Friday, February 27, 2009

Picture Book Friday: The Race of the Century

Since I come across so many great picture books, I thought I should start blogging about them a bit more consistently. And since Friday is storytime day, I figured it was the perfect day to do it! So, I'm going to try having a "feature" - woo! Let me know how you like it.

The Race of the Century retold and illustrated by Barry Downard

I'm not usually all that big on fairy tale books, but I couldn't resist this one. It's the Tortoise and the Hare for the 21st century! Downard's photo collage illustrations are awesome and sometimes bizarre. A few of my favourite bits - Flash Harry Hare trains for the race by disco dancing, complete with Travolta-esque white suit and during the race he wears a tank top that says "Bunnies Dig Me" on the back. Tom Tortoise warms up by pumping pumpkin barbells and his progress is caught on "Slo-Mo Action Replay Tortoise Cam." The moral is the same, "Fast and flashy doesn't always beat slow and steady." Older kids who know the story will really appreciate all of the visual jokes, but it would also be good for reading to younger ones.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review: Sugar Daddy

Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas
3 stars

Reasons for reading: I read a very positive review of it on someone's blog; first Sister novel for the Themed Reading Challenge

First line: "When I was four, my father died in an oil-rig accident."

From the back cover: "... Liberty Jones has dreams and determination that will take her far away from Welcome, Texas—if she can keep her wild heart from ruling her mind. Hardy Cates sees Liberty as completely off-limits. His own ambitions are bigger than Welcome, and Liberty is a complication he doesn’t need. But something magical and potent draws them to each other, in a dangerous attraction that is stronger than both of them... When Hardy leaves town to pursue his plans, Liberty finds herself alone with a young sister to raise. Soon Liberty is under the spell of a billionaire tycoon—a Sugar Daddy, one might say. But the relationship goes deeper than people think, and Liberty begins to discover secrets about her own family’s past."

My thoughts: This was a good, rather soapy book (appropriate, since young Liberty and her mother watch them and her sister's name comes from one). From the day she was born, Liberty was more like Carrington's mother than their own mom, and 18-year-old Liberty finds herself fully in that role when their mother dies suddenly when Carrington is a toddler. Liberty is an amazingly strong young woman who refuses to allow Carrington to be taken away from her and even manages to move them out of the trailer park by becoming a hairdresser.

I have to say, the title is rather misleading, because Liberty works very hard not to become a "sugar baby," though her hairdressing pals all think she should. That doesn't mean she doesn't get involved with the mega-rich Travis family, when their patriarch, Churchill, starts asking for her, a humble manicure girl, when he comes into the swanky salon where she works. She eventually moves into their home as Churchill's personal assistant.

I don't want to give too much away, but Churchill has a gorgeous son named Gage and, as in any good romance novel, the initial dislike between Liberty and Gage soon gives way to passion. There are quite a few nicely steamy scenes in the book, without getting too far into bodice-ripping territory.

Of course, Hardy comes back (you knew he would!) and Liberty has to choose between her past and current loves. And there are secrets!

I enjoyed the sisters' relationship in this book. Liberty manages to act as both mother and sister to Carrington and the two are bonded from the moment Liberty finds out her mom is pregnant, which is really lovely. I did find that Carrington seemed a bit too old at 3 and a bit too young at 8, but she was still a pretty well-written child character.

The verdict: Liberty and Carrington are a great sister act! (And the two hunky guys don't hurt, either.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review: Pants on Fire

Pants on Fire by Meg Cabot
3 stars

Reasons for reading: I really like Meg Cabot and have been meaning to read this one since it came out; Celebrate the Author Challenge author for February - her birthdate is February 1, 1967.

Description: "Katie Ellison is not a liar. But she can't exactly tell the truth, either—not when she's juggling two boyfriends, secretly hating the high school football team everyone else worships, and trying to have the best summer ever. At least Katie has it all under control (sort of). Her biggest secret, what really happened the night Tommy Sullivan is a freak was spray-painted on the junior high gymnasium wall, is safe. That is, until Tommy comes back to town. Katie is sure he's going to ruin all her plans, and she'll do anything to hang on to her perfect existence. Even if it means telling more lies. Even if, now that Tommy's around, she's actually—truthfully—having the time of her life."

