Monday, April 28, 2008

Pub '08 Challenge

I've decided to join the Pub '08 Challenge. Read at least 8 books published in 2008. Kids/YA books are not allowed, just adult reading. The challenge lasts all year long. I'm starting with books I've read since March, so I've already got 6 read! Check out my list in the sidebar.

Let's Talk ARCs

I'd like to put this out to those of you who review a lot of ARCs.

I've got two major publishers now who are sending me ARCs regularly, plus I belong to a couple of lottery type deals for ARCs and then there is the occasional one I get asked if I'd like. So, I'm very pleased that I'll be reviewing new books here quite regularly now. But I am wondering how others deal with balancing the reading of ARCs vs. private reading.

How do you stay on top of the 'required' reading so that you don't get overwhelmed? Do you drop everything and read ARCs as soon as they arrive? Read them in the order they come? or let them pile up and read whichever you feel like at the time? So far I haven't had enough at one time to have had to consider these questions before but I'm expecting a steady flow starting now.

I'd love to hear how others stay on top of it, keep it fun and still manage to read 'old' books, too.

Short Story Monday

#8. Battleground - A hitman returns from his last job, taking out a toy manufacturing mogul. On his way up to his penthouse apartment the desk clerk hands him a large package that has arrived for him. Sure it is a bomb or something equally unpleasant he takes his time before opening it. Eventually he unwraps the paper and finds stenciled on a wooden box the words "G.I. Joe Vietnam Footlocker" with a list of contents. I really enjoyed this one. It made me think of the army men from Toy Story only much more vicious.

#9. Trucks - Here is the one I've been waiting to re-read! A small group of people are under siege at a gas station. They can't get out, the electricity has been cut and they are surrounded by heavy trucks. They try to deal with the situation, try to figure a way of escape and not all of them make it to the end alive. It is rather a cheesy idea, trucks taking over the world, but I loved this story the first time I read and I loved it this time. I'm also very fond of the movie version "Maximun Overdrive".

#10. Sometimes They Come Back - A highschool English teacher has a 'slow learners' course for last period each day. The students of this class are mostly unruly, leather jacket students or not so bright jocks. Three of his students mysteriously die or disappear and the day after each disappearance a new student is transferred into his class. These 'new' students look exactly like the thugs who killed his older brother. Except they were teenagers almost 20 years ago, how could they still be the same age now? And if that isn't bad enough, they know he knows who they are and they've come to settle unfinished business with him. This was the best story I read this weekend. It really creeped me out.

#11. Strawberry Spring - A 'Strawberry Spring' is a lot like an "Indian Summer', a few extra weeks of the nice weather, but with a strawberry spring comes a lot of fog and they usually only happen about every eight years. An unknown narrator tells about a strawberry spring eight years ago when he was a college student. They had a rash of girls murdered on campus that year and the killer was never found. Now eight years later, another girl has been killed. Another good one with a surprise at the end.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

78. Dolphin Adventure

Dolphin Treasure: A True Story by Wayne Grover
Illustrated by Jim Fowler
First book in the Dolphin Trilogy

Pages: 47
Finished: Apr. 26, 2008
First Published: 1990
Genre: children, nonfiction, animals
Rating: 4/5

First Sentence:

The Florida sun warmed our backs as we loaded the diving gear aboard our boat.

Reason for Reading: Dad read this to the 7yo and I didn't want to miss out.

Comments: Wayne Grover goes diving off the coast of Florida. As he is enjoying the beauty he hears a series a clicks. As he looks for the source of the sound a family of dolphins, two adults and a baby, come up to him. The baby is wedged between the two adults and he can see that the baby has been injured. A plastic fishing line is wrapped tightly around the baby's tail fin and embedded into the skin. The baby is in pain and blood is flowing from the wound. The adults manoeuvre the baby in front of Wayne and he realizes that they are asking for his help. This is an awe striking and heart touching story with a real sense of urgency as Grover tries to save the baby before sharks catch the scent of his blood. Highly recommended to animal lovers.

77. A Ribbon of Shining Steel

A Ribbon of Shining Steel: The Railway Diary of Kate Cameron by Julie Lawson
Dear Canada series

Pages: 204
Finished: Apr. 26, 2008
First Published: 2002
Genre: children, historical fiction
Rating: 3/5

First Sentence:

Hell's Gate and Galoshes!

Reason for Reading: I'm reading my way through the series.

Comments: Kate Cameron and her family move to Yale, British Columbia where her father is working on the railroad as a foreman in charge of bridge building. Kate document's in her diary the progress of the railway for the year of 1882. She tells of her worry for her father's safety as workers are injured and killed. We also see the hardships and discriminations against the Chinese workers brought in to build the railroad. Daily life in a small town built for the purposes of the railway workers and their family is brought to life as Kate describes school, picnics, camping, tragedies and triumphs. An engaging story that I enjoyed very much. As usual with this series the book ends with a brief chapter telling what happened in the lives of the major characters, an historical note telling the history behind the story and a section of photos and maps. I really enjoyed looking at the photos at the end. A compelling book from an award winning and nominated author.

76. Last Bus to Woodstock

Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter
First Inspector Morse mystery

Pages: 309
Finished: Apr. 26, 2008
First Published: 1975
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4.5/5

First Sentence:

"Let's wait just a bit longer, please," said the girl in dark-blue trousers and the light summer coat.

