read the book. Read just the good side, read just the evil side, then read both sides consecutively to get the whole story at once. My ds loves this approach! He always must read the good side first and in this story I think that hindered us a bit, as we were left with a rather confusing little story, that ended rather strangely. Then reading the evil side certainly added a lot more information to the story we had been missing and we ended up with a chilling little ending reminiscent of "The Twilight Zone". 

Ds really enjoyed this one and we had to go back and follow the good guy throughout the sequence as the only way to recognize the two once they had suited up was from an emblem on their dive suits, one blue (good guy) one red (bad guy). He is hoping Stone Arch will be adding more books to the series this year, but so far there is no sign of new titles.  If new titles are added I hope they will be a bit more textual, as these first four tended towards a lot of wordless/sound effects panels and we'd like more dialogue to carry the story. Otherwise, yes please ... give us more "Good vs Evil!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

50. Prisoners in the Promised Land by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Prisoners in the Promised Land: The Ukranian Internment Diary of Anya Soloniuk, Spirit Lake, Quebec, 1914 by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (US) - (Canada)
Dear Canada series

Pages: 243
Ages: 8+
Finished: Feb. 12, 2012
First Published: 2007
Publisher: Scholastic Canada
Genre: children, historical fiction, war, WWI, Canadian author
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:  Dear Diary, your soft cover is dancing-boot red and your pages are the colour of freshly churned butter.

Publisher's Summary: "Anya and her family have made a difficult journey to Canada in search of a new life. But soon after they arrive in the land they hoped would welcome them, World War I is declared, and Ukrainians are considered "enemy aliens" — many of them sent away to internment camps. Anya must find a way to deal with the challenges in the land she now calls home."

Acquired: Borrowed a copy from my local library.

Reason for Reading:   I am reading this whole series.  I picked this particular volume because I am participating in a WWI reading challenge.

I've only read a couple of Skrypuch's books so far, but she has become one of my favourite Canadian juvenile authors.  Mostly, her historical fiction revolves in some way around Ukrainians as that is where her heritage comes from and her own family genealogy is always a great starting point.  Skrypuch does write about other topics but this recurring theme is interesting as it is unique.  Once again, I have learned something new from one of Marsha's books.  I had no knowledge whatsoever of the Ukrainian internment camps in Canada during WWI; of course everybody knows of the Japanese ones during WWII but why not the earlier Ukrainian ones?  Perhaps because they make very little sense at all from a political point of view. 

This book is a fantastic read.  While it takes place primarily in Canada, it does start with the boat trip to the new land, the WWI story is told through the newspapers and discussions of the Ukrainian people as they sit caught in the middle of this war.  Their homeland is the battlefield in Eastern Europe for a long period of time and yet the Ukrainians are neither friends with the Austrians/Germans who own their land or the Russians who invade it.  All news they hear is bad, because whether it is the Allies or the "enemy" winning on their homeland it means their people, friends, relatives are in danger and dying.  Through the news the family receives and letters from home and friends across Canada, until letters are halted due to the War Measures Act, we get to see a side of WWI which I've never experienced before.  All my WWI reading has been about the trench warfare in France/Germany.  It was very different in Eastern Europe, especially there in Galicia, a Ukrainian area owned by Austria-Hungary, which became part of the USSR later on, and finally was reunited as part of present day Ukraine.

The Ukrainians were interred in camps mostly because Canadian/British citizens confused them with Austrians (the enemy) and were ignorant and intolerable of them living within their society.  Anya's mother and father loose their jobs for "patriotic" reasons.  She leaves school to work for the family, but eventually after the men are taken away to camps the women share rat-infested flats, have very little to eat, are not safe on the streets on their own, and are exposed to all sorts of vile, racist comments, making life a living hell.  When the family is moved to the internment camp in some ways life is better for them: they are together again as a family, it's cleaner, they have  nicer living quarters, are fed, don't face as much of the racism, etc. but it is a prison and therefore they have lost their freedom.  Another compelling page-turner for me as we get to learn about the war in Eastern Europe, life for the Ukrainian immigrants on the homefront, and finally life inside the internment camps.  Very interesting and new-to-me information.  As usual the Epilogue in these books describes what happened to the characters afterwards and the Historical Note is a goldmine of true facts.  These are always my favourite part of the books in this series along with the contemporary photographs in the back.  This is one of my favourites in the Dear Canada series so far.  And I would love to read more on this topic.

Friday, February 24, 2012

49: Hades: Lord of the Dead by George O'Connor

Hades: Lord of the Dead by George O'Connor (US) - (Canada)
Olympians, Book 4

Pages: 77
Ages: 9+
Finished: Feb. 12, 2012
First Published: Jan. 31, 2012
Publisher: First Second Books
Genre: children, graphic novel, mythology
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:  This is what happens to you when you die.

Publisher's Summary: "Hades: Lord of the Dead tells the story of the great God of the Underworld and one of the most famous of all Greek myths: Hades’ abduction of Persephone and her mother’s revenge. Be prepared to see a new side of Persephone in this dynamic adaptation of the story of the creation of the seasons."

Acquired: Received a review copy from First Second Books.

Reason for Reading:  Next in the series.

What a long wait it has been for the fourth volume in this series!  Another great entry in the series with fabulous artwork.  O'Connor's depictions of Persephone are fantastic, picturing her in a unique Goth style which seems quite appropriate for the Queen of the Dead.  While the book is titled Hades, it really tells the story of Persephone and to a lesser degree Demeter which is a twist on the usual telling of this tale which focuses on Demeter and how the seasons came to be in most retellings.  O'Connor has taken licence and retold the story addressing Persephone's feelings, attitude and actions which are usually not referred to.  This makes for a refreshing story for someone familiar with the tale and adds a fun twist to the myth.  I'm not sure I totally agree with this take on the tale, as I've always related to Demeter in this myth (must be my maternal instincts) but since the intended audience is children I think it is a great new view to an old tale that kids will relate to.

Some of my favourite things about this series is the author's note, the portrait pages and the detailed "Notes" at the back.  This is full of quite scholarly information about not just the particular myth but many aspects of Greek mythology and a treasure trove of interesting tidbits and even a veteran reader will learn a new fact or two!  I can't find any references to what the next book will be, but I'm sure at one point I heard it was going to be on Poseidon. Whatever it is I just hate having to wait a year between volumes :(

Thursday, February 23, 2012

48. Judge Anderson: The Psychic Crime Files by Alan Grant

Judge Anderson: The Psychic Crime Files by Alan Grant. Art by Carlos Ezquerra, Trevor Hairsine, Patrick Goddard & Boo Cook (US) - (Canada)
Judge Dredd series

Pages: 192
Ages: 16+
Finished: Feb. 10, 2012
First Published: Jan. 17, 2012
Publisher: 2000AD
Genre: YA, graphic novel, science fiction
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:  If it's a one, three or five, I marry Della, move to the West Sector's and live happy ever after.

