Can't Stop Reading

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 21, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

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

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

Angelo written and illustrated by David Macaulay
ISBN 061869336X

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I'm just going to get this out of the way here at the start: Mem Fox is a genius. I cannot imagine a world where she puts out bad books. Just so everyone knows. A Particular Cow is of course, no exception.

This particular cow likes to go for a walk of a Saturday morning. Unfortunately, she gets rather stuck in a particular pair of underwear. Which belong to a particular woman. Etcetera, etcetera. Fortunately after a brief adventure involving a mail cart, and a boat, our particular cow is returned to her pasture, safe and sound.

Terry Denton's illustrations do a great job of emphasizing the ridiculousness of the situation. Various minor characters exclaim hilariously throughout the book, my particular favourite being the turtle that shouts: Incoming!

A Particular Cow written by Mem Fox illustrated by Terry Denton
ISBN 0152002502
32 pages

This book cracks me up, and I can imagine it will crack up pre-schoolers as well. Basically, a bunch of animals decide to play in the forest while wolf is not around. Each page shows a different animal shouting out the words: let's play in the forest while wolf is not around, and then a second animal says: wolf, are you there? On the opposite page, wolf is getting dressed, one piece of clothing at a time.

Just as you are thinking that wolf could not possibly put on any more clothing, he shouts out that he's all dressed and ready to eat! Oh no, the animals in the forest, you think! Fortunately they are safe because wolf is going to eat his favourite meal: pancakes! I literally laughed out loud.

Let's Play in the Forest, While Wolf is not Around written and illustrated by Claudia Rueda
ISBN 0439823234
32 pages

So Few of Me is one of those picture books that is almost more for adults than for children. Its about Leo, whose list of things to do is growing ever longer. He thinks to himself that another one of him would help move things along, and indeed, a second Leo does get more done. But not enough, so more and more Leo's appear until there are ten of them.

Even with ten though, it seems the work is never done, and the original Leo sneaks away for a nap. When he awakes, the other Leo's are standing over him, demanding to know why he was doing something that's not on the list. Leo's conclusion in the face of all these things to do is a true one. Better to do less, do it well, and leave yourself time to dream.

Despite the rather adultish fable aspect of the book, I think Peter Reynolds' illustrations are enough to draw in children. They're just loose enough to be fun, and the only word I can think of to describe Leo with is 'scamp'. Maybe loveable scamp.

So Few of Me written and illustrated by Peter Reynolds
ISBN 0763626236
32 pages

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I would hope that by now everyone realizes that I adore Maureen Johnson. Have you seen her website?! Its awesome! So you can imagine that when her new book arrived this week, I was pretty pumped.

Devilish is one of the crop of books popping up lately that features a character selling her soul in order to be popular. In this case, the setting is a Catholic girls' school, and its protagonist Jane's best friend is the one who does the selling. In order to save Allison, Jane makes a deal with a demon. If her ex-boyfriend doesn't kiss her by midnight on Halloween, she forfeits her soul in place of Allison's.

Meanwhile, it turns out that her freshman stalker (in a nice way) is a 116 year old demon hunter who still looks 14. And her calculus teacher? Part of a secret Catholic society that helps hunt down demons and protect the souls of humanity. Because its Maureen Johnson, its funny as all get out. For instance, the loss of toes features as a prominent plot point.

Its a bit less serious than Johnson's other novels, by which I mean I didn't cry once throughout the whole book. And I'm also feeling like it could easily be a series (please let it be a series!).

Devilish by Maureen Johnson
ISBN 1595140603
263 pages

So after Millicent Min I whipped through Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time yesterday. It's the same story as the previous book, but this time from Stanford's perspective. Can I just say, I'm so glad that I was never a boy! As hilarious as Stanford and his buddy's are, I don't think I would be up to the grossness that is required.

Anyways, Stanford flunked English, and instead of getting to go to the coolest basketball camp ever, he's going to summer school. And being tutored by the most annoying nerdball on the planet, Millicent Min. On top of that, he's grandmother, Yin Yin is being sent to live in an old folks home, his dad is always at work, and his mum seems to be desperately unhappy. Oh right, and he's told his friends he's got a summer job, rather than admit he flunked out of English.

