Saturday, January 31, 2009

20. Nemesis

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo
Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Harry Hole series, Book 4

Pages: 474
Finished: Jan. 30, 2009
First Published: May 6, 2008
Genre: crime, mystery
Rating: 5/5

Reason for Reading: Book was sent to me for review by Random House Canada. Paperback is available this month.

First sentence:

I'm going to die.

Comments: This book is impossible to summarize. The story is incredibly intricate and several cases intertwine with each other. The back of my paperback copy gives a plot outline which really only deals with the second half of the book. Harry Hole is a Norwegian detective and he is called onto a case involving a bank robbery where a hostage is killed in cold blood. Later on he receives a call for a date from an old flame and wakes up the next morning remembering nothing only to find out she was murdered sometime that evening. These two cases take the forefront and many, many things twist and turn before the final outcome. I love a mystery that I cannot guess whodunit before the reveal. I had my guesses but they were wrong.

While the plot and the story is intense the characterization is wonderful. Harry is a flawed man, a recovering alcoholic with a great relationship in progress. He is not exactly everybody's favourite at the station as he has his own way of doing things and often disregards procedure.

Jo Nesbo has, I think, finally crossed the line between mystery and literature. While a great crime novel it is also a beautifully written and deeply profound story of characters. I really enjoyed this book and will be reading more from Nesbo. I just wish they would publish the series in the order it was written. So far they have published the English translations in this order #5, #3, #4 and #6 will published in English later this year. Recommended!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Toon Books - Part Two

Last year we had the privilege of receiving three Toon Books for my 8yo and I to review. These are Graphic Novels for emergent readers.

Available April 15, 2009 two more books in the series will hit the shelves.

Rating: 5/5

Benny and Penny in The Big No-No! by Geoffrey Hayes is a fun story of a brother and sister mouse who wonder about their new neighbour and then think he/she may have stolen Benny's pail. So they go into the neighbours yard and create a sequence of un-neighbourly events.

The illustrations are wonderful, which is always half the point of a graphic novel. The story is cute and very funny! The 8yo had a lot of real giggles over the events and I thought the story was very age appropriate. My struggling reader had no problems reading this book. The compelling story line kept him focused on figuring out the harder words and I am very pleased with this installment in the Toon Books series.

Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss is a very funny story of a little boy who runs after pigeons in the park, in the street, over a bridge, through a restaurant, etc. all the while the police are looking for him and he is on the news. The 8yo really enjoyed this one and read it in two sittings.

All the Toon Books are wonderfully illustrated but I must say this one I am particularly partial to the drawings as there are always multiple events happening in the background that make you linger in each frame. This book was an easier read than Benny and Penny in The Big No-No! with lots of repititious words and appropriate word usage for this level.

I would say that both these books fall into the middle age range of the recommended ages for this series which is Reading Levels K-3.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday: ARCS in the Mail

Well, last week was like Christmas all over again. I had books arrive every day Mon-Fri. I had Canada Post, UPS and Purolator at my door. Let's look at last week's hall of arcs:

Plus to top it all off, I won a book from Graeme:

This did some damage to my tbr pile, I'll tell you! That makes 6 new arcs in and 3 read and reviewed last week, making the arc pile 3 books bigger. It's starting to topple!

19. Amazing Spider-Man: Revelations

Revelations by J. Michael Straczynski
The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 2

Pages: unpaginated
Finished: Jan. 25, 2009
First Published: 2002 (contains previously published comic books)
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy
Rating: 2.5/5

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

First sentence:

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you the following Special Bulletin.

Comments: SPOILERS! I guess I'm pretty much going to call this the mopey volume. There are no villains for Spider-Man to fight and everybody pretty much mopes around. The first story has nothing to do with the running plot but is a soppy 9/11 piece, you can just here the Star Spangled Banner playing in the background. But it was fun to see members of the X-Men, The Avengers and the Fantastic Four helping out with the rescue operation. Then the story picks up again and Aunt May does a lot of moping around because she's found out about Peter really being Spider-Man. Then Peter mopes around because he's found one of his students is homeless and lives with a bunch of other homeless children and finally we get to end with Mary Jane moping around because even though her new life is glamourous she is unhappy. The one good thing about this issue is that is does set up the various storylines for the next volume. I certainly hope we get some Super-Hero action in the next volume.

18. 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson
100 Cupboards Book 1

Pages: 289
Finished: Jan. 25, 2009
First Published: 2007
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

First sentence:

Henry, Kansas, is a hot town.

