Sunday, October 31, 2010

229. Tower of Treasure by Scott Chantler

Tower of Treasure by Scott Chantler (Canada) - (USA)
Three Thieves, Book One

Pages: 112
Ages: 8+
Finished: Oct. 28, 2010
First Published: Aug. 1, 2010
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: graphic novel, children, fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

Look alive up there, you louts!

Acquired: Borrowed a copy from the Calgary library while on vacation.

Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee and required reading for me as a graphic novels panelist.

This is a cute adventure story filled with excitement and derring-do. Dessa Redd is an acrobat in a traveling circus but she has a past she vividly remembers. As a little child her mother and father disappeared while she and her brother hid under the house, when all of a sudden one of the king's guards broke through the floors and scooped up her little brother exclaiming he'd found him. Orphaned and on her lone, she has traveled with the circus hoping to find the man who was there that night ordering the search for her brother. She sees him when they enter the royal city and her friends, a goblin sort of creature and a one-headed titan, plan on robbing the Queen's Treasure Tower. Not a thief at heart, herself, her talents are helpful to the others though and together they plan the robbery and confronting the man who took her brother. They end up fighting against hidden booby traps, chased by king's guards, ordered to be hanged, and barely escaping each time.

Lots of fun! Wonderful artwork that captures the readers attention right away. The art shows scenes of humour without words and and also adds the atmosphere with dark colours for the evil characters. The evil characters are decidedly so but there is one character, the Queen's Captain of the Guards who seems as though he may prove to be more than just another bad guy as we have seen that he is an honourable man though he serves an evil queen. The book ends as they escape there present danger and journey forth together now that the circus has left them behind, on another quest to look for the man whom they now know his name, Greyfalcon, to continue looking for Dessa's missing brother. While the story doesn't have an awful lot of depth to it, I think it opens well for a first volume and hopefully will fill in more backstory with the next volume. However, this should satisfy young fantasy fan's thirst for adventure and have them anxious to read the next volume. I know I am.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

228. Wayfarer by R.J. Anderson

Wayfarer by R.J. Anderson (Canada) - (USA)
Faery Realms, #2

Pages: 296
Ages: 12+
Finished: Oct. 27, 2010
First Published: June 22, 2010
Publisher: Harper Teen
Genre: YA, fantasy, faeries

Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

The Queen is dying.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

Wayfarer continues the story started in Spell Hunter (Knife UK). The publisher has upgraded the recommended age range to YA which I find more appropriate, though this book is tamer than the first. The story however, if very detailed and intricate.

The entire cast of book 1 returns, including Knife and Paul but this time the main characters are Linden and Paul's nephew, Timothy. Now that the Queen is on her deathbed it is time to find the other faeries and see if the Oakenfolk can get their magic restored to them so they may survive as a people. The Queen transfers half her magic to Valerian, her chosen successor as Queen, and the other half to Linden, the chosen one to undertake the journey. At 15, Linden is not expected to leave until she has matured a bit and learnt to master her new magic but when she sees that Timothy is running away she grabs her opportunity to travel quickly by hiding in his backpack. What she finds out about the rest of faerydom in England sends terror through her heart, an evil so horrific it threatens both faeries and humans. Linden and Timothy are sent on a quest to the western most tip of Wales to find a group of faeries only known to exist through ancient human folklore.

This book is even better than the first one! The plot has become much more intricate and involved with several layers to it. There is of course the main peril to contend with but there are also side stories involving a few separate characters here and there. The main plot is wonderfully entertaining, fast-paced and a unique take on the faery realm. It is also a story of personal values and beliefs. The Oakenfolk have a high code of honour and Linden is placed in a world of temptation when she enters the human domain. Her values often seem weak and small when compared with the corruption going on around her. Timothy himself is a "missionary kid" who since coming to England for schooling six months ago now questions the faith he grew up with and has become somewhat bitter toward it. He experiences a personal journey of Faith as he questions the hypocrisy he finds in some Christians and experiences the true love he finds in others as well as starting to acknowledge the work of God in his own life. Another thing I really liked was the dynamics between Linden and Timothy because they were not romantically involved at all. They became great friends and both are great characters. Linden puts on an act of bravery but is really very scared deep inside, though she is a completely honourable person. Timothy is a character who is not very likable at first, but grows and develops as a person as the book progresses. A fine story of personal Faith journey, Welsh folklore and faery magic.

Friday, October 29, 2010

227. Twilight: The Graphic Novel Vol. 1

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Stephanie Meyer. Adaptation and Art by Young Kim (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 224
Ages: 13+
Finished: Oct. 26, 2010
First Published: Mar. 16, 2010
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: graphic novel, paranormal romance, YA
Rating: 1/5

First sentence:

I'd never given much thought to how I would die - though I'd had reason enough in the last few months ...

Acquired: Borrowed a copy from the Calgary library while on vacation.

Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee and required reading for me as a graphic novels panelist.

When reading a book as a panelist, we are only required to read the first 50 pages and my time would have been better served had a stopped then but no, I did actually read the whole thing. First off, I am not a fan of the books (having read Twilight, New Moon and quickly bailing on Eclipse) and have not seen the movies, nor do I have any desire to. However, when I heard about the graphic novel I thought that perhaps this might be the more successful media for the story and was actually interested in reading it.

Basically this is a collection of quotes from the book, illustrated to re-tell the story leaving out any good bits, by this I mean the Cullen family. They are the only thing that kept me reading the first books. Bella is just as completely whiny and annoying as ever. A lot of the story is missing and the graphic novel makes no sense. Bella is suddenly convinced Edward is not human because ... ??? why ?? he had a fit sitting next to her in biology? Bella's relationship with her father is left out of the GN completely, at the end of the book when discussing the Cullens, Esme is mentioned by name for the first time giving no indication who she is. Things like this make the story confusing and I don't think anyone who has not either read the book or seen the movie would understand what was going on plot wise, other than the obviously obsessive love affair.

On the other hand, Young Kim's art is absolutely beautiful. The illustrations are stunning and capture the mood wonderfully. I would like to see her work in other graphic novels. I was somewhat taken aback though by the use of altered photographs throughout as background setting scenes though. It looked very strange and out of place. Were the perhaps stills from the movie? If you are a Twilight fan, I'm sure you'll love the graphic novel. If you hated the book, the graphic novel will not change your mind and I suggest staying clear.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

226. Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs

Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs (Canada) - (USA)
Temperance Brennan, #13
Pages: 306
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 26, 2010
First Published: Aug. 24, 2010
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: mystery, thriller, forensics
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

The air smelled of sun-warmed bark and apple buds raring to blossom and get on with life.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

Kathy Reichs is in top form with this latest entry in the Tempe Brennan series. The first chapter starts out with an obscure and uncomfortable crime scene and continues on from there with an intricate mystery. One case leads to another, a fresh body leads to skeletal remains and soon Tempe and Ryan are trying to identify and determine the deaths of several bodies which send them to Hawaii. Tempe then finds herself called in by the local ME to help identify some odds & ends of human remains found from shark attacks. The addition of both daughters for the first time, making a foursome, adds some new dynamics to the personal relationships.