First line: "'Oh my God, what's she doing here?' my best friend, Sidney van der Hoff, was asking, as I came up to the corner booth to hand out menus."

My thoughts:
I chose Meg Cabot as my February author because I've enjoyed a lot of her books, plus she is the chick lit QUEEN, which is very cool (if she wrote a picture book, she'd have covered every single age group from adult to teen to kid to little kid). My favourites are her Boy Next Door trilogy, which are hilariously funny. I also enjoyed the first few Princess Diaries books. One of these days I'll get around to her Queen of Babble series. I have to confess to not loving Size 12 is Not Fat (mainly because I would kill to be a size 12, though I wasn't too fond of the mystery element, either), so I haven't read the rest of that series. But overall, Meg Cabot is way cool, so I wanted to celebrate her.

This book makes you want to do some serious kissing! Holy cow. About 1/3 of it is either Katie kissing one of her three guys or thinking about kissing them. It good fluffy read, fairly predictable but fun. The quahog-obsessed town was an interesting element and I liked the small-town feel. And the message of not treating jocks like gods was a bit heavy-handed but not a bad one. Tommy Sullivan coming back with amazing good looks on top of his original huge brain was a bit much - I don't think Katie would've done what she did if he'd been average-looking.

The verdict: Typical chick lit with a fairly snappy heroine who's capable of changing. And lots of hunky boys. And kissing.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Review: The Sealed Letter

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
4 stars

Description: "Miss Emily "Fido" Faithfull is a "woman of business" and a spinster pioneer in the British women’s movement, independent of mind but naively trusting of heart. Distracted from her cause by the sudden return of her once-dear friend, the unhappily wed Helen Codrington, Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen’s failing marriage and obsessive affair with a young army officer. What begins as a loyal effort to help a friend explodes into a courtroom drama that rivals the Clinton affair —complete with stained clothing, accusations of adultery, counterclaims of rape, and a mysterious letter that could destroy more than one life."

First line: "The last day of August, and the sky is the colour of hot ash."

My thoughts: Another winner from Donoghue! In fact, I enjoyed this one a bit more than her previous historical novel, Life Mask (which I also loved) because while I enjoy historical detail, Life Mask had a lot of information about the politics of the time, which was a bit much. I enjoyed the details about the popularization of divorce in England, as well as the early women's movement. As with Donoghue's other books, I loved that it was based on the lives of real people. While the Clinton thing didn't really register with me, it was quite fascinating the way the trial was sensationalized in the tabloids of the time, just like such cases are today.

Fido, oh Fido. While she mostly lived up to her name and tried to be a good friend, she was also very naive and gullible. Several times I said to her in my head, about Helen, "Don't trust her!" While her life went on with a fair bit of success (according to Donoghue's notes afterwards), it seemed like she was destined to be rather sad and alone.

The verdict: I think my favourite of Donoghue's historical novels is still her first, Slammerkin, but they've all been great and I look forward to the next historical person she tackles. I may even try some of her contemporary fiction, too.

Review: Envy

Envy: a Luxe novel by Anna Godbersen
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I love this series; Young Adult Challenge

Description: "Two months after Elizabeth Holland's dramatic homecoming, Manhattan eagerly awaits her return to the pinnacle of society. When Elizabeth refuses to rejoin her sister Diana's side, however, those watching New York's favorite family begin to suspect that all is not as it seems behind the stately doors of No. 17 Gramercy Park South. Farther uptown, Henry and Penelope Schoonmaker are the city's most celebrated couple. But despite the glittering diamond ring on Penelope's finger, the newlyweds share little more than scorn for each other. And while the newspapers call Penelope's social-climbing best friend, Carolina Broad, an heiress, her fortune—and her fame—are anything but secure, especially now that one of society's darlings is slipping tales to the eager press."

