Saturday, September 28, 2013

296. Give Us a Kiss by Daniel Woodrell

Give Us a Kiss by Daniel Woodrell. Foreword by Pinckney Benedict.

Rating: (3.5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

1996, 2012 Back Bay Books/Little, Brown & Co., 194 pgs

Age: 18+

""My imagination is always skulking about in a wrong place." And now Doyle Redmond, thirty-five-year-old nowhere writer, has crossed the line between imagination and real live trouble. On the lam in his soon-to-be ex-wife's Volvo, he's running a family errand back in his boyhood home of West Table, Missouri--the heart of the red-dirt Ozarks. The law wants his big brother, Smoke, on a felony warrant, and Doyle's supposed to talk him into giving up. But Smoke is hunkered down in the hills with his partner, Big Annie, and her nineteen-year-old daughter, Niagra, making other plans: they're about to harvest a profitable patch of homegrown marijuana.

Doyle takes just one look at Niagra's flattering red boots before joining his brother's scheme. Of course it means dealing with the law and maybe worse--the Dollys. A legendary clan of largely criminal persuasion, the Dollys have been feuding with the Redmonds for generations. Now they want a piece of Smoke's cash crop, even if it means killing to get it. Doyle is fast realizing that yes, you can always put the country back in the boy...but sometimes that's not smart."

Borrowed a copy from the library through Inter-Library Loan.

With the reading of this book, I have now completed Daniel Woodrell's backlist of novels. This is my least favourite of his books. Even though Woodrell has written several different genres and no two of his books ever follow a template, I found the narrator of Give Us a Kiss different than his other books and just couldn't get as comfortable with him. It's not that I didn't like him, and I don't have to like characters to like a book, but Doyle Redmond is a homegrown Ozarks inhabitant who had the intellect to leave and get educated but not enough intellect to stay away and not get involved in the Ozark underworld of drugs, sex and murder. He acted low-born and talked higher-born than seemed natural and that's what rubbed me wrong with him. This is how Doyle is supposed to come across though, so it works, but Woodrell's other books, especially the Ozark novels have much better narrators. Another thing that is different about this book from the others is that it has a happy ending ... well, comparatively speaking, and I actually found that and the actual ending disappointing. There is a good story in here; it is a violent, dark, gritty, country noir crime; with a bit of explicit sex not found in Woodrell's other work either. Other than Doyle, I liked all the other characters, even those I wouldn't want to know in real life. Smoke, Big Annie and Niagra are all remarkable persons populating Woodrell's Ozarks. This particular edition also includes a wonderful essay by the author entitled "How Much of the Ozarks Is In Me?" that ends the novel on a perfect note.

Now that I've read Woorell's backlist I'm left with two more books to read.  Fortunately, he has just published a new book and I'll be reading that next month. (Oct.)  He also has a collection of short stories which I purchased a little while ago and I'll be reading that as my next ss collection.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

292. A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses by Susan Wittig Albert

292. A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses by Susan Wittig Albert

Rating: (3.5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Sept 1, 2013, Persevero Press, 288 pgs

Age: 18+ (YA Crossover)

"In 1928, Rose Wilder Lane—world traveler, journalist, much-published magazine writer—returned from an Albanian sojourn to her parents’ Ozark farm. Almanzo Wilder was 71, Laura 61, and Rose felt obligated to stay and help. To make life easier, she built them a new home, while she and Helen Boylston transformed the farmhouse into a rural writing retreat and filled it with visiting New Yorkers. Rose sold magazine stories to pay the bills for both households, and despite the subterranean tension between mother and daughter, life seemed good.
Then came the Crash. Rose’s money vanished, the magazine market dried up, and the Depression darkened the nation. That’s when Laura wrote her autobiography, “Pioneer Girl,” the story of growing up in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, on the Kansas prairie, and by the shores of Silver Lake. The rest—the eight remarkable books that followed—is literary history.
But it isn’t the history we thought we knew. For the surprising truth is that Laura’s stories were publishable only with Rose’s expert rewriting. Based on Rose’s unpublished diaries and Laura’s letters, A Wilder Rose tells the true story of the decade-long, intensive, and often troubled collaboration that produced the Little House books—the collaboration that Rose and Laura deliberately hid from their agent, editors, reviewers, and readers.
Why did the two women conceal their writing partnership? What made them commit what amounts to one of the longest-running deceptions in American literature? And what happened in those years to change Rose from a left-leaning liberal to a passionate Libertarian?
In this impeccably researched novel and with a deep insight into the book-writing business gained from her own experience as an author and coauthor, Susan Wittig Albert follows the clues that take us straight to the heart of this fascinating literary mystery."