Reason for Reading: First in a Series Challenge. I was (still am) a big fan of the TV Show.

Comments: A young woman is found murdered in the parking lot of a small pub. Inspector Morse is partnered with Sergeant Lewis for the first time and they work the case. Lewis finds Morse's tactics often strange and somewhat difficult to work with at times. This is a brilliant and clever British police procedural. Being very familiar with the TV Show I found the characters to be a bit different than they are portrayed on the screen. Morse is younger and Lewis is several years older than Morse for a start! Once I realized, and accepted, that Morse was different than I was familiar with I was hooked. This is top-notch British detection and it doesn't get much better than this. I was riveted and the mystery kept me guessing until the very end. Morse is a man who loves opera, a stiff drink and women and is a detective who sits down and thinks his way through a case while he sends his underlings out to pound the pavement. I also really enjoyed the seventies atmosphere with Morse drinking and smoking whenever he wants and the attitudes concerning the long haired men and Women's Lib. This compelling, page-turning mystery is recommended.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

75. A Foreign Affair

A Foreign Affair by Caro Peacock
Liberty Lane, Book 1

Pages: 331
Finished: Apr. 24, 2008
First Published: Apr. 2008
Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 3/5

First Sentence:

"Would you be kind enough to tell me where they keep people's bodies," I said.

Reason for Reading: Received this ARC from Harper Collins Canada

Comments: The year is 1837 and Liberty Lane receives a note informing her that her father has been killed in a duel in France. Libby knows without a doubt that she has not been told the truth. Her father must have been murdered and she will find out what really happened. She meets with adversity almost immediately and is asked to work as a spy while masquerading as a governess. Libby will do anything to find her father's killer and in the end will discover a plot to usurp the newly crowned Queen Victoria.

This is a quick, light read with an intricate mystery that kept me guessing until the end. While there was plenty of action I didn't really feel grabbed by the story until Libby stared working in the house as a governess at about the midway mark. At this point I enjoyed the Victorian Gothic atmosphere and the downstairs life of the servants. Libby is a very headstrong heroine but almost too much as she becomes too modern for the setting. All the other characters are portrayed as being of the period while Libby moves among them with none of the restraints of Victorian society. Because of this, at times, I found her dialogue and actions to be unrealistic. However, it's not hard to forgive these liberties in a lighthearted mystery. The book blurb says this is the first of a series and I will be interested to see where Libby goes in the next book.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

74. Gunpowder Empire

Gunpowder Empire by Harry Turtledove
First in the Crosstime Traffic series

Pages: 288
Finished: Apr. 22, 2008
First Published: 2003
Genre: YA, science fiction, alternate history
Rating: 2.75/5

First Sentence:

When Jeremy Solters found a note from his mother in his lunchbox, he started to laugh.

Reason for Reading: I read Ruled Britannia some years ago and loved it. At that time, none of the author's other books appealed to me. I was browsing the YA section of my library a few weeks ago and noticed this series which he has written since I last looked. The concept sounded interesting.

Comments: It is the late 21st century and technology has found a way to travel between alternate realities. Dozens have been found so far with potentially hundreds more to be found. In this time of depleted natural resources, citizens of our world travel incognito in families to alternate realities as traders.

The Solters arrive in Aggripan Rome for their summer job as traders; trading mirrors, razors, Swiss army knives and hour-reckoners for grain. This is an alternate where Rome did not fall but has flourished pretty much unchanging for two thousand years. This is a world where slavery is the norm, woman are second-class citizens and red tape and bureaucracy run rampant.

Everything is going as normal for the Solters until the mother gets appendicitis and must go home for surgery. The father takes her, leaving 17 year old Jeremy and his slightly younger sister holding the fort. Shortly after they leave something happens to their communication devices and they loose contact with the home timeline. If that weren't bad enough the Lietuvans are invading and their town comes under siege.

This book had a very promising storyline but it didn't live up to its expectations. I found the writing quite simplistic and stilted. Way too much time was spent telling the reader how different this world was from the teens' home world rather than having things happen that would have illustrated the point in a much more interesting manner. I often wished he would just get on with the story. Honestly, I felt as if the author dumbed down his writing for the YA crowd. Since this is his first foray into YA literature and there are several more titles in this series, with another coming out this year, I wonder if perhaps the books get better.

In spite of the problems with the writing, the story was compelling and the world of crosstime travel is very intriguing. This is a decent enough story, it just had the potential to be much better. The book is an easy read and I am interested enough to give the next in the series a try to see if it does get better.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Grain of Rice

A Grain of Rice by Helena Clare Pittman

First Published: 1986
Genre: picture book, fairy tale
Rating: 4/5

First Sentence:

Once a year the Emperor of China opened his court so that even the humblest of his people could come before him.

Reason for Reading: read aloud the 7yo.

Comments: A lowly peasant asks to marry the princess and is scorned. However, the princess takes kindly to him and asks her father to hire him. So the peasant goes to work in the storeroom and such a friendly, hard worker as he quickly rises in position. He moves on to the kitchen and his dishes are exquisite. The princess sneaks down to the kitchens to watch him and the two fall in love. The princess realizes she will never be allowed to marry so with a broken heart she soon sickens and death is near. The Emperor vows to give anything to the man who can save his daughter. The peasant mixes a potion which, when the princess hears is from him, heals her very quickly. But alas, when the peasant again asks for her hand the Emperor says it is the one thing he cannot give; a commoner may not ever marry a princess. The peasant then says he will be happy with one grain of rice. This is the beginning of his plan to get what he really wants.

