Can't Stop Reading

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

Sunday, April 30, 2006

For some reason, I will always pick up a novel that has something to do with Jane Austen. They almost always disappoint, and yet I persevere. I have never been one of those very clever people who values Austen for all the stuff that I am supposed to (oh English 100, how I failed you!), but have instead loved her books for being the best romantic comedies ever. And I do love a romantic comedy. Anyways, I was going through Orion's backlist, and came across this trilogy by Elizabeth Aston. The third will be out later this spring, and number two came in last week. So I read it.

I'm very glad I did! Aston's series follows the daughters of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. She posits that they have five daughters, and I gather the first book dealt with the elder four. The Exploits and Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy follows the youngest Darcy, who isn't really a Darcy anymore. She married quickly to a Mr. Norris Napier, who it turns out is rather abusive. Alethea runs away to one of her sisters, living in Venice. To avoid her husband, she and her trusty maid, Figgins, travel as men. Oh, the scandal! Along the way they run into broken-hearted Titus Manningtree who is heading to Venice to find a Titian painting he's become obsessed with. Got all that?

Aston is no Austen, certainly, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this one. It's certainly a lot of fun, and the scrapes Alethea gets into are over the top, and hilariously ridiculous. Obviously all ends well, and I have to admit, I'm pretty sure I gave a contented sigh at the end.

The Exploits and Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy by Elizabeth Aston
ISBN 0752877372
376 pages

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Novel finished! It was Paradise by Joan Elizabeth Goodman. I can't say I loved it.

Goodman's novel is based on a true story of early French-Canadian settlers. Margueritte is chosen by her sea captain uncle to accompany him to New France to settle there. However, her uncle is a bit of a stick-in-the-mud Huguenot, and she and her lover and best friend are abandoned on the Isle of Demons in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they must survive the harsh realities of 16th century Canada.

First off, Marguerite = most annoying character ever. She cannot seem to move without Pierre, whom she's forbidden to marry (he's Catholic, and she's Protestant). I hate girls like that! She is also a huge whiner, and weirdly, her friend Damienne congratulates her later in the book for being courageous. But she only ever does anything except for cry hysterically when someone forces her to!

Anyways, obviously Pierre and Damienne die, Pierre just before winter sets in, and Damienne in the spring (lucky no one died in the winter while the ground was frozen, eh?). Plus Marguerite ends up pregnant, giving birth shortly after Damienne's death. Margueritte also comes close to insanity thanks to the "demons" that live on the island, and yell at her about how they're going to steal her baby and such. Yeah.

I think the most unfortunate part about this book is that it could have been a really cool way to introduce teens to Canadian history, and it failed. No contemporary teenager is going to relate to Marguerite. Goodman also failed to develop any characters beyond her protagonist, nor did she fully explore the idea of the island's demons.

It seems odd to me that there is a ton of great Canadian historical fiction for kids under 12, as well as for teenage boys (John Wilson is insanely prolific)and yet, for teen girls, there's nothing of quality. A few months ago I read Esther with my teen book club, and it was the same thing. Unrealistic/unrelateable main character and very little character development. I suppose I will continue my search for great Canadian historical fiction for teens... I'll let you know when I find something!

Paradise by Joan Elizabeth Goodman
ISBN 0618494812
209 pages

Esther by Sharon McKay
ISBN 0143312049
336 pages

Well. I am working on a novel right now, but in the mean time, how about a nice picture book?

Mrs. Crump's Cat is by Linda Smith. I should preface this by saying that I really don't like cats. I don't care if your cat is the cutest thing ever, and very intelligent and whatever. They are no good in my book. Except for Mrs. Crump's cat, with which I'm in love. It probably helps that Mrs. Crump's cat cannot make me allergic, being only an illustration and all.

Anyways, Mrs. Crump is a rather crotchety woman who finds a cat on her doorstep one wet day. She decides to let the cat come in and dry off, but after that, it must go. "I'll have you know, I have no use for a cat." This becomes Mrs. Crump's refrain, as she reluctantly purchases the cat food, flea soap, a dish and a collar. The grocer suggests she make up a notice so that the cat can be taken off her hands, and Mrs. Crump makes one up.

However, it turns out that no one claims the cat, and Mrs. Crump, wondering to the grocer how she came to be the owner of a cat ("I had no use for a cat."), is told by the grocer "Cats are clever that way. Before you know it, you'll be sitting by the fire with the cat on your lap, wondering how you ever got along without it." And that's exactly what she does.

Astonishingly, cat hater that I am, my favorite part of the book is the cat himself. David Roberts' illustrations are wonderful, capturing the varied expressions on Mrs. Crump's cat. I would highly recommend picking up this book, one of Linda Smith's last before her death of breast cancer.

Mrs. Crump's Cat written by Linda Smith illustrated by David Roberts
ISBN 0060283025
32 pages

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

When I first saw the cover of Mercy, Unbound, I thought, oo, that looks good! Then I read the back and I was a bit less excited. It’s an anorexia book. But it’s different than any anorexia book I've ever read, and I loved it. Hmm, perhaps we should judge books by their covers?... Kidding!

Mercy is not anorexic. Its just that she's becoming an angel, see, and angels don't need to eat. She can even feel the wings trying to come out of her back, "at first they felt like new teeth coming in. Do you remember that feeling? Kind of itchy, irritating." Mercy goes to great length to explain that she does not have self esteem issues, that her parents have always been amazingly supportive, and that she has had a great life. But her parents aren't buying the angel thing, and they bring her to an eating disorder hospital in New Mexico.

Once checked in, Mercy is confirmed in her belief that she does not belong there, where the other girls look "like wasted figures from a surreal painting. Or like Gumby figurines. No, they still looked like creatures from the Day of the Dead." Eventually, Mercy runs away, and finds herself near a Hopi community in the middle of the desert, with no memory of her previous life. While she heals in the desert, her parents track her down and come to stay with her.