Received a review copy from the author (and an ecopy through Netgalley!).

I've always loved the Little House books and reading about Laura: I also loved the TV Show and am interested in anything to do with the topic really.  I've not ever read anything by Rose, at least credited to her, though, but have to say when I first started hearing the rumours and then the truth of the extent she was involved in the "Little House" authorship I was not shocked or even surprised.  With Rose and Laura's background, it just makes so much sense that things unfolded the way they did.  Ms Albert has offered here what is commonly referred to in children's publishing as the "historical biography".  This is not a children's book, though the author has decided to use the same fictional device to tell the true story of how the Little House books were written.  The book is more about Rose, almost a biography of her life, than it is of Laura; only her later life is covered except where topics from the books are discussed.  I found the book extremely entertaining and a good read, though not a page-turner.  I did find that when I put it down it was easy to leave it and pick it up a few days later and simply continue from where I left off.  While the book was entirely readable, there were a few slow parts, the inside story of publishing can only reach a certain level of excitement :-) but when the book was concentrating on Rose's life or the relationship between mother and daughter I found it fascinating.  Photographs certainly would have been a much welcome addition, but I can also understand that they would have blurred the lines between this being accepted a fiction as opposed to non-fiction, or fictional history.

Monday, September 23, 2013

290. Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

Rating: (5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Aug 27, 2013, Scholastic, 160 pgs

Age: 8+

"This incredible, original story captures all of the humour, awkwardness, fun, and frustrations of middle school — all told through one boy's comics, journal entries, letters, doodles, and newspaper clippings. The setting? A galaxy far, far away . . .
Roan's one dream is to leave home and attend Pilot Academy like his older brother, father, and grandfather. But just as Roan is mysteriously denied entrance to Pilot School, he is invited to attend Jedi Academy — a school that he didn't apply to and only recruits children when they are just a few years old. That is, until now.
This inventive novel follows Roan's first year at Jedi Academy where, under the tutelage of Master Yoda, he learns that he possesses more strength and potential than he could have ever dreamed. Oh, and he learns other important things too — like how to make a baking soda volcano, fence with a lightsaber, slow dance with a girl, and lift boulders with the Force."

Received a review copy from Scholastic Canada.

I absolutely loved this book!  Let me preface by saying I haven't read Brown's Vader books, and that's ok because this book is not part of that series.  I also am not a big Star Wars fan.  I love the original three movies but have no time for the others; in fact I don't think I've ever even read a Star Wars "tie-in" book before.  I was quite surprised that I enjoyed this book so much and I think it is due to the originality, which is hard to do with something as familiar as Star Wars.  The book is populated with entirely original characters, yes some are of familiar species ie Wookie, relatives of Hut, early R2, 3PO models, etc, but the only Star Wars character brought into play here is Yoda, who is portrayed very well and not over used.  The book reminds me immensely of "Wimpy Kid" but with more.  The book is written in a series of journal entries, graphic novel sections, letters, comic strips, school pages, posters, etc.  It is a visual feast and written in an easy-to-read handwritten print font.  Other than being Star Wars themed, set during main character Roan Novachez's first year at Jedi Academy, the plot and events are those faced by any average middle-schooler.  A delightful little read that has me wanting to follow Roan into his second year at the Academy!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

300. Praying the Stations with Mary the Mother of Jesus by Richard Furey

Sunday's Christian Book Review
Catholic Edition

Praying the Stations with Mary the Mother of Jesus by Richard Furey

Rating: (5/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)

1984; 2007, Twenty-Third Publications, 32 pgs

"This bestselling way of the cross follows Jesus on his journey to Calvary through the eyes of his mother, Mary. With a mother's love and also with deep faith, she accompanies him and invites readers to follow him as well—with love and deep faith."

