Sunday, May 31, 2009

Giveaway - Latino Book Month Book Pack - Closed

Hatchette Group is graciously giving away a book pack of 5 Latino themed books for the Latino Book Month of May. There are 5 chances to win, that means 5 different people can each win all 5 books listed below! Here's what you can win!

Latino Book Month:

1. B as in Beauty By Alberto Ferreras ISBN: 0446697893
2. Into the Beautiful North By Luis Urrea ISBN: 0316025275
3. Hungry Woman in Paris By Josefina Lopez ISBN: 0446699411
4. The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos By Margaret Mascarenhas ISBN: 0446541109
5. Houston, We Have a Problema By Gwendolyn Zepeda ISBN: 0446698520

1) This contest is open to residents of the US and Canada only. No PO Boxes.
2) Please leave a comment below for an entry, make sure your email is available in your post or in your profile.
3) Blog about this contest (with a link to this post) on your own blog, then come back here and post a link to your blog post for a second entry.
4) Contest will close midnight May 31 Eastern Time
5) I'll use a random number generator to pick the 5 winners and post the 5 winners' names on June 1.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Coming Home

I'm flying home tonight and will be arriving around midnight. So watch out for regular daily posts to start back up any day soon.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

100. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

First of all let's all say a great big "YAHOO!" for book #100 of 2009!!! I didn't dare even suggest I might make 200 books this year but it's not even half over yet, so at this rate ..... {who knows?}

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Pages: 466
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 26, 2009
First Published: Apr. 30, 2009
Genre: Gothic, historical fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

I first saw Hundreds Hall when I was ten years old.

Reason for Reading: Sarah Waters had a new book out! Need I say more! I received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: The Ayres family have lived at Hundreds Hall since the early-mid 1700s and now in post-war times (WWII) there remain three family members, one live-in servant and one half-time servant under its roof. During the war, they did their part for the war effort giving their rooms over to soldiers, their land over to the army for its use, their silver for melting, their furs, woolens, linens, etc for cutting apart and making clothing, handing down clothing they didn't need for those left without homes after the bombings and now that the war is over they have little left. Mrs. Ayres, in her fifties, not old by any means, seems old as she belongs to a different generation and the children try to keep the facts of their penury from her. Roderick, returns from the war a cripple and after recovering from his wounds tries to keep the dairy farm and the estate running for his mother's sake even if it kills him. Caroline is called home from the WRENs to nurse her brother through the long recovery from his injuries at his homecoming and then settles down to help with the estate; a robust, active, yet plain woman she is many years past the expected age of marrying yet she still hopes and now she can be found either in the kitchen with the women help or out on the land helping out the dairy farmer. But this is nothing especially special about the Ayres family, this is a situation that a geat many of the landed gentry of England found themselves in post WWII and the only way they managed to survive was to sell off the land piece by agonizing piece.

What makes the Ayres special is Hundreds Hall itself. Naturally without the money, the manpower or the resources it is falling to pieces and slowly crumbling around them. Most rooms have been completely closed off and more and more are closed off each season but that is not it either. Upon the new live-in maid's arrival she immediately falls ill of a stomach ache and confides in the doctor that something bad is in the house. He tells her she is homesick and not to be silly. The other maid eventually becomes aware of a presence causing trouble in her kitchen. Roderick is found many times bumped and bruised in the night and he claims someone is moving large pieces of furniture in his room. In fact Roddie starts having many unexplained, even dangerous, episodes. Mrs. Ayres is not herself anymore. She has heard voices and seems to be living in the past. Caroline herself is looking at books on Poltergeists and Phantasms in the library. While the Doctor is trying to cope with everyone's mental state he finds out first hand that there are some things that no matter how much he tries to explain them away reasonably, he knows what he has seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears and can't quite shake the feeling. Has an old family madness caught up with them all? Is there a ghost in the house? A poltergeist perhaps? Or maybe, it is that the house itself is evil?

This is something a little different for Waters. I've only read Fingersmith myself so far but I've read plot summaries of the others and feel confident in saying this is not her usual comfort zone. I loved the time period and the look inside the lives of post war gentry, while the doctor who comes from a poor background adds contrast to the two different ways of life even in hard times. There is a romance between the doctor and one of the female characters that slowly develops during the book and doesn't really come to a head until near the end of the book but it is an element that keeps the story on a basic plot, the relationship between the two, as all the madness is going on sometimes taking over the plot but always returning to that basic thread; which holds the book together well in my opinion. In fact, it is the ending of this book that infuriated me. It did not end the way I had expected and I was quite shocked with the outcome and actually quite annoyed that things ended up the way they did. I've had time to recuperate now, but that is the sign of good characterization, when a book's characters mean so much to you that you are invested in them and want all to end well for them all. When a book can make you get mad at it, because you are on the charaters' side that's when I know I've just read a brilliant book.

