Tuesday, July 31, 2012

197. A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

Pages: 384
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 20, 2012
First Published: May 22, 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Historical Fiction, China, 1920s
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "I unhappily report that even Bicycling for Ladies with hints as to the art of wheeling - advice to beginners - dress - care of the bicycle - mechanics - training - exercises, etc., etc. cannot assist me in this current predicament: we find ourselves in a situation."

Publisher's Summary: "It is 1923. Evangeline (Eva) English and her sister Lizzie are missionaries heading for China’s ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar. Though Lizzie is on fire with her religious calling, Eva’s motives are not quite as noble, but with her green bicycle and a commission from a publisher to write A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, she is ready for adventure.

In present day London, a young woman, Frieda, returns from a long trip abroad to find a man sleeping outside her front door. She gives him a blanket and pillow and in the morning discovers the bedding neatly folded and an exquisite drawing of a bird with a long feathery tail, some delicate Arabic writing, and a boat made out of a flock of seagulls on her wall. Tayeb, in flight from his Yemeni homeland, befriends Frieda and, when she learns she has inherited the contents of an apartment belonging to a dead woman she has never heard of, they embark on an unexpected journey together.

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar explores the fault lines that appear when traditions from different parts of an increasingly globalized world crash into each other. Beautifully written and peopled by a cast of unforgettable characters, the novel interweaves the stories of Frieda and Eva, gradually revealing the links between them, and the ways in which they each challenge and negotiate the restrictions of their societies as they make their hard-won way towards home."

Acquired:  Received an egalley from the publisher through Netgalley.

Reason for Reading: First off the title attracted me, then secondly I was both interested in the location and time period as these are favourite topics of mine.

A very intriguing story that kept me hooked from start to finish.  Told in two points of view.  One the first hand account of the diary of Eva as she travels through 1920s China as a Christian missionary at a time when it is under major Muslim upheaval.  Second, the third person narrative of a modern day English woman and Arab immigrant man who meet surreptitiously and together put their lives back on track.  I found the historical element entirely gripping and engrossing.  I always enjoy stories told through journal entries and found Joinson has used this device well; bringing the reader into not only the time period and the plot but also the geography of a land that no longer exists in today's world.  I found her detail for description to be just the right amount to bring her world to life without getting bogged down in tedium.   It is a hot, dry, thirsty world and was perfect for my time spent reading in the hot days of summer.  I totally loved the characters in this part of the story as well, though not actually personally liking anyone except Eva, they were all very large as life personalities who brought a tale of religious riot to life.

On the other hand I found the modern day story somewhat lacking.  Taking up much less space than the other story, less time is given to developing the characters and I never felt connected to either Frieda or Tayeb.  Their story seemed somewhat rushed, their connection not quite coherent and honestly Freida's story could have been told to greater depths without the Tayeb connection.  This could have allowed the author to concentrate more on the mother/daughter theme which runs through the book but got lost and wasn't fulfilled to any great satisfaction.  Freida and Tayeb's story was a pleasant diversion though and while I wasn't happy with how it connected to the past, it did connect, and proved itself in the end. For fans of epistolary fiction and historical fiction that concentrates on society and character rather than events.

Monday, July 30, 2012

171. Sunset by Christos Gage

Sunset by Christos Gage. Art by Jorge Lucas. Introduction by Duane Swierczynski (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 160
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jun. 23, 2012
First Published: Jul. 31, 2012
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: graphic novel, crime, mafia, noir,
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "Mr. Bellamy?" "Hunh?" "I was asking what you did during the war."

Publisher's Summary: Sometimes all you can do is go out with guns blazing! In the noir tradition of Chandler and Spillane comes Sunset, a two-fisted tale of revenge and redemption. On the surface, Nick Bellamy looks like any other veteran retiree left behind by a modern world. In reality, Nick is a former enforcer, who stole a fortune and years of freedom from his former mob boss. Now, in the twilight of his life, Nick will lose everything he cares about except two things: revenge... and the chance to die with his guns blazing! Writer Christos Gage (Avengers Academy, GI Joe: Cobra) and artist Jorge Lucas (The Darkness) promise to hit hard with Minotaur Press' first original graphic novel and make you forget all about your Prius and organic whole-grain trans-fat-free diet!

Acquired: Received an egalley from the publisher through Netgalley

Reason for Reading: I loved the total crime/mob/revenge theme.  I'm really getting into GN's that are far removed from the usual fantasy/sci-fi subgenre, not that I'm giving those up, just branching out!

This is fantastic! Definitely one of the best GN's I've read this year, if not *the* best. Dirty, gritty, old-fashioned noir, starring a  77yo man from that gangster world of the past but now drawn into the one of today.Nick Bellamy looks like a senior citizen but he also looks like he was a tough guy in his day, and less noticeably still is.  When his 30 years of living a quite, good life with the woman he loved are over after his former mob boss gets out from prison and hunts him down to make amends, Nick decides to either exact revenge or go down in the middle of the fight.   A dark, violent story showing mostly what gangsters were like thirty years ago compared to today.  Nick has the advantage.  The book also has humour, as Nick gets back out into the real modern world he is confronted with all the whiny, lazy, "pansy" behaviour of modern people and it makes him sick.  Hi reactions to modern devices, trends and behaviour put a smirk on your face and when he finds out what a "MILF" is, his reaction is priceless!  Nick's not a guy to like, a cold-blooded killer, a murderer for hire, a hitman who enjoys his job but he is surrounded by others who could probably be called worse than him until he finds the real love of a woman which makes him turn his back on it all, yet always prepared for the day when his past will come calling.  Even though Nick is an anti-hero, he has friends that truly care for him. Engrossing, riveting, a must read!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

196. Beneath the Shadows by Sara Foster

Beneath the Shadows by Sara Foster (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

Pages: 320
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 16, 2012
First Published: Jun. 5, 2012
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: mystery, thriller, Gothic, psychological suspense
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "They should be home."

Publisher's Summary: "When Grace’s husband, Adam, inherits an isolated North Yorkshire cottage, they leave the bustle of London behind to try a new life. A week later, Adam vanishes without a trace, leaving their baby daughter, Millie, in her stroller on the doorstep. The following year, Grace returns to the tiny village on the untamed heath.  Everyone—the police, her parents, even her best friend and younger sister—is convinced that Adam left her. But Grace, unable to let go of her memories of their love and life together, cannot accept this explanation.  She is desperate for answers, but the slumbering, deeply superstitious hamlet is unwilling to give up its secrets. As Grace hunts through forgotten corners of the cottage searching for clues, and digs deeper into the lives of the locals, strange dreams begin to haunt her. Are the villagers hiding something, or is she becoming increasingly paranoid? Only as snowfall threatens to cut her and Millie off from the rest of the world does Grace make a terrible discovery. She has been looking in the wrong place for answers all along, and she and her daughter will be in terrible danger if she cannot get them away in time."

Acquired: Received an egalley from the publisher through NetGalley.

Reason for Reading: The publisher's summary totally gripped me plus my family is from Yorkshire so I gravitate towards books set there.

Absolutely gripping.  What a ride!  This psychological suspense is a classic Gothic tale set on the Yorkshire moors complete with a mysterious dark handsome man, a manor on the hill and ghostly residents.  Starting off with an entirely likable main character, Grace is a woman who is all around feminine, maternal, independent and feisty.  Completely believable, she sets out to find the truth about her husband's disappearance no matter her family or friends' opinions and yet at times finds herself overwhelmed, questioning her decisions and possibly her sanity.  Never missing a beat, the plot is wound up tightly until the reader is not sure who they can trust or if anyone is being honest.

