Can't Stop Reading

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

Thursday, June 29, 2006

I was thinking the other day that I have not read any adult books in a long time. So I picked up Baby Proof by Emily Giffin. I have read her other two books, and though they did not make me think deep thoughts, I very much enjoyed them.

Baby Proof is about Claudia, who has always said she doesn't want children. Finally, in her early thirties she meets the perfect man. Claudia and Ben fall deeply in love, and everything is wonderful because Ben doesn't want kids either. Until Ben decides he does want kids. Claudia is pissed, because Ben has reneged on their deal, and divorces him forthwith. She's miserable, but maintains that she doesn't want kids. It's a hard position to maintain in our society, and it doesn't help that Claudia's circle of mid-thirties friends are all baby crazy.

Not a whole lot actually happens in the book, the big question being: will Claudia and Ben get back together? Will one of them compromise on the issue of kids? But I didn't mind so much. Claudia is funny, in an acerbic kind of way, and her sisters (one has three kids and a philandering husband, one has a great husband, but can't for the life of her get pregnant) are hilarious. If you're reading this book, you're really reading if for the characters. Giffin's real talent, I think, are the bit players in a book.

Baby Proof is one of those great summer beach reads.

Baby Proof by Emily Giffin
ISBN 0312348649
352 pages

You know what is great about this time of year? The ARC's for the fall season start coming in! Yay ARC's!

On Tuesday, two books came in, including Home Run by Paul Kropp. Now I noticed that it won't be out till October, so I was hemming and hawing about whether or not I should review it. But then I figured I would go ahead, because it's the sequel to Running the Bases which you can go out and purchase right now.

Both of these books are the story of Alan, a kindy of nerdy, but mostly nice guy who really wants to have sex. In the first book, Alan is in high school, and gets dating help from his friend Maggie, who coaches him through various short-lived relationships. I think I can say, without ruining the book, that Alan and Maggie get together by the end of this first book.

Home Run finds our hero with his virginity intact (after a year of dating Maggie) and on his way to his first year of university. Now here is where I found my only real problem with this book. Apparently Alan and his parents made the drive from somewhere in Ontario to BC in two days. That is ludicrous. Really. I have done that drive myself, and even driving 12 hour days, it was four and a half. I realize this is a small detail, but I gotta tell you, I sputtered in anger for a good fifteen minutes. Anyway, Alan arrives at the fictional Burrard University to discover his roommate is a pretty straight-arrow Christian. Despite that, Alan and his roommate have various adventures involving Alan trying to lose his virginity, and Kirk (the roommate) trying to keep his.

Eventually Alan does get to have sex, but not till he's gone back home for the summer, and not to any of the floozies he meets during the school year. I'll give you one guess . . .

I think what Kropp does best in these books is make teenage boys palatable. I have some reservations about how realistic Alan is, as a character, but I don't really care, because he's funny and endearing enough to make me want to keep on reading.

Running the Bases by Paul Kropp
ISBN 0385661479
160 pages

Home Run by Paul Kropp
ISBN 0385661487
208 pages

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Because of the heat and all, I thought I'd go for an easy read. I picked up Abadazad: the Road to Inconceivable on Sunday. The book is a neat concept. Its a diary, mixed with some comic strip style pages, some more traditional illustrations, and inserts from other books. The story is about Kate, whose brother Matt disappeared five years ago. Both Kate and her mother blame themselves, and Kate is especially angry about the whole thing. Mixed in with this are the stories from Abadazad. Apparently, a series of books created about a hundred years ago, they follow the adventures of Little Martha in the magical land of Abadazad, and they were Matt's favourite books. Then Kate finds out that her brother may still be alive and in Abadazad. So she magically transports over there. That's really where book one ends. It seems as though there will be three total in the series.

I have to say though, that I found the whole thing kind of dull. First off, this book really is just an introduction, and nothing too exciting happens. Secondly, although conceptually I love the idea of this book, with all the different graphics and whatnot, I don't actually like the style of Mike Ploog's illustrations. Every single person in the book has a snub red nose. And Matt is rather sickeningly cute. I also think that Kate's voice doesn't ring true. It just doesn't sound like a 14-year-old girl talking.

That said, this book would be great for reluctant readers. It's not too long, and there are lots of pictures to break things up, without it feeling like a book for little kids.

Abadazad: the Road to Inconceivable written by J.M. DeMatteis illustrated by Mike Ploog
ISBN 142310062x
144 pages

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I'm not entirely sure why, but right now our YA section seems to be bulging with gay teen novels. I briefly picked up David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy, but to tell you the truth, I think Levithan is just too serious a writer for me to deal with. It is all sunny and nice out, and I just want to read something light and happy.