A fast paced case, with many trails to follow, and plenty of bodies. What first starts off as a weird death turns into identifying remains of soldiers from Vietnam and takes a turn toward organized drug crime and gangs in Hawaii. A very intricate and detailed case that gets bigger in scope as it goes along leaving the reader hard pressed to figure out. I did have a correct suspect in mind, but just where to place them, whether as a victim or villain of which case I couldn't quite put it all together myself. I found the solution very entertaining and the story more on par with her earlier work than some of the other more recent volumes (excepting 206 Bones, that is) . This was a quick, page turning read for me and for once I wasn't annoyed with Tempe and Ryan's relationship and it feels like the next book will be pivotal for them, and honestly Ms. Reichs I think the next book needs to settle their relationship once and for all. It has gone on long enough, already. Can't wait for the next book!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

225. Famous Players by Rick Geary

Famous Players: The Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor by Rick Geary (Canada) - (USA)
A Treasury of XXth Century Murder, Vol. 2

Pages: 80
Ages: 18+ (YA crossover 13+)
Finished: Oct. 25, 2010
First Published: Aug. 1, 2009
Publisher: NBM Comics Lit
Genre: true crime, graphic novel

Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

As the 20th century dawns, the community of Hollywood is a sleepy village nestled in the foothills north of Los Angeles ...

Acquired: Borrowed a copy from the Calgary Library while I was on vacation.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

It's been a while since I've read Geary and what a wonderful treat to delve into one of his graphics again. I love Geary's artwork and he shall always remain one of my favourite artists. His style is simple b/w drawings but very detailed. This story is about the murder of a great early silent movie director whom I've never heard of before. The world of early Hollywood and silent movies is explored. Something I, myself am familiar with having read a lot of biographies from the era. It is always an exciting world to visit. The murder is an unsolved one which the authorities really haven't a clue as to who the perpetrator was, having no solid evidence at all. The crime scene was compromised beyond all belief before the police even got there and continued to be so even while they were there. The murder itself isn't particularly enthralling but what is amazing is the sheer number of possible suspects. Geary doesn't try to present his own solution to the murder but instead provides all the possibilities for each suspect. Not one of Geary's best when compared to his backlist, but when writing a true crime Geary's work is never *not* well done.

NB: Geary's true crime books are written for an adult audience but they are easily crossovers for the YA market containing nothing one wouldn't find in the news. In fact, I recommend them to YAs who are interested in the topic.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

224. The Sons of Liberty, Vol. 1 by Alexander Lagos & Joseph Lagos

The Sons of Liberty, Vol. 1 by Alexander Lagos & Joseph Lagos. Art by Steve Walker (Canada) - (USA)
The Sons of Liberty, Vol. 1

Pages: 176
Ages: 13+
Finished: Oct. 24, 2010
First Published: May 25, 2010
Publisher: Random House
Genre: graphic novel, historical fantasy, science fiction, YA
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Bitter cold ... After so many miles of living forest and farmland, so quiet ...

Acquired: Borrowed a copy from the Calgary library while on vacation.

Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee and required reading for me as a panelist.

An unusual story, not what I was expecting going into it. Set in pre-revolutionary America the story revolves around two young runaway slave boys, their cruel owner and his son, and a vicious slave hunter. Then there is the lone Quaker who decries slavery and helps slaves to try to escape and Benjamin Franklin, famous for his experiments with electricity among many things, and also the friend of slaves; also his mean-spirited son who seems to have something to prove to his father by doing something greater than him through whatever means are necessary.
The story centres on the two boys' escape, their being hunted, near captures, those who help them along the way, and the evil experiment that is done to them at one point which gives them superpowers along with glowing eyes. They are trained in an ancient African martial art by the only living survivor in the New World and given ancient relics and masks on his deathbed. The story ends historically at the time when Franklin is called to go to England for diplomatic duties.

The art is gorgeous and the first thing that struck me so that I had to briefly glance through the book to take a further look before I actually started reading. The artwork is very dark both in subject matter and palette, which matches the plot. All frames are bordered with black and the primary colour used throughout is shades of brown with an accent of green, with fight sections done in a violet blue and a few sections done in shades of red to create another mood. When the frequent use of dark, shadowy figures isn't in play the drawing is beautifully detailed and realistic.

I found the story fascinating. The Prologue did have me a bit confused and I did go back and read it after I'd finished the book to understand it. But once the main story started, which is pure historical fiction for the beginnings, I was hooked. Then when the science fiction/fantasy elements are added the story does become rather unusual and very unique. I certainly will say I enjoyed the story but it did seem to lose a bit of cohesion with the mixing of the sci-fi powers and the 'real' aspects of the story. The ending had an Epilogue which I would have been happier without as it showed what one expected to come next yet the narrative text was metaphorical and left this reader a with a bit "hmph". I'm intrigued and enjoyed the story enough that I have no hesitation in adding the next book to my must read list next year.

As to age appropriateness, this is definitely a Teen book. There is a lot of violence and plenty of blood. The violence can be squeamish but is not extreme. Their is some language. Meaning a few harsh profanities used very sparingly. I'm comfortable recommending for the average 13+ but some parents may be more comfortable with a 15+ recommendation.

Monday, October 25, 2010

223. Dust City by Robert Paul Weston

Dust City by Robert Paul Weston (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 299
Ages: 13+
Finished: Oct. 22, 2010
First Published: (Sept. 30, 2010 USA) Oct. 5, 2010 CAN

Publisher: Puffin Canada
Genre: YA, urban fantasy, fairy tales

Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Once upon a time, fairydust came from where you'd expect. From fairies.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Penguin Group (Canada).

Reason for Reading: I'm a big fan of books with fairy tale characters in a modern setting.

The publisher's summary had me believing that this fantasy was going to be some sort of mystery adventure as the son of the big bad wolf tried to prove his innocence. I was not prepared for the gritty, urban fantasy world that I was about to enter! This is a dark, harsh world that imagines what would have happened if Grimm's medieval fairy tale characters had evolved into bi-pedal, speaking creatures integrated with the human population. Henry Whelp, whose father is in prison for killing a girl and her grandmother, is in detention centre for wayward youth, but mainly animalia, and especially wolves. He doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps and visits his psychiatrist every week. But when the doctor is found hanging from the rafters one fine day, Henry discovers some secrets and manages to escape. Dust City is the major producer of fairydust since the fairies all took off and left and in trying to prove his father's innocence he is lead on a trail that takes him to the depths of the city's grimy underworld, and learns horrendous secrets about the missing fairies.

This was a non-stop read for me. Highly entertaining and suspenseful, plot driven with lots of action. The cast is a motley crew of creatures from giants and goblins to a lovable elven grandma. Henry is the only one with a full development of background and motivators but all the characters come across enough to have feelings for (or against) them in this action driven novel. It is dark, harsh and gritty. There is violence, bullying, torture and everything else not nice, with a few uncomfortable scenes, but never beyond age appropriateness. Dust City is a book you can really get your teeth into. Mostly populated with male characters, there do come into play two (perhaps we can say three) strong females who carry important roles in the plot.

I was very impressed with this novel, absolutely loved the story and it's dark, gritty tale. A must add to any urban fantasy enthusiast's bookshelf!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

222. Mr. Badger & Mrs. Fox #1: The Meeting

The Meeting by Brigitte Luciano. Illustrated by Eve Tharlet. Translated from the French by Catrol Klio Burrell (Canada) - (USA)
Mr. Badger and Mrs. Fox, #1

Pages: 32
Ages: 5-7
Finished: Oct. 22, 2010
First Published: (2006) Apr. 2010, English trans.
Publisher: Graphic Universe
Genre: graphic novel, children, easy reader, picture book
Rating: 2/5

First sentence:

Bristle! Grub! Dinner!