I read this book in two sittings, only because it was getting so late I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.  It is not often that one reads a debut so masterfully written as this.  Beneath the Shadows reads as if it were coming from the pen of an accomplished author.  Though the book has a modern setting, the eeriness of the Gothic atmosphere gives it a timelessness.  There is a large cast of characters, so not everyone is fully developed, but those who play major roles are given plenty of attributes for the reader to reflect upon them as possible guilty parties.  What I loved about this book is that the reader is looking for what actually happened and who knows about it at the same time.   Many things build up over the course of the book until the end comes barreling down with reveal after reveal to a stunning closing.  I genuinely enjoyed this Gothic suspense from first time Australian author Foster.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

195. Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson

Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survivedby Andrew Wilson (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

Pages: 416
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 15, 2012
First Published: Mar. 6, 2012
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: non-fiction, history
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "The sound of the screaming was the worst thing, they said."

Publisher's Summary: "IN the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, the icy waters of the North Atlantic reverberated with the desperate screams of more than 1,500 men, women, and children—passengers of the once majestic liner Titanic. Then, as the ship sank to the ocean floor and the passengers slowly died from hypothermia, an even more awful silence settled over the sea. The sights and sounds of that night would haunt each of the vessel’s 705 survivors for the rest of their days.

Although we think we know the story of Titanic—the famously luxurious and supposedly unsinkable ship that struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Britain to America—very little has been written about what happened to the survivors after the tragedy. How did they cope in the aftermath of this horrific event? How did they come to remember that night, a disaster that has been likened to the destruction of a small town? 

Drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished letters, memoirs, and diaries as well as interviews with survivors’ family members, award-winning journalist and author Andrew Wilson reveals how some used their experience to propel themselves on to fame, while others were so racked with guilt they spent the rest of their lives under the Titanic’s shadow. Some reputations were destroyed, and some survivors were so psychologically damaged that they took their own lives in the years that followed. 

Andrew Wilson brings to life the colorful voices of many of those who lived to tell the tale, from famous survivors like Madeleine Astor (who became a bride, a widow, an heiress, and a mother all within a year), Lady Duff Gordon, and White Star Line chairman J. Bruce Ismay, to lesser known second- and third-class passengers such as the Navratil brothers—who were traveling under assumed names because they were being abducted by their father. 

Today, one hundred years after that fateful voyage, Shadow of the Titanic adds an important new dimension to our understanding of this enduringly fascinating story."

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

Reason for Reading: I belong the Titanic Reading Challenge and have had a life long interest in the Titanic.

An exciting non-fiction read that concentrates on the people aboard the Titanic who survived and what became of them. Starting with a chapter on the sinking itself and then devoting another chapter to the rescue aboard the Carpathia the book then devotes a chapter each to either one lone survivor or those related by a certain theme such as a later chapter in the book called "The Dark Side of Survival" which recounts the lives of several survivors who ended up committing suicide. All the famous survivors are given their spot in this book such as the Duff Gordons, concentrating on Lady, Madeliene Astor, Bruce Ismay, Jack Thayer, Dorothy Gibson, Edith Rosenbaum, etc. Also some more obscure stories of people who weren't famous to begin with or didn't become so until afterwards are told and these little tidbits are the most interesting to me. The author has had access to a plethora of documents and includes many quotes from unpublished memoirs of survivors, which really bring the history of these people alive. Wilson also keeps heavily in mind the Edwardian society and ideology of the time and how the Titanic was a symbol of this, and its sinking was the beginning of the end of these idealized "happy" days and strict class systems. A riveting read that keeps one glued to the pages even when one knows the Titanic story quite well to begin with.

Friday, July 27, 2012

194. Xenoholics, Vol. 1 by Joshua Williamson

Xenoholics, Vol. 1 by Joshua Williamson. Art by Seth Damoose (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 126
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 14, 2012
First Published: Jun. 5, 2012
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: graphic novel, science fiction
Rating: 2.5/5

First sentence: "I said ... TAKE ME TO YOUR F*CKING LEADER!"

Publisher's Summary: "The critically acclaimed series is collected in trade paperback!
Are you addicted to aliens? Late night encounters? Abductions? Probes? Then become a member of Xenoholics Anonymous! Members of a support group that claim to be victims of alien abductions try to solve the mysterious disappearance of the Doctor who led their group but find themselves involved in a larger conspiracy. X-files and Fire in the Sky meet Chew in this exploration of the xenoholic subculture.

Collects XENOHOLICS #1-5"

Acquired: Received an egalley from the publisher through Netgalley

Reason for Reading: The publisher's summary caught my attention.

This starts off pretty lame. Rather vulgar and juvenile with no real plot for the first three issues then something happens and things start to get interesting. A plot develops from a couple of twists and the book ends with a cliffhanger that leaves one wanting to find out what happens next. The illustration is cartoonish and adds to the non-seriousness of the "drunk college guy"-type of humour and language. This is not one I'd recommend running out to buy but if you happen across it, meh. I'd probably read volume 2. but I'm in no hurry.

DVD Break: Justice League Unlimited: Saving the World

Justice League Unlimited: Saving the World - (2005) - (DVD) - (animated) - (library)
Originally released in 2004 this contains three episodes from Season One of the Justice League Unlimited (JLU) TV Series that ran from 2004-2006. It contains the pilot episode 1 "Initiation" which brings the story of how Green Arrow joined the League. Next is episode 4 "Hawk and Dove" which introduces to the audience the brotherly superteam of Hawk and Dove who join with Wonder Woman to fight against Aries the God of War and his robot "The Annihilator".  Finally, this disc ends with episode 3 "Kid Stuff" which has founding members Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman turned into kids to battle against Mordred after he has removed all adults from the world.  This was great!  Ds and I both loved it.  It's a more polished and slightly more mature series than the one we watched previously.  This one is rated PG, while yesterday's was G.  JLU contains like 50 superheroes and each episode features a few characters sent off by J'onn J'onzz (the leader) to go on a mission.  We both thought "Kid Stuff" was hilarious but agreed that the first episode "Initiation" was the best of the three.  We have another JL DVD out from the library so our marathon continues ...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

193. Dreams of Gold by Jonathan Chamberlain

Dreams of Gold by Jonathan Chamberlain (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

Pages: 230
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 14, 2012
First Published: Jan. 2, 2012
Publisher: Long Island Press
Genre: comedy, British farce
Rating: 3/5

First sentence: "The carp in the pool swirled in a sudden frenzy for the crumbs of dried bread that the man scattered over the surface."

Publisher's Summary: "Heart-warming, surreal and very, very funny.
How The London 2012 Olympics were saved from the bizarre schemes of a mad dictator
P.G.Wodehouse meets Tom Sharp with a dash of Spike Milligan.
Wales - the land of poets and sporting heroes . Rowan Jones, the up-and-coming Welsh poet, accidentally finds himself attracting a motley crew of disaffected athletes from all over the world to his eccentric farmhouse deep in the heart of Wales.
There's Jeremiah the Tennessee backwoodsman, Marguerite the French existentialist, Yoshi and Toshi, the Japanese identical twins, Leonardo the Italian hunk, Solomon, the Hassidic weight-lifter, and Mad Mike and Jade and Kono and Ayesha and all the rest of them....
And then there is the mad dictator, Osmanakhian.
And Perkins, the quintessential English butler, is not all he seems.
And what about Anna? Well, Anna is... Oh dear, it's much too complicated. I'm afraid, you'll just have to read this book to find out."

Acquired: Received an egalley from the author.

Reason for Reading: I don't usually read comedies but the book sounded quirky enough to pique my interest because I *do* like quirky.