First line: "For a certain kind of New York girl, everything must be always in its place."

My thoughts: I keep loving this series! Normally by book 3 of a series, I'm starting to get a bit bored, but I have to say I enjoyed this one even more than the previous book, Rumors, because it was less predictable than the first two. Godbersen starts each book with a prologue describing the final scene, which you'd think would give things away, but its doesn't, it just makes you even more curious. In this one, I figured that our heroine, Diana Holland, was cutting off her hair in despair (it's all there in the prologue, I'm not spoiling it) but it was much more than that! And, oh the gorgeous covers - I almost want to frame the 3 of them and use them as wall art. (Since we can't wear the actual dresses in this day and age, and I couldn't fit into them even if we could!).

I really enjoyed seeing more of what the rich and fabulous did at the turn of the last century - in this installment, the Schoonmakers take a party of "friends" to Palm Beach on the family's personal train car. They basically do all the same things - gossip, drink, dance, change clothes 5 times a day, but they do it with even more abandon thanks to the sunshine and feeling of being away from home. I also enjoyed the description of the head-to-toe bathing costumes and the beach censors who were on the lookout for an inch of female bare skin.

Elizabeth continues to be a tragic heroine, but she's eclipsed by Diana, who has had her heart broken time and again by Henry Schoonmaker and is at the end of her rope. Carolina Broad's rise in society looks to be coming to a quick drop and Penelope's scheming may not be enough to save her this time.

The verdict: I can't wait for the next book!!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Review: The Case of the Missing Books

The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom
2.5 stars

Reasons for reading: spotted it at Barnes and Noble a while ago and thought it sounded perfect for me, with the whole librarian theme and all; Detective genre for the Genre Challenge

Synopsis: "Israel Armstrong is a passionate soul, lured to Ireland by the promise of an exciting new career. Alas, the job that awaits him is not quite what he had in mind. Still, Israel is not one to dwell on disappointment, as he prepares to drive a mobile library around a small, damp Irish town. After all, the scenery is lovely, the people are charming—but where are the books? The rolling library's 15,000 volumes have mysteriously gone missing, and it's up to Israel to discover who would steal them . . . and why. And perhaps, after that, he will tackle other bizarre and perplexing local mysteries—like, where does one go to find a proper cappuccino and a decent newspaper?"

My thoughts: This one just didn't do it for me and I'm sad about that because I wanted to love it. Like a lot of books I've read lately, the very ending redeemed it for me a fair bit, which bumped it up half a star. I think it could be a good book for lots of cozy mystery fans - there's no murder and it does have funny parts.

I think my problem was my librarian-ness. Israel, while amusing, is a loser. I wanted the librarian to be awesome. Apparently in England you can become a librarian after 6 months at a 5th-rate college, which is what Israel's qualifications are. Yet all that got him was a job in a discount bookshop. And then, the job of "librarian" in Tumdrum, Middle of Nowhere, Ireland. Except, they've closed the library down and Israel's actually going to be driving the bookmobile. If he can find the books, which are now solely his problem even though he's just arrived.

Maybe the humour was too broad for me - Israel's loserness, the complete stupidity of the town council's library representative - the fat, Asian, bureaucratic Linda (although there are a few great moments of PC-to-the-max pencil-pusher ridiculousness with her). And the fact that the whole town of Tumdrum is just mean to Israel - they refuse to help him even though they've asked him to come to their godforsaken town and he's basically penniless and doesn't understand the local culture or even the dialect, they act like it's his fault the library is closed and the books are missing, the only accommodation offered to him is a chicken coop owned by a surly farm family, and townspeople beat him up and threaten him. Perhaps this type of humour would've worked better as a TV show. It reminded me a bit of the Vicar of Dibley, though without as much charm.

