Can't Stop Reading

Lucky for me I get a hefty discount at work, because I just can't seem to stop myself!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Its kind of shocking how much you don't read when you spend most of your days sightseeing and most of your evenings drinking wine from a box. Who knew?

One of the few things I have read while I've been here is something I've been meaning to read forever. Nick Hornby's Long Way Down. Its the story of four misfits who meet up when they all head to the top of the same building to jump off it one New Year's Eve. It doesn't sound very funny, but it actually is pretty hilarious.

Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ all have very different reasons for being there, but they're all four pretty screwed up. Martin is a former TV show host, just out of prison for sleeping with a 15 year old (she told him she was 18) divorced and unemployed. Maureen has been looking after her vegetable of a son for the last twenty years and just doesn't think she can do it anymore. Jess is an incredibly angry 18 year old, mad at the world since the disappearance of her older sister three years ago. JJ has finally realized that he'll never be the rock star he always imagined he would be.

The four decide to form a club, to see them through till they decide to try again. Which leads to some pretty great laughs, as per usual with a Hornby novel. My only complaint about the book at all was the character of Jess. Who seemed suspiciously like an angry teenaged boy. Other than that though, it cracked me up but good.

Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
ISBN 1594481938
352 pages

Monday, October 16, 2006

Yay! I've read my first book by an Australian, while in Australia!

It actually wasn't much of a gamble, as I picked up the new Jaclyn Moriarty. I will say though, that like everything else in down here, it was crazy expensive. $16.99 for the paperback! Fortunately, it was worth the price.

Bindy Mackenzie is one of those kids who does an insane amount of homework, and is not overly popular. In fact, the girls she is especially not popular with were featured in a few previous books. Anyways, thanks to this new Friendship and Development course, Bindy has to hang out with this kids on a weekly basis. And hanging out isn't really one of Bindy's strong points.

After totally alienating her peers, Bindy gets a little weird. It must just be that she's stressed, right? Because who would poison a harmless teenage girl? Who indeed! And that's where the fun really gets started in this mystery.

A great read for any teen who's ever felt sure that life was more exciting than it appears to be.

The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty
ISBN 0439740517
494 pages

Friday, October 13, 2006

Okay, so I'm officially in Australia! On my insanely long flight (22 1/2 hours in the air, 36 hours total travel time) I actually only read one book. That's because I was busy with a trashy magazine and bad movies. You know how it is.

The book I read is one that I've been meaning to forever, The Brooklyn Diaries by Paul Auster. Its the story of Nathan Glass, an ex-life insurance salesman who moves to Brooklyn to die quietly. Which is ridiculous, because he is 59. But whatever. Instead, he runs into his long lost nephew, Tom, and somehow gets sucked into the goings on in his neighbourhood.

The plot is pretty loose, but I can't say I minded, because he's such a great writer. Nathan is a great narrator, with a good sense of humour and timing.

The Brooklyn Follies made an especially good airplane book because you can pick it up and put it down easily. Like I said, the plot was not overly strenuous for my poor, travel-addled brain.

Anyways, while I was wandering around Sydney today* I picked up a few Australian books, so I'll have those reviews coming up next week sometime, I imagine.

*What is with crazy Aussie book prices?! $16.99 for a paperback YA novel?!

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster
ISBN 0805077146
320 pages

Saturday, October 07, 2006

When I was a teenager, I read a couple books by Suzanne Fisher-Staples set in the Middle East. I thoroughly enjoyed them, and have often wondered why there isn't more teen fiction set there. Lucky for me I stumbled across Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher.

Mithra and her brothers were forced to flee their comfortable life when their father's coup failed. Since then, they've been living in caves and begging. Mithra dreams of finding the rest of her family, and returning to her former glory, though both her brothers seem content with the life they now lead. But then her younger brother Babak starts dreaming other people's dreams. But this talent leads to their capture by a powerful Magus, and the dreams Babak has lead them to begin a long journey to the west. Meanwhile, Mithra plots their escape at every turn.

In the end, the caravan (with three Magi in tow now) makes their way to Bethlehem. It’s an interesting perspective to an old story, one I found quite intriguing. It helps that Mithra's an interesting character. She's not the most likeable person I've ever read, but she's definitely someone you don't want to walk away from.

Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher
ISBN 0689850425
283 pages

In my time I have read several books of historical fiction that use Shakespeare as a character. But now we've got one with Christopher Marlowe. Who was way cooler anyway.

The Secret of the Rose is about Rosalind and her brother. After their father is arrested for being Catholic, Rosalind and Robin are on the run. They end up in London with no money and very few options, leading Rosalind to disguise herself as a boy, for safety and all. Fortunately, Marlowe literally runs into them, and Robin gets work as an apprentice at the Rose theatre, and Rosalind becomes Marlowe's personal servant. But Marlowe seems to be involved in a lot more than playmaking, and Rosalind has the constant worry of being ousted as a "papist."

Even though I know what end Marlowe came to, I found that Thompson had me on the edge of my seat. Rosalind serves as a handy guide to life in sixteenth century England. Throw in spies and you've got a recipe for a fun book.

The Secret of the Rose by Sarah L. Thompson
ISBN 0060872500
291 pages

You'd all be forgiven for thinking I'd already left for Australia. But that's not till Wednesday! I was actually doing a tour of Southern Ontario. Getting a visit in with friends and family before heading off to the other side of the planet seemed like a good idea. But it meant spotty internet access, so I've got a whole lot of posting to be doing today.

First book I read was The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon. When I picked it up, I read the author bio. Which is hilarious and wonderful. She's a graduate of the University of Rigamarole. I have to say though, that I don't think the rest of the book lived up to it.

The story revolves around Ven, who's a Nain. They're a race that tends to live underground, and lives for several times longer than most humans. But one of Ven's ancestors was a bit of a rebel, and he moved above ground and started a ship building business. Ven and his family (a dozen brothers and one sister) run that business now, under the instruction of their father. Although he looks about 12, Ven is actually 50 and he's finally allowed to go out on his first ship inspection. Except it all goes terribly wrong. Attacked by fire pirates, Ven and the brand new ship are sunk and burned, leaving Ven floating on a piece of boat. This situation leads to some pretty incredible adventures for Ven, too many, in fact, to describe here.

Any kids into the fantasy adventure genre will enjoy this book, though I found there were some pretty serious flaws. Haydon does a fair amount of telling, as opposed to showing, which is irritating. I also found that I had figured out a lot of the mysteries long before Ven and his friends did.

That being said, I know I'll be picking up The Thief Queen's Daughter when it comes out.

The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon
ISBN 0765308673
368 pages

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Okay, its official: the move is over. I am now a resident of my mother's tiny tiny house. One that is fortunately filled to the rafters with books, including the new Karen Rivers!

The Quirky Girls' Guide to Rest Stops and Road Trips is the third installment in the Haley Andromeda's life. They don't really need to be read in order, though I do recommend reading them all, because they're hilarious. And this new one is no exception. It’s the summer after graduation, and Haley's best friends are heading off to do exciting things (Harvard and modeling in New York, respectively). Whereas Haley is hanging around with her dad and his pregnant girlfriend. But she's got a plan! The plan is to take the old VW van she got for her birthday down to San Diego, and write a book about her experiences. It’s supposed to be top secret, but since Haley can't keep a secret to save her life, it quickly leaks out to the aforementioned best friends, as well as her boyfriend, and her arch enemy, Izzy. Eventually Haley manages to save enough money from her crummy waitressing job to head off, oddly enough, with Izzy in tow. That's the great thing about Haley: she's not much of one for questioning things.

That's the basic plot of the book. But really the important thing about these books is Haley herself. She's frighteningly neurotic, which translates into a lot of laughs. I've heard Haley described as Bridget Jones for teens. Which is fairly accurate, except that Haley is so quintessentially Canadian. In a West Coast way. I know this girl, I went to high school with her, and I still run into her at the grocery store every now and then.

Regardless of whether you're familiar with hippie offspring or not, The Quirky Girls' Guide to Rest Stops and Road Trips is a must read.