This book read like a movie to me; one of those ensemble pieces like "Rat Race" except I imagined it more like something they just don't make anymore.  As I read, the book visualized in my mind as an old Monty Python or Carry On movie.  Not that the theme is old or anything, in fact it is quite modern.  There is a gender-bender theme running throughout (even though that is beyond my tastes) one can see just how quirky this story is.  Even though the book deals with some "R" rated themes and jokes it is not vulgar, not in the same way as Chuck Palahniuk or even Christopher Moore, at times.  I must say the book is quite funny but will not be to every one's tastes.  It is irreverent and was on the borderline for me.  Disregarding the theme already mentioned I found the characters, the farce and the plot, such as it is, highly amusing.  The topic of the London Olympics is very now and this will make a fun summer read for those who enjoy a British farce.

DVD Break: Justice League - Secret Origins

Justice League: Secret Origins - (2002) - (DVD) - (animated) - (own)

Originally released in 2001 as the first 3 episodes of Season One of the Justice League TV Series that ran from 2001-2006.  This pilot movie introduces how the Justice League came to be with the introduction of J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, though he's never referred to by his superhero name in these episodes.  Totalling 60 mins. we love this episode.  Neither of us has watched it since ds was much younger, but it all came back as we re-watched it. This is a good production, intense but not dark with plenty of humour, suitable for the younger crowd as well.  My favourite character is Hawkgirl; I just love her weapon.  I usually love Flash but here he's portrayed mostly as a doofus who rushes into things without thinking first and an eye for the ladies, especially newcomer Princess Diana, who has not been named Wonder Woman in this episode.  The other characters are already established: Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern. We will be donating this to the library; they don't have it but they do have 3 other Justice League DVD's so I asked ds if he'd like to borrow those and do a bit of a JL marathon and he was eager.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

191. Super-Pets Showdown by Sarah Hines Stephens

Super-Pets Showdown by Sarah Hines Stephens. Illustrated by Art Baltazar (US) - (Canada)
DC Super-Pets

Pages: 49
Ages: 6+
Finished: Jul. 12, 2012
First Published: Jan. 1, 2012
Publisher: Picture Window Books
Genre: children, early chapter book, superheroes
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "Inside the Hall of Justice, Streaky curled into a ball on Supergirl's chair."

Publisher's Summary:  "While the LEGION OF SUPER-PETS is busy protecting the universe, their KENNEL OF JUSTICE is attacked! The LEGION OF PETS hopes to pull the heroes' headquarters out of orbit and send it crashing down to Earth. Thankfully, PROTY, the shape-shifting SUPER-PET, is still aboard the doomed den. However, before he can save the world, this spineless specimen must prove he's more than just a pile of goo."

Acquired: Received a review copy from Capstone Publishing.

Reason for Reading:  Ds loves this series and read this to me as his reader.

This is a special story in a way as it gathers together a group of super-pets that we've already met at the Justice League headquarters, with the exception on one new character, Proty.  Everyone, human and pet is out on missions when a group of super villain pets (whom we've already met) comes in with plans to attack Earth.  It's great fun seeing all the familiar faces and remembering (or trying to) which pet belongs to which superhero or villain.  A fun story!  On the other hand what made it fun made it difficult for my struggling reader to read; the multitude of different names for all the different characters simply had him lost.  He couldn't read them or remember them as there were just too many.  The book was overall just a tad too hard for him to read anyway at a 3.0 but usually he gets so into these stories he doesn't mind the struggle.  This one was just a bit too much and I shared reading with him occasionally to keep him from becoming frustrated.

DVD Break: Transformers

Transformers - (2007) - (DVD) - (own) - This is the first movie and ds and I have both seen it more than once.  We originally saw it in the theatre and the whole family thought it was spectacular; the big screen is definitely the place to watch this one for full effects.  We all went to see #2 in the theatre but I was underwhelmed, the guys liked it though and for number 3 I stayed home and the guys said it wasn't that great but they still enjoyed it.  So the best thing about this is the Transformers themselves; the special effects are fantastic and I just love every moment they are onscreen.  There is lots of humour and we laughed and had a good old time with this, not stellar, but simply fun! sci-fi/action movie.  After watching it ds decided that he did not want to donate it but would rather keep it with his movie collection for future viewing in case the desire should arise.  Rated PG-13 for the language used, needlessly coarse, but mostly the "tamer" curse words.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

190. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Tim Conrad

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Tim Conrad (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 48
Ages: 16+
Finished: Jul. 11, 2012
First Published: Jul. 24, 2012
Publisher: Dark Horse
Genre: graphic novel, classic, historical fiction, romance
Rating: 3/5

First sentence: "On January 6, 1482, the city of Paris reverberated with the tumultuous clanging of bells."

Publisher's Summary: "Tim Conrad adapts Victor Hugo's classic romance about a beautiful gypsy girl, Esmeralda, who is framed for murder by the infatuated Archdeacon of Notre Dame. Only Quasimodo, the hideously deformed bell-ringer of the cathedral, can save her.

Religious extremism, class distinction, fate, destiny, and sexual dynamics are played out in a rousing yarn of intrigue within the walls of the Parisian cathedral of Notre Dame."

Acquired:  Received an egalley from the publisher through Netgalley.

Reason for Reading: I enjoy reading graphic adaptations of the classics.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one classic which I love not because I've read the book but because of the movie.  It was regular fare for me to watch the Charles Laughton version whenever it appeared on TV when I was a child growing up.  I've never read the book and somehow don't think I will as I have not been lucky with French Literature but I have my own sense of the story from the movie and the adaptations I've read over the years.

This edition very much plays up the sexual angle of the story, making us see the sexual history and motives of everyone involved from priest to gypsy girl and King's Guard to the hunchback himself.  The plot has been well captured but brought down to a seedy level until no one seems to have the morals worthy to continue with their own life.  I've always had compassion for the hunchback in other versions, this version makes him as morally corrupt as every one else in the end.  Perhaps he reclaims some sort of bittersweet humanity in the way of his death, but again he looses that because of his choice to die.  Perhaps this is more true to the original book than I have been exposed to before, if so I appreciate that but personal preference sends me to preferring my Charles Laughton idealized vision.

I can't say the illustration did much for me.  The facial features were large and brutish and even Esmerelda was unatrractive to look at.  No, I must say this was not a very satisfying retelling for me.

Monday, July 23, 2012

188. Reed Gunther by Shane & Chris Houghton

Reed Gunther,The Bear Riding Cowboy: Volume 1 by Shane & Chris Houghton (US) - (Canada)
Reed Gunther, Volume 1

Pages: 184
Ages: All Ages (10+)
Finished: Jul. 9, 2012
First Published: Nov. 22, 2011
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: graphic novel, western, humour, paranormal
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "Life on the road, huh Sterling? Life on the road."

Publisher's Summary: Everyone's favorite bear-riding cowboy gallops into his first collected edition! REED GUNTHER and his trusty grizzly bear steed bumble their way through the wild west fighting giant snakes, hoards of mole creatures, a resurrected John Henry zombie, freak show freaks, special government agents, and all sorts of wild monsters created by an ancient mysterious Idol! This colored collection of excitement, friendship, and adventure is fun for folks of all-ages!"

Acquired: Received an egalley from the publisher through Netgalley.

Reason for Reading: Just my kind of mix!  Western, humour and monsters advertised as an all ages romp!  Just had to see what this was all about.

Reed Gunther is pure cowboy!  He wants nothing but to roam the western wilderness making himself useful, helping out any poor maiden in distress and riding his faithful steed wherever they may roam.  Things are not quite so ordinary for Reed though.  His faithful steed just happens to be a huge grizzly bear named Sterling, who can't talk but can understand Reed.  Reed finds a person of the female persuasion to help out but a maiden in distress she is not as she comes out hacking with a sword trying to get him off her land.  They do reach an amicable agreement though and if Reed can remember that this lady is one of the guys they'll get along just fine, finer than fine, and roaming the wild west turns out to be more dangerous than a cowboy could have thought when one must fight against mole men, zombies, giant snakes, and many weird monsters.