Sarah Waters is a brilliant storyteller. Right from page one I was dragged into her world and could not escape. I read this book much more quickly than I would another book of the same page length. I took it everywhere with me and could not stop reading. Comparing it to Fingersmith, it didn't have as many twist and turns and excitement but then it is a different type of book. This is an atmospheric book and a splendidly well-crafted ghost story. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

99. The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (aka Domenica de Rosa)
A Ruth Galloway Mystery, Book 1

Pages: 301
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 22, 2009
First Published: Feb. 5 '09 UK (Apr. 28, 2009 CAN)(Jan 5, 2010 US)
Genre: mystery
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

They wait for the tide and set out at first light.

Reason for Reading: Whenever I am reading the summary of a mystery/crime novel and the word forensic is used to describe the main character's job, you've got me at the word. Ruth Galloway is described as a forensic archaeologist and I knew at that point I would be reading the book. I received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: Ruth Galloway is a year off her 40th birthday, very overweight, not in a relationship and has two cats which everyone assumes are baby substitutes. She gets angry at herself for her occasional bouts of maudlin "what-ifs" because most of the time she is quite happy with her life if others would just stop pestering her. Ten years ago a little girl went missing and Ruth is called in to examine some bones found in the Norfolk salt marshes to determine if they are recent or ancient. The bones turn out to be ancient but strangely enough more ancient bones are found in the town and then another little girl goes missing. Ruth hooks up with the local DCI to assist in identifying bones and artifacts as the killer appears to be leaving letters filled with ancient mythology and archaeological facts that just may be clues pointing to the whereabouts of the missing girls' bodies.

Written by an already established British author, Domenica de Rosa who writes fiction set mostly in Italy, who has taken on the pseudonym of Elly Griffiths to write this mystery series. It was a quick read, fast-paced and a page-turner. I really enjoyed the setting. The marshes were fascinating as well as a creepy place to have mysterious goings on. There are a number of possible suspects who make it difficult to quickly solve whodunit though I did guess well before the reveal at the end. Ruth is quite the character, very outspoken, hard headed, determined and not interested in fashion at all and yet underneath she is somewhat, though not overly, self-conscious of her weight and bedraggled appearance while longing for something in her life, but is not sure whether that be romantic or maternal.

I enjoyed the book very much. It was a great mystery, with a clever plot. There were some elements to the main characters I could have done without from my conservative point of view, but then that's just me. I'll still be looking forward to Ruth's next mystery and seeing which of the characters return as regulars.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

98. Clara's War

Clara's War: A young girl's true story of miraculous survival under the Nazis by Clara Kramer with Stephen Glantz

Pages: 339
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 20, 2009
First Published: 2008 UK (Apr. 7, 2009 CAN)(April 21, 2009 US)
Genre: memoir, nonfiction, Holocaust
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

My entire family was camped out on blankets and goosedown bedding in the apple orchard behind Aunt Uchka's little house.

Reason for Reading: I am always driven to read first hand Holocaust accounts, especially from children's points of view. I received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: Young teenager Clara Kramer is living in a small Polish town when WWII starts. The book is her story retold from her memories and from the aid of her diaries kept while hidden during the last 2 years of the war. Starting off in 1939, we get a quick feel for pre-war life, then immediately a Russian protection takeover then quick withdrawal. The Germans soon infiltrate the town and a Jewish Ghetto is set up and the 5,000 Jews in the town are rounded up, sent to the Ghetto, packed onto cattle trains, while others desperately seek hiding places.

Clara's family along with a group of family and friends ask their Polish maid to
persuade her husband to hide them. This isn't so hard since he is having a secret affair with her best friend (who happens to be Jewish and part of the group to be hidden). They ask him to requisition one of the families houses, which the Germans gladly give him, as he has some standing in the community, and then the children in the group (because of their size) start to dig a dugout underneath the house. Eventually everyone helps out and the dugout becomes big enough (just) for the 18 people to squeeze into.

Mr. Beck, the man who is hiding them is actually quite well known for his antisemitism and he regularly has Nazi visitors to his house. Later on the Nazi's impose themselves on his hospitality and at any time there could be 6 or 7 Nazi soldiers or even SS officials sleeping above the hidden Jews. Beck is not who he first appears to be though and as the life of these people unfold both those downstairs and upstairs we learn how humanity can triumph over even the most degradable conditions.

At times a heart-wrenching tale, at others an uplifting tale of survival against all odds. No matter how many books one reads of the Jewish Holocaust, it is always unbelievable that humans could have treated other humans this way. A story of triumph, love and respect that is well worth the read. Also rather a unique tale in that 18 people were hidden by one small family literally right under the feet of the Nazis themselves.

I only wonder as to why no photographs are included, not even an author's photo of Clara. At first I thought none may have survived but in the final chapter Clara tells us what happened to all persons involved up to the present and she says the photos are all that remain from that time period. It would have been nice to have had faces to go with the names or even at the least a photo of Clara herself at any age.