Whether Mercy was anorexic or not is not really the issue. The issue for Mercy is the overwhelming terribleness of the world. How can she cope with a world where her grandmother lived for years in a concentration camp? Where her mother, the environmental lawyer gave birth to a stillborn baby boy, and spends all her time fighting to save the earth? Where there are 14 million AIDS orphans in Africa? Becoming an angel was Mercy's way of coping with the awfulness of the world around her. But New Mexico, and her family, helps her to realize that the world is not always a horrible place, and that even though one person cannot save the world, one person can make a contribution.

This is Antieau's first novel for young adults, and I think it’s marvelous. I hate saying someone's writing is luminous, because it seems such a cliché, but hers is. I also think the theme of being overwhelmed by the world is one that a lot of teens can relate to. Heck, a lot of adults can relate to this one, too. My only complaint is that the font switches from an elegant italicized to a straight-forward sans serif for no reason that I could see. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure it out, and it really distracted from the flow of the story. However, it’s a minor quibble, and if you can train your eye, you'll be fine. Better than fine.

Mercy, Unbound by Kim Antieau
ISBN 1416908935
165 pages

I am feeling like I'm lacking a little Can-con these days, so I went hunting on our Canadian picture book shelves. And I came up with this new one from Orca Publishers, a great local publisher.

Dragon Tide by Ingrid Lee is the story of a girl who can make real dragons out of sand. Two kids watch the mysterious stranger as "she cupped and coaxed the sand." They watch until the stranger leaves, and manage to keep the dragon safe from other kids, as they wait for the tide to come in and set the dragon free. Soizick Meister's illustrations are pretty cool too, and include many small dragons hidden throughout.

I do have a few small complaints with the book though. First is to do with the writing. At some point Lee uses the word "knurl." Beyond the fact that it is an unusual word that most kids won't know, it is an ugly word. Also, the stranger talks funny. Some of her lines include: "People fear the dragon, even when it cannot hurt them.... I must leave now, before the sea returns." Melodramatic much?

Lastly, there seems to have been some lack of communication between author and illustrator. Lee describes the children's fingers as "chubby," and yet, the pictures show them looking old enough to be out of the chubby stage. And weirdest of all is the final scene when the children make a fire on the beach. By themselves! With no adults!

Despite this though, the idea of a sand dragon that comes to life and returns to the sea is a really neat one, and for the most part, I enjoyed this offering.

Dragon Tide written by Ingrid Lee illustrated by Soizick Meister
ISBN 1551433524
32 pages

Yesterday my computer was all funktified, so I could not write a post. I will likely do a second one later today to make up for it.

So the book I read and was not able to post about yesterday was Rewind by Laura Dower. The title comes from the gimmick Dower has used. The book starts out on Chapter 28, and finishes at Chapter 1. Each chapter takes place a few days after the one before. The story is a love triangle between Cady, Lucas and Hope. Cady is the cool not so popular girl, Hope is the flakey popular girl, and Lucas is torn between the two girls. Bleh. What I especially did not like about this book was the way the characters did not seem to ever do anything about their situations. Except for Hope. Cady is hopelessly in love with Lucas, and doesn't do anything about it. Lucas really likes Cady, but can't seem to stop himself from being all over Hope. And Hope is just a really big b*tch. To give Dower some credit, I was mildly surprised by the ending, which gave away Hope's motivations for the whole sordid mess. But most of the time, the book felt like it wasn't going anywhere.

Dower also made Lucas a little obsessive, but never really took that anywhere. Cady continued to be a doormat throughout the book, and Hope never seemed to regret or analyze her actions.

I suppose if I was a teenage girl who was not overly popular and considered myself to be cooler than the high school scene of cliques in that way that many teenagers are (I should know, because I was one of them) I might enjoy this book. Other than that though, I cannot really recommend it.

Rewind by Laura Dower
ISBN 0439703409
243 pages

Monday, April 24, 2006

I know I am behind on this, but today I finally read Kira-Kira, last year's Newberry winner. The Newberry is one of those awards that I trust. First off, there are a million and one awards for books. And about three quarters of them award books that I think are no good. But Newberry is almost always on the ball, and even if they don't pick my absolute favorite, they always pick great books.

So, Kira-Kira. It's about Katie, who is a Japanese-American living in post-World War II Iowa, until she and her family move to Georgia. The story mainly revolves around Katie's relationship with her older sister Lynn, who eventually dies of lymphoma.

I don't really know what to say about this book. Kadohata's writing is wonderfully simple and present, Katie is an amazingly true character, and I cried like a baby. I think this is just one of those books that should be read. By everybody.

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
ISBN 0689856393
244 pages

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Hoo boy. My bookclub is meeting in two hours. I have read less than a third of The Constant Gardener. Oops. How about a nice picture book to distract me!

I have always been a big fan of books that empower girls. And by that I mean books with female characters that are cool, and require no permission from male characters to go do stuff. In that vein comes Shelley Fowles' Climbing Rosa.

Rosa is big on climbing, a skill she honed because her nasty stepmother and sisters make her sleep on the roof. It’s a handy talent, considering in the middle of her kingdom is an enormous tree, the top of which no one has ever seen. Also in this kingdom is a prince, who spends all his time reading books, rather than looking for princesses to marry. His father comes up with the solution of holding a competition. Whichever girl can get to the top of the tree and bring down a seedpod will marry the prince!

Obviously Rosa decides to enter the contest, thinking that the tree trunk will be "a doodle compared to the drainpipe at home." However, her stepsister follows her, hoping to get the seedpod first. Rosa manages to make it down with the seedpod, though, and she and the prince live happily ever after, while the stepsister remains at the top of the tree forever more.

Fowles' illustrations complement the text wonderfully. The kingdom looks kind of like a medieval eastern Europe, with gorgeous patterns on every surface, including the tree trunk. A wonderful retelling of a Hungarian folk tale.

Climbing Rosa written and illustrated by Shelley Fowles
ISBN 1845070798
32 pages
Omigod, Lois Lowry has a blog! Check it out here.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Okay, I have a good excuse for taking the last few days off. I was being a good daughter and helping my mum clean out her garage. So there!