Acquired: Borrowed from the Calgary library while on vacation.

Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee. As a panelist for Graphic Novels this is required reading for me.

Such a little insignificant book which I could write a lot about, but I won't as it's not worth it. I found the story very didactic, hit you over the head with 'you are being taught lessons here children', didactic. Anyone over seven will be wise to this right away and eyes my roll. Themes covered: arguing siblings, manners, racism (via animal species), single parents, blended families. The book is oversized softcover, picturebook size and at an easy reader level. The art is cute and captivating.

As a Christian, I found the situation being portrayed somewhat disturbing. Two single parents, one widowed, the other separated (ie. still married) move in together for the sake of convenience. But the "moving in together" party causes neighbours to congratulate them on their new family. The children are encouraged to think of themselves as a family now and brothers and sisters while the parents are shown standing arm in arm in the evening light. By the end of the book the situation is certainly not a Christian lifestyle choice. Though the book's lesson is supposed to be promoting blended families, which would have been better served, imho, with an actual marriage and blending of two families instead of faking a family under irregular circumstances.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

221. Bone: Tall Tales by Jeff Smith with Tom Sniegoski

Tall Tales by Jeff Smith with Tom Sniegoski (Canada) - (USA)
Bone, Companion Book (short stories)

Pages: 108
Ages: 10+
Finished: Oct. 21, 2010
First Published: (1998-2000) Aug. 1, 2010
Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy, children, YA
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

What do you think, Bartleby?
Acquired: Borrowed my step-mother's copy.

Reason for Reading: This is a Cybils '10 nominee and required reading for me as a panelist.

I have never read a Bone book in my life before this. I actually have reading the series as one of my goals for next year. Fortunately, Tall Tales is a collection of short stories that happen before the events of the Bone series making them entirely readable for someone who hasn't a clue about the series itself.

The book, which calls itself a "Companion" to the series is set in the here and now as Smiley and Bartleby take the Bone Scouts camping. As they sit around the campfire, Smiley tells some rather Tall Tales about the early days. One involves Fone Bone and Phoney Bone in the days before Thorn was Queen and the rest are about Big Johnson Bone's early adventures. There are a total of four stories with a segue back at camp connecting them. The first three are indeed short stories, while the fourth one takes up almost the entire book with the main tale of Johnson Bone's adventure of how he subdued the terror of the rat creatures.

I absolutely loved this and cannot wait to read the other books now that I've had this sampling. Not having read Bone previously did not hamper my enjoyment of Tall Tales one iota and in fact I can recommend it as a way to check and see if you'll enjoy the humour of Bone, which is hilarious. I was snorting out loud as I read which is not something I do often, believe me! Completely entertaining, hilariously funny and a sure-fire winner for any comic reader.

Friday, October 22, 2010

We Interupt This Blog ...

Just popping in to mention that I am away in Calgary for a few weeks and won't be around the blogosphere 'till Nov. 11. I'm here for rest so lots of reading getting done and I'll be posting reviewa every day but I am not reading blogs, commenting or answering much email. I'm keeping a low profile in that respect, so I'll get a rest from the computer too. Enjoy the reviews here and I'll be back chatting on your blogs when I get home.

220. Bad Boy by Peter Robinson

Bad Boy by Peter Robinson (Canada) - (USA)
Inspector Banks, #19

Pages: 336 pages
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 20, 2010
First Published: Aug. 24, 2010 US (Sept. 14, 2010 CAN)
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Genre: mystery, British police procedural
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

By the end of August, the waterlogged Yorkshire countryside was a symphony of green and gold under a blue sky scribbled with white clouds.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series

Peter Robinson is always a character writer. The identities and motivators of his main characters are an important role in each of his novels and each character has developed through the books, especially Inspector Banks who has been with the series for all nineteen novels. Bad Boys relies heavily on the personal stories of the main characters plot wise. There is a crime, a couple really, and they all involve Inspector Banks at a personal level. Enemies from the past show up, an old cold case comes up again, friends are hurt, his home has become a crime scene and his daughter disappears.

I enjoyed this book, more so than the last one that bothered me with its spy emphasis but it still is not up to other books I have easily rated 5 stars. One of the reasons I love Peter Davidson is his characterization, Inspector Banks is a deep person with many layers who has changed over time and is a welcome familiar friend to meet on the page. Secondary characters are also explored with full detail and continuing storylines. My main problem with Bad Boys is that it is not a "whodunit" in any shape or form. We know all about who did everything; the reader sees the story unfold from multiple views and is wiser than the police on their trail to catch the culprit whom even the police figure out who it is very early on, taking away one of my favourite aspects of the genre.

But, it was still a good read. I was turning pages quickly and finished the book over two days. We get a glimpse into the party life of average 20-something year olds, the high-life of drug trafficking and the low-life of drug trafficking, what happens to those who tick off The Boss and mostly the book is a long chase to capture the culprit before someone close to DCI Banks loses their life to a very unstable man. There are also a couple of twists and one shocker which is tidied up, to a point, by the end but leaves a familiar character's future hanging in the air. Fans who have grown to love Banks, his kids, Annie, Winsome, and the rest of the gang will enjoy the story but newcomers to the series should certainly not start here as I think they may come away disappointed at the lack of a gritty murder mystery, which can be found in other books in the series.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

219. End of Days by Max Turner

End of Days by Max Turner (Canada) - (USA)
Night Runner, #2

Pages: 318
Ages: 13+
Finished: Oct. 18, 2010
First Published: Aug. 16, 2010 CAN (Sept. 28, 2010 US)
Publisher: Harper Trophy Canada
Genre: YA, paranormal, vampires
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

I'm told vampires are popular in books these days.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

That a sequel to Night Runner was coming out came upon me fairly close to its actual publication. I was thrilled and couldn't wait to read the new book as I had been out of the loop about the sequel being a go!

The very first thing I want to say to US readers is that the US cover is awful! This book is aimed at teenage boys and is *not* a vampire romance like the usual fare out there. Sure girls will love it too, but please don't let that girl-appealing US cover let you think that it's not for boys, spend the little extra and get the awesome Canadian cover, if you have to!

Everybody is a year older now and getting used to either knowing they are vampire or having just been turned. The Coven is still out to get Zach, and other child vampires, keeping him on the run, though he has been safely holed up for the last year. But with the death of the one who held them together The Coven is fighting within itself making it an unstable organization; the Underground who protect the vampires from society has been breached and detection from that side is now out of control and suppliers find their blood tainted and vampires are dying. But that is not all. An ancient prophecy of the son of a hunter who will either save or destroy the vampire world seems to be coming true as vampires are ripped to shreds by an incredible Beast, that not even the strongest vampire among them can defeat. Zach finds himself in the middle of this chaos, being a child vampire on the run from those who wish him dead and being the son of a hunter whom some think may be the promised Messiah. A select few of the remaining old wise ones remind him to stay on the side of the good, to choose saint over evil. But can he?