So instead I picked up Brian Sloan's Tale of Two Summers. The premise is that best friends Chuck and Hal are 15, and spending their first summer apart. Chuck is straight, but really into musical theatre. He's spending the summer at the University of Maryland for a summer theatre workshop. Hal, who is gay, is spending the summer at home in Wheaton (read: small town) taking drivers' ed. Chuck has set up a blog so that the two can keep in touch, and their correspondence can be saved for all time.

Chuck, who is very talented, tends to be optimistic about how things in general will turn out. He is a little weirded out about Hal's gayness, and can be a little insensitive in that regard (remember, he is a 15-year-old boy). Hal is sarcastic and tends toward depression and cynicism. Obviously, there are love interests. For Chuck, its Ghaliyah, a fellow musical theatre enthusiast, who herself seems to be more into their director. Hal has fallen for Henri, a French exchange student who practices Parkour (its like skateboarding without the skateboard) and smokes a lot of pot.

Because Chuck is pretty busy starring in his camp's theatre production, Hal does most of the writing. He's funny and vulnerable and sweet and sarcastic all rolled into one great character. That's really the only problem I had with this book. I adored Hal, and I kind of felt like I didn't really know Chuck enough to decide one way or the other.

What Sloan does do really well though, is deal with the friendship between two boys, one of whom has come out of the closet. Chuck's curiosity as to what actually goes on, and Hal's openness about his life and feelings are refreshing to read in a YA novel. I will caution, however, there are some pretty graphic sexual details, so not for the faint of heart.

Tale of Two Summers by Brian Sloan
ISBN 0689874391
256 pages

Saturday, June 24, 2006

So I finally finished Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City this afternoon. Really, all I have been doing lately is barbequeing, swimming and riding bikes.

Back to the reading though!

Kiki Strike is the story of Ananka, who lives in New York city, and, along with several other Girl Guide rejects, becomes one of the Irregulars. Their intrepid leader is the one and only Kiki Strike. The girls are handily all equipped with their own talents, which makes their adventures that much easier. And what adventures they have! Kiki has recruited the Irregulars to help her explore the Shadow City, a series of underground tunnels below Manhattan that haven't been used since the criminals that lived there disappeared more than a hundred years ago. But maybe Kiki's motives aren't entirely exploratory in nature?

I think Kirsten Miller's biggest accomplishment with this book is that she has created one of those great old-fashioned adventure stories, and modernized it. Ananka and her friends are smart and funny, and not willing to take crap from anybody. The New York setting will help to draw in tweens who are more Gossip Girls oriented, and Miller's great story and characters will hook them.

I really am looking forward to reading more adventures from the Irregulars.

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller
ISBN 1582349606
387 pages

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wow, its amazing how much you DON'T read when the weather is gorgeous, isn't it? Last night I went lake swimming, and then today I went on a long bike ride with my friend Robyn. Fortunately for you all, I squeezed Grist in there somewhere.

Grist is Heather Waldorf's second YA novel. It's about Charlena (aka Charles, Charlie, Char) and her crazy, crazy family. Her father is dating a woman with three teenaged sons, and they're going to spend the summer in Toronto, while dad Mike teaches an accounting course. Charlie's best and only friend Sam has moved to Australia with his family (after an exceedingly awkward scene in which Charlie confesses her love for him). And her creative writing teacher has just suffered from a serious heart attack, which Charlie is convinced is due to her terrible writing. So when her Grams invites her to spend the summer up at Lake Ringrose, Charlie accepts.

Lake Ringrose is in the middle of nowhere. The closest town is Wawa, which, if you've ever been there, you'll know isn't saying much. One of the few teenagers out there is Kerry, who is all screwed up over a snowmobiling accident the previous winter. The accident caused his father's death, and seriously injured Kerry, forcing him to spend many months down in Sault Ste. Marie doing rehab. Now he's back at Ringrose and ready to cause more trouble. Even though Grams specifically warns Charlie to stay away from Kerry, they end up hooking up and falling in love. Which is not all that exciting until the Grams' reason is revealed. Which will totally spoil the book, so I'm not gonna tell you. Haha!

So. The story is maybe a little over the top dramatic, but I definitely did not see the big twist coming. Waldorf's writing is good enough to carry the story, though the occasional descent into over-writing does occur. But maybe that's in reference to Charlie's ambition to be a writer. I have yet to meet a teenager that doesn't over-write.

So, all in all, a good story, a likeable character, a good book. However, Red Deer Press seems to be under the impression that this book doesn't exist, so I can't show you the cover. That's unfortunate, because I think it’s a really nice example of a YA cover with a picture of a character that actually works.

Grist by Heather Waldorf
ISBN 0889953473
176 pages

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Okay, I'm a big, fat idiot. Yesterday I started Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City on Leila's recommendation, and then I stupidly left it at home last night. Stupidly because its amazing!