Anyways, today's book is a fairly recent publication. Where Does Pepper Come From? is a non-fiction title for the kindergarten set. The format is what makes this book so great. Each subject is brought up with a question. "Why do bears hibernate?" for instance. Then a silly joke answer is given on the opposite page. Turn and the page and a group of kids will shout NO! and give you the real answer to the question. That is by far my favorite part of this book. The chorus of 'no' will really get kids going. Also the factual information is quite simple, without going into too much detail. A great resource for the five and under set.

Where Does Pepper Come From? written by Brigitte Raab illustrated by Manuela Olton
ISBN 0735820708
32 pages

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The very first blog I started reading was Mimi Smartypants. Mimi's anonymous diary chronicles her life as a 30 something woman living in Chicago. A few years ago a British publisher approached her about publishing her diary in a book. That book is The World According to Mimi Smartypants.

I love her blog, especially since she and her husband adopted their daughter, Nora, from China. So it was weird to read these diary entries from a few years ago and think, I know where your life is going to end up! It is also weird because the marketing they have done for this book is so not Mimi. The cover, as you can see, features a woman wearing pink, pointy-toed high heels. Mimi would not be caught dead in those shoes. She is a recovering goth/punk girl who wears either combat boots or mary janes. Also, because of its diary entry format, the book doesn't have a plot. Which is fine, but the publisher seems to be marketing it to chick lit fans. And there is no real ending. They just picked a date and stopped publishing after that. They've allowed her to put in a great afterword, however, where she addresses the fact that this book deal fell into her lap, and that she had nothing to do with the look of the book at all.

Mimi is hilarious, and crude, and thought-provoking. Though I would highly recommend everyone head over to her blog (her thoughts on adopting a child are especially interesting), I can't say I highly recommend the book. Really, you could just go through her archives and get all the same material.

The World According to Mimi Smartypants by Mimi Smartypants
ISBN 0060786361
237 pages

Have you heard the story of Owen and Mzee? It is one of those stories that almost seems like Hallmark made it up, but apparently, it's true! Fortunately it has recently been documented in two fabulous picture books.

This first is Mama by Jeanette Winter. She wrote The Librarian of Basra. What, you haven't read it yet? What's wrong with you?! The second is by three people: Isabella and Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumbu. Both tell the story of Owen, who as a baby hippo was separated from his mother, thanks to the Tsunami that hit Asia a while back. Owen was taken to a nature reserve to live and there he meets Mzee. Mzee is an ancient tortoise. Like, really, he is over a hundred years old. Anyways, Owen took a liking to Mzee, who was a bit of a loner, but after a while, they settled into a very nice friendship, with Mzee looking after his young hippo friend.

Mama is a great book for younger kids, and is done is an almost Are You My Mother? style. Though the text throughout is limited to the one word, there is a nice afterword relating the story of Owen and Mzee. It also features Winter's phenomenal illustrations. I have no idea what medium she uses, but her art is so cool to look at.

Owen and Mzee on the other hand, features photographic illustrations. This take on the story is a more factual one, for slightly older kids. The text is simple and straightforward, delivering all the relevant facts without becoming clinical. The photographs document every step of Owen's journey, and kids should get a real kick out of them.

Two great books on one of nature's nicest friendships.

Mama written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter
ISBN 0152054952
32 pages

Owen and Mzee: the True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella & Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumbu, with photographs by Peter Greste
ISBN 0439829739
40 pages

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I have already mentioned that I love Lenore Look's early chapter book, Ruby Lu, Brave & True, but I first came across this author with Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding. This book accomplishes that rare feat: a children's book about a different culture that has a great story as well. You would think that this would not be all that rare, but in my experience, cultural identity books are usually pretty lame.

Jenny is our protagonist, and her Uncle Peter is getting married. Which is great, except for Jenny. She's worried that once her favorite uncle is married, she'll no longer be her uncle's number one girl. Meanwhile, the preparations for an elaborate, traditional wedding are going on all around. Yumi Heo's pictures wonderfully illustrated the happy preparations, with a rather unhappy Jenny to one side. Fortunately for everyone involved, it turns out Jenny's new Aunt Stella is a pretty cool lady, and Jenny will always remain her uncle's special girl.

Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding should be on every teacher's bookshelf.

Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding written by Lenore Look, illustrated by Yumi Heo
ISBN 0689844581
40 pages

Monday, April 17, 2006

Remember how a few days ago I picked up The Goose Girl? Well obviously my next step was to read Shannon Hale's newest offering, Princess Academy. Before I had read any of Hale's books, and I heard about this one, I thought it sounded suspiciously Meg Cabot-ish, so I wasn't going to read it. But how wrong I was!

Miri lives on Mount Eskel, a remote territory of Danland. Danland has a weird tradition about finding the prince's betrothed that involves priests divining the location from which the next princess will come. This time around, the priests have decided its Mt. Eskel. This is a bit of a scandal, as there are only 20 girls of the appropriate age on the mountain, and everyone there works in the quarry, mining linden stone. But tradition rules, and Miri and all her fellow villagers are sent over the mountain to the Princess Academy to prepare for the arrival of the Prince.

Hale is a phenomenal writer, and I was kept on the edge of my seat the whole time. In fact, my only complaint about this book is that it ended. And that's because Hale has done something that so few writers manage to do: she has created an entire world, and told one of its stories in a way that perfectly fits a book. Miri and her fellow villagers are so real that I can imagine their lives before and after this book.

Apparently there is a companion book to The Goose Girl, and I'm hoping that Hale manages to write something to go along with Princess Academy, too.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
ISBN 1582349932
314 pages

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Time for a picture book roundup!

First up: Waiting for Gregory by Kimberly Willis Holt. Though this book has a fairly traditional set up, it's weird. The narrator is waiting for her aunt to have a baby. But how long will it take? She gets various nonsense answers from family members, but no straight answers. She decides to while away the time thinking of things she will teach her new cousin Gregory.

