Saturday, August 31, 2013

276. Hyperion and the Great Balls of Fire by Joan Holub

Hyperion and the Great Balls of Fire by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams. Illustrated by Craig Phillips
Heroes in Training, #4

Rating: (4/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Aug 6, 2013, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 125 pgs

Age: 6+

"Phew, it’s hot! Under the titan Hyperion’s rule, the sun is burning even brighter than normal and scorching everything in northern Greece—including the villagers! The Olympians are forced to play a sizzling “game” of Dodge the Sunbursts as Hyperion hurls giant fireballs that could fry them to pieces!
Armed with some clues, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades set out to figure out why in the world Hyperion has been making things so hot. They also need to rescue Hera, who is still missing. Battling the extreme heat—and some fantastical and scary creatures, courtesy of their old foe Cronus—the boys are off on another epic adventure…and Zeus is one step closer to discovering his destiny."

Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Another great entry in this wonderful series for young chapterbook readers.  I'm really enjoying these books and look forward to each new volume.  This one is not my favourite compared to the previous three but it holds it own and progresses the story well.  As we can tell by the title of this one, the villain takes more of a major role this time around as the heroes search out their quest for another magical item and the last of their missing Olympians.  A fun story with lots, and I do mean a lot, of action.  Introduction to more Greek mythology and one I particularly like about this series is the emphasis on the Titans, which are often harder to understand.  Many children's books start with the Olympians, glossing over the earlier Greek mythology of their origins.  This book has a definite feel of being the end of the first story arc.  By book's end we have accomplished one of the missions set out in the first book, gather together the six Olympians (3 boys, 3 girls).  New information is imparted to the group and while some open threads continue, new goals are also added.  This leads me to believe we are in for a long running series, like Holub's other series for girls "Goddess Girls", but one which will group books together in story arcs similar to the Magic Tree House series.  If so, I'm game and in for the long run.  Highly recommend this series for libraries!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

219. The Returned by Jason Mott.

The Returned by Jason Mott.
(The Returned, 1)

Rating: (5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Aug. 27, 2013, Harlequin MIRA, 352 pgs

Age: 18+

"Harold and Lucille Hargrave's lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they've settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time…. Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.
All over the world, people's loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why, whether it's a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he's their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human."

Received a review copy from Harlequin Canada (also an egalley through Netgalley!).

Utterly amazing!  It is hard to believe this is the author's first novel!  A book that picks you up from the first pages and carries you along for an incredible emotional ride until its final page.  I am especially attracted to books that deal with death and the everlasting life and when I heard about this book I was intrigued to say the least.  A very unique concept that I haven't come across before which made me think of a reverse sort of "Rapture" that was all the fad some years ago.  Instead of people disappearing ... what if the dead returned? Brilliant idea and carried off so well.  Written in a third person narrative with alternating chapters from the point of view of a "Returned" person.  Some of the Returned appear once while others tell their story over several of these chapters.  As a Christian I'm always leery going into a mainstream book like this on how the author will deal with the issue of religion and I was pleasantly surprised to find two of the major characters were Christian, the 8yo's mother and the small town's preacher.  These characters were both strong in their faith and endured crises of doubt.  Other characters were strongly atheist and altogether the author handled this aspect extremely realistically and wrote his characters beautifully.  His expert use of language makes it no surprise when one reads his short bio. to find out that Mott is a previously published poet.  I am thoroughly head over heels in love with this story and found the ending to be pure poetry itself.  After reading the novel I found out about the trilogy of prequels and read them as well.  They can be read either first, as published, or after as I did, for a return to this amazingly unique world..

Sunday, August 25, 2013

272. We'll Meet Again: Deathbed Visions - Who You Meet When You Die by Colm Keane

Sunday's Christian Book Review

We'll Meet Again: Deathbed Visions - Who You Meet When You Die by Colm Keane

Rating: (3.5/5)

(Kindle US) - (Kindle Canada) - (Kindle UK)

Jun 27, 2012, Penguin Ireland, 175 pgs

Age: 18+

"We do not die alone. That is the remarkable conclusion of We'll Meet Again, an extraordinary new book examining deathbed visions that will resonate with readers who have been mesmerised by the experiences recounted in books like Proof of Heaven and Embraced by the Light.

While there are many accounts of near death experiences - and We'll Meet Again includes more of these - far fewer are the accounts of the behaviour of the dying in their final days and hours. Now, award-winning journalist Colm Keane, author of the chart-topping accounts of near death experiences, Going Home and The Distant Shore, has written one of the most challenging studies ever compiled on this fascinating theme.

Those who have accompanied the dying, and closely observed what they have said and done, give us a fascinating account of what happens as we die. Dead parents, children, brothers, sisters and close friends are among those who return to meet us. Sometimes we see beautiful landscapes. Less commonly, we see well-known religious figures. Colm Keane also examines the scientific response to the prevalence of these visions.