So today I had to make do with Sandpiper by Ellen Wittlinger. Wittlinger is one of those authors that I know I've read before, and liked, but I can't remember what all it is that I've read.

Sandpiper is about a girl who has been labelled a slut. Since her friends have abandoned her, she starts hanging around with this weird guy who spends all his time walking around town. Meanwhile, one of the boys Sandpiper "dated" has become a total psycho and is starting to get scary. But she feels she can't tell her mum, because she's in the midst of planning her wedding.

It sounds like a whole lot of teen angst issues all thrown into one book. And to tell you the truth, it did seem a little over the top. However, Wittlinger is a great writer. Sandpiper is such a wonderful character that I would have read about her no matter how over the top her story was. She's funny in the right places, clever in the right places, and I definitely cried in a few places.

Sandpiper by Ellen Wittlinger
ISBN 0689868022
240 pages

Monday, June 19, 2006

After the fantasticness that was Nick and Norah, I thought I should give David Levithan by himself a go. So this morning I picked up The Realm of Possibility, a book of poetry. Which I didn't realize was poetry until I started reading it.

Each of these poems is from the perspective of a different teenager, though they are all going to school together, and often involved with each other. A more organized reader than I might want to create some kind of chart, because I found it hard to keep track of them all. I also found the collection a little uneven. Some of the pieces were amazing and wonderful, and to be truthful, I skipped ahead through several because I got bored.

My absolute favourite was My Girlfriend is in Love with Holden Caulfield. It's hilarious, and not just because I was having a conversation the other day with someone who didn't believe my assertion that some people don't like Catcher in the Rye. Everything that Tyler says about Holden is true, but try telling that to a teenage girl. Holden Caulfield is the ultimate teenage romantic hero. Who among us was not in love with him? (Please note that this question is rhetorical, and I don't need emails saying how you thought Holden was a jerk). In fact, this piece is so great, that I am going to quote almost of all of it to you here:

My girlfriend is in love with Holden Caulfield and it is driving me CRAZY. She has read that book thirteen times, which is about eleven more times than she has bothered to read me. Everything she sees now is PHONY. Starbucks is PHONY. Our teachers are PHONY. Society is PHONY. And love- well love is the phoniest of all. At first I tried real hard to argue, but that made me one of THEM and not HIM. She tells me he is sweet because he wants to stop all of the little children from running off a cliff. And I say can you possibly think of a situation where a group of children would be running towards a cliff? And she says I just DON'T GET IT. Which is her way of saying she just doesn't get me, and how can I get everything so wrong. Not like Holden, who would be like, seventy years old right now, but is frozen at this age that I can't wait to leave.

And then:

If I took up with hookers, if I drank my daddy's money away, if I ridiculed everyone, it wouldn't be charming. She wouldn't love that in me. And, yes, Holden would keep those kids from falling off a cliff, but WHO WOULDN'T? Does she think I would just fold my arms or give them a pat on the back before they sailed headfirst to the ground? We are all catchers, and it's sad that she doesn't see it.

The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan
ISBN 0375836578
224 pages

Sunday, June 18, 2006

I have two favourite parts of this next book: the cover and the end papers. The front cover features a small boy clinging to a lamppost while a woman walks by holding the leashes of five dogs. The back cover has a policeman buying a hotdog from a street vendor, and one of the leashed dogs straining toward him while a row of pigeons looks on. The front end paper shoes a large tree, and the same small boy from the lamppost peering around it. A small dog's head is peering around the other way. The back end paper shows the same image reversed. This time we see only the small boy's head, while the small dog peers around the other side of the tree.

The small boy is Daniel, the self proclaimed bravest boy of all. He's not afraid of snakes, or thunderstorms, or dogs. He just doesn't like dogs. Unfortunately, Daniel comes home one day to discover a dog in his very own house! Aunt Rose had to go away, so Daniel's family will be looking after her dog Bandit. Daniel stomps to his room, and stays there throughout dinner, all the way till bedtime.

However, even the bravest have to pee, so in the middle of the night, during a thunderstorm no less, Daniel sneaks down the hall to the bathroom. Phew! But guess who's in the bathroom?! A very frightened Bandit scares the socks off Daniel, who hides in the tub. Eventually, Daniel realizes that Bandit isn't attacking him. In fact, she's scared of the thunderstorm. Good thing Daniel is the bravest boy of all, because he knows just what to do, as he carries Bandit for a snuggle in bed. I feel like this book deserves a little sigh at the end.

Highlights of the book include the aforementioned cover and end papers, but really, Larry Day's illustrations in general are pretty great. I am also a big fan of Daniel's sister Jenny. She is always pointing out that Daniel is afraid of dogs at inopportune moments. Gotta love the older siblings!

