Friday, July 31, 2009

July Wrap Up

Today being the last day of July, and me not having any reviews to publish this morning, I thought I'd post my end of the month wrap up. I am so happy to be back up in the 19+ books range with 21 books read in July. Some, of course, are short books but there are a number over 400 pgs as well making a good cross selection and back to my regular reading schedule. Of course, my son being at day camp for 2 separate weeks during the month certainly helped too! Here are this month's books read: (books marked xxx are not included in totals)

July: 21
118. The Beacon by Susan Hill (3.5***)
119. Sea Monster and Other Delicacies (3.5***)
120. Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon (4****)
121. Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert (3***)
122. The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner (4.5****)
123. Roadside Crosses by Jeffery Deaver (4****)
124. Far North by Marcel Theroux (4****)
xxx. Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts by Gail Saltz (5*****)
125. Die for You by Lisa Unger (4.5****)
126. The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman (3.5***)
127. A Head Full of Notions: A Story about Robert Fulton by Andy Russell Bowen (3.5***)
xxx. The Fire Cat by Esther Averill (5*****)
128. The Dragons of Ordinary Farm by Tad Williams & Deborah Beale (4****)
129. Uncovering Jack the Ripper's London by Richard Jones (5*****)
130. Relentless by Dean Koontz (4****)
131. The Lindbergh Child by Rick Geary (4****)
132. Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo (5*****) FAVOURITE Book of the Month
133. a mercy by Toni Morrison (2.5**)
134. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (5*****)
135. Later, Gator by Laurence Yep (4****)
136. The Trail of Tears by Joseph Bruchac (3.5***)
137. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (4****)
138. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (3***)

I have just one more graphic novel to read, then I will have achieved a full doctorate in the graphic novel challenge and I have it on request through ILL and that will make all my 2009 challenges complete. I read my first Canadian Challenge book this month and I have just randomly selected ( from my backlog pile of ARCs my first book for the Random Reading Challenge and was given Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk so that will be my first book to read in August.

I usually include my movie/DVD watching list here too, but July saw me watching nothing ( a big fat 0). Too much time spent sitting outside reading to watch DVDs this month, I guess. I have the mosquito bites to prove it!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

137. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Pages: 374
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 29 2009
First Published: 2003
Genre: dystopia, science fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Snowman wakes before dawn.

Reason for Reading: Atwood has a new book coming out in September which, while not a sequel to this one, is set in the same world and could be called a parallel novel. So I decided I should read this one first.

Comments: Humankind has been wiped out as far as we know and Snowman lives in a tree, to keep safe from the genetically altered predator animals and is the guardian over the new race of genetically created "people". Snowman alternately tells of the life he leads now with the story of his past and how "the end of the world" came to be.

It is an incredibly realistic version of a possible future that really is frightening to think about. Science has become God and anything that it can do it will do. Society encourages s*xual pursuits, body altering procedures, mind altering substances, reality TV to the extreme and all this without any morals or ethics. Any crackpot who may raise such an issue is pooh-poohed with a wave of the hand and dismissed as an insignificant insect. This is a world that in many ways we can see our own world now easily becoming. Very scary stuff.

A powerful book. Written with Atwood's usual mastery of narrative. A real-page turner and time takes on a different dimension as you read and suddenly look up and notice *that* much time has gone by already. Written only 6 years ago now, this already has become a classic of the dystopia genre and a must read for serious readers of such.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

136. The Trail of Tears

The Trail of Tears by Joseph Bruchac
illustrated by Diana Magnuson
Step into Reading, Step 5

Pages: 48
Ages: 7-11
Finished: Jul. 23 2009
First Published: 1999
Genre: children, non-fiction, US history
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

It is October 1, 1838.

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

Comments: Tells the story of the Cherokee Nation's forced move from the East to West by the United States Government. A short, yet well-written narrative tale of the famous tragic events now known as "The Trail of Tears". Hardships are not watered down but are kept to appropriate language for young readers. The story is told in a very even-handed presentation. Surprisingly so, actually. Events are told as they unfolded, naming both whites and Indians who played a part in signing documents to force the move eastward. The events leading up to, the journey itself and the aftermath are all discussed. With the final chapter discussing the determined spirit of the Cherokees and the new Nation they built for themselves and the current thriving businesses, schools and tribal government. Interesting, well-told story of a shameful event in US History told with in a sympathetic yet unbiased format. Perfect introduction for children to the topic.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

135. Later, Gator by Lawrence Yep

Later, Gator by Lawrence Yep

Pages: 122
Ages: 9+
Finished: Jul. 24 2009
First Published: 1995
Genre: children, realistic fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

The alligator was Mother's fault.

Reason for Reading: Read aloud to the 9yo. He likes animal stories and I like Laurence Yep. Should be a perfect combo for us to enjoy.

Comments: Teddy is the eldest brother in a Chinese-American family and Bobby is his little brother. Bobby is always so happy about everything; it gets on Teddy's nerves. Why can't Bobby be a pain like little brothers are supposed to be?. Teddy does the usual "big brother stuff" trying to get Bobby in trouble, pushing his weight around and buying him socks for his birthday. Then comes Bobby's eighth birthday and Mother asks Teddy why he is so mean, why he can't buy his brother something nice for his birthday, doesn't he love his brother, he should by his brother a pet and shows him an advertisement in the paper for turtles for sale at the pet shop and to cap it off she has already bought a turtle home. Once at the pet store Teddy can't help himself, Mother didn't actually say 'turtle', she said 'pet', so he comes home with a pet alligator and thus starts a series of incidents that have all of Chinatown talking.

A very well-written, humourous story that really had us giggling but also a story that has several themes running under the surface. It shows the family dynamics and cultural experiences of a multigenerational American-Chinese family to non-Chinese readers, explores the traditional non-demonstrative relationship of a Chinese father and son and how that slowly changes to show outward affection, explores sibling relationships and how they can show love for one another and finally while the story is humourous the the inevitable ending illustrates that exotic animals are not meant to be kept as pets. A small book that packs quite a punch.

It was a good read aloud for us. Ds just thought it was hilarious and was intrigued by the Chinese family life. He identified with Bobby, being close in age with him and found the thought of having an alligator as a pet exciting but right from the beginning knew it was a bad idea for a pet. Myself, I am a fan of Laurence Yep. He is a talented writer who writes across different genres and his books are wonderful for showcasing the Chinese experience whether it be historical or in the semi-present, such as this one. Recommended.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday: Books in the Mail

Last week was very productive for me. My mailbox saw only a little action, but wonderful gifts did it bring. One Review Copy, the sequel to a book I read a while ago and am really looking forward to and I won (yeah!) a book; one I've been coveting since the good reviews started pouring with its arc release late last year.