I will say Sansom hit the nail on the head with his description of what a busy library usually looks like, when Israel discovers the building is closed up:
"No one was approaching with armfuls of books...there were no sour and pear-shaped OAPs; no straggle-haired young mums at their wits' end with smeary, miserable children dragging along for story time; no one clutching important-looking unimportant documents to be photocopied in wrinkled, stubbly, fragrant winos; no schoolkids half-heartedly working on projects about ancient civilizations or the Second World War or the processes of human digestion. No madmen. No one. None of them. The building was empty. The car park was deserted.
The library was shut."

It's funny that I chose this for my detective novel, because Israel doesn't actually solve the case of the missing books himself - all of his theories about who stole the books are completely wrong.

The verdict: Not my cup of tea, but it could be a good read for someone who likes cozy mysteries full of small-town eccentrics. It also might help if you don't base most of your identity on being a librarian, like I do. :-)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Review: Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin

Dishing With the Kitchen Virgin by Susan Reinhardt
3 stars

Reasons for reading: my husband pointed out on my library's New Books shelf because he thinks I think that I am one (though he says he doesn't think that); my book about cooking for the Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge.

Description: "... welcome to the Kitchen Virgin Club... you're in the illustrious company of Susan Reinhardt: syndicated columnist, spokeswoman for skewed southern bellehood...and one truly lousy cook. In this cleaver-sharp new collection of food stories, culinary missteps, and recipes from yummy to yucky, Reinhardt comes clean--way clean--as the unapologetic product of a long line of talented, fascinating, funny women who have regular brushes with homicide by pot roast. From "The Toaster Oven is a Bee-otch" to "When Road Kill Makes it to Mikasa," as well as the titular tale of the socialite who shaved her fuzzy greens, these stranger-than-fiction accounts will have you laughing until milk spews out of your nose. And for those inspired to graduate from Kitchen Virgin to Kitchen 'Tute, there's "Bone Apple Cheat!"-- Reinhardt's own shortcut-to-real-food recipes. So next time you're tempted to make Taco Bell your last (okay, first) resort, crack open this book, have a laugh...and get cookin'."

My thoughts: I'm not exactly a kitchen virgin - I think I'm more like a kitchen re-virgin. I used to love cooking when I was a teenager - I got an award in Home Ec class and was the teacher's assistant. But as I've gotten older I find it stressful - I have a big issue with getting things right. While my husband is happy to adapt recipes and tinker, I want everything to be perfect and if it's not, I'm stressed. So, since he's a more creative and happier cook, I've basically turned it over to him. My best friend is a wonderful cook, with true natural talent, and while I love to be the recipient of the fruits of her labours, I can't imagine being able to replicate them, at least without bursting into tears of frustration. I also come from a rather non-cooking family - like Reinhardt, Tuna Helper and other pre-fab foods were big in my household. Also like Reinhardt, I like to watch the Food Network (though more the competition and travel-based shows, rather than the actual food-prep ones - and anything with hunky Gordon Ramsay) and I've been known to read recipes in magazines and dream "of the day I might actually concoct something that resembles the photographs of those delectable dishes."

This book reminded a lot of Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank - a Southern journalist writing family/women's humour. Which sounds condescending when I write it out, but I don't mean it to - I like that kind of humour! Food is a theme in each chapter - there's rather too much info about collards (though I liked the discussion about how a town's Collard Queen is a virgin and the Homecoming Queen is...not, as well as the story discussed above about the shave-worthy greens). There are "cheater" recipes, white trashy recipes, "dude food" recipes (some very scary, like "Darin's Death of Romance Irish Oatmeal," which consists of "lumpy Irish oatmeal" and baked beans) and even a few recipes that might be worth trying, like various combinations to add to stirfries. There are even tips to make Lunchables have a bit of nutritional value. The story that stays with me the most was Reinhardt's attempt to make an Easter ham while in the early (and later!) stages of labour! Now that's dedication to holiday tradition!