If you are reading Jewish Holocaust memoirs this is one not to be missed. Read it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

97. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Buckshaw Chronicles, Book 1

Pages: 292
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 19, 2009
First Published: April 128, 2009
Genre: mystery, cozy, Gothic
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

It was as black in the closet as old blood.

Reason for Reading: At first, the title grabbed me. Then I read the publisher's summary and was very excited to read this mystery. I received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: Flavia is an 11-year-old girl who lives in a run-down ancestral home in a tiny village in England with her Father, two sisters and a few servants. Flavia isn't your ordinary 11yo, she has taken over an ancient chemistry studio in the house from a former ancestor and her whole world revolves around chemistry. Her speciality? Poisons. Early one morning Flavia stumbles upon a dead man lying in the cucumber patch and that is just the beginning of a series of events that Flvaia becomes involved in as she finds herself matching wits with the local Inspector who has her father under suspicion of the murder.

What an incredibly, deliciously, devilish mystery. This is like nothing I've read before. A pure joy to read. The characters were all entirely eccentric from the main protagonist down to the secondary and minor characters. The mystery is both what I would call a cozy and a Gothic mystery. It is a cozy in the sense that it is very Agatha Christie in presentation, lots of mental deduction going on and no gory details, plenty of suspects to choose from and each a nuisance in their own way. On the otherhand Bradley presents a very Gothic feel to his mystery with the old run down buildings and other old English settings, such as a school bell tower, Flavia's macabre interest in poison and the equally devilishly (though not life-threatening) pranks that she and her sisters play on each other. Characters appear suddenly at windows and loom out of the fog. It really is just splendidly atmospheric writing but completely cozy for those who like their mysteries clean and intelligent rather than soaked in blood.

I only had one small problem and I can't really say for sure whether it was the author or just myself. The novel's narrator is an 11-year-old girl and I don't think it was completely maintained throughout. I'm sure it is difficult to write an adult novel in a child's voice and it is not something that one reads everyday. At times I often forgot it was a child telling the story until a word or phrase would bring it back to my mind; I also often forgot the narrator was a girl until she mentioned wearing a dress or such. This was something that irked me a little bit, but otherwise I am full of recommendations for this book. I think a wide variety of mystery fans are going to enjoy this book and there are already two further volumes in the series planned for future release! I think Flavia de Luce may just become a future British TV series as she is just that compelling; I'd love to see her come to life on the screen and can't wait to read her next mystery!

Monday, May 18, 2009

96. The Dragon of Trelian

The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

Pages: 407
Ages: 8+
Finished: May 18, 2009
First Published: April 14, 2009
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

Calen tried not to look down.

Reason for Reading: YA fantasy about dragons? Need I say more! I received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: Calen is the apprentice to the rather surly palace mage, Serek. One day while loitering about instead of gathering herbs he meets the Princess Meglynne out for her daily jaunt in peasant clothing. They become friends and she shares her darkest secret with him. She has a young dragon hidden nearby! But as the dragon is reaching adolescence Meg is having strange experiences, she can feel what the dragon feels when she is away from him and she seeks Calen's help in gathering knowledge about dragons from the mage's library. Together they explore this strange phenomenon but meanwhile the kingdom is under a secret attack from the inside that Meg and Calen accidentally discover on their own. Will they be able to out the traitor before all is lost?

I have to admit this started slowly and I wasn't immediately taken with it. I kept having feelings of deja vu which leads me to say the plot is rather cliched and I knew what was going happen before it happened throughout the entire book. But, that said, I'm not saying this was not worth the read. The story does pick up eventually and Calen and Meg are two very likable characters. I enjoyed them both and found their relationship with each other to be on an equal footing, neither was the smart one, which is always refreshing to see. In fact, this is probably one of the best male/female relationships I've read in a children's book lately. They are very natural with one another, the boy/girl issue is never raised, they are equal people and there is no romance. Very enjoyable dynamics between the two.

As I said, the plot didn't really grab me, it was just ok. But then it was enough to keep me reading the full 400+ pages! The last two chapters are full of foreshadowing that there is no doubt that there will be a sequel. The plot does end nicely and a sequel is not called for to finish the plot but as the foreshadowing reminds us there are plenty of loose strings that could do with tying up. I'm recommending this one for ages 8-12 as I don't think it will hold the interest of teens. (But that doesn't include adult readers of children's books!) While not quite living up to my expectations, a good enough book, and I'll certainly be waiting for the next book to read more about Calen and Meg.

Friday, May 15, 2009

95. Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter

Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R.J. Anderson

Pages: 329
Ages: 10+
Finished: May 14, 2009
First Published: April 28, 2009
Genre: children, YA, fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

"I only want to go out for a little, little while," the faery child pleaded.