Not Afraid of Dogs written by Susanna Pitzer illustrated by Larry Day
ISBN 0802780679
32 pages

You know, there are a lot biographies for children that focus on explorers. Kids just seem to dig the idea of them. But I've never read a kids' book that addresses the idea of exploration, and why humans are so hellbent on discovering new things.

Well, I found one. Susan Lendroth wrote Why Explore? about the human need to discover. Her rhyming text begins with Polynesian navigators, and passes through early astronomy, and microscopic research, finally ending up at space exploration. Enrique Moreiro's illustrations are dreamy and detailed at the same time. Lendroth made the book all the more valuable by including an Author's Note that gives a bit more information on the people in the book.

Two disclaimers: I really don't like the pull out spread of the American west. Also, I think Lendroth's rhythm is off. I read it aloud, and it just sounded . . . off.

Why Explore? written by Susan Lendroth illustrated by Enrique S. Moreiro
ISBN 1582461503
32 pages

Egg and Bird is the kind of book that makes booksellers' heads ache. Where does this book go? Alex Higlett has written a funny little book. It's about Egg and Bird. Egg is a child, and does childish things, and Bird is an adult who does adultish things. But then there's a bit of a surprise at the end.

Okay, so there's a surprise. This book still gives me a headache. First of all, I can't imagine anyone finding it amusing enough to pay $14.99 Canadian for it. Secondly, who is the audience? I don't think kids will get the joke (or if they get it, they won't find if funny). It is also a smallish book that easily gets lost amongst the other picture books. But if it's for adults, where am I supposed to put that? In the picture books for adults section? Does anyone have room for a shelf like that? Are there enough adults buying picture books for other adults that there is a market for this kind of thing?

The whole thing is making my head hurt.

Egg and Bird written and illustrated by Alex Higlett
ISBN 1405048972
24 pages

Woot! Endymion Spring is finally done!

Okay, here is a rundown on this book. I first heard about it when it got tons of press back in March. Apparently Penguin went ahead and paid first time author Matthew Skelton quite a large advance. Then there was a problem with the printer, and the book didn't show up until mid-June. So when it finally came, I was pretty excited. Mostly I was excited because its a fantasy novel about books! How cool is that?

Endymion Spring is about Blake. Blake is in Oxford with his little sister Duck, and his mother, an academic. While she researches, Blake and Duck hang out, mostly at the St. Jerome's library. Blake misses home, especially his dad. Why are two kids just hanging around antique books instead of attending school? Who knows?

Anyway, Blake discovers an intriguing book one day. In it, there are no words at all, just blank pages. And then suddenly a riddle appears on one of the pages, but only Blake can read it.

Interspersed with the story of Blake is the story of Endymion Spring, who was an apprentice to Johann Gutenberg while he was working on creating his first bible. Oh yeah, apparently Gutenberg's investor was a morally challenged guy named Fust. Uh huh. And the book that Blake finds in the library? Made of dragon scales that Fust stole from some Danish guy.

Okay, just to make this clear, I enjoy fantasy books. I enjoy suspending my disbelief and imagining, say, schools of wizardry, or faery hills in New Jersey, or even different worlds where princesses have to slay mountain-sized dragons. But Skelton just doesn't have the writing chops to take you there. Endymion Spring is full of cliches, and bizarre metaphors, one-dimensional characters, and too easy coincidences. And my favourite, tying up a story while the main character is unconscious.

The only thing I liked about this book was the cut throat world of academia, and antique book collecting. Everything and everyone else was boring, and made me roll my eyes.

Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton
ISBN 0141320354
352 pages

Hey, I'm not dead! The reason I haven't been posting is because I haven't been reading. I am working my way through Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton. It is harrible, people, but I'm keeping at it because I want to write about it here, and I'm trying to be a good person and only review books that I've read, cover to cover. Anyway, because it is not so enjoyable, I have been avoiding it, and every time I picked up another book, I felt guilty that I wasn't reading it, so I didn't read anything.

Until yesterday. I came in Saturday morning and went through all the books that arrived on my days off. And guess what finally came in?! Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist!! Thank you, Random House!

Frankly, no Endymion Spring was going to be keeping me from my Nick and Norah, so I got to work. And when I say, work, I mean not work at all, because it was really just a matter of getting started, and then the book took over. I should probably get this out of the way before we go any further. I am not going to say anything bad about this book. Frankly, I can't think of anything. Except maybe that there is a lot of swearing, but whether that's bad or not is really a matter of opinion, and in mine, it's not.

I have not read a book that has such an insanely realistic portrayal of teenagehood, and teenage love in I don't know how long (wait, I do: since I read Gingerbread). The obsession with music, and the physicality of it is so true. I loved this book because it reminded me of what it is like to Feel with a capital F. Ah, to be 17 again!