I love this story. It is an original fairy tale set in fifteenth century China. It contains all the elements of a romantic fairy tale. The prince's determination and the cleverness of his trick makes this appealing to both girls and boys. The 7yo thought it was very good. Pittman also illustrated the story and the line drawings are detailed and full of motion. Recommended.

Short Story Monday

All three stories I read this weekend were of the monster variety.

#5. The Mangler - An ironing machine in an industrial laundry plant is possed by a demon and is killing employees. Two cops are aware of the problem and set out to exorcise the demon. This was rather silly and made me chuckle more than anything. This was made into a movie by Tobe Hooper. (which I haven't seen)

#6. The Boogeyman - A man shows up at a psychiatrist's office with the need to unload his story. He had three children and all three of them were killed by the boogeyman as toddlers. Now the boogeyman is after him. Another one that I found more silly than scary.

#7. Grey Matter - A boy runs into the all-night store in a near panic. He has a very strange story to tell old men gathered there. His father, whom no one remembers actually seeing for several months, has been slowly turning into something not human. Leaving the boy behind with the wife of the owner, three of the men go to check things out. This reminded me a lot of The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill from King's "Creepshow".

Sunday, April 20, 2008

73. Vanish

Vanish by Tess Gerritsen
Fifth Jane Rizzoli mystery

Pages: 336
Finished: Apr. 19, 2008
First Published: 2005
Genre: thriller
Rating: 4/5

First Sentence:

My name is Mila, and this is my journey.

Reason for Reading: next in the series. This qualifies for my 'V' book for the a-z challenge. I won this book from Joy in the last contest for the a-z participants.

Comments: A woman is taken to the morgue and one evening as Dr. Isles is working she hears noises. She is surprised to find that the dead woman is actually alive and she is taken to the hospital in a very agitated state. At the same time, Jane Rizzoli is going into labour and about to be admitted to the hospital. The dead woman (now alive) grabs a security guard's gun and shoots him, then takes hostages and Jane just happens to be in the room that the panicked woman has taken over.

Another fabulous entry in this series! I couldn't put it down. The narrative alternates between the present hostage situation and the story of a Russian teenager who was brought to America as a slave and prostitute. The two stories eventually converge. This is an intense ride of illegal immigration, government conspiracy, a hostage situation, murder and torture. Fans will be pleased with more of what they have come to expect from Gerritsen. As an added bonus I was thrilled to see the return of Thomas Moore (from The Surgeon), even if it was just a small part.

I just have one more book to go in this series, then I'll read her latest book which is a standalone.

72. Cirque Du Freak

Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan
Cirque Du Freak, The Saga of Darren Shan, Book 1

Pages: 266
Finished: Apr. 18, 2008
First Published: 2001
Genre: YA, horror
Rating: 4/5

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

First Sentence:

I've always been fascinated by spiders.

Reason for Reading: YA challenge, 1st in a series challenge. I really enjoyed Shan's latest book for adults so I decided to try his YA series.

Comments: Darren Shan and his friend get tickets to go to a secretive Freak Show which has mysteriously arrived in their town. While they are there the boys learn that one of the performers is a vampire in disguise. This vampire does an act for the show with a huge deadly spider and Darren is fascinated with spiders. He sneaks back to the theatre during the day when the vampire will be asleep and steals the spider. Thus begins a downward spiral of events which lead to serious injury and life and death decisions.

I have to say I really enjoyed this! It was a very quick read and so much fun. We are introduced to a whole cast of strange characters but only briefly and the urge to read the next in the series is strong. The book is well written, with a very intriguing plot. While not exactly scary (at least, to this adult) it certainly is creepy and filled with atmosphere. The blurb on the back of my book compares it to Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot and I completely agree. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to young horror fans twelve and up.

I'm off to the library to get book 2!

Friday, April 18, 2008

71. Another Thing To Fall

Another Thing to Fall by Laura Lippman
Tenth Tess Monaghan Mystery

Pages: 325
Finished: Apr. 17, 2008
First Published: March, 2008
Genre: mystery
Rating: 3.5/5

First Sentence:

There she was.

Reason for Reading: I received this review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Comments: Tess Monaghan is out rowing on the river when she inadvertently collides with the set of a TV Show. Once they find out she is a private investigator she is hired to work as a body guard for their young star. Seems she has been the target of a stalker in the past and now strange things are happening on the set, small fires and other small but annoying sabotages. Tess soon realizes there is a lot more going on and when someone is murdered her behind-the-scenes investigation starts.

This is the first Laura Lippman book that I have read. Usually I'm pretty particular about starting a series at the beginning so was a little wary about jumping into this tenth entry of the series. I had little to worry about as I was hooked from the prologue. There were a few references to the past here and there but this book was very easy for a newcomer to the series to get into. I also usually don't read private investigator type mysteries either so I was very pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this. The behind the scenes look at a television show was a lot of fun. The mystery was very good and kept me guessing until near the end. Rather than being a fast-paced plot focused mystery I found this to be a character driven story. The characters were very well developed and much time was spent just getting to know the supporting cast. If you are looking for a page-turner, this is not for you but if you are looking more for an Elizabeth George type mystery where you can get inside the head of the characters this book will surely please.