So only 1 book gets added to my ARC pile and I read and reviewed 4 ARCs last week which means my pile is actually 3 books smaller. I think I'm having a productive summer with my ARCs. One of those ARCs I read was actually from the small pile of backlog from 2008 that I haven't got to yet. Yeah me! I think it's time to look at stats again. Last time I did this I had read 58% of my ARCs which was up 6% from the last count. OK let's do the math. Woohoo! I've now read 63% of the ARCs in my possession for this year making that an increase of 5%. To see the ever growing yet continually shrinking mighty ARC tbr list take a look for yourself.

The Review Copy from Random House Canada which hits the stores tomorrow:

And I was delighted to win this hardcover book over at Stone Soup. Thanks Katrina!

134. Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where the Sidewalk Ends: 30th Anniversary Special Edition
Poems and Drawings by Shel Silverstein

Pages: 183
Ages: All Ages
Finished: Jul. 17 2009
First Published: 1974 (2004, this edition)
Genre: children, poetry
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

If you are a dreamer, come in.

Reason for Reading: I read poems to my son daily (M-F). I try to alternate between classic children's poetry books and silly poetry books. It was silly poetry time.

Comments: Not much introduction is needed for Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. This is his first collection of poetry and contains some of his best (and most well-known poems) such as Boa Constrictor, Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out, Sick and The Unicorn (famously song by The Irish Rovers). This 30th Anniversary Special Addition includes 12 new poems added at the end of the book, which were all varying degrees of funny. The whole book of poems is varying degrees of funny. You'll find ones that will have you giggling uncontrollably or laughing out loud all the way down to the ones that just let a little smile creep onto your lips. When your child finds a favourite, they'll beg for it again and again and again! There is a small selection of poems that are starting to show their age, that one can tell were created in the "Make Love Not War" 1970s and they fell flat with us, but they represent a handful out of a bookful. Silverstein's illustrations are simple yet tell so much and are just as fun as the poems themselves. Of the three poetry collections, this first one is still THE one to get if you are only going to buy one.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

133. A Mercy by Toni Morrison

a mercy by Toni Morrison

Pages: 167
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 25 2009
First Published: Nov. 11, 2008 (Paperback - Aug. 11 2009)
Genre: historical fiction, literary fiction
Rating: 2.5/5

First sentence:

Don't be afraid.

Reason for Reading: I am in the process of reading all the author's books. This is her latest. I received a Review Copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: The time is 1680, the place is colonial America. This is the story of four women: Rebekka, an English girl sent to America as a wife whose family paid a monetary dowry; Florens, a black slave child (later woman) who is traded in exchange for partial payment of a debt; Sorrow, a European (Irish I find myself thinking for some reason) foundling coming to womanhood who is given as a gift to protect her from the growing boys in her current household; finally Lina, another child (later) woman who remembers vividly some small parts of her Native American life before she is sold and paid for. All these women belong to a man who doesn't believe in slavery, who despises those who does. He is a fairly decent, kind man but ultimately wants to have the riches of those he despises. But most of all, as the jacket flap states: "A Mercy reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery. But at its heart it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her ..."

The story is told in many voices: all the woman have their turn (some many times), the man behind the women and the farm hands. The story is told in a progressive forward movement but also slips into flashback scenes to give backgrounds to the characters. In such a short book, this becomes quite confusing at times. I spent a large majority of the time not knowing who was speaking until halfway through their narrative. Generally, I enjoy switching points of view and flashbacks but the book was just too short for me to get a grasp on anything really substantial. I must say for half the book I was under the impression Lina was a Native American and then I came to think she was African and I'm pretty sure she's Native, but I could be wrong... Needless to say, the book confounded me more than enlightened me in any way.

I couldn't connect with any of the characters, nor did I really find the story emotionally charged which is something I've come to expect with Toni Morrison, from her books I've read so far. There is also a heavy theme of religious (namely Protestant) intolerance running through the book. First from a Dutch settler (Calvinist) towards Catholics in general, then Anabaptists causing grief in those other settlers who don't understand their ways and finally the term used becomes "the Protestants" (though I still think we are talking Anabaptists) as the slave people talk of how the Protestant's religion says that certain people such as savages (ie. blacks/natives, etc.) are not equal in God's eyes to them. This theme is pretty heavy handed throughout and I didn't know what to make of it. Does Morrison try to say slavery began with Anabaptist intolerance? Protestant intolerance? Christian? Religion, in general? I don't know anything about Anabaptists but when you get to broad terms such as Protestant or religious intolerance for each one intolerant person there are many good-hearted embracing people and I just don't buy into the "religion is the root of all evil" camp.

A readable story but with each chapter change the figuring out of where you are and what's going on distracted me from enjoying the book as much as I could have otherwise. Fans, go ahead and read it, you may like it a lot more than I did. Never read Toni Morrison before? Don't start with this one.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

132. Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
Kate Burkholder, book 1

Pages: 321
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 24 2009
First Published: Jun. 23, 2009
Genre: thriller, mystery
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

She hadn't believed in monsters since she was six years old, back when her mom would check the closet and look beneath her bed at night.

Reason for Reading: I'm always looking for new (or new to me) thriller authors who can live up to my high expectations. The synopsis sounded intriguing. I received a Review Copy from Minotaur Books.

Comments: Kate Burkholder has been the Chief of Police for the small town in which she grew up for two years now. Kate is Amish, or more correctly was Amish, so she understands the large Amish community and fits the role of small town Chief perfectly. Then one day her world comes crashing down. A body is found, murdered, brutalized from torture and immediately a connection is made to a set of four murders which occurred in the area sixteen years ago. Kate, however, around fourteen at the time, knows it cannot be the same man as she knows who that killer was and had been sworn to silence by her Amish family never tell the events of the terrible night. Can Kate continue to do her job when more and more bodies turn up with the exact same MO as the former "Slaughter House Killer" and not give away the secrets of her dark past or her former Amish community.

This was a fabulous read. It had all the ingredients that I love in my thrillers: a vicious serial killer, gruesome details, heart-pounding moments, a cast of possible suspects, and a fabulous main character. Kate is a character I can't wait to read more of. She is fascinating and totally unique. With her Amish background she is unlike any detective I've met before in my reading, but don't let that fool you, Kate is all cop. In fact she's as tough as it gets; yet off work she shows a vulnerable, feminine side as well. An intriguing character, whose personal storyline is left with dangling threads to be picked up in a sequel.

It took two days to read this. Darn life kept interrupting me. I just couldn't stop reading. There was a point near the end, about three chapters left, that I had to put the book down just to catch my breath. Plus I actually didn't want the book to end, so I purposely stopped reading! Don't you love it when that happens?

Looking for a page turner, a can't put down, stay up all night type of thriller? Then this is your book. Linda Castillo is currently working on the next book in the Kate Burkholder series. Yeah!

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Friday, July 24, 2009

131. The Lindbergh Child by Rick Geary

The Lindbergh Child by Rick Geary
A Treasury of XXth Century Murder, Book 1

Pages: un-numbered
Ages: 14+
Finished: Jul. 23 2009
First Published: Aug, 2008
Genre: graphic novel, non-fiction, true crime
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Saturday, May 21, 1927 Charles A. Lindbergh becomes the hero of the age with his courageous solo flight across the Atlantic.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series, but actually I should say first in a new series.