Reason for Reading: I have a fondness for faeries in fantasy as long as they are not cutesy and when I saw the title of this book that combined the words "rebels" and "hunter" with "faery" I was very intrigued. Also the picture of the very pretty yet so serious faery on the cover also helped to pique my interest. I received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Comments: In the Oakenwyld lives a faery realm which is slowly dying out. They lost their magic hundreds of years ago and no one remembers exactly how. A sickness is slowly killing them all off one by one. They do not reproduce but only replace themselves with a baby upon death. These faeries are selfish, friendless and joyless. They also have no culture, no art, no seekers of knowledge and as far as they are concerned it has never been any different. But Knife does not accept this. Why are the faeries so terrified of humans? When she accidentally meets one and nothing bad happens she, who has always been somewhat of a rulebreaker, decides to find out the truth about humans and faeries and perhaps save the Oakenwyld faeries from extinction.

Honestly, I'm amazed at how much I enjoyed this book. I have to admit I was expecting a more juvenile book than what this actually proved to be. Not that I don't enjoy a good juvenile book by any means. Perhaps it was the cover or the publisher's age range of ten plus but I was pleasantly surprised to find a very in depth, layered story that will be enjoyed by those aged ten on up through young adults. The two major characters, Knife and Paul, are sixteen years old and there is a romantic element that is pure and self-sacrificing. The faery character, Knife, is a very headstrong and a forceful, determined female to be admired and yet very feminine when her heart strings are pulled both in friendship and love. The faery world is very intriguing and the mythos created very full and believable yet with plenty of room for expansion should a sequel be in the works.

I couldn't put this one down and read it within a 24 hour period. The book has a complete satisfying ending for the central main characters, yet for the world in which they live there are threads left hanging which makes me wonder if a sequel is in the works which may be set in the same world but focus on different protagonists. That would certainly make for an interesting series. Anyway only time will tell! This is the author's first novel, though she has written picture books previously, and I'll be waiting to see what she has for us next. Recommended!

ETA: My oops, the author has not previously written picture books. This is her first ever published book!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

94. The Robe of Skulls

The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French
Illustrated by Ross Collins
The First Tale From the Five Kingdoms

Pages: 200
Ages: 8+
Finished: May 12, 2009
First Published: 2007 (pb release - Apr. 14, 2009)
Genre: children's fantasy, humour
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

"Skulls," said Lady Lamorna.

Reason for Reading: I have to admit it was the cover that first attracted me to this book. Then once I read the plot summary I knew I had to read it. I received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: Lady Lamorna has ordered a new dress to be made by the Ancient Ones but when she goes to check her finances she finds her treasure chest empty. So she sets forth with her clumsy slave Grubble, the troll, to capture all the local princes and princesses, turn them into frogs and ransom them back to fill her coffers once again. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, Lady Lamora's path is about to be crossed and her plans possibly dashed by brave Gracie Gillypot, prankster second-son prince Marcus, two clever and talkative bats, and a very wicked stepsister.

This book was a whole lot of fun. Written in a not too serious style, there were laughs aplenty and pure glee in the reading. The bad were bad and the good were good with no one crossing boundaries. While the bad were certainly bad, they were not frightening but rather fun to dislike. A really cute story with adorable protagonists. Girls will relate to Gracie, while boys will hang with Marcus; each character is given equal page time.

Ross Collins' illustrations are wonderful full page b/w drawings with a humorous Gothic feel to them that certainly enhance the text and come frequently enough to keep them a welcome joy when they appear. I'm always disappointed not to see an illustrator's name on the front cover and, while it appears right away on the first page, my only complaint with the book is that the publisher's did not see fit to put Ross Collins' name on the cover as his pictures are part of the enjoyment of this book.

A great fantasy read for elementary students and others who enjoy a fun children's fantasy romp. A sequel will be coming out this July called The Bag of Bones. I look forward to it. From the name of the series I am guessing we can expect five books in total though I hope the rest come faster than every two years! Recommended.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

93. The Winner Stands Alone

The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho

Pages: 343
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 11, 2009
First Published: Apr, 7, 2009
Genre: literary fiction, realistic fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

The Beretta Px4 compact pistol is slightly lager than a mobile phone, weighs around seven hundred grams, and can fire ten shots.

Reason for Reading: I have never read a Paulo Coelho book before and honestly really had no interest in them when I read descriptions of the plots. But bloggers continue to wax eloquent about how wonderful his books are that I knew I would have to give in a read one some day. So when I saw he had a new one coming out, the plot actually piqued my interest so I thought I'd give it a go. I received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Comments: I'll start off by saying this is a difficult book to summarize as there are many different layers a reviewer may want to concentrate on. On the surface the plot concerns Igor,a wealthy Russian man, who is obsessed with his ex-wife; it is actually this obsession along with other things that drove her to run off with another man. He promised her once that if she ever left him he would "destroy worlds" to get her back. Now two years later, he follows her and her new husband to the Cannes Festival and starts to randomly serial kill for her sending her text messages that he has "destroyed another world" for her each time. The book also then, is set in the glamorous world of over excess inhabited by the rich, famous, celebrity, hangers-on and wannabes. It is this world that is examined ,through the characters, that show how vapid and meaningless, on the inside, is this life of grandiose over indulgences on the outside.