Comments: Henry's parent's are missing while on assignment in South America and he is sent to live with his Aunt, Uncle and three girl cousins way out in a small rural town. Henry is given an attic room and discovers something is not quite right with one wall. He chips away at the plaster with his knife and finds a cupboard and as he continues and uncovers the whole wall, he ends up with 99 cupboards on his wall. Most are locked, but when he looks through one he sees a yellow room and a man walking around and then mail is put into his cupboard.

Henry confides the secret with his cousin Henrietta, and they continue to find secrets in the house that lead to clues on opening the other cupboards, but not all cupboards are as innocent as the first one that Henry looked through and they unknowingly unleash an evil power.

This was quite the read! A very unique premise and well-written. It is refreshing to read about a main character who is not the usual orphan with no likeable adults around. Though his parents are missing his aunt and uncle play a big part in the story and the family he stays with is a very loving, close one. This was a page-turner that I couldn't put down. I really enjoyed the characters. Henry, his uncle and Henrietta were the most fleshed out but I presume we'll get to know the others better in the next book. The story also ends with a definite ending, no cliff-hanger ending, which I like. But there are numerous threads left hanging that leave the reader anxious for Book 2, which will be out in February of this year. I have no idea whether this is going to be a trilogy or part of a longer series but I can tell you I am definitely hooked and ready for the next book.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

17. Here's the Story

Here's the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice by Maureen McCormick

Pages: 274
Finished: Jan. 23, 2009
First Published: Oct. 14, 2008
Genre: autobiography/memoir, non-fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

First sentence:

This story begins in the fall of 2006 in Los Angeles.

Comments: In the prologue, Maureen McCormick starts with when she came out of the woodwork to appear in the reality show Celebrity Fit Club. Then she begins a chronological story of her life as a child appearing in many commercials, especially for Mattel, on to the Brady Bunch years, her unsuccessful attempts to achieve acting status beyond Marcia Brady, her eventual success on Broadway and her life now. She gets into the nitty-gritty describing her early introduction to drugs and sex, her eventual addiction to cocaine throughout the seventies and eighties and then her life current life as a born-again Christian. She talks of her struggles with her dysfunctional family and her love for her mentally challenged brother. Maureen names names but keeps a respectful tone by concentrating on her own troubles and not dwelling on others. In once instance she uses a pseudonym for a famous person she was involved with in the drug/sex scene.

I found Maureen's tone and narrative extremely readable. Her story of her childhood is written with a child-like wonderment as she entered the life of show business and became a cultural icon. Her voice becomes more mature as she herself matures and she presents herself as someone who can take the blame for her own actions. Not often do I find biographies page-turners. I love entertainment memoirs but non-fiction doesn't often grip me to that extent. But this book was one I couldn't put down, I kept picking it up in favour over the fiction book I was co-currently reading. While the book only partially concerns the Brady years, (which I wish there was more of) any fan of the show is bound to enjoy this look at the behind the scenes aspects, to find out what the real Marcia Brady was like, and whatever happened to her.

Friday, January 23, 2009

16. The Runaway Dolls by Ann M. Martin

The Runaway Dolls by Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin*
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
The Doll People, Book 3

Pages: 323
Finished: Jan. 22, 2009
First Published: Oct. 7, 2008
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

First sentence:

Annabelle Doll didn't see the mysterious package when it was delivered.

Comments: The Palmer's are on a two week vacation and the dolls have the run of the house. Just before they left a parcel arrived and was thrown on the couch. Annabelle and Tiffany examine it only to find that it is Annabelle's long lost little sister. However, the adults believe no such thing so Annabelle decides to let her sister out and runaway to protect her from disappearing again and, of course, Tiffany comes along. Little do the girls know that their brothers have been spying on them and follow them. Thus begins a wild adventure for the dolls as they get lost in the woods, hitch a ride on a wagon, end up downtown and eventually in the toy department of a large department store.

This is the most exciting of the three books. The dolls find themselves in one spot of trouble after another and the characters are just adorable. This book is so much fun to read. Again, the illustrations are half of the enjoyment of the book. Selznick's illustrations are gorgeous and this book starts with a several page long illustrative wordless narrative similar to parts of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I highly recommend this series to young girls (and their mothers!).

*Laura Godwin was born and raised in Alberta, Canada, hence the Canadian Author tag.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

15. American Rust

American Rust by Philipp Meyer

Pages: 343
Finished: Jan. 21, 2009
First Published: Feb 24, 2009
Genre: literary fiction
Rating: 5/5

Reason for Reading: received a review copy from the publisher.

First sentence:

Isaac's mother was dead five years but he hadn't stopped thinking about her.