The Wonderful Eggs of Furicchia

The Wonderful Eggs of Furicchia: A Picture Story from Italy by Anne Rockwell

First Published: 1969
Genre: picture book, fairy tale
Rating: 4/5

First Sentence:

Long ago, in the city of Florence, there stood a little shop where an old lady named Furicchia sold eggs.

Reason for Reading: Read aloud to the 7yo.

Comments: This fairy tale comes from medieval Florence and tells the tale of a good witch who sells enchanted eggs to the villagers. The eggs always bring good fortune to those who eat them. They can make you healthy, wise, pretty, or whatever benefit you may need. However, next door to Furicchia lived a selfish, mean lady, Maddalena, who wanted to know Furicchia's secret. She tried to buy some eggs but was told they would only work for those who have a pure heart. Maddalena, of course, does not believe this and she sets out to steal the source of the eggs. In the end, her wickedness gives her a surprising and most appropriate ending.

This story is a lot of fun and the ending was a laugh out loud surprise. The illustrations are fashioned after the style of the early Renaissance artists and the detail will keep you lingering on each page. Worth the search for this out-of-print title.

70. Capyboppy

Capyboppy by Bill Peet

Pages: 62
Finished: Apr. 17, 2008
First Published: 1966
Genre: children, animal story, autobiographical
Rating: 4/5

First Sentence:

Since early childhood my son Bill has been fascinated by the wild creatures living around the Los Angeles and southern California area.

Reason for Reading: Read aloud to the 7yo.

Comments: A true story based on the author's experience of having a capybara as a family pet. His oldest son had always brought home animals as pets but once when he was attending college he brought home a capybara. The animal won all their hearts and had many comic escapades but in the end they realize that wild animals are not meant to be pets and they must decide what to do with him. The story ends happily, though mother sheds a few tears. This is a fun, educational story illustrated profusely with Peet's fabulous line drawings. Bill Peet worked for Walt Disney back in the day and he is one of the greatest children's book author/illustrators.

This has put me in the mood for more of his books. I think I'll go check out some more from the library.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Donkey Prince by M. Jean Craig

The Donkey Prince retold by M. Jean Craig
Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

First Published: 1977
Genre: picture book, fairy tale
Rating: 4/5

First Sentence:

Once there lived a King and a Queen who ruled over a wide and peaceful kingdom.

Comments: A King and Queen who can have no children ask a wizard for help but when the King pays him he substitutes lead pieces for some of the gold. When the wizard finds out, he curses them to have a child who looks like a donkey and will remain as such until someone loves him as a human. The King and Queen are heartbroken and pay no attention to the child. He is teased by the other children and eventually leaves home until he finds another court who welcome him because he is a wonderful lute player. Here he fulfills his destiny.

I read this to the 7yo for our daily fairy tale story. This is a retelling of the Grimm tale of the same name. Before writing this review I pulled out my copy of the Complete Tales of Grimm and read the original tale which is very different from this retelling. I actually prefer this version; it is a lovely fairy tale and Cooney's watercolour illustrations are beautiful. The little donkey prince looks so cute one can't help but feel for him and cheer him on. This is a happy ending story with a moral of accepting and loving others even when they look different.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

69. That Furball Puppy and Me

That Furball Puppy and Me by Carol and Bill Wallace
Second book in the Grey Cat Trilogy

Pages: 83
Finished: Apr. 15, 2008
First Published: 1999
Genre: children fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

First Sentence:

"Ring ... Ring."

Reason for Reading: Read aloud to the 7yo. Next in the series

Comments: It is now winter and Grey continues to watch for the bird, Flea, to return but knows that he must wait until winter is over. Something strange is happening around the house and he hears the word 'grandkids' repeated often. Soon he founds out what that means and Grey experiences his first Christmas which has it's good points and it's bad points. But the worst thing of all is when the Mama opens her Christmas present and out pops a puppy. Grey is no longer the smallest pet in the house and somebody else is getting his tummy rubs. Grey is jealous and sets out to get the puppy out of the house. We enjoyed this second in the series. Not as much as the first but still a cute, fun story. The Wallace's books are a joy to read aloud and are wholesome stories to be enjoyed by all ages. We look forward to seeing Flea come back in the next book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Three Pigeon Books by Mo Willems

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (Caldecott Honor), Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late and The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems

We have had a blast the last week reading these books. These are probably the funniest and most addictive picture books I've ever read. I read them aloud to the 7yo and he just couldn't get enough. We read each one three or four times in a row at the first reading alone. He is now holding on to them and reading them himself. It is going to be a sad day when they have to be returned to the library!

...Drive the Bus and ...Stay Up Late are both written to the reader. In "...Drive the Bus" the bus driver asks us to watch the pigeon and make sure he does not drive the bus while he goes away for a little while. The pigeon then tries every trick in the book to get us to let him drive the bus. Children will immediately see themselves in the pigeon's pleading and wheeling and dealing, as will any parent. In "...Stay Up Late" we are asked to make sure the pigeon does not stay up late while the same man from the first book goes to brush his teeth. If you have ever tried to put a child to bed when they didn't want to go (which is almost always) you will laugh will glee as the pigeon pulls every trick known to anyone who has ever been a child as he tries to stay up just a little bit longer.