I also feel I should mention that though Levithan and Cohn wrote this book together (Levithan wrote Nick's chapters, and Cohn wrote Norah's), it didn't feel at all choppy. I hate to make it sound like Levithan and Cohn are not hardworking authors, because I'm sure they are, but none of that work is evident in Nick and Norah. It feels like this book just sort of, came into being. Somebody made this stuff up and wrote it down?! I don't believe it!

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
ISBN 03758353518
192 pages

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I swear to god I am reading a novel these days, but I'm finding it a bit of a slog. It's a big name one, so I want to actually finish it, and let y'all know what I think, but meantime, I keep picking up picture books to tide me over!

Is it just me, or are there always books labelled the "oldest story in the world" coming out? Muti's Necklace is the latest to claim that honour, and though I can't say if it's true or not, it's most definitely a good story.

Muti lives in ancient Egypt, and her most treasured possession is a necklace made for her by her father. As Muti grows, the necklace goes from hanging down to her tummy to being a much smaller fit, but no matter the size, Muti always wears the necklace that has happy memories of her family attached. One day, Muti goes to work at the palace of the Pharaoh. Mostly she washes dishes and laundry, but one day on a whim, the Pharaoh decides that his pleasure boat will be rowed only by beautiful maidens. Which sounds dirty, but really, it's not! Anyway, Muti gets to be lead rower, and on their first day out everything seems to be going well. Until Muti's necklace falls into the water! How's that for bad luck? Anyway, Muti refuses to row any further, despite threats from the Pharaoh's captain, the Pharaoh himself, and even the creepy magician. Fortunately, the magician is not all creepiness, and he magically lowers the boat into the lake, so Muti can retrieve her necklace. Once that's done, the boat-rowing continues uneventfully. Except that Pharaoh can't stop thinking about this brave girl who stood up to everyone for something she treasured. He summons her forth and proposes to marry her. I think this is my favourite part of the whole book, here. Muti says no, and that really, she'd much rather go home and spend time with the family she loves. And so she does.

Whether or not this story is the oldest in the world is irrelevant. It's a good story, and its well told, and would go well in any fairy tale collection. I only have one teeny, tiny beef. Rebecca Guay's illustrations are gorgeous, no doubt about it, but the people are like, tanned white people. With blue eyes and everything. Last I checked, Egypt is full of brown people. I have a feeling Guay is mixing up ancient Egypt with the Greek ruled Egypt of Cleopatra. To be fair, it is a small beef, because, frankly, the illustrations are gorgeous. So lush and wonderful.

Muti's Necklace written by Louise Hawes illustrated by Rebecca Guay
ISBN 0618535837
32 pages

Monday, June 12, 2006

Question: Does Chris Raschka ever do bad books? I haven't read everything of his, so I can't say entirely, but if so, I haven't seen them.

His newest book is Five for a Little One, and it's about the five senses. Each sense gets a lovely few pages, featuring an inky rabbit, and then we get a little wrap-up of them all, and finally "Five senses- just enough- to know the love we have for you."

Not at all surprisingly, Raschka's illustrations are the coolest in town. They're a combination of what looks like ink splotches, brushed india ink, and colourful stamps. The exuberance of them makes me want to run outside and experience the world.

The text is pretty great, too. It's not quite rhyming, and the rhythm is just a little off kilter. Just enough to make it fun. Definitely a read aloud!

Five for a Little One written and illustrated by Chris Raschka
ISBN 0689845995
48 pages

New book arrivals are slowing down to a trickle, now that the spring season is ending. Fortunately, a trickle still means a few are getting through. Part of that trickle is The Show-and-Tell Lion.

This is the story of what happens when a lie gets out of control. One day, for show and tell, Matthew wishes he had something exciting to show his class. Sadly, Matthew has nothing exciting to talk about (which I totally sympathize with, by the way). So he makes up a pet lion, Larry, to talk about. Everyone in class believes him, and Matthew regales his classmates with stories about Larry every day. Until one of the kids suggests a field trip to Matthew's house to visit Larry. What a quandary. Seeing no way out of it, Matthew tells his mum what he's done. She, sensibly, tells him that he's just going to have to bite the bullet and tell the truth. How embarrassing, thinks Matthew! But see, Matthew is a creative kid, and he comes up with a plan. He writes and illustrates a cool-looking book, with all the adventures of Larry the lion. The next day he brings it to class and shows all his friends. The response is not great: "You lied?" But Matthew explains that Larry is real in his head, and now in this book, as well. His classmates decide that Larry is a pretty good story, and from then on, Matthew writes an adventure for Larry every week to read to the class during show and tell.