Borrowed a Copy from my local parish.

This is an absolutely beautiful spiritual way to pray the fifteen stations of the cross, or to simply pray and devote your prayers to one of the sorrowful passions made on the way of the Cross.  This booklet is used in my Church whenever we hold Stations of the Cross, usually followed by Benediction.  So in my head when I read this I hear the voices of the people who read their parts (our Deacon and his wife) which brings the whole thing so perfectly to life for me.  I honestly can't imagine a more genuine way to reflect the passion of Christ than through the eyes of Mary as she followed along, witnessed and accepted what she knew had to be.  For each station there first is a paragraph, somewhat poetic but really prose; however as you continue through the book you notice the poetic pattern being followed.  These first words are from Mary's mouth, what she is seeing, thinking, feeling at each station as Jesus is condemned, takes his cross and eventually dies upon the cross, through the 15 stations.  This is read aloud to the congregation.  Some quotes: 

"My pain for him was unbearable. I wanted to take the cross from him and carry it myself.  But I knew it had to be, so I walked on silently."

"Our eyes met, mine full of tears and anguish, his full of pain ... then his eyes said to me, "Courage! There is a purpose for this."

The second paragraph is for the congregation to read aloud together.  This is in our repentant, sinners' voices as we connect with Mary's experience and what Jesus is suffering for us at each station.  We pray to Jesus at these times asking for forgiveness.  Some quotes from the second paragraphs:

"Lord Jesus, I beg you to forgive me for the many times I have added more weight to your cross by closing my eyes to the pain and loneliness of my neighbor."

"Lord in my own way I too have stripped you.  I have taken away the good name of another by foolish talk ... by my prejudice. Jesus, there are so many ways I have offended you through the hurt I have caused others.  Help me to see you in other people."

All the words in this booklet are beautiful and I always weep whether I am participating in the Stations with my Church family or silently by myself.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

285. Fox On Stage by James Marshall

Fox On Stage by James Marshall.

Rating: 3/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)

1993, Puffin, 48 pgs

Age: 6+

"Another title about Fox and the gang getting up to mischief. This time Fox is putting on a scary play called "The Mummy's Toe" and all his friends have a role - with Fox as the hero."

Purchased a secondhand copy from a thrift store.

James Marshall is a favourite illustrator who has written many, many children's picture and easy-to-read books.  This is a fun easy-reader for the beginning reader divided into three separate short stories.  Each features Fox as the main character and while the stories are not related they do carry a theme of the performing arts.  "Fox on Film" has fox using his video recorder to make movies; "Flying Fox" has Fox watching and participating in a magic show and finally "Fox on Stage" has Fox and friends preparing, and putting on a play for the neighbourhood.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Captain Underpants #3 & #4 by Dav Pilkey

283. Captain Underpants & the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies From Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds) by Dav Pilkey.

Rating: (4/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Sep 1999, Scholastic, 141 pgs

Age: 7+

"An alien spaceship has conveniently landed on the roof of Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. At the same time, George and Harold pulled off the prank of their careers by tricking the cafeteria ladies into flooding the school with slimy lime-green foam.
Fed up, the cafeteria ladies quit, leaving room for three massive, tentacled space aliens in disguise to assume their positions and slowly change all the children into evil lunchroom zombie nerds. Only the amazing Captain Underpants can save the day now. But even he may have met his match when he encounters a giant man-eating dandelion of doom!"

My son was gifted a copy for Christmas several years ago.