The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog is a little bit different. The pigeon is just about to eat a hot dog when a little duckling comes along who has never tasted a hot dog before. This time the joke's on the pigeon as he deals with the duckling's antics as he tries to get a taste and in the end, pigeon learns about sharing.

These books will appeal to a wide range of ages. The text is simple enough for toddler's and the large, simple illustrations will also appeal to them. The reading level is appropriate for up to about Grade 2 and the stories will appeal to anyone of any age. Recommended but watch out because I bet you can't read them just once!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Short Story Monday

#3. Night Surf - This story is related to Stephen King's novel The Stand. Here we have a group of teenagers who are among the lone survivors after a virus has wiped out most of the world's population. Each of them has previously had a different virus, making them think they are immune to this one. Not much happens but it has an eerie atmosphere and makes me even more eager to re-read The Stand.

#4. I Am the Doorway - An ex-astronaut tells his buddy his strange tale. Several years after coming back from an exploration mission to Venus and now retired the astronaut has horrible pains in his hands and wakes to find them covered with eyes. Eyes that not only see, but see this world as a strange alien world and the people seem like horrible creatures. He finds that the eyes can take over his body and make him do things, like kill people. He takes drastic action to silence them but ... well, you'll just have to read the story yourself.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

68. The Devil of Nanking

The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder
Published as Tokyo in the UK

Pages: 363
Finished: Apr. 12, 2008
First Published: 2004
Genre: thriller, historical fiction
Rating: 5/5

First Sentence:

To those who fight and rage against superstition, I say only this: why?

Reason for Reading: I'm reading all the author's books.

Comments: Grey is a young woman who is driven to find the answer to her past. To find her answer she must seek a piece of rare film taken during the Nanking Massacre. This obsession takes her to Tokyo and into the world of hostess bars and the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Chapters alternate with Grey's present and a memoir of an old man she meets written during the days of the Japanese invasion of Nanking.

The atmosphere is dark and imposing. From the start the reader is aware of an impending doom. The mind races as we try to imagine what could be so horrible. The mounting tension is almost unbearable. Until finally, shock after shock is revealed and it was with pounding heart and shortness of breath I closed the book.

This is quite different from Hayder's first two books. The historical aspect was wonderfully done. I have a particular interest in this period, of the Japanese war atrocities (Asian Holocaust) and particularly the 'Rape of Nanking'. Hayder writes a brutal, disturbing and heart-wrenching story. The pace is also slower than in the other books but when it comes to gruesome details Hayder sure knows how to pack a punch.

I can't wait to read her next book "Pig Island" which sounds like it crosses over into the horror genre. All along I've thought her books have been somewhere between thriller and horror. The Devil of Nanking is recommended to both those interested in the Nanking Massacre and those who enjoy a heart-pounding thriller.

Friday, April 11, 2008

67. The Silver Treasure

The Silver Treasure: Myths and Legends of The World by Geraldine McCaughrean
Illustrated by Bee Willey

Pages: 130
Finished: Apr. 11, 2008
First Published: 1996
Genre: Folklore/myths/legends
Rating: 4.5/5

First Sentence:

When the Spanish came to South America, they looked around them at the people, but saw only the gold bands on their arms, the silver rings in their ears.

Reason for Reading: Once Upon a Time Challenge, Read aloud to my 7yo.

Comments: This is the second of a three book set by the award-winning British author and storyteller, Geraldine McCaughrean. It is a wonderful collection of myths and legends from all around the world. Many nations are covered and while there are a few well-known tales retold, the majority are lesser known and not found in many collections of this sort. The writing and language is beautiful and told in a story-teller voice. One feels as if one can hear the storyteller's voice as they read and these are wonderful to read aloud. The tales are in their true forms and not watered down or made politically correct. This is what I look for in these tales but I did occasionally find the need to edit on the fly as reading aloud. I've noted these in my descriptions below. Bee Willey's illustrations are full of luscious colours and evoke a sense of fantasy. They are a perfect accompaniment to the text. Highly recommended for the enthusiast of folklore.

My review for the first book in the series can be found here. We will be reading the third and final book later this year.

#1. The Silver-Miners (A legend from Bolivia) - This is a tale of when the Spanish were ravaging mountains of silver. The mountain Parichata uses his powers to protect himself and his people who are being used as slaves.

#2. The Men in the Moon (A tale from Kenya) - Murilay's mother nags him so much he wishes he lived on the moon. When suddenly his bench lifts off and flies him there. He teaches the cold moon residents about fire, then marries seven princesses and becomes a wealthy resident but eventually misses his family. Ds loved this one.

#3. Dream Journey (A Maori myth) - A great chief has a dream that sends him on a long journey where he eventually learns about the fishing net and brings this new discovery to his people.

#4. Roland and Horn Olivant (A legend from France) - This is a tale of Charlemagne and his knights. A very bloody battle ensues between Roland and his men, acting as rearguard, and the Saracens. This is a tragedy with a moral advising against pride. Neither of us enjoyed this one. Too much battle and not enough story.

#5. A Question of Life and Death (A Greek myth) - The famous tale of the Sphinx and how Oedipus answered the riddle and destroyed her. I love Greek myths and the 7yo is quickly becoming a big fan too.