I have to say, after reading these two books, I really think that Lisa Yee's talents lie in her ability to enter the minds of kids. Stanford and Millicent are both such real kids, I sort of feel like I might run into them one day, in the park or something. I'm calling it: she's the Beverly Cleary of the twenty first century.

Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time by Lisa Yee
ISBN 0439622476
296 pages

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Apparently being a girl genius is not all its cracked up to be. At least according to Millicent Min, certified prodigy. Millicent is gearing up for the summer before her last year of high school, wherein she's planning to take a college class, but Millicent is only 11. Millicent can't wait to get to college where she can interact with her intellectual peers (her words, not mine). But then her mother signs her up for a volleyball team to help her make friends her own age, and she's suckered into tutoring Stanford Wong, who's flunked grade 6 English. The summer is not turning out as planned.

Its fairly obvious from the get go that Millicent is going to learn some lessons in this book, namely the importance of friends and that as much fun as school is, its not all there is to life. But that's okay, because Lisa Yee has created such an endearingly blind character, that you spend most of your time cheering Millicent on. When Millicent meets Emily, I was almost as excited as she was; her frustration at Stanford's lack of interest in Number the Stars was totally understandable; and her inability to see what's going on when it comes to her parents cracked me up.

And now I'm going to sit down and read the companion book, Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time.

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
ISBN 0439771315
248 pages

Monday, September 11, 2006

So I've just finished Meg Rosoff's new book. Rosoff, you may recall,
is my hero. I was a little nervous about this one, because there's a quote from Alice Munro on the back. Why Alice Munro? What does she have to do with anything? I have now read the book, and I still cannot answer that. However, other than the quote, the book is as close to perfection as a book can get, I think.

Its the story of 15 year old David, who has the horrifying realization one day that fate is out to get him. Think of all the terrible things that can happen to a person! They could all happen to him! So David decides to try and fool fate, by changing everything about himself, including his name. The newly christened Justin Case heads over to the local charity shop to get himself a new wardrobe, and when he's approached to run cross country at school, he joins the team (David can think of nothing less enjoyable than running for long distances). Meanwhile, Justin becomes involved with Agnes, a kooky 19 year old photographer, with whom he ends up falling in love.

Throughout all of these happenings, Justin continues to be convinced that something is out to get him, and accordingly suffers from a very serious depression; a miasma of a depression that seems to be never-ending.

Although I enjoy Rosoff's books immensely, they always make me feel kind of like I am missing something. Its the same way I have always felt in literature classes, when I've done the reading, and enjoyed it, and then I come to class and find that all sorts of things happened that I didn't even notice. Because I was too busy enjoying the story. I think this happened here, too. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Justin's trials and tribulations (though I'll admit to wanting to slap him upside the head a few times), but I get the impression there's a bit more to the book than a depressed teenager. I just can't quite put my finger on it. I'm thinking that maybe this book will require a few readings to get it all straight in my head. I can't think of a better way to spend my time.

Just in Case by Meg Rosoff
ISBN 0385746784
246 pages

Saturday, September 09, 2006

It is an odd kind of thing to read a book about teenagers, that is written for adults. Or at least I find it is. I read the book Prep when it first came out, well over a year ago, and to be honest, I still haven't made up my mind about it.

Last week, Curtis Sittenfeld's new novel, The Man of My Dreams came in, so I thought I would give it a go. Its about Hannah, and it begins when Hannah is 14, jumping to various points until the ending, when she's 28. Sittenfeld's heroines tend towards the neurotic, and the obsessive. They can be heartbreaking, funny, and exasperating. I will say that Hannah was slightly less exasperating than Lee.

Hannah spends a lot of her time thinking about whether or not she's normal, especially in her relationships with men. I don't know whether or not she's normal, but she definitely spends a lot more time thinking about it than I can ever fathom doing.

