Tuesday, June 30, 2009

117. The Jumping-Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely

The Jumping-Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely
Illustrated by William Siegel
Afterward by Jean L.S. Patrick

Pages: 321
Ages: 8+
Finished: June 29, 2009
First Published: 1929 (new edition, Oct. 2008)
Genre: children, historical fiction
Award: Newbery Honor
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

Down on their knees, a boy and girl were taking up the kitchen linoleum.

Reason for Reading: I'm reading all the Newbery Awards and Honors. I received a copy through LibraryThing's ER Program. I also very much love children's historical fiction about the early days of settling our land.

Comments: Four children Becky (17), Dick (15), Phil (10) and Joan (8) live with their Uncle Joe in a nice little town in Wisconsin. Joe, a sea-going man, settled down with the children when they were orphaned but his heart always missed something. That is until the day he went to check out the land available in South Dakota and fell in love with the prairies which reminded him so much of the sea. He didn't win the lottery for land but he later came back and squatted some land that was unclaimed, registered it and set to work on it. When he came back for the children, he became deathly ill and spent a month in bed. He spent every moment talking to the children and writing down or dictating to them everything they would need to know on how to homestead the land themselves and one week before they were to leave Uncle Joe died. With determination and great love for Uncle Joe's will to be done the 4 children go to South Dakota and become homesteaders on their own. Becky turns into a woman and Dick into a man as they fight the elements, the land, the loneliness and the meanest folks you ever did see who've squatted on their land while Uncle Joe was dying. They also discover the glory of the land, the joys of making a home for oneself, the realities of life and death, and the bonds created between neighbours all living through the same circumstances.

This is a wonderful story and while a work of fiction it draws heavily upon the author's own experiences as a homesteader in South Dakota. As the afterward mentions one can quickly compare this to Laura Ingalls Wilder, as there is a similarity in the two experiences of homesteading in South Dakota, Ms McNeely's book was published 3 years prior to Ms Wilder's and The Jumping-Off Place takes place nearly thirty years later than the Little House days in De Smet, South Dakota.

A timeless classic that fortunately has been brought back to print. This is a book for the ages. A tale of hardships, pure joy from the results of hard work itself, humour, determination, growing up. The book is full of life lessons (though not didactic or preachy at all); the children just learn from living life and from not giving up for Uncle Joe's sake and downright pluckiness not to be beaten after they've put so much hard work into things.

One note: the "n" word is used once, not in reference to a person but used nevertheless by a minor character in a state of dejection. From my point of view, the word was used in context within the historical period of the book and considering the year this book was written I can say wholeheartedly that there was nothing that *I* found objectionable in the book at all. The afterward doesn't mention this instance but it does contain a lot of information on the historical context of the book, Ms McNeely's life and tragic death. It was a welcome addition to the book. Unfortunately Marian Hurd McNeely died such an untimely death that she only wrote 3 children's novels and one posthumously published volume of short stories.

Some people these days seem to have a problem with Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, if that is you, then this would make a great substitution if you don't mind moving forward to 1900. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the time period or the subject matter. Hopefully this book stays in print without any editing!

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday: Arcs in the Mail

Yep, that's right! Last week I didn't receive a single book in the mailbox. I cannot remember when that has ever happened before in the last year and a half. By Wednesday it was a little depressing but by Friday I was hoping nothing would suddenly arrive because that would mean the 3rd week in a row in which all my ARC reading was actually decreasing the number of ARCs I have!

So with my focus on YA books this month, I have managed to finish them all off from my current pile and my backlog pile this last week except for the one I'm currently reading. Stat time again! With 0 books in and 3 ARCS read and reviewed my ARC pile is 3 books smaller! And after some quick math my total percentage of ARCS received that I have read is now at 58% which is up 6% since the last time I checked! Woohoo. I'm making headway.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

116. Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie

Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie
Book One

Pages: 552
Ages: 10+
Finished: June 27, 2009
First Published: May 26, 2009
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Ian Wigby sat on his cot, staring at the raging storm just beyond his window.

Reason for Reading: The jacket flap simply intrigued me. The book sounded right up my alley. I received a copy from the publisher.

Comments: Set in the 1930's along the White Cliffs of Dover atop of which stands an old castle and its keep. In that keep is an orphanage run by the earl, who owns the property and the land. It is here that orphans Ian and Theodosia (Theo) have lived most of their lives. Now 13 and 10 respectively they spend a lot of their time secretly exploring the caves within the cliffs (a most forbidden activity ) until one day they discover a silver box that contains an ancient prophecy that will forever change who they thought they were. As they turn to leave the cave they are chased by a hellhound and now that the evil forces are after them they have only one path to follow to save themselves, the children at the orphanage and perhaps the world.

What an intricate, deep plot to follow! I admit it took a bit of getting into as their were so many things going on and stories being told that I started to get lost a bit but I went with the flow and soon enough understood the different angles. This book has it all: ancient Greek mythology (though the author takes liberties with real names creating her own ancient-ancient mythology), Druid oracles, Phonecian relics, evil sorcerers and hellhounds. Starting off in England and veering off into Morocco this is an adventure as well as a mythological-steeped tale. Part of the book has a very ancient fantasy lore feel then in another part it went all Indiana Jones. There are quite a lot of different types of action happening here, not to mention the orphanage moments which have that boarding school feel that is so popular. You certainly don't get bored!

One thing I particularly liked was the unusual party of questers in this book. Usually one can assume in a book like this we'll have a group of children with some boys and some girls. Ms. Laurie has created a very unique group. Here we have a party of six containing 1 girl and five males, also the group contains three children and three adults. There is a hierarchy of power. The adults expect the children to obey them as they look out for their safety yet the adults know that the children have a special connection to what is going on and know things instinctively that they don't. The children often assert their power of intuition over the adults leading the way but they follow the authority respect (this is the 1930s, remember) and they also know the adults know much more than they do because they are educators. Everyone is friendly and gets along well with each other within these dynamics.

The party consists of an old professor of archaeology, two twin brothers who are schoolmasters at the orphanage and very educated, and Colin, a new boy who is undernourished and very skinny. He has a sense of comradery and bravery but sometimes his body just won't let him follow through. Ian and Theo are the two main characters of the group. Ian is a typical boy, all about adventure. He actually wants to be an explorer when he grows up. Finding treasures in the wild and getting rich. Theo, who was given to him to look after as a sister when she arrived, is a unique character as well. I really like the way the author has portrayed her. She is a strong-willed girl and doesn't let anyone walk over her but she is not pushy. Sometimes she is all for whatever adventure is going on but at other times she'll find something too dangerous and will be scared and not want to do it. Sometimes girls are portrayed in books as supergirls who can do anything, I prefer this real life example of how girls are just like anybody else sometimes strong, sometimes scared and being scared doesn't make you weak. Theo always keep face and she saves the day more than once just by being herself, faults and all.