The narrative is often from the point of view of Igor but alternates with other characters who have been affected in some form whether small or dramatically by his actions of murder. We follow the lives of actresses trying to make it, models, street jewelry sellers, actors, directors, producers, models, haute couteur designers, Igor's ex wife, people related to the deceased and those who have not yet been affected but will soon be.

The writing is absolutely beautiful. Descriptions and details are a joy to read, the characters are deep and multi-layered, even those of minor importance. Not having read any other Coelho, I can't compare this to his other work but from plot descriptions I feel this may be somewhat a different kind of story than what he usually tells. I was amazed by the religiousness of the writing. I had no idea. It was beautiful. Coelho writes of a world where it is simply assumed God exists and his characters are naturally Believers. I have a slew of quotes from this book that hit me hard and made me think. If Paulo Coelho's other books are also like this I most certainly will be reading them in the future. I leave this review with such a quote:

Someone's spirit, however, has no name; it is pure truth and inhabits a particular body for a certain period of time, and will, one day, leave it, and God won't bother asking, "What's your name?" when the soul arrives at the final judgement. God will only ask: "Did you love while you were alive?" For that is the essence of life: the ability to love, not the name we carry around on our passport, business card, and identity card. The great mystics changed their names, and sometimes abandoned them altogether. When John the Baptist was asked who he was, he said only, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness." When Jesus found the man on whom he would build his church, he ignored the fact that the man in question has spent his entire life answering to the name of Simon and called him Peter. When Moses asked God his name, back came the reply: "I am who I am."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

92. The Third Eye

92. The Third Eye by Mahtab Narsimhan*
Tara Trilogy, Book 1

Pages: 240
Ages: 10+
Finished: May 8, 2009
First Published: 2007
Genre: fantasy
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: the Indian mythology aspect appealed to me. Received as part of the now "in hiatus" Chapters-Indigo Top Reviewer Program.

First sentence:

Someone was following him.

Comments: This is a fairy tale, a myth, and a quest fantasy, set in an Indian village, all rolled into one. Tara and her younger brother's mother leaves them suddenly one night with only a hushed whisper that one day she will return. A year later her father is nothing but a walking shell who lets their stereotypical evil stepmother treat them like servants. Tara's grandfather also disappeared the same night as her mother and he was the villages' healer; now a new healer has arrived and some think he is evil but the men in town either turn to his side or disappear. Then one night Tara overhears a plan that involves killing herself and her brother and she decides she must go find her mother and face the forest and the Vetalas (which a google search compares to vampires but the descriptions both on the net and in the book remind me more of zombies) which roam within. Thus begins a journey and a quest filled with Hindu mythology to save Tara's family and villagers.

This was a delightfully wonderful book. With the rather mystical yet staid cover I wasn't sure what to suspect within its pages. The book begins very over the top in fairy tale fashion but not in a satire fashion, just in an obvious tone letting one know that in fairy tales bad thing can happen and probably will happen. The book then turns darker and there are some quite dark images pictured throughout the book, hence I would not recommend for young children. The secondary characters are never fully realized and left to play their parts in the plot but Tara is a wonderful, resourceful, intelligent, strong female character with a deep character and realistically flawed. The plot itself is steeped in Hindu mythology and this is where the whole feel and essence of the book comes from. It's not a particularly common topic in YA fantasy and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Certainly well-written and a compelling read. My one main flaw with the book is that it is too short. At times it feels rushed; there are many parts that could have been extended and an extra hundred or so pages could have filled out the quest section and the final ending which seemed to hurry up and finish as time was running out. This can all be excused as first novel symptoms, but then, the book ends with an absolutely brilliant last sentence letting one know there is a sequel in the works and as I look on Amazon The Silver Anklet will be out in November ('09). Well worth a read if you are looking for a YA fantasy a little different than the norm.

*I am tagging this author as Canadian because she was born in India but resides in Toronto, ON.

Luke on the Loose WINNER

And the winner of Luke on the Loose is:

cstironkat !

Congratulations! I'm sure Holt (and you!) are going to love this book. I'll be contacting you shortly for your snail mail address and then the publisher, Toon Books, will be sending the book directly to you. Congratulations!

Read my review of the book here.

Book Contest

Welcome to my very first book contest! The folks over at Toon Books have generously offered to giveaway a copy of Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss, which came out this month at a bookstore near you.

Luke looks on at the pigeons in Central Park, while Dad is lost in “boring Daddy talk,” and before you know it—LUKE IS ON THE LOOSE! He’s free as a bird, on a hilarious solo flight through New York City.Harry Bliss, the renowned illustrator of many bestselling children’s books, finally goes on a solo flight on his own with a soaring story that will delight any young reader who has ever felt cooped up.