#6. The Harp of Dagda (an Irish myth) - Dagda, the giant god, has his treasured harp stolen by the winged Fomorians. He visits them and uses the harps powers to get it back. This was very good we both enjoyed it very much, it also explains how the faeries of Ireland came to be.

#7. A Nest and a Web (a legend from the Middle East) - This is a tale of Muhammad and how God kept Muhammad and his wife safe from the idol-makers who were chasing them.

#8. Ash (a Native American myth of the Tlingit tribe) - Ash was a lazy, good for nothing who did nothing but laze in front of the fire all day long. However, one day he demonstrates great strength. It seems that there is magic in Ash. He defends the town against a giant, stops the trees from attacking the village and the mountains from crushing the village, Eventually Ash is called to the sea where his destiny awaits him. This one was a bit longer than the others and our favourite of the week.

#9. The Tower of Babel (A Hebrew myth) - This, of course, is the bible story that tells why we have many different languages in the world.

#10. Saint Christopher (A European legend) - The story of the patron saint of travellers.

#11. God Moves Away (A myth from Togo) - The only story that was unfamiliar to us this week. God used to live in the sky just above people's heads but after getting poked in the eye one time too many he takes his stuff and moves up into the heavens. The woman who poked him tries to build a tower of pots so she can apologize.

#12. Wilhelm Tell (A Swiss legend) - We read the Buff's retelling of this legend earlier this year so this was fun to read another retelling and see if it differed. It was pretty much the same.

#13. A Heart of Stone (A Greek myth) - The King, Pygmalion, hates women. Venus, the Goddess of Love, is tired of listening to Pygmalion complain all the time so she decides to teach him a lesson. Pygmalion carves a statue of a beautiful woman and falls desperately in love with it and eventually goes to Venus' temple to ask for deliverance from his aching heart.

#14. Babushka (a Russian legend) - Babushka is an old woman whose only child died long ago. The three wise men rest at her house on their way to visit the Christ Child and encourage her to come also. She decides to come but first must find a present, so she carefully fixes and cleans the old toys of her son. She sets off on her journey to Bethlehem but she has missed the baby and continues on looking for him. Thirty years later, still searching for the baby she sees a man on a crucifix and stops to give her condolences to the weeping mother. From this time on Babushka continues her wanderings but now she leaves a toy, from her basket which never empties, in the home of Christian children and once a year on the birthday of Christ the toys become visible. I love this story!

#15. The Pig Goes Courting (a Hawaiian myth) - Kamapua'a is a pig-like god and he has become infatuated with Pele, the fire goddess. She has quite the temper, a nasty disposition and does not return the feelings. An all out war ensues between them until Kamapua'a calls upon the water elements to put out her fire. Another fun one. I don't think I've ever read any Hawaiian myths before.

#16. Can Krishna Die? (an Indian legend) - the story of how men's foolishness caused their downfall and ended the earthly life of Krishna.

#17. The Lighthouse on the Lake (a Japanese legend) - a woman visits the lightkeeper each night for quite some time. He starts to thinking he may marry her but then he starts to wonder why she would visit him like this and becomes certain that she is a demon whose true nature is to destroy him. Ultimately he causes her downfall and in the end, his own. This story had sexual undertones that I had to edit out while reading to the 7yo. The woman does more than just 'visit' the man. The underlying theme is that of a woman causing her own downfall by giving away her virtue recklessly. The myth also is an explanation of the Japanese hurricanes.

#18. King Arthur Gives Back His Sword (a Celtic legend) - the last tale of King Arthur. Arthur is near death after he has slain Mordred in battle. He asks Bedivere to carry him to the lake where he wants to return Excalibur to the Lady in the Lake.

#19. A Bloodthirsty Tale (A myth from Ancient Egypt) - The god Re, is disappointed in his people so he decides to punish them. He takes his third eye from his forehead and it became the goddess Hathor. Usually gentle and kind, Hathor has become full of Re's fury and she takes a sword and starts killing all the people, young and old. When Re calls to her that her work is done she does not want to quit. She has a blood-thirst and vows to continue until she has wiped out the human race. Re commands his priests to make a thick concoction of beer that looks like blood. Hathor drinks and drinks until she falls asleep and when she wakes up she remembers nothing. I really enjoyed this one. I have a fondness for Egyptian myths.

#20. Rip Van Winkle (An American legend) - This is a retelling which I'm sure everyone knows the plot. At it's most basic, it is the story of a man who is married to a nagging wife who is more than happy to have found that he has slept for fifty years and that she has died in the meantime. When he returns he is the talk of the town. This retelling focuses mostly on the meeting with dwarfs. While Washington Irving made this tale famous it had been around for much longer as a legend of the Catskill Mountains.

#21. The Raven and the Moon (An Alaskan Merit myth) - A man and his daughter have the moon hidden away as one of their treasures. This tale tells how Raven tricked them into giving it to him and how it eventually ends up in the sky.

#22. Sir Patrick Spens (a Scottish legend) - This was a very short one. Based on a true story in the 1200s of a ship that carries the king's daughter to Norway for her marriage but sinks on the return voyage.