A well-written book. Very long, with no pictures it will probably take kids a while to read but it is full of action and plot. This is not one of those 500 page books with 200 pages of filler; this is 500 pages of pure story. There is also quite a bit of violence; there are battles, people get killed, it is described briefly and is not pretty. Kids sensitive to that sort of thing may want to avoid this book. If you like your fantasy mixed with ancient history and mythology this will be your kind of book.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Rest In Peace

This has been a sad week for the loss of celebrities, one after the other. My respect lies with these two who had ups and downs throughout their lives but both overcame their hardships and downfalls with grace and dignity. You will both be sadly missed. My prayers go out to their families and loved ones.

1923-2009 - My favourite moments of The Tonight Show after the famous "Heeeeeeeeeeeeere's Johnny!" was the few minutes when Johnny and Ed would have their chat together before the show started. I've never really been a fan of the show since they left and haven't watched it for more than a few minutes in years now. Of course, Ed went on to make a name for himself on his own afterwards with Star Search, the precursor to such shows as "America's Got Talent".

1947-2009 - I loved Charlie's Angels and watched it every week as a kid. I loved Jill! How I wished my hair would feather like hers but unfortunately I had thick naturally curly hair that just wouldn't behave. I'm even collecting the show on DVD now. What a tragic way for this lovely lady to end her days on Earth. I'm glad to hear her last moments were spent with her beloved Ryan beside her. Her last hours of life remind me a lot of my mother's final moments on earth.

115. Jed Smith: Trailblazer of the West

Jed Smith: Trailblazer of the West by Frank Latham
Illustrated by Frank Murch
Revised and Edited by Michael J. McHugh

Pages: 122
Ages: 10+
Finished: June 25, 2009
First Published: 1952 (edited 2003)
Genre: children, historical fiction, christian fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

"Here, sonny, take a drink o' this."

Reason for Reading: Read aloud to the 9yo as part of our curriculum.

Comments: This is the story of Jedediah Smith. One of the lesser known, yet just as important explorers of the American West. He was the first white man to cross Nevada and Utah and the first American to enter California by land. He was also the first to scale the High Sierras. He managed to fill in large portions of previous "white spaces" on the map of the American West.

Jed was a mountain man, explorer, hunter and trapper but unlike the men he kept company with he was clean shaven, a teetotaler, used clean language and read his Bible every day. The book starts off right at the point when Jed sets off for "faraway lands" and ends with him deciding to settle down. Their is a brief epilogue that explains settled life wasn't for him and his death at the hands of Comanches.

The book is very exciting, going mostly from adventure to adventure leaving out the boring bits of life. Jed is shown as a strong Christian man with empathy for all those around him, yet quick to use his fists if need be. He's also shown as being compassionate to the Indians on his travels, always ordering his men to behave themselves, and yet when attacked they fight back readily enough and Jed is aware in his own mind of which tribes are already known to be aggressive and prepares accordingly.

This book will not be for everyone. This book is not politically correct. Jed Smith travelled in the early 1800s and his interactions and his men's talk of the Indians is that which was probably used by early 19th century hunters and trappers. The book has been edited and there is nothing offensive to my sensibilities though that may not hold true for others. There is a lot of battle scenes, Jed's men almost always loose against the Indians, but the scenes are written to be exciting. Written in the 1950s the book is written for it's generation of children, but again the editing has left nothing I consider offensive at all. The book is also unabashedly Christian in nature. It doesn't preach, but Jed is shown as a believer and as such he talks of the Lord often to those around him, who mostly are not themselves believers. But they become in awe of what Jed could accomplish through this God of his and that sets the tone for the book.

We enjoyed the book. A short read that was exciting, informative (I'd never heard of the man before) and brought about many discussions, both about history and faith, as we read.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

114. The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong
Darkest Powers, Book Two

Pages: 360
Ages: 14+
Finished: June 23, 2009
First Published: Apr. 28, 2009
Genre: YA, paranormal, fantasy
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

When the door to my cell clicked open, the first thought that flitted through my doped-up brain was that Liz had changed her mind and come back.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series. I received a review copy from the publisher.

Comments: The story picks up shortly after Book One and without giving much away, I'll say this book's main focus is that of the teens being on the run. While all six teens are still in this book, only five of them are a part of the story and if you've read Book One it may not be the five your thinking of. As all the teens take part in the plot, two of them in particular become the main characters and the undercurrents of a romance are felt boiling beneath the surface.

As often happens with the second book in a trilogy, The Awakening does have a feeling of being the middle part, filler if you will, awaiting the big climax of Book Three. Oh, I still enjoyed it, very much in fact, but the plot just doesn't advance very much. Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of exciting, tense, and unexpected moments and a couple of reveals along the way. What this book does do though is show a lot of character development. We learn a lot of previously unknown information (secrets even) about each teen and we also get to know each one much more closer. All of the supernaturals, as they call themselves, have personalities which are made up of both likeable and unlikable characteristics making them real people to connect with.

While the plot only slightly advances we do learn a lot of the background of the story, how and why the teens have their powers, and who is after them and why, plus information on their own personal backgrounds. This compiled with the Book One leaves the reader very anxious for the big showdown in Book Three. Having been hit with a cliffhanger ending in The Summoning (which I don't like), I am happy to say that The Awakening leaves us with a more finite, however brief it may be, ending.

Kelley Armstrong is my new found favourite author and I'll be going back and starting her adult series for sure now.

And here's the cool book trailer!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

113. Science Fiction Classics

Science Fiction Classics edited by Tom Pomplun
Graphic Classics, Volume 17

Pages: 144
Ages: 14+
Finished: June 19, 2009
First Published: May 15, 2009
Genre: graphic novel, short stories, science fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Yes, in a thousand years people will fly on the wings of steam through the air, over the ocean!

Reason for Reading: I'm working my way through the series and it's not necessary to read them in any given order. I received a review copy from the publisher.

Comments: This graphic novel contains an anthology of graphic adaptations of one novel and five short stories. H.G. Well's War of the Worlds is included as are tales by authors such as Hans Christian Anderson, Conan Doyle, Stanley Weinbaum and E.M. Forster's one and only sci-fi short story.

As a big fan of this series the first big news about this volume is that it is the very first one to be printed in full colour. And they couldn't have picked a better theme to introduce colour. The book has a joyful feel of a 1950's sci-fi comic and even artwork to match in Stanley Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey" illustrated by George Sellas. The artwork in each story is suitable to the tale being told and goes from dark Victorian scenes to bright modern comic characters. A delightful set of stories which I enjoyed heartily and had never read before, except of course H.G. Wells' novel. I just love coming across Conan Doyle's stories that do not concern his famous detective and this one is no disappointment but my favourite in the volume is E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" which is a chilling dystopia of a world run by machines, amazingly written in 1909. The illustrations are wonderful and pay homage to his other work by showing a delightful Indian flavour both in the characters and colourful palette.