Perfect for emerging reading. This was one of my son's favourite out of the entire Toon Book series of books and you can read our own review here. I'd recommend the book for up to age 8 but older struggling readers would also find the story funny without being babyish. Heck, I liked it and I'm 40!

View sample pages here.

1) This contest is open to residents of the US and Canada only.
2) Please leave a comment below for an entry, make sure your email is available in your post or in your profile.
3) Blog about this contest (with a link to this post) on your own blog, then come back here and post a link to your blog post for a second entry.
4) Contest will close midnight May 8 Mountain Time. (I'll be in Alberta that day)
5) I'll use a random number generator to pick the winner and post the winner's name on Saturday May 9.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Leaving On a Jet Plane

Just a quickie note to let y'all know that I'll be flying out of here this evening to go visit my Dad in Alberta for 3 weeks. I'm going to be busy today packing plus I want to get one more review written so I can start off the trip with no backlog. The trip will not affect my blogging. I'm not going there to be entertained. I'll be spending my days lounging around the house, outside hopefully if the weather is nice, reading and will have plenty of time to blog. They are big movie watchers so I'll get lots of movie watching done too. I go out there every six months on the advice of my psychiatrist for a break from it all. As you know I have Asperger's; now while that is not a disease that does not need curing or medication, unfortunately many people with Asperger's also have other mental issues and I am one of those people. One of the issues I deal with and am medicated for is clinical Depression and these 3 week getaways are time for me to unwind and have no responsibilities at all. Plus, I miss my Dad a lot and it brings my spirits up to see him.

So, my blogging may not be quite as on schedule as it is now but I'll still be around as much as usual. Be back at the end of May!

I wish I could embed this but youtube has taken a dislike to me recently and is giving me trouble where ever I go and I can only post links at the moment:

Two Reviews on American History: Fact & Fiction

#90. The Lewis & Clark Expedition: Join the Corps of Discovery to Explore Uncharted Territory by Carol A. Johmann. Illustrated by Michael Kline

Pages: 106
Ages: 10+
Finished: May 5, 2009
First Published: 2003
Genre: children, history, non-fiction
Rating: 2.5/5

Comments: This non-fiction book takes the child inside the journey and events surrounding the famous Lewis & Clark crossing of the west by water to the Pacific Ocean. It is profusely illustrated with realistic drawings, cartoons, maps and diagrams. There is no main narrative of text but rather blocks of text which follow a theme as the book is divided into chapters. One constant however, is frequent summarizing of Clark or Lewis' journals frequently including exact quotes (with strange spellings and all). This does lend some sort of continuity to the book. The other blocks of text would then expound on the topic or add further comment or interesting tidbits of info.

I found out pretty quickly, that reading the entire text of the book was making my son's eyes roll inside his head. So I had to choose what to read. We read the book slowly over about a 3 week period and I read all the journal entries aloud and, then, myself skimmed the other text on the page. If it would be interesting to him I would paraphrase it for him or in some circumstances read it to him. For example, he had no interest in the politics behind the mission but wanted to hear everything about the dog, Seaman, and Sacagawea's little boy, Pomp. The book does also have crafts included but I'd rather call them projects as they involve a lot of material, equipment, time and skill to complete. Needless to say we looked at the pages but made no effort to attempt any of them.

I suggest you look elsewhere for a more entertaining book written in a narrative style on the subject of Lewis & Clark but if this is what you have on hand or all you can find, it's not a bad book. My son learnt a lot and didn't hate it. With the adjustments I made to the reading as described above he enjoyed the reading and he has already proven to have retained certain bits of information.

#91. Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin By His Good Mouse Amos
Written & Illustrated by Robert Lawson
Pages: 114
Ages: 7+
Finished: May 6, 2009
First Published: 1939
Genre: children, historical fiction, humour
Rating: 3.5/5

Comments: This is the story of Benjamin Franklin's adult life from the time just before he invents the Franklin Stove to his 81st birthday. Told through the eyes of a mouse,Amos, who lives in Franklin's worn out fur hat. Amos is quite intelligent and he and Ben become friends and it is Amos who leads the doddering Franklin around and gives him some of his greatest ideas about electricity, through the Revolution and later on his journey and stay in France.

A comic story, certainly not to be taken as a true story of Franklin. While it does hit upon the true events of Franklin's life it pokes fun at him and is more enjoyed by someone who already knows the famous man's life story and accomplishments however briefly. Since Ben Franklin had been brought up in our other recent read-alouds my 8yo understood the comedy of the situation and really found the mouse and the circumstances Ben found himself in quite funny. This is the second time I've read this book and think it is a delightful book for children. But do make sure they know who Franklin is first so they can enjoy the book to it's fullest.