It's been just over two years since the first book came out that I don't know if I'm being fair when I say this is even better than Night Runner! While the immediacy of having just read End of Days may make it feel better than the first, it is certainly of equal brilliance. What an incredible vampire story! Turner has created a vampire mythos and world that tends toward the tried and true vampire lore but he hasn't been afraid to inject his own new, fresh vision that creates something very refreshing and exciting. Breathtakingly revitalizing is the absence of a mopey, clingy love story. There is a love relationship, which is important to characterization but is not essential or even necessary to the plot. They are simply two characters who love each other and whom the reader grows fond of as well. All the characters are fascinating from the evil Beast, which has a mystery behind it, to Ophelia their caretaker and on. More background is given on everybody really fleshing out the characters from book one. This is a page-turner, a stay-up all-nighter and a return to the vampire (with an attitude) genre. Best for those who don't like their vampires ala Edward. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion but there are many unanswered questions and dangling threads that can be picked up for another book. Hopefully, the wait will be shorter than two years Mr. Turner!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

218. Heart of Glass by Vivian French

Heart of Glass by Vivian French. Illustrated by Ross Collins (Canada) - (USA)
The Third Tale from the Five Kingdoms

Pages: 244 pages
Ages: 8+
Finished: Oct. 15, 2010
First Published: July 13, 2010
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

"If I were you, kiddo," the bat remarked, "I'd close your mouth."

Acquired: Received a review copy from Candlewick Press.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series

This is another series I read simply because it is a whole lot of fun. The Tales of the Five Kingdoms have a fairy tale quality to them and follow the adventures of Gracie Gillypot, living with the Ancient Crones who weave the tapestry of life. Gracie is not always the main character in each book, though. This time around, almost every one of the main characters we have met so far and their families are part of the story as a wedding is under preparation. The bride's sister, Princess Marigold is the jealous sort and lacking attention takes off on an adventure she is ill-suited for, only to end up in need of rescuing. Prince Marcus meets Gracie and asks her to join him on his current adventure to get some more gold crowns from the Dwarves for the up-coming wedding in his family. Gracie leans against a tree and disappears. Prince Marcus, along with the help of a Dwarf and the bat family we've come to love, set off Underground into Troll territory and end up on the trail to rescue both Gracie *and* Princess Marigold.

Another fun addition to the series, though I won't say it was my favourite. What I found both a plus and minus at the same time was the fact that so many old characters return in this story, in addition we are also introduced to a handful of new characters. Of course it was fun to see the return of so many familiar faces, but this does cut into getting to know the new characters well enough. I much preferred the way Bag of Bones was written, focusing almost entirely on the new character, Loobly, with some of the old characters returning to join the story. Funny enough, Loobly was not in Heart of Glass, though her brother was and she was mentioned a couple of times. So other than there being too many characters for slim size of this book, I did enjoy the story.

The trolls were hilarious in a mock-scary way. Gubble was just as lovable as ever. The fairy tale friendship of Gracie and Marcus inched a step closer to romance and when all is said and done this is a heart-warming story for all concerned.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's Not About the Crumbs! by Veronika Martenova Charles

It's Not About the Crumbs! by Veronika Martenova Charles. Illustrated by David Parkins (Canada) - (USA)
Easy-To-Read Wonder Tales

Pages: 64
Ages: 5+
Finished: Oct. 13, 2010
First Published: Oct. 12, 2010
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: children, easy reader, fairy tales
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:
On Saturday, Jake's mother said, "We're going to visit Uncle Mike at his new house."
Acquired: Received a review copy from Tundra Books. But then also won it through the Library Thing ER program! The publisher only sent me the one copy, though, thankfully.

Reason for Reading: My son read aloud to me as his reader.

First I'd like to mention that the cover is not the neon green that it appears to be in the picture. All on-line images have the same shade, but it is actually a leaf green in real life, much more attractive! I loved this reader! My son loved this reader! Three children, who appear to be 9 or 10 year olds are doing something and talking and one of them mentions a few elements from a popular fairy tale, in this case Hansel and Gretel. Then another says that's not the version I've heard and they proceed to tell an ethnic version of the Hansel and Gretel story. The rest of the book follows this pattern until all three children have told a fairy/folk tale from around the globe that is similar in some way to the previous one. Then the final chapter brings us back to what the children were doing in the first place that brought the topic up.

Hansel and Gretel is explored here from a mixture of European sources, an African version and a Japanese version. Both my son and I greatly enjoyed the tales. He has been raised on fairy/folk tales and myths and it was exciting for him to be reading this material on his own. It was fun to notice the differences and the similarities with the original story and with each other. All three versions presented here were new to us. At the end of the book the author gives a very brief explanation as to what her source was for each tale, which could set one off on trying to find the original ethnic versions she mentions.

As to reading level, there is no reference to it on the books at all. It would have been nice had the publisher's actually determined the RL for the books in this series. Though the publisher's website does have a "browse & search" feature which will let you see for yourself whether they are appropriate for your child. I'm going to go out on a limb and say they are about equivalent with a Level 2 "I Can Read" Book. My son, who has learning disabilities, read the book very well with moderate help from me. The publisher describes the reading as "Written in short, easy phrases with carefully selected vocabulary..." but these are books the parent will have to see to judge whether they are up to your child's reading level. Otherwise, I never find anything wrong with a child reading a book that is too easy, if they enjoy it. We have the rest of the series and ds has already picked one to be his next reader!

Monday, October 18, 2010

217. The Backwoods of Canada by Catharine Parr Traill

The Backwoods of Canada: Selections by Catharine Parr Traill. Introduction by Clara Thomas. General Editor Malcolm Ross (Canada) - (USA)
New Canadian Library #51

Pages: 128
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 13, 2010
First Published: 1836 (this edition 1966)(this printing with introduction 1971)
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Genre: letters, Canadian history
Rating: 2/5

First sentence:

I received your last kind letter, my dearest mother, only a few hours before we set sail from Greenock.

Acquired: Bought it somewhere, most likely a book sale.

Reason for Reading: Reading letters, journals and diaries is one of my most favourite types of genres whether they be non-fiction, as here, or fictional.

McClelland & Stewart's New Canadian Library series is a staple of Canadian Literature publishing. The series started in the 1960s and continues to this day re-printing the classics of Canadian authors of the past. This version I read of The Backwoods of Canada is New Canadian Library's original edition in which they have put in small print along with the editor and such the word "Selections". No other mention, even in the Introduction is made of how this "selected" version of Traill's original 1836 publication came to be, to what extent is missing, or following what criteria. This edition has half the pages that the current editions have but that is not necessarily a fair indicator as the type is excruciatingly tiny in this edition that it would easily use a significant number more pages were it enlarged to a normal reading size. So my review is of what I read in this edition alone and may well not reflect the currently offered McClelland & Stewart editions.