That all seems fairly straightforward, I know. It's the illustrations that are weird. They're a combination of paintings and sketches by Gabi Swiatkowska. I've never seen anything like them in a picture book. They are definitely beautiful, and definitely unusual, taking this book from rather ordinary to an original.

Everyone's always looking for a new baby book, and this will be the one I'll be recommending from now on.

Next is Sally and the Some-Thing. Sally has a problem many kids can relate to: she's bored. So she decides to head to the pond, to try and catch something. Fortunately, something rather slimy and creepy pops its' head up, and Sally decides that, though she doesn't know what it is, the Some-Thing is definitely not boring.

The Some-Thing looks sort of like a really big frog, and it and Sally have a great time playing all day long. My only complaint about this book is Sally. She looks kind of like she belongs in a Disney movie. Her huge blue eyes remind me of those creepy drawings of kids with huge heads that old ladies seem to think are adorable. You know the ones? Other than that though, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

I have only ever read those Wrinkle in Time books by Madeleine L'Engle, but today I noticed she seems to have a new picture book. It's called The Other Dog. I was a little disappointed about the lack of originality here. This is one of those new baby from the dog's perspective books, and there are already so many of those. This one is okay, I guess, but I certainly wouldn't run out and buy it. In fact, the best part of the book is the ending. L'Engle wrote a note about how the story is true, and tells us how she came to own a rather snobbish poodle in the first place. Other than that, I would say it's pretty pedestrian.

Hm, I seem to be doing a lot of "issue" books here today. On that note, next I've got Time to get Dressed by Elivia Savadier. This book cracks me up. You see, Solomon wants to get dressed himself. "Me!" he says. So he puts on his pants, but they're on his head, and he puts on his sock, but it goes on his hand. Meanwhile, the clock at the top of the page is ticking off the time, and Solomon's dad is getting a little frazzled. Eventually Daddy decides it's getting too close to the wire, and he says: "Me!" But now it's time for breakfast. Daddy's facial expression is priceless. Eventually, after a bit of an adventure with the cereal bowl, we find out "who's all dressed and ready to go? ME!" Adorable.

I am sort of torn about this next one. Mommy in My Pocket is yet another "issue" book. This time it's about a bunny who's nervous about going to school by herself. She imagines how much better it would be with her Mommy, and thinks about making a wish that her Mommy could be small enough to fit in her pocket. Then she imagines a day at school with Mommy in her pocket. I love Hiroe Nakata's illustrations. They are gorgeous watercolors, just slightly off. I also think the concept of the book is a good one. Being nervous about going to school books will always be around, and author Carol Hunt Sandarac has managed to find a fairly original way to look at it. Unfortunately her writing lets the whole thing down. It's awful. The language is unoriginal, and kind of grating, and the rhythm and rhymes are off. I always feel more upset when I read a bad book that could have been good, then a straightforwardly bad book. This is definitely one of those.

Waiting for Gregory written by Kimberly Willis Holt illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
ISBN 0805073884
32 pages

Sally and the Some-Thing written and illustrated by George O'Connor
ISBN 1596431415
32 pages

The Other Dog written by Madeleine L'Engle illustrated by Christine Davenier
ISBN 0811852288
40 pages

Time to Get Dressed written and illustrated by Elivia Savadier
ISBN 159643161X
32 pages

Mommy in my Pocket written by Carol Hunt Senderak illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
ISBN 0786855967
32 pages

Friday, April 14, 2006

Marie-Louise Gay's new book is collaboration with her husband David Homel, who has written primarily for adults. The book is a sort of a series of short stories, each describing a vacation taken by the family. It's told from the perspective of the eldest son, who narrates the various adventures the family runs into while vacationing.

This book is charming. The stories are well told, with the ring of truth. I loved that the kids' idea of a perfect vacation is Disneyland, while the parents prefer to head to an isolated cottage in Maine during a hurricane. A hurricane named Bob, which we are told, is "just not a very scary name."
If I was in charge of naming hurricanes I would call them Hurricane Hulk, or Demon, or Destroyer. Now that would scare people!

However, I do have a few complaints. They all basically stem from the same source: the narrator. This kid is unlike any kid I've ever talked to, and not in a good way. His parents are "my mother and my father," and his brother is exclusively "my little brother." He is also very insightful, and has a very adult sense of humor. Though I really enjoyed the tone the stories were told in, it just doesn't jive with one a kid would use. If Gay and Homel had used a third person narrator, this would have been much less noticeable.

Regardless, this book would be a great one for bedtime stories, or classroom read alouds, as each chapter stands alone as its own adventure.

Travels with My Family by Marie-Louise Gay & David Homel
ISBN 0888996888
119 pages

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Well. Yesterday I was all excited to pick up this new novel. I thought it looked very promising, as it was about a Chinese American girl who fell in love with a Japanese American boy and of course their parents disapproved. But to tell you the truth I think I got about 6 pages in and I realized I would never make it to the end. Horrendous writing.

So instead I picked up Sarah Ellis' newest picture book. Can I just say that I met her a few months ago, and I just about fell over? She is my hero! And also she's really really tiny!

Anyways, so her new book is called The Queen's Feet and its' illustrated by Dusan Petricic, who I will unfortunately always associate with Margaret Atwood's picture books. Shudder. But this one might redeem him in my eyes.

Queen Daisy, it seems has some rather unruly feet. They are not at all queenly, and always causing trouble. They kick the neighboring country's king (while wearing hiking books!), they make her do the splits during balls, and walk in fish ponds during garden parties. Appropriately, Petricic's illustrations are all at foot level. You never see anyone's face until right near the end, when a huge meeting is called to solve the problem of the Queen's feet. Fortunately, a solution that works for everyone (feet included) is suggested, and when we finally catch a glimpse of Daisy, she is relaxing, sharing a lemon popsicle with her husband, Prince Fred, while he gives "her feet a good rub. And that was very nice. For both of them."

Though the text isn't rhyming (why do picture books always have to be rhyming?), this one would be perfect for a read aloud. Any kid can relate to having no control over fidgety body parts, and Ellis' solution to the problem is both whimsical and practical.