Comments: Rick Geary moves on to the 20th century with this book taking a look at one of the most famous crimes of the century. Whether that still holds true because of the celebrity of the victim's father or now the obvious failure of the justice system and obvious lack of evidence I don't know. What can I say? This book gives exactly what one expects from Geary in his true crime books. Astounding art work. To be honest I'd read the phone book if he illustrated it! But fortunately the text is just as superior. A lot of research has gone into this volume. I'm quite familiar with the case and Geary covers a lot of information from all points of view even to the point of examining the plausibilities of various "whodunit" scenarios. While Geary's last few books were good as usual, The Saga of the Bloody Benders in particular was lacking in details simply as they don't exist; it's good to see the wealth of detail come back as in earlier books such as The Borden Tragedy and The Beast of Chicago. One fervent hope I have now that Geary has moved onto the 20th century, he even has a new book* out already, is that he won't forget his Victorian series as I for one would like to see more continue from that era as well. Mr. Geary, your readers can certainly handle keeping up with both series. {hint, hint}. Not much to say in this review, Geary at his best. Fans will be pleased to see Geary in top form and if you haven't read Geary yet, why not?

*that link won't work forever, let me know when it stops working and I'll grab the new one when they move it.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Canadian Reading Challenge III

Posting the challenge below made me realize I hadn't made a post for the 3rd Annual Canadian Reading Challenge. It's is just such a given that I'm going to participate I guess it slipped my mind to make an official "Yes, I am joining the challenge" post. So here it is! I am joining the Challenge for the 3rd year in a row. My Canadian reading has actually dropped off a bit recently so I'll have to put some effort into getting it going again more steadily but won't be too hard as I've got some favourite authors now and I've got to read Oryx and Crake as I'll be getting a review copy of Atwood's newest book when it comes out which is not a sequel to the aforementioned but is set in the same world.

Random Reading Challenge

I am soooooo going to be in on this one! The Random Reading Challenge is really cool! Go to the site to read all the details but here is the fun part:

1. NO lists allowed. Books for the challenge are chosen one at a time when the mood strikes.

2. Sign up at any time during the challenge period using Mr. Linky below. Please give me a direct link to your blog post about the challenge. If you do not have a blog, no worries. Simply enter your name and leave the URL box on Mr. Linky blank.

3. Book reviews are not required, but if you want to write a review I will be providing a review Mr. Linky after August 1st.

4. Books are selected one at a time using the following procedure:

Randomly select any number of books from either your physical OR your virtual TBR pile (I don’t care how you do this, but it must be random…no “cherry picking” allowed)

Assign a number to each book based on how many books you selected (ie: if you selected 14 books, assign each book a number from 1 through 14; if you selected 28 books, assign each book a number from 1 through 28…you get the idea)

Go to THIS SITE and use the TRUE RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR located in the upper right hand corner of the page to randomly select the book you will read. NO CHEATING – whatever the random number generator generates is the book you must read!

Each time you select a book for the challenge, you will use this procedure. You many select different books each time, choose a different amount of books each time, etc…have fun, mix it up, keep it random.

The challenge runs from Aug.1 '09 to Jul 31 '10.

I plan on using my ARC tbr pile through Dec. then will work on books off my bedside table tbr. starting Jan. This is going to be fun!

130. Relentless by Dean Koontz

Relentless by Dean Koontz

Pages: 356
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 22 2009
First Published: Jun. 9, '09
Genre: thriller
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

This is a thing I've learned: Even with a gun to my head, I am capable of being convulsed with laughter.

Reason for Reading: Dean Koontz has a new book out! I received a Review Copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: Cullen Greenwich is a best selling author who is living a wonderful life and he knows it. Good money, nice home, loving wife, fine son (who at six happens to be a genius), what more could a guy ask for. Then his latest book is published and he receives a review from the nation's most renowned book critic, Sheardon Waxx. A scathingly bad review. Cullen usually just ignores bad reviews but Sheardon is somewhat of a recluse and when he finds out where he dines for lunch once a week, Cullen goes just to have a peek. The little peek turns into a chance encounter and what follows changes Cullen's life forever. His life becomes filled with terror as he and his family are stalked by a sociopath whose one goal in life is to kill them each very slowly.

As someone who hasn't read a lot of Koontz, just a few oldies a long time ago, and now his new ones, I'm finding that he does not stick to any one particular genre label. This book is pretty much your straightforward serial killer thriller with a bit of science fiction thrown in to give it a Koontz twist. Fast-paced, frightening, gruesome thriller that hooks you from the first chapter. A very hard book to put down once you get started. I'm a big fan of the serial killer thriller and this one does not disappoint. One thing I particularly like about Koontz's villains is that they show pure evil, there is no sympathizing with them at all. The science fiction twist was, well, fun and a mystery itself which I managed to figure out shortly before it was revealed. I really enjoyed the main characters of Cullen and his wife Penny. Cullen is a sensitive, all round nice guy type of man with a dark secret in his past while his wife is the author/illustrator of cute children's books but is an expert with weapons and has a fierce determination to fight back when she or her family are threatened. Penny's parents are very eccentric and a real hoot. Actually, there is a sense of humour running in the background throughout the whole book which pops up every now and then giving the reader an occasional chuckle to lighten the otherwise heavy tension.

I really enjoyed the book and know I'll continue to read Koontz's work as it comes out each year. Now just to find some time to tackle his extensive backlist! I really want to get the Odd Thomas and Frankenstein books first then go back to all the other ones.

That's my official review that will be cross-posted on other sites the rest here is just my own ramblings. There was something about this book that felt religious to me and almost certainly Catholic. The main character was a church going man, they left their bags in a church and mentioned leaving a note to "Father" Tom. There is a great emphasis on good vs evil with no grey areas. Cullen, the main character, often quotes G.K. Chesterton and it's hard to explain (plus I don't want to go all religiousy on ya here) but I just felt that the underlying theme could be applied to Catholic values. I was almost certain Dean Koontz must be Catholic. So I decided to find out. Everybody else probably knows this but I know nothing about Koontz so I went to read his bio on wiki and it didn't mention his religion at all. So I just googled him and low and behold up come a bunch of interviews he's done for Catholic newspapers and websites. He is a practising Catholic!

Now the reason I mention this is that one of the things I want to do next year is read more fiction by Catholic authors. So far on my list I've got G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O'Connor, C.S. Lewis (not Catholic, but he's on Catholic reading lists) and now to that esteemed company I get to add Dean Koontz, yeah!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

129. Uncovering Jack the Ripper's London

Uncovering Jack the Ripper's London by Richard Jones
Photography by Sean East

Pages: 123
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 19 2009
First Published: 2007
Genre: true crime, non-fiction, social history
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

In the autumn of 1888 a series of brutal murders in the East End of London sent shockwaves reverberating around the civilized world and caused a scandal that struck right at the heart of the British establishment.