The introduction lets the reader know of Catharine's great love for flora and her most successful books Canadian Wild Flowers (1868) and Studies in Plant Life in Canada (1885), ruminating on this by telling us in her letters she spends two paragraphs on her illness with cholera and 16 pages describing local flora around her home, both of which are present in this edition. This bit of information is important to the reading of this book as it forewarns one of what Mrs. Traill is passionate about and what she is not. I found Catharine to be a very straightforward person, not given to exuberance or elation, nay nearly any emotion, in her letter writing. In fact the opening sentence of the book where she writes to her "dearest mother" is a very rare occurrence of emotion in her letter writing. She gave the facts as they happened, telling stories of her journey to their plot of land in the Peterborough area of Upper Canada (now Ontario), her daily life, experiences with the local Indians and such but I found it all a very matter of fact parting of mostly rather dull information. Not until after she has a child does she start to show some emotion in her tales when they include the babe. Yet not even then does she ever mention anyone by name except her brother Samuel who was established on the neighbouring plot of land, though in the manner of the times he is referred to as S______. We do not learn the baby's name until almost the end of the book, we never learn the nurse's name, nor does she once refer to her husband by name, simply speaking of him as "my husband" throughout the entire book. All throughout the telling of pioneer life, which I found only somewhat interesting through the boring narrative, Mrs. Traill goes on and on about plants and trees and flowers and grasses and so on. It got to the point that I skimmed and skipped all the detailed treatises of Canadian flora, complete with Latin nomenclature, and how it compared to that "back home". The book did not live up to what I was expecting and I am much more eager to read her sister, Susanah Moodie's book now as I have read snippets from it here and there and know she has a more entertaining voice.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

216. American Vampire by Scott Snyder & Stephen King

American Vampire, Vol. 1 by Scott Snyder & Stephen King. Art by Rafael Albuquerque (Canada) - (USA)
American Vampire

Pages: 200 pgs
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 12, 2010
First Published: Oct. 5, 2010
Publisher: Vertigo
Genre: graphic novel, horror, vampires
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

I was eight years old the first time I saw a moving picture.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading: Vampires? Stephen King? The Old West? The 1920s? Everything I love in one book. I was so there!

If you are ready for the return of "real" vampires then get ready because they have returned in American Vampire. In fact, we've got a new breed of American-made vampire that doesn't have all the same restrictions as the old European breed, one that not anyone knows the complete differences in power or weaknesses, yet.

What an absolutely fantastic volume of story, background, character and gruesome horror! Coupled with probably the best artwork I have ever seen in a graphic novel, the paintings are gorgeous and terrifying at the same time. The story is actually two separate storylines running side by side. First the present time 1925 Hollywood where the Hollywood moguls are bloodthirsty vampires feeding off wannabe actresses. The lovely, hard-working, country values yet flapper-ly independent Pearl is one of those poor souls taken advantage of but she survives, well dies, then survives with the unwanted help of Skinner Sweet to seek revenge on those who did this to her.

Skinner Sweet, himself, is the other story, written by King. Set in the late 1800s during the last days of the Wild West it tells the story of how a no good outlaw accidentally became a vampire and discovered, that as the first all-American, he was different from the rest. He could walk in the day for a start and this really irked the old Euro-vampires. One, that he had even been created, as they had agreed to only feed on the riff raff of this continent, and that he appeared to be more powerful than them. His story takes on the classic western tale of outlaw versus lawman but that tale becomes rather twisted when the outlaw is a vampire.

I read this volume quite slowly as I just didn't want the story to end and I wanted to linger on the pages. I love Pearl. She's a wonderful character, someone with high standards who is really p*ssed that this has been done to her. Even her boyfriend, who doesn't believe her at first, stays with her after he knows the truth. She is also drawn very pretty in a subtle way and I was looking forward to her going all vamp, thinking she'd be a fun vampire. You know the way Angel and Spike are still cute, even when they go all vamp? Well, uh-uh, not in this book. Going vamp is violent and ugly! Then the first time we see Skinner turn is breathtakingly hideous. There is a lot of violence and gore with these vampires and it got to the point where I sometimes dreaded turning the page. I love it! Skinner Sweet is one evil dude, but from what has been shown of him so far, I think he is going to prove to be an interesting character with more to him than we've seen so far. A gripping read and a perfect use of the graphic medium.

R.I.P. Barbara Billingsley

Barbara Billingsley died yesterday at the grand age of 94 after suffering a long illness with rheumatoid disease. She will always be remembered for her role as the loving mother and wife June Cleaver on "Leave it To Beaver" and though she never gained stardom outside that role she was a part of the Hollywood industry appearing in movies from as early as 1945 and as recently as 2003. A long life and a long career to a wonderful woman who will forever be remembered for her iconic 1950s housewife and mother role. Rest in Peace, dear Barbara.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

215. Harmony by Project Itoh

Harmony by Project Itoh. Translated by Alexander O. Smith (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 252 pages
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 11, 2010
First Published: 2008 Japan (July 20, 2010, English Trans.)
Publisher: Haika Soru: Viz Media
Genre: Science Fiction, post-apocalyptic, Utopian, dystopian
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

I have a story to tell.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Reason for Reading: I love post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels and at the same time I was very intrigued in reading a Japanese novel in translation. So far my Japanese reading has been confined to manga.

This book won the Japanese Awards: the Seiun Award and the Japan SF Award and is a highly literary piece of work. A brilliant work of dystopia that looks at a future world that is unlike anything I've ever read before and is also completely viable. The publisher's summary does not do justice to the story at all and I was not prepared for the deep philosophical, scientific, ethical, sociological and technological issues that would be covered in this fairly slim volume.

I couldn't even begin to find the words to describe the plot as it is so intricate and multi-layered. Instead, let me describe the world. There has been an apocalypse; bombs have dropped and a large portion of the world's population killed. It is now about 60 years later and the civilized world has no governments, or ruling kingdoms, instead the world is managed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and throughout each country there are thousands of admedistration units catering to small sections of the population. People have been implanted with a medical monitoring device which constantly measures physical and emotional health, sending out modules of medications or enzymes to fix the problem straight away. Thus no one in this world is ever sick, hurts themselves, or becomes mentally unstable. Privacy is the ultimate bad word; one you would whisper and make sure no one else heard you say. Everybody has a health output hovering over their head so all can see how each other is doing, and everyone is kind and thoughtful to others because the most precious resource in this population depleted world is human life. As one walks along in life your implant will shield you from emotional distress, should something come up that would interfere with your specific emotional make-up a filtering process would go into place and you would not even see the offending item: painting, magazine, store, etc. Everyone is in perfect health as your diet is streamlined for your consumption, and the correct foods delivered to your home, within your budget. Menus at restaurants bring up a display telling the nutritional content of the food and what is within your parameters. Food with no nutritional value does not exist anymore. And the list goes on ....

Some people are perfectly content with this Utopian society of perfect health, peace and kindness. Never having to make uncomfortable choices and feeling as though they are truly being a valuable resource of society. Others realize this for the totalitarian society that it is and there are a few countries that have not joined the WHO, mainly Russia and then small scattered countries in Africa and the Middle East, which continue to resist. But there are others on the inside who want out, they've read books and found out what life was like before the Maelstorm and recognize individual freedom is missing from their society. Three teenage girls become a part of this resistance when they realize the only way to hurt the establishment is to hurt the most precious commodity, their human life. So they make a pact to commit suicide together. This is only the beginning, though. What will become at risk is the very essence that makes human beings human.

The book is written in a back and forth flow as the main character tells her story now as she works as an agent and flashes back to her childhood and early adult years as she was one of those girls who promised to commit suicide but obviously failed. The book is also written within a sort of HTML code called "Emotional-in-Text Markup Language" and the text is contained within the coded tags and within the text will be other tags with directions, sort of like a play. It's strange at first, but you get used to it as a reader and when you find out it's purpose on the last page ... well it is stunning.

This book really deserves more publicity on this continent. It is one of the best dystopian novels I've read of late and so very different from the other stuff being written today which often has an environmental political agenda behind its cause of the apocalypse. I think I would put this up there with Brave New World, completely different stories mind, but equal in literary merit and psychological impact and thought.