Colm himself sat by his teenage son's deathbed as he died, and experienced the extraordinary light and peace that came into the room after his son had passed. In We'll Meet Again he talks to others who have been in his shoes and the book features a riveting collection of 70 real-life stories."

Received a review copy from the publisher through Netgalley.

I have been reading a lot lately on the topic of near-death experiences and people who come back to tell what they experienced in Heaven.  When the publisher offered me an ecopy of this title (it is only available on ebook) to review I was intrigued as it visited that topic but branched out mainly onto deathbed visions and other experiences of the dying and also those of friends and relatives of those who had recently died. While the book did not state it had any Christian content I was hoping to find some by the nature of the topic and the fact that all subjects interviewed for this book were Irish.  While the author makes a point of noting that these experiences are found among all peoples, regardless or creed, sex, age, or heritage I was pleasantly surprised to find the majority of the accounts were given by Catholics, of varying degrees of practice.  Their religion was never mentioned but the accounts would mention going to Mass, saying the Rosary, praying to the saints, etc.  Also while not all accounts were given by Christians almost all of them were, if not Catholic, then another denomination, so I was pleased the book proved to be what I was hoping for.

Divided into sections on deathbed visions, near-death experiences and other visitations which don't fit the other two categories such as relatives being visited the moment a loved one dies across the country or on the other side of the world, the book contains a diverse selection of accounts yet they all have one thing in common, all the participants are Irish born.  Keane has written two previous books on the topic of deathbed visitations and he lets us know this book is the result of an accumulation of significant accounts which didn't fit into his other books, simply because he ran out of space or because they didn't fit the specific theme of those other two books.  As such, what we get here is account after account which starts off truly fascinating but by its nature starts to become monotonous as the same but different experiences are recounted over and over.  My favourite section was the one where my personal interests lie, the near-death experiences, but I did enjoy reading the whole book until at a point in each section, repetition bred a certain monotony.  I'd recommend reading in small doses to avoid this. The accounts are written in the words of the participant or the one recounting the event for another so one gets a certain feel for each individual case and I truly believed some while having doubts about others.  All the information that I've read on this topic, that there is an afterlife, a Heaven and that we will meet our loved ones again was confirmed by these accounts; there was no new information, merely a atmosphere that so many experiencing the same thing cannot be wrong.  I also enjoyed the last chapter in which Keane takes all the common scientific "explanations" for death and near death phenomena and scientifically (or by reason) refutes them.  A short and interesting read for those interested in the topic.

Friday, August 23, 2013

274. Lost Cause by John Wilson

Lost Cause by John Wilson
Seven: The Series

Rating: (5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Oct 10, 2012, Orca Book Publishers, 224 pgs

Age: 10+

"Steve thinks a trip to Europe is out of the question—until he hears his grandfather's will. Suddenly he's off to Spain, armed with only a letter from his grandfather that sends him to a specific address in Barcelona. There he meets a girl named Laia and finds a trunk containing some of his grandfather's possessions, including a journal he kept during the time he fought with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. Steve decides to trace his grandfather's footsteps through Spain, and with Laia's help, he visits the battlefields and ruined towns that shaped his grandfather's young life, and begins to understand the power of history and the transformative nature of passion for a righteous cause."

Received a review copy from Library Thing's ER program.

I was interested in this series when I first heard about it.  What attracted me to it was a series of connected books where, it is proposed, the reading order does not matter.  The collection of Canadian authors contains one of my all-time favourites whom I read everything he writes, Shane Peacock.  So I would eventually at least read that one book for sure.  I'd read and enjoyed three of the other authors, have always wanted to read another one of them leaving me with only two new-to-me authors.  It sounded very promising.  I was pleased to have won this particular title as I have read and enjoyed a few of author John Wilson's books.

I was immediately engaged in the story right from the beginning.  The common set up between the books of the Grandfather giving the boys tasks to accomplish in his will is unique and had me interested.  The main character of the grandson Steve is well fleshed out and we get to know him very well throughout this book.  Wilson is mainly an historical novelist and while this is a contemporary story it is rooted in the past by means of a search into the Grandfather's past in Spain and the finding of his journal from the year 1938.  The book alternates with a present day narrative and journal entries of the young grandfather fighting in the 15th International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War ending with the final engagement at the Battle of the Ebro.  I found the story utterly compelling and engrossing.  I know virtually nothing of this war and learnt much from the personal point of view of a common soldier.  It also really made me think hard, the concept of fighting Fascism with Communism is very difficult for me to wrap my mind around; one evil fighting another.  The book has made me eager to read other books set during the Spanish Civil War should I come across them and I very much want to continue this series.  Occasional references were made to Steve's twin brother who had his own task to complete scattering their grandfather's ashes; so I think that is the book I will move onto next.  I am also very eager to see if picking and choosing the reading order will really make no difference to the enjoyment of the series.  I found this a total page-turner and it has solidified my opinion of John Wilson as a strong writer of historical fiction.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

269. The Heist by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg

The Heist by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg
Fox & O'Hare (1)