Reason for Reading: If you've read my reviews long enough you will know I have a particular interest in Victorian crime and I'll read anything new to me and interesting about Jack the Ripper.

Comments: Written by a leading expert on Jack the Ripper, I found this book unique in that it focuses on the social history surrounding the case rather than the solving of it. We are introduced to East End London, the people, the racial unrest, the poverty, and the lifestyle of those living there. In Whitechapel and surrounding area (where the murders occurred) we are shown, in several chapters, how deeply sunk into poverty the people were while a short walk away was the opulence of the rich, the social day to day lifestyle of these poor and in particular a chapter is devoted to the life of the "Unfortunates" (prostitutes), how and where they lived.

As the book further progresses it tells in detail, relying heavily on direct source material such as police reports, inquest testimony, memoirs, and newspapers (telling us whether witnesses are reliable or not, and why) the case of Jack the Ripper. Rather than dwell on the police investigation, picking it apart and re-interpreting it, we are shown exactly the case as it was known through the eyes of the contemporaries involved plus the reaction of the immediate surrounding society and the British society at large. This is an excellent book for anyone wanting to really learn and experience the life of the poor in Victorian England and to know why Jack the Ripper struck such a nerve with the British media and people at the time. It really was not just because of the killings; it made people recognise a part of their world they had been turning a blind eye to and which they no longer could.

Along with the text are profusely rich illustrations. Many photographs have been taken of the exact places today and shown side by side with a photo from the 1800s. This is very impressive. Also several photos of places in the area which still retain their Victorian ambiance are shown as well. But the real meat is to be found in the contemporary illustrations, many real photographs, copies of newspaper articles or headlines, mortuary photographs of each victim and a scene of the crime photograph of Jack's last victim, contemporary illustrations some from newspapers and others of political satire such as from Punch magazine, also included are photos of the first two famous "Ripper" letters. A real feast for the eyes for any ripperologist!

I recommend this book to those who know a thing or two already about the case as this focuses on the social history of the case and is a very interesting read from that point of view. I also think it would be a great introduction for a first time reader of the case as you will be presented with the full facts of the case but not be influenced by an author's bias trying to convince you on who Jack the Ripper really was. You can move onto those books afterwards and be "armed" with the facts. This is a keeper!

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

128. The Dragons of Ordinary Farm

The Dragons of Ordinary Farm by Tad Williams & Deborah Beale
Illustrated by Greg Swearingen
Ordinary Farm, Book 1

Pages: 412
Ages: 10+
Finished: Jul. 19 2009
First Published: May 25,'09
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Colin tested the parlor door.

Reason for Reading: When I heard Tad Williams had a book out for juveniles, I was so going to be reading it. I received a Review Copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Comments: Tyler and Lucinda are sent to spend the summer with their incredibly old great uncle (whom they've never met) while their mother goes on a singles retreat. Not looking forward at all to farm life: where will she go shopping? will there be electricity to recharge his hand-held gamer? they are reluctant guests. Upon arrival they quickly see that this is no ordinary farm, all the farm hands and kitchen staff talk with strange accents and seem as though they come from various far away countries. Then on their first day they are shown around the farm and meet the inhabitants: unicorns, basilisks, a flying monkey, cockatrices, baby griffins, a couple of dragons and many more fantastic creatures. Tyler and Lucinda are sworn to secrecy but are only given small pieces of information at a time leaving them full of questions with no answers. So they take to exploring on their own at night and find some incredible answers and mysterious clues to a secret from the past as they also learn that the farm itself and the dragons are in danger.

Well, I just loved this book. A setting filled with fantastic creatures is a sure bet I'm going to have some fun. Lucinda and Tyler both started off as rather annoying kids as they were portrayed as a typical brother and sister who spend most of their time together annoying each other and being sarcastic. As they are brought together at the farm for the first time where they have to live together, work together and count on each other their relationship (and attitudes) grow and develop. The eccentric cast of supporting characters is a riot from Great Uncle Gideon who always wears his pajamas and house coat to Mrs. Needle, Gideon's assistant with strange powers who cannot be completely trusted to Ragnar, a powerhouse of a Scandinavian. The plot is not exactly fast-paced. The first half of the book spends a lot of time in the kids enjoying their new exciting surroundings, getting to know the fascinating people and slowly unraveling the mysteries. The troubles slowly mount until a pivotal point where the action picks up and the second half of the book has a plot full of action as events unfold at a faster-pace and reveals follow one another.

I had a great time reading this. I loved the motley crew of characters. The plot is a lot of fun and the dragon side story is unique and well, who doesn't love a good dragon story? The story is nicely wrapped up yet there is a bigger plot running along which will continue through the series and the book leaves us with a satisfying ending but also knowing the children will be returning to Ordinary Farm again.

Get in at the start with this series folks, it's quite likely, imho, that this is going to become a popular one. I'm really looking forward to book two.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday: Books in the Mail

First of all, I'm changing the name of my Monday postings since I don't always get just arcs. Last week was kind to me. A few arcs, a bookmooch and I won a book! 3 new ARCs in and last week I read and reviewed 2 so that means only 1 extra added to the pile (and I actually have one here read but not reviewed yet, so I'm feeling even, though not quite technically LOL). Soooo, still moving along nicely and if not making mt. arc any smaller, certainly not letting it get much bigger over the last couple of months. Feeling good about that!

The ARCs:

A Bookmooch:

And I won this book from the author! Signed! The first in a new paranormal series.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Fire Cat by Esther Averill

The Fire Cat story and pictures by Esther Averill
An I Can Read Book

Pages: 63
First Published: 1960
Genre: children, easy reader
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Once upon a time, there was a yellow cat with black spots in his fur.

Comments: This is the first "real" book with chapters and full pages of text that my ds has read by himself. The story of a troublesome homeless cat who finds a home and a purpose at the firehouse after he is rescued from a tree in a rain storm. His life comes full circle when he rescues a cat too far out on a thin branch during his duty as fire cat.

A classic children's easy reader. A wonderful, wholesome story that does not show any signs of ageing. One has a feeling that the story is not happening today but rather than feeling old-fashioned it has the air of a very small town about it. Averill's artwork is a joy. Done in red, yellow and black they suit the text wonderfully. I always find it very satisfying when the author has also done the illustrations. Again, the illustrations feel more small town-ish than they do old-fashioned except for that little black corded phone which turns up in a few pictures near the end. Ds enjoyed reading the book, often wanting to read more than his required number of daily pages. He's very fond of animal stories and this one didn't disappoint.

The "An I Can Read Book" series has been around since the mid to late fifties and has in recent times started to be reprinted under the name of "I Can Read!". Many of the old titles are being reprinted under the new series name as of course are new ones, but it is the old titles, one should seek out. The reading level is much more consistent and the authors are some of the greats in children's literature. Esther Averill's The Fire Cat is a book that will never go out of print and is highly recommended as a read aloud to preschool children and as a first reader for children of any age (it is not too babyish for older struggling readers) who are ready to read at this level.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

CWA International Dagger Winner

I was thrilled yesterday to hear that Fred Vargas (translator Sian Reynolds) won the Crime Writers Association International Dagger award for The Chalk Circle Man. I gave the book a 5/5 rating in my own review back in February, which can be read here.