Another great book in the series! These books just don't disappoint. I only have one concern now and that is with the new addition of colour that they will continue to use colour for each new volume. I would hate to see the b/w volumes disappear altogether and hope they will give great thought on the theme of each volume as to whether colour or b/w is more appropriate. For ex. the Edgar Allan Poe volume just would not have been the same done in colour; you would lose the Gothic feel.

Great news, they already have another volume planned for this year. Out in November 2009 will be Louisa May Alcott, Volume 18.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Graphic Novels for Young Readers

These two books come from Stone Arch Books and are a part of a larger series called Graphic Sparks which the publishers describe as "good-humored", graphic novels especially designed for younger readers with "wacky comic-book-style artwork". And I concur with that. As with all Stone Arch graphic novels they are also well suited for educational use. With the back pages containing: About the Author, About the Illustrator, Glossary, More about the topic of interest (in this case the myth of werewolves and a brief history of Frankenstein), Discussion Questions and Writing Prompts. Plenty of material for a teacher to buy a set and include these graphic novels in a book study. Of course, we just read the books here at home! No further study required.

Eek & Ack vs the Wolfman by Blake A Hoena. Illustrated by Steve Harpster. 33 pgs. 2009. RL: 1.8.

Eek & Ack are two aliens who fly around in a spaceship which looks suspiciously like a washing machine. They decide to visit Earth to find out why it is so hard to conquer. They arrive on Halloween night dressed in costume with funny results but eventually meet up with a Wolfman who has also used the night to fit in with humans and decides that Eek & Ack look tasty . Lots of fun! My son had a great time reading this one, even though there were quite a few hard words for him. I had to help him out quite a bit but he loved the characters and really enjoyed the story. He would be very happy if we placed another Eek and Ack book in his hands and fortunately there are several already out about the alien duo. The illustrations are wonderful! Done in cool colours, most pages showcase greens, blues and purples and they are a perfect fit for the story. 4/5

Other Eek & Ack books are:
Eek and Ack Invaders from the Great Goo Galaxy
Eek and Ack Ooze Slingers from Outer Space
Eek & Ack Beyond the Black Hole
Eek & Ack The Puzzling Pluto Plot

Zinc Alloy vs Frankenstein by Donald Lemke. Illustrated by Douglas Holgate. RL: 1.9. 2009. 33 pgs.

Zack Allen has a robotic suit that turns him into a superhero, Zinc Alloy. A twister is headed his way and when Zinc tries to push it out of the path of his town he short circuits and ends up in the forest where he comes face to face with another robot, Frankenstein! Zinc's superhero efforts all seem to lead to unexpected results. Another fun book that my 9yo son really enjoyed. My son is a reluctant reader and the superhero aspect of this book grabbed him right away. Some words are a bit difficult but with me sitting beside him and helping as needed the story kept him going and frustration-free as he enjoyed the fast-paced action and the subtle humour found in some of the illustrations. It's wonderful to find books that are easy to read but hold the interest of an older child. When he finished reading this my son's first words were "Are there any more Zinc books?" So we flipped the book over and there on the back cover were the pictures of the first two in the series! 4/5

Other Zinc Alloy Books:

Zinc Alloy Revealed!
Zinc Alloy Super Zero

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday: Arcs in the Mail

Last week saw the usual flow of book parcels arriving at the house but only 2 of the books were for review purposes. So 2 ARCs in and 5 read and reviewed makes my review pile 3 books smaller! Wow, 2 weeks in a row! Does that make it a trend? Somehow I don't think so. Hopefully this will continue for a while and we'll see some improvement in my stats. I actually don't think I have much coming for July. Here are my two new Review Books:

Next up, when I held that giveaway last month I ended up getting a set of the books, too; which I hadn't been expecting. I kept two of the books and gifted the others.

And finally, but certainly not least, I was the Lucky Winner of this paranormal romance over at Readaholic!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

112. The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister

The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister by Nonna Bannister with Denise George and Carolyn Tomlin

Pages: 299
Ages: 18+
Finished: June 20, 2009
First Published: March 24, 2009
Genre: non-fiction, memoir
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

I have now decided that the time has come when I must share my life story -- not only with my loving family, but perhaps with all those who are interested to know about what life was like for many of us on the other side of the world before and during World War II.

Reason for Reading: I am always interested in reading survivors' memoirs of the Holocaust. I received a review copy through Library Thing's ER Program.

Comments: Nonna Lisowskaja Bannister, a Russian girl, lived through the Holocaust caught when the Germans invaded her city. She kept diaries from her childhood through the war up until the time she arrived in America in 1950 to start a new life. She never told a soul, not ever her husband or children, what happened to her during those war years. Then one day about 10 years before she died in her eighties she told her husband it was time and she took him up to the attic and showed him all the letters, memorabilia, photos and diaries (which she had written in several languages). She also showed him that she had been spending her time over the years transcribing her diaries into English and was finished as she pulled out stacks of yellow legal sized writing pads for him to read. She wanted her story told to the rest of the family and perhaps published but not until her death. And now that she has passed ... here is her story.

Nonna was born and raised Russian Orthodox. She was a believer her entire life and became a Baptist later on in her new American life. She occasionally writes of her religion but no more so than anyone else's memoir might. However, the book is published by a Christian publisher, Tyndale, and does contain Christian content in the editorial comments.

Nonna goes right back to her childhood years and spends a great portion of the book describing life in Russia during the 1930s. Her father's main goal in life was to get them out of Russia to a better place but he was never able to obtain permission through any channels he tried. Once the Germans invade her city it doesn't take long for various reasons that her brother and father are gone leaving her and her mother alone to fend for themselves. They spend their time going from one Nazi prison work camp to another until they end up working in a Catholic hospital because of Nonna's language skills. This at first seems a God-send but tragedy is not far behind. During this whole time they experience the brutality of the Nazis firsthand but even worse than that, they see with their own eyes the unimaginable horrors inflicted upon the Jewish people. When Nonna finally arrives in America in 1950, as far as she knows, she is the only living survivor of her entire family on both her maternal and paternal sides.

When Nonna transcribed her diaries she didn't just translate them word for word. Instead she, now being an elderly woman having lived the majority of her life in America, has mostly used the past tense to tell her story though she does occasionally tell a few stories in first person. The story is also in many places obviously being told through the eyes of her present mature self, reflecting upon the past rather than translating her childhood words as they appear on paper. Finally, we can tell that her American self has taken over the little Russian girl as she interjects American slang or American phrases quite frequently into her transcriptions.