Comments: Set in a small dying former steel mill town in Pennsylvania, this is the story of two young men (20yrs old). Issac, who is called the smartest person in town except for maybe his sister and had been expected to go straight to college after high school. But his mother dies, his father is in a crippling accident at work and his sister leaves for an ivy league school 3 months after their mother's death, leaving him to stay with his father. The other is Poe, the legendary high school football player who could have gotten a football scholarship to any college but had always been a bad apple and had no interest in doing any more school, even if it was on a scholarship.

These two boys are strangely enough best friends, each other's only real friend to be exact and one day there lives and those around them are changed forever. Within the first chapter Issac decides he's hung around long enough, takes his father's four thousand dollars of savings and leaves to head to California to go to school. Along the way he meets Poe who doesn't want to come with him, but agrees to walk to the city limits with him. They spend the night in the abandoned steel mill and three homeless men arrive. Issac knows this is not going to be good and he tries to get Poe's attention and says he's going out for a leak. Poe knows what Issac is up to but he's in the mood for a fight. Issac hears a scream, some thuds and more noises that sound like Poe. He enters through the back door to find his friend, Poe, being held at knife point while another man is obviously about to go at him. Isaac picks up a large iron ball bearing and pitches it across the room hitting the man square in the face and obviously killing him. This is how the story opens.

The book is told in a third person omnipotent point of view with each chapter coming from a selection of different character's view point: the two boys, Isaac's sister, Poe's mom, the chief of police and occasionally Isaac's father. The narrative takes a little getting used to as it feels strange to jump from one person's head to another's but it doesn't take long to get used too as this is a page-turner from chapter one onwards. The writing is a delight to read, the characters become very real to the reader and the story of the lives and thoughts of these people in a dead-end situation all around is very compelling. These people do not lead happy lives and the book is somewhat raw in it's telling but that only makes the characters more real. It is not ultimately a sad story though, as the characters learn about hope, love, friendship and redemption. I honestly didn't know whether this was going to be a book I'd like but I have to say it's the best book I've read this month.

I know it's only January but I'll be holding the other books I read this year up to this one as I choose my favourites of the year. Recommended!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

14. A Child's Garden of Verses

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
Illustrated with contemporary paintings and drawings

Pages: 121
Finished: Jan. 20, 2009
First Published: 1885
Genre: poetry
Rating: 3/5

Reason for Reading: Daily reading of poetry to the 8yo on school days.

First sentence:

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candlelight.

Comments: I have mixed opinions of this collection of poems. I read this aloud to my older son several years ago and he loved the poems, he even memorized several of them. He especially had fun memorizing My Shadow. I've just now finished reading it to my 8yo and have to say he was not impressed. We read a two-page spread every school day as part of our homeschool. Though the poems are written for children, they are written for Victorian children and the 8yo didn't understand half of the words used so we spent a lot of time discussing what each poem was really about and how it applied to things he would recognize in his life today. Sometime he'd think the poem was OK and he didn't dread me reading it but mostly he just thought they were boring. Myself, there are several of the popular poems that I think are wonderful: Bed in Summer, My Shadow, and Picture Books in Winter especially. Some others I'd rather do without.

This edition is particularly nice as it is profusely illustrated with sometimes several pictures per poem by contemporary children's book artists of the time such as Jessie Wilcox Smith and C.M. Burd along with a host of others. I just love the illustrations and could pull this book off the shelf and just browse through it for pure enjoyment. The 8yo though did not appreciate the old-fashioned pictures especially when he couldn't tell the boys from the girls. However, this is poetry I think every child should be exposed to, some will enjoy, others will not. For one, my son will forever remember the name "Robert Louis Stevenson".

13. The Case of Madeleine Smith

The Case of Madeleine Smith by Rick Geary
A Treasury of Victorian Murder #8

Pages: unpaginated
Finished: Jan. 19, 2009
First Published: 2006
Genre: graphic novel, true crime
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

First sentence:

Monday 23 March 1857 at 2:30 AM, Mrs. Ann Jenkins is awakened by a furious pounding at the front door of her lodging house.

Comments: This next book in Rick Geary's fabulous series is no less supreme than the others. This time around we have a new-to-me case of Madeleine Smith who was put on trial for the poisoning death of her secret paramour. It is only because the man had kept over 190 letters from her that she became the suspect. Very interesting case. The poisoning murderess is always such a fun story to read.