127. A Head Full of Notions: A Story About Robert Fulton

A Head Full of Notions: A Story about Robert Fulton
by Andy Russell Bowen
illustrated by Lisa Harvey
A Creative Minds Biography

Pages: 64
Ages: 8+
Finished: Jul. 15 2009
First Published: 1997
Genre: children, biography, non-fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

Fresh out of patience, the teacher barked at young Fulton to pay attention.

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

Comments: This is a biography of Robert Fulton told in a narrative story format. It starts with a chapter of Fulton as a boy to allow the reader to relate to him on their own level then moves on to his adulthood obsession with inventing. The book devotes a chapter on Fulton's invention of the submarine and then focuses in on his trials and final success with the steamboat ending with Fulton's untimely death.

Told in a narrative form the book is enjoyable to read and interesting. The black and white drawings are nicely done and richly detailed adding nicely to the text. In all honesty, my 9yo would have rated the book 5/5 as he has now decided he wants to be an inventor when he grows up and wants to read more books about inventors now. So the book certainly struck a chord with him! But I think most people, myself included, will find the book satisfying for the level it is aimed at. Of course, the book is too brief to really get to the know the man and the focus of the book is Fulton's accomplishments rather than his life story. A most suitable book to enjoy learning about Fulton's invention of the first commercially successful steamboat.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Head on over to Book Blogger Appreciation Week and get the scoop on this wonderful week (Sept. 14-Sept.18) where book bloggers of all shapes and sizes come together to celebrate each other. Sign up to participate. Vote for your favourite blogs. Win prizes. Lots of fun!

126. The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

Pages: 325
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 15 2009
First Published: Jun. 02 '09
Genre: magical realism
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

Once a year there was a knock at the door.

Reason for Reading: I've become a big fan of magical realism over the last year or so and Alice Hoffman was an author on my list, so I figured why not start with her new book. I received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: Well, I hardly know where to start with this book. What is this book about? It's the story of three sisters who live in a fantasy world of their own creation. Two of them hold a dark secret, but one of them holds the darkest secret of all. It's a story of a mother's loves as she tries to raise her daughters single handedly. The girls grow up, let go of their fantasy world (though parts will never leave them) and face the pain of real life. This is a story of the fantastical, a family saga, a harsh, dark realism and ultimate redemption.

I'll start by saying I really, really enjoyed this book. But I also have to say there were parts when I just didn't get it. Each chapter starts with a few paragraphs of an italicized story from the fantasy world, at least that's what I thought at the beginning, but by the end I had no idea what they were about or what their purpose served. The first half of the book when the girls are young and living in the fantasy world is beautiful. The language and atmosphere is so fairy tale-like. It's pure delight to read but even at this stage glimpses of the dark secret are seen and the power of even the smallest glimpse of this evil into such serene surroundings is shiver-inducing. As events unfold the author throws a stunning shock at the reader and the atmosphere becomes more realistic, heavier and darker.

The characters are marvelous. I just loved every single one of them, even the ones that I didn't particularly like as people. They were just so well written I could visualize and hear each one of them. Truly brilliant characterization! The writing as a whole is beautiful, the family saga is compelling and heart-wrenching while the fantasy elements are always present whether in full force or just as tiny flickers. It's still a book I have to give some thought to, though. This has given me a taste for Alice Hoffman and I plan on reading her again.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

125. Die For You by Lisa Unger

Die For You by Lisa Unger

Pages: 352
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 13 2009
First Published: Jun. 02 '09
Genre: thriller, international intrigue
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

A light snow falls, slowly coating the deep-red rooftops of Prague.

Reason for Reading: Well, we all know by now I love a good thriller and a missing person case is always a good read. The plot intrigued me and I hadn't yet read the author but had heard of her. I received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: Isabel Raine, famous bestselling author, is married to Marcus Raine, successful software designer and company owner; they've had five fairly blissful years of marriage and after a particularly pleasant morning Marcus sets off for work and never returns. After waiting, and making phone calls, all through the night, Isabel heads for his office where she meets his partner on his way up to work. Barely after arriving the office is swarmed with men and women in FBI jackets taking all the computers and files. They lock her in an office and she sees her husband's partner in handcuffs. After banging on the door a woman who Isabel has determined could not be FBI comes into the office and kicks her in the head. When Isabel wakes in the hospital, she's told that the office was ransacked by these people (not the FBI) and all three employees were found dead in the office with her still alive, albeit unconscious. And so starts the tale of Isabel learning some frightening facts that Marcus Raine was a man who disappeared ten years ago and while also from Czech and looking slightly like her husband, is in fact not the man she is married to. Her whole life as she knows it falls apart by Isabel is not the type of woman to lay down and cry, oh no, she is going to find out why he's done this to her.

The incredible fast pace of this novel takes place over a short period of time and has our heroine in New York, remembering the past in Paris and on the run in Czech. Her rich, luxuriant life is now filled with NYPD detectives, Russian and Albanian mobsters, and other unsavouries who'd simply prefer she be dead. But Isabel has a dark past where she was once left before and never had the question why answered and she'll not rest, even if it kills her, to let the man she loved get away from her without this simple answer. Determination runs through the book so hard, that you feel your teeth clenching as Isabel often kicks caution to the wind to try to find her answer.

This is not my typical type of book. I'm usually your serial killer, or at least "let's have a few dead bodies" thriller type of reader but this book sucked me into a new sub-genre I can see myself really enjoying. I certainly love these types of movies. There is a suspense that starts to tickle you on the first page only to grab you a couple pages later and just doesn't let go until the final pages. A complete whirlwind of compulsive reading. I read the first 3/4's all in one day. Then unfortunately real life intervened and I had to wait a bit to get back to finishing it but this can certainly be set aside to read in day. When you have one of those lazy Saturday's coming up spend the day with Die For You and you might find your pulse rate quickening and even burn a few calories while you read. Recommended!

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Monday: Arcs in the Mail

A nice little week for my mailbox this week, three review books that each sound scrumptious. Funnily enough since I read and reviewed 3 books last week that means my arc pile remains exactly the same as before since 3 in and 3 out equals nothing to increase the tbr pile. Yeah me!

I did receive one other book this week and that was an unsolicited free "Gospel of John", a nice looking little book which I intended to keep but first I decided to see which ministries were distributing the book and I came upon a "Christian" ministry that listed all the Christian denominations and when I looked up Roman Catholic it contained a 3-page PDF on why Catholicism was wrong. So I tossed it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

It's my Birthday!