I would like to mention that the very beginning pages do contain some quite vulgar language (which had me thinking I wouldn't be reading the book much further) but it is mostly contained to those pages. Of course, there are expletives here and there throughout the book but don't let the first pages put you off, if language is of a concern to you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

MUST SEE: The Butterfly Circus Inspirational Video

Grab a coffee or smoothie and put your feet up for 20 minutes and watch this amazing inspirational movie short set in the 1930s, staring Nick Vujicic (the Australian man with no arms or legs). Oh, grab some kleenex too! This is one of the most beautiful little movies I've ever seen.

The Butterfly Circus

214. Black Gate by Yukiko Sumiyoshi

Black Gate (Vol. 1-3) by Yukiko Sumiyoshi (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 640 pages
Ages: 13+
Finished: Oct. 10, 2010
First Published: (2007,2008 Japan) Sept. 28, 2010 English Trans.
Publisher: Tokyopop
Genre: manga, YA, fantasy
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Is a person's life ... set in stone?

Acquired: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: The publisher's summary had me very interested plus I liked the idea of reading a small mangas series all in one go.

Dare I say it? I think this is the best manga I have read to date. What a compelling, epic saga that covers many years through flashbacks and skipping forward into the future. When a person dies a white gate opens in which their soul goes through to the other side (which the story does not explore) but on rare occasions a black gate will open and these gates are not satisfied with just one soul, they will try to suck the souls out of the nearby living and often cause mass destruction such as fires to gather as many souls as possible. Just as rare is a certain breed of people who can see these gates the Mitedamashi; they are also the only ones who can close black gates. This is the story of Hijiri, a boy, with a Mitedamashi guardian who grows to learn of his own special powers, his true background and his important role in the future. And I can't tell you anything else because it's just too exciting to find it out yourself as you read.

From the copyright dates, and some on-line searching, it looks like the individual volumes of this series were never published in English before, making this all-in-one edition the first English publication of a most awesome trilogy. Most manga series go on for several up to infinity volumes, so it is a real pleasure to sit down and read a series from start to finish, knowing when it ends, that really is the end. This story becomes very deep and without going into any detail it ends up questioning life and death. Do people who fear death so much have a right to put an end to death? If we could stop death, would that be ethical? Would it be good for us as human beings? Would we really want to live forever? When you think about forever do you really take into account how long forever actually is??

A truly brilliant story that had me glued to my seat, kept me turning the pages and had me finishing the book over the course of a day. The characters are all well-developed with pasts and certain things that motivate them to act and behave the way they do. Any character is worthy of being favoured by a reader and I think each will have their fans. Of course I liked Hijiri, the main character. So many people messed around with his life and yet he never stops caring and trusting. He starts off as a troublesome, mouthy little kid and grows to become a worthy leader. I also liked Michizane, a boy whose childhood was emotionally abusive and he is still not treated well, though it is through no fault of his own that he is not liked. He has an attitude to cover himself from being hurt and unfortunately often becomes the victim. But Hijiri befriends him right away (against his will) and eventually Michizine allows himself to care and trust. There are no long drawn out battle scenes, no s*x, no gory violence. What you do get for the Teen rating is the mild swear words (d@mn and h3ll) and after non-graphic kill scenes a spatter of blood or blood on hands, etc.

I can't help but sound like I'm gushing, as I really did love this book and highly recommend it to fantasy manga fans or those who enjoy stories dealing with souls and death.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

211-213. Three Cybil Nominations from Stone Arch Books

Each of the following books was published by Stone Arch Books and received by me for review purposes. These three have been nominated for the Cybils Award so I am reviewing them together. They can be used as easy readers for young children and reluctant readers as well as high interest - low reading level for older students.

211. Avalanche Freestyle by Scott Ciencin, illustrated by Aburtov. Aug. 1, 2010, 56 pgs. - Outstanding illustrations by a (former?) Marvel comics illustrator. The book has been professionally drawn and styled and it shows. This is definitely a high-low reader, with a reading level of 0.9 and interest level up to 14 yo. The plot is basic in scope: rich boy & poor boy are both awesome snowboarders but poor boy can't afford to enter competition. Poor kid has aggressive attitude to rich kid. Rich kid is actually a nice dude who is impressed with the other's skills but rich kid is surrounded by "friends" who all want something from him because of his status. Danger happens and the two teens learn about true friendship and good sportsmanship to boot. How the story actually plays out in the book is very well done, and while the "lesson" is obviously there, it doesn't stick out during the reading of the book. The teens are presented very well, speaking and acting just like real-life teens (keeping in mind that Stone Arch only prints family friendly material). I recommend this book and while I still have one more book in the series to review I'll go out on a limb and say the whole series is likely to be worthy of recommendation. (5/5)

212. Hide and Shriek by Sean O'Reilly. illustrated by Arcana Studios. Aug. 1, 2010, 48 pgs. - The Mighty Mighty Monsters series already has six books out and I thought this was very clever and cute. These are the stories of the most famous monsters when they were kids living on Transylmania Street, before they grew up into their infamous roles. Everybody has a part in this book making it feel like the first, though the series is not numbered. Vlad the vampire does take centre stage as he's considered the leader by the children. They have a fun night of playing hide and seek in the neighbourhood, magic has been denied as part of the rules so everyone is on a fair footing. Vlad finds everyone very quickly and complains that no one here knows how to hide properly when he realizes that Frankie is still missing, then the action starts and the book ends with a funny surprise. I found this a lot of fun and the reading level spot on for the target ages (7-9). Boys, especially, will enjoy this series. (4/5)

NB: Sean O'Reily is Canadian (Vancouver) so this book counts towards the Canadian Book Challenge.

213. Princess Candy: The Evil Echo by Michael Dahl & Scott Nickel. illustrated by Jeff Crowther. Aug. 1, 2010, 40 pgs. - Halo Nightly is Princess Candy. She takes special candies her grandmother makes and they give her special powers. We don't really get to know Princess Candy much in this story as the Evil Echo who is a shapeshifter turns herself into PC and steals her candy thus imitating her everywhere, getting the real PC into trouble. The bad guy steals the show in this book. I can't say I'm crazy about this one. Candy giving powers? A bit lame in this day and age and it jumped from scene to scene too quickly. I also wasn't impressed with the art much, same sort of stuff you see on TV, but the noses really irritated me with their strange shapes. Well, enough. I didn't really like it. The book is intended for little girls 8-10 so perhaps some of them may take to it better than I. (2/5)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

210. Blimpo: The Third Circle of Heck by Dale E. Basye

Blimpo by Dale E. Basye. Illustrations by Bob Dob (Canada) - (USA)
The Third Circle of Heck

Pages: 446
Ages: 10+
Finished: Oct. 8, 2010
First Published: May 11, 2010
Publisher: Random House
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:
Virgil's stomach rumbled like a gastric earthquake, registering somewhere between a 6.7 and 9.4 on the digestive Richter scale.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

I read this series for the pure fun of it and for Basye the third time is the charm. Blimpo is the best book yet of this series. As anyone reading the series knows, when we were told at the end of book two that the next volume would be called Blimpo, my eyes lit up knowing we would be returning to the character Virgil from book one. Virgil, who became Milton's best friend in the first book, is the central figure in this volume earning him the position of hero.