The Queen's Feet written by Sarah Ellis illustrated by Dusan Petricic
ISBN 0889953201
32 pages

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Okay, so I'm slightly under the weather, which may lead to irregular posting. However, this under the weatherness has enabled me to quickly read Shannon Hale's Goose Girl. I picked it up when I read Leila (from Bookshelves of Doom)'s excitement over a new book by Hale being published. I think... Could be I just dreamed that I needed to read Goose Girl.

Anyways, however I decided I needed to read it, am I ever glad I did! It is apparently based on a Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, though I don't think I ever heard this particular story. It's the story of Ani, who is not a very good Crown Princess, though she does have a rather uncanny ability to speak with animals. Mostly birds, as they are the most talkative animals.

Ani's mother arranges to have her married off to the neighboring country's prince, in order to prevent war, and that's when things start to go wrong. Ani does arrive in the new country, though not with her escort, and not as a princess. She has to make a living, and so becomes a goose girl. Eventually Ani learns of the plots of the imposter who has taken her place. And she must find the courage to stand up to her and make herself known.

Although there were a few predictable bits in this book, they were predictable in the same way that all fairy tales are. Obviously there's going to be a happy ending, but how else would you want it? I would definitely highly recommend this, and I can't wait to get started on Hale's newest book, Princess Academy

Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
ISBN 158234843X
383 pages

Monday, April 10, 2006

This evening is my second time doing a presentation on new books for the Victoria Children's Literature Roundtable. I had a lot of fun doing it last year, and I hope this year is just as good.

Here's a roundup of the books I'll be speaking about:

First up is the Akimbo series by Alexander McCall Smith. Smith has become awfully prolific in the last few years, and this is his first dip into kids’ books. He has another series that will be published this spring, but I'm too lazy to look it up right now. Anyways, so the Akimbo books. Akimbo is a little boy who lives in Africa near a nature reserve, where his father is a ranger. The books are quite enjoyable, though I think that Smith is maybe not so up on the reading levels for kids. Some of the vocabulary is a little complex, but that's really my only complaint. Lots of fun adult-free adventures.

Next is Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look. I love this woman! She has also written an awesome picture book called Uncle Peter's Chinese Wedding, which is great if you want a cultural differences book that doesn't suck. Anyways, so Ruby Lu is an 8 year old Chinese-American Magician. Yes, that's right, and she drives too. But only the four blocks to Chinese school with her baby brother in the back seat. Need I say more? Laugh out loud fun divided into chapters that pretty much stand alone.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo has been stirring up a lot of controversy lately. See here and here for deets. Personally, I loved it. It was definitely weird, and it is definitely not for young kids (I would definitely say 7 and up), as there is some pretty upsetting stuff going on. Maybe read it yourself first. But I love DiCamillo's writing, and the story touched my heart.

Ingrid and the Wolf by Andrei Alexis. Alexis normally writes books for adults (I haven't read any), so I was prepared for it to suck. Hello, Margaret Atwood! But then I read an adorable interview with him, where he said he wrote the first draft, and read it to his kids and they told him it was boring and lame, and he realized writing for kids was different than writing for adults. Yes! Exactly! So I read his book and it was super good. It's about a girl named Ingrid who lives in Toronto and gets invited to spend the summer with her grandmother in Hungary. Her grandmother is a countess, and in order for Ingrid to "truly" become a member of their illustrious family, she must face the maze (featuring a wolf) underneath the hereditary home. How cool is that?!

Quid Pro Quo by Vicki Grant has a protagonist named Cyril. Yeah, you already wanna read it, I know. Cyril is 13 and his mother is 28. As he says, you do the math. His mum used to be a street kid, but she has since straightened herself out and become a lawyer. But then she mysteriously disappears, and Cyril must find her using the legal knowledge he gained when his mum couldn't afford a babysitter. Cyril is hilarious and his embarrassment of his unusual family situation is adorable. But the book is full of enough sarcasm and kookiness to appeal to most boys too.

Marie, Dancing is by Carolyn Meyer, and for the most part, quite the accomplishment. I say this because Meyer takes us into the slums of Paris, circa 1870, and yet, keeps things clean enough for a 10 year old. Marie and her sisters are all ballet dancers, which, it turns out, is not really all that glamorous an occupation. Their mother is an absinthe addict, and the only bright spot in Marie's days are the times she models for the artist Edgar Degas. I also enjoyed the ending, which, while not sad, was not the perfect happy ending of many children's books.

Swear to Howdy by Wendelin Van Draanen kinda reminded me of Harris and Me (you haven't read it?! Run out and get it, right now!). It’s about Russell who moves in next door to Joey. They have an awesome time running around pulling pranks on their older sisters, and generally being boys. The only problem they have is Joey's dad, who is prone to hitting. Until one of their pranks goes too far, and tragedy ensues. The comedy of the first half will suck you in, and then the second half gives you a slap upside the head once you are invested in the characters. A great book about grief and grieving for boys.

I've already covered I, Coriander by Sally Gardner on this blog, check it out just down from here.

13 Little Blue Envelopes is one of those books I wish I lived in. It's the story of Ginny, who gets a package from her recently deceased aunt. The package contains the title 13 blue envelopes, and the first one instructs Ginny to fly to Europe. Once she gets there she can open the next one, which gives her further instructions, etc. Ginny travels all over Europe, experiencing the same things her aunt did before she died. Oh, this book made me cry! It's a wonderful coming of age/discover of self novel for teenage girls.

A Mango-Shaped Space has also previously been discussed, here (scroll down)>

Operation Red Jericho by Joshua Mowll is all concept. I didn't personally enjoy it, but I'm not a 12-15 year old boy. The book is made to look like a small journal, and features the story of Becca and Doug, a brother and sister who live in the 1920's. Their parents have mysteriously disappeared and they are now on board their uncle's ship in the South China Sea. There are pirates and mysterious new elements and scientists and secret societies and illegal fortresses. Most importantly however, is that the story is told through diary entries, mini biographies, sketches, and diagrams. One very cool looking book.

Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge is one of those books that makes me really want to talk to the author. Where did she come up with the idea of creating a world that is a mixture of the political upheaval of seventeenth century England and the saint worship of medieval Eastern Orthodoxy? The story of Mosca Mye is one of those old-fashioned yarn type books that I love. Normally I am not a big fan of books where I don't care for the protagonist, but Hardinge's imagination took hold of me and wouldn't let me go. I hope to hear more from her.

The Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix so far have four books, but there are to be seven. They follow young Arthur Penhaligon, who is unfortunate enough to be the heir of the Architect. Unfortunately the Will is the only one who recognizes him, so he must wrest the Keys from each of their guardians. All this takes place in the House, which was the first structure built by the Architect before she mysteriously went away. Yeah, it's weird, but it's cool. Arthur makes a great reluctant hero, and the poor guys is forced to go through a dangerous adventure every day, what with time running differently in his world and the House. Poor kid.

TheBartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud has finally reached its conclusion this year. Though I really enjoyed the antics of magician's apprentice Nathaniel, djinni Bartimaeus, and commoner Kitty in the first two books, somehow the third didn't have all the magic for me. Still worth the read though, as Bartimaeus remains as entertaining as ever.

The Thief, the Queen of Attolia, the King of Attolia is the longest ranging EVER fantasy series. Megan Whalen Turner wrote the first one in 1988, and number three just came out this year. Yeah. I'm glad I discovered them just recently because it would have been killer waiting that long. These books follow Eugenides, Queen's Thief of Eddis, a country that's a lot like what Greece would have looked like in the middle ages, sans Christianity. Eugenides is a great character, and totally unpredictable. I was continually surprised by the happenings in these books, and really, really enjoyed them. I gotta tell you, these three are my picks of the year. Really, even if you don't like fantasy, or kid's books (why are you reading this?!) they are worth picking up. Turner's writing is superb.

That's a tough act to follow for poor Mimus. Lilli Thal's English translation debut is no Thief, but it's pretty good nonetheless. It's about Florian, who is the prince of Moldovia. When he's called over to Vinland to celebrate peace between the two enemy countries, the predictable strikes. His father and all his most powerful lords are in chains in the King of Vinland's dungeon, and Florian is forced to become apprentice to the King's jester, Mimus. Though it was slow to start, I really enjoyed this one, once I got into it. I'd be careful giving it to kids though, as there is quite a lot of violence, and much of it is emotional in nature. Definitely some upsetting stuff going on.

Okay, so that's all there is! Phew!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I have to admit that I am kind of confused about today's book. It's called Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn. While I was reading it, I loved it, but once I'd finished it, I wasn't so sure.

The premise of the book is that an anonymous female (though it's really obvious who it is) has somehow managed to tune in to the thoughts of 16 year old Gideon Rayburn, who is newly arrived at Midvale, a prep school in Connecticut. It's hilarious. Like, I was reading it at work today and I kept laughing out loud while random customers were in the store hilarious.
"I've gone over this, and I just don't even know where to begin with Molly. I mean... you can't just make a girl like you. Can you?"

This is an excellent question. A hard question. And even though Cullen's not usually up for the hard questions, this is made for him.

Cullen leans his head back against the tree trunk and closes his eyes. Gid eats his sandwich. He took the opportunity of a lunch away from Nicholas to get salami with cheese, mayonnaise, and mustard. It's only cafeteria quality, but it's incredible.

Cullen opens his eyes and sighs with some impatience. "I am trying to imagine what it might be like to get a girl if it was, you know, not ridiculously easy." He closes his eyes again.

Cullen really meant to state the facts, to explain his limitations. Still, it's got to hurt.

Gideon's new roommates are attempting to help him lose his virginity. I know, this story is so done. They even have a bet about it, which is SO done. But Miller manages to make it not seem quite so done. I think because the way she shows us these guys from an outsider's perspective.

However, the ending was really obvious right from the get-go, and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Gid's roommates treat girls like crap. And it's sort of like, oh well, they're not bad guys; boys will be boys, you know. It pissed me off. The worst part is that I know I do that too. I have guy friends who treat girls like crap, and I'm always like, whatever, they're not bad guys. But treating other human beings the way Cullen and Nicholas do is really not cool. And although I immensely dislike books where bad guys see the light and turn into good guys, or books where awful things happen to people just because their morality is skewed, I was sort of hoping something like that might happen to these guys.

So I guess final pronouncement on this one is that it's great if all your looking for is a laugh, but don't think too much about it.

As a little Post Script, I feel I should mention for any teachers or librarians reading this, that there is quite a bit of swearing peppered throughout, and the boys spend quite a bit of time smoking pot. There is also a party scene that involves prescription drugs. As per my last swearing book, I think it was all reasonable and realistic, but I can definitely see some parents having a problem or two with it.

Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn by Sarah Miller
ISBN 0312333757
290 pages

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Have you ever read any books by Marian Keyes? I adore her. Her newest one came in today, so I gave it a start... and a finish. Anybody Out There? is the fourth book in what I loosely consider the chronicles of the Walsh sisters. The Walsh family consists of five daughters, the ever hilarious Mammy Walsh, and a rather downtrodden father ("even the shagging cat is a girl!"). So far we have heard from the eldest, Claire in Watermelon, next down Margaret in Angels, middle child Rachel in Rachel's Holiday, and now we get the second to youngest, Anna's story. I am on tenterhooks waiting for the youngest Helen to get her chance, because she has got to be one of the best characters I've ever read.

Anna lives in New York where she works at a job she mostly likes doing PR for beauty products. She is exceedingly happily married to Aidan. However, as the book opens, Anna is back home in Ireland, with various injuries, such as a broken arm. It turns out that she and Aidan were in a car accident, and Aidan was killed. Most of the book takes place after she returns to New York, and during her grieving process. One of the reasons I love Keyes' books are because they literally make me laugh out loud (this doesn't happen very often) and they make me cry. Like a baby. And this one was no different.