Today is my birthday! Well, actually I like to think of it as the 4th anniversary of my 37th birthday. I always think of this song when my birthday comes around because the first birthday party I remember was my 6th b'day and all I remember is having a fit and running into the car and screaming and crying and my dad coming out and me not letting him into the car and well he got angry and finally I unlocked the doors and he told me in a low but very firm voice if I didn't start behaving myself I was going to get a hiding (spanking) and that's all I remember. But there is a picture of that day of me with a horrible pouty look on my face.

That's me in the orange dress!

Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts

Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts
by Dr. Gail Saltz
Illustrated by Lynn Cravath

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)
2005, picture book

This picture book as the title states is about the body's "private parts". The book is intended for children who are starting to ask questions about their own or the opposite sex's parts and what they are for. The book is written in simple language using correct medical terminology and the illustrations are simple, friendly and alternately show Caucasian and African American people.

What to expect: detailed discussion of male and female genitalia and reproductive organs, illustrations of full frontal nudity of children and full grown man and woman, description of a woman making an egg and a man making sperm, a description of an egg and a sperm meeting to grow a baby and how a mother knows when it's time for the baby to be born.

What not to expect: This book skips over s*xual int*rc*urse completely, as well as the function of breasts, and the delivery process.

This book is aimed at children coming to you with their first questions. For example my son wanted to know what his testicles were for and did I have them. When I said girl parts were completely different he wanted to know what they looked like. (He's been told girls don't have his same parts many times but he's never cared to ask any further before). This book was perfect for answering my son's questions; it contained just the right amount of information. There is a heavy emphasis on "private parts" being private which easily allow a parent to further emphasize safety issues on "bad touches" if they wish. My son only had two small questions not answered in the book, but I was able to use the illustrations as visuals to give him the answers he sought. I am very pleased with this book. It serves its purpose in an easy-to-use, friendly manner, accessible to all.

From a Christian point of view, if you are ok with the review up to this point you will find that although the book is secular it is perfect for use in a Christian home. There is one sentence that some Christians may wish to skip over which does advocate the touching of one's private parts in private. Nothing else of any concern.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ruby Gloom Theme Song

Oh I was just reading Once Upon a Bookshelf and she posted about a Ruby Gloom book she picked up at Chapters and how much she loved the theme song. Well, I started humming the song and the next thing you know I'm on youtube listening to it and now I can't get tune out of my head.

124. Far North by Marcel Theroux

Far North by Marcel Theroux

Pages: 314
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 11 2009
First Published: Jun. 15 '09
Genre: post apocalyptic fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Every day I buckle on my guns and go out to patrol this dingy city.

Reason for Reading: As soon as I saw the words dystopian and post apocalyptic associated with the plot I was there. Those are favourite genres of mine. I received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Comments: Makepeace lives a solitary life in the Russian/Asian North, the only survivor in a once thriving town of American settlers. This is a world sparsely populated, where occasional persons pass by on the road but only rarely these days. Groups have settled in different areas and Makepeace begins to see what the world is really like after a plane flies by overhead and a decision is made to find the fabled land where civilization is still running, where they still have planes. Makepeace sees native tribes who are friendly and living off the land proudly, native tribes who are brutal and take what they want leaving pillage and bodies behind, a society based on strict religious rule and more but ultimately Makepeace is captured by a slave camp where work is gruelling but at least food is readily and freely given.

I really enjoyed this book. Makepeace is a very interesting character and while secondary characters come and go Makepeace is the one that is fully fleshed out and whose past is slowly revealed throughout the book. The atmosphere is dismal and bleak, as is the writing. I found it a slow read just as the trudging through snow and back breaking work would slow one down, it also slowed down my reading.

Blurbs on this book use either the word dystopia or post apocalypse but I'm going to take a stand and say I would not apply the term dystopia to this book. The world is too large, there are too many societies, the scope is more global and there is no true oppressing force. Sure there is oppression but it is from various sources of different makings. The book is certainly post apocalyptic and as the reason is revealed, truly believable. When reading modern apocalypse books I'm always leery of how heavily they will rely on "global warming" (sorry "climate change") and I think the author's theory of our ultimate doom should be believable to those on either side of that particular fence.

Religion is a strong theme in the story as well. Although the author is certainly against it. There are a lot of Biblical references in the narrative and yet the main character is agnostic (at the least) and all the Christian characters are villains or fools. The Muslim characters are shown as grouping in cliques and their religion makes them stand out, for various reasons, in the different societies encountered in the book. Being Christian myself, it is always disappointing when characters don't find redemption, but neither is the book offensive, in fact, it is quite thought-provoking. How would a truly Christian character or society have affected the outcome of Makepeace's story?

A fascinating tale of self-preservation at all costs, perseverance that never ends, greed, love, friendship, betrayal. Most of all though it is a desolate, frightening tale of our possible future which still manages to leave a feeling of hope for the future of mankind.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Begging for Books on my Bookmooch Wishlist

If you are a member of Bookmooch would you please take a look at my Wishlist and see if you have any of the books I need. These are all children's books that I will be using with my child for homeschooling this year. I'm having an awful time getting any of them used as so many people will send to the US only. Please, if you have, or are willing to part with any of these books, I ask you to make an exception and ship to Canada this once as these books are desperately needed. You will receive 3 BM points for shipping internationally and you'd be surprised how relatively inexpensive it is to mail a little kid's book to Canada. Thanks for having a look and considering us!

My wish list is here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

123. Roadside Crosses by Jeffery Deaver

Roadside Crosses by Jeffery Deaver
Kathryn Dance, #2

Pages: 399
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 8 2009
First Published: Jun. 9 '09
Genre: mystery, thriller, suspense
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Out of place. The California Highway Patrol trooper, young with bristly yellow hair beneath his crisp hat, squinted through the windshield of his Crown Victoria Police Interceptor as he cruised south along Highway 1 in Monterey Dunes to the right, modest commercial sprawl to the left.

Reason for Reading: It's almost embarrassing to say but I have never read Jeffery Deaver before. But I have wanted to ever since I saw the movie The Bone Collector a very long time ago, it just seems that with so many thriller writers I'm already reading I just never seemed to get around to reading Deaver so when the chance came to read this one, I jumped. I received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Comments: Kathryn Dance is the CBI's specialist in kinesics, body language, which makes her a great agent especially when it comes to interviewing suspects and witnesses alike. A cross surrounded by roses is found on the roadside with tomorrow's date written upon it, the trooper who finds it thinks nothing much about it until the next day they find a car parked on the beach which has been there during the coming and going of the tide with a girl locked in the trunk and with her is found a rose petal. More crosses pop up with dates to announce when the next victim will be attacked and each day brings a new victim. A connection comes up between the victims and a teenage boy who is being cyberbullied, especially cruelly on one blog called The Chilton Report. Just when the police find their suspect he disappears and we enter the strange co-existence between the synthetic (online) world and the "real" world through blogging and MMORPGs.