He has one other book written in similar format called Revere and I, which I have never read but do own. I'll have to make a point of reading it soon.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

R.I.P. - Dom DeLuise

Actor, comedian and chef, Dom DeLuise dies in his sleep at age 75. I most remember him for the movies in the 70s such as Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit 2 and History of the World Part 1 and as being the father of three fabulous sons who are all in show business Peter (StarGate), Michael (SeaQuest DSV) and David (3rd Rock from the Sun). Rest in Peace Dom. We will miss you.

89. Hell's Horizon

Hell's Horizon by D.B. Shan (aka Darren Shan)
The City Trilogy, Book 2

Pages: 389
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 4, 2009
First Published: Mar 5, 2009 UK & Apr. 3 2009 CAN
Genre: urban fantasy
Rating: 5/5

Reason for Reading: next in the series. Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

First sentence:

In room 812 of the Skylight Hotel a woman lay close to death.

Comments: The summary of this book is going to be very hard to understand if you haven't read the first book. You can read my review of Procession of the Dead for a fuller understanding of the story without any spoilers. This second book starts off with completely different characters within The Cardinal's Troops, his own personal police/security force. The plot runs parallel with the first novel with very few crossover's until the end. The theme centers around a vicious killing of a young woman and Al Jeery, Troop member, is personally assigned, by The Cardinal himself, to solve the case. The case becomes personal to Jeery as he finds loved ones crossing paths with his investigation. This book also delves deeper into the mysterious Incan group of blind men in white robes, has more of a mystical element to it and centers on the mysterious but feared and dreaded hitman/killer/torturer Paucar Wami first met in book one.

A quick-paced read that ultimately reads like a mystery thriller for 3/4s of the book. Second books in trilogies are always compared to the first as we have expectations set up for us and while I certainly do describe this as a dark, violent urban fantasy, I found this not as dark, not as mafioso, not as violent (but don't get me wrong it is plenty violent!). Comparisons aside, this was a fantastic read, the mystery angle really shocked me having read a lot of Shan's books I didn't expect that angle coming from him. It was very well done. The characters are just as eccentric, as expected, from the victim's cross-dressing rich brother to the octogenarian pimp who always knows the word on the street. Those characters make it sound seedy but it's not, I don't remember any s*x scenes at all!

I'm hardly doing the book justice as it is just such an intricate book and since it runs parallel with the first one there are crossovers which are infrequent to start off with but rush to a head at the end. Now that I have read the final words of book one and the final words of book two, I just can't wait for the two to meet up with each other in the final book, City of the Snakes, due Mar. 2010 in UK, which means a month or so later for me here in Canada.

I can't find these books available new on, so am thinking they haven't been published by an American publisher, which means you Americans may not find them on the shelves of your local bookseller. If you like urban fantasy these books really are a MUST read and I can't recommend them highly enough. You must find a way to buy them. My links above with take you to where you can easily purchase them. If price+ship doesn't work for you there , here's a place American's can order direct from the UK and receive Free Shipping, The Book Depository. The mass market pb's are only $9US, but you'll have to wait for Sept. for this one to be published in mmpb. The Trade PBs are reasonable enough especially considering, you pay no shipping from the UK. PS - I get no money from that link. It's free advertising for them, I just want you to read these books!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday: ARCS in the Mail

Last week saw books arriving from Simon & Shuster Canada every couple of days and these look fabulous! A total of 4 new Review Copies to add to Mount TBR. While at the same time, last week saw the reading and reviewing of 3 ARCs making Mt TBR actually only 1 book taller. That's pretty good progress. Here are my new Review Copies:

Plus Saturday May 2 was Free Comic Book Day at participating comic book stores across North America and I picked myself up this book from the Graphic Clasics series I've started reading. This book is actually available on their website as a Special Edition and I got it for Free! Hee Hee! Mine has the same content but instead of "Special Edition" on the front it says "Free Comic Book Day"

Sunday, May 3, 2009

88. Eagle Mask

Eagle Mask: A West Coast Indian Tale
written & illustrated by James Houston

Pages: 63
Ages: 7+
Finished: Apr. 30, 2009
First Published: 1966
Genre: children, historical fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: Read aloud to the 8yo.

First sentence:

Skemsham awoke suddenly and listened.

Comments: This is the coming of age story of a young boy, the son of a the chief of the Eagle Clan of the Northwest Indians. The book follows the life of Skemsham and his village through its rituals, ceremonies, way of life and celebrations. They go salmon hunting, Skemsham and his friend go on a trip without food or tools to test their courage, their is the building of a new totem pole for the clan, a whale hunt and a potlatch. At the end Skemsham has turned from boy to man.