#23. The Saltcellar (A Scandinavian myth) - We really enjoyed this last tale that tells how the sea became salty. Two very strong Swedish ladies grind a magical mill that will grind whatever is asked for. After being rescued from the King of Denmark by salt merchants they are forced to grind salt. So they continue to grind until they have sunk the ship with salt. And to this day the mill continues to grind salt.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

66. The Arthurian Omen

The Arthurian Omen by G.G. Vandagriff

Pages: 322
Finished: Apr. 9, 2008
First Published: 2008
Genre: suspense
Rating: 3/5

First Sentence:

Brother Gruffyd's old heart trembled with excitement.

Reason for Reading: I received this as a review copy.

Comments: Maren travels to Wales to help her sister search for a manuscript which could prove that King Arthur was real. Upon her arrival she is notified of her sister's murder. Maren sets off to find the manuscript on her own and track down the killer. She is soon joined by a motley crew of people who all say they are on her side but one of them may just be the killer.

Maren hits the ground running in this book and the action is non-stop. With very short chapters and the quick pace this is a fast read. Maren herself is the definition of Murphy's Law and finds herself the victim of attempted murder, kidnapping, stalking, and unsuitable suitors galore. There is also a comic element present and while there is plenty of suspense and action, this is not a serious story. Many scenes are almost farcical and Maren is a headstrong, yet bumbling heroine.

The writing has problems. There is a lot of repetitious word use and the dialogue is stilted, and even cheesy, at times. There is a small amount of Arthurian history which will enlighten the uninformed, but this is not a story that will appeal to those looking for an Arthurian tale. This would make a good beach read and is overall, a light, fun romp.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

65. More About Little Pear

More About Little Pear by Eleanor Frances Lattimore
Fourth (and final) Little Pear book

Pages: 125
Finished: Apr. 9, 2008
First Published: 1971
Genre: children fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

First Sentence:

Little Pear was a Chinese boy.

Reason for Reading: next in the series. Read aloud to my 7yo

Comments: Little Pear is 7 years old now and has finished his first year of school. It is now summer vacation and his days are free to spend with his family and his friend, Big Head. Each book in this series has been just as good as the others and this one is no exception. The love for China and its people shines through on each page and Little Pear is one of the most charming characters in children's literature that we have met. This is the final book about Little Pear and he will be sadly missed by both the 7yo and I.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Short Story Monday

I've been absent from short story Monday for the last month but am now back into my routine of reading short stories on the weekends. This time I am reading Night Shift by Stephen King. This is King's first collection of stories and the next book up in my chronological Stephen King project. (Well, actually, The Shining is next and I'll be reading that very soon.)

First we start off with a rather boring Introduction by John D. MacDonald then we have a Foreword by Stephen King and this is the very first book in which he wrote a foreword. It was a very interesting essay on why he writes scary stories and why people read them.

#1. Jerusalem's Lot - This is somewhat of a prequel to 'salem's Lot. It is the 1850s and a man and his man-servant come to live in a relative's old home after he dies from an accident. The home has been in the family since the days of the Puritans. The residents of the nearby village are wary of the newcomers and eventually start to shun them, then stone them if they come near. This, of course, is very strange but not as strange as the noises they hear in walls. Nor as strange as what they see in the basement. Or especially as strange as what they find in the nearby deserted town of Jerusalem's Lot. What they find there is pure evil.

#2. Graveyard Shift - A drifter is working in a rundown, rat-infested textile factory. The foreman is overbearing and a regular tyrant. On the week of the 4th of July, the factory closes down for vacation but a crew of men sign-up to work on cleaning out the ancient basement with powerful water hoses on the night shift when it will be cooler. Each night the men work and have various run-ins with rats until the final night when they find that there is actually another sub-basement underneath them. It must be from here that the rats are originating. Down they go ... This was made into a movie, which I saw but barely remember.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

64. Payment in Blood

Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George
Second Lynley & Havers Mystery

Pages: 312
Finished: Apr. 5, 2008
First Published: 1989
Genre: British mystery
Rating: 3/5

First Sentence:

Gowan Kilbride, aged sixteen, had never been much for early rising.

Reason for Reading: next in the series.

Comments: A London theatre group of actors visits Scotland for the weekend to stay at the director's sister's manor house turned hotel. The next morning the playwright is found stabbed to death in her bed with the door locked. Strangely, Scotland Yard is called in almost immediately and Lynley and Havers take over the case.

The story starts off slowly and at first I was rather disappointed. Having really enjoyed A Great Deliverance I expected more than the Agatha Christie-like British cozy atmosphere of the first 100 pages. However, at page 99 (in my book) the case took a turn and it became the first of many twists and turns in the mystery. Also, the plot revolved heavily around the British class system which I found tedious. I really don't like the character of Helen. Every time she speaks I ask myself "Do people really speak like this?" And if a 'Lady' really does speak that way how could someone of Lynely's supposed intelligence fall for such pretense?

Ultimately I'm of two minds with this book. I did enjoy it, but it's certainly not as good as A Great Deliverance. The mystery itself was fun and I enjoyed the supporting cast of characters. While I did find parts of it tedious it's not enough to deter me from trying the third book in this series. We'll see if I continue with the series after that.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Draw Write Now Book 6 Animals & Habitats

Draw Write Now Book 6: Animals & Habitats - On Land, Ponds & Rivers, Oceans
by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer

We used this book as part of our curriculum this year with Winter Promise's Animals and Their Worlds. Divided into three sections this book focuses on animals found on land, in ponds and rivers and in oceans. Each page gives step by step instructions to draw the animal and text to copy for handwriting practice. There is also a page at the end of each section with more information on the specific animal and recommended books to read.

My son loved this book with a passion. We soon gave up on copying the text as it was way too much writing for this 7yo. Instead, I had him dictate a story to me and I would write it down. So it became an exercise in creative writing/expression rather than handwriting. The drawing instructions are very straightforward and easy to follow. I would draw the picture right along with him and did occasionally need to help him now and then when he couldn't get something to look just how he wanted it to. I had just as much fun drawing as he did.

My son is very art oriented and draws on his own pretty much everyday. When doing this type of instructional drawing I think it is very important to stress that everyone's drawings will look different from each other's and that the picture in the book is only a suggestion, so the child should feel free to do their own thing with it. The goal is not to create an exact duplicate of the picture in the book, but to use the instructions to help them make their own creation.

Ds enjoyed this book so much that we are adding one to next year's curriculum. Recommended to anyone, young or old, who enjoys drawing.

Here are a few of his drawings.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Fairy Tale Friday

#14. Babushka (a Russian legend) - Babushka is an old woman whose only child died long ago. The three wise men rest at her house on their way to visit the Christ Child and encourage her to come also. She decides to come but first must find a present, so she carefully fixes and cleans the old toys of her son. She sets off on her journey to Bethlehem but she has missed the baby and continues on looking for him. Thirty years later, still searching for the baby she sees a man on a crucifix and stops to give her condolences to the weeping mother. From this time on Babushka continues her wanderings but now she leaves a toy, from her basket which never empties, in the home of Christian children and once a year on the birthday of Christ the toys become visible. I love this story!

#15. The Pig Goes Courting (a Hawaiian myth) - Kamapua'a is a pig-like god and he has become infatuated with Pele, the fire goddess. She has quite the temper, a nasty disposition and does not return the feelings. An all out war ensues between them until Kamapua'a calls upon the water elements to put out her fire. Another fun one. I don't think I've ever read any Hawaiian myths before.

#16. Can Krishna Die? (an Indian legend) - the story of how men's foolishness caused their downfall and ended the earthly life of Krishna.

#17. The Lighthouse on the Lake (a Japanese legend) - a woman visits the lightkeeper each night for quite some time. He starts to thinking he may marry her but then he starts to wonder why she would visit him like this and becomes certain that she is a demon whose true nature is to destroy him. Ultimately he causes her downfall and in the end, his own. This story had sexual undertones that I had to edit out while reading to the 7yo. The woman does more than just 'visit' the man. The underlying theme is that of a woman causing her own downfall by giving away her virtue recklessly. The myth also is an explanation of the Japanese hurricanes.

#18. King Arthur Gives Back His Sword (a Celtic legend) - the last tale of King Arthur. Arthur is near death after he has slain Mordred in battle. He asks Bedivere to carry him to the lake where he wants to return Excalibur to the Lady in the Lake.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

63. Coyote Autumn

Coyote Autumn by Bill Wallace

Pages: 201
Finished: Apr. 2, 2008
First Published: 2000
Genre: children, animal fiction
Rating: 4/5

First Sentence:

I love days off from school

Reason for Reading: read aloud to my 7yo

Comments: Thirteen year old Brad has always wanted a pet, especially a dog but living in a Chicago apartment made it out of the question. When his family moves to rural Oklahoma he is hoping more than anything that this birthday he will finally get the present he has always wanted. However, before that day arrives Brad walks into the carnage that coyote hunters have left behind at a nearby dam. He brings the remaining coyote pup home and the summer that is both the best and worst of his life begins. This was a beautiful, touching story with many laugh-out-loud moments. Both the 7yo and I loved it. The writing is very simple, yet full of real emotion. This is a wonderful, wholesome 'boy' book with a bittersweet ending. We've read a few book by Wallace now and will continue to look out for them. Recommended.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

62. In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd

Pages: 264
Finished: Mar. 30, 2008
First Published: 1966
Genre: fictional memoir, humour
Rating: 3/5

First Sentence:

I felt like a spy.

Reason for Reading: I wrote this in a previous post a while ago. I saw a review of In God We Trust a little while ago (sorry forget who) and it brought the book back to my memory. When I was in Grade 5, my teacher, Mr. Prowse, read parts of this book to us and I just fell in love with it. I asked my parents to get the book for me (this was 1977) and they couldn't find it anywhere. Later in life, I'd remember it occasionally and look but never was able to find it in print (this was pre-Internet). Of course, I hadn't thought of the book in years when I saw that review and was thrilled that it was back in print and I just had to get a copy. This same teacher also read to us from James Thurber that year, which set me off reading Thurber at time. Ah, memories!

Comments: Ralph Parker returns to his hometown in Indiana where he walks into a bar and starts reminiscing with the bartender, a boyhood friend of his. The chapters alternate between the modern day bar setting and a childhood reminiscence. Several of the chapters were published previously as short stories in Playboy magazine over a period of several years. The popular movie The Christmas Story is based on one of the stories in this book. Most of the stories take place during the Depression when Ralph was a child. Some feature his childhood exploits and others focus more on his parents or simply the "good ol' days". These are wonderful, nostalgic and oftentimes very funny stories. For the 21st century reader, even the 1960s modern day chapters are nostalgic. Some chapters are better than others and I would have preferred the reminiscences without the segue chapters which felt like an unnecessary afterthought. Light and fun reading.