The book contains a frequent editorial commentary running through the book. Some of this is used as reference points, historical explanations, background information, cultural explanations, etc and make for interesting reading. One thing that bugged me quite a bit though were the Christian comments. I myself am Christian but these comments felt very patronizing. Whenever Nonna or her mother, Anna, did a kind or brave deed, the comment would tell us how this act showed their Christian character shining through. Well, yes, it does. But I don't need someone telling me that every time, it felt rather grade school-ish.

Nonna has an interesting, powerful story to tell and it's a shame she kept it secret from her family. I think she would have found great solace in sharing it with her husband earlier and with her children when they had grown. Thankfully, she choose not to keep her secret forever and to share with the world so that her story would not be forgotten. For that I thank you, Nonna.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

111. The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
Darkest Powers, Book One

Pages: 390
Ages: 14+
Finished: June 19, 2009
First Published: July 1, 2008
Genre: YA, paranormal, fantasy
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Mommy forgot to warn the new babysitter about the basement.

Reason for Reading: I've been wanting to read this author for sometime now but her adult series has a number of books in it and with all the series I already have going it's a daunting project and I thought this new YA series would be a great place to start and see if I liked the author before trying her adult books. I received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: Chloe was a normal teenager until the day she sees a very scary ghost of a janitor in the girl's bathroom and runs screaming down the school hall. Next thing she knows, she has woken up in an exclusive home for mentally troubled teens. She's told she has a mental condition and they only want to help her get better. The handful of other patients all seem nice enough, well except a couple who have major attitude problems, and she begins to adjust to her diagnosis. But Chloe (and the others) begin to realize that something isn't right. Chloe can still see dead people and the kids don't think it's because of any mental illness. In fact, quite a few of them seem to have rather special talents. Why are they always being threatened with transfer? What's so bad with being transferred? Why can Chloe see the girl who was transferred?

This is an absolutely amazing read! You need one of those rubber page-flipper thingies on your finger so you can turn the pages fast enough when you read this. Kelley Armstrong has created an amazing world, which her website reveals is the same one in which her adult books are set. The mental home the teens live in has that boarding-school feel to it but with a much closer, tighter, oppressive atmosphere. While three of the teens stand out as main characters at this point, all six of them are fully realized and each given a background and believable personality.

The plot starts off with a bang and just keeps going from there. Event after event keeps the pace moving very quickly then reveal after reveal towards the end will have you gasping in shock. There is an overhanging darkness throughout the book which we are briefly let into and by the end of the book we have some idea of what it is but no real knowledge of its depth except that it has evil intentions.

The book does end basically mid-paragraph though not exactly with a cliff hanger as we know what is coming immediately next but it is one of those "to be continued" endings that I'm not partial to with everything left just at the crucial moment and leaving the reader dying to read the next book. Fortunately, I have the next book on hand and don't have to wait a year to found out what happens next but I do fear that book two will leave me in the same position. However, the book is just too darn good to take any marks off so it gets a full rating from me! This is the best teen novel I've read since A Great and Terrible Beauty (which I loved!) and this is by far the better book. If you read paranormal books, whether they be adult or teen, you'll love this. Go get it now! Highly recommended.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Reading Habits

As most of you know, 2009 is the Year of the ARC for me here at Back to Books and at this point in time they are all I'm reading. I'm loving every minute of it! I discovered a reading plan that has worked very well for me and that is to sort my books by publishing date and to read books published the month prior to the current month so I know how many books "should" be read that month. It has been working well but I do end up with leftovers each month and it's hard to get back to that leftover pile since I have a new pile of "should read" books each month.

This month I kind of had a blah moment where I just didn't feel like reading what I was "supposed" to read. I had my pile set up as per usual and I noticed the Atherton trilogy in there and I suddenly had an urge for some YA/juvenile genre luv. So what I've been doing is reading a kid's book from my current pile and then a kid's book from my leftovers pile, back and forth, all month so far and I'm really enjoying having a good dose of full-time genre love.

I'm a pretty eclectic reader; reading a wide variety of genres and plain literature but sometimes I just need to fall back into a smooth ride of one of my favourite genres with the top two being YA fantasy and thriller mysteries. So of course as I'm nearing the end of available teen/juvenile arcs, I find an overwhelming urge to read nothing but mysteries entering my mind every time I look at the piles. So don't be surprised when the continuous string of children's book reviews turns into a string of mystery book reviews! I don't like getting stuck in a genre rut, but there's just a comfy feeling to reading nothing but your favourite genre for a nice little while.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

110. Neil Armstrong is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino

Pages: 154
Ages: 8+
Finished: June 17, 2009
First Published: May 12, 2009
Genre: children, realistic fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

Muscle Man McGinty is a squirrelly runt, a lying snake, and a pitiful excuse for a ten-year-old.

Reason for Reading: Obviously enough, a title like that makes you look twice plus the historical setting of the moon landing caught my eye and the book looked like an interesting change of pace for me. I received a review copy from Roaring Brook Press.

Comments: Tamara Ann Simpson's best friend has moved and now in her house lives a ten-year-old boy who is always smiling and is a skinny runt so she's nicknamed him Muscle Man; only problem is he loves the name. In fact, he never seems to get any of the sarcastic comments she throws his way, he's always smiling and being nice to her. But the real thing that bothers her is why nobody can see through his lies? Neil Armstrong is his uncle? He's training for the next Olympics? But when he says he can beat the whole kickball team singlehandedly, Tamara thinks this is her chance to prove to everyone he's just a wormy liar.

This is a wonderful little book. Tamara is not exactly a bully, but she is the one in her gang of friends who has the mouth and calls things as she sees them without thinking about someone's feelings first. Tamara does not have a happy life at home and when her best friend moves away quite suddenly it hits her hard and she experiences a loss like she's never felt before. But there is something about Muscle Man that she doesn't know and if she'd stop being so selfish for a minute she'd realize she is the only one who is not seeing Muscle Man for who he really is. So Tamara learns one of those hard lessons of life.

There are lots of fun childhood moments as the neighbourhood children gather together each day and play on the street in a way that is really not seen much anymore these days. There are also poignant moments such as when the reality of the Vietnam War comes to the street. Tamara's character is well-defined, a feisty, hard-headed yet lonely and neglected child that the reader sympathises with. Wonderfully written and a quick read. This is a little book that packs a big punch! A good read. Recommended.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

109. Werewolf vs. Dragon: An Awfully Beastly Business

Werewolf versus Dragon by David Sinden, Matthew Morgan, Guy Macdonald
Illustrated by Jonny Duddle
An Awfully Beastly Business, Book 1

Pages: 186
Ages: 7-10
Finished: June 16, 2009
First Published: 2008 (UK), Apr. 28, 2009 (NA)
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

Ulf watched the radar screen.