Written  a bit like a tall tale both Reed and Sterling seem to have the strength and agility beyond that of a normal man and grizzly, add in Starla, the female rancher, and she's an equal match for the macho duo.    This is a fun romp that really does manage to cross age boundaries; there is nothing inappropriate for the younger audience and yet the story and plot are real and intense for a more mature audience.  There is humour to be appreciated by all and personally I had a rip-roaring good time with this entire graphic.  I loved all three main characters and trying to decide on a favourite makes me unable to pick one over the other.  The trio is entirely delightful.  I can't wait to read the second volume which will finish up the conclusion of this mini comic series.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

187. Captain Awesome To the Rescue by Stan Kirby

Captain Awesome To the Rescue by Stan Kirby. Illustrated by George O'Connor (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
Captain Awesome, #1

Pages: 167
Ages: 5+ (Suitable for older struggling/reluctant readers up to 12)
Finished: Jul. 9, 2012
First Published: Apr. 3, 2012
Publisher: Little Simon
Genre: superhero, adventure, humour
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "Where's my Captain Awesome cape?" Eugene grumbled as he searched his closet.

Publisher's Summary: "Eight-year-old Eugene McGillicudy is an imaginative boy who loves comic books and superheroes. Eugene also has his very own supersecret superhero alter ego named Captain Awesome. MI-TEE!

When the McGillicudy family relocates to a new town called Sunnyview, Eugene starts a new school, finds a best friend, and even finds time to defend his toys from his two-year-old little sister, Molly! Luckily for Sunnyview, Captain Awesome is there to protect the town (and the universe) from a hilarious cast of comical “bad guys.”

With easy-to-read language and illustrations on almost every page, the Captain Awesome chapter books are perfect for beginning readers."

Acquired:  Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.
Reason for Reading: Ds read aloud as his reader.

A beginning chapter book for five to eight year olds and yet not written down to children that it keeps the attention of older reluctant or struggling readers.  My autistic son is 12 and quite enjoyed himself with Captain Awesome & Turbo's first adventure.  I also was very pleased.  Nice large text, pictures on every 2-page spread, often more than one, makes use of all typical superhero devices and connects with the child as they imagine someone like themselves becoming a superhero and saving their family, town, school, etc.  The language is simple at this reading level and yet it manages to contain humour, a fun plot and typical kidspeak, "dude".  We have some others in the series and ds is looking forward to the further adventures of.  Great start to a welcome new series especially appealing to boys.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

180. Under the Bright Lights by Daniel Woodrell

Under the Bright Lights by Daniel Woodrell (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
Bayou Trilogy, #1*
*my copy was contaned in this current omnibus edition.

Pages: 160
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 1, 2012
First Published: 1986, omnibus edition: Apr. 28 2011
Publisher: Mullholland Books
Genre: southern fiction, crime noir
Rating: 3/5

First sentence: "Jewell Cobb had long been a legendary killer in his midnight reveries and now he'd come to the big town to prove that his upright version knew the same techniques and was just as cold."

Publisher's Summary:  When a city councilman is gunned down, Rene Shade refuses to write off his death as a burglary-homicide as he is ordered to do. Now, Shade's quest for the truth leads him on a chilling chase through a treacherous swamp of leeches and cottonmouths--while dodging his own unresolved past.

Acquired: Borrowed a copy through Inter-Library Loan.

Reason for Reading: I am in the process of reading all of the author's works.  This is his first book.

Being Woodrell's first book, this is very different from what he has become known for, that is his Ozarks fiction of poverty ridden families.  "Under the Bright Lights" is the first in a trilogy of hard-boiled Philip Marlow-esque, deep south, southern fiction, police procedural crime stories.  Quite a mix of genres there that is a little clumsy for a first time writer, but pulls together nicely by the middle of the book and shows where Woodrell is going to go with his future books.  Set in fictional Saint Bruno, the state is never mentioned, but the geographical clues lead me to believe we're looking at Louisiana. 

Rene Shade is the main character, a police Detective, once former boxer, who made it to the championship, but lost.  Small rather rural town-city where everyone knows everyone Shade can't live down his boxer reputation which has its perks as wells as cons, being an upholder of the law now.  This is a mystery where we are first introduced to the killer, his kill and his flight and we then follow the police as they search their way through the clues and intuitions to discover that killer.  But as often happens, one murder leads to another and Shade has his hands full.  We are sent into the underbelly where we find semi-crooked politicians, porn kings, gangs (the new mafia-type controllers of the city) territorial gang fights and those who get involved in this seedy world.  A violet book, sad and brutal.  It did take me some time to get into it but once I did I was hooked.  The main theme revolves around the French gang versus the Black gang with Shade and the police caught in the middle trying to catch the culprit behind all the killings, not necessarily just the trigger man. 

A good book if you enjoy noir mysteries or Southern fiction mystery.  Word to the sensitive though, the book does contain a lot of racist language (the n-word and equally offensive descriptors for other ethnic groups) which while unpleasant is totally in sync with the times and these particular characters.   I've enjoyed the two Ozarks books  read so far, but this was interesting and shows the author's raw talent.  Will be interested to see how he develops as an author over the course of the next two books in  the trilogy.

Friday, July 20, 2012

186. The Dispatcher by Ryan David Jahn

The Dispatcher by Ryan David Jahn (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

Pages: 368
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 7, 2012
First Published: Dec. 27, 2011
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: thriller,
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "Ian Hunt is less than an hour from the end of his shift when he gets the call from his dead daughter."

Publisher's Summary: From the author of the award-winning debut crime novel Good Neighbors - a white-knuckle thriller about the lengths a man will go to for his daughter.

The phone rings. It's your daughter. She's been dead for four months.

So begins East Texas police dispatcher Ian Hunt's fight to get his daughter back. The call is cut off by the man who snatched her from her bedroom seven years ago, and a basic description of the kidnapper is all Ian has to go on. What follows is a bullet-strewn cross-country chase from Texas to California along Interstate 10- a wild ride in a 1965 Mustang that passes through the outlaw territory of No Country for Old Men and is shot through with moments of macabre violence that call to mind the novels of Thomas Harris."

Acquired: Received an egalley from the publisher through Netgalley.

Reason for Reading:  I love a good thriller and the publisher's summary pulled me into giving this one a go.

When I sat down to start reading this book which has closer to 400 pages than 300, it was early in the morning and little did I know I would be in the same spot that evening tapping to the final pages of this addictive read.  My back was sore, my thumb ached (from tapping pages on my Kindle Touch) but I had just been on the most thrilling ride of my recent reading life.  I've read some pretty good books this year; 186 and counting so far with many 4 and 5 star rated reads but it has been quite some time since I read a thriller in one day and felt like I was on the edge of my seat the whole way through!

The story only takes place over several days, four or five I'm guessing.  Again this is a mystery where the reader knows the culprit and the thrill is first in watching the police discover who he is and then once he becomes known a wild cross country chase takes place which keeps the pulse rate high and the chest tight. The narrative switches points of view between the father, the daughter and the kidnapper; each starting at different points in time to get the background story told but they do quickly join up so that the narratives flow together in the present.  I love this approach when we know who the culprit/killer is, as getting inside his head/mindset is very intriguing.  Jahn has written one of those books that you pick up and just cannot put down until you finish.  The pace is fast, the writing sparse, dialogue driven, the plot includes both violence and unexpected twists, no one is safe and the ending feels like it could only have been that way.  This would make a good movie!  And I am going to read Jahn's first book "Good Neighbours" as soon as I can, which has been compared to Hitchcock for it's suspense!