Book Three continues on with the irreverent but highly amusing tales of the silly and troublesome George and Harold and their creation, Captain Underpants.  This outing brings us aliens from outer space who plan to take over the world, the lunch ladies finally have their fill of George and Harold, and milkshakes that turn the whole school population into zombies.  But most exciting of all, book three tells us how Captain Underpants gets his superpowers.  Finally, he has more to fight evil with than just wedgie power.  A load of fun, didn't quite make me laugh out loud but had me giggling.

299. Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants by Dav Pilkey

Rating: (5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

2000, Scholastic, 153 pgs

Age: 7+ 

"Professor Pippy P. Poopypants may well be the greatest scientific genius the world has ever known. Unfortunately, he has such a silly name that nobody takes him seriously! He's been laughed out of every university in the world.
In fact, the only place that'll hire him is Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. Professor Poopypants is certain that schoolchildren would never laugh at his name. "Kids are so accepting and loving," he assures himself. And it's really important that NOBODY laughs at his name, or makes a comic book about him, or makes jokes about him in anyway. Because if one more person does...Professor Pippy P. Poopypants might just fly into a frenzied rage and take over the planet with his brilliantly wild and evil inventions!"

My son was gifted a copy for Christmas a long time ago.

This is the last book in the series that we own but I'm going to finish off the rest with visits to the library as I'm finding them quite delightful.  This is the first appearance of this particular villain but I came across him in book 10, which was the first book in this series I ever read, and that was a sequel to book 9.  Sooo, we can see Professor Poopypants, at least as he's called in this book becomes a favourite Underpants' villain.  He's the kind of villain you love to hate though because at first he seemed a nice guy wanting to feed the world and eliminate it's garbage problem both at the same time with his new inventions.  However his unfortunate name makes him a laughing stock whom no-one will take seriously and this warps the professor's mind beyond repair and he decides to take over the world instead.  This is another hilarious adventure with George, Harold and Captain Underpants.  The craziest part that kids will have fun with is a chart that Poopypants uses to enforce upon everyone a new silly name.  Closing my review now with my own new silly name!  signing out: ... Zippy Banananose.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

277. Sugar Creek Gang #1: The Swamp Robber by Paul Hutchens

Sunday's Christian Book Review

The Swamp Robber by Paul Hutchens. Preface by Pauline Hutchens Wilson
orig. title: The Sugar Creek Gang

Rating: (4/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

1940; 1997 Revised Edition, Moody Press, 128 pgs

Age: 10+

"The Sugar Creek Gang discovers a "disguise" hidden in a old tree. Does it belong to the bank robber hiding in the swamp? A mysterious map hidden near the tree proves to be even more exciting than the disguise. Before the adventure ends, the gang encounters the robber, helps Bill Collins welcome a new baby sister, and saves the victim of a black widow spider bite. Join the gang as they learn the lesson of "sowing and reaping"."

Purchased a secondhand copy at a book sale.

This is a Christian fiction adventure series aimed at boys, which has never been out of print since its first publication in the 1940s.  The edition I read is the 1997 "revised edition", the one still in print today, which has made the text more relatable to contemporary readers.  I don't have both editions side by side to compare but this 90's edition has no references to outdated technology or speech.  It still evokes an aura of taking place in the past, during a time when boys were given knives and guns and when they spent their time doing chores and playing outdoors at such things as the swimming hole and fishing.  The book does not feel outdated at all but reads as a story of a boyhood from the "olden days".  The writing is first-rate quality and I knew I was in for a treat of a read by the end of the first chapter.  If I had to compare it with anything it would be the "Great Brain" series.  Full of excitement and adventure, a well-written, page-turning story.  The book is unabashedly written both as evangelical Christian fiction and for boys.  Non-Christians and those looking for girl-inclusive books will not enjoy the emphasis.  The main character, Bill Collins, is the narrator and is seven years old at the time of the events, however we know it is his older self who is telling us this story.  Bill talks openly as a Christian, not preaching at all, but as if this is a natural part of his daily speech, simply who he is.  He also talks to boys about what it is like to be a boy, relating to them and imparting good values in the way friends would try to help each other do the right thing.  However, the boys do get up to all kinds of mischief and have a rollicking adventure in this book which involves a mysterious disguise, a bank robber and a man who has been dead for ten years.  I thoroughly enjoyed all five members of the Gang, found the plot to be realistic, and will be adding this series to my reading rotation as I can find the books.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