I sort of feel like I should say more, because I loved it, but I think that about covers it. I just really like Marian Keyes. Hm, I was also thinking that maybe this is too much chick lit in one week, but I don't really care, because it's my blog, and I can do whatever I want! Hahaha!

Anybody Out There? by Marian Keyes
ISBN 0718147642
593 pages

By now you may have caught on that when I am short for time and need to do a post, I will dig up a picture book to review. Because they only take a few minutes to read, and I can only read so many novels in a week.

Today's choice is Bob by Tracey Campbell Pearson. I can't say that I recall reading anything else by her, though it seems she has quite a few to her names, as well as a pretty cool looking website, here. Bob is a rooster, and a pretty spiffy looking one at that. Unfortunately, despite his fancy plumage he is not so hot at the crowing. Bob tries to learn, but he has all the wrong teachers. He learns how to MEOW-MEOW from the cat, how to WOOF-WAG from the dog, how to RIBBIT-RIBBIT-HOP-HOP from the frog, and tries to chew his non-existent cud with the cows. Finally Bob meets a fellow rooster who helps him out with the crowing. When Bob returns to the coop, he manages to scare away an intruding fox with a mixture of all the things he's learned, making him a hero.

This one would be good for reading aloud, as all the sounds build together as each episode occurs. However, I think it's a little pedestrian. We've all read a million books like this, and I just don't think it's that great. It's not terrible either, mind you, it's just sort of okay.

Bob written and illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson
ISBN 0374408718
32 pages

Friday, April 07, 2006

So I'm thinking it's about time for a non-kids book post, eh? Wendy French's third book is called After the Rice. I'm gonna tell you right now, this is chick lit, so if you're not interested, come back tomorrow or something. Anyways, I have read all of French's books so far. They are all set in the Northwest, and feature frazzled heroines, pulled in multiple directions by demanding families. I was particularly excited about this one because it's set right here in Victoria! I was a little disappointed on that front though, as really the only city specific mentions were that Megan's parents live in Uplands, and she goes to UVic.

Other than that small disappointment, it's a pretty interesting read. Megan is recently married to Matt, a librarian. Though they have decided between themselves that they are not interested in ever having kids, they haven't exactly told their families, who are on hyper-baby watch. The main thrust of the story is that thanks to interfering prescriptions (remember ladies, antibiotics and birth control don't mix!) Megan finds herself pregnant. And this is where I think this book stands out from the crowd. Matt and Megan have to decide what to do. Do they stick to their guns about not having kids and get an abortion? Or do they give in to everyone's expectations and have a baby. Matters are not helped by the fact that Megan is stuck babysitting her niece Jillienn (aka the Pink Terror) who can alternately scream loud enough to power a small city, and be adorable enough to almost make Megan want to be a mother.

I have to say, I have always enjoyed chick lit, but it has always been a problem for me that the story-lines have been so simple. Girl meets nice boy, they are just friends, girl meets sexy asshole boy, they hook up, they break up, and girl ends up with nice boy who loved her all along. So boring! So lately I have been noticing a bit of an expansion in theme, which I think is great. Because its fun to read about women about my age, who have the same kind of issues that I have. Not that I have had a pregnancy scare! But you know what I mean. There was actually a really interesting essay about this in the New York Times Book Review a few weeks ago. It was about the internationalization of chick lit, and how different cultures have taken chick lit and made it their own. Another book that I think has recently done an amazing job of this is Citizen Girl. It's by those women who wrote Nanny Diaries, which I didn't really like. However, their new one takes the really interesting premise of a young woman who considers herself a feminist, and what kinds of compromises she has to make for work and in her relationships.

I love that I can now read books about young women with issues beyond how to get a guy to marry them.

After the Rice by Wendy French
ISBN 0765313766
256 pages

Citizen Girl by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
ISBN 0743266862
320 pages

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Argh, I forgot Elsewhere at home this morning, and so I still haven't finished it! So instead I got started on In the Break by Jack Lopez.

In the Break is about Juan, who lives in Southern California. Juan spends all his time surfing and hanging out with his best friend, Jamie. Jamie has trouble with a nasty step-dad at home, and after a particularly violent fight, Juan, Jamie and Jamie's sister Amber steal Juan's mother's car and high-tail it to Mexico. The plan is to drop Jamie off at a friend's while things calm down. But things get more complicated. Juan gets sucked into staying and surfing, and tragedy strikes, changing his world forever.

Although I have never been a teenage boy, Lopez's portrait of Juan and Jamie seem really true to life. The book made me cry in a few places, but managed to retain a very boyish sensibility. You could almost smell that gross sweat sock smell teenage boys have about them. My only complaints are that there was a lot of surfing talk. And I mean technical stuff, paragraphs of it. I imagine if you are into surfing, it makes the book more real, but if you are not, it's pretty dull. And Lopez is really excited about exclamation marks. Really! He is! All the time! Using exclamation marks! My friend Robyn once had to write a paper on end punctuation (I know!), and I feel like I should give old Jack her number, so she can straighten him up on other ways of ending sentences! Also, there is a lot of swearing. I felt that it was used appropriately, and not overmuch, but everyone feels differently on that kind of thing. For instance, Jamie's stepfather Frederick is known as "F", short for Fuckhead. To me, that is exactly the kind of thing a 15 year old boy would think was both funny and clever.

Another really great boy book I read a few months ago that this reminds me of is Ball Don't Lie. This is a portrait of a white kid who is in and out of foster care, and really only cares about playing basketball. It's a heartbreaking read, because you know that if things had been different, this kid could have really done something, but instead he manages to sabotage every part of his life, including his starring role on his school's basketball team.

So, a little depressing teen lit to get you over hump day!

In the Break by Jack Lopez
ISBN 0316008745
192 pages

Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Pena
ISBN 0385902581
288 pages

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I will be the first to admit that I haven't read The Lovely Bones. Well, actually, I think I started it a few years ago, but it was while I was doing my undergrad, and I got distracted by some paper I had to write or something. But I guess I didn't enjoy so much what I did read, because I never went back to it. That rather long preamble is my way of introducing you to Elsewhere. Because I'm not really sure how derivative it is, and I don't want to get some stupid email saying that this is just The Lovely Bones all over again. I don't care!