Publisher's Summary: "Mega-City One, a futuristic metropolis sprawling across the east coast of North America. This hostile urban nightmare is policed by the Judges; tough lawmen with the ability to act as judge, jury and executioner. Within the Justice department is a section known as Psi-Division which specialises in Judges gifted with extraordinary psychic abilities. Cassandra Anderson is one such Judge; a powerful telepath with a rebellious streak and a talent for getting into trouble..."

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

Reason for Reading:  When relatives visited us from England, I'd always get an Annual and a few related comics.  One year, when I was a teenager in the '80s someone, probably my Uncle Peter, brought me a 2000AD annual and some Judge Dredd comics.  Well I just loved them and literally read them to pieces and that is the extent of my knowledge of this comic universe.  But when I happened upon the trade collections recently I was excited to dip my toe back in and thought this stand-alone volume would be a great introduction.

I loved this book!  Judge Cassandra Anderson is drawn after '80s singer Debbie Harry, most commonly known as the lead singer for the group Blondie.  She is one awesome female futuristic crime fighting sensation with added psychic abilities.  She can read people's minds, gets psychic flashes of what is about to happen and can read the last memories from the mind of a dead body. 

This book collects seven random stories from 1989 to 2011 written by Alan Grant from the various 2000AD publications set in the Mega-City universe.  They vary in length, style and time period but they all feature Judge Anderson working a PSI case.  These stories are very futuristic and while the artists vary, the artwork is always really "out there" amazing.  There is violence, blood and quite graphic scenes but no nudity or s*xual scenes.  I found all the stories to be exciting, some more than others, but I enjoyed every one.  While Mega-City is definitely science fiction, one story did bring magic and the paranormal into the universe and it seemed to fit in well.  Being a new comer to this world, I found the stories perfectly suitable and entertaining, not requiring me to have any previous knowledge.  There is a brief one page introduction to the character which nicely gives some historical background, but it's more for fans than a primer.

The stories briefly are "The Random Man" about a man who has given up on decision-making and become a "chancer" where everything he does in life is based on the roll of a die.  Only this guy has made 6 a murderous number and is on a spree.  "Lawless" is about a criminal who creates havoc in the city because he is fed-up with the system and the crime.  Feelings Anderson can't help but agree with.  "Wiierd" takes place in a virtual reality centre where one million people live full-time and ten million visit for vacations and weekends each year.  People die natural deaths here all the time but Cassandra is called in when they have a murderer running rampant in the system.  "Biophyle" is the term used for a person who thinks that all living life, animal and plant, is viable and deserves love and respect ... except human life.  While chasing down another criminal Judge A. stumbles upon a biophyle who has a terrorist plan ready for action.  "The House of Vyle" brings the paranormal to Mega-City as Cassandra travels to Sector 108, Salem, Massachusetts where a dead man resurrected to kill another man and the Judge sent to work the case killed three people and gorged their blood until she exploded.  What Cassandra runs into leads her to another case which involves a man named Vyle, who has been missing in his own home for a year.  Finally, the book ends with two stories which take us back to Anderson's Cadet training.  In the first one she is just beginning her training at ten years old and in the second she is a teen cadet, one year away from graduation.  Both of these stories are probably the best in the book as they give much wanted insight into the character we've just read the exciting exploits of in the five previous stories. 

Looking forward to my next journey into the "Judge Dredd" universe.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

47. All Different Kinds of Free by Jessica McCann

All Different Kinds of Free by Jessica McCann (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

Pages: 274
Ages: 18+
Finished: Feb. 10, 2012
First Published: Apr. 1, 2011
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Genre: historical fiction, southern fiction, slavery
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:  Mama always told me bad things happen on Wednesdays, 'cause it's the middle of the week and the Lord just ain't looking then.

Publisher's Summary: "A free woman of color in the 1830s, Margaret Morgan lived a life full of promise. One frigid night in Pennsylvania, that changed forever. They tore her family apart. They put her in chains. They never expected her to fight back.

In 1837, Margaret Morgan was kidnapped from her home in Pennsylvania and sold into slavery. The state of Pennsylvania charged her kidnapper with the crime, but the conviction was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the first time a major branch of the federal government had made a pro-slavery stand, and the ruling in Prigg v. Pennsylvania sewed the bitter seeds of the states' rights battle that eventually would lead to the Civil War.

Yet, the heart of this story is not a historic Supreme Court ruling. It is the remarkable, unforgettable Margaret Morgan. Her life would never be the same. Her family had been torn apart. Uncaring forces abused her body and her heart. But she refused to give up, refused to stop fighting, refused to allow her soul to be enslaved."

Acquired: Received an egalley through NetGalley.

Reason for Reading:  I love historical fiction set in this time period about this subject.

A magnificent, heart-felt, compelling read.  I just loved this book.  What an unimaginably brutal, yet inspiring story.  A woman's life is torn apart; she is put into bondage and yet she continues to keep her spirit free and full of hope.  What is most surprising about this story is that the main character actually existed, though very little is known about her.  The author has given this important though obscure historical figure a chance to have her story known and given her a possible life she may have lead.  If this is not exactly how she lead her life, it certainly was the lot of many a "Negro" woman and her family in the early 1800's in America's dark past.  Margaret is a riveting character whom one connects with right from the beginning.  The cast of secondary characters are also vividly portrayed.  The bounty hunter, Prigg, sums up all the evil and prejudice of the times in one person, making him a very disturbing character.
This was a page-turner for me.  The historical aspect was appreciated for its relative obscurity.  But mostly it was a  story that hit my heart and while nothing surprising happens plot-wise, I was invested in the characters and deeply satisfied with the ending.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

46. Brundibar by Tony Kushner & Maurice Sendak

Brundibar: after the opera by Hans Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister retold by Tony Kushner. Pictures by Maurice Sendak (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 54
Finished: Feb. 10, 2012
First Published: 2003
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
Genre: Picture Book, Opera, Fairy Tale, WWII
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "I am Pepicek, very small"

Publisher's Summary: "When Aninku and Pepicek discover one morning that their mother is sick, they rush to town for milk to make her better. Their attempt to earn money by singing is thwarted by a bullying, bellowing hurdy-gurdy grinder, Brundibar, who tyrannizes the town square and chases all other street musicians away. Befriended by three intelligent talking animals and three hundred helpful schoolkids, brother and sister sing for the money to buy the milk, defeat the bully, and triumphantly return home. Brundibar is based on a Czech opera for children that was performed fifty-five times by the children of Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp"

Acquired: Purchased used from the library sale table.