281. The Duel by Heinrich Von Kleist

The Duel by Heinrich Von Kleist.  Translated by Annie Janusch.
The Art of the Novella

Rating: (3.5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

1810; 2011, Melville House, 51 pgs

Age: 18+

"One of the few novellas written by the master German playwright, The Duel was considered by Thomas Mann and others to be one of the great works of German literature. The story of a virtuous woman slandered by a nobleman, it is a precise study of a subject that fascinated von Kleist: That people are sometimes seemingly punished for their very innocence."

Purchased and received as part of the publisher's novella book club.

After my disastrous attempt to read this month's other selection Michael Kohlhaas by Von Kleist, it should be unnecessary to say I came upon this one with trepidation.  But I said to myself, at least it is very short so I will finish this one whether I like it or not.  So, what a pleasant surprise to find myself fairly flying through the story in just one reading.  Right from the first page my experience was different as this was easy to read, the story was entertaining and while wildly over dramatic it also had an understandable plot.  All things I could not find in MK.  The publisher's summary on the inside flap is incorrect and I see that the online summary has been changed to just one sentence which virtually summarizes the simple plot.  "The story of a virtuous woman slandered by a nobleman."  Things turn out to be much more than they seem though and through convoluted and last second revelations the truth comes out in the end.  The story is readable, I have no complaints.  I can only wonder though at the author's misconceptions of God, punishment and innocence (from both this story and Michael Kohlhaas); had he never contemplated God's gift of free will?

Monday, September 9, 2013

280. The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman
The Hypnotists, Book 1

Rating: (4/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Jul. 30 2013, Scholastic Canada, 232 pgs

Age: 10+

"Jackson Opus has always been persuasive, but he doesn't know that he's descended from the two most powerful hypnotist bloodlines on the planet. He's excited to be accepted into a special program at the Sentia Institute — but when he realizes he's in over his head, Jackson will have to find a way to use his powers to save his friends, his parents, and his government."

Received a review copy from Scholastic Canada.

I can't believe I have never read a Gordon Korman book before.  An ex-patriot Canadian, he wrote his first book when he was twelve and hasn't stopped since.  He's one of Canada's most well known children's authors.  I've had the Bruno & Boots series on my "must get around to someday" list forever!  Finally I have the opportunity to read Korman's latest book and find I am well-pleased.  Quite a unique plot that uses some elements I've seen before but not pulled all together this way!  The book's  main theme is hypnotism and it is treated as an entirely scientific matter, brain activity to be stimulated that some people have more of than others.  Jax is a well-rounded hero and very likable.  A bit of an outsider, he finds his groove when he understands what his strange visions mean.  He's a bit slow on the uptake, with his friend Tommy figuring things out faster than he can, but other than that I enjoyed him very much.  I was engrossed with the story from the first chapter and read more than half the book in one sitting, finishing it in the next.  The political intrigue sub-arc reminds me of Steven King's Dead Zone in which the hero has to stop a politician from winning an election because it will lead to world destruction. Same thing goes here in "The Hypnotists" only on a lesser degree.  I liked the ending which wrapped up all the storylines and gave us a final complete ending to the problems encountered in this book.  One can walk away satisfied.  However, the characters are obviously on the brink of more troubles which we know will come seeing as this is labeled Volume 1.  Unique science fiction involving secret societies and underground institutes, should appeal to those who like conspiracy theories.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Movie Break: We're the Millers

We're the Millers 
(2013) (at the theatre)

I'd never heard of this movie when invited to go see it but I'm always up for a night at the movies since I don't go very often.  Absolutely roll on the floor hilarious.  But with a capital "B" very vulgar and not for everyone!  Bad language and tons of raunchy situations and jokes, no sex though.  But. OMGosh!  Hilariously funny! I almost wet myself I laughed so hard! If you are not offended easily Go.See.This.Movie!  Stars: Jennifer Aniston

287. Let Him Go by Larry Watson.

Let Him Go by Larry Watson.