Verdict: A quick, funny, foodie read, perfect for this challenge.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Daring Book Challenge Wrap-Up

June 15, 2008 - February 15, 2009

So, I did the relatively short version of this challenge, just 6 books. Thanks to Callista for hosting it!

1. Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery
2. The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater
3. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
4. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
5. Beauty by Robin McKinley
6. The Secret of the Mansion by Julie Campbell

Favourite book: Beauty, by a long shot - a wonderfully written re-telling of Beauty and the Beast.

Overall thoughts: This challenge made me read some classics I should've read long ago, which was great. As much as I love LM Montgomery, I found that coming back to her in adulthood without the foundation of childhood love (which I have for Anne of Green Gables) was a bit tough - I couldn't give myself over to Emily as I did to Anne when I was young. I found Trixie Belden and Black Beauty really old-fashioned, especially the latter. I enjoyed The Book of Three more than I thought I would, not having been a fantasy fan as a child and not being much of one now.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Review: The Last Dragon

The Last Dragon by Silvana De Mari
3.5 stars

Reason for reading: it's this month's choice for my library's kids' book club

Book description: "When the last dragon and the last elf break the circle, the past and the future will meet, and the sun of a new summer will shine in the sky. In a world shrouded in darkness and continually lashed by rain, a young elf named Yorsh struggles to survive. His village has been destroyed by the torrential waters, leaving Yorsh suddenly orphaned and alone-the earth's last elf. But soon Yorsh discovers he is part of a powerful prophecy to save the world from the Dark Age that has begun. First, however, the young elf will have to find another orphaned creature-the world's last dragon. Full of great tenderness and humor, this magical journey tells the story of a world plagued by intolerance and wickedness, and the elf and the dragon who will fight for its redemption and bring it back into the light."

First line: "The rain had been falling for days."

My thoughts: Again, I'm not a big fantasy fan and I have to say I sort of struggled through this one - at times it felt like a slog. Yet it was really well-written and once I got over some initial annoyances at the beginning, I did want to find out what happened. I'm beginning to wonder if I have a problem with works in translation (this one is originally Italian) - I often feel like I'm having a hard time getting through them.

This book is s curious mixture of sadness, heroism, humour, and the fantastic. There's lots of absurdity - the county of Daligar has been turned into an impoverished, communist-like state run by a Lord Justice that's straight out of Roald Dahl. There's also a great deal of humour, especially when Yorsh is young ("one born lately") and is trying to make sense of humans (though I actually found this is as irritating as it was funny). The rambling, brooding dragon is hilarious in his laments about his aches and pains and desires for fairy stories. But there's also an incredible amount of love and bravery in the book - the two humans who befriend Yorsh (even though it's forbidden to consort with elves) for a short time to help him fulfill the prophesy end up showing him (and each other) love that will last over a decade and ends up helping to save the world. And formerly irritating Yorsh turns out to be the saviour, with some help from a magnificent dragon.

Verdict: While my non-fantasy self struggled with it a bit, it was a rewarding read. And even though the meeting isn't for a while, some of the book club kids had already read it last month and loved it, so it's an A-plus for young fantasy fans who are good readers.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Meme: The Bookshelf

Raidergirl has tagged me for a meme that was created by Eva at A Striped Armchair.

(I've only used a few original pics because most books I read come from the library or an Amazon picture was just as good.)

The book that’s been on my shelf the longest: I actually went and searched the shelves at my parents' place, I hope that counts - I don't have anything that interesting on my shelves at home now. There were quite a few contenders, including some Little Golden Books that are little more than tape and crayon scribbles now. But finally, I found the one below, complete with an inscription of 8 May 1975, from friends of my grandma. It must have been a shower gift or shortly thereafter - I was a preemie and had to stay in hospital for months - I came home at the end of April 1975.

Flipping through it, I particularly recalled the image of the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. I still like the rhyme and can relate to being both good and horrid. :-)

A book that reminds me of something specific in my life (a person, a place, a time, etc.): The one that comes to mind is Lolita, oddly. It brings to mind very specifically the years of my undergrad English degree. I can remember sitting on the bus on the way to school, being intrigued by the writing but horrified by the subject matter. I read quite a few classics for pleasure during those years, pretty much the last time that happened! (Though I do try and squeeze in the odd one.)