Reason for Reading: It simply appealed to me: the cover, the title and the write-up. When I received it I thought it would make a good read-aloud to my 9yo, and it did. I received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Comments: Ulf lives at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Beasts, more commonly called the RSPCB. It is a large castle-type building and estate somewhere in the UK which houses injured or otherwise in need of care beasts such as trolls, rocs, giants, biganasties, faries, sea serpents, or in Ulf's case, werewolves. A baby dragon is found shot on the premises as they watch the mother fly away. Next day an Inspector from the department of National and International Criminal Emergencies (NICE) arrives to explain an evil criminal who is gathering beasts for his own dastardly amusement is on the loose. So with the help of Dr. Fielding, Orson the giant and Tiana the fairy they try to find the mother dragon before it is too late.

This is a book for the younger set and I must say I figured out the whole "secret" right from the beginning but my 9 year did not see it coming a mile away and was shocked with the reveal at the end. This is a lot of fun. It's sort of a twist on the boarding school type of story only this time we basically have a house and grounds that are filled with beasts (not unlike a zoo) instead of other children. A lot of time is spent at the beginning introducing the reader to the RSPCB so we meet many different kinds of beasts and our imagination can tell this is the place to be if you want lots of adventures. A third of the way through the plot picks up full speed and one thing after another happens leaving my son begging for one more chapter practically every day. This isn't a book with any deep hidden meanings or lessons to learn. It's simply just plain rollicking good fun about a boy (at least until the full moon comes around) and a bunch of beasts in the middle of a wicked adventure. My 9yo highly recommends it. We have the second book in the series which we will be reading next upon his request.

One thing I need to comment on is that the original UK versions were written by "The Beastly Boys". For North American publication they have changed this to the authors' actual names (or at least to what appear to be real names) and I think this was a smart publishing decision. I'm fairly certain that I, for one, would have been dubious to the quality of the book had I been given such a fake author's name and probably would have passed the book over otherwise and missed the treat of reading this series with my 9yo.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

108. The Dark Planet by Patrick Carman

The Dark Planet by Patrick Carman
Illustrations by Squire Broel
Atherton, Book 3

Pages: 350
Ages: 9+
Finished: June 15, 2009
First Published: May. 1, 2009
Genre: children, science fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

It was the middle of the night when Red Eye and Socket came into the barracks and started walking between two long rows of beds.

Reason for Reading: The last book in the trilogy. I received a review copy from Hachette Book Group.

Comments: The third and final book in the trilogy focuses on a theme that the other books made us aware of early on, that of a post-apocalyptic Earth. Edgar follows a map left behind by Dr. Harding and finds himself on his way to The Dark Planet where he feels that everything has been set in motion for him a long time ago. Now is his time to save the children of this almost dead planet.

I really enjoyed this book the most out the three and that's saying a lot as I have heartily enjoyed this trilogy. But I am a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and this was a really exciting story that included a dystopian society but does not get too heavy and keeps the book suitable for the middle grade reader. Edgar is back to being our main character as we've grown to really care for him through this series. Though Isabel and Samuel do have an important part to play back on Atherton, gone are all the supplementary characters from the first two books. Instead we are met with a whole new group of characters on Earth and the book feels fresh and new. Great story, great new characters and a refreshing new plot that still keeps it's ties to the one from the previous books while going in a completely new direction. A highly enjoyable read. Recommended! P.S. Even though it's sci-fi there is a dragon.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday: ARCs in the Mail

Well, it was a lonely week for my mailbox last week as I did not receive any ARCs or review books of any nature. zip. nada. zilch. However, I did receive one book that I won in a contest, but more on that later. I had gotten used to the regular delivery of books in the mail so it felt very unusual last week as none continued to arrive. But as the week progressed I started to hope that none would come as I realized that all my arc reading was having a negative effect on Mt. ARC. So my stats at this point are with 0 new arcs in and 4 books read and reviewed I have 4 less ARCs left to read! Finally the pile is getting smaller!

Since things are looking this good lets actually take a look at the stats for the year, shall we? I have 112 ARCs in my home for the 2009 season (a few are leftovers from 2008) and I have read 58 of those making for a total percentage of 52% read. I was a little scared there when I wrote down 112 {whew} but the figures come out to just over half, I can't complain because I know I am reading as much as I can. This is the Year of the ARC for me and I'm having a blast!

Now on to the book I did receive! I wanted this book so much! I was the lucky winner of this at a giveaway over at drey's library

Sunday, June 14, 2009

An Adventure in Bookcrossing

I released my very first book "into the wild" as they say over at Bookcrossing.com last week and I was so thrilled that a few days later it was picked up and registered! I've always thought of doing this bookcrossing thing but never got around to it. Being as I live in a Tourist destination, I imagine I could possibly have some books that make interesting travels. Well, it certainly brought me more joy than I thought it would and I think I'll do it again next time I have a book that's not Bookmooch-able.

Here's my book, it moved to the next town!


Saturday, June 13, 2009

107. Zamora's Ultimate Challenge by M.K. Scott

Zamora's Ultimate Challenge by M.K. Scott

Pages: 198
Ages: 8-11
Finished: June 12, 2009
First Published: Feb. 1, 2008
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

The little man, named Jemlock, drew his sword, richly decorated with jewels he'd earned during his many adventures.

Reason for Reading: A very long time ago I read a book with the same premise of two children finding themselves inside a video game and loved it so the premise again intrigued me. I received a review copy from the author.

Comments: Two pre-teen boys are left to babysit their two-year old sister while the parents go grocery shopping. They turn on their favourite video game "Zamora's Ultimate Challenge" to have the face of Queen Zamora talking directly to them. She has taken little Isabella and plans on taking over her soul and returning to Earth in her body so she can eventually take over the planet Earth. All she needs to do is wait a few days for the planets to align. The boys who have always considered the baby a major imposition on their lives are stunned and find a way to enter the game so that they can rescue her and thus save both the video game world and Earth.

At first I didn't think I was going to enjoy this book as for the first two chapters the boy's spend an awful amount of time complaining and using words such as "stupid" and "shut-up" and basically being very disrespectful human beings. However, once they enter the game the first two rules they are give are 1) Trust yourself and 2) Trust each other and the reader comes to realize that the bad behaviour is a plot point. The book is a lot of fun with the the two boys playing out the levels of the game which they have played before at home but they meet new characters, light-keepers, who help them on their quest. Ultimately the book follows a theme throughout as the boys realize that they love each other and their family and learn ways to show it to each other, physically and through trust.

A fun read with lots of fun characters, mermaids, pirates, giant robot shark, a pegasus, lava monster and more. The publisher recommendation is for ages 10+ but I think that is a little extreme. The book reads more for younger audiences and a limited audience really as I think older children will want more, so I'm recommending this as a fun adventure for ages 8-11.

Friday, June 12, 2009

YA Challenge - Completed!