Brilliant. Amazing that an author can carry so many story lines seamlessly and without effort keep the suspense on full tilt all the way through the book. I loved the way the several plot lines run together for more than half the book, then as one get solved there is an about face and the plot rushes in a different direction as the solving of one case only makes it or the others more complex leaving more to be solved. Deaver is very clever, which I'm sure his long time fans already know. But as a first time reader myself, it was exciting to realize this. I was especially tickled with Deaver's deviousness when early in the book I had my eye on a very minor character because of a single word he'd said and through out the book my suspicions about him were deepened with subtle clues until at the end ... well, I won't tell you but I felt like Deaver had created that character for readers like me who often guess the killer in Chapter 2.

I love serial killer books and this one doesn't disappoint. The choices of deaths are imaginative and frightening. It makes for fast reading and long into the night page turning. This book is quite dependant on the first in the series, often speaking of events that previously happened and continuing on with unfinished storylines. Surprisingly, this didn't hamper my reading at all. I easily picked up on what was going on and didn't feel left out though I would highly recommend reading The Sleeping Doll first just as it would be better to be "in the know" to start with before reading this. I intend to go back and read it before book 3 comes out in 2011. But it is because of this heavy reliance on prior events in another book that my rating is a 4 and not otherwise a 5.

The book is also quite interesting in its themes of current internet usage. I've never read a book about blogging before and as a blogger found that the issues dealt with of whether there are any moral and ethical obligations of bloggers who are not answerable to anyone such as mainstream journalist are quite thought-provoking. The book does contain a lot of so-called technical information on blogging, what it is , how it works, which I found very elementary and found myself asking "Are there really people who don't know this stuff?" but later on I found myself realizing that the shoe was on the other foot when the same sort of information was being imparted about MMORPGs, which I didn't even know what it was besides some sort of online game.

Having not read any other books by the author to compare it to, I can't say whether fans will find it up-to-par or not. However, as someone new to Deaver you will find out what a very, very clever suspense author this man is. Now I know I must go back and catch up on his backlist!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Karin Slaughter Winners

Announcing the winners of Karin Slaughter's newest book, Undone, arriving in stores on July 14th! Winners were picked randomly using a random number generator at Thank you to Jessica at Random House Canada for asking Back to Books to host this giveaway.

Congratulations to:




Tuesday, July 7, 2009

122. The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner

The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner
Detective D.D. Warren, book 3

Pages: 373
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 5 2009
First Published: Jun. 16 '09
Genre: mystery, thriller
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

I've always wondered what people felt in the final hours of their lives.

Reason for Reading: I enjoyed my first Lisa Gardner book, last year's Say Goodbye, so much I wanted to keep reading her. I received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: Jason and Sandra Jones seem to have the perfect life. They've figured out the perfect way to raise their four-year-old daughter. Sandra works days and Jason works evenings, this way they can look after their child themselves. One night Jason comes home from work and finds his daughter sleeping safely in bed and his wife missing. The police start to investigate and find Jason's manner very odd, he's obviously hiding something or perhaps he's just hiding. He becomes their person of interest from the beginning but unlike most cases which start off with several suspects which are slowly dropped as evidence and alibis collect, this case starts with one suspect and slowly gathers more, such as the known sex offender five houses down the street and the middle school student genius who is obsessively in love with Sandra, and more until there are too many suspects to know who is telling the truth.

Absolutely riveting book! I enjoyed this even better than my previous read by the author. I can certainly say I'll be going back and reading Ms. Gardner's backlist. This book gave me everything I want in a suspenseful mystery, twists and turns in plot, interesting characters and mostly: I only sort of figured out "whodunit" and that wasn't until near the end. Really not much more to say without gushing. The only thing that bothered me was the main detective's name was "D.D." Now this is just me but I've never met a woman who went around being called by initials and the fact that dd stands for 'darling daughter' in internet speak had my mind calling her that every third or fourth time her name appeared, strange but true. Unlike Say Goodbye, this book is not gruesome, there is a little violence of course but nothing that you can't read and eat at the same time. This was a page-turner, read in a weekend because you just can't put it down book for me. Mystery/thriller fans are sure to love this and if you haven't read Lisa Gardner before The Neighbor is a great place to start.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday: ARCs in the Mail

Last week was fruitful for my mailbox. A small but steady stream of books arrived through the week keeping me happy. All books received were for review purposes, therefore broadly termed arcs and included in the arc pile. I received a total of 6 books in the mail and read and reviewed 5 books last week making my arc pile a total of 1 book bigger. Nothing I can't handle, especially since 2 of these books are less than 100 pages and will hardly take any time to read at all.

One interesting thing has happened though. I do not have anymore non-fiction review books on hand. Seems I read them all and as far as I can remember I don't have any coming my way. Of course, I could be wrong. But I'm pretty sure I don't have any memoirs on request for a start. So I am actually reading non-fiction from my own shelves at the moment!

Now on to last weeks book arrivals:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

121. Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert

Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert
Foreward by Patty Duke

Pages: 367
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 4 2009
First Published: June '09
Genre: memoir, non-fiction
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

My mother was nearly a month past her husband's funeral when she turned her attention back to my desire to write a memoir.

Reason for Reading: I enjoy reading actor's memoirs from my childhood back to the days of the silver screen and I am a huge Little House on the Prairie fan. I received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Comments: Melissa writes of her life from early days up to the present time. She explains her adoptive origins and goes on to give a brief synopsis of her adoptive parents' background. Then she quickly moves onto her career which started at an early age and is really all she's ever known. Her mother was a typical backstage mother and Gilbert has gone through a long healing process to reach the place today where she and her mother are friends. Her life was very interesting and while Gilbert was a TV Star she was the same age as the famous Brat Pack and was a behind-the-scenes member as Rob Lowe's girlfriend and then fiance during that time of the eighties. There is plenty of name-dropping. She had a famous Uncle who wrote for Hollywood & television in the 40s and 50s making her accessible to some of the greats such as Frank Sinatra and Milton Berle. Also her years on Little House introduced her to many of Hollywood's elite as they appeared as guest stars over the years.

Melissa specifically concentrates on the frenzied life of a child actor, her unhealthy relationship with Rob Lowe, her first marriage and her current marriage. All of which she does not hold back with the details. She also spends much time talking about Michael Landon, her experiences with him, her feelings for him and his role in her life. She also deals with her years of drug use, though she never seems to have hit bottom with that as an addiction. It was later in life that alcohol became her addiction that made her hit bottom and sent her to recovery to become sober. These and many other topics make up the whole of this book. Melissa Gilbert lead an interesting life and accomplished a lot more with her career than I hardly knew about.

What disappoints me about these memoirs is the lack of things which I was expecting. With a title such as Prairie Tales, I was hoping for a real in depth look, behind the scenes look, at her life growing up on the set of Little House on the Prairie. Yes, she does spend quite some time on those years of her life, but the Little House memories are brief and not in depth enough. Mostly Melissa spends these years telling the reader what TV movie she worked on during each summer hiatus of the show. Many actors of the show are never mentioned, others get a brief one-liner. As far as Melissa Sue Anderson is concerned it is pretty clear from Gilbert's three short references that she took the "if you have nothing nice to say then don't say anything at all" approach. She does mention her friendship with the actress who played Nellie Olson more than anything else. But all in all it was quite disappointing from a Little House on the Prairie point of view.