Reason for Reading: I pick up Maurice Sendak books simply because I love his illustrations, though I prefer the non-monster stuff.  When I got home and read the story behind this picture book I was greatly intrigued.

This book can be read on two levels.  One simply read the cute, fun story about children winning over a bully to young children.  There are a few frightening scenes and the story ends on an uncomfortable note but most children should get a shiver and a giggle from the story. 

On the second level what we have here is a very deep, symbolic rendering of the Holocaust in picture book format.  Have older children read the jacket flaps, look up the story behind this opera and deal with the sad reality of where this story came from.  Then read the story and look carefully at the pictures because Sendak has used a lot of symbolism and hidden small images some of which may have only meaning to him.  I would love to read a critical essay on the illustrations of this book.  Some characters in the town have yellow Stars of David sewn to their chests, others have yellow arm bands, there are Stars of David in the occasional window and in the background we can occasionally see crosses on top of church steeples.  The authority figures have an arm raised as if in a "heil", they also often have a leg poised as if ready to march goose step.  The villain Brundibar has a Hitler mustache and his organ grinder monkey is wearing a German helmet.  The Dr. is distinctly portrayed as Jewish and the final scene shows the mother's bedroom with a crucifix on the wall where there clearly wasn't one in the opening scene.  Also if you look closely you'll find the names of the composers written on the wall within the pages and every here and there is a haunting shadowy image of a tattered child in the background.  I could go on ...

All this to say, this picture book left me feeling sad for the fate of those who wrote and preformed this opera and also for the message that while we can beat bullies when we come together, there will unfortunately always be another one around another corner.  Yet at the same time I was boosted by the spirit of the real people who lived (really *lived*) while they were dying in those horrifying concentration camps.  This book is a classic and should not be forgotten.  Thanks to Hyperion for keeping it in print.  While a picture book, it would make a great addition to middle/high school courses on WWII.

Monday, February 20, 2012

45. Dungeon of Seven Dooms by Michael Dahl

Dungeon of Seven Dooms by Michael Dahl. illustrated by Roberta Pares (US) - (Canada)
Good vs Evil

Pages: 39
Ages: 8+
Finished: Feb. 8, 2012
First Published: Aug. 1, 2011
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
Genre: children, graphic novel, easy reader, fantasy
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:  In an ancient kingdom of light and shadow, on the night of the Dragon's Star, Prince Kalban imprisons his twin brother, the rightful heir to the throne.

Publisher's Summary:  "Young Prince Arel has been imprisoned by his evil brother, Prince Kalban, who seeks to steal the throne. Arel must use his wits and his sword arm to battle through the monstrous traps of the Dungeon of the Seven Dooms in order to rescue his father and save the kingdom."

Acquired: Purchased a new copy from an online retailer at my son's request.  It is extremely rare that he asks for a book, so when he asked for the other two books in this series I purchased them for him.

Reason for Reading:   Next in the series.

This easy-to-read series with a high interest level (written at RL 1.3, GRL: M for ages 8-12) brings a very unique interactive approach to graphic novels which I would honestly love to see more of in the future.  The pages are split in half horizontally, with one half being the good side of the story and the other the same story from the evil point of view.  The stories do interact with each other and there are several ways to read the book.  Read just the good side, read just the evil side, then read both sides consecutively to get the whole story at once.  My ds loves this approach!  He always must read the good side first and in this story I think that hindered us a bit, as we were left with a rather confusing little story, that ended rather strangely.  Then reading the evil side certainly added a lot more information to the story we had been missing but I must say we still ended up with a strange story which neither of us is sure whether it crossed over into an alternate dimension.  However ds enjoyed reading it and is looking forward to the last book.  He is hoping Stone Arch will be adding more books to the series this year, but so far there is no sign of new titles.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

44. X 3-in-1, Vol.I by CLAMP

X (3-in-1), Vol. I by CLAMP (US) - (Canada)
X, Vol. 1,2,3

Pages: 584
Ages: 16+
Finished: Feb. 8, 2012
First Published: 1992-93 (this edition Nov. 8, 2011)
Publisher: viz media
Genre: YA, manga, fantasy, apocalyptic
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:  "It's been six years."

Publisher's Summary:  "Kamui Shiro is a young man followed by mystery. Taken from Tokyo by his mother when only a child, Kamui left behind his dearest friends—the gentle Kotori and her brother Fuma—in the aftermath of a terrible incident that claimed their mother's life.

Returning to Tokyo after his mother's death, Kamui is a changed young man—moody and distant to his old friends, yet determined to protect them from the dark forces that swirl around him. For he is the nexus of a great cataclysm to come, and inheritor to a strange destiny that could decide the fate of the entire world."

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

Reason for Reading:   The story sounded fantastic; I've never read a series by Clamp before and have wanted to, plus I love these omnibus editions of manga that viz is putting out.

Fantastic art!  Especially since this is "old school" manga art to me (I'm a fairly recent reader of the medium).  Just gorgeous details and expressive faces.  Each volume inside starts with several full colour pages including the original cover art work.  Another thing I love (that slightly surprised me for the early '90s art) is that the boys/men look like guys.  I really like this in manga.  They all have short hair and there is no mistaking the boys from the girls, who are extremely feminine.  I also enjoyed the realistic eye shapes, instead of the constant round eyes.

As to the story, not quite so fantastic, but interesting.  My main problem is that it is very confusing and I am very glad I got to start with the first three volumes.  If I'd only read volume one, I wouldn't have been very excited to go any further as it left me quite dazed.  These first three volumes, slowly let the story out of the bag.  All the characters, minus Kotori, know to some extent what is going on.  Some have full knowledge, others only a brief understanding, but the reader knows nothing until it is revealed by some character on the page.  This makes for a mysterious, yet baffling read.  And it does take the three entire volumes for the reader to get a grip on what is happening.  The ending has left me hanging and my interest piqued but right now, I'm not ready to say I'm hooked.  I am interested but it is going to take the next volume for me to decide if this is a series I'll be staying with.  I can say with certainty that I am fully intrigued by all the characters at this point and do look forward to seeing if Vol. 2 (which will include the original volumes 4-6) will hook me on this possibly fascinating series.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

43. Dragonbreath: Revenge of the Horned Bunnies by Ursula Vernon

Dragonbreath: Revenge of the Horned Bunnies by Ursula Vernon (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
Dragonbreath, #6

Pages: 208
Ages: 8+
Finished: Feb. 7, 2012
First Published: Jan. 10, 2012
Publisher: Dial Books
Genre: children, fantasy, graphic novel hybrid
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Sheriff Dragonbreath entered the canyon with his six-gun in his hand.