Monday, July 16, 2012

184. Peg and the Yeti by Kenneth Oppel

Peg and the Yeti by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Barbara Reid (US) - (Canada)
Peg (#2)

Pages: 32
Ages: 4+
Finished: Jul. 6, 2012
First Published: 2004
Publisher: Harper Collins Canada
Genre: picture book, Canadian author
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "Peg was born upon the bright blue sea."

Publisher's Summary: "Peg, who was born on the bright blue sea, figures she’s spent enough time sloshing around the bottom of the world. She’s determined to climb the world’s tallest mountain, because, as she’s heard, the view is quite something. Despite the warnings of other climbers -- “You’ve got no gear!” “There’s wind storms!” “They say there’s a monster up there: the Yeti!” -- Peg continues to climb.

Several close encounters with a grumpy Yeti don’t discourage Peg one bit, especially when she finds the Yeti has a yen for her tasty pork scruncheons. Now Peg wants to get onto the summit, but the Yeti won’t go away."

Acquired:  Borrowed a copy from my local library.

Reason for Reading:  I am reading all of the author's books.

This is the second in the adventures of Peg series.  Peg likes things that are big and best and this time she decides to climb Mt. Everest. Told in the format of a tall tale this is a fun, over-the-top adventure that will have kids laughing at the unbelievable abilities Peg is capable of.  Her Yeti encounter starts off a little frightening but Peg soon turns the monster into a teddy bear and her fun doubles as he joins her on the trip back home.  The book ends with Peg ready for another adventure and we see her on what looks like a fishing boat headed down the Amazon, leaving the book open for a sequel which Oppel has chosen not to follow up on.

This book would not be what it is without the artwork of one of Canada's leading picture book  illustrators, Barbara Reid.  Reid works in Plastoscene 2D sculptures that are intricate and detailed.  One can feel the texture and almost see the images coming off the page.   Any book illustrated by Reid is worth picking up for her art alone.  I saw her once on the kids' TV show "This is Daniel Cook"and she was amazing to see in action.

PS - I wish that kid didn't have to grow up, because that was a great show, my son (and I) loved it when he was little.  We never really took to his replacement Emily Yeung, she just didn't have his personality or was as cute, imho.   I love red heads; he reminded me of my nephew when he was little (now a highschool graduate!)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

183. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

Pages: 432
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 6, 2012
First Published: Jun. 5, 2012
Publisher: Crown
Genre: thriller, psychological suspense
Rating: 3/5

First sentence: "When I think of my wife, I always think of her head."

Publisher's Summary: "Marriage can be a real killer.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?"

Acquired: Received an egalley from the publisher at Netgalley.

Reason for Reading:  I loved Flynn's Dark Places and was excited to read another book by her.

I was excited to read this as I had enjoyed Dark Places very much and have seen the reviews for this popping up all over the place; while not reading them, I was taking note of the 4 & 5 star ratings.  I have to say I was a bit let down from my expectations.  As I started reading Part One,  I just really didn't find myself all that intrigued as I couldn't ge over how the events mimicked the Scott Peterson case item by item so of course I knew that meant the husband wasn't the killer because what kind of book would that be? So no suspense as everything was expected as it unraveled in Part One and I had thought of a few ideas as to what may be going on and was not shocked at the twist that came with Part Two.  Basically, the whole plot of the thriller didn't *thrill* me.  Now, I won't say I didn't enjoy it as I did once Part Two was under way, but I was underwhelmed.

Secondly, the two main characters, both the husband and the wife, I found completely repulsive.  I didn't like either of them as people and was unsatisfied with the ending.  I connected with the sister, Go, but it just isn't that compelling to read a crime story about people you don't care for.  So overall, while the plot had twists and kept me reading to find out how it all turned out in the end, I found this book to just be ok.

Friday, July 13, 2012

181. Bloody Chester by JT Petty

Bloody Chester by JT Petty. Illustrated by Hillary Florido (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 153
Ages: 18+
YA Appeal: Yes, the main character is 15/16, but beware this is violent and does contain the f-word.
Finished: Jul. 1, 2012
First Published: Jul. 3, 2012
Publisher:  First Second Books
Genre: graphic novel, western, horror, mystery
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "Pancakes.  And a whisky."

Publisher's Summary:  A deliciously gruesome horror tale set in the old west.

This isn’t John Wayne’s heroic old west.
This is the real deal: a filthy, disease-ridden frontier populated by losers, lunatics, and murderers. And when you’re a skinny teenager with no family and a name like Chester Kates, your options are limited. It’s stand up and fight or roll over and die, so Chester, aka “Lady Kate,” is set to fight until it kills him.
It isn’t much of a life, but it’s at least straightforward.
Until things go all cockeyed when Chester is hired to ride his horse (also named Chester) to a ghost town and burn it to the ground. Except the ghost town doesn’t just boast a tidy collection of mangled corpses: it also has three living inhabitants . . . who won’t be budged. But Chester’s been hired for a job, and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t burn the town to the last cinder.
Thing is, he may just be damned if he does.
This horror-Western-mystery graphic novel will send a thrill—and a chill—down your spine. Funny, fascinating, and downright horrible, this is a book that keeps you turning the pages.

Acquired: Received a review copy from First Second Books.

Reason for Reading: I always read anything new from this publisher that catches my eye!

This is a violent, brutal book and it starts off that way with a saloon fist fight.  This is particularly hard to read/look at as the main character, Chester, is only a boy; no age is given but due to how he is drawn and the fact that he *just* needs to shave, though not everyday, he looks to be about 15 to this reader. He's scrawny and on the short side. This makes it hard to watch him being beaten by a man of much more advanced years.  Chester's had a tough life like this and has the scars to prove it. 

This is a good story, but a hard one to like.  Not really a horror in my book as there is no supernatural element, though we are to consider one at times, but when the truth comes out in the end it is all the more horrifying because of the much to true brutality of man against man.  This is a story of revenge, no one person comes out a winner, but it is bittersweet in the end and as one "gets" the message, it is powerful.  Yet still a tough story to read, due to theme, graphic detailed images and language but if you like Westerns and contemplating the inhumanity of some humans; it is a worthy read.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

DVD Break - Osmosis Jones

Osmosis Jones - (2001) - (animated/real life) - (DVD) - (own) - Ds has seen this multiple times but I however had manged to make it up to this point without ever seeing this before.  Ds enjoyed as much as he probably usually does laughing at all the toilet-type humour jokes and getting grossed-out when they went a little too far.  I'll admit to even thinking this wasn't too bad (I've seen worse).  The inside-the-body parts were even educational at times.  A science class could possibly get away with watching this as curricula.  Cute, not bad, not a movie I'd watch more than once and even though ds has seen it multiple times he is plenty fine with donating it to the library.  I was a bit tickled to recognize David Hyde Pierce's voice as the cold/flu pill as he fit the character well. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

179. The King's Taster by Kenneth Oppel

The King's Taster by Kenneth Oppel. Paintings by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 32
Ages: 4+
Finished: Jun. 29, 2012
First Published: May 25, 2009
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: children, picture book, humour, food
Rating: 3/5

First sentence: "My name's Max, and I eat like a king."

Publisher's Summary:  Max is the cook’s dog. And because he is also the king’s taster, Max gets to feast on wild boar! cheese pies! rose pudding! No wonder Max loves his job. Who wouldn’t want to dine on these delicious dishes? The new king, that’s who. Max and the cook must find a new recipe—and fast. Otherwise, if the new king has his way, they’ll be losing more than just their jobs!