This was a challenge that runs for the entire year (so there's still time to join!) and the goal was to read 12 Young Adult books. I'm actually surprised it took me this long into the year to finish this challenge as I usually read a lot of YA books, but I found a lot of my reading of books that would qualify for this challenge were actually more middle school or just plain children's books so I didn't include them in the list. I tried to make sure the books I listed here were truly books that teens would enjoy. The challenge was hosted over at J. Kaye's Book Blog and she knows how to run a smooth and seamless challenge!

My list:

1. Laika by Nick Abadzis
2. Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner
3. Wake by Lisa McMann
4. Fade by Lisa McMann
5. Once Dead, Twice Shy by Kim Harrison
6. Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli
7. The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by e.l. konigsburg
8. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
9. The Third Eye by Mahtab Narsimhan
10. Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R.J. Anderson
11. Starfinder by John Marco
12. Anything but Typical by Noral Raleigh Baskin

It's easy enough to find the book I least enjoyed that would be Laika but choosing my favourite from this list is extremely difficult and I just can't do it! Of course The Forest of Hands and Teeth was brilliant but then so was Wake and then Fade was even better, but then I can forget Spell Hunter, oh, and I couldn't possibly not mention Once Dead, Twice Shy and then .... the rest were all very good, and all my favourite at any given moment. LOL

Great challenge! I'll be there next year!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

106. Rivers of Fire by Patrick Carman

Rivers of Fire by Patrick Carman
Illustrations by Squire Broel
Atherton, Book 2

Pages: 303
Ages: 9+
Finished: June 10, 2009
First Published: May, 2008
Genre: children, science fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

It was the middle of the night when Edgar entered the fig grove alone.

Reason for Reading: With the release of the last book in the trilogy this year, I decided to read the series. This is the second book. I received a review copy from Hatchette Book Group.

Comments: This book picks up right where book one left off and continues the story. I cannot tell you anything about the plot without spoiling details that happen in the first book and I like to keep my reviews spoiler free. So instead I'll focus on the characters. Edgar and Isabel are split up into different groups this time as they continue on important quests. They both join characters from book one whom we've only briefly met before; this time giving us greater insight into those characters. Doctor Kincaid, an aging scientist and Victor his attendant; Samuel, a boy from the upper class Highlands and Horace, the lead guard. We also become better acquainted with the villagers including Isabel's father and the owners of an Inn in The Village of Rabbits.

The story of is full of adventure, plot twists, mad villains and believable heroes who risk and sometimes give their lives for the greater good. Many of the mainstream reviews call this book, and the series, a fantasy (and the publishers add to the confusion with the fantasy covers) but while the plot does follow your basic fantasy quest premise it is not fantasy at all but science fiction. Everything that happens, is used, or met along the way has a scientific foundation and reason to be, there are no magical or fantastical elements.

I read this book through only stopping when life demanded I must. A real page-turner. I really love the world that Carman has created. It is very unique to say the least. This book ends with a finite ending, all threads are finished off and there is even a "One Year Later" epilogue. So the two book set does end very nicely here. There is a third book however, which goes in a completely different direction and I can't wait to read it; review to come soon. This is a great series, highly recommended for ages 9 and up!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

105. Don't Call Me a Crook! by Bob Moore

Don't Call Me a Crook!: A Scotsman's Tale of World Travel, Whisky, and Crime by Bob Moore
Edited by Pat Spry
Afterword by James Kelman
Introduction and Annotations by Nicholas Towasser

Pages: 256
Ages: 18+
Finished: June 8, 2009
First Published: 1935 (1st reprint May 1, 2009)
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Autobiography
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

It is a pity there are getting to be so many places that I can never go back to, but all the same, I do not think it is much fun a man being respectable all his life.

Reason for Reading: The 1920s and '30s are my particular favourite period to read first hand accounts from and when I heard about this book, the title coupled with the time period made it impossible for me to pass up. I received a review copy from Lisa @ Online Publicist.

Comments: Really where does one begin! Bob Moore is a thief, a racist, a womanizer, an alcoholic and worse. He is certainly not a likable fellow, so why read a book about him? Well, this is a very unique slice of social history that you are doubtful to get anywhere else. Place yourself in the 1920s through the '30s and you are shown life as it was from the point of view of a chief engineer as he worked on ships and traveled round the world describing what life as he knows it. Sure you can read about this time period from other sources: literary men, educated people, people from higher classes of life but what about the poor, penniless, regular Joe, how did he see life? While Bob may not have been a regular Joe he was poor and penniless most of the time as he spent his money as soon as he got any on whisky and women.

Bob spends his time conning women out of their money, diamonds, etc. sometimes even acting as a 'gigolo' to an older woman for these purposes. He is an incredibly capable chief engineer and rarely unable to find work wherever he is in the world but anytime not spent working will find him with a bottle of whisky or, if not available, then, the local spirits will do him just as well. He swears he is not a crook, he does not steal he only "swipes" from those who can afford it and he does occasionally seem to have a few mores than some around him, but that's not exactly saying much. As he travels the world, he seems to have a 'nickname' for every race on the planet from 'limeys' on down to all the various racist slurs including using the "n" word twice. He is certainly a product of his time and I wouldn't say his slurs are done in meanness but more in the ignorance of his generation.

Bob also does have some humorous adventures along the way and the book certainly makes for interesting reading. It is hard to say whether it is all entirely believable. I felt as if there was some over exaggeration being employed on his exploits but it didn't come across as untruthful. There is a glimmer of a man behind the facade of the adventurer but unfortunately he never comes across as someone you can like, his deeds and attitudes are just too amoral. However, I enjoyed reading the book. As I stated previously, to me this is more a social history than just the story of one man. It is very informative to see the early 20th century world through the eyes of such a man as Bob Moore. This is the type of history that intrigues me and I found the book well worth the read even though I never could like the man.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

104. Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Pages: 194
Ages: 10+
Finished: June 8, 2009
First Published: Mar. 24, 2009
Genre: YA, realistic fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Most people like to talk in their own language.

Reason for Reading: I don't usually read this type of teen fiction but since the theme was autism I was interested. I myself have Asperger's and my 9yo is on the Autistic Spectrum. I received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Comments: Jason Blake is 12 years old and is on the Autistic Spectrum, commonly referred to as ASD. He was diagnosed when he was 8 and has many typical symptoms of autism: swaying, flapping, zoning out, meltdowns, social dysfunctions plus he also shows signs of Aspergers: having conversations running continuously in his head, rambling from one topic to another, obsessions and an above average intelligence in creative writing. He finds a "friend" on an online creative writing forum for teens and they start pm-ing each other when he realizes both that they are speaking to each other the way that friends would and that she is a girl. He begins to think of her as a girlfriend. Then one day his parents surprise him with the news that one of them will be taking him to the website's yearly convention and just as he is about to tell his girlfriend, she tells him she is going because it is happening where she lives. This puts an end to Jason's excitement. What will she think when she meets him?