Publisher's Summary: "Ride 'em, cowboy! Danny's off to summer camp! Danny Dragonbreath is counting down the days to his awesome western summer camp . . . until he gets the terrible news that his annoying younger cousin Spencer is going too. Good-bye, Danny the Cowboy; Hello, Danny the Babysitter. But when Spencer befriends a mythical jackalope (or horned bunny) and then uncovers a diabolical jackalope-napping ring, things start looking up again. After all, if you need a math problem solved, you call a nerd. But if you need a villainous ring of horned-bunnynappers broken up, you call Danny Dragonbreath."

Acquired: Received a review copy from Penguin Group Canada.

Reason for Reading:  Next in the series.

This is certainly the most well-written story in the Dragonbreath series to date.  We have a complete developed plot, with adult antagonists, that progresses following conventional plotlines.  The book actually involves a mystery that is solvable by the reader if they pay attention to the clues given out along the way.  Danny and Wendell have become bonafide complete characters with their background stories built up over the last several volumes to create two very good, but opposite best friends.  The reader can count on how each will act in certain situations and we know their strengths and weaknesses, but also knowing, more than they do, that their friendship is stronger than the sum of their parts, proving they can overcome obstacles for each other.  This strong friendship, at this time in the series, welcomes the addition of Christiana as a third member of the team, having met her in the last book.  Her character is given some good development to allow some interplay between both Danny and Wendell as well as a bit of a background story.  We are also, once again, introduced to a new relative of Danny's only this time it is a younger cousin, but it does bring back the recurring theme of the previous books where Danny visits a relative, only this time the relative visits him. 

A solid plot and a good story, though lacking a little in the humour department.  I didn't find this one near as funny as the others, perhaps because it was more serious when the antagonists are adults (mind you, still animals) and the victims are cute animals, even if they are mythological jackalopes.  There were funny scenes and lines but on the whole more of an adventurous frolic than the simple humorous story of the previous volumes.  A solid entry in the series.

Friday, February 17, 2012

42. Horrid Henry's Underpants by Francesca Simon

Horrid Henry's Underpants by Francesca Simon. illustrated by Tony Ross. (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
Horrid Henry (US numbering #9)

Pages: 112
Ages: 7+
Finished: Feb. 6, 2012
First Published: UK 2003 (US 2009)
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Genre: children, humour, short stories
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:  "Ugggh! Gross! Yuck! Blecccccch!"

Publisher's Summary:  "Horrid Henry makes a deal with his parents in return for eating his veggies; accidentally wears girls' underwear to school; tries to prove he is sicker than his brother; and writes the meanest thank-you cards ever (and makes money on it too)."

Acquired: Purchased the Kindle edition.

Reason for Reading:  Our son has reading difficulties and after much debate the family bought an ereader.  Ds read this book aloud as his reader and as his very first ebook.  Horrid Henry is a favourite of his.

This book was exactly what one expects from Horrid Henry.  After having read only the first book in the series ds and I are both fans.  Reading this book further along in the series we found two things had changed, Henry has gotten somewhat meaner *but* he usually ends up with the short end of the stick when all is said and done, which makes his escapades easier to swallow when you know he won't totally get away with it.  Ds finds Harry funny and is continuously going "Oh Man!" with the things he gets up to but ds also thinks Henry is a bit too much and takes things too far.  He wouldn't like to have him in his class, that is for sure!  We both really enjoyed all the stories in this book and we agree upon our favourite being the titular one where he accidentally wears girl's underwear to school.

This book was very hard for ds to read, so we read pretty much in tandem with me reading any words he struggled with to avoid frustration as he thoroughly enjoyed the ebook reading experience and took to it like a fish to water.  He says he wants all his books on the Kindle now.  Well that isn't going to exactly happen but we are going to take advantage of this format and see if it is the thing that will set off his reading abilities.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

41. The Missing Mummy by Sean O'Reilly

The Missing Mummy by Sean O'Reilly. Illustrated by Arcana Studio. (US) - (Canada)
Mighty Mighty Monsters

Pages: 43
Ages: 7+
Finished: Feb. 6, 2012
First Published: Aug. 1, 2011
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
Genre: children, easy reader, graphic novel, fantasy, Canadian author
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:  Early one morning, the Mighty Mighty monsters loaded on to the bus for a field trip.

Publisher's Summary: "The Mighty Mighty Monsters are going on a field trip to the museum in the city. Like most of their outings, things get a little crazy. They meet a mummy who comes to life. Using their 'Monster Might,' they help him break out of the museum and take him back to Transylmania."

Acquired: Received a review copy from Capstone Press.

Reason for Reading: I think this series is adorable.

An easy reader graphic novel about famous movie monsters when they were kids and went to school together. This time the kids are outside of school again but now on a teacher supervised field trip to a museum and this is where they pick up a new member to bring back to town with them, The Mummy.  Happily enough, we get King Tut's mummy and learn some very brief ancient Egypt/Tutankhamen history at the same time.  But really the story is just fun and full of gags  I enjoy this series probably because I am a Universal Monsters movie buff and find these satisfy the nerd in me.  O'Reilly's story is cute and fun as usual with this series suitable for Grades 1-4 and reluctant readers being at a Guided Reading Level K. Scott's Arcana Studios do a magnificent job on the animation quality illustrations.  One of the more fun in the series, especially for Mummy fans.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

40. Monster Beach by Sean O'Reilly

Monster Beach by Sean O'Reilly. Illustrated by Arcana Studio. (US) - (Canada)
Mighty Mighty Monsters

Pages: 43
Ages: 7+; GRL: K
Finished: Feb. 5, 2012
First Published: Jan. 13, 2012
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
Genre: children, graphic novel, paranormal, Canadian author
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:  "Early one morning, the Mighty Mighty Monsters headed out for a relaxing day at the beach."

Publisher's Summary: "The monsters are ready for a relaxing day at the beach. However, the day is anything but relaxing! The group meets a young, lonely fish monster named Gill who is scared of the water. They help Gill find the confidence he needs to go into the ocean and find his family"

Acquired: Received a review copy from Capstone Press.

Reason for Reading: I think this series is adorable.

An easy reader graphic novel about famous movie monsters when they were kids and went to school together.  This time the kids have a day off and head for the beach where they meet Gilliver Finn, Gil to his friends, who would later become known as The Creature From then Black Lagoon.  Anyway, he's afraid of the water, the ocean and fish all together so his new found friends help him to over come his fears and he ends up being not so lonely anymore.  O'Reilly's story is cute and fun as usual with this series suitable for Grades 1-4 and reluctant readers being at a Guided Reading Level K.  Scott's Arcana Studios do a magnificent job on the animation quality illustrations.  Not my favourite in the series but still a fun read.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Free! Glaen: A Novel Message on Romance, Love and Relating

Free for a limited time only! Get yours before the end of Feb. 14. Make sure the price says $.0.00 before you order as it could change at anytime on the 14th.

14. Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary M. Talbot

Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary M. Talbot. Art by Bryan Talbot (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 96
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jan. 14, 2012
First Published: Feb. 21. 2012
Publisher: Dark Horse
Genre: Graphic Novel, memoir, biography, history
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Now where's that railcard?
Publisher's Summary: "Part personal history, part biography, Dotter of Her Father's Eyes contrasts two coming-of-age narratives: that of Lucia, the daughter of James Joyce, and that of author Mary Talbot, daughter of the eminent Joycean scholar James S. Atherton. Social expectations and gender politics, thwarted ambitions and personal tragedy are played out against two contrasting historical backgrounds, poignantly evoked by the atmospheric visual storytelling of award-winning graphic-novel pioneer Bryan Talbot. Produced through an intense collaboration seldom seen between writers and artists, Dotter of Her Father's Eyes is smart, funny, and sad--an essential addition to the evolving genre of graphic memoir."

Acquired: Received an egalley from the publisher through Net Galley..

Reason for Reading:  I am a big fan of graphic memoirs and biographies.

A totally engaging story about two female figures, each with their own claim to fame, and yet not readily recognizable to the world at large. The book is a mixture of b/w when telling the story of Lucia Joyce (James Joyce's daughter), b/w with bits of colour for the story of the author's childhood and full colour when in the author's present. This along with the text easily helps the reader to know what time period/whose story is being told. The author's story of her upbringing with a moody father who becomes more and more domineering and angry is a riveting one made even more so when contrasted with that of Lucia Joyce's upbringing by a father who was very much temporally similar to her own. This holds special interest when one father was an eminent scholar of the other.

I found the story compelling and page-turning. I don't know much about Joyce myself, except that he lead a colourful life. I'm not exactly a fan; I have read one book, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and have no desire to read any of his other work, but I do still find the lives of people from his era fascinating from a social history aspect. I enjoyed the female leads (though the author manages to use a few frames to espouse her own anti-Catholic bigotry) and how they were affected by the eras they lived in simply by being female, how they rebelled against the norms of their times and what it did to them, or how they settled. Both women's stories contain tragedy and triumph though not both in the same order. Highly recommended, whether you have an interest in James Joyce or not, as the story is more focused on the female experience in ages past.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

39. Dragonbreath #5: No Such Things as Ghosts by Ursula Vernon

No Such Things as Ghosts by Ursula Vernon (US) - (Canada)
Dragonbreath, #5

Pages: 201
Ages: 8+
Finished: Feb. 5, 2012
First Published: Jul. 26, 2011
Publisher: Dial Books
Genre: children, graphic novel hybrid, humour
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

In the dark of night, the wily vampire stalks his prey.

Publisher's Summary: "Danny Dragonbreath and his best friend, Wendell, have a carefully constructed trick-or-treating system designed to maximize their Halloween candy haul. But this year, despite Danny's awesome vampire costume, their plan is flopping. First, Danny's dad makes them trick-or-treat with Christiana Vanderpool, an annoying know-it-all (and girl) who doesn't even believe that dragons exist. And then the school bully dares them to go into a spooky old haunted house. Naturally, the house is inhabited by a creepy clown and a candy-crazed ghost of yore. It's going to take more than fire-breathing to get them out of this mess - they might even have to (horror of horrors!) perform a sacrificial candy offering."

Acquired: Ds was gifted this copy at Christmas (2011).

Reason for Reading:  Next in the series.

Once a kids' series like this has reached a certain number of books, it always follows through with an obligatory Hallowe'en story and this is Dragonbreath's Hallowe'en entry.  Breaking form from the other books where they usually travel to meet with one of Danny's relatives to help them with the situation in which they find themselves, this time Danny, Wendell and classmate Christiana go trick or treating and end up with a real ghost on their hands.  Lots of fun!  Wendell meets his match with an even geekier kid than himself in Christiana.  While Wendell's costume is an hydrogen atom, Christiana's is a salmonella bacteria and Christiana talks science using words even Wendell has to look up in a dictionary.  But Christiana has a weakness, her scientific mind leads her to being a skeptic about anything unproven, even the fact that Danny is a dragon!  So ultimately it is Christiana who has the hardest time facing a real ghost.  An enjoyable book, full of everything we've come to expect from Danny Dragonbreath, with a nice combination of text and brief graphic panels.  Fans will be delighted, references are made to adventures from previous books for faithful readers.  While not my favourite in the series certainly up to par with the rest.  Looking forward to the next volume which features one of my favourite cryptids, the jackalope

Saturday, February 11, 2012

38. How Do We Stay on Earth? by Amy S. Hansen

How Do We Stay on Earth? A Gravity Mystery by Amy S. Hansen. Illustrated by Korey Scott (US) - (Canada)
First Graphics series

Pages: 28
Ages: 5-8
Finished: Feb. 3, 2012
First Published: Aug. 1, 2011
Publisher: Capstone Press
Genre: children, easy reader, graphic novel, non-fiction
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:
The ground is never far from your feet.

Publisher's Summary: "In graphic novel format, text and illustrations explain the force of gravity and how it keeps us on Earth."

Acquired: Received a review copy from Capstone Press.

Reason for Reading: I enjoy this publisher.

Basic easy reader with detailed information for the minimal text that is provided. Wonderful quality cartoonish illustrations are delightful and add humour to the factual text. A simple graphic interface with four frames per two page spread, narrative text between frames, and one to two comic bubbles that lead to the next page. The reading level is at the higher end of the given spread (K-3) and this would also be perfect for little ones who are reading ahead of age level.

Friday, February 10, 2012

37. How Do We Know About Dinosaurs? by Rebecca Olien

How Do We Know About Dinosaurs? A Fossil Mystery by Rebecca Olien. Illustrated by Katie McDee (US) - (Canada)
First Graphics series

Pages: 24
Ages: 5-8
Finished: Feb. 3, 2012
First Published: Aug. 1, 2011
Publisher: Capstone Press
Genre: children, easy reader, graphic novel, non-fiction
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:  You can look, but you will never find a giant living dinosaur.

Publisher's Summary: "In graphic novel format, text and illustrations explain how fossils teach us about the dinosaurs."

Acquired: Received a review copy from Capstone Press.

Reason for Reading:  I enjoy this publisher.