Rating: (4/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Jun 18, 2013, Bantam Books, 320 pgs

Age: 18+

"FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare is known for her fierce dedication and discipline on the job, chasing down the world’s most wanted criminals and putting them behind bars. Her boss thinks she is tenacious and ambitious; her friends think she is tough, stubborn, and maybe even a bit obsessed. And while Kate has made quite a name for herself for the past five years the only name she’s cared about is Nicolas Fox—an international crook she wants in more ways than one. 
Audacious, handsome, and dangerously charming, Nicolas Fox is a natural con man, notorious for running elaborate scams on very high-profile people. At first he did it for the money. Now he does it for the thrill. He knows that the FBI has been hot on his trail—particularly Kate O’Hare, who has been watching his every move. For Nick, there’s no greater rush than being pursued by a beautiful woman . . . even one who aims to lock him up. But just when it seems that Nicolas Fox has been captured for good, he pulls off his greatest con of all: He convinces the FBI to offer him a job, working side by side with Special Agent Kate O’Hare. 
Problem is, teaming up to stop a corrupt investment banker who’s hiding on a private island in Indonesia is going to test O’Hare’s patience and Fox’s skill. Not to mention the skills of their ragtag team made up of flamboyant actors, wanted wheelmen, and Kate’s dad. High-speed chases, pirates, and Toblerone bars are all in a day’s work . . . if O’Hare and Fox don’t kill each other first."

Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

I will start by saying I have not read Evanovich before; her Stephanie Plum books do not appeal to me as I'm not into that type of light-hearted PI mystery.  I was a little wary of starting this new series but must admit the FBI/conman team-up did have my interest and I while I don't read enough of them I do enjoy a "romantic" suspense every now and then as long as it is light on the romance.  This book was pure joy to read with Fox and O'Hare's relationship coming off as a classic TV detective partnership with unrequited sexual tension in the air.  In fact, as I read I couldn't help but feel as if this *was* a television show, probably because of Goldberg's extensive background in the industry.  An unusual set-up to get these two together for a lasting period of time makes for an intriguing and fun read.  This is light-hearted mystery, with lots of action, travel to Indonesia and a gathered group of eccentric people make up the crew for heists.  Nicolas Fox is the type of man you can't help but love and Kate O'Hare is an awesome kick-butt agent who struggles against her attraction to the conman.  I totally enjoyed them both as characters.  The type of mystery I don't read very often but it was a pleasure and I can't wait to see what they get up to in their next case.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

261. Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Rating: (3/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Aug 20 2013, Harper Collins, 320 pgs

Age: 14+

"Once you get in, there's no getting out.
For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, a summer program for gifted students is the chance of a lifetime. No one else at his high school gets his weird fascinations with history and science, but at the New Hampshire College Prep program, such quirks are all but required.
Dan arrives to find that the usual summer housing has been closed, forcing students to stay in the crumbling Brookline dorm—formerly a psychiatric hospital. As Dan and his new friends Abby and Jordan start exploring Brookline's twisty halls and hidden basement, they uncover disturbing secrets about what really went on here . . . secrets that link Dan and his friends to the asylum's dark past. Because it turns out Brookline was no ordinary psych ward. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.
Featuring haunting found photographs from real asylums, this mind-bending reading experience blurs the lines between past and present, friendship and obsession, genius and insanity."

Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

I was quite excited about this book: the plot and the photographs really appealed to me.  It didn't live up to my expectations, though.  The plot itself was good and is what kept me reading but the characters were unbelievable, especially when it came to dialogue.  The teens just didn't seem real; they bonded within hours, were having blow-ups within days.  They acted as if they had all grown-up in the same town together when in fact they had all just met.  The dialogue was weak; I didn't believe the teens would talk to each other that way; Jordan was snarky from the get go and the things that came out of police officer's mouths were hilariously unbelievable, in the real world.  So this put me off, not caring about any of the characters.  However, I did read the book to the end and didn't once think of putting it down as the plot was quite creepy and it isn't too often I come across a real horror story aimed at YA.  The horror works, this is not a book for under 14s and the photographs certainly add to the atmosphere.  This is a horror that falls into the paranormal subcategory and the ominous atmosphere kept me absorbed.  So, to conclude, cheesy dialogue and unbelievable situations put me off but a macabre plot kept me entertained.

Monday, August 19, 2013

267. Sleeping Funny by Miranda Hill

Sleeping Funny stories by Miranda Hill

Rating: (5/5)

( - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Jul 2, 2013, Anchor Canada, 320 pgs

Age: 18+

"Sleeping Funny is a rare book—a debut that introduces a mature writer in full possession of her powers, one who instantly draws you in with her sure voice, intelligence, and humour, and then keeps you reading with growing admiration and delight. Although they are united by these qualities, Miranda Hill's astonishing stories are otherwise notable for their protean variety. Rarely do we find a writer who can inhabit, with equal skill and empathy, the consciousness of a modern teenage girl trying to navigate an embarrassing Sex Ed class, a middle-aged country-village minister in the 19th century who is experiencing a devastating crisis of faith, a young pilot's widow coping with her grief by growing a "Victory Garden" during World War II, and a group of contemporary professional women living on a gentrified big-city street whose routines are thrown into disarray with the arrival of a beautiful bohemian neighbour. 
Here are strikingly accomplished stories—surprising and witty tales for readers who love to be drawn in and transported from first word to last."

Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

I had no idea who Melanie Hill was when I started to read this collection except that she is the wife of the award-winning Canadian author Lawrence Hill.  As I started reading Ms. Hill's stories I was astounded at how much I enjoyed them and I truly loved the outlook on life that they presented, though not always happy endings.  I had to stop after a few and google her to find out if she was Catholic as she read to me like a Catholic author.  Very little is available about her online but I did come across a CBC interview with her where she remarks that her work often carries the theme of miracles perhaps attributed "to being sent to Catholic school, even though my family wasn't Catholic. I was the little girl in the back pew, watching the other kids drink the wine that had been turned into blood."  These stories are wonderful and while a couple fell flat with me the others were so outstanding I was entirely satisfied with this collection and can't wait to read more from the author.  My favourite stories were "Because of Geraldine", "Apple" and "Rise: A Requiem (with parts for voice and wing".

1. The Variance - At sixty-two pages the first story in this collection could be called a novella as it reads like one with breaks for changes of view and passage of time.  I quickly settled into the community in which this is set: the upper-middle class street of lawyers' and doctors' families with their children and nannies.  Mothers who have high profile jobs but try to outdo each other with their commitments at the school to which all their children go.  Everything is peaceful and the same here until the Revivo-Smithermans move in to the old Anderson house.  They don't fit, especially Michal.  She turns her front lawn into a garden.  She has huge flyaway frizzy hair.  She wears her baby in a sling.  She is always home.  She seems to have all the time in the world.  The street at first ignores them, then feels them an irritation, until the day Michal hands out notices that she is requesting a zoning variance ... and they learn who she really is.  Personally, I related most to Michal and loved her quiet effect on the neighbourhood women.  She is a strong character, even though she remains mysterious and I was very satisfied with the ending.  Great introduction to this author!  (4/5)

2. Apple - SPOILERS.  I love this so much I just have to talk about it spoilers and all.  This is a bit of magical realism.  The Grade 8 class usually hands out (fake) electronic babies for the class to look after as part of the Family Studies class.  But they were broken this year and a new teacher took over.  She did something which made the class able to see her parents in flagrante delicto at the time that she was conceived.  Looking around the class every student was able to see this of the other students.  Outside of the class they could see this of everyone they met.  They couldn't see their own though; someone else had to tell them what they saw.  Many are embarrassed, hurt or shocked by the circumstances under which they see themselves and others were conceived.  The ability eventually goes away and is not discussed in class but it has lasting effects on the narrator who later chooses abstinence with her boyfriend, not trusting birth control as 100%, and "for our kid, I'd want something better."  Boyfriend agrees with a smile.  An "out there" story but brilliantly pro-life! (5/5)

3. Petitions to St. Chronic - A man jumps from a 24 story building and survives.  It is a miracle!  Three strangers gather to keep vigil at the hospital wanting to see him when he comes round: a Catholic man, a woman with a history of helping broken men and the narrator, an abused wife.  Wonderful!  A story of healing but not for the one you would think.  Loved the religious overtones.  (5/5)

4. 6:19 - A man's train pulls over every evening at 6:19 to let another train pass and while he watches out the window a woman gardening in her backyard, he starts to fantasize about her and her home.  The story is really much more complicated than that and more about the man's feelings about his life, marriage, job: the worthiness and purpose of it all rather than having any plot.  I just didn't like this guy and couldn't care about the story. (3/5)

5. Because of Geraldine - The eldest daughter of a couple narrates as she reflects back on her parents marriage which was always overshadowed by the father's first true love who ran away to Nashville to be a star.  Then Geraldine returns one evening to play at the local legion and everything for her parents will forever be changed.  Absolute sweet, pure perfection!!  I can't imagine any story being better than this one.  My favourite in the collection!  (5/5)

6. Precious - At 49 pages this is the second longest story in the collection so far and could be called a novella by some.  It is a completely compelling story. It is a sad story and one finds it hard to like the characters.  Alex is seven when his baby sister is born.  Alex is described as having a Picasso painted face and a twisted frame.  He receives little affection from his parents but when his undeniably beautiful sister is born he is merely tolerated as long as he doesn't interfere with the sister.  The mother obsesses and overprotects Kristi-Anne to such an extreme extent that she shares her room with her and the father is delegated to the couch, but the father is awed by his daughter and the new maternal instincts of the mother have made him fall in love with and respect her once again.  The ending is ambiguous.  It certainly is tragic for all concerned asking them realise what is truly precious in the end, but is the final event a release or tragedy for the one most concerned.  Thought provoking!   I still like "Because of Geraldine" better but this is still worthy of (5/5)