Needless to say, Geary's b/w illustrations add to the story and the ambiance of Victorian times. I'm always fascinated with Victorian crime cases as it shows how policing was done when they only had the clues, early medical science, and their minds to solve a case. An interesting outcome to this case. The book definitely leaves me wanting to read Victorian crime and fortunately there is one more book in this series.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday: Books in the Mail

Last week I received 3 arcs in the mail. 1 for myself and 2 for my 8yo and I to review together. This is a first for me, but this time I have already read and reviewed my arc! So how does the arc pile now stand? Received 1 (I'm not counting the easy readers) and read and reviewed 3, making the pile 2 books smaller! Now that's what I call progress.

Book Awards II Challenge - Finished

Book Awards II Challenge (10 books Aug1-June1, 2009)

I just finished this challenge today. It feels like so long ago that I started it. I've read so many books since Postmortem. I made up my list as I went along which I enjoyed doing. It was fun finding out a book had won an award that I was not aware of. I enjoyed the challenge last year as well as this year so I plan on joining III if there is one, next year. Fun challenge. Thanks to Michelle for hosting.

Here are the books I read:

10. Laika by Nick Abadzis Eisner Award
9. The Doll People by Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin Maud Hart Lovelace Award
8. Louis Riel by Chester Brown Harvey Award
7. The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare Scott O'Dell Award
6. The Line Painter by Claire Cameron Northern Lit Award
5. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan Bellwether Prize
4. The Birchbark Tree by Louise Erdrich WILLA Award
3. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale Samuel Johnson Award for Nonfiction
2. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting Newbery Medal
1. Postmortem by Patricia Cromwell Macavity Award, 1st novel

12. Laika

Laika by Nick Abadzis

Pages: 203
Finished: Jan. 19, 2009
First Published: 2007
Genre: graphic novel, history
Awards: Eisner Award
Rating: 2.5/5

Reason for Reading: Graphic Novel Challenge, Book Awards Challenge, YA Challenge

First sentence:

I am a man of destiny...I will not die...

Comments: This is the true story of the Russian space program in it's infancy. They stunned the world when they sent up the first satellite, Sputnik. The Premier wanted to send another one up within a month on the celebration of the October Revolution. So this time they decide to send a dog into space but because of the short time frame they cannot work out a plan to bring the dog back, she will die in space.

The book concentrates on the scientists and dog handlers working on the program within a 'know what you need to know' atmosphere. No one knows the reality of the situation until the end. The book particularly centers on a woman who is newly hired to work as the dog handler; she is a great animal lover and becomes attached to the dogs, especially the one who will eventually die in space.

Honestly, this book did nothing for me. The story did not tell me anything I did not already know. I found the fact that the dogs talked to the woman to be rather disconcerting. I realize it was supposed to show that she felt she was communicating with them, but still....talking dogs in a true story put me off. I also found the pages very cramped. There were way too many frames per page for the size of the pages and everything felt squished on the page, leaving the print rather small to read. You need a good light when reading this book. In all it did what it was supposed to do, retelling the story from a human point of view but it left me bored. Obviously it is a sad story and perhaps if I was a dog lover I may have enjoyed it more. If you like books like Old Yeller perhaps this might be more your style than mine.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

11. The Meanest Doll in the World by Ann M. Martin

The Meanest Doll in the World by Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin*
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
The Doll People, Book 2

Pages: 260
Finished: Jan. 18, 2009
First Published: 2003
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

First sentence:

Annabelle Doll sat in the soap dish high above the bathtub in the Palmers' house.

Comments: Tiffany and Annabelle are almost caught walking in the hall by one of their owner's and they quickly jump into a nearby backpack. Before they can get back to their respective homes, the backpack is zipped and they find themselves on the way to school. There, they explore and as they get back into the backpack to go back home they realize they are in the wrong one and end up at someone else's home.

It is a nightmare here, all the dolls are being terrorized by the Princess Mimi Doll who thinks she will one day become Queen of All the Dolls. Annabelle and Tiffany are stuck there for the weekend and try to help the dolls get rid of Mimi.

A really, fun book which was a pure delight to read. I'm really enjoying this fun series about the Doll People. This book has a lovely theme of friendship and the Doll characters are so charming and endearing, while the plot is fun and exciting. I never really read these types of books as a kid but am really fond of this book and the series. Selznick's illustrations throughout are absolutely stunning and a huge part of the enjoyment of the book is contained within the illustrations. Highly recommended for up to ten years old and anyone who loves a little bit of childish fun and fantasy. I'll be reading the last book shortly.

*Laura Godwin was born and raised in Alberta, Canada, hence the Canadian Author tag.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

10. The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Pages: 299 (+extensive Notes, Bibliography & Index)
Finished: Jan. 17, 2009
First Published: Feb. 24, 2009
Genre: Biography, Travel, Memoir
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: I received a copy from the publisher.