This is the story of almost 16 year old Liz, who is dead. Liz was hit by a cab when she was riding her bike without a helmet, and now she finds herself on the SS Nile with a bunch of really old people. Turns out when you die, you don't really die. You end up on a ship heading to Elsewhere, and then your age reverses, until you are a baby again, and then you go back to Earth to be reborn. Liz struggles with this, mostly because everyone else in Elsewhere is a lot older. Liz never got to get a driver's license, go to college, or fall in love, and now she never will.

I have to admit, that I haven't quite finished this one yet, but I’ve only about 40 pages to go, so I thought I'd write this anyways. I am loving this book. Liz's struggle to deal with her grief at leaving her old life behind, her budding relationship with her grandmother (who's now at biological age 34), and her enjoyment of her new avocation as a dog counselor are all lovingly rendered by author Gabrielle Zevin. Although I know this isn't the sort of book one writes a sequel to (and again, I'm not at the end yet, so it could be that Zevin will wrap things up really nicely), I don't want to leave Elsewhere. Elsewhere is funny, quirky and touching in all the right places. I hope I get to go there when I die.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
ISBN 0374320918
277 pages

Monday, April 03, 2006

Today I'm going to out myself as a history geek. Even worse, today's book is Canadian history! Jean E. Pendziwol's The Red Sash is the story of a young boy, living in Fort William. His father is a voyageur, and the time is coming for the Rendezvous, when all the voyageurs will return to the fort. Our unnamed narrator tours us around the fort, while preparations for the returning voyageurs go on. His obvious admiration of his father shines through; one day, he too, will be a voyageur. Later in the day, while visiting an island with his sister and the doctor's son, our narrator manages to help an important man from the North West Company from his floundering canoe, saving the day. When he returns triumphantly to the fort, his father is waiting, and presents him with a red sash, the sign of the true voyageur.

Nicholas Debon's illustrations are rich and full of colour. It seems his specialty is water. Lake Superior comes alive in his hands, whether during fair weather or foul. This author/illustrator team is also responsible for Dawn Watch, in which a girl and her father go out on their sailboat while it's still dark, and greet the new day. Again, Debon's illlustrations are luminous. His ability to capture the many moods of water is truly a gift.

The Red Sash written by Jean E. Pendziwol illustrated by Nicholas Debon
ISBN 088899589X

Dawn Watch written by Jean E. Pendziwol illustrated by Nicholas Debon
ISBN 0888995121
32 pages

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Last year I discovered a really funny picture book called Wolves. It's by a British woman named Emily Gravett. This year she has another picture book out, that is really different, but equally as good.

Wolves is about a rabbit who goes to the library and checks out a book about wolves. Unfortunately, rabbit is so distracted by his book, that he doesn't notice he's walking right into a wolf. Gravett's illustrations are some of the coolest I've seen in a while. They are semi-collage, with really interesting changes in perspective. And she avoids the implicit violence of the wolf and rabbit's meet up by just showing us a really cut up book cover . . . and then turns the whole thing around by giving us an alternate ending for more sensitive readers. The first time I read this book. I gasped out loud. Because it's a really big risk to do a picture book like this, and I think it's wonderful.

Gravett's next book is a lot less risky. Orange Pear Apple Bear uses only the four words from the title. But the order is never the same, and the illustrations add to the silliness. For future reference, an apple bear is green with a rosy red patch. A lovely book for preschoolers, who will get in on the fun of thinking up new word combinations.

Wolves written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
ISBN 1405050829
40 pages

Orange Pear Apple Bear
written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
ISBN 1405050802
32 pages

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Meg Rosoff is my hero. She has only written two books, but they are two of the best books I have ever read. Her first book is a YA novel, entitled How I Live Now (coming out in paperback later this month). It's a bizarre novel about Daisy, a cynical, anorexic New York teen. Aha! you say, I know where this is going! But you don't! And that is why Rosoff is my hero. Daisy goes to spend some time with her late mother's sister in England, because her new stepmother isn't into dealing with Daisy's issues. While living in the country with her three cousins and aunt, Daisy and one of her cousins, Edmund, start to fall in love. Aha! you say, I know where this is going! This is going to be an incest novel! But there again, you are wrong. While Daisy's aunt is on a business trip in Belgium ("Aunt Penn always has Important Work To Do Related to the Peace Process"), something big happens. England is attacked. Perhaps by international terrorists, but nobody really seems to know. All we know is that suddenly the British army seems to be in charge, and everyone is warned not to leave the house, in case of a smallpox attack. Eventually someone realizes that Daisy and her cousins are living without adult supervision. They are separated and taken to live with strangers. I don't think I can go into the story any more without ruining it, and since I know that everyone is going to run out and read this book, I don't want to do that!

What I love about this book is that it is all so believable. Daisy's world is totally insane, and yet, I was there with her, the whole way. The jacket of the hardcover features a quote by Mark Haddon, and I think it captures this book perfectly: "After five pages I knew that she could persuade me to believe almost anything." And it's true.

Rosoff's second book is a picture book. It's called Meet Wild Boars. It is also a work of genius. Boris, Horace, Doris and Morris are "dirty and smelly, bad-tempered and rude." And "they do not like you either." The book details all the terrible things wild boars can and will do, especially if you are foolish enough to ask them over to play. Sophie Blackall's illustrations only add to the fun, with children who look doll-like, and the daintiest boars' feet I've ever seen. The kicker on the last page is enough to make you laugh out loud, if you aren't already laughing from the boars' antics. I think this one would be great for any kids still in that stage where the word "poo" is considered the height of hilarity.

How I Live Now
by Meg Rosoff
ISBN 0553376055
224 pages

Meet Wild Boars written by Meg Rosoff illustrated by Sophie Blackall
ISBN 0805074880
40 pages