7. Digging for Thomas - Quite a short story this time.  A woman's husband is off to war, probably WWII. She notices that his things are slowly disappearing, little things like pipe and socks and she gathers more of these items together and leaves them for "them" to take.  After they receive word of his death in action, she and their little son work on a little garden which seems to represent the man's life to them.  Then one not-so-fine day a big storm comes along breaking a secret and pulling apart the planted garden.  One sees the characters learn to accept death for what it is. Only ok compared to the others. (3/5)

8. Rise: A Requiem (with parts for voice and wing) - Splendid!  Set in the late 1800's we have a Gothic story of a minister on trial, doctors using corpses for practice, grave-robbing and the Apocalypse. What a tale. Absolutely delicious!  I loved it!  (5/5)

9. Sleeping Funny - A woman returns to her small home town after fleeing from it to Vancouver to have a baby out of wedlock.  She's always made excuses not to return.  Her mother's died and now her father is so ill, she finally must return to look after him for his final time, however long that will be.  Her young daughter becomes attached to Grampa, reading him stories, but eventually he dies and now the house has been inherited by the daughter.  A story of running away from home is really one of running from oneself, and upon returning one doesn't have to deal so much with what was left behind but with who the person was when they were running and coming to terms with the problem that still exists never going away until she came back to face it.  A nice story, I enjoyed the characters very well, especially the daughter Melanie, but I did find my mind wandered through the reading.  Probably the weakest story in the collection. (2.5/5)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

221. St. Jude Thaddeus: Patron of Difficult or Hopeless Cases by Donald J. Thorman

Sunday Christian Book Review

St. Jude Thaddeus: Patron of Difficult or Hopeless Cases by Donald J. Thorman.

Rating: (3/5)

Out of Print

November, 1958, 1979, Claretian Publications, 32 pgs
Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur

Age: 18+

Purchased from a garage sale.

I picked this up because I knew nothing about St. Jude and it served its purpose.  Not exactly exciting reading material but informative, though slightly naive and apologetic.  It seems to be coming from a point of view in time when praying to the saints was either frowned upon or not understood properly so it spends quite some time explaining exactly why and how Catholics do and should pray to the Saints.  We get the history of St. Jude, he was one of the Apostles, and some stories about him.  Then after the already mentioned discussion on saints, it discusses personal devotion to a saint and then why one would choose St. Jude.  Then it speaks of the National Shrine to St. Jude in Chicago and finally ends with a common prayer to St. Jude.  I'm a more informed person for having read it and I was lucky enough to find a lovely old prayer card inside the booklet as well which has the same prayer on it!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Captain Underpants Vol. 1 & 2 by Dav Pilkey

265. The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants, #1

Rating: (3/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

1997, Scholastic, 121 pgs

Age: 7+

"George and Harold's principal, mean old Mr. Krupp, doesn't like the pair's pranks or their comic books. And he's cooked up a plan to catch George and Harold and stop their shenanigans — once and for all! Here's the story of what happened when that plan back-fired, and Captain Underpants leaped off the page to save the day!"

My son received this as a Christmas gift some years ago.

I had only read one Captain Underpants book so far, and that was the latest one, #10.  No need to add yet another review to the hundreds out there of this first one, so just giving my brief observations as a newcomer. Starting back at the beginning with the first book is fun to see how George and Harold turned their nasty, mean principal into the fun-loving superhero.  This book has one flip-o-rama section and one comic book section, making the rest of the book illustrated text.  It actually had a lot more text than I had expected.  A fun story to start the series off with but not exactly hilarious.  I much preferred  book 10 than #1, good to see the series got better as it went along!

273. Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets by Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants, #2

Rating: (5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

1999, Scholastic, 139 pgs

Age: 7+

"After George and Harold tamper with their classmates' science projects, they create the most horrible, life-threatening monsters ever: the terrible Talking Toilets and their evil boss, the tyrannical Turbo Toilet 2000. Can anyone save the school from these crazed carnivorous commodes? Watch out, world — because big briefs are back!"

My son received this as a Christmas gift quite a while ago.

With the second book in the series, Pilkey picks up steam and presents a totally hilarious story.  Following the same formula as the first book, this one ups the fun factor with a couple of comic sections and two Flip-o-ramas.  Funnily enough toilet humour is limited to the presence of toilets and there were laugh out loud moments even for me!  Book one was just OK however with the second outing for Captain Underpants Pilkey doesn't hold back and we get to see that he's fully capable of: making kids laugh, with outrageous silliness and humour of a kind that kids and adults will get on different levels.  These books really helped my learning disabled reluctant reader become interested in reading and while not Newbery Medal material, this is what kids, and some adults, actually enjoy reading!  Fun!  I hope the next one continues on this level.

Friday, August 16, 2013

263. 50 Below Zero Board Book by Robert Munsch.