First sentence:

I pulled the map from my back pocket.

Comments: This is a biography of early twentieth century explorer, Percy Fawcett. Fawcett was an accomplished explorer of the Amazon jungles and recipient of the Royal Geographical Association's Gold Medal. He is most known for his determination in finding a lost city and civilization hidden in the depths of the jungle, often called El Dorado, Fawcett labeled his unfound city "Z".

The book begins with Fawcett's early days as an explorer up to his infamous journey in which he took his 22-year old son with him and simply vanished from the face of the earth. Many others have gone in since to find him and either disappeared themselves or returned defeated and emaciated.

Between chapters of Fawcett's story, the author occasionally jumps to his own tale of following in the footsteps of Fawcett's ill-fated last journey using modern technology.

A very compelling read. Fawcett is truly a larger than life character and his story makes for good reading. I really enjoyed the time period, 1900s-1920s, and am fascinated with exploration of that period. A well written biography with plenty of original source quotations including from Fawcett's own journals. I only wish the book had included some photographs. I like to see who I'm reading about but all in all a very interesting and compelling biography and description of the days of exploration.

Edited to Add: While my arc edition has no photographs, the finished book *will* have photos and maps. That's great news!

9. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Pages: 290
Finished: Jan. 17, 2009
First Published: Jan. 27, 2009
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: I received a copy form the publisher, Random House Canada.

First sentence:

Old Henry Lee stood transfixed by all the commotion at the Panama Hotel.

Comments: Henry Lee's wife has been dead for six months when he comes upon a crowd outside an old hotel that has been boarded up since the war years. The belongings of about 40 families that were sent to Japanese internment camps have been found in the basement. Henry remembers his past.

The book switches narrative from the present (well, 1985) to Henry's past when he was a boy of twelve. He met a Japanese girl the same age and they became friends but Henry's father was a staunch Chinese Nationalist and considered all Japanese the enemy since Japan had been attacking China for the last ten years.

This is a beautiful book. Beautifully written with a beautiful story to tell. It is a tale of friendship and enemies, love and hate, two very different families and the children who fall in love. Almost like World War II version of Romeo and Juliet. The story is bittersweet, hence the title, and the characters of Henry, his father, and Keiko, the American-born Japanese girl are fully realized.

I found the historical aspect fascinating. I often read World War II stories from a Chinese point of view and this was quite unique. The story was riveting and a page-turner that I couldn't put down. I don't usually read love stories, especially unrequited love, but the tale told here is simply beautiful and much more than just a love story.

The only quibble I have is that the author tried to present an unbiased point of view in regards to the Japanese internment camps and while he succeeded I would have liked a little more background on the "why?" of the situation for readers who know nothing of the Japanese atrocities of WWII. It was very briefly referred to but a little more information would have presented a truly balanced point of view.

In all, this is a wonderful tale and will be truly enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a good WWII story or Asian fiction.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Favourite Lyrics

I'm not a part of Booking Through Thursday but this week's question gives me an excuse to post a link to my all-time favourite song. The question asks "Is there a song you particularly like for it's lyrics?" Well, I like a lot of songs because of the lyrics but this one is just everything to me. I love the words, first. Then I love the group! And Brad Roberts' voice is so divine, I get chills.

Listen to the words, if you are Christian the words will hit you very hard as allegory. Simply beautiful!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

R.I.P. Patrick McGoohan

Oh, it is not a good day for me today. I was/am addicted to the British television show "The Prisoner" in which McGoohan played Number 6. Pure brilliance.

Dead at age 80. You will be dearly missed.

R.I.P. Ricardo Montalban

Most famous as Fantasy Island's Mr. Rourke and Star Trek's Khan. Montalban was also a dashing young leading actor in the '40s and '50s.

Dead at age 88 from complications of old age. You will be missed SeƱor Montalban.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

8. The Amazing Spider-Man: Coming Home

Coming Home by J. Michael Straczynski
The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1

Pages: unnumbered
Finished: Jan. 14, 2009
First Published: 2002 (contains previously published comic books)
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: I hadn't intended to read this but my son brought home an armload of superhero graphic novels to look at and I saw that this one was Volume 1 of a series. It has been a long time since I've read good old Marvel or DC superheroes and Spidey just called my name and I had to read it. I used to be a big fan of superhero comics when I was about 11 to 17.

First sentence:

Hi, this is Peter.

Comments: Spider-Man has just moved back to his home town and is drawn to his old high school. There he remembers what it felt like to be picked on and teased all the time but while there he realizes that bullying is on a completely different level than when he was a kid. The school is virtually unsafe. When the science teacher quits Peter Parker takes over the job. One night while laying about on the side of a building he meets a man who has the same powers as he does and he meets Ezekiel for the first time. Ezekiel has come to warn him of the enemy who is coming for him, a vampire like creature who sucks the life energy from superheroes to keep alive.