Basic easy reader with detailed information for the minimal text that is provided.  Wonderful quality cartoonish illustrations are delightful and add humour to the factual text.  A simple graphic interface with four frames per two page spread, narrative text between frames, and one comic bubble that leads to the next page.  The reading level is at the higher end of the given spread (K-3) and this would also be perfect for little ones who are reading ahead of age level.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

36. Women of the Titanic Disaster by Sylvia Caldwell

Women of the Titanic Disaster by Sylvia Caldwell. Foreword by Julie Hedgepeth Williams (Kindle Only)

Pages: 141 KB
Ages: 18+
Finished: Feb. 3, 2012
First Published: 1912, (e-edition Dec. 14, 2011)
Historic Publisher: A.W. Themanson Publishing Co.
Publisher: NewSouth Books
Genre: non-fiction, history, memoir
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

I have been sitting in the dusk, rocking to sleep the precious young life that was spared to me from the last great disaster and my heart goes out to the heart broken mothers whose babes have been snatched from their arms.
Publisher's Summary: "Sylvia Caldwell was onboard the Titanic when it sank in 1912. As one of the disaster's survivors, she took it upon herself to write an account of what happened in the event's aftermath. Women of the Titanic Disaster details Sylvia Caldwell's journey immediately following the sinking of the Titanic, and it gives us a fresh perspective on this historic event. With a foreword by Julie Hedgepeth Williams, author of A Rare Titanic Family: The Caldwells' Story of Survival, a biography of Sylvia Caldwell and her family."

Acquired: Purchased the Kindle edition.

Reason for Reading: I will be reading the non-fiction book about this woman's life and experience on the Titanic and thought this would be of historical interest as a pre-read.

This tiny booklet is interesting only because of its historical significance. If you are a completest in your Titanic readings then this will surely be of value to you. It really has no literary merit. Mrs. Caldwell's account is brief and concerns her time in the raft and onboard the rescue ship. She waxes poetic about the heroism of the women who survived saying it took much more bravery to carry on and live than it did to stay and go down with a husband. Of course, this is the English-speaking women as she sets aside the "foreign element" from the beginning. Mrs. Caldwell's account is melodramatic but is also historically engaging as it describes the sights and sounds from the raft and how the middle/upper class women fared after being rescued. One certainly wonders whether Mrs. Caldwell wrote her little booklet hoping to make some extra money for her family rather than from any sense of duty. Not that there's anything wrong with making money. Included is a foreword by the author of a non-fiction book on the Caldwell family, a relative, then a poem by "Beecher" followed by Mrs. Caldwell's account which includes both a picture of herself and one of her baby. Then comes a "Hymn for Survivors of the Titanic" by Hall Caine followed by the hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee". Finally there is a brief "About the Author" which tells briefly about Sylvia Caldwell. All in all, I am thrilled this piece of history has been made available to the public and pleased to have read its contents.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

35. Titanic 2012 by Bill Walker

Titanic 2012 (Revised & Updated) by Bill Walker  (US) - (Kindle)

Pages: 288
Ages: 18+
Finished: Feb. 3, 2012
First Published: 1998 (revised Jan. 31, 2012)
Publisher: Cemetery Dance Publications
Genre: speculative fiction, mystery, romance
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

The furor in the media had just died down when Solly's call came that rainy midweek day.

Publisher's Summary: "Best-selling mystery novelist Trevor Hughes has no idea that attending his twentieth reunion at Harvard will forever change his life.

Persuaded to go by his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Dr. Julia Magnusson, he meets up with three old friends: Solly Rubens, a self-made Wall Street millionaire; Ken Faust, a successful software entrepreneur; and Harlan Astor, New York real estate tycoon and the glue that holds their circle together.

That afternoon, over drinks at the Harvard Club, Harlan drops his bombshell: He is doing what James Cameron did not -- he is rebuilding the Titanic, and sailing the ship on the hundredth anniversary to honor those who died, including his great-grandfather, John Jacob Astor IV. Only Trevor is intrigued by Harlan's audacity. Touched by his friend's interest and concern, Harlan invites him on the maiden voyage to serve as the official chronicler.

On April 10, 2012, Trevor journeys to Southampton and, along with the hundreds of handpicked passengers, boards the Titanic. He is awed by the immensity of the ship and the feelings that well up in him. His friend has made his grand dream a reality.

During the journey, armed with his iPod Touch and a miniature wireless camera hidden in his glasses, Trevor interviews both passengers and crew, eager to learn the reasons why they chose to sail on the reborn ship.

Nearly every one of them claims to have been profoundly affected by Cameron's film, wanting to recapture the magic for themselves.

Trevor is unprepared when he meets Madeleine Regehr, a beautiful, free-spirited woman who resists his entreaties to be interviewed, intriguing Trevor all the more. Slowly, and inexorably, Maddy draws him out of his shell, allowing him to love deeply and completely, for the very first time in his life.

But Trevor soon discovers a darker purpose for the voyage, a purpose that threatens to destroy him and the woman he loves. In a race against time that pits friend against friend, Trevor must stop the unstoppable or risk a horrific replay of history...

Note: I edited the Pub's summary as I thought it gave away too much information.  The above is spoiler-free.

Acquired: Received a manuscript from the author.

Reason for Reading:  This year is the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster and I am hosting a reading challenge.

Amazing!  I was hooked on this book from the very first chapter.  The book heavily pays homage to Cameron's movie (which {horrors} I have not seen ... yet!) as it is referenced frequently and is a major plot point.  As everybody else in the world has seen the movie this will not be an issue, but for the other two of you out there that haven't, it doesn't matter and won't affect your enjoyment of the book.

The book contains a mystery which keeps one reading at a fast pace as we travel with the main character, Trevor, to find out what exactly is being kept from him.  I really enjoyed this aspect of the book and while I ultimately knew the end result, I didn't figure out the method and enjoyed how it all played out.   The book is also a mild romance.  I'm not keen on romances, per se, but this is just the right dose that it is more the story of two people who meet and have an impact on each other that will change their lives forever, than your typical "romance".  My favourite character was Trevor.  He was a real, flawed person that one could connect with right away.  I'm sure many readers will also enjoy Maddie, as she is also a well-written character.  I however, never "liked" her because of the choices she made.  The story of her choice is also another major theme in the book that will pull at your heart strings (or make you angry, like it did me) and engages you throughout the entire book.  This is a wonderful "light" read and would make the perfect choice for a plane ride, vacation or beach read, but perhaps not on a cruise.  A great read!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

34. The Flint Heart by Katherine Paterson

The Flint Heart: A Fairy Story Freely Abridged from Eden Phillpotts's 1910 Fantasy by Katherine and John Paterson. illustrated by John Rocco (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 288
Ages: 7+
Finished: Feb. 2, 2012
First Published: Sept. 27, 2011
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: children, fantasy, fairy tale
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:
Many years ago, oh, let's say five thousand, more or less, there lived in the south of England, in what is called Dartmoor, tribes of people who had never thought to make anything out of metal, much less plastic.