Milton and Marlo are right where we left them at the end of Rapacia. Marlo is her usual opinionated, aggressive self and getting herself in trouble while at the same time finding out things she shouldn't know; putting herself in a dangerous position when Milton finally comes to rescue her as promised in book 2. Milton is simply trying to keep away from Principal Bubb and hide. His first choice of friends include Jack Kerouac and a blind Viking who can see, both of whom are absolutely hilarious. But when Milton comes upon Blimpo, he puts on a fat suit and goes undercover to rescue Virgil. Little does he know of the nefarious plot going down between the vice principals to become make Blimpo much more powerful in the whole realm of Heck. The fun teachers in Blimpo are King Tantalus, complete with portable pool of water and peach tree, and the chubby Elvis.

The humour level was right where expected, funny and silly, worthy of a smile. This volume does bring back the toilet humour of book one but it isn't overly done and fits well when used. The storyline is becoming more involved. While each book has its own individual open and shut plot, this book introduces some elements that will be ongoing and adds a deeper, overall story arc to the series. While not exactly ending with a cliff hanger, as foreshadowing is used to let us know where things are headed, the book does end with certain characters in situations that leave the reader anxious for the next volume. The only negative remark I have about Blimpo is the size. At well over 400 pages it is the largest of the series, with the others being 300-odd pages each. I am not a fan of authors who seemingly think that every book in a series needs to get larger and larger until the reader is stuck with unwieldy door stoppers by the end of the series. If Blimpo is larger because of the topic matter, then I see that as an extension of the author's humour and can appreciate it, but I certainly hope to see the next volume back down to around the size of Book 2 (362 pgs).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Nightwood by Robin Muller

The Nightwood by Robin Muller (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 32
Ages: 6+
Finished: Oct. 7, 2010
First Published: 1991 (new edition Oct. 12, 2010)
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: Celitic folktale, children's, picture book
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Long ago there stood a forest deep, green and beautiful.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Tundra Books.

Reason for Reading: I love traditional fairy tales and gorgeous illustrated ones even better!

This is a wonderfully lyrical re-telling of the classic Celtic tale of Tamlynne (Tam Lin). Elaine, the daughter of the Earl of March, knows not to go into the woods as The Elf Queen has set up residence there and young men and women have disappeared in those woods for years now. But denied attendance to her father's first ball since she has become a woman, she resolves to attend the Elfin Queen's Ball that night. It is upon her way that she meets and falls in love with Tamlynne, one of the Queen's knights, a mortal who has been cursed. Elaine in her love for him must risk her own life to set him free. Written in true fairytale style with a passionate and soulful text that could standalone as a short story without the illustrations.

But, the illustrations bring this story to a different level. Muller's paintings are exquisite and finely detailed. Filled with emotion, atmosphere and magic they make this a book to own, not just borrow from the library, as one is pulled back to it often. Though a picture book, it is very lengthy text wise and tells a tale of romance making it appealing to a wide range of ages. The book itself is an anniversary edition and oversized (even for a picture book) with beautiful endpages, once the dustjacket has been removed there are picture boards and the back side of the jacket is a fantastic poster!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday: Books in the Mail

Only two came in last week, but that's ok. Makes me feel like I'm actually making a dent in the tbr pile when I read more than came in!

From Harper Collins Canada:

The world's most powerful hero, Plutonian, has leveled entire countries and continues to systemically destroy the allies he once called friends. How can the world defend itself against a vengeful god? Volume 4 presents the stunning resolution to the series' explosive first year. Get all four volumes of this Eisner Award-nominated series and see why Irredeemable was named one of 2009's best comic book debuts!

From Simon & Schuster Canada:

In a searingly candid memoir which he authored himself, Grammy Award-winning pop icon Rick Springfield pulls back the curtain on his image as a bright, shiny, happy performer to share the startling story of his rise and fall and rise in music, film, and television and his lifelong battle with depression.
In the 1980s, singer-songwriter and actor Rick Springfield seemed to have it all: a megahit single in “Jessie’s Girl,” sold-out concert tours, follow-up hits that sold more than 17 million albums and became the pop soundtrack for an entire generation, and 12 million daily viewers who avidly tuned in to General Hospital to swoon over his portrayal of the handsome Dr. Noah Drake. Yet lurking behind his success as a pop star and soap opera heartthrob and his unstoppable drive was a moody, somber, and dark soul, one filled with depression and insecurity.

In Late, Late at Night, the memoir his millions of fans have been waiting for, Rick takes readers inside the highs and lows of his extraordinary life. By turns winningly funny and heartbreakingly sad, every page resonates with Rick’s witty, wry, self-deprecating, brutally honest voice. On one level, he reveals the inside story of his ride to the top of the entertainment world. On a second, deeper level, he recounts with unsparing candor the forces that have driven his life, including his longtime battle with depression and thoughts of suicide, the shattering death of his father, and his decision to drop out at the absolute peak of fame. Having finally found a more stable equilibrium, Rick’s story is ultimately a positive one, deeply informed by his passion for creative expression through his music, a deep love of his wife of twenty-six years and their two sons, and his life-long quest for spiritual peace.

209. The Amulet: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi

The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi (Canada) - (USA)
Amulet, Book Three

Pages: 199 pages
Ages: 10+
Finished: Oct. 5, 2010
First Published: Sept 1, 2010
Genre: Children, graphic novel, fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

Tr-Trellis. Have you come to finish me off?

Acquired: Received a review copy from Scholastic Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

Finally, the year long wait is over and Book Three is here and well worth the wait is was! The Cloud Searchers is the best book in The Amulet series to date! Kibuishi keeps taking this story further and deepening the plot with each book. Much happens in Book 3 that brings the storyline to new heights. We learn some background of the world they are in, Alledia, and more about the stones and their powers and purposes.

In this volume Emily and the gang are in search of the fabled lost city of Cielis, which some say may have taken to the skies to hide. Emily joins forces with a previous enemy, she looses two dear friends, she becomes more powerful and she finally learns what her purpose here is.

Kibuishi's illustrations are, as usual, fantastic. I love the buildings, cities and towns he creates. His creatures and enemies are dark and scary and this volume has an overall dark and oppressive atmosphere with its colours ranging from greys to black. This suits the story very well.

The author puts a few references to incidents from both previous volumes quickly here and there which a reader appreciates when there has been so much time since publication of Book One. I was excited from the first page! The only thing I'm concerned about is how long the wait will be until Book Four hits the shelves!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

208. The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay by Beverly Jensen

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay by Beverly Jensen (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 307 pages
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 3, 2010
First Published: June 24, 2010
Publisher: Viking
Genre: historical fiction, family drama
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

They had strung their shoes by the laces from a solitary elm before entering the woods edging the back field.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Penguin Group (Canada).

Reason for Reading: The early 1900s time frame and the New Brunswick setting appealed to me right away.

This book was brought to publication by Beverly Jensen's family after her death in 2003. The book consists of interconnected short stories which tell the tale of two sisters who grew up in New Brunswick, poor, on a farm where their alcoholic father raised them on his own. A couple of the stories had been previously published.

From the beginning chapter (ie. story) I was taken into this book and immersed into the lives of the Hillock family, not to come back to the reality of my own family until I had finished. Even when I was not reading, I was thinking about the characters. These stories are completely character driven and the readers becomes intimately familiar with the major players. The book is divided into Parts and starts off in 1916 with the mother dying in the childbirth of the 3rd daughter, 4th child. This utterly destroys the dynamics of the family as it was the mother who connected her family together with maternal and womanly love. The father is devastated at the loss of the only one he has ever loved who has ever made him gentle, and being a hard man to begin with, eking out a living from an unforgiving land and the dangerous sea he has always taken his down time with a bottle. This leaves him incapable of raising three children, nor of being able to show them love or compassion, though it is there. This part of the book grabs your heart and makes for compelling reading. Each story is set a few years ahead of the previous one as the children grow to mid/late teens.