My favourite thing about this book is Lynne Avril Cravath's illustrations. They're childlike, but still quite sophisticated, and her take on Matthew's own illustrations within the book, are hilarious. Author Barbara Abercrombie's text, though far from bad, is not really in the same league.

The Show-and-Tell Lion written by Barbara Abercrombie illustrated by Lynne Avril Cravath
ISBN 0689864086
32 pages

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I will always associate Michael Martchenko's illustrations with Robert Munsch. And so a while ago, when Sophie and the Sea Monster arrived, I automatically shelved it with the other Munsch books in Canadian Picture Books. Until a customer pointed out to me that it seemed to be in the wrong place. Whoops! Sophie and the Sea Monster is in fact by Don Gillmor, you see.

Sophie is a rather timid child. Her biggest fear is that the moon will fall on her house. So when her brother Chester tells her that there is a sea monster under her bed, she believes him. After a couple of hours of screwing up her courage, Sophie finally gets in to bed, and looks under it. There is a sea monster there! And he informs Sophie that, in fact, "there are sea monsters everywhere." To further educate Sophie on sea monsters, this one bursts into song. And what a song it is! I wish I had a sea monster under my bed. It would make nights when I can't get to sleep so much more entertaining!

Anyway, it turns out that the sea monster is even more of a scaredy cat than Sophie, and so she makes it her mission to help the sea monster overcome his fears, which has the pleasant side effect of helping her overcome her own. Eventually, Sophie's sea monster heads back to the sea, and the book ends with a nice jab at older brother Chester.

What I really liked about this book, is the way Sophie and the sea monster's fears are portrayed as silly, but not condescendingly. And I love how Gillmor introduces the idea of familiarity to ease fears. A good story all 'round.

Sophie and the Sea Monster written by Don Gillmor illustrated by Michael Martchenko
ISBN 0439974615
32 pages

Saturday, June 10, 2006

So. I am thinking about going to Australia, and I thought to myself, what better way to prepare for such a trip than to read some of that country's YA literature?

In that spirit, I picked up Brigid Lowry's Follow the Blue. I have to say, we've had it for a while, and I've been avoiding it because I don't really like the cover very much.

I have mixed feelings about this one. I enjoyed the story, for the most part, but I sort of wish it had been told from a different perspective. I found Bec to be extremely annoying.

The book is about annoying Bec, who's mother is a celebrity chef. Mum gets sent on a book tour to the US, and dad goes along with. Dad has recently suffered from depression and been institutionalized, and its felt that a trip will be just the thing. I should note here that most authors I've spoken feel that book tours are exhausting and not usually very much fun. Anyways, so Bec and her little brother and sister are going to be left in the capable hands of Mrs. D. for five weeks. This, by the way, is not the set up. The parents don't leave until about half way through the book.

Anyways, Bec hangs out with her girlfriends, falls in love with a boy, falls out of love when said boy shags one of her friends, and snags herself a much nicer boy as her new boyfriend.

The title of the story comes from Bec's musing about the nature of stories. About how life doesn't really have a begining, a middle and an end. That you may be following the blue yarn, but eventually you are going to get all knotted up in the other colours. In keeping with that, Lowry's story just sort of starts, and then stops. There isn't really any kind of plot. And whether you like that kind of thing or not is what will make the difference for you in this book, I think. I found it a bit boring, but that's just me.

Follow the Blue by Brigid Lowry
ISBN 0312342977
208 pages

Friday, June 09, 2006

I think I mentioned that I spent some major birthday money at the store the other week. One of the books I picked up was the sequel to Ruby Lu, Brave and True which I adored. Here's a shocker for you: i also loved Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything.

Last time we saw Ruby, she was excited because her cousin Flying Duck was emigrating to America with her family. Most of this new book deals with Ruby and Flying Duck's adventures during second grade. First off, Ruby is no longer the centre of attention, which is tough. Flying Duck's family are also not very good English speakers, so now everyone at home is speaking Chinese all the time, and Ruby can't understand what's going on.

One of my favourite things about Look's writing, is the way she just slips things in, without making a big deal of them. For instance, Flying Duck is deaf, but the kids on her street think its pretty cool, because they get to learn Chinese sign language.

Ruby must also learn to cope with swimming lessons, when she's deathly afraid of water. Of course, Flying Duck is an excellent swimmer. But Ruby is one of those totally unstoppable kids, and when the going gets tough, Ruby always seems to come out on top.

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything written by Lenore Look illustrated by Anne Wildorf
ISBN 0689864604
164 pages

Okay, I have been busying it up reading some novels this week.

Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson is a novel about three girls who spend the summer on a Georgia peach orchard. Birdie's father owns the failing orchard, and spends most of her time fielding phone calls from her mother, who left the orchard, and the family. Leeda is from the perfect southern family, but she despite appearances, she doesn't feel like she fits in. Finally, Murphy is from the wrong side of the tracks, is crazy smart, and doesn't give a toss what anyone thinks of her.