The beginning chapter inserts bits here and there to briefly bring the reader up to par on how Peter became Spider-man enabling a newcomer or someone who hasn't read the comics for a long time to dig right in with this book. I love the bold reds, blues and purples that pop out at you on every page and the illustrations are intricate making one look deeply into the pictures. The story is typical Spider-man, comedy alongside superhero fighting with an added dash of morality. A gripping story with a cliff-hanger ending which will send me off to find Volume 2.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

7. Your Heart Belongs to Me

Your Heart Belongs to Me by Dean Koontz

Pages: 337
Finished: Jan. 13, 2009
First Published: Nov., 2008
Genre: magical realism
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: I received a copy form the publisher, Random House Canada.

First sentence:

Ryan Perry did not know that something in him was broken.

Comments: A young, thirty-something self-made millionaire, finds out that he has a heart disease and is given one year to live and put on the heart transplant list. He starts to become paranoid, wondering if someone has done this to him. Time goes by and he is finally found a donor but he is now having strange dreams and wonders what is real and what is not.

This is the first Koontz book I have read. I was under the impression he wrote horror books but this is nothing near a horror story. But instead it is a deep character study of a man and his brush with death and the slightly paranormal. This is also a story of redemption and finding your real inner self. I also found the theme quite religious, as a man slowly learns to hear God's voice so that he can in turn listen to it and react. The plot moves slowly through the first part of the book as we learn about the characters and their day-to-day lives. The action becomes faster in the second part and moves on to a page-turner ending. While I figured out the twist early on in the book I still found the unravelling and final climax a fascinating read. I've always wanted to read this author and this book makes me want to read him more. I'm interested to see how this compares to his horror stories.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday: Books in the Mail

Well it was very quiet and lonely in my mailbox (except for Christmas cards) over the holidays but last week my first arc of the year arrived

And after just having finished watching Angel Season 5 during December, I eagerly bought online the first two volumes of graphic novels of season 6:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

6. The Doll People by Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin

The Doll People by Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin*
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
First in The Doll People series

Pages: 256
Finished: Jan. 9, 2009
First Published: 2000
Genre: children's fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Awards: Maud Hart Lovelace Award
Reason for Reading: I've already broken a new year's reading resolution with this book. I was not going to start any new series unless they were associated with my arc reading. But, I was at the library and saw book 3 of this series on display and it sent me running to find the first book.

First sentence:

It had been forty-five years since Annabelle Doll had last seen Auntie Sarah.

Comments: The Doll Family has lived at 26 Wetherby Lane for 100 years being passed down from mother to daughter all these years. Forty-five years ago Auntie Sarah simply disappeared and no one speaks of her anymore but Annabelle Doll finds Auntie Sarah's secret journal and decides she will leave the house and start to search for her. Along her searches she finds another doll family that has come to live with the youngest daughter of the family. The Dolls now have some fun neighbours and Annabelle finds a friend with the Funcraft Family.

This book was pure delight! It was very reminiscent to me of The Borrowers, though the little people here are dollhouse dolls. The characters are simply charming and this is really a wonderful, fun, adventurous story to read. Brian Selznick's illustration bring the characters and setting to life as they decorate every third or forth page and sometimes the text stops for a whole two page spread illustration. Highly recommended for Grades 4 to 6, or as a read aloud for youngers. I wish I had daughters to read this too, but I, who am well past Grade 6 age, loved the story and will read the next two books in the series.

But I do deserve a slap on the hand for starting a new series! Edited to add: I just found out this book won the Maud Hart Lovelace Award so it qualifies for one of my challenges!!! Now I don't deserve a slapped hand anymore.
*this is tagged Canadian author because Laura Godwin was born and raised in Alberta, Canada, though she now resides in the US.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Jessica Review: Cookie

I'm very excited here at Back to Books as I have a guest reviewer who will be popping in now and then to give reviews on the books she has been reading. Her name is Jessica; she is ten years old and is my niece currently living in England. Welcome, Jessica, to Back to Books!

I hope you enjoy writing for my readers here and I know all you readers out there are going to love Jessica's contributions. Now onto her first review!!!!!

name of the book:
Cookie by Jacqueline Wilson
pages: 320
genre: realistic fiction
rating: 4/5
Author's website:

first sentence:

I turned on the television.