50 Below Zero Board Book by Robert Munsch. Art by Michael Martchenko

Rating: (3/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Jun 13 2013, Annick Press, 10 pgs

Age: 2+

"All night long, Jason gets woken up by strange noises that lead him to find his dad in the most unexpected places—from on top of the refrigerator to the freezing cold woods outside his house. In order to finally get a good night’s sleep, Jason musters up all of his resources and comes up with a most unexpected solution—tying his dad’s toe to the bathroom doorknob to keep him in place.
Now available as a simplified, toddler-friendly board book with revised art by Michael Martchenko, this story will delight young children discovering it for the first time"

Received a review copy from Annick Press through NetGalley.

I thought this would be a board book edition of the 1985 picture book "50 Below Zero".  One of my favourite Munsch books.  Instead it is an adaptation of that book, which has had the text simplified and the  art has also been revised.  The basic plot of the original story manages to come through fine enough but its rollicking humour is inevitably lost in this simplification.  If you want a book baby can chew on, this may be your way to go.  But I'd rather read the original aloud, even to toddlers.  This will be a personal preference as to which you chose.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

DNF. The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Rating: DNF

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

2012 UK; July 23 2013, Hogarth/Random House, 21/304 pgs

Age: 18+

"Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car. She is headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can't remember what’s happened, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and Anais’s school uniform is covered in blood.  Raised in foster care from birth and moved through twenty-three placements before she even turned seven, Anais has been let down by just about every adult she has ever met. Now a counter-culture outlaw, she knows that she can only rely on herself. And yet despite the parade of horrors visited upon her early life, she greets the world with the witty, fierce insight of a survivor.  
Anais finds a sense of belonging among the residents of the Panopticon – they form intense bonds, and she soon becomes part of an ad hoc family. Together, they struggle against the adults that keep them confined. When she looks up at the watchtower that looms over the residents though, Anais knows her fate: she is an anonymous part of an experiment, and she always was. Now it seems that the experiment is closing in.
Named one of the best books of the year by the Times Literary Supplement and the Scotsman, The Panopticon is an astonishingly haunting, remarkable debut novel. In language dazzling, energetic and pure, it introduces us to a heartbreaking young heroine and an incredibly assured and outstanding new voice in fiction."

Received a review copy from Crown/Random House.

I don't give reviews of DNFs; I just like to tell my readers why *I* couldn't finish the book.  I loved the plot; it sounded like something I would really like.  However as I started reading I was put off immediately.  There is one thing that I can't tolerate and that is narrators who swear constantly.  It feels like they are swearing at me; it's one thing for characters to swear at each other in dialogue but for a narrator ... no, not for me.  Anyway, as i read the language was extremely vulgar, with huge amounts of the f-word per page and not just your run of the mill bad language but the really coarse stuff.  I usually give a book a 50 page chance before DNF-ing it but I was so put off with the language I stopped at page 21 and randomly opened the book further on to see if things improved.  I scanned the one page  I opened up to and counted 11 f-words, okay, maybe I hit a bad page.  Tried again and this time on one page got 9 f-words.  Disgusted, I closed the book.  I have no opinion on the content of the book as I couldn't even tell what I read in those first pages.  If extreme language doesn't bother you then continue checking out reviews to decide if this book will be for you.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

260. Mr. Happy by Roger Hargreaves

Mr. Happy by Roger Hargreaves
Mr. Men, #3

Rating: (5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK edition)

1971; 1997 Revised Edition, Price Stern Sloan/Penguin, 32 pgs

Age: 3+

"Mr. Happy meets Mr. Miserable and is determined to make him happy, too!"

Purchased a used copy a long time ago, probably from a thrift store.

Short and sweet.  Both the book and my review.  A children's classic, that can be enjoyed with just as much pleasure today as when it was written in 1971.  Adorable story about being happy that will keep the attention of all who read it.  I read the originals myself as a child in the early 70s and read them again to my children. The illustrations are the type that will have children trying to draw the men themselves and achieving good results.   I'm wondering though what the "revised edition" means.  The 1997 edition is still currently being published in North America.  I have a feeling it may just have had "British-isms" removed but will have to find an early edition to compare someday.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

254. Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn

Rating: (3.5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Aug. 6 2013, Simon & Schuser, 512 pgs

Age: 18+

"More than forty years ago Charles Manson and his mostly female commune killed nine people, among them the pregnant actress Sharon Tate. It was the culmination of a criminal career that author Jeff Guinn traces back to Manson’s childhood. Guinn interviewed Manson’s sister and cousin, neither of whom had ever previously cooperated with an author. Childhood friends, cellmates, and even some members of the Manson Family have provided new information about Manson’s life. Guinn has made discoveries about the night of the Tate murders, answering unresolved questions, such as why one person on the property where the murders occurred was spared. 
Manson puts the killer in the context of his times, the turbulent late sixties, an era of race riots and street protests when authority in all its forms was under siege. Guinn shows us how Manson created and refined his message to fit the times, persuading confused young women (and a few men) that he had the solutions to their problems. At the same time he used them to pursue his long-standing musical ambitions, relocating to Los Angeles in search of a recording contract. His frustrated ambitions, combined with his bizarre race-war obsession, would have lethal consequences as he convinced his followers to commit heinous murders on successive. "

Received a review copy from the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada.