Anyways, the point of Sittenfeld's books, from what I can gather, is not so much that you frequently want to strangle the protagonist, but her writing. Because, really, she is a pretty amazing writer. I have to come to realize that I don't particularly care what the topic is, I just want to read Curtis Sittenfeld's words.

The Man of My Dreams
ISBN 1400064767
269 pages

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I have been meaning to read Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow for a while now, but I am fairly easily distracted, so I didn't get to it till today.

The book is supposed to a pretty big deal, and was even reviewed in the New York Times in the adult section. If I had to guess, I would say that author Faiza Guene had probably intended it to be an adult book, but her publisher has cleverly priced right between adult and YA.

Anyways, the reason there was media around this title is because of the setting, which is the projects in the suburbs of Paris. And the protagonist is a disaffected Arabian youth. So its all rather timely.

Doria and her mother live in a crappy apartment in the Paradise projects. Doria's father (aka the Beard) up and left them six months ago, rumour has it to return to Morocco and find a wife who will give him sons. Meanwhile, Doria is flunking out of school, and her illiterate mother is struggling to make ends meet with her job as a chamber maid at a hotel.

There isn't much of a plot here, as the book basically just follows Doria and her mother in the year or so after the Beard has left them. I didn't mind that so much, as Doria can be quite hilarious at times, and there was definitely a thread of hope throughout, as things improved for her and her mother. That being said, its pretty depressing. Life in the projects is pretty awful, and Doria's experiences with racism are all too commonplace.

So this book is definitely a more personal look at something you normally see only on the news. But I will say that I felt like there could have been a bit more to it. For instance, there's a bit where a boy that Doria grew up with is jailed for something to do with drugs and stolen cars. Doria refuses to believe that his imprisonment is just. So did he do it, or was it all to do with his race? And later on, he becomes a bit of a religious fanatic, and she just says that its good he'll be out of prison soon. It all kind of makes me wish that Guene had bitten off just a bit more.

I should also note that their is a fair amount of swearing in here, and definitely some drugs, too.

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Guene
ISBN 0156030489
192 pages

You know it is a great day when you are feeling a bit mushy in the brain, and a nice, romantic comedy comes in your delivery. Invisible Lives is exactly the kind of book that I was needing.

Set in Seattle, its the story of Lakshmi, who helps run a sari store with her mother. With an incredible talent for knowing exactly the right sari for all her customers, Lakshmi is trying to help keep her mother's business afloat. Meanwhile, she's 28 and not yet married. Oh, the horror! Finally a suitable candidate is found: his father is a friend of Lakshmi's late father, he's young, handsome and a doctor.

But of course, complications arise. One day a famous Bollywood actress comes to the store with her driver. The account could help keep the store afloat, but Lakshmi can't even concentrate on it, what with Nick the driver standing around being hunky. (Please note, I hate the word hunky, but that's exactly what Nick is.) So Lakshmi has to choose between the Indian doctor, and the American driver.

Now, I will say personally, that I love a good romance novel, the key characteristics of which include a beautiful woman as heroine, who is also kind and smart, a beautiful and brawny man as hero, who is also kind and smart, a misunderstanding that threatens to tear the two apart, and a conclusion that can be seen a mile away. Invisible Lives has all that in spades, and the writing isn't bad either. The only element of a romance novel it doesn't have is steamy sex scene. However, if any of those elements cause you an ulcerous rage, you should probably stay away.

Invisible Lives by Anjali Banerjee
ISBN 1416517057
278 pages

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

So I've just finished book one of a newish series. The series is called The Sisters Grimm, and its by Michael Buckley. The sisters Grimm are Sabrina and Daphne, who's parents mysteriously disappeared two years ago. Since then, they've been bouncing around foster homes, rather unhappily. Then a woman claiming to be their grandmother is allowed to adopt the sisters; all well and good, except that Sabrina and Daphne know their grandparents are all dead. So who is this woman, and what will the girls do with themselves in tiny town of Ferryport Landing?

Well it turns out that there's plenty of excitement going on in Ferryport Landing, which is the home of all the world's fairy tale creatures. And the Grimm sisters? Yeah, they're members of that family. Turns out, their family has lived in town for hundreds of years, keeping an eye on all the Everafters, and making sure they don't escape into the world at large.