I thought this was a heartwarming story. I think girls 10 and up would enjoy this. I enjoyed this book because it was happy, sad and had some tense bits. My favourite was chapter 15. This story's about a girl named Beauty and her mom (Dilly). Her dad always gets cross, even over the slightest thing. One is Dilly's cooking. So Beauty thinks if she tells her dad (Gerry) that she watches Sam and Lilly in the rabbit hutch he'll get cross. Home was only half of it; school was a nightmare. The girls at school always teased her, mostly Sky and her two friends. Sky and her two friends also call her names like "ugly". Her and her mom are tired of this.

by Jessica (10yo)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

5. Louis Riel

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown

Pages: 241 + Notes & Index
Finished: Jan. 7, 2009
First Published: 2003 (was previously published as comic books between 1999/2003)
Genre: graphic novel, biography
Rating: 3/5
Awards: Harvey Award
Reason for Reading: I saw Kailana's review and was very interested in reading a Canadian graphic book.

First sentence:

Do you mind if we go over it again? I just want to make sure that my notes are in order.

Comments: Louis Riel is an infamous Canadian personage. His story is very controversial and the story of what happened back then and what is politically correct to say happened can cause heated debate. In brief, Louis Riel tried to form a provisional government and negotiate with the Canadian government even though Canada had bought the land in which he and the Metis (half white/half Indian) lived. He captured English prisoners and executed one causing a furor in English Canada. Riel was eventually hung as a traitor.

This book is very biased to the Louis Riel, hero, side of the story. There are many things that I'm sure the author took license with and made up conversations between the Prime Minister and others to promote the big, bad, conservative, English government view point. However, even though the book is unabashedly pro-Riel, the author did manage to show the opposite viewpoint of him by showing Riel to be the man who thought God had talked to him and told him he would be resurrected three days after his execution. Whether he was a hero of the Metis people or a madman fanatic my person view is that either way he was a traitor to the country of Canada. This is what *I* was taught in school but a more revisionist point of view is taken nowadays to be politically correct.

While I laughed at many parts of the book that I think were supposed to be serious, I did enjoy reading the book. It was fun to read and the Canadian history aspect was great to see in a graphic novel. I'd love to see more in the same vein! If you are already familiar with the story of Louis Riel, I think you'd enjoy reading this. But don't start here if you know nothing of the history. Here's a website with a brief intro and a little video that was part of series shown here on Canadian television.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

4. When Will There Be Good News?

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
3rd Jackson Brodie mystery

Pages: 348
Finished: Jan. 6, 2009
First Published: Sept, 2008
Genre: mystery, psychological suspense
Rating: 5/5
Reason for Reading: received a Review Copy from Random House Canada.

First sentence:

The heat rising up from the tarmac seemed to get trapped between the thick hedges that towered above their heads like battlements.

Comments: This is the story of three women, one who survived a brutal family crime when she was a child, another who recently experienced the same and one who grieves from a particularly unsettling sudden family death. While all three characters are delved into; it is the grown woman who finds that her past is about to meet up with her present when the criminal's release date from prison (after thirty years) comes and goes. She is advised to get away for a while just to make sure she's safe and can keep her mind off it and then the next day she simply disappears without a word to anyone. The local DI believes her advice was taken, one person thinks she's been kidnapped and one person knows what really happened to her. This is a thrilling ride of psychological suspense.

I found the setting of Scotland to be very interesting and different as most of my crime reading takes place in either England or the US. The Scottish way of life certainly added a unique flavour to the story. The writing is skillful as the author slowly releases a plot that unravels page by page. The reader does not know where the story is going until each secret is revealed. Even though the story slowly unravels I still found this to be a page-turner as I couldn't help but need to know just where this story was going and where it would end up.

Each chapter is written from the point of view of several different characters. This is a little bit unsettling at first as each of the first few chapters seem unrelated but when connections are made a light goes off in your head and you realize just how intricately interwoven the lives and crimes of several people are intertwined. Simply brilliantly written. I will be going back to read the first two books in this series quite soon.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

3. The Sign of the Beaver

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Pages: 135
Finished: Jan. 6, 2009
First Published: 1983
Awards: Newbery Honor, Scott O'Dell Award
Genre: children, historical fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reason for Reading: read aloud to my 8yo.

First sentence:

Matt stood at the edge of the clearing for some time after his father had gone out of sight among the trees.

Comments: It's the mid-1700s and Matt and his father have built a cabin in the Maine wilderness. His father must go back and bring the rest of the family back to their new home, leaving Matt on his own to look after their property and crop. Matt soon learns it's not easy to take care of yourself and an Indian comes to his rescue. A deal is made with the man and Matt agrees to teach the Indian's grandson to read the white man's scratching in exchange for food. As the story progresses Matt learns more from the Indians than the boy learns from him. Matt's father also does not come back as the months go by.