The book felt very Travelling Pants to me, so definitely recommend this to girls who enjoyed that series. It even has a quote from Ann Brashares on the front cover. But instead of being about friendships that have been around forever, Peaches is a novel about creating that kind of friendship. And how sometimes, when you're a teenage girl, things just happen, especially friendships.

One of things I also really enjoyed was the romantic triangle between Murphy, Leeda and Rex. That kind of confusion isn't usually represented realistically in YA novels, I find. Usually if someone likes someone else's boyfriend, they turn out to be an evil bitch.

Apparently there is a sequel coming out sometime next year. Although I really enjoyed Peaches, I'm not sure how excited I am about another book. Its one of those novels that really seems snapshotty to me: the summer these girls spent at the orchard. I don't think I need anymore.

Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson
ISBN 0060733071
312 pages

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I am lazy this week. That's my excuse for not posting yesterday. And today I am doing this while it is still early, before the day starts to suck. I am not being a pessimist; I know its going to suck. Because I forgot to set my alarm last night when I went to bed at 1am, and luckily woke up just in time to brush my teeth and throw on some clothes and get to work. So I am all kind of itchy and befuddled.

Anyways, today I thought I would talk about The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke. She's most famous for her novels, though I've only read one of them. I didn't love The Thief Lord, though it wasn't terrible by any means. The good thing about picture books, is that they are short. So if they're no good, you have only spent a few minutes reading a book you're not enjoying, whereas a novel would take up several hours.

Fortunately for me, I quite enjoyed The Princess Knight. Violetta is a princess, with four older brothers. They spend all their time jousting and such, training to be knights. But Violetta's not allowed to join in, being a girl and all. So she sneaks off at night, practicing very hard. Her dad, however, remains old fashioned. When Violetta turns sixteen, he announces a jousting contest, the prize of which will be her hand in marriage. Her father instructs her to "put on your finest gown and practice your prettiest smile." This to the girl who's the quickest, nimblest knight in the land!

Fortunately, Violetta is also quite clever. On the day of the tournament, she appears in black armour, and jousts in the tournament as Sir No-Name. Of course she wins, and declares that she shall choose her own prize: "I hereby proclaim that no one will ever win Princess Violetta's hand in marriage without first defeating Sir No-Name." And so she rode off, far, far away.

Upon her return, she married the rose gardener's son, and they lived happily ever after.

Yay! I love this story! I also quite enjoyed Kerstin Meyer's illustrations, which, according to the jacket, were inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry. King Wilfrid the Worthy is suitably silly looking, and Violetta is not your traditional beatiful princess. She's kind of spunky looking, and appropriately tomboyish.

The Princess Knight written by Cornelia Funke illustrated by Kerstin Meyer
ISBN 0439536308
32 pages

Monday, June 05, 2006

Yesterday was the Victoria Children's Literature Roundtable 25th anniversary tea. It didn't rain, but that's about all I can say for the weather. It was held at Point Ellice House, which is a local historical site here in town. In celebration, 25 authors and illustrators were invited, and everyone was encouraged to dress in Victorian costume. As speakers we had Ron Jobe, who founded the Children's Literature Roundtables amoung zillions of other children's book related things, and Susan Musgrave. In keeping with the whole don't say anything if you don't have anything nice to say, I'm going to skip right over Susan Musgrave. Anyways, I think a good time was had by all, despite the mud.

Afterwards, I was lucky enough to get to go out to dinner with my mum and Ron. I had an amazing time, and one of the topics we touched on was books that are terrible and how in god's name did they ever get published? Last year just such a book came into the store (and shockingly got a good write up in the Globe & Mail), and I thought I would share it with you guys today.

Eleanor Koldofsky is one of those people that I wish had not written a picture book. She appears to be wonderfully accomplished in many areas, has done much good in the world, and I'm sure is a lovely woman. However, these attributes do not a picture book writer make.

Clip-Clop is set in turn of the century (the last one) Toronto. The basic premise seems to be to show kids the different kinds of jobs working horses did. And there's a thin, hideously boring story woven through. And by hideously boring, I mean that there is a main character, Consuela. That's about it. There is no conflict, no climax, no resolution. Just Consuela, introducing us to various horses.

I should say that David Parkins' illustrations are quite nice. They are neat ink and watercolours, full of characters, and seemingly quite accurate. But they aren't enough to carry the book.

The one thing that Susan Musgrave said that I enjoyed was that nostalgic children's books don't usually work, because the target audience (ie children) has no concept of the idea of nostalgia. They're young, and have nothing to be nostalgic for. I wish more hopeful authors would keep that in mind.