Now this is all really just introduction to the series. The real adventure of The Fairy-Tale Detectives comes when Granny Relda and her sidekick Mr. Canis get kidnapped by a giant on the loose. Sabrina and Daphne are forced to use all their resources (which include: a magic mirror; a magic carpet; Puck, prince of the fairies; Dorothy's slippers; fairy godmother wands; a 200 lb. great Dane named Elvis; and the sword Excalibur) to save their grandmother.

Beyond being a fun adventure story that brings in a ridiculous number of fairy tale characters, Buckley's created a pretty good mystery. Who let the giant loose on Ferryport Landing? I have to admit to not having guessed it before it was revealed.

The Sisters Grimm Book One: The Fairy-Tale Detectives
ISBN 0810959259
304 pages

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Today is pretty cool because I am training the new guy. This means that I can mostly just hang around and not do a whole lot work. Yeah, that's right, I'm making him do everything: it's called training, people!

So while he's off hard at work I am going to review a picture book. Which, when you think about it, is sort of vaguely in my job description.

Anyways, this one came in last week and I found it rather intriguing. Ms. Rubinstein's Beauty is by Spanish illustrator and first time author, Pep Montserrat. It's the story of Ms. Rubinstein, who is beautiful in several ways that mostly go unnoticed. They go unnoticed because of the thing that is not so beautiful about her. She's the bearded lady in a circus, and no matter how beautiful her eyes are, how wonderful her nose is, how pretty her hands are, and how delicate her feet are, all anybody notices is her beard.

One day, when Ms. Rubinstein has some time off from the circus, she goes to the park. And meets a gentleman named Mr. Pavlov. They hit it off, and fall in love. Here is where the great illustrations come in. Mr. Pavlov appears to have most of his face covered by a scarf. But who cares if you can't see his face, because he loves Ms. Rubinstein, and her delicate feet! Well, the reason that Mr. Pavlov can so easily overlook the beard, is because he has something that one might wish to overlook as well. Mr. Pavlov isn't wearing a scarf at all, in fact, he has a very long and stripy trunk for a nose, and happens to have a job as the elephant man in another circus.

I really like this book. I love that Ms. Rubinstein and Mr. Pavlov find each other and fall in love, I love the woodcut feel of the illustrations, and their autumnal colour scheme, and I love the way Monsterrat has kept the text short and to the point.

Ms. Rubinstein's Beauty written and illustrated by Pep Montserrat
ISBN 1402730632
32 pages

Saturday, September 02, 2006

So I know I've read Rosemary Sutcliff before, but I can never keep track of what I've read, because frankly, she's written a million and one books. Or 50, whatever. Anyways, Front Street has re-published a book that originally came out about 30 years ago, The Mark of the Horse Lord. And we have an ARC kicking around.

First off, the cover is amazing. Kudos, Front Street, I love it.

The book is set in Roman Britain, in what is today Scotland. Phaedrus is a slave, and has been a gladiator for several years when he is finally granted his freedom. He's approached by some mysterious men, who propose a plan to him. Basically, one of the kingdoms in Scotland was taken over by a woman named Liadhan. In order to take the throne, Liadhan had the previous king's son mutilated and blinded and left for dead (they have a rule about blind men not being allowed to be kings). The boy survived, and he has a remarkable likeness to Phaedrus. The proposal is that Phaedrus pretends to be the long lost prince, and go to war against Liadhan to take the kingdom back.

Although I enjoyed the book immensely, I had a few problems. One is that the map sucked. Out of all the places Phaedrus went, I think maybe four were labelled. That doesn't include any of the battle sites. I also found that a lot of knowledge seemed to be assumed, making it hard to keep track of what was what. A better map, and maybe a glossary of terms and pronunciations would have been great. I should also note that though this would be an excellent book for boys, it is not one for reluctant readers; the language is not for the faint of heart.

Overall, though, a great read!

The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
ISBN 1932425624
289 pages