Publisher's Summary:
An ambitious Stone Age man demands a talisman that will harden his heart, allowing him to take control of his tribe. Against his better judgment, the tribe’s magic man creates the Flint Heart, but the cruelty of it causes the destruction of the tribe. Thousands of years later, the talisman reemerges to corrupt a kindly farmer, an innocent fairy creature, and a familial badger. Can Charles and his sister Unity, who have consulted with fairies such as the mysterious Zagabog, wisest creature in the universe, find a way to rescue humans, fairies, and animals alike from the dark influence of the Flint Heart? This humorous, hearty, utterly delightful fairy tale is the sort for an entire family to savor together or an adventurous youngster to devour.

A robust and wildly entertaining fairy tale, freely abridged from Eden Phillpotts’s 1910 fantasy and wryly retold by Katherine and John Paterson.
Acquired: Received a review copy from Candlewick Press.

Reason for Reading: I enjoy the author and would read any new book by her that piqued my interest.  I read this aloud to my son.

I'll start by saying that my son enjoyed this book much more than I did.  That is factored into my rating.  I read a chapter a day but before each reading I'd have my son give me a little recap on what happened last time as I was honestly so bored I couldn't remember what was going on.  I kept thinking about the last book we read together!  However when we were finished the book, my son's response was that the book had been "awesome!" and "Is there a sequel?" Go figure.

The story is repetitive.  Someone finds the flint heart, wears it, and turns nasty.  Then when someone else manages to get it away from them they fling it away only to later have another unfortunate soul find the flint heart again to repeat the process once more.  Here we have our classic fairy tale element and I'll say my son (and I) are big fairy tale fans and I think he found comfort and enjoyment in the predictability of that plotline.  Of course, our hero's task is to destroy the flint heart completely causing some adventure.  Ds enjoyed the characters mostly.  The wise old Zagabog, the funny fairy king and queen, as well as the other fairy characters; and he enjoyed both of the protagonists, a boy named Charles and his little sister Unity. 

I was interested in the original this was "abridged" from, so started reading some of it online and a lot of the language has been kept, with whole phrases verbatim.  What seems to be missing is the depth of language present in the original.  I actually found myself getting interested in Phillpott's story and found his sense of humour dry and witty, something completely missing in this adaptation.  The Kindle edition is too expensive for a public domain book but if I find it for up to 2 bucks, I'd like to read the original, which is much longer also.  One point I must make is that the artwork by Rocco is beautiful.  Large paintings that take up almost the entire 2-page spread in luscious earth tones.  They are a pure delight to behold.

Monday, February 6, 2012

33. Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll, Vol. 1 by Yumi Tsukirino

Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll, Vol. 1 by Yumi Tsukirino (US) - (Canada)
Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll, Vol. 1

Pages: 159
Ages: All Ages (5+)
Finished: Jan. 31, 2012
First Published: (Japan, 2005) English - Jan. 3, 2012
Publisher: viz media/viz kids
Genre: children, manga, cute, kawaii
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

The pups are playing baseball!
Publisher's Summary: "Oh no! Milk has disappeared through a mysterious door and only Cinnamoroll can save him! Will he find the courage to help his friend and still make it back to Café Cinnamon in time for tea?"

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

Reason for Reading: Always looking for good, clean, fun manga for younger kids.  This piqued my interest.

Cinnamoroll is a Sanrio character created back in 2002 as part of their line of cute merchandising characters.  To date he and his friends have been on all sorts of products, in a feature film and this manga series originally published in Japan starting in 2005.  This is all I know of him, before this I had never heard of him.  Cinnamoroll and his friends are puppies, such exaggeratedly cute pups that they could be a variety of different animals but pups is what they've been called.  This manga starts the reader off with a cute, clean, fun story.

First there are 16 delightful pages done in full colour (all pastels which suit the kawaii mood).  We are introduced to all the main characters, then the secondary characters and the magic items.  Then there are three short fun comics that just jump in involving the characters and give the reader an idea of what we can expect.  After this, the art turns to b/w and the main story begins which is extremely simplified in the publisher's summary.  We are introduced to all the main characters, how they came to Cafe Cinnamon, how they received their magic items or what their abilities are.  We are also introduced their nemesis "Cavity" who has it out for Cinamoroll right from the beginning.  The friends find themselves a treasure map and thus begins their quest to find treasure with Cavity showing up now and then to wreak havoc.  The main story ends on page 112 and at this point we enter a section called "Around the Seasons" and once again the reader is favoured with short random comics that take place seasonally and let us get to know our characters better.  These stories are separate from the main thread of the middle story and are just a place for fun with the characters.  The book is very sweetsy cute and certainly girly-girl, and those who fall in that category will probably adore Cinamoroll.  I am not into cutesy stuff, but I found the comics entertaining and fun for their intended audience and I will read a few more in the series (depending on how long it is) to see where the main story line goes. 

Recommended for little girls 5+, but pre-teen and young teen girly-girls will have a delightful dose of kawaii and enjoy as well.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

CONTEST: The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

In honour of my 100th Anniversary Titanic Reading Challenge, Random House Canada has been generous enough to offer this Titanic themed new-release title as a prize for me to offer.  I have one copy of The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott to give away!  You do not have to be a participant in my challenge to enter the contest but participants will have more chances to win!

Contest open to US & Canada mailing addresses only.

Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy.

Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she's had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic's doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes.

Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.

On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period's glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love.

Leave a comment below with your name and email for each of the following conditions met and you will receive one entry for each time you leave a comment:

+1 leave your name and email to enter
+1 do the above and tell me you are a follower (this means I click your name and see my blog listed under your "Blogs I Follow")
+1 do the above and tell me you are a participant of the challenge (sign ups are here)
+1 do the above and have already posted a review of a book or movie for the challenge, must be current (reviews go here)

That's a total of four possible entries!  Good Luck!  Contest ends Feb. 29.

I have a copy of the book for myself too and am looking forward to reading it!

32. The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett

The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett. Illustrated by Andrea Offermann (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

Pages: 217
Ages: 10+
Finished: Jan. 31, 2012
First Published: Sept. 13, 2011
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: children, magical realism, war, WWII, historical fiction
Rating: 2/5

First sentence:
If the old bell had been hanging in the steeple it would have rung to announce midnight, twelve solemn iron klongs which would have woken the villagers from their sleep and startled any small creature new to the village and unaccustomed to the noise.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Candlewick Press.

Publisher's Summary:  "When the Germans attack their Romany encampment during World War II, Andrej and his younger brother, Tomas, flee through a ravaged countryside under cover of darkness, guarding a secret bundle. Their journey leads to a bombed-out town, where the boys discover a hidden wonder: a zoo filled with creatures in need of hope. Like Andrej and Tomas, the animals--wolf and eagle, monkey and bear, lioness and seal, kangaroo and llama-- have stories to share and a mission to reclaim their lives.