The Quirky Girls' Guide to Rest Stops and Road Trips by Karen Rivers
ISBN 1551929074
284 pages (plus 5 pages of acknowledgments that must be read)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

So yesterday when I was mooching books and laundry services off my mother, she asked me to take a look at The Blue Jean Book: the Story Behind the Seams. Because among the many awards it’s been nominated for is the Children's Literature Roundtable Information Book Award. And this year, mum is the chair of the Victoria chapter.

The thing is, it’s hard to take just a look at this book. It’s full of really interesting information about the history of jeans and denim, the fabric they're made from. But author Tanya Lloyd Kyi also does a really great job of introducing cultural and political events as she relates the story of jeans. She also shows how jeans became the clothing of youth culture, and the effects (both good and bad) this clothing has had on the world around us.

What I found especially cool was the chapter about working conditions in jeans factories around the world, and the tools she gives readers to find out whether or not their jeans are "green" or "sweat-free." You're so interested in the story of jeans, that you don't even notice the social message you're getting.

Full of interesting photos and sidebars, this book would be awesome for any kids about 10 and up.

The Blue Jean Book: The Story Behind the Seams by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
ISBN 1-55037-917-8
80 pages

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The best part of Angelo is the pictures. David Macaulay is so great with action, and the story, set in Europe, is full great illustrations. Angelo is a plasterer, working on his masterpiece, a large church, when he discovers an injured pigeon. He nurses the pigeon back to health, and then the pigeon heads off into the city. However, when Angelo's health begins to fail, Sylvia the pigeon returns to keep him company. Angelo knows he's dying, but he doesn't feel good about leaving Sylvia all alone. Finally he comes upon the solution, and he creates a perfect nest for Sylvia at the top of his masterpiece.

Although I really enjoyed the illustrations, and the story, the text is lacking. It was confusingly choppy, and there were a few moments when I had a hard time figuring out what was going on. Which means I would probably keep this one away from younger kids.

Angelo written and illustrated by David Macaulay
ISBN 061869336X

When I was a kid, I was a pretty serious picky eater. My mum says I also managed to influence my younger sisters into picky eating; if I vetoed it, no one would eat it. I'm not sure how true that bit is, but the picky eating thing is a pretty universal experience for kids. Which means there will always be picky eating picture books. Fortunately, most of them are pretty good. When Vegetables go Bad! is an older one of these, but still great.

Despite her mother's insistence, Ivy refuses to eat her vegetables. Instead, she hides them around her room (ew!). But then one night, the vegetables go bad! There's a carrot picking his teeth with a knife, a turnip lying about how good he tastes, and broccoli stretching out her clothes. And they're all singing a song about how they'll follow her like a curse. Ivy manages to get away and runs down the street, only to be followed closely by a gang of vegetables, whose "hot vegetable breath" she can feel on her shoulder. Just as she dashes back into her house, a bunch of yellow runner beans grab her legs. Lucky for Ivy her mum appears just in time, and she manages to choke down the cold, soggy beans.

There are two things I love about this book: First off, I love that the message isn't eat your vegetables because they taste good. Instead, you should eat your vegetables because if you don't, they might just eat you! Secondly, it’s illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Do I really need to elaborate on that one?

When Vegetables go Bad! written by Don Gillmor illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
ISBN 0385255543
32 pages

So, now that I'm unemployed, you'd think I'd have plenty of time for reading and reviewing, but in fact, I've spend most of the past few days packing. Who knew I had so much stuff! Lucky for me, my mum took pity on me and handed me a whole pile of books to check out.

The Journey showed up earlier this month, and I knew it'd be good because Sarah Stewart's other books are awesome. It's about a little girl who goes on a trip to a big city in the early twentieth century. Hannah is from a farm out in the country, so everything in the city is exciting and new, and the text is in the form of her diary entries. Each day, she records something she's seen, and compares it with something from home.

She sees all the sights of the big city, but as the week goes on, the prospect of returning home becomes the most exciting thing of all. This homesickness is nicely shown throughout the book with the illustrations. The first two page spread is the city scene as described by Hannah, and the second two page spread shows the scene she's described from back home. The illustrations, by David Small, are of course top notch.

What I love about Stewart's books is that they have a great nostalgic feel to them, without being too old-fashioned for kids to enjoy. The Journey is no different.

The Journey written by Sarah Stewart illustrated by David Small
ISBN 0374400105
40 pages