Acquired: Borrowed from my local library.

Reason for Reading:  I am reading all of the author's books.

This is the first time I haven't been thrilled with an Oppel book.  I have to say this one did nothing for me.  The boy king behaves like a spoiled brat throwing all food given to him against the wall, enabling the dog to enjoy the hearty left-overs.  It isn't until the end that he is found out to be a secret candy eater and has to be threatened with "telling his mother" does he become frightened enough to behave.  Said mother is never present in the book.  The boy king then tries the food, and night after night, low and behold, he discovers he likes it.  Not exactly any good role models to be found here and the message is lost when the boy has to be threatened with a parent.  The humour is lost on me.  Of course, the intended audience will enjoy the story if it is read to them without any interruption about the bad behaviour being displayed, if you want to celebrate such behaviour without consequences.

On a positive note,  the husband and wife team who illustrated this book did a magnificent job.  I just love the mixed-media collage paintings.  They've included fabrics and text from old recipe cards, candy wrappers and I believe they've used inks (though it may be water colours).  Just fantastic illustrations!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

178. Jack Vance's The Moon Moth by Humayoun Ibrahim

Jack Vance's The Moon Moth by Humayoun Ibrahim. Foreward by Carlo Rotella (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 128
Ages: 13+
Finished: Jun. 29, 2012
First Published: May 22, 2012
Publisher: First Second Books
Genre: graphic novel, science fiction, mystery
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "Ser Thissell?  The Moon Moth before me possibly expresses Ser Edwer Thissell?"

Publisher's Summary: A classic science fiction tale finds new life in this graphic novel adaptation.

A fascinating blend of murder mystery and high-concept science fiction, The Moon Moth has long been hailed as one of Jack Vance’s greatest works. And now this intricately crafted tale is available in glorious full color as a new graphic novel.

Edwer Thissell, the new consul from Earth to the planet Sirene, is having all kinds of trouble adjusting to the local culture. The Sirenese cover their faces with exquisitely crafted masks that indicate their social status. Thissell, a bumbling foreigner, wears a mask of very low status: the Moon Moth.

Shortly after Thissell arrives on Sirene, he finds himself embroiled in a an unsolved murder case made all the more mysterious by the fact that since everyone must always wear a mask, you can never be sure who you’re dealing with.

Acquired: Received a Review Copy from First Second Books.

Reason for Reading:  I love science fiction short stories.

This is the adaptation of a short story by Jack Vance and since I had not read the story in question I first did so before reading this graphic novel.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and was quite pleased to find it such a clever murder mystery set in a foreign, alien atmosphere.  This novel starts with the reproduction of an article from "The New York Times" magazine written about Vance and his being a genre writer and how it affected his success as a writer.  This is an interesting article but much better suited to those who are already fans of Vance.  This is my first introduction to the author, I have of course heard of him but never read him before.

The graphic is well done and stays true to the original.  It is quite an easy story to adapt since after the opening scenes the story is very much dialogue driven making it perfect for graphic adaptation.  The author has managed to keep true to the story and even use original text in some parts. What is harder, is to convey this story visually as it is a very absurd society and Ibrahim has shown that well in conveying the musical singing everyone speaks in and the use of bright bold colours.  This representation does take away from the cleverness of the solving of the actual mystery though.  The mystery is extremely compelling and its logical solution is astute.  The twist ending is fun and works very well in the graphic adaptation.  This graphic is not as good as the original story which I would give full 5/5, but it is a great adaptation and if it encourages anyone to read the original story then its homage has been successful.  I know I will read Vance in the future.

Monday, July 9, 2012

DVD Break: The Raccoons: Vol. 2

The Raccoons: Vol. 2 - (1987) - (DVD) - (own) Ds and I are going to watch some of our DVDs that we plan on donating to the library.  These are ones we/he haven't watched in ages or just don't really feel the need to *own* but would like to watch once more before they go.  And if we want to watch more we can always borrow them  from the library!  This vol. contains three episodes from Season 2 of the classic Canadian cartoon that ran from 1985 to 1991.  These are Episode 4 in which Cedric Sneer dams up the river to create his own electricity because his has been cut off due to non-payment. Episode 6 in which Melissa discovers some prehistoric cave paintings and Cedric Sneer scams to turn them into a money making tourist trap and finally, Episode 7 in which Cedric Sneer incorrectly overhears the doctor and thinks that he is dying instead of only having a cold.  With only a few days left to live the Raccoons set out to honour him in a big way.  I used to watch this with my eldest son back in the early 90s and enjoyed it at that time, but having not seen any reruns since wasn't sure what I would think now.  This cartoon has held up amazingly well and is well known for its amazing soundtrack with some well known 80s singers.  The cartoon focuses on environmentalism (in a good way) and friendship.  It is not soppy such as Care Bears and Cyril is hard to really hate because his son Cedric is the Raccoons best friend, and Cyril is, after all, his Dad.  Ds and I both enjoyed these ageless cartoons.  Recommended for families looking for something wholesome and non-violent, yet not gushy and sickly sweet.

177. The House at Sea's End by Elly Griffiths

The House at Sea's End by Elly Griffiths. (US) - (Canada)
Ruth Galloway Mystery, Book 3

Pages: 368
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jun. 28, 2012
First Published: May 3, 2011
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Genre: mystery, British police procedural
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:"Two people, a man and a women,are walking along a hospital corridor."

Publisher's Summary: In the third novel in the Ruth Galloway series, shoreline erosion at the village of Broughton Sea's End has revealed the skeletons of six men, their arms bound. From the mineral content of their bones, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway can tell that they were all Germans. Most likely, DCI Harry Nelson reckons, they were killed by the local Home Guard when they tried to land during the Second World War. This is just the first complication in a story brimming with surprise twists, not all of them stemming from these murders. Ruth is a new mum of a daughter she adores but whose existence is raising eyebrows and is testing Ruth's assumption that she can be a mum, a professional archaeologist, a teacher, and an adjunct to a murder investigation all at the same time.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.
Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

I enjoy this series but have to say this third book was not up to par with the first two books.  The book's focus was on a case from the past which wasn't entirely all that exciting.  The police investigation leads to witnesses and people involved turning up dead and the police believe they have a killer on their hands who doesn't want the truth of the past to become known.  This case is a little more interesting but the two are inseparably intertwined. 

While the murder investigations are going on "Sea's End" mainly seems to concern itself with the private lives of the two main characters Ruth and Harry, plus those of some minor characters within the police department as well.  I enjoy mystery series that contain a continuous story throughout with the main characters but this time the personal relationships overshadowed the mystery theme and I didn't really come upon any surprise twists.  One thing I did appreciate was the further development of Cathbad's character who has been proven to much more human in this entry, rather than the eccentric buffoon he's been up to this point. 

Another point I was puzzled with was the over emphasis on Catholicism.  Almost every character either was or had something to say about being a lapsed Catholic, anti-Catholic, or just shamed of their Catholicism.  Of course, Harry's struggle with his Catholic upbringing and faith has been discussed in the series before.  But this was so prevalent, with so many characters, I actually thought it was going to be a plot point in the solution of the case, but ended up realizing it was just the author's personal bias showing through.  A decent enough mystery, it held my attention and I read it quickly but not as good as the first two Galloway mysteries.  Hopefully the latest one gets back on track.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

176. Emma's Emu by Kenneth Oppel

Emma's Emu by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Kim LaFave. (US) - (Canada)
A First Flight Reader, Level 4: Chapter Book

Pages: 54
Ages: 8+
Finished: Jun. 27, 2012
First Published: 1999
Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Genre: early chapter book, humour
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "Emma opened the envelope with shaking hands."