This is a story of self-acceptance. Jason seems to be pretty much self-accepted of himself throughout the book but he perceives the worst opinion of others upon himself all the time. This is the lesson he re-learns to accept about himself. It is also a story of the mother's final acceptance that Jason is not a burden to be shouldered but an example of strength and love that she should try to live up to.

While one could say Jason's autistic symptoms are overexagerated, that would not be fair, as no two autistic people have exactly the same symptoms and a case such as Jason's may very well exist. The author has the inside feelings of an autistic person down to a "T". She has either researched very well or lived with someone on the spectrum herself. While I have not experienced the extremes that her character has neither myself nor with my son, there were parts that hit terribly hard. The point when Jason hears that his friend will be at the convention also. I felt the same thing he did before reading the words that came next. That exact same feeling has happened to me so many times in my life I cannot count.

I definitely recommend this book though not for the publisher's recommended ages. I'm not sure what ten year olds would get out of the book besides just reading about someone different. It would be a great read for teens on the Autism Spectrum so they can relate to what the main character has gone through and for other teens interested in the subject matter. I also recommend the book to adults with any interest in the field of autism as I can personally vouch for the validity of the feelings and inner turmoil portrayed by one with ASD. A rather bittersweet ending but then such is life. Recommended.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday: Arcs in the Mail

Another good week doing my part to keep the postal system in business with 7 new arcs arriving at my doorstep last week. I am particularly eager to reader this set, a collection of all my favourite genres: mystery thrillers, entertainment memoirs, victoriana, and YA fantasy! With 7 in and 3 read and reviewed (and 2 more read but not reviewed so they don't count for last weeks stats) that makes an actual total of 4 arcs added to TBR Planet (it can no longer reasonably be called a mountain). Click on a book to find out more about it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

103. The House of Power by Patrick Carman

The House of Power by Patick Carman
Illustrated by Squire Broel
Atherton, Book 1

Pages: 330
Ages: 9+
Finished: June 6, 2009
First Published: 2007
Genre: YA science fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

It won't be long now.

Reason for Reading: It has been quite a while since I've read any science fiction and this series intrigued me very much. With the last book in the trilogy coming out this year I decided to start from the beginning. I received a review copy from Hatchette Book Group.

Comments: Edgar is an orphan who lives on the middle tier of a three tiered planet. His tier, Tabletop, is an agricultural world growing figs and producing rabbits and sheep. The top tier, The Highlands, is a powerful world full of the ruling class who have full control over the planet's water and they use this as punishment and incentive to keep production up. At the bottom is the Flatlands. No one knows anything about the Flatlands, they appear dusty, dry and full of rocks and whether anyone or anything could even live down there little speculation exists. Edgar in the meantime has an inborn need to climb. Even though climbing the cliff between tiers is forbidden upon bodily harm or even death he sneaks out each night climbing the cliff looking for something. He knows not what, just a feeling and a brief memory from his toddlerhood of a man telling him something special is hidden in the cliff for him and so he searches.

Absolutely fabulous! I can't say how much I enjoyed this book. The premise is so unique and the directions the plot takes you are full of surprises. Edgar is 11 and he befriends a girl, Isabel, who is about 9. Both characters are strong and have a realistic relationship with each other; Isabel "bothering" Edgar to a certain degree yet a deep trustful friendship forms. Isabel is an independent girl who shows respect for her parents even when running off to join the adventures. An especially captivating story, one that makes you just need to read "one" more chapter and it kept an expectant smile on my face the whole way through.

Only one little quibble and my regular readers will see this coming. The book ends in the middle of the story with a cliffhanger. This stops me from giving a full rating of 5 stars. I like each individual book in a trilogy to be a whole book in and of itself while being a part of a greater whole. No cliffhanger endings! Anyway fortunately this isn't 2007 and I don't have to wait another year for the next book. In fact I have the next book sitting on my bedside table and will be starting it probably tomorrow. I can't wait to see what happens next. Highly recommended but make sure you have book 2 waiting right beside you!

Friday, June 5, 2009

102. Starfinder by John Marco

Starfinder by John Marco
The Skylords, Book 1

Pages: 326
Ages: 13+
Finished: June 4, 2009
First Published: May, 2009
Genre: YA fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

Moth was flying his kite near the aerodrome when he heard the dragonfly crash.

Reason for Reading: I was initially drawn to the fantasy world of airships as I've read other books of airships and enjoyed them immensely and the publisher's write up of the plot had me extremely eager to read the book. I received a review copy from the author.

Comments: The setting is a town on the far reaches of a world. This town has an atmosphere of a 19th century American West feel to it. Right beside the town of Calio is the Reach, a sea of fog that stretches forever and that tales are told of about people who have entered but never returned. Moth is sent on a mission by his guardian's dying words to cross the Reach and enter the world of the Skylords and he is accompanied by his friend Fiona. The other side of the Reach is a new world full of danger for the Skylords know Moth is there and they are after him. It is a world full of mermaids, centaurs, dragons, harpies, the god-like Skylords and their hideous once-human slaves.

I have to admit it took me a couple a chapters to get into this book but once I got hooked I stayed hooked permanently. A fabulous and ingenious plot that starts out going in one direction and swiftly turns into another direction before you can see it coming. Moth and Fiona are exciting, interesting characters with realistic dialogue and a non-romantic relationship that feels right. Once the story gets going this is a book you just can't put down; a page-turner for sure. I loved all the different creatures the teens met on their quest, especially the centaurs.

Being the first book in a series, the story does have a complete ending, no cliffhanger, something I am very particular about. It does however have many threads left to explore and foreshadowing of events to come in the next book of the series. But one can feel complete satisfaction upon reaching the ending. I do recommend the book for teens though as, while the majority of the book is suitable for younger ages, the battle scenes are long, descriptive and very violent and bloody; most definitely suited for a teen audience.

A highly readable and enjoyable book. I am attached to the character Moth and can't wait to find out more about his character in the next book. He has a mysterious background and I've already got some ideas rolling around in my head. I can't wait for the next in the series to find out what happens next.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

May in Review

May was the worst month this year for number of books read. But we have to remember I was away on holiday for 3 weeks, so I do have an excuse. I did read some fabulous books though:
Green books were read-alouds to my 8yo.

May: 13
89. Hell's Horizon by D.B. Shan (5*****)
90. The Lewis & Clark Edpedition : Join the Corps of Discovery to Explore Uncharted Territory by Carol A. Johmann (2.5**)
91. Ben and Me: An Astonished Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos by Robert Lawson (3.5***)
92. The Third Eye by Mahtab Narsimhan (4****)
93.The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho (4****)
94. The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French (4****)
95. Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R.J. Anderson (4.5****)
96. The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen (3.5***)
97. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (4.5****)
98. Clara's War: A Young Girl's True Story of Miraculous Survival Under the Nazis by Clara Kramer (5*****)
99. The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (4****)
100. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (4****) (FAVOURITE Book of the Month)
101. Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Lyndsay Faye (3***)

Now another reason I didn't read so many books this month is because I was visiting my dad and they are big movie/dvd watcher's so I spent a lot of time I would normally have spent reading watching TV instead. Here's how the movie watching went in May and interestingly enough it was my one of my best month this year number-wise!