I read Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter back in the day but have to say my mind has become dim on the actual facts of the Manson case.  I've seen documentaries, clips of interviews with Manson; I remember the news when each of the girls were released from prison.  And I remember the murder, the Tate murder, but not the others.  This book brings everything about Charles Manson together in a cohesive story.  It's not just a story of the psychopath though, it is also a story of the era in which he was able to thrive.  It's a story about the sixties, flower children, gurus, Vietnam, Nixon, college riots, racial unrest and domestic terrorism.  I found this part of the book absolutely fascinating.  The part I found the most engrossing was his childhood story and then how he came to gather The Family together in the first place before the killings began.  Manson's delusions would be comical if they hadn't resulted in such vicious violence.  I also found Manson's Hollywood story, wanting to be a rock star, and especially his connection with Dennis Wilson (of the Beach Boys) fascinating.  This book does not glorify Manson at all, in fact, it does the opposite, always bringing the reader back to the victims, all nine of them.  The book is written in an easy to read, story-like narrative but is not exactly a page-turner.  Thus I would at times put it down and come back to it a few days later, but whenever I was reading I was engrossed.  The book does a great job of defining the whole era that Manson found himself in and also in de-celebritizing Manson and putting him where he belongs, just another sociopath, thankfully, in prison for life.

Monday, August 12, 2013

253. The Accident by Linwood Barclay

The Accident by Linwood Barclay

Rating: (3.5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Aug 9, 2011, Bantam Books, 400 pgs

Age: 18+

"It’s the new normal at the Garber household in Connecticut: Glen, a contractor, has seen his business shaken by the housing crisis, and now his wife, Sheila, is taking a business course at night to increase her chances of landing a good-paying job. 
But she should have been home by now. 
Waiting for Sheila’s return, with their eight-year-old daughter sleeping soundly, Glen soon finds his worst fears confirmed: Sheila and two others have been killed in a car accident. Adding to the tragedy, the police claim Sheila was responsible. 
Glen knows it’s impossible; he knew his wife and she would never do such a thing. When he investigates, Glen begins to uncover layers of lawlessness beneath the placid surface of their suburb, secret after dangerous secret behind the closed doors. 
Propelled into a vortex of corruption and illegal activity, pursued by mysterious killers, and confronted by threats from neighbors he thought he knew, Glen must take his own desperate measures and go to terrifying new places in himself to avenge his wife and protect his child."
Received a review copy from the publisher, Random House Canada.

I'm a little behind with Barclay and glad to have gone back and caught up with this title.  Barclay never disappoints me.  I can always count on him presenting an unusual crime and a thriller with many twists and turns.  The Accident, once again, delivers.  I'll just start by saying this wasn't my favourite of the author's as I didn't find it as intense as others I've read.  Oh, the twists and thrills were there but I just felt as if I knew they were coming just before they happened.  There are several related crimes going on here and I figured some of it out but the ultimate reveal I hadn't guessed, though I didn't find it too surprising by that point.  The whole playing out of what went down was quite the story though!  One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the main character's dealing with his wife's death.  He goes through the various stages of grief and he was a likable character.  Mind, he was explosive and had a temper, but his reactions to the astonishing unfolding of events while dealing with grief were very real and I enjoyed reading him.  So putting my ramblings together :-) another good thriller from Barclay, not his best, but good nevertheless.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

231. Animals of the Bible by Isaac Asimov

Sunday Christian Book Review

Animals of the Bible by Isaac Asimov. Pictures by Howard Berelson

Rating: (3.5/5)

(US) - Out of Print

1978, Doubleday & Company, 32  pgs

Age: 6+
"Discusses the origins and folklore of forty-five animals mentioned in the Bible"
Purchased a secondhand copy from a book sale.

I love Asimov as a science fiction writer and I've read a number of his non-fiction science books for children.  He is a great writer.  He is also known for being a great atheist and is well-known for some stinging remarks made about the Bible/believers and his atheistic quotes are favourites of his like-minded fellows.  So seeing that he wrote books about the Bible and Bible stories during the days he professed to being agnostic (admittedly feigned) is quite humorous and since I'd never actually come across one before I had to pick this up especially when I saw the gorgeous illustrations.  Each page is devoted to one animal and has a paragraph of information, obviously the hippopotamous' is longer than the aurochs'.  Berelson has used sepia tones and a medieval style to present slightly fantasized though realistic versions of the animals in his illustrations.  This is a beautiful book to look at.  Asimov's introduction is a combination of telling us how important the bible is while stating that it is all legends.  Knowing his true beliefs he has actually written quite a friendly intro. about the Bible and the plants and animals mentioned.  He hopes this book "will make the Bible mean just a little more to you."  This is actually funny because 4 years later in 1982 he is quoted as saying in the secular humanist magazine, Free Inquiry, " I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."  Did he waste his time writing his bible story books for kids?  Probably not, he got paid.  Anyway, Asimov is a storyteller and has a nice narrative voice when writing non-fiction which is imperative when writing such for children.  Thus, while each page only contains a snippet of text, it is engaging as well as interesting.  Best feature is the compilation of Biblical beasts and the contemporary medieval-style illustrations.  The book is a looker!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