Rating: (5/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Sep 3, 2013, Milkweed Editions, 269 pgs

Age: 18+

"Dalton, North Dakota. September, 1951. It has been years since George and Margaret Blackledge lost their son James when he was thrown from a horse, and months since his widow left with their only grandson and married another man. Margaret is resolved to find and retrieve her beloved grandson Jimmy—the last of the family line, and a living embodiment of her son’s memory—while George, a retired sheriff, is none too eager to stir up trouble. Unable to sway his wife from her mission, George takes to the road with Margaret by his side, traveling through the Badlands to Gladstone, Montana. But when Margaret tries to bring little Jimmy home to North Dakota, the Blackledges find themselves entangled with the Weboy clan, who are determined not to give up the boy without a fight."

Received a review copy from the publisher.

Exquisite literary country noir piece centering on poor families, clans and kin, what extent they will go to to keep kin with kin and the hierarchy such families have in place.  This is a devastating story and while short, a slow read, a piece that deserves to be lingered over rather than devoured.  This is not a happy story and if that is what you like to read it won't be for you.  Gritty, bleak and oppressing even, at times, this is the kind of story that makes me think and appreciate the good in life.  The Blackridges have suffered tragedy in their life but they are a family based on love, and love for each other drives them.  On the other hand, the Weboys are a clan based on fear and control, though family always sticks up for family, no.matter.what.  As the two families face off over the fate of a grandchild, the suspense slowly rises.  One knows something is going to happen at some point but when it does it is a surprise and exactly what happens is a shock.  The climax hit me hard!  The ending is bittersweet but redeeming and left me satisfied.  For reader's of tragedies or country noir set in the American West.

Monday, September 2, 2013

DNF. Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich Von Kleist.

Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich Von Kleist. Translated by Martin Greenberg
The Art of the Novella

Rating: DNF

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

1810; 2008, Melville House, 80/133 pgs

Age: 18+

"Based on historical events, this thrilling saga of violence and retribution bridges the gap between Medieval and modern literature, and speaks so profoundly to the contemporary spirit that it has been the basis of numerous plays, movies, and novels.
It has become, in fact, a classic tale: that of the honorable man forced to take the law into his own hands. In this incendiary prototype, a minor tax dispute intensifies explosively, until the eponymous hero finds the forces of an entire kingdom, and even the great Martin Luther, gathered against him. But soon even Luther comes to echo the growing army of peasants asking, “Isn’t Kohlhaas right?”
Widely acknowledged as one of the masterworks of German literature, Michael Kohlaas is also one of the most stirring tales ever written of the quest for justice."

Purchased a new copy as part of the publisher's Art of the Novella bookclub.

It is beyond me to discuss this title.  I had a hard time reading it from the get go.  I googled the book quite frequently to get the gist of it and it seems, I think, we are supposed to sympathise with Kohlhaas.  I thought he was a selfish, pig-headed, violent idiot and thought he should have just taken his horses back and got on with his life instead of causing such pain and anguish in the name of so-called "justice".  I call it revenge.  I really tried to force myself to finish, perhaps becoming enlightened eventually, but at the 60% mark just had to put it aside as not for me.  I can't complain though, out of the 14 books I've read for this club so far this is the first that I have DNF'd and the really the first that I didn't even enjoy at least to 3 stars.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

237. The Book of Revelation. Illustrations by Chris Koelle.

Sunday's Christian Book Review

This week's Christian book review is a graphic novel representation of the Book of Revelation and since I have a blog dedicated to graphic novels you can find the review over there if you are interested in that format of literature.  This book contains all 404 verses of the text and is not for children.  I highly recommend it.  Check out what I have to say about it.

The Book of Revelation adaptation by Matt Dorff. Translation by Fr. Mark Arey & Fr. Philemon Sevastiades.  Illustrations by Chris Koelle. 2012; Zondervan