May: 7

23. The Clearing (2004) (watched at my dad's - he owns) - I read the back and this sounded like a great thriller. Plus I know that if Willem Dafoe is in a movie he makes a wonderful bad guy. I didn't think I'd ever heard of it before though but about half way through the movie I started to remember the seeing commercials where they showed the scenes of them walking through the forest. I really enjoyed this. Not a "y'all gotta go see this" movie but I really did like it. I kept thinking it would end the way it did, but I also kept thinking "nah, they won't end it that way". So, I was surprised that my ending did happen after all. It's a slow movie with mounting tension. My dad found it a bit boring, mentioned it was a slow mover, but that's what I liked about it. I compared it to a Hitchcock movie, where the story just kept mounting and mounting to a point you just weren't quite sure of. If you're in the mood for a thriller without the action scenes and just the suspense, give this one a go. Redford, Mirren and Dafoe all give superb performances.

24. Saving Private Ryan (1998) (watched at my dad's - he owns) - Unbelievably, my first time to watch. Always wanted to but never got around to it. My dh does not like war movies so we seldom watch them together. What can I say, this was awesome. Loved every second of it. I had no idea what the true events were, nor had I learnt the plot so it was completely new to me. Lots of war violence, terribly so, but it is needed to really bring home the reality of full scale war. No words can really express how a movie like this makes you feel. It is truly a fine movie. I did enjoy Band of Brothers better though, but then that was a whole mini-series.

25. The Rainmaker (1956) (watched at my dad's on TV -TCM) - Kate Hepburn and Burt Lancaster star in this wonderful movie set in about 1920s rural mid-west America about a girl who is getting to the age where she is going to be an old maid if she doesn't marry soon and her two brothers and father are desperately trying to marry her off while she dreams of having a man fall in love with her. I'm a big fan of Hepburn's and hadn't seen this one before and really enjoyed it. It's a comedy and full of deliciously funny moments. The topic could offend feminists of today but it really is a beautiful love story of how a girl brought up in a house of men learns to be a woman and how a man hurt by a woman learns to love again. I really enjoyed it and am glad I was able to add it to my list of Hepburn movies I've seen.

26. Arthur (1981) (watched at my dad's - he owns)(re-watch) - I saw this originally when it came out at the movies; I would have been 13. I have never seen it again. I was in the mood for something fun and remembered laughing during this so hoped it would live up to my 13 year old's experience and boy, did it ever. A hilarious movie! This is Dudley Moore at the prime of his career. A really funny, "feel good" movie that you should see, if you've never watched it before. Liza Minnelli is at her most beautiful in this movie, too. I think this is probably when I became a fan of hers. Loved it!

27. The Brothers Grimm (2005) (watched at my dad's he owns) - ummm....... weird. Can't really say I liked it, but didn't necessarily hate it either. Let's just go with weird. Not likely to re-watch it ever, either.

28. The Story of Three Loves (1953) (watched at my dad's on TV - TCM) - never heard of this but when I saw the cast I had to watch, James Mason, Leslie Caron, Ricky Nelson, Kirk Douglas, Farley Granger, Agnes Moorehead and others. But those are the ones that caught my eye. Strange really as it really was just three short stories about love. Tragic, yearning and true love. I liked it. But would not have watched it unless by chance this way. Glad I did.

29. National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007) (watched at my dad's he owns) - not a lot to say about this one. I loved the first movie and I loved this one! It was just as good as the first. In fact it was pretty much the same as the first. On a treasure hunt to find something important to American History and then finding an underground "world". Anyone who loved the first will love this and the movie ends with a set-up that could be made into a third sequel. I'd watch it. Great bit of fun!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

101. Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings

Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye

Pages: 325
Ages: 18+
Finished: May 31, 2009
First Published: Apr. 28, 2009
Genre: historical mystery
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

At first it seemed the Ripper affair had scarred my friend Sherlock Holmes as badly as it had the city of London itself.

Reason for Reading: I always enjoy a good book featuring Holmes but this time I must say it was my pet true crime case Jack the Ripper that pulled me towards this book even more. I received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Comments: The plot is what you would expect. The real-life Jack the Ripper case has been put into the the fictional London of Sherlock Holmes and in this world Holmes becomes involved in trying to solve the case. The book itself has been approved by the Holmes estate and is very true to Holmesian Canon, including characters and history from previous stories with footnotes to show from whence the references came. The Jack the Ripper information has also been thoroughly researched but is much more vague and not nearly as in-depth. This is much a story of Holmes, first and foremost before it is a story of Jack the Ripper.

I've read all of Doyle's Holmes works, though I must say it was a long time ago, but I still felt the genuine tone of the original books come through in Fayes' writing. While one knows the plot, per say, of the Ripper murders she has added some shady characters and goings on that Sherlock must also unravel along his way to solving the bigger case. Also, while Faye stays true to the main facts of the Ripper case she does deviate away from the facts into fiction to make the story her own (or should I say Holmes' own). Jack the Ripper purist will not find a plausible solution to the case but then they shouldn't be expecting one with a fictional detective on the case.

An enjoyable book but one I must say that never really grabbed me tightly. It was a pleasant read that didn't ever get me excited as to whodunit. Holmes and Watson were portrayed well, and fans will be sure to be pleased, but I just didn't connect with any of the other characters nor did the plot ever get me turning pages faster than normal. Overall, a pleasant, enjoyable mystery but nothing extraordinary.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Winners! - Latino Book Month Giveaway

Hatchette Group graciously gave away a book pack of 5 Latino themed books for the Latino Book Month of May. There were 5 chances to win, and that meant 5 different people each won all 5 books listed below!
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

The winners have been randomly selected and they are:


An email has been sent asking for your snail mail adress. If no reply is heard back, a new winner will be picked to replace your spot.

Monday ARCs in the Mail

Since my last Monday Arcs in the Mail post before I left for my trip I have read and reviewed 10 ARCs. Upon my arrival home I had 3 weeks worth of parcels and wow! they were unusually busy weeks of book arrivals too. I'm afraid my stats are not going to look too good for this period. See what taking a vacation does to your reading schedule? Having read and reviewed 10 ARCs and received 22 during that period that makes a total addition of 12 ARCs to TBR Planet. If anyone ever wonders where I am, that's me, over there, the one buried under all the books!!

And 1 Bookmooch:

And finally but certainly not least I was fortunate enough to win a trilogy of books by Karleen Koen from Arleigh over at Historicalfiction.com