A book I acquired in some interesting way (gift, serendipity in a used bookstore, prize, etc.): Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind is an example of serendipity in a used bookstore. I'd read a good review of the series and put it on the massive TBR list. Months later I happened upon it in a used bookstore in a little town we often visit in the summer, remembered it was on the list, and so picked it up. And now I just love, love the series!

A book that’s been with me to the most places: I haven't lived that many places! The only one I can think of is my old copy of Anne of Green Gables, from my parents, circa 1986. I recently rescued it from the folks' basement, so it's lived 2 places, but I can also remember taking it with me on a cross-Canada trip my family took when I was a kid.

The most recent addition to my shelves: I don't buy very many books, actually. But I received Uncle John's Quintessential Collection of Notable Quotables from my best friend (who knows that husband and I like a good laugh) for Christmas.

A bonus book that I want to talk about but doesn’t fit into the other questions: That would be Rivals by Jilly Cooper - my favourite of her books, one I've read over and over and could still read over and over. It contains the reformation of her divinely dishy rake, Rupert Campbell-Black, into a man in love with a good woman. And lots of Cotswold stone houses. And shagging.

Here are the meme rules:

  1. Tag 3-5 people, so the fun keeps going!
  2. Leave a comment at the original post at A Striped Armchair, so that Eva can collect everyone’s answers.
  3. If you leave a comment and link back to Eva as the meme’s creator, she will enter you in a book giveaway contest! She has a whole shelf devoted to giveaway books that you’ll be able to choose from, or a bookmooch point if you prefer.
  4. Remember that this is all about enjoying books as physical objects, so feel free to describe the exact book you’re talking about, down to that warping from being dropped in the bath water…
  5. Make the meme more fun with visuals! Covers of the specific edition you’re talking about, photos of your bookshelves, etc.

    So, I tag...

    Janssen at Everyday Reading

    Suey at It's All About Books

    Maggie at Maggie Reads

    (Sorry if any of you have done it and I missed it!)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Review: Beauty

Beauty: a retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley
4 stars

Reasons for reading: have always meant to; Daring Book Challenge

Description (from Amazon): "This much-loved retelling of the classic French tale Beauty and the Beast elicits the familiar magical charm, but is more believable and complex than the traditional story. In this version, Beauty is not as beautiful as her older sisters, who are both lovely and kind. Here, in fact, Beauty has no confidence in her appearance but takes pride in her own intelligence, her love of learning and books, and her talent in riding. She is the most competent of the three sisters, which proves essential when they are forced to retire to the country because of their father's financial ruin. The plot follows that of the renowned legend: Beauty selflessly agrees to inhabit the Beast's castle to spare her father's life. Beauty's gradual acceptance of the Beast and the couple's deepening trust and affection are amplified in novel form. "

First line: "I was the youngest of three daughters."

My thoughts: I enjoy fairy tale re-tellings and this one is masterful. I see why it's a classic, yet it doesn't feel dated - it could have been written in the time of the Brothers Grimm or today.

I liked the added elements of the family's story - the father loses his money, as in the original story, but they're able to move to the country with the one daughter's fiance, who has a place a blacksmith. I enjoyed the story of them re-making their lives. I also liked that Beauty became beautiful over time, though I'm not sure if it was due to magic or that she simply grew into her looks.

Sadly, it was a bit hard to read about the enchanted castle without thinking of Disney's Beauty and the Beast - damn Disney. But still, I'd love to live there - candles lighting as you approach, anything you want to eat or wear appears instantly, no housekeeping, perfect gardens... And an enormous library with a wonderful twist - it contains books that haven't been written yet, like Sherlock Holmes and the poetry of Robert Browning.

Verdict: A very well-done spin on a classic tale.