Publisher's Summary: Emma is contest crazy. The only problem is, she never wins anything. Then one day a huge crate arrives on her doorstep. This must be the best prize ever, thinks Emma. Breathless with excitement, she opens the crate to reveal - an emu!
What will Emma do with her remarkable new pet? And what on earth will her mother say?

Acquired: Borrowed a copy from my local library.
Reason for Reading: One of my goals this year is to finish reading Oppel's backlist.

This is an extremely satisfying early chapter book.  Oppel's books nowadays are aimed more at teens and are rather dark and thought-provoking, that it is fun to see that when he started out writing his books were light-hearted and he has a wry sense of humour.  To me, the humour in the book reads as if it were British humour which I find more comedic with it's tongue-in-cheek, sardonic wit.  This is a fun, cute story that finds the main character and her friend, Howie, desperately trying to hide an Emu from her mother, that is until it escapes. Emma's obsession with contests, her letter that she has won the grand prize and an open ending leave this book wide open to have been the first in a sequel but Oppel never continued in that direction.  However the open ending could have kids guessing for ages what would happen next. 

The book is illustrated with line drawings on almost every page, though there are every now and then a two-page spread of pure text with no pictures.  One thing I loved with the illustrations is that Emma and Howie have been drawn emu-shaped themselves, with regular torsos, their hips and thighs spread wide out to match the shape of the emu and this also is a charming humorous effect.  Cute book that will appeal to both boys and girls.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

175. Baby's in Black by Arne Bellstorf

Baby's in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles by Arne Bellstorf. Translated by Michael Waaler (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 198
Ages: 18+
YA: 15+ with interest in real-life tragic romances (minor language & s*xual situations)
Finished: Jun. 26, 2012
First Published: May 8, 2012
Publisher: First Second
Genre: biography, history, 1960s, music, rock, celebrities
Rating: 4/5

First sentence: "Klaus?" "You won't believe where I've just come from!"

Publisher's Summary: A fascinating, exhilarating portrait of the Beatles in their early years.

Meet the Beatles . . . right at the beginning of their careers. This gorgeous, high-energy graphic novel is an intimate peek into the early years of the world’s greatest rock band.

The heart of Baby’s In Black is a love story. The “fifth Beatle,” Stuart Sutcliffe, falls in love with the beautiful Astrid Kirchherr when she recruits the Beatles for a sensational (and famous) photography session during their time in Hamburg. When the band returns to the UK, Sutcliffe quits, becomes engaged to Kirchherr, and stays in Hamburg. A year later, his meteoric career as a modern artist is cut short when he dies unexpectedly.

The book ends as it begins, with Astrid, alone and adrift; but with a note of hope: her life is incomparably richer and more directed thanks to her friendship with the Beatles and her love affair with Sutcliffe. This tender story is rendered in lush, romantic black-and-white artwork.

Baby’s In Black
is based on a true story.

Acquired: Received a review copy from FirstSecond Books.

Reason for Reading: I love this publisher. I love graphic biographies. I love The Beatles.

The publisher's summary does a more than adequate job of describing what this book accomplishes, even to the point of telling you how it ends. Of course, this is a true story and many will know the ending before they start to read anyway, but it would be nice for them to have left that off for the few of us new to this part of The Beatles' history. I knew about Pete Best and was vaguely aware of there being a friend of John's in the group at the beginning but had no idea of the Stuart Sutcliffe story. This was an interesting tidbit for me to add to my Beatles trivia. The story is bittersweet, sad and lovely all at the same time. Stuart seems to have been a very nice guy. The Beatles may have been quite a different group if Stuart hadn't decided to follow his dream to be a painter, but then time was against him from the start and we will never now what he may have accomplished.

This book is very much about Stuart, his love Astrid and the German friend Krauss. The Beatles themselves are background characters and used for there place within the tragic romance of Stuart and Astrid. Hardly a John and Yoko affair, everyone was happy for the young couple and wished them the best. The group was just hitting the ground running at the time Stuart left not leaving any time for sadness, regrets or bad feelings. This book will not really tell you much more about The Beatles than you already knew but it will open up a small hardly known touching story that shaped the lives of The Beatles in their very young beginning days (George is only 17 at this time).

Friday, July 6, 2012

174. Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth, Volume 01 by Gerry Finley-Day

Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth, Volume 01 by Gerry Finley-Day & Alan Moore. Art by Dave Gibbons, Cam Kennedy, Brett Ewins, Colin Wilson, Mike Dorey & Eric Bradbury  (US) - (Canada)
Rogue Trooper, Vol. 01

Pages: 400
Ages: 15+
Finished: Jun. 25, 2012
First Published: 1981-1983 (this edition May 15, 2012)
Publisher: 2000AD
Genre: graphic novel, science fiction, warfare
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "The planet Nu Earth. Nu Earth -- Just another battle-ground in a galaxy-wide war ... its atmosphere poisoned by chemical weapons."

Publisher's Summary: "Nu-Earth, a planet ravaged by war, its atmosphere poisoned by chemical weapons. In this battle-scarred landscape, the Norts and the Southers fight where only the Genetic Infantrymen can survive unaided. Rogue is one such soldier and these are his tales...

When three members of his unit are shot on a mission, Rogue pulls the bio-chips from their bodies and inserts them into his gun, backpack and helmet. Thus equipped Rogue, and his wise-talking buddies, make the most fearsome unit on Nu-Earth."

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

Reason for Reading: I've enjoyed everything I've read from 2000AD so far and this intrigued me as something quite different from what I usually read, yet still in tune with my tastes.

It's a bit daunting going into a 400pg collection of a comic one has never read before but Rogue Trooper had me hooked from the start.  The stories were originally published individually in the British comic book/magazine 2000AD.  Some stories are a couple of pages long, others several and eventually the stories continue in parts that carry on from 3 to 19 issues.  These stories are from the early 80s and are strictly science fiction (no paranormal or spooky nonsense).  There is a war being fought on this planet which the ins and outs of are explained over the course of several stories.  Rogue Trooper is a genetically engineered infantryman who carries upon him the personalities of three of his fallen buddies on bio chips inhabiting his helmet, supply bag, and gun.  Together they are the last of the GI's as the rest of them were annihilated in a massacre.  These men have decided to go rogue until they have discovered what happened at that infamous battle that slaughtered his fellow servicemen. 

This story is all gradually released slowly over the course of the individual stories and it gets deeper and more involved as the book goes along.  Some stories are minor sidetrack adventures, others are integral to the overall arching plot of Rogue's ultimate mission.  He does find out what happened that day, then searches for the person responsible, finds that person and then sets out to find justice for that person.  Many, many other events and sidetracks, some having to do with the war, some more personal and some just simply lighthearted occur along the way.  The book is definitely action oriented and plot focused but Rogue's character is explored and developed especially in the second half of the volume, as to a degree are the characters of the bio-chip buddies.  Many threads are left open, and storylines are left to continue by the end of this volume.  I found this a fun, entertaining read but certainly a product of the '80s.  As a side-note, the entire comic is written by Finley-Day except for the last two stories which come from Annual editions and are written by Alan Moore, so this is not recommended if you just are a Moore fan.  If you like 80s comics, science-fiction, war battles, space wars, and British humour this will be sure to please.  I'll be first in line, when I hear Vol. 02 is being published!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

172. The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 229
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jun. 24, 2012
First Published: Apr. 1, 2012
Publisher: Random House Canada
Genre: literary, historical fiction
Rating: 3/5

First sentence: "Dead, and no one told me."

Publisher's Summary: An automaton, a secret love story, a man and a woman who can never meet, and the fate of the warming world are all brought to incandescent life in this haunting new novel from one of the most admired writers of our time.