Master storyteller Sonya Hartnett crafts a magical and moving fable about war and redemption . . . and what it means to be free."
Reason for Reading: The story intrigued me as I enjoy WWII historical fiction and animal fantasy. How the two could be combined into a successful book had me wanting to read and find out.

Set in WWII, the story follows two Gypsy children who have managed to escape the wipe out of their family camp.  The setting of the book is never given, though it is obviously Eastern Europe.  There are signs in a foreign language and after researching that language and then double checking to see if Romany (Roms) were persecuted in that country during WWII, I've ascertained the country in question is the Czech Republic.  The story never really grabbed me, I have a fifty page rule, where I will stop reading a book at 50 pages if it hasn't caught my attention and I almost stopped reading at page 56 because I had just been hit on the head with the fact that I was about to be "taught. a. lesson." and was not impressed, however I decided to finish the chapter and picked up a bit of plot that did keep me reading the entire short book.

I can't really say it was time well spent.  The whole book is very "in-your-face" with the lessons and messages it wants to convey.  Humans treat animals badly, even when they love them, and not always on purpose, but wild animals deserve freedom.  Animals are not a part of any war and yet they suffer for it. Following suit, the gypsies were not at war with anyone, it was not their war, they only wanted freedom and yet it was taken away from then and they suffered.  And so on ... the war is nobody's, yet they all suffer from it when the invaders/aggressors come.  The book's main theme is freedom.  The freedom of animals to live in the wild, not zoos, not under human control, the freedom of humans to live in peace, not in the middle of someone else's war.

This is all very idealistic and "nice" in a perfect world but this isn't a perfect world.  When does someone else's war become your own war?  When your neighbours are carted away?  When the next street over is bombed to pieces?  Or not until it is your own family stolen in the night or your house bombed to smithereens?  Perhaps then it is still not your war?  Do you suffer in silence, or do something about it?

Add to this idealistic message a strange magical realism aspect where animals in an abandoned zoo talk to the Gypsy children and all belief was thrown out the window for me.  I am a big fan of animal fantasy, so talking animals don't necessarily turn me off, they just need to be in *their* world for me to suspend belief.  Zoo animals talking to Rom children in the middle of WWII just goes way beyond my believability factor and coupled with the "beat you on the head" fable and moral of the story, I just was not impressed.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

30. The Yellow House Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Yellow House Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Illustrated by Mary Gehr. (Canada) - (US) - Kindle)

The Alden Family Mysteries, #3
Pages: 191
Ages: 7+
Finished: Jan. 28, 2012
First Published: 1953
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: children, mystery
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Four lively children lived with their grandfather Alden in a big house.

Acquired:  Purchased a used copy from a garage/book sale or thrift shop.

Reason for Reading:  This is part of my Random Bookshelf Reading project.  I'm also working on re-reading this series and collecting the first 19.

Publisher's Summary: "In this third book from the series, Grandpa Alden tells Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny of the curious circumstances in which the yellow house became vacant over forty years ago. Determined to solve the mystery, the children uncover a trail of clues that leads them to memories of their boxcar days."

Yellow House follows the established pattern of the first two books and yet also branches out a bit.  The children go back to Surprise Island and end up on an adventure that has them roughing it and living outdoors, camping, canoeing and taking care of themselves, as usual.  The children are a bit older this time with both Henry and Jessie in high school, Violet 12 and Benny 7, making the book suitable for a wide range of ages at the time it was written.  The new character picked up in the last book joins in as an important member of the cast of characters.  Yellow House is the first time the series really brings us a mystery, as the first two really only dealt with mysterious people, whose identities the children figured out by the end of the book, though others knew the secret.  This time somewhat in the same vein but still different we have a missing persons case and the children find clues and search out the long lost person.  For an adult the mystery is weak and unbelievable but as a first introduction to the genre it is a fun romp and I have to admit to thoroughly enjoying myself with the read.  The amiable, well-mannered children of yester-year who love to play outside are a breath of fresh air themselves.  Both my boys enjoyed these books so I know they are still appealing to today's kids and I think it's because of the freedom the Alden children have to wander far and wide in the outdoors with minimum adult supervision; something virtually unknown to this generation in today's modern world.  This book also brings about the first time the children refer to themselves as the "Boxcar Children".  The book concludes with another addition to the Alden family household and I think we probably have our full cast of regular characters set for further novels.  A strong book in the series.

Friday, February 3, 2012

29. The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 386
Ages: 8+
Finished: Jan. 26, 2012
First Published: Oct. 1, 2010
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: steampunk, historical fiction, fantasy, mystery
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

When Giuseppe found the green violin, he did not think it would help him escape.

Publisher's Summary: "When Giuseppe finds a green violin washed up in New York docks, somehow he knows it will change his life. But how? The very same day, Hannah, a maid at a local hotel, gets a strange new mistress. Why are Madame X and her mysterious Russian minder living in a hotel? What are they hiding from? Across the square, Frederick, a clockmaker's apprentice, hides his dark terrors, and an amazing gift. There is nothing to link these three children, except the green violin and a chance encounter on the street. But soon they are swept away in an epic adventure. This is a mesmerizing story of chance, friendship, and courage. "

Acquired: Received a review copy from Scholastic Canada.

Reason for Reading: This book came unsolicited but I enjoy steampunk as well as stories set in Victorian-like eras, especially from the lower class point of view.

This is a tough book to categorize.  It centres around clockmakers, clockworks and an automaton within a Victorian (or Victorian-like) society and is obviously steampunk but from there it defies generalization.  There is a mystery; this is mostly realistic fiction but there is just that tiny hint of fantasy; the author's note let's us know that some of the events are a compilation from actual events in history, though no dates or name places are given to let us know whether this is happening on our Earth or an alternate Earth.  None of this really matters.  What the story is, is adventure at top-speed, unique plotline and a page turner.

I was hooked at the first chapter and was held in this book's grip until the wonderful satisfying end.  The three child characters are each fantastic as we get to know them and beautifully written.  They are all similar in age and yet they go gradually from eldest to youngest.  Each has a wounded soul and a problem in their lower class life that seems insurmountable.  As pairs of the three meet each other and start helping each other it isn't until the three finally all meet together they realize that each one holds the key to another's problem and as such sets forth the tale that will change each of their lives forever.

The book has a Dickensian feel to it.  Of course, starting with the Oliver Twist-like story of orphan Giuseppe and the buskers under the abusive thumb of Stephano.  Then with the motley cast of characters with names such as Mrs. Treeless, Mr. Grumholdt and Mr. Stroop.  A fantastic story that both readers of Victorian historical fiction and those of steampunk or sure to enjoy.  A brilliant first novel, full of characterization and a plot that doesn't let up until the end.  Very satisfying and recommended.  I'll be reading this author again!