252. Ready Freddy! Shark Tooth Tale by Abby Klein

Shark Tooth Tale by Abby Klein. Illustrated by John McKinley
Ready, Freddy! #9

Rating: (3.5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

2006, Scholastic, 95 pgs

Age: 5+

"Get to know Freddy Thresher, the first grade shark expert with an uncanny knack for mischief. Join Freddy in this adventure as he schemes and scrimps, trying to earn enough money to buy an awesome fossilized shark tooth. Packed with humor, illustrations, and even factual information about sharks."

Purchased a new copy at a Scholastic Book Fair some time ago.

I'd never even heard of this series for beginning chapterbook readers and was pleasantly surprised to find it an enjoyable read.  The story was fun with several events taking place for excitement.  I enjoyed that the whole family was part of the story including the parents. I only disliked the bickering with the older sister; it was a bit too mean for my tastes but otherwise the characters were well written if cliched: the bully, the snooty girl, etc.  Educational information was placed into the story in a natural way, in this case about the prehistoric shark, the Megalodon.  Freddy is in Grade 1 and the series will appeal to younger elementary while certainly being aimed at boys.  I was also surprised at the quality of the illustration.  McKinley has a flair and style that is a cut above the norm.  I loved his characters and they certainly enhanced the story.  I would want to try another before fully recommending the series but at book #9 it is probably representational of the others.  A fun story!

Friday, August 9, 2013

SHORT STORY: The Choice by Jason Mott

The Choice by Jason Mott
a short story
The Returned (Prequel Trilogy, #3)

Rating: (5/5)

(Kindle US) - (Kindle Canada) - (Kindle UK)

Aug 1, 2013, Harlequin MIRA, 32 pgs

Age: 18+

"In this short story by Jason Mott, author of The Returned, a man is forced to choose between the life he has now, and the one he thought was gone forever...
Peter Galvin was just seventeen when Tracy Whitland--the love of his life--vanished without a trace. In the years after her death, he had finally moved on, gotten married, started a family. He is content with his life now--happy, even.... Until Tracy suddenly and inexplicably returns.
For weeks, Peter and his wife, Samantha, have been watching mysterious reports of people's loved ones returning from beyond, the world spinning into uncertainty and chaos. But they never imagined it would happen to them. With Tracy's unusual homecoming, Peter and Samantha must decide where they can possibly go from here, and whether their family can survive...."

Purchased free on Amazon Kindle.

Beautiful, warm, lovely story about love. The difference between strong emotional teenage love and mature married love that has begotten children.  Making amends with the past, the need for closure, questioning whether infidelity of the mind is any different than the act itself.  Strong real characters. Wonderful!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

249. A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay

A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay

Rating: (4/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Aug 6, 2013, Doubleday Canada, 512 pgs

Age: 18+

 "It's been two months since private investigator Cal Weaver's teenage son, Scott, died in a tragic drug-related accident. Ever since, he and his wife have drifted apart, fracturing a once-normal life. Cal is mired in grief he can't move past. And maybe that has clouded his judgment. Because he made a grave mistake driving home on a very rainy night. A drenched young girl tapped on his window as he sat at a stoplight and asked for a ride. And even though he knew a forty-something man picking up a teenage hitchhiker is a fool, he let her in the car—she was the same age as Scott and maybe she could help him find the dealer who sold his son the drugs that killed him. However, after a brief stop at a roadside diner, Cal senses that some thing's not right with the girl or the situation. But it's too late. He's already involved.
Soon Cal finds himself mired in a nightmare of pain and suspicion. Something is horribly wrong in the small town of Griffon in Upstate New York. There are too many secrets, too many lies. And Cal decides to expose those secrets one by one."

Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Grr. I'm quite frustrated.  I wrote a nice long review of this a couple of weeks ago and I was just about to post it when POOF I lost it.  Now my memory is hazy and on top of that I've read another book by the author since so this is going to be hard to re-write the review.  So I'll keep it brief.  I loved this so much!  I did figure out a lot of what was going on but not the ultimate unsub and as usual Barclay throws in the twists and turns so the end is not what you think it's going to be.  This was a page turner for me; I just couldn't put it down,  Normally a book with over 500 pages intimidates me but with Barclay I look up and I'm at the halfway point before I even realise it.  It's been a while since I read Barclay and I'm so glad to get back on the wagon!  Sorry for the unusual brevity of this review.  Not Barclay's very best, but pretty high up there!