When Catherine Gehrig, a museum conservator and clock expert, finds out that her very married lover of thirteen years has dropped dead, she has keep her grief a secret. But with no outlet other than vodka, her sorrow is close to driving the hyper-rational Catherine mad. The only person who knew of their affair--her boss--tries to distract and rescue her by giving her a project that demands all of her attention: the reconstruction of an elaborate nineteenth-century automaton. In the crates containing its bits and pieces, Catherine discovers a series of notebooks written by Henry Brandling, who, in 1854, commissioned the extraordinary, eerie mechanical creature in an attempt to bring joy to his consumptive little son. Henry's is a personal account of his adventures in the wilds of Germany, a diary that brings Catherine unexpected comfort, fellow feeling and wonder. But it is the automaton itself, in its beautiful, uncanny imitation of life, that links Henry's life to Catherine's, as both are confronted with the miracle and catastrophe of human invention, and the body's astonishing chemistry of love and feeling.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading: Peter Carey's True History of the Kelley Gang is one of my all time favourite books and I've always meant to read another by the author. With this latest book coming out, the time period and the automata piqued my interest enough to decide to give him another go at this time.

I'm not even going to try and analyze just what the hidden, under the surface meanings are in this story, there are plenty but it gives me a headache looking at this book that way.  I just want to read it and enjoy  a good story.  Read it I did but I only found a mediocre story.  We start off on the first page meeting the main character, an adulteress, with no redeeming qualities.  Her married lover has just died and she is totally wrapped up in herself.  She has no cares for his children, whom he loved dearly and we learn that she often was jealous of them.  She is quite younger than this man and her life seems to have existed for their relationship together, and her job as an horologist at a museum secondly.  That's all, no friends, no family.  Catherine, or Cat, as she is commonly called is given a project to restore to help her with her grief by the only person at the museum who knew about her affair.

The text alternates between Catherine in the present dealing with her grief, possessiveness and selfishness as she becomes somewhat obsessive over the automata that she and a young assistant, whom she dislikes and distrusts, are working on.  Cat is also reading through the ledgers/journals that came packed with the assemblage which gives us the other view.  Henry Blanding tells his story set in the 1850s of how he came to a strange little German town and had an even stranger man build his clockwork duck for him.  His journal is written to his young son whom he promised this prized possession in hopes that it would make him well, as he is a sickly boy, most likely consumptive.  Henry also is not a rather likable fellow.  His wife has refused relations with him, denied to care for their son, since their first child, a daughter died the same way.  She is loveless to them and Henry is pathetic in his attempts to be all and do all for this cold woman who brings in an artistic crowd to their house to have her portraits painted.  Henry is eventually persuaded to leave the house, his search to make the automata his pretence for leaving.  While unlike Catherine, Henry does slowly change throughout the book, for the most part he is a weak man, easily taken advantage of, of superior mind of course being an Englishman, and emotionally volatile.

There is more to say, but I shan't go on.  The basic plot of the two stories was entertaining to read, the writing naturally superb, and I had no problem getting though the book quickly; I'm sure its short length helped matters though.  But I had no connection to any of the characters, not liking them, nor caring what happened to them in the end.  Not everyone is sane in this story and it's up to the reader to decide who is or isn't sane.  Perhaps they are all off their rockers.  The ending does little to satisfy this reader.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Victorian Challenge 2012 - COMPLETED

ETA - July 4. I have now read 6 books and have completed this challenge.

Laura's Review's is hosting this challenge. The Victorian Era is covered between 1837 and 1901. We can read books written during this time period, taking place during this time, or non-fiction about the people, history, culture, etc. of the time period. We can even watch movies with a Victorian theme. I pretty much read something Victorian every month so this is a good challenge for me. And the goal is to only read/watch between 2-6 Victorian items. Other than reading YS Lee's new Agency book, I'm just going to go with the flow on this one and see what comes my way. I'd like, of course, to get another Victorian true crime read, always a favourite topic of mine.


1. The Fairy Ring or Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure
2. The Best Ghost Stories, 1800-1849: A Classic Ghost Anthology edited by Andrew Barger
3. The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee
4. The Puppet by Eva Wiseman
5. Sacre Bleue: A Comedy d'Art by Christopher Moore
6. The Yard by Alex Grecian

7. The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey
8. Graphic Classics: Robert Louis Stevenson edited by Tom Pomplin
9.The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure by Martin W. Sandler

170. The Yard by Alex Grecian

The Yard by Alex Grecian (US) - (Canada ) - (Kindle)
Murder Squad, Book 1

Pages: 422
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jun. 21, 2012
First Published: May 29, 2012
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Genre: mystery, crime, police procedural, serial killer, Victorian, historical fiction
Rating: 5/5

First sentence: "Nobody noticed when Inspector Christian Little of Scotland Yard disappeared, and nobody was looking for him when he was found."

Publisher's Summary: Victorian London is a cesspool of crime, and Scotland Yard has only twelve detectives—known as “The Murder Squad”—to investigate countless murders every month. Created after the Metropolitan Police’s spectacular failure to capture Jack the Ripper, The Murder Squad suffers rampant public contempt. They have failed their citizens. But no one can anticipate the brutal murder of one of their own . . . one of the twelve . . .

When Walter Day, the squad’s newest hire, is assigned the case of the murdered detective, he finds a strange ally in the Yard’s first forensic pathologist, Dr. Bernard Kingsley. Together they track the killer, who clearly is not finished with The Murder Squad . . . but why?

Filled with fascinating period detail, and real historical figures, this spectacular debut in a new series showcases the depravity of late Victorian London, the advent of criminology, and introduces a stunning new cast of characters sure to appeal to fans of The Sherlockian and The Alienist.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Penquin Books (Canada).

Reason for Reading: I love Victorian mysteries, especially when they actually focus on early policing.

Superb! Splendid!  I am thrilled to hear this is the first in a proposed new series.  The Yard has everything I want in a Victorian crime: authenticity, atmosphere and a peek into the underbelly of Victorian life.  Though none are used as characters in the book, the book is peopled with real-life personages from the era to lend authenticity and one can tell much research has been done on the author's part as the book lives and breathes Victorian London, one can almost see the fog rising from the pages and smell the stench as a page is turned.  Grecian has devised a wonderfully wicked murder mystery that involves not only one but two serial killers and not only two crimes but a handful of others which keep the characters busy and the reader on his toes trying to piece things together.  This is one of those mysteries where we the reader are given access to the murderer from the beginning and the sport is in watching how the police solve the case.  Mind you, there are also a handful of other crimes going on, some related, some not, but all somehow coming together one way or another.  Incredibly genius really.  I so enjoy a clever mystery and this is one by far.

A major aspect of the novel is the introduction of forensic sciences.  This book focuses on fingerprints and how they were first discovered and put into practice in policework.  The general disdain for the practice except for a few forward thinking people and the amazing results as the "coroner" for the Yard applies them to the job.  We also are introduced to a great cast of characters, main and auxiliary, who hopefully will be following into the next book of the series.  Both of the main sleuths are green, but very clever.  Quite different from each other in circumstances and character, Detective Inspector Walter Day and Constable Nevil Hammersmith both share a sense a duty and justice.  I did find the first hundred pages slow reading, but that is the type of book this is, they were slow, but not boring in the least.  I was drawn in right from the captivating first sentence and while the first hundred pages slowly draws us into the era, the characters, the cases on hand, the rest of the book was a riveting, fast, hard-to-put-down mystery of London's underbelly, depravity and trauma.  Book two's focus is said to be on the introduction of the use of photography into policing and I'm looking forward to it with glee!