A well-written piece of Native literature. Written in 1966, there are no incidents that would concern one wondering about political correctness. The whole book takes place in a pre-white man setting and in fact, except in the title, I'm pretty sure the word "Indian" wasn't even used within the text. Houston both lived with the Northwest Indians and the Inuit for many years and wrote several wonderful children's books on the topic. Beautifully written and illustrated with haunting b/w illustrations. The story has no real plot except to follow Skemsham in his day-to-day life and the first portion of the book is slow moving, the tension mounts as the whale hunt is approached towards the end with the denouement of the potlatch celebration and all that it means for the chief who holds it. Just because it has a slow moving plot is no reason not to read the book, it is interesting and the character of Skemsham is fully realized. It had my son's full attention and he was full of questions during the reading of this book. (Shall we say to the point of irritation on my part, LOL) An illustrated short story with no chapter breaks this is the type of book they don't really publish any more and it really is a delight to read. Unfortunately, it's out of print. I wouldn't advise rushing out to get a copy but certainly keep your eyes open for it and don't pass up the opportunity if you find one. Or try your library's ILL system!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

87. The Wonderful O

The Wonderful O by James Thurber
Illustrated by Marc Simont

Pages: 72
Ages: 9+
Finished: Apr. 30, 2009
First Published: 1957, New York Times Review edition Mar. 31, 2009
Genre: children, fantasy,
Rating: 3.5/5

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

First sentence:

Somewhere a ponderous tower clock slowly dropped a dozen strokes into the gloom.

Comments: Two pirates meet in a tavern one with a map, the other with a ship. Off they go to find the island called Ooroo and a hidden treasure. Once they arrive we find that one of them hates the letter "O" and while they take over the small island looking for the jewels they decide to forbid the existence of the letter 'O' in writing and speech by the inhabitants. This causes immense problems as one can imagine.

On the top this is a silly little story with a lot of fun wordplay while underneath it is a story of the fight for freedom. A fun romp that children old enough to manipulate the removal of the 'O's in words will surely enjoy. The message underneath is clear enough and one roots for the islanders to rid themselves of these treasure-hungry dictatorial pirates. Marc Simont is not one of my favourite illustrators as he does get into doing some awfully dark blotchy shadowy paintings but fortunately they appear only a few times in this book. His sketches on the other hand have a delightful comic appeal to them and are completely entertaining. This is a classic children's book and I advise waiting till the child is old enough to read on his own as the wordplay looses its effect when read-aloud. Not Thurber's best children's book, as I can remember that would be Many Moons, but certainly a fun romp for the older kids by one of America's greatest humourists.

Friday, May 1, 2009

86. The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Book One

Pages: 310
Ages: 14+
Finished: Apr. 30, 2009
First Published: Mar. 10, 2009
Genre: YA, post apocalyptic fiction, horror
Rating: 5/5

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

First sentence:

My mother used to tell me about the ocean.

Comments: Mary's world is very small and quite simple. Her village is large enough to roam around in and grow crops but it is completely enclosed by heavy-duty wire fencing. Her world is run by the Sisterhood who guide their laws and lives through religion and the Guardians who take orders from the Sisterhood and guard the village with force. Day to day life is quaint and simple but on the other side of the fencing are the Unconsecrated and one bite from them will turn you into one yourself, so you must never get too close to the fence ....

This was a fabulous book! Initially it reminds me of the society portrayed in the movie The Village, while not exactly the same their are many parallels. Mary is a wonderful character. She has a mother who has told her stories, carried down through the generations of women in her family, of the world before and Mary especially dreams of the mysterious place called the ocean. The stories have given Mary something to hold onto and a passion not to accept her world as it is. She is a powerful, strong character. Another thing I especially like is that once we find out the reason for the apocalypse at the end of the book I found the reason so plausible that it really was scary, unlike so many books of today which use the controversial "global warming" theme that I must take with a grain of salt. The book is very well-written, the plot tense and the individual outcomes along the way not always happy. In fact, there are many quite shockingly intense scenes. The zombies are fantastic, I mean who doesn't love a great zombie book!

There are intense relationships: mother/daughter, husband/wife, friends, and blossoming new found love all in a world in which one may die at any moment. The author has shown the deepness of these relationships with a deft sweep of her pen. The one thing that bothered me about the book was that near the beginning Mary blatantly (and for no reason) states, out of the blue, that she does not believe in God. Then later on in the book she tells us the moment she stopped believing in God. This felt as if it was important and yet the subject was never voiced again. No other character's belief or non-belief was mentioned and other than making me feel sorry for Mary, it made me wonder why the author stopped short of making her point. However....

Highly recommended! I've never given two books a tie as favourite book of the month but this time I just can't not say this was my favourite although I've already said so of another book. I hate to compare to the Twilight books as this book is in a league so much higher than those but I think teachers/librarians should use the comparison to promote this book as it will appeal to the same teen audience, as well as the boys. One could call this a horror book, and it is, but it goes so much deeper into relationships between people, that anyone who can stand the gore that comes with zombies is going to be itching for next year's (2010) parallel novel. Read this book!