Clip-Clop written by Eleanor Koldofsky illustrated by David Parkins
ISBN 0887766811
24 pages

Saturday, June 03, 2006

I love picture books that convey some kind of message without being messagey. They are hard to find, in my experience. And so when Why do You Cry? came in, I heaved a big sigh, ready to be annoyed by the messagey content. But huzzah! The Klise sisters have hit the mark!

Why do You Cry? is the story of Little Rabbit. Now that he is big, and hosting his very own fifth birthday party, he has decided that crying is only for little babies, and he will only invite friends of his that don't ever cry. Mother Rabbit is gently skeptical, but sends her child out to invite all his friends. And one by one, all of Little Rabbit's friends reveal that they still cry, when they're feelings or bodies are hurt, when its dark out and the shadows look like giants, when they're embarassed by new haircuts. Finally Little Rabbit comes home and declares that he and Mother Rabbit will be the only ones at the party. Until Mother Rabbit announces that she can't come either, because she still cries, too! What on earth could prompt Mother Rabbit to cry? Well, among other reasons she gives, is that "I look at you and feel so proud and happy. And that can make me cry."

And so Little Rabbit realizes that crying doesn't make you a baby, it means that you have feelings, and sometimes crying is the only way to express them. The birthday party turns out to be a great success, with only one guest (a proud Mother Rabbit) shedding any tears.

I must say that I particularly enjoyed illustrator M. Sarah Klise's paintings. They reminded me of someone, though I can't for the life of me remember who. Regardless, they are wondefully whimsical, and by far my favourite is the page that illustrates the cat's fear of the giants/shadows in the alley.

Why do You Cry? written by Kate Klise illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
ISBN 0805073191
32 pages

Friday, June 02, 2006

You know what is weird? I first read Lauren Child's picture books about two years ago, and loved them. And I found out she had a series of novels out, and did nothing about it. Well finally I got it together and ordered a few of the Clarice Bean books in. And I scored some serious gift certificatage for my birthday last week so I picked up Clarice Bean Spells Trouble.

Not at all surprisingly, I loved it. Lauren Child cracks me up. Clarice Bean is one of those kids that is always getting into trouble. But its almost always not her fault. Really. Add to that, she is a horrendous speller ("I am not a good speller and ... it is not my fault if I don't know how many Z's there are in LOSER."), and has a tendency towards opening her mouth when she shouldn't.

Clarice and her best friend Betty spend much of their free time watching episodes of Ruby Redfort, girl detective, nagging their parents to buy Ruby merchandise, and checking out Ruby's website. Ruby Redfort is kind of like Nancy Drew, except cool.

Anyways, this particular book deals with Clarice Bean's dread of the upcoming spelling bee, her anticipation of the school play (the Sound of Music), and her friendship with Karl Wrenbury.

More than her illustrations (which I have always loved), Child's style of writing is quirky and funny. The kids in her books are not your average elementary students, and their voices are unique and wonderful. Note to self: read more Clarice Bean.

Clarice Bean Spells Trouble by Lauren Child
ISBN 0763629030
189 pages

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Today I have decided to add a new feature to Can't Stop Reading. I know you are thinking, but Bookstore Girl, what kind of a feature could possibly improve the wonder that is this blog? Well, I'll tell you. I am going to start a weekly-ish column called Ask Bookstore Girl, in which I will answer book recommendation related questions. I'll use a combination of questions I answer at work and email requests.

Today's question comes from a woman who came in to the store yesterday. First off, this woman is obviously silly, as she told me she had come on a trip and not brought any books with her. Seriously. Who does that? Someone who loved Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees, and wants a Canadian fiction recommendation.

Now first off, Canadian fiction is not my specialty. Shut up Robyn, I know you are laughing at me. That is the understatement of the year. However, it is my job to be up on books, so I read a lot of reviews of Canadian fiction. Even so, it is easier to recommend a book that you have read, and enjoyed, so I started out with Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. Despite being set in a small town in Ontario, and being a family drama, I actually enjoyed this when I read it a few years ago. Hmm, says the book-free traveller, unenthusiastically.

Next suggestion, Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. This one has made a big splash in Canlit this year. Being nominated for several important awards, as well as being a finalist in the CBC's Canada Reads. Its about a young First Nation's man who goes off to fight in the First World War. But no, you see, it's a man book, and our traveller likes to read about the interior lives of women.

I've got it! The Birth House by Ami McKay! Oops, this story about a midwife's apprentice in the early part of twentieth century Nova Scotia is still in hardcover.

Aha! The Magician's Beautiful Assistant and Other Stories by Rachel Wyatt. Various quite short stories that made me laugh out loud (my favourite remains Dear Mr. Shariff). Sold!