Melissa also holds back on talking about her siblings. She continuously says how much her sister Sara (from Roseanne) means to her, how much she makes an impact in her life and yet as far as the memoir goes they never do a single thing together. There are no memories of anything the two did together whatsoever. Sara is simply a name in the book. If you don't already know who Sara Gilbert is, this book will make you no wiser. Her brother, Jonathan, who played Willie Olson on Little House, is barely referred to during those years in the book. I had expected to hear what it was like to work with your brother. Then at some time in the book Gilbert blurts out that she must mention that when he turned 18 he withdrew his money, packed up and left and never came back, the end, and she's fine with that. Huh? I also must mention that the swearing was rather off-putting as well; I'm just not comfortable with swearing in a narrative.

All in all I think Melissa glossed over the Little House years and then decided to talk about what she wanted to tell her fans (that she had a career outside of the show) rather than what her fans would have wanted to know about. Which is, to say the least, disappointing. But now that I've said all that, none of it means that this book is not good or not worth reading if you want to know about Melissa Gilbert, the person. She comes across as a nice, caring person. She currently works with children's hospice. She is not full of herself and tells a pretty much down to earth story of a girl growing up in the media spotlight. She grows from a naive girl overprotected by everyone to a teenager/young adult who gets in over her head to, finally, a mature woman who can take care of herself. Go ahead and read the book if it interests you, just don't expect to meet all your Little House on the Prairie friends between its pages.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

120. Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon

Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon

Pages: 422
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 4 2009
First Published: June '09
Genre: psychological thriller
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

"Dismantlement Equals Freedom"

Reason for Reading: The write-up had me drooling to read this thriller . I received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Comments: Four artist friends from college formed a group called the "Compassionate Dismantlers" whose manifesto was "To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart". They spend their final summer after graduation together in a cabin in the woods to experience the ultimate summer of dismantling until things go too far and one of them, Suz, is killed and they cover up the murder. Ten years later signs from the past show up, the remaining members are contacted, haunted, reminded of the past and that fateful summer. A former victim of their pranks commits suicide and the remaining three "Dismantlers" are frightened. Their lives become fraught with eerie events. Does someone know what they did that summer and is now trying to reveal the secret? Did Suz survive? Has she come back for revenge? Or maybe she's found a way back to get revenge anyway ...

An awesome book. Nail-biting suspense all the way through with twist after twist. I thought I had this figured out early on and just when I was about to be proven right, whamo, another reveal and my jaw dropped, of course! what an amazing ending!

At first glance this may appear to be horror, based on the write-up but it's not. The book is not gruesome and while it does carry a paranormal element that element is small. I read this book in two days as I just couldn't put it down. This is certainly a plot-driven book and while that leaves the characters a little flat it didn't really matter, as so much is happening to them I really wasn't interested in any greater insight into their psyche. Fascinating plot, very tense and fast-paced but also well-paced with plot moving episodes that allow the reader breathing space before the action picks up once again. I really loved the ending. I found it very satisfying with complete closure and yet with just a hint of eeriness that makes you smile when you close the book.

If this is an example of what to expect from Ms. McMahon I'm quite anxious now to read her two previous books Island of Lost Girls and Promise Not to Tell.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

119. Sea Monsters and Other Delicacies

Sea Monsters and Other Delicacies by David Sinden, Matthew Morgan & Guy Macdonald
Illustrated by Johnny Duddle
An Awfully Beastly Business, Book Two

Pages: 192
Ages: 7-11
Finished: Jul. 2 2009
First Published: 2008 (UK), Apr. 28 '09 (Can/US)
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:
It was night, and the cover of darkness, a fishing boat puttered across the sea.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series. Read aloud to my 9yo. I received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Comments: Right from page one we find Baron Marackai is back on the scene and up to no good. But we don't find out his true dastardly plan until much closer to the end of the book. Meanwhile, Ulf and Dr. Fielding along with Tiana, the fairy and Orson, the giant have their hands full trying to figure out how to save the life of a dying Redback, the most venomous sea monster in existence. Ulf finds notes from Professor Farraway in his book that he has hidden from the first book in this series and tries to get everyone to believe him that the plan will work. When no one agrees Ulf decides to take matters into his own hands.

Again the 9yo loved this book, even more so than the first. These books are definitely written to a boy audience with plenty of gross-out moments and a fair share of derring-do and squeamish moments. Sensitive children will probably not find these the same laugh out loud thrill that my son did. After reading book one ds got wise and figured out the secret about 5 chapters in, but I give the authors credit there were no clues. It's just like the The Series of Unfortunate Events books where Count Olaf shows up every time. With this series we have the much more sinister Baron Marackai, whose not even above murder or cooking someone alive, all in good fun though.

Rather simplistic plot, not a lot of character development, this is a just-for-fun book that younger kids are going to love, both the adventure and the characters. Both ds and I love Druce, the gargoyle. Rollicking shenanigans filled with seabeasts and menacing villains. Fun! Book Three Bang Goes a Troll will be out in September '09. Ds can hardly wait for it.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

118. The Beacon by Susan Hill

The Beacon by Susan Hill

Pages: 154
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 1 2009
First Published: May 11, '09 (UK/Can) Nov. 24,'09 (US)
Genre: novella, literary fiction
Rating: 3.5/5 (If I gave 1/4 points, which I don't, I'd give it 3.75/5)

First sentence:

May Prime had been with her mother all afternoon, sitting in the cane chair a few feet away from the bed, but suddenly at seven o'clock she had jumped up and run out of the house and into the yard and stood staring at the gathering sky because she could not bear the dying a second longer.

Reason for Reading: I have tried (and enjoy) the author's mystery series and wanted to try some of her fiction. I received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Comments: With a novella one can't say much about the plot without telling the whole story. So briefly. Set in the "North Country" of England a family of four children grew up in the fifties on a farm far from any neighbors but with a little village close enough by. After they've all grown, one of the boys leaves the area for good never to return. This book examines how that effects those left behind, while it examines their past and their present especially through the eyes of May, the eldest daughter.

Beautifully written in stark language. This is a desolate story full of atmosphere to match. It actually has a Gothic feel with the lonely farmhouse, named The Beacon, and the silence inside as it contains May and her dying mother, then May and her mother's body and finally May on her own. I enjoyed the process of reading this but as often happens with books so short I wanted more. I really wanted to know more about May, but I think that was the whole point of the story. Right from the beginning we are aware that their is a secret and then in my mind I felt as if their were two secrets and only one of them is revealed. The final ending has me stumped. I'm not sure I understand it all. Oh, I have some ideas and one that pervades is it tells the answer to the second secret but it's not what I suspected. I'll be thinking about this for a while.

Susan Hill fans will definitely want to read this, but if you haven't read the author before it's best not to start with this ambiguous story.

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