For the rest of the book the story concentrates on Della the oldest sister, the more responsible of the two, and continues to tell her life story up till 1987. The book mostly is told in the third person but occasionally is told from the first person point of view of individual characters. Avis, the younger sister, who has her father's love of drink and is a beauty who lives vicariously with many men, is not explored as much but she does turn up and we continue to learn of her life. The stories now are spaced further apart often going ten year jumps as we follow this family drama. The bond between the sisters is always strong even when they are not getting along with each other and the deep feeling they have for each other shows up in many ways.

I loved this book! The stories mesh together well creating an episodic story telling format and I enjoyed the occasional first hand account from a character's point of view. This is not a happy story. The girls lead hard lives. There is emotional abuse, infedelity, prison, alcoholism, drunkeness, eking out a living, yearning to *be* somebody, the decline into infirmity and death. Yet through it all there are moments of true love from places you would least expect it and there are times that these moments are bittersweet. The only thing I was bothered by was that the brother, Dalton, hardly made any appearances once they had grown and I think his character would have been interesting to watch as well. Though I suppose that can be forgiven since the title does say "Sisters".

An interesting note, as I was reading the chapter near the end entitled "Wake" I got that deja vu feeling that I had read something entirely similar to this before, in fact that I had read it before which was baffling. So I turned to the copyright page and sure enough "Wake" had been previously published in The Best American Short Stories 2007 edition which I had read that year!

I recommend the book to those who enjoy family sagas and don't mind a story told in an episodic manner.

NB: This is included in my Canadian Book Challenge count because it largely takes place in New Brunswick, however, the author was American living in the nearby state of Maine.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

207. Tegami Bachi, Letter Bee Vol. 3

Meeting Sylvette Suede by Hiroyuki Asada (Canada) - (USA)
Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, Vol. 3

Pages: 178 pages
Ages: 13+
Finished: Oct. 3, 2010
First Published: Sept. 7, 2010
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre: YA, manga, fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

What do you mean?!

Acquired: Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

I love this series! Immediately upon arriving in Yuusari, Lag is told that Gauche is no longer a Letter Bee. He lost his job and hasn't been heard from in 4 years. Lag finally takes his exam to become a Letter Bee himself. He visits Gauche's sister Sylvette Suede whom we've been hearing about since Vol. 1 and this new female character is a blast. She's aggressive and takes on Niche with no problems, yet will cry at the drop of a pin, just like Lag. Some humour comes from these "crybaby" sessions. Lag is sent out on some letter deliveries including one very important one that takes up the whole last chapter.

But this volume also starts to expand the storyline, taking the plot somewhere deeper than what has gone on so far. We meet the Beehive Director and Assistant Director, hear murmurings of something going on inside the organization and Lag realizes that the AD will be a friend in high places, should one be needed later on. We learn of a mysterious incident that happened one day in the past that now is a solemn holiday, the 311th day, when the man-made sun flickered and something else happened that day that the government quickly explained away and now doesn't even recognize, but it all has a connection to Gauche, Sylvette and Lag. Just as much fun as previous volumes but also becoming a much more involved plot. I like the direction this is going and can't wait til February for the release of Vol. 4!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo. illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 32
Ages: 5+
Finished: Oct. 2, 2010
First Published: 2007 (new edition 2010)
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: children's, picture book, Christmas
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

The week before Christmas, a monkey appeared on the corner of Fifth and Vine.

Acquired: Received a review copy from the publisher.

Reason for Reading: I am a fan of the author.

This is a lovely Christmas picture book that, aside from a religious aspect, captures the true essence of Christmas. First of all, the illustrations are absolutely breathtaking paintings done in acrylic gouache. They place the story in the past sometime, but it is not until we see the photograph of the man in uniform do we place the story as being during, World War II. This book is worthy for its pictures alone. Yet, it has a text equally breathtaking to match. The story of a little girl who has compassion for the organ grinder she sees across the street each day, wondering where they go at night. The mother has no time for the girl's interest in the man, understandably so, under her circumstances. But when the girl stays up late one night and finds out that they live on the street, she sees the sadness in the man's eyes and invites him to church to watch her Christmas Pageant. At first it does not look as if the man will show up and the girl, playing an angel cannot get her lines out. But when she sees him enter the church she boldly cries "I bring you tidings of Great Joy!" Later, we see the organ grinder happily talking to the mother at a reception in the church hall. A heartwarming, touching story for the Christmas season which I think shows a great response to Christ's words "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Matt 25:40

Thursday, October 7, 2010

206. Death on the Ice: The Great Newfoundland Sealing Disaster of 1914

Death on the Ice: The Great Newfoundland Sealing Disaster of 1914 by Cassie Brown with Harold Horwood (Canada) - (USA)

Pages: 217
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 1, 2010
First Published: 1972
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Genre: non-fiction, Canadian history, sealing, disasters
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

On a black midnight, March 9, 1914, the S.S. Newfoundland ground her way through the loose ice of St. John's harbour heading for The Narrows and the ice-fields beyond.

Acquired: Won from John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

Reason for Reading: I read the book a long time ago and knew it was a good read.

This book is a chilling tale of how 132 men were stranded for two days and nights during a freezing storm on the ice-fields of the North Atlantic with only one-third of them surviving to be rescued. First, though, it is the story of the harsh life of the early 20th century Newfoundland fisherman who scraped a living from the sea. Fishing when it was warm and sealing at the end of a long winter when the money was direly in need. The fur seals came up onto the ice for a brief period of time and it was a race against the clock to get out to the seals until the sealers were done and home, safe, again. It wasn't a job anyone liked, there was no sport in clubbing baby seals and the conditions on the frozen ocean were dangerous, but it was one of only a few ways to make a living.

The year of 1914 would prove to be one of the worst tragedies the Newfoundlanders had seen in their entire harsh way of life. The men from one ship, the SS Newfoundland were stranded on the ice, and none of the captains of any of the other ships including the Newfoundland knew they were out there. Everyone assumed they were aboard another ship. The Newfoundland had been stripped of its wireless the previous year as the company found it unprofitable, thus communication with this one ship which was stuck in the ice was impossible.

A harrowing tale of what men will do to survive under the most extreme conditions. How the will to survive kicks in, the mental state one goes into to come out of such an ordeal alive. A gut-wrenching tale of how men slowly succumb to the elements, how it affects first the body then the mind causing some to end their own lives by walking off the ice into the ocean, others to lay down and die and many more died frozen in mid-step; these are the worst as they had the will but their bodies just couldn't hold out.

"Death on the Ice" also shows the complete and utter folly of those in charge to do anything to save these men. The disaster could have been prevented if one of any number of things had been done either prior to or during the expedition. "The men" were concerned for them and spoke to their superiors who then spoke to their superiors but word never got beyond that point because "Old Man" Kean was out there and he was the one who had sent the men out into the upcoming storm. No one questioned Kean or told Kean what to do; he was a seasoned Captain, as well as a respected and feared man. The complete mess that goes on back on the ships while these men are freezing to death is unbearable. A riveting and compelling read of human survival, suffering and death versus company greed and disregard for human comfort at a time when employers counted human lives as expendable.