A wonderfully, beautiful story of friendship between two people of different cultures. Matt's misconceptions of the Indians are challenged as he learns a new way of living. The Indian boy is disdainful of the white boy who does squaw work and doesn't know how to do anything. A bond slowly grows between the boys as they learn from each other and prejudices are set aside.

This is not a plot driven story but more of a slow moving story of two people and their cultures. I've read this about three times now and both my older son and the 8yo really were riveted with the storytelling. Speare is a writer who writes beautiful language and weaves a tale that really makes the reader (or listener :-) care deeply for the characters. I think this book will especially be appreciated by boys and I recommend it wholeheartedly to everyone. A favourite!

2. The New Americans

The New Americans: Colonial Times, 1620-1689 by Betsy and Giulio Maestro

Pages: 48
Finished: Jan. 6, 2009
First Published: 1998
Genre: children, non-fiction, history
Rating: 2/5
Reason for Reading: read to my 8yo as part of our curriculum.

First sentence:

In the hundred years following the voyages of Christopher Columbus, many other European explorers sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to reach the New World.

Comments: We have previously read and enjoyed the first two books in this series but I cannot say the same for this one. A lot of material was covered very quickly. One page would be full of people and dates and by the next page they had moved on to new people. I found myself paraphrasing as I read it aloud as the names and dates just proved too much. The 8yo did not enjoy the book at all. Though he did retain the information as we discussed what was happening.

The book gives an equal portrayal of New France and the start of the Thirteen Colonies making the book appropriate for both Canadians and Americans to study this time period. I did find the book very heavily biased towards the politically correct. The general tone was one of how the untrustworthy, mean white men stole the land and the ruthless Christians forced the Indians to learn their religion while the Natives were noble to fight and attack the whites with pride. Overall, both from a Christian and informative point of view I found the book offensive at times and just plain boring at others. We did manage to scrape the information needed for educational purposes from the book and the book is profusely illustrated including maps of the growth of North America.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

1. Stalin's Children

Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival by Owen Matthews

Pages: 287
Finished: Jan. 3, 2009
First Published: Sept. 16, 2008
Genre: memoir/biography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reason for Reading: received a review copy from the publisher.

First sentence:

On a shelf in a cellar in the former KGB headquarters in Chernigov, in the black earth country in the heart of the Ukraine, lies a thick file with a crumbling brown cardboard cover.

Comments: This is the story of 20th century Russia told through the lives of one family, three generations long. Starting just after the Russian Revolution the author talks of his grandfather who was a good communist and belonged to the Party. Unfortunately, he said something he shouldn't have at the wrong time and was executed as a dissident against the Party. Then we are told the lives of the author's mother and father. The mother was a Russian girl and the father was a British man who had a deep interest in Russian literature, language and the people. So he went to Russia on a scholarship and fell in love with the Russian girl. They tried to recruit him into the KGB but he refused to betray his own country and was blacklisted from Russia. The two of them then spend the next 6 years writing letters almost daily to each other as he tries to get through the communist bureaucracy and blackmark on his name so he can marry his sweetheart and take her out of Russia. Meanwhile, the author inserts himself into the story when he is born and speaks of events that happened in the past then returns to his experiences in modern Russia. The author is a journalist and currently works for Newsweek in Russia.

This is a very interesting book if you are interested in modern Russian history. The author manages to combine the new trend of biography/memoir very well. The author never makes the book about himself, even though he does write of himself. He keeps the story of his ancestors in the forefront. By telling his families history he also tells the history of Russia, its transformation to Communism, perestroika and finally to today's democratic society. I found at times the political parts made me start wool-gathering but, of course, it is necessary to understand the politics to understand the lives these people lived and the book is definitely not heavy-handed with politics. The people always remain in the forefront. Recommended to those with an interest in Russian history.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

RIP Eartha Kitt

With all the business of Christmas and New Year's I am late in posting this tribute to the great Eartha Kitt. She was my absolute favourite Cat Woman, nobody has done the role justice since she and of course most of us know her famous sexy Christmas song, Santa Baby. She accomplished much more than that though. she was an actress, singer and writer, having written 3 autobiographies and nominated for both Tonys, Grammys, and Emmys. She died Dec. 26 at the age of 81. There will never be another like her.

Here is one of my favourites "An Old Fashioned Girl"

Then we must have "Santa Baby"

And finally, the wonderful Cat Woman. (If you want to skip straight